Welcome to

Welcome Events Meetings Outings Links
Past Meetings Publications Photos Archives Committee



     Nov 19, 2012  :THE HISTORY of ASHLEIGH ROAD : David Cameron

    Oct 15, 2012 :  The Pearl Workers of Birmingham : Val Preece

    Sept 17, 2012 : BEATRICE CADBURY :  Fiona Joseph

    June 19.2012 :RESTORATION and GEORGIAN SOLIHULL : Joy Woodall

    April 16, 2012: COMPTON VERNEY: Dr Sylvia Pinches

  March 19, 2012:FUNNY THINGS at the REGISTRY OFFICE: John Yates

  February 20,2012 : The Staffordshire Hoard : Dr. Symons

  January 16,2012 : YARDLEY WOOD through the CAMERA : Michael Byrne

   December 19, 2011 : SLHC MEMBERS’ TALKS : Solihull Now and Then : Edna Handley:

                                   TREVOR ENGLAND :CHESSETTS WOOD WAR MEMORIAL

   November 21,2011  MARKET TOWN, COUNTRY TOWN: Joy Woodall

   October 17, 2011  Ian Dillamore: Middleton Hall

  September 19,2011  Andrew Hamilton :"MEET at DAWN, UNARMED"  

   April18, 2011  John Aitken: EDGBASTON and BOURNVILLE COMPARED

   March 2011  Elaine Warner: A THOUSAND YEARS of KNOWLE

   Feb 2011    Bob Burton:  METAL DETECTING around BIRMINGHAM

Return to TOP

   For Reports on earlier meetings, click here


THE HISTORY of ASHLEIGH ROAD, SOLIHULL: Talk given by Nigel Cameron on 19 November 2012 to Solihull LHC

In March 1903 Richard Chattock of Solihull Hall sold a rectangle of land between the Warwick and Streetsbrook Roads to Joseph Wells for £3,526. The land comprised two fields and parts of two others, amounting to 14 acres. Mr Wells was a butcher in Buirmingham. Within two years he had to construct a road, but Mr Chattock retained the right to pass across the centre of the land at all times with carts, and to drive animals, to/from the fields between the road and the village. Private dwellings only could be erected: those north of the cross road must cost at least £600 each (a pair of semi-detached was £1,200) and those south £500. Mr Wells wasted no time in constructing the road – his contractor was Trentham of Cowhays - and the 1904 Ordnance Survey showed Ashleigh Road as a dotted line with no plots defined. The first plot to be sold, however, was No 12 in October 1903 for £273. In 1881 Solihull had a population of 1,600 which rose to 3,700 by 1901. The railway had opened in 1852, and the rapid growth of Birmingham resulted in those who had prospered moving out of the city along the railway lines. Ashleigh Road was directly opposite Solihull Station. By 1921 the population of the village was 6,000. 

No 1: It was designed in 1907 by Ernest Wigley for Charles Lander, a jeweller, and his wife Emma. They called their house Estcourt (the houses in the road were not numbered until 1932), and the 1911 Census showed they had two children and a domestic servant. In 1926 Dr Carmichael Thomas, one of Dr Quinet’s partners, bought the property. On 13 June 1934 a garden fete was held in aid of the RSPCA with two distinguished guests – Gertrude Lawrence and Douglas Fairbanks II. The next occupants were the Shepherdsons. Shep was ARP Warden during WWII, and his large handbell was stolen (but promptly returned) by a small boy. On 25 May 1962 the queen visited the borough and Shep drove her up Ashleigh road from the station. Prince Charles visited No 1, now an Abbeyfield, in May 1991. 

No 14: James Dutfield bought the 128ft long frontage for Nos 14, 16 & 18 for £500 in 1905. He was a coal merchant, but became the secretary of the Birmingham Building Society, and was active with Joseph Chamberlain in the formation of the Liberal Unionist Party. The house was the first in the road, and one of the first in the village, to have a telephone: Solihull 15 in the 1908 directory. The next occupant was Foster Duggan, a solicitor who was also interested in politics, and the third owner was Charles Hardaker. His daughter, Margaret, kept 45 guinea pigs above the garage and a horse which was not allowed in the rear garden as it was used for bowls. 

No 16/18: Hugh Aldis lived at No 16 for 20 years from 1916 but never installed a telephone. He founded Aldis Brothers of Sparkhill, which made the famous Aldis Lamp in WW1. In No 18 from 1930-46 was Ralph de Courcy Deykin and his two elder sisters. All were unmarried. In 1939, knowing that there would be a paper shortage, they stocked their attic with thousands of toilet rolls. All were later confiscated by the Fire Brigade who pointed out the risk from incendiary bombs. 

No 17: The home of the architect Ernest Wigley and Edith who he had married in 1904 when he designed the house. It still has its original cast iron nameplate – Kilmore. Foster Gould, manager of Lloyds Bank in Solihull, bought the house in 1925 for £1,200. His younger son, Henry, married Norah Duggan of No 14 in 1933 – one of three instances of young people in the road marrying each other. There were 10 instances of people who moved house within the road as they liked living in it. 

No 19: James Ross, a circuit judge, and his wife Clare lived here from 1944. They had many pets, including an unusual one.  Terence & Muriel Waters from No 10 were sitting in the lounge after dinner when Muriel felt something on her shoulder: she was terrified. It was the pet rat. 

No 20: Designed for Mrs Stokes by William de Lacy-Aherne in 1904, it was notable for its exterior colours: dark brown timbers, cream infill panels, dark green woodwork and pale green bargeboards. Mrs Stokes mortgaged the property with her brother – people rarely used Building Societies, and never banks, for this purpose at this time. 

Nos 23/25: Built in 1905/6 on land purchased by Thomas & Arthur Lancaster. Originally there was no fencing between the pair as both were occupied by family members – Martin, their father in No 23 and Arthur in No 25. The Lancasters were keen astronomers and had a large telescope in a thatched building, which was not demolished until the early 1990s. No 23 was used as the Methodist Manse 1958-2003. Mrs Bessie Lancaster died aged 93 in 1995, so the family had occupied the house for 87 years – a record challenged by the Deakin/Dewsbury family of No 33 which has never been put on the market since it was built in 1910. 

No 32: Until 1996 when it was demolished, there was a bungalow here built under the Housing [Additional Powers] Act of 1919 which allowed Government money to be used for small dwellings, particularly for those wounded in WWI. The first owner was Major Walter Lindesay. The bungalow was bought in 1989 and rented out, during which time it deteriorated badly. A new house was built, with a date stone of 2000. Opposite is No 35 which, despite being two storied, was called The Bungalow when it was first occupied by John and Beatrice Rowlands in 1908. By the 1930s Kyle & Ruth Patterson lived there, and in November 1940 they accepted an evacuee from the Coventry blitz for a few weeks. Madeline, the same age as their son Jeremy, stayed until the end of the war. They also housed two American soldiers until D Day, whereas the Dewburys in No 33, still with their domestic servant, refused to have anybody. 

No 37: Designed by John Burgess Surman in 1927 for Alfred Oxley, the Secretary of the Birmingham School of Art, who specified as few windows as possible facing the street, but who never lived here. It was occupied by his nephew, William. It was built by Charles Grove & Sons of Dorridge within six months.

 No 38: Designed in 1922 by Peter Hing, who also designed No 28A in 1954, and had originally been apprenticed to Ernest Wigley. Solihull Council bought the property in 1939 and used it partly for offices and partly for on-duty firemen between call outs from the fire station opposite. Sea Rangers met upstairs 1948-50.

 Ashleigh Road was a well to do Edwardian residential street, and so it has remained. Its history is a microcosm of a particular social environment, extending for a century

Return to TOP


The Pearl Workers of Birmingham: Talk given by Val Preece on 15 October 2012 


Children at the school where Val Preece taught would bring in pearl waste which they had dug up. And she discovered that her husband’s family had been involved over many generations in the industry in Birmingham. An apprentice’s document of 1783 showed that it was flourishing then. Pearl workers were attracted to Birmingham as, unlike many other cities, it had no guilds. In the 1851 Census there were over 2000 skilled pearl cutters, but thousands more people were involved in the industry. Children swept dust off floors and turned the wheel that powered the tools; women sewed the buttons on to fabrics and on to strips of paper for retail selling. But the trade declined by WWI, and now there was only one cutter – George Hook, whose son did not wish to succeed him.

Shell (mainly from the Near and Far East), uncleaned so very smelly, was landed at St Catherine’s dock in London, and the majority was brought to Birmingham eg 1,300 tons in 1889. At that time it cost c£160 per ton; by 1990 it was £7.50 per pound. The outside of the oyster shell was called Bark and, after smoothing, was used for ornaments and dishes. The inside was the Mother of Pearl and was cut into buttons, ornamentation in differing shapes (eg a leaf or flower) for other artefacts, or used on its own. Roundels were marked in the inside of the shell to obtain to obtain the maximum number of buttons, etc, while avoiding worm deterioration. The smallest buttons cut by the Hook family were 1/16th inch diameter – for dolls’ clothes. Buttons could be broken in a mangle after washing, so there was a constant demand for replacements. In the 18th century most of the demand for pearl came from men, following Beau Brummel’s taste, and only later did women demand it for their fashions.

Instead of pictures, Val Preece showed some of the many objects made in pearl – inkwells, bookmarks, thimble cases, broaches, hairslides – or ornamented with it – papier-mache, boxes, purses, button and crochet hooks, knives and forks of many types, card carriers, collar studs and cuff links (Hook produced 40-50 gross per week at one time).

The apprenticeship lasted seven years as there was much to learn. The shell, usually oyster but sometimes snail, was built up in layers grown over the years (similar to tree rings), and could not be bent. Abalone (from Australia) was green, awabi (from Japan) was knobly, ormer (from Jersey) was a small shell due to the coldness of the waters. Pearl did not corrode (unlike the metal on which it was often mounted), but did not like detergent. Plastic was no substitute for pearl, which always felt cold to the touch. Treddles replaced wheel power for the tools in the early 19th century, but the biggest technical advance was the carburundum – instead of the sandstone – cutting wheel later that century. Sadly the Red Sea was over-fished for shell in the 1880s, so most supplies began to come from the Pacific – which is now being dredged to destruction.

It was always said that Birmingham Town Hall was built (1832) on pearl, but until recently the basis for this was not known. Recent discovery has shown that shell was used between stones to balance them and, more importantly, pearl dust was used to make the mortar. It was very strong, and the building’s foundations extend down 15 feet. Unlike other dust, pearl presented no health problems and indeed was beneficial in healing cuts. Pearl had the same properties as human bones, and workers in the industry often lived to a great age.

Return to TOP


Sept 17, 2012 : BEATRICE CADBURY : Fiona Joseph

On September 17th Solihull Local History Circle was host to Fiona Joseph who described the life of Beatrice Cadbury. This member of the Cadbury family is known as the heiress who gave away her fortune. She was the daughter of Richard Cadbury who controlled the fortunes of the family’s confectionery works. Beatrice was brought up as a Quaker. She became a more radical member of this sect after meeting the Dutch reformist Kees Boeke. After studying architecture at Delft University he spent a year in England. He met Quakers and joined their group. He attended Woodbrooke Quaker College in Birmingham where he was introduced to members of the Cadbury family. He met and married Beatrice Cadbury.
In 1912 the couple went to Syria as Quaker missionaries. Two years later they returned to Birmingham after the outbreak of World War I. The married couple became active in peace work which included a trip for Kees to Berlin. He was expelled from England and returned to Holland. Beatrice and the rest of the family soon followed him. Kees and Beatrice believed that war was generated by the entanglement of state and capitalism. Beatrice received a large share in her family’s business. She transferred this money to charitable organizations. Later, she gave her shares to a trust for the workers at the Cadbury factory at Bourneville. For a while Beatrice and Kees abstained from using money so as not to contribute to the state. They would pay neither postage, tolls, nor taxes and never used public transportation. As a result of this they were imprisoned several times and one of their seven children was born in prison.
In the late 1920s they withdrew from international peace movements. They then believed that they could build a better society by educating children and founded a school. The school was based on the Montessori methods. The school became well known in Holland and the Dutch queen Juliana sent her daughters there. Kees Boeke died in 1966 and Beatrice died ten years later after a short illness. The school remains in existence, still educating youngsters with a more modern and state inspired curriculum.

Return to TOP


Talk given by Joy Woodall on 19 June to Solihull LHC and SAG

On 29 May 1660, his 30th birthday, Charles II entered London amidst great pageantry. In Solihull the church bells were rung by the ringers who each received in cash the equivalent of 96 pints of ale. Everybody was overjoyed that they were no longer restricted by Puritanism, and John Large, Rector since 1656, retired to Sutton Coldfield. The new Rector, Henry Greswold, arrived in August. Aged 32 and unmarried, he had been born at Yardley the fourth son of 13 children, and had graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1649. He became a lawyer, but was ordained in 1659 and served a brief curacy in Co. Durham before arriving at Solihull.

 The parish had a population of 1,000 spread over 11,000 acres. There were a number of heaths and farms, many of which were moated for drainage, fishing and defence – but mainly for prestige. The parish was divided into six ‘Ends’, eg Foreshaw, Shirley, Olton, etc, plus ‘the Borough’ of Solihull. Each had its own unpaid officers elected annually to deal with the poor, the highways and policing matters. There were two manorial courts – Town and ‘Foreign’. A Bailiff and Feoffees controlled the finances of the church and school, kept charitable properties in good repair, but were not responsible for the poor or the highways. There were two main local charities to help the poor. Collet’s Dole gave 1s a year to each individual, and Whatley’s Dole (of Coventry) gave 10s a year to four Solihull distressed tradesmen. The main industries were cloth working, leather, and metalwork; the ancient market ceased around 1630.

 Parliament introduced the Hearth Tax in 1662, which levied two shillings each year per hearth. It was much resented because a fire was essential for warmth and cooking. Berry and Henwood Halls each had 10 hearths, Longdon Hall 7 and the Rectory 4. The Rector could excuse the poor from paying, and in the late 1670s 40% of Solihull’s 320 households were so excused. The tax was repealed in 1689.

 The Rev. Henry Greswold came to an Elizabethan Rectory with glebe of 80 acres plus the tithes. In 1662 he married Anne Marshall of Dotford (Northants) who, in due course, inherited her family’s land (including houses in London and Coventry) and silver. Henry inherited 467 acres at Greet when his elder brother Humphrey died in 1671. In 1668 he bought Malvern Park Farm and in 1680 Malvern Farm. He & Anne had 13 children, before she died in 1690. Henry donated money to the poor, the Wren Library at Trinity College, and endowed Ripon Grammar School. He died in1700.

 Humphrey (1671-1712), their eldest son, never married. He rebuilt Malvern farmhouse into the Hall, living there from 1702, and in 1706 served as High Sheriff of Warwickshire. The second son, Henry (1673-1749) bought Hillfield Hall in 1705 and married Jane Aston in 1706. They had six children. The third son, Marshall (1674-1728) was educated at Trinity College and took holy orders. But he soon returned to Solihull to run the estate. When aged 45, he married Martha Makepeace and had three boys and a girl. He had the estate surveyed in 1726 which, on his death two years later, he left to his wife. On her death in 1755 she bequeathed it not to her surviving son but to her daughter Mary (1724-57), who had married to David Lewis. Mary also inherited Hillfield Hall. They had three daughters (two of whom married successive Earls of Dysart) and a son, Henry Greswold Lewis (1754-1828), who inherited at the age of 19. In 1783 he commissioned John Soane to improve Malvern Hall (the cost was £3,083) and later a new drive from the east was planned so Soane built the gatehouse in 1798. But Henry fell out with his architect and the drive was never built: instead the existing drive was extended northwards beyond the Warwick Road to a wooden obelisk. John Constable came to stay on several occasions.

 In the 1680s £57 pa had been spent on the poor. By 1710 this was £97 and in 1739 £230. A public meeting in 1740 decided that a workhouse should be built, and this was completed on 1742 on the Warwick Road. It housed 20 people, who were supervised by a Master and a Mistress. The Grammar School had been founded in 1560 and provided free education for boys. The Rev. John Crompton was headmaster 1704-35, who greatly improved its reputation. When he moved to Market Bosworth Grammar School, Samuel Johnson applied for the post, but Rev. Richard Mashiter (1713-69) was appointed. He married Mary Holbech in 1742. Their eldest son, Edward (1743-78) followed his father as headmaster, and their daughter Jane (1745-1831) married John Short, Solihull’s first doctor. John Powell (d 1803) opened a new school in 1780 at The Priory, which was continued by his nephew, also John (d 1838). It taught 150 boys – many of them boarders – a wider range of subjects than the Grammar School, and there was much rivalry between the ‘Bulldogs’ (Powell’s boys) and the ‘Tadpoles’ (Grammar School).

 Touchwood Hall was rebuilt by Thomas Holbech in 1712. The church spire was heightened in 1735 but was blown down by a gale in 1757, causing much damage. The Feoffees were faced with a £3,000 bill, and mortgaged some of their properties including the Barley Mow coaching inn. It was not redeemed until 1776. The Town Hall in The Square was rebuilt in 1779 (and demolished in 1880).

 Four features dominate the 150 years covered by this period: the shortness of life, late marriages by the men, large families, and how fortune could change very suddenly.

Return to TOP

COMPTON VERNEY : Talk given by Dr Sylvia Pinches on 16 April 2012 to Solihull LHC

The Domesday Book listed two manors in the area owned respectively by Alwyn and Robert Beaumont, Count of Meulan (d 1118) whose brother became the 1st Earl of Warwick. By the late 13th century the village was known as Compton Murdack, due to the family which held the manor. The main event was the murder of Sir Thomas by his wife in 1316. In 1435 the estate was bought by Sir Richard Verney, whose direct descendents held it until 1921 when financial pressures caused by poor farming prices forced the family to sell it. Probate records, inventories and the Verney Papers at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust enable the history of the house, its contents and the people who lived there to be understood.

 Sir Richard Verney who died in 1490 had built a new house according to Dugdale. His son was created Lord Willoughby de Broke in 1491. His grandson, also Richard, married Margaret Greville. She was the sister, and eventual heiress, of Fulke Greville (1554-1628) 1st Lord Brooke, who never married. Greville Verney (1586-1642) thus had money with which to add to the house, and the inventory on his death recorded two halls and 17 chambers, all of which had at least one hearth, £150 worth of silver plate and books. The furniture of the great chamber, ie the best bedroom with a sitting room, was all listed. Wenceslas Hollar drew the house in the late 1630s but The Antiquities of Warwickshire by Dugdale was not published until 1656. Greville had three sons but the elder two, each of whom succeeded in turn, died young so the third son, Richard (1622-1711) eventually inherited.

 His son, George 12th Lord Willoughby de Broke and Dean of Windsor, built the baroque west frontage (possibly by Smith of Warwick or maybe Sir John Vanburgh) in 1714, from when another inventory survives. This listed many more paintings, and also an oilcloth for placing on the floor when dining. The Stable Block by James Gibb, made to look like a house on its lakeside frontage (now converted into flats), dates from the 1730s.

 John Verney, Master of the Rolls, died in 1741 and the inventory from that year mentioned an easy chair, a Tompion clock and a Turkey carpet 16ft x 6ft which probably lay on the floor (previously carpets had been used as wall coverings). With his wife, Sarah, he had a son, John Peyton Verney (1738-1816) 14th Lord Willoughby de Broke. His second name referred to a wealthy spinster relation, whose fortune (many acres in Warwickshire) he eventually inherited. Zoffany painted him and his family in 1766 (the picture is now in Los Angeles). John engaged Capability Brown to design the grounds, demolish the old church by the lake and replace it with a new Chapel in 1772. Robert Adam designed the new south wing, portico and bridge in 1760, using local craftsmen, eg William Hiron the builder and Robert Moore the plasterer, both of Warwick. The mediaeval hall was restored to its original dimensions by removing the parlour which had earlier been placed in it, and also repositioning the staircase.

 The 1816 inventory recorded everything in the 15 garrets (each with mahogany rather than oak furniture) at the top of the house, to the bacon room and scullery at the bottom. Closets were now called dressing rooms. The library had 4,000 books, four maps and a Broadwood piano. The eldest son inherited the title but was mentally retarded and lived in the care of a clergyman in Somerset, so the house and its estate passed to the second son, Henry. He married, but not until late in life in 1902, Margaret Williams in North Wales. One of her sisters had married a Verney of Claydon (no relation) and another a Lucy of Charlecote. Besides being an enthusiast for country sports, Henry was mechanically minded and had a steam paddle boat on the lake. He had well equipped workshops where his men made the equipment he had designed for lowering a coffin into a grave. He filled his own with stones and supervised practice interments. When he died his wife commissioned John Gibson to design Bodelwydden (The Marble) Church beside the A55 near St Asaph. This architect also designed Combrook church in 1860, although bank buildings were his speciality.

 Henry had no children. His sister had run off and married a clergyman, the Rev. Barrett. Their son, Robert (1809-1862) had to change his name to Verney to inherit. He lived with his wife and family in the house in some style. His grandson, Richard Greville Verney (1869-1923) 19th Lord Willoughby de Broke, installed tenants in the house between 1887-1911 because he could not afford to live there, and in 1921 had to sell it. He wrote a book The Passing Years about life at Compton Verney and recalled loyal, long serving servants like Mrs Careless the housekeeper, and Jesse Eales the gamekeeper.

 The house was bought by ‘Soapy Joe’ Watson from Leeds who had made his money in that commodity. His son sold it in 1933 to Samuel Lamb, an industrialist from Manchester. During WWII it was the Officers’ Mess for the Camouflage Unit billeted in the grounds. Henry Ellard bought the property for £70,000 in 1958, but let the house deteriorate further. Although wealthy, with a collection of fine cars, he lived as a recluse at the Regency Club (now the Corus Hotel) in Solihull. On his death in 1983, Compton Verney was acquired by Christopher Buxton, who sold it in 1994.

 At this time there were plans to build an opera house (‘the Glyndebourne of the Midlands’) beside the river on the east side of the bridge, a project with which the 21st Lord Willoughby be Broke was associated. Concerts were held in the Chapel and events in the grounds to raise funds. Another idea was to convert the house into a luxury hotel, but all these plans came to nothing. The Peter Moores’ Foundation (from Littlewoods’ Pools money) has restored the house, which now houses an art gallery, and has started on the restoration of the Chapel.

Return to TOP  


   Celebrities whose birth was registered at Birmingham Registry Office included Oscar Deutsch, the founder of Odeon cinemas; Anthony Pratt, who created Cluedo; Dirk Bogarde, Julie Walters, Toyah Wilcox, Martin Shaw, and the Phelps twins of Harry Potter fame. The grandfathers of Rolf Harris, Steve Redgrave and Mick Romney, currently campaigning for the Republican nomination for the US Presidential election were all born in Birmingham.

Children have been registered with unusual forenames. 19th century examples were Boileta, Zebra, and Farmer (whose surname was Palmer). A girl, whose surname was Jordan, was called River. To avoid the disappointment of never receiving a title later in life, children were named Lord, Lady or even King. One boy registered in 1908 as King, followed by Herod, later changed his second forename – but not the first – by deed poll. Mafeking and Somme were used as forenames in the relative eras, and for some time afterwards. In 1887 and 1897, Jubilee, used only occasionally in most years, peaked towards the hundreds in Birmingham. Anagrams were used, eg Thelma (from Hamlet).

Curiously numbers were popular, eg Eleven Elizabeth Webb, and Million Montague Evans. In 1984 the Tuckers named their first son One Two Three, and in 1996 their second son Four Five Six. There was no limit to the number of forenames given to a child. Autumn Brown had 26 – the surnames of world heavyweight boxing champions, totally inappropriate for a girl. Given that on certain legal documents, and examination papers, all names have to be entered, one felt a great deal of sympathy for the children given many names. A birth had to be registered within 42 days but sometimes a forename had not been decided, so the column was left blank. The certificate could be reissued later when the baby had been named. The 1927 Legitimacy Act allowed illegitimate births to be re-registered if the parents subsequently married. A man born in Birmingham in 1889 did this immediately the new law came into operation. The Act also simplified the registration of stillbirths. Since 1967 the surname recorded does not have to be that of either the father or the mother.

Intended weddings had to be notified at least three weeks beforehand to the Registrar, and were recorded in Notice Books. These were valuable, particularly as the length of time each applicant had lived at their address was shown. Sadly, to help the Second World War Effort, all the Birmingham Notice Books up to 1919 were pulped. When the Registrar occupied only one room which also contained all the records, there was little space for the couple and their parents. Even in 1937 no more than six persons, including the couple, were allowed to attend, and punctuality was important. In 2011 a couple, whose wedding was fixed for noon, arrived at 3pm with 40 guests and were outraged when told it could not take place as the Registrar refused to cancel other weddings. It was re-fixed for six weeks later, when everybody arrived on time.

 Clothing worn varied widely: last year a couple arrived with tops of their respective football teams and, as soon as they were told they could kiss, immediately took off their tops and exchanged them. Not for long, as each disliked the opponent, and before leaving the premises they had changed back to their originals. On one occasion the couple, and 200 guests, arrived all dressed in identical Star Treck attire. There were normally two witnesses, but an example from 1909 showed 11.

Up to 1907 a woman was not allowed to marry her deceased husband’s brother, but when John East died his widow did so in 1905. When her second husband died, she scored a hat trick by marrying the third brother in 1934. The tax advantages of marriage accrued for the whole year, even if the wedding took place in the last day. Easter Saturday 5 April 1969 was such a day, and a large number of couples wanted their wedding then. The hours of the Birmingham Registry Office were increased to 8am – 6pm and, by converting at least two storerooms, eight wedding rooms were made available. This enabled 207 marriages to be conducted - a record unsurpassed before or since. There were also fictional marriages: the first one on Crossroads in 1965 was filmed outside the Office, and another in 1975 was very realistic. [Our own Allan Evans was present].

Other curiosities were occupations. A Bible Woman was one who read the scriptures publicly; a Haggler was one who bartered; and a Floater on a Sewage Farm must be left to the imagination. The causes of death in 1837, when no doctor’s certificate was required, ranged from ‘complicated disease’, ‘blood in the head’, and ‘worn out’.

 The first Register Office in Birmingham was a room at 30 Bennett’s Hill, the building also containing a bookseller, share broker and The Deaf & Dumb Institute. The Superintendent Registrar was William Pare, a tobacconist, who had to resign when accused by the Bishop of Exeter of being a Socialist, and was succeeded by Henry Knight, a clock maker. From 1850-97 the Superintendent was William Cooper, who was followed by his son John up to 1927. Since 1837 the Register Office has been in nine different places. In 1924 Birmingham, Aston and Kings Norton were amalgamated to form Birmingham North and Birmingham South Districts. The former was at 46 Newhall Street and the latter at 6 Edmund Street – in fact in the same building but with separate entrances. The two Districts were amalgamated in 1932. In 1838 1.4% of all marriages in the district were performed at the Register Office; in 2008 43%. There are currently nearly 18,500 Index Books, all the information in which was now on computer.

Return to TOP 

THE STAFFORDSHIRE HOARD :Talk by Dr David Symons on 20 February 2012

The hoard was found on 5 July 2009 by Tony Herbert who had twenty years of detecting experience. He immediately reported the find to the Portable Antiques Service (PAS) who informed the Staffordshire County Archaeologist. A test pit was dug by Birmingham Archaeology, funded by English Heritage. The site eventually extended to 15 x 10 metres, and overlooked the A5 (Watling Street) at Hammerwich. It was thus hard to keep it secret (necessary to avoid theft), but the media were repulsed by telling them that no Roman remains had been found. All the artefacts were found in the top soil over a period of five weeks.

 A press conference was held on 24 September. A leak on an early news bulletin led to a huge attendance from radio, TV and the press. An enquiry was received from the Vatican Press Office, and the story was the lead item on the 6pm BBC News. The archaeologists gave innumerable interviews and within 24 hours there were details and pictures in the New Zealand Herald and the Boston Advertiser.

 The hoard had to be listed for the Coroner and the Valuation. Dr Kevin Leahy of the PAS used raffle tickets to number the c3,500 items, including minute fragments – some still in lumps of soil which were X-rayed. Normally public display was allowed only after Valuation, but objects were exhibited in Birmingham Museum for 19 days (42,000 people queued for up to five hours) before going to the British Museum. There the value was assessed at £3,285,000, with 5kg of gold (equivalent to 3,500 gold coins: the top blood price in the 7th century was 300) and 1.5kg silver. This was split equally between Tony Herbert and Fred Johnson, the farmer.

 A public appeal to help find the cost raised an astonishing £900,000 in four months. Since May 2010 the Hoard has been jointly owned by Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent Museums. Lichfield, Tamworth and Stafford (the Mercian Trail) now display some of the items, but the most important are currently at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, which helped with funding. Attendance there has been second only to the Terracotta Warriors Exhibition a few years ago. These items will return to Stoke soon for a complete exhibition lasting a year, and will then come to Birmingham in 2014 when a new gallery will be ready to display them.

 Most of the items were part of sword handles (over 90 in number; Sutton Hoo[1] had only one), crosses and cups. Their decoration was of two types – garnets mounted in thin strips of gold foil, and filigree work. Only four loose garnets have been found (there were 60 at Sutton Hoo). Blackthorn was used for cleaning, as anything steel would have scratched the gold. French research with lasers into garnets found across France, Belgium and Germany to identify their chemical make-up, suggests that they came from N.India, Sri Lanka, Portugal and the Czech Republic. The Hoard’s are Indian and Czech. The filigree work was very fine with patterns, sometimes of animals/birds, made from gold wire – often of tiny (2mm) lengths. A grain of long grain rice - recognised internationally – will be used as a measurement comparison.

 Pommel caps had both kinds of decoration, although one cap was silver and probably German from 500. A strip of gold carried an extract in Latin from the Book of Numbers, proving that the Hoard post dated the death in 655 of Penda, King of Mercia. The items were now considered to date from 670-700. The strip may originally have been around a gospel book or reliquary box. Conservation expertise has enabled many of the pieces to be put together, although not completely. A Birmingham jeweller has made three crucifixes based on an original: one is in the Birmingham Museum, another at Stoke, and the third was given to the Pope on his visit in 2011.

 The origins of the Hoard were still unknown. Many of the items were military, but the site was not a battlefield as there were no scabbards or armour parts, etc. All the items were of a very high quality. Many had been ripped apart, before ploughing scattered them. They were probably contained in a sack and, maybe, on their way to be melted down; or had been hidden as loot. Conservation work would continue for several more years, and hopefully get nearer to establishing the origins of the Hoard.

 References: The National Geographical Magazine November 2010:

Lost Gold of the Dark Ages (Catalogue of the National Geographic  Exhibition in Washington)  £19.99)

[1] Sutton Hoo, near Woodbridge. Suffolk, was the burial place of Raedwald, King of the East Angles who died in 617 (or possibly Aethelhere, killed in battle in 665).  

Return to TOP

  YARDLEY WOOD through the CAMERA   : Talk given by Michael Byrne on 16 January 2012  

Yardley Wood was the last part of the south of Yardley Manor to be cleared of forest and replaced by farms. These in turn were redeveloped for housing mainly by Birmingham city council, after WWI. An article in the Birmingham Gazette in 1933, entitled Farewell to Yardley Wood, looked back on its rural past, but found the 17th century Priory Windmill (with 60ft sails) still standing. Kate Cave had inherited it in 1931 and wanted to refurbish it as a dwelling (“rooms without corners would have no dust”), but it was blown up in 1937 for a bungalow estate. Billesley Farm (178 acres) and Quagmire Farm, both owned by Charles Reeves, had been demolished in 1924 and 1926 respectively. Daisy Farm (52 acres) was sold to the City for £7,800 in 1927 and Ivy House Farm (28 acres) went in 1930.

There are several different spellings of Trittiford (often without the first ‘r’). The main farm was part of the Taylor estate (John Taylor I had been one of the founders of Lloyds Bank) and was rented by the Reeves family 1909-37. A 1922 picture of its milk cooling equipment was fascinating. Tittesford House Farm was  rented by the Cliff family 1885-1920; its farm buildings were converted into a garage, with Shell petrol pumps, and demolished in the 1960s. Trittiford Mill dated from 1783 and its pool covered 7.5 acres. Besides water power, a steam engine was also installed and the mill made steel pen nibs. It was sold in 1913 and the pool became a public open space in 1923. The City, in developing the area, was generous in providing open spaces between the housing estates – in contrast to Hall Green where private developers operated. This estate was built from 1938 and work continued until 1941. Priory Mill, also on the River Cole, was first recorded in 1495 as part of Colebrook Priory. Owned by the Woolaston family it was rebuilt in 1843 as a needle mill, but reverted to flour c1870 and closed in 1919. Its pool was filled in to become the Dingle Recreation Ground, but its extended tailrace caused the boundary between Birmingham and Solihull to be altered, and the curious kink still exists. The last of its buildings were pulled down in 1965.

Yardley Wood originally had a ‘Platform’ (superior to a ‘halt’ but less than a station) on the North Warwickshire Railway which arrived in 1907. The GWR ran distinctive diesel carriages on the line until 1941. Highfield Road bridge over the Cole was widened to reach the station. There were two fords across the river, at Scriber’s Lane and Slade Lane – both painted by Thomas Clark. Scriber’s ‘Water Splash’ was replaced by a bridge for buses to use. The Stratford Canal had humped bridges with weight restrictions of 8 tons. A Birmingham Gazette article in 1936 recounted how one bridge was tested to destruction, which did not occur until 126 tons had been loaded on to it.

John Taylor III gave land for Christ Church (and its parsonage) which was consecrated in 1849. Stained glass and a lych gate were added by the 1880s. Several rich people from Moseley attended the church, and were buried there. But the church had only one bell, so recordings of London’s Bow bells were used regularly. In 1914 there was a riot involving 500 people when the Anglo-Catholics, supported by the Guild of the Holy Cross, paraded their crucifix and were attacked by low churchmen, mainly from Kings Heath. A large body of police only just managed to restore order, enabling the crucifix to be returned to the church. St Caradoc’s Church in Highfield Road was started in two ex WWI Army huts. It was reconsecrated in 1954 after rebuilding as St Peter’s, as the Bishop of Birmingham refused to believe that any Welsh people still lived in the area. A fire necessitated a further reconsecration in 1964.

In 1877 James Ferne Webster (1821-1904), a metallurgist entrepreneur, built a factory in Yardley Wood where aluminium was first made in the UK in 1881. Further patents followed, and the Prime Minister (Lord Salisbury) visited. Manufacture was switched to Oldbury in 1888, but a new process by another manufacturer overtook Webster who, at one time very rich, died leaving only £2,000.

There were many pubs in the area including the Sherwood, Dog & Partridge, the Warstock, and Bagnall Arms but all have now gone, as have (in the early 1970s) the Co-op shops in School Road, Prince of Wales Terrace, and Priory Road. The Tudor Cinema, built in 1929, had 1,000 seats but was demolished in 1962. The Happy Valley Pleasure Grounds run by the Bardell family – with bands, dancing, and punting on the canal – where a toffee apple cost a farthing, closed in 1950.

Return to TOP    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



 The High Street   The first known print (1829) by Ratcliff, towards the church. Warwick Rd, Mormon HQ 

 1947 photo of Tanyard cottages (demolished 1962). Yard  closed 1867.

Hampton Lane, by Solihull Sch:  Ivy Cottage (date unknown), but still there in 1951.

School Lane, Palmer’s Charity School. 1909 postcard, when it was Solihull School

            Sanatorium. Built 1830, following a bequest in 1723 by Miss Martha Palmer

of Olton Hall. Converted by 1994 into 3 dwellings for Solihull School staff.

Beechnut Lane  1908 p/c with Charles Lines’ parents, brother & sister in wooded lane

Anchor Lane      1920 p/c showed Anchor Inn beside Solihull Wharf.

Olton Tavern     1920 p/c of Olton Hall, built 1824 on site of Hobs Moat. Tavern 1937

Warwick Rd, The Gatehouse  1907 p/c. Built 1798 by Sir John Soane. Converted to  house in 1978.

 Sold for £8,000 in 1987.

Sandals Bridge: 1948 aerial photo. Built by John de Sandal (Rector 1311-16), widened 1924. Brickyard 1896-1954,

 with 6 pairs of houses on road frontage and large claypit behind. Flats built on brickyard 1975.

Sandals Cottage:   1947 in snow. Built c1785 by John Felton. Modernised in 1981.

The Oak Tree:       1907 p/c. Beside the path from New Road to Warwick Road.

New Rd, Old Police Station: 1920 p/c. Built 1851. By 1903 2 shops, inc. Sub PO.  Rebuilt 2003.

Rectory Road:       1907 p/c, with field towards 1834 Rectory and its farm.

Church Hill/Whitefields Rd:   1907 p/c. Little changed, but fingerpost has gone.

High Street:            1907 p/c of Great Western Mews, run by Mr Ledbroke, fly proprietor.

Station Rd, John Lewis: 1946 picture shows the Co-op when built; also 1968 & 1999.

Station Rd, The Parade: 1920 p/c shows Sutton Grange, demolished 1926.


Return to TOP


 Many of the names recorded on WWI Memorials had no graves. That at Packwood lists not only those who died, but also those who served and survived. But there is no WWII Memorial, as the names were placed with those of Hockley Heath at the base of its WWI Memorial.

 An expensive (gold, blue & green lettering) and heavy (27x17ins, x 6ins deep) stone WWI Memorial was erected in the Chapel of Ease at Chessetts Wood. It listed four names, all of whom lived there but were born in Aston or Nechells. Adams, Cottrell and Holt were single men; they were labourers who had served in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, and were buried in Northern France. Astle was a married farmer who had served in the Hampshire Regiment and was buried in Belgium. The Chapel was deconsecrated in 1960 when it was converted into a private house, and the Memorial was dumped in Loach’s adjacent builders yard. When the latter ceased to trade, Mr Loach’s son took the Memorial to his home in Yorkshire. In 2010 he contacted the Vicar of Packwood, and the Memorial was returned. A Faculty is being sought to install it in the church

    Return to TOP~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Talk given by Joy Woodall on 21 November 2011 to Solihull LHC

The Manor of Ulverley, whose main settlement was at Ulverley Green, was a large elongated manor bounded by Sheldon in the north, Elmdon in the east and Tanworth in the south. Settled by Anglo Saxons, it was owned by Edwin, Earl of Mercia, brother-in-law of Harold, who was killed at the Battle of Hastings.

 William the Conqueror gave the manor to his kinsman, Ralph de Limesi, who owned 40 other manors. In 1066 Ulverley was worth £10, but by 1086 this had declined to £4. The Domesday Book recorded a priest, so that there must have been a church somewhere; there were 3,000 acres of woodland. Ralph’s son, Alain, wanted more income so he founded a new town on a flat piece of ground – where the Salt Road from Droitwich crossed the Warwick Road – close to the border with Longdon, hoping to attract people from that manor. It was 2.5 miles from Ulverley Green, and at the top of a soily hill, hence Solihull. A church was built, dedicated to St Alphege, the Archbishop of Canterbury who had been killed by the Danes in 1012.

 Strips of ground were offered to prospective inhabitants on Burgage Tenure, with a rent of 1s a year, but no other obligations. The 1180 Tax return listed Solihull as paying 13s4d, whereas Birmingham paid only 4s. Alain de Limesi was succeeded by his son Gerard, and then his grandson John. The latter died in 1198 and was the last of the family. The manor of Ulverley reverted to the king who appointed Hugh Bardolf as Custodian. John’s sister, Basilia, wanting to keep the family connection, married him, but he died in 1204. A new Custodian was appointed so she married him, but he also did not live long, so she finally married Hugh d’Odingsell, a Flemish soldier. He had to pay £500 to acquire the manor from the Crown.

 A new manor house had been built at Hobs Moat and in 1238 William d’Odingsell, their younger son, now lord of the manor, added a stone structure to this. He also, in 1242, secured a Royal Charter for a weekly Wednesday market and a three day fair around St Alphege’s Day on 19 April. William was away much of the time fighting the Welsh and Henry III appointed him Constable of Montgomery Castle. His son, William II who succeeded in 1204, helped Edward I to finally defeat the Welsh and then served in Ireland. He married Ela, daughter of the Earl of Salisbury, and was knighted. In the 1270s he rebuilt the chancel of the church and added the chantry, with its own priest who lived below the chapel, to pray for the family. Sir William was made Viceroy of Ireland but died soon afterwards in 1295. His only son Edmund did not survive him long, dying of cholera aged 27, so his four daughters were the co-heiresses. The manor was divided: William’s widow retained Hobs Moat and what became known as the Old Town (Olton), whilst their second daughter, also Ela who had married John de Bermingham, inherited Solihull. It was sold in 1320 to the Bishop of Ely and then passed through numerous other hands, so Solihull no longer had a resident manorial lord.

 The main occupations of the townsfolk were clothmaking, leather (hung out on the tenters with hooks) and metal trades, including making nails and wire besides implements. Around the small ‘borough’ were the small settlements of Olton, Shirley Street and Shelly Green, and many farms – at least 20 of which were moated. Moats provided defence, drainage and fish. All were within the extensive parish of Solihull which included the manor of Longdon. In the 1332 Tax List 67 men who had assets of 10s or more were listed. But the Black Death 1348-50, which recurred up until 1370, caused great deprivation. Work on the church stopped in 1360, and would not start again until 1530, although a spire was added in 1470.

 The Greswold family built what is now known as the Manor House in the High Street around 1475 as prosperity began to return. The funding of the chantry was diverted to local education before the Crown dissolved others, and Solihull Grammar School was founded in 1560. But by 1632 the market and fair had disappeared, and much of the 17th century was a hard time for the town. In 1871 the Hearth Tax revealed there were 83 households but, at 2s per hearth, 52 were too poor to pay.

 The Rev. Henry Greswold (Rector 1660-1700), who had 13 children, started to buy property, including the land on which his son built Malvern Hall. A successor was Charles Curtis (Rector 1789-1829) who lived in the old Elizabethan Rectory but was also Rector of Birmingham at the same time. He was a keen hunter and the hunt met in the Square. The 18th century brought a revival to the town’s fortunes. In 1726 the Birmingham-Warwick road was turnpiked, and The Barley Mow was an important stopping point for coaches. In 1776 Thomas Archer, landlord of The George, died: his inventory revealed that he was owed over £130 by several prominent local people, which amounted to a third of his estate.

 Mr Powell’s School, on the corner of the High Street and The Square, was a boys’ boarding school which had a high reputation in the early 1800s. It had a modern curriculum, unlike the Grammar School which continued to teach Latin and Greek, and hence was not well supported. The boys attended dancing classes, held on the upper floor of the Town Hall beside the church, with the young ladies (to whom they were not allowed to speak) of the neighbouring Lyndon House School. “The Limes”, a house on the Warwick Road opposite Poplar Road, housed a succession of doctors beginning with John Short in 1761 and ending with Paul & Doris Quinet in 1974, after whom it is now named.

 The modern shopping centre, named after Touchwood Hall (demolished in 1966) on Dog (Drury) Lane, now filled with traders and customers, was the kind of profitable facility that Alain de Limesi wanted all those years ago when he founded his new town.   

Return to TOP


 Talk given by Ian Dillamore on 17 October 2011 to Solihull LHC

Middleton Hall is older and more fascinating than many historic houses in the West Midlands. The original stone house was built for Philip de Marmion in 1285. It was added to in four phases over the centuries: the Jettied Building and the Great Hall, with a gallery along the front linking the east and west wings, was built c 1530. John Leyland in 1542 described it as Sir John Willoughby’s fine house, and in 1575 Queen Elizabeth stayed two nights in rooms above a Gatehouse to the courtyard. In 1650 there was substantial modification with a new kitchen with lodgings over. There the great English naturalist, John Ray (1627-1705), who travelled across Europe with Francis Willoughby in the 1660s, wrote the first scientific book on ornithology and compiled a comprehensive listing of plants. Finally there were two Georgian phases: the main part of the West Wing with eight bays in 1720, and its south extension of three bays in 1824 by the first of a sequence of tenants, Sir Francis Lawley.

 The 1st Lord Middleton, son of Francis Willoughby, demolished the gallery in order to construct the grand staircase. His main residence was Wollaston Hall, Nottingham (built by his father), but when he was ennobled in 1711 he chose his birthplace for his title as there was already a Lord Willoughby. He also unfortunately encased the 16th century structures in concrete, and converted the windows to sash frames to produce a Georgian appearance. Middleton house was let for long periods. One tenant, John Peel, filled in the moat and another, De Hamil, wrote a somewhat fanciful history of the house for the Victoria County History. His visitors included Gertrude Jekyll and Baden Baden-Powell. The latter, brother of the famous Robert, had constructed a man lifter contraption and this was used to photograph the Hall from the air (and later in the Boer War).

 The Middleton family sold the house and its 3,600 acres (including the village) to pay death duties in 1925. It was bought by John Averill who demolished the Gatehouse to allow his lorries into the yard, created a garage in the south wing, and allowed the house to deteriorate. The gardener and housekeeper remember him stripping the panelling from the Jettied Building where they lived, revealing draughty gaps in the lath and plaster. His son, Dick, inherited but lived elsewhere. He sold the estate to Amey Roadstone who extracted gravel and by the 1970s the house was in a very bad state.

 The Langley Brook had been dammed with a brick wall in the 16th century to create a pool to service the blast iron furnace on the estate (the second in the country after Cannock, and long before Coalbrookdale). The drive to the Hall ran along the top of the dam. Water lilies were used commercially in London and Manchester, but no longer grow as the pool has silted up. To avoid the expense of repairing the dam wall, Amey banked it up with large stones removed from the finer gravel and made the present grass verge. The Tudor stables were topped out in 1604 and were then unique in having accommodation over the houses and carts. These were used to transport the cast iron six miles to Hints Mill for further processing.

 In 1977 local conservationists from Tamworth became concerned about the building, despite Atherstone District Council stating that it was too far gone to save. They persuaded Amey to support the foundation of the Middleton House Trust in 1980; the day after the announcement the fine staircase was badly vandalised. The Trust were granted a lease on the property until 2025 at a peppercorn rent. Amey sold the estate to Consolidated Goldfields who promised to donate the Hall to the Trust, but sadly there is no record of this. Hanson took over that company, and the current owners are property developers who want to break the lease.

 The Great Hall has been restored, as has the Jettied Building (in 2000). For the latter only, English Heritage agreed that the concrete covering could be removed, revealing the timber framing in all its glory.

Return to TOP            ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Talk given by Andrew Hamilton on 19 September 2011 to Solihull LHC

Andrew Hamilton spoke about his grandfather’s War Diary August 1914-January 1915. Robert Hamilton (1877-1959) was educated at Glenalmond, where he played in the cricket XI. He served with the Norfolk Regiment (‘The Holy Boys’) in the Boer War. He left the Regiment in 1906, and married in 1907 Irene Mordaunt (1880-1969) of Walton Hall. They went to Trinidad but returned for Robert to join the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. All ranks wore a distinctive badge, an antelope, which had been the Regiment’s mascot since 1707. The 1st Battalion (500 men) left Folkestone on 22 August and landed at Le Havre. They did not have steel helmets as none were issued until 1916.

There were three versions of the Diary. The first was what Robert wrote in a diary (each day had a page) on the spot; the second was his transcription, with additions on to plain paper afterwards; and the third was a typed version. Apparently he offered the transcription to a Hereford printer for publication but the charge would have been £5, so Robert got one of his clerks to type it. Amongst Robert’s friends were Bernard Montgomery (about 10 years younger) and Bruce Bairnfather, whose cartoons (which he preferred to call sketches) were part of Andrew’s presentation, along with maps and photographs gleaned from the Imperial War Museum, etc.

The weather was very hot in August/September, which meant that carrying 30 kilo packs for up to 34 miles a day was exhausting. Prolonged rain in the autumn made liquid mud a problem, so the freezing weather (with snow) in December/January was welcomed. The Warwicks’ initial positions were to the NE of Paris towards Soissons, in the Marne Valley, but they soon began moving north following the Germans. They stayed on farms – the officers in the house, the men in the barns – which had food to supplement basic rations; and in caves in quarries previously occupied by the enemy, where regimental crests (eg the Hampshires) were carved on the rock. The first trenches were dug (a practice from the Boer War) in September. ‘Crib sheets’ with useful French words and sentences were issued to all ranks, and rum was provided for warmth. At one point the men took a much needed bath in a brewery.

The Warwicks were part of a Brigade which also had Seaforth Highlanders (often drunk but superb fighting men whom the Germans feared), Irish Fusiliers and the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. On 13 October there was major action near Meteren as part of the 1st Battle of Ypres when the Warwicks lost 400 men. Many were buried temporarily in a mass grave in a muddy hopfield, before being reburied later in a cemetery. Montgomery was wounded and returned to the UK. The adjutant was Lt Jackson whose sketch maps proved useful, but he could not spell; Robert, now a Captain, disliked the man.

The mail was vitally important (one million items were posted a day). Christmas gifts and cards arrived for the Warwicks on 20 December, and a present from Princess Mary (6 cigarettes, pipe, tobacco and matches) was distributed to each man. Music was heard more often: Robert played the cornet and acquired a German concertina – as shown in a Bairnfather sketch. On Christmas Day, during the truce, each side shouted to the other to come into the middle (the trenches were 70 yards apart). Private Gregory did so and was met by two Germans from the 134 Saxon Corps. Many others soon gathered, with the Germans exchanging their cigars for English cigarettes. A football match was proposed but never took place. Apart from Robert’s, there were 18 other descriptions of the truce, including one from the German Lt Zahrni. Robert wrote "it was unique in the world’s history", and Private Tapp said it was as if the clock had stopped ticking. Private Pratt described how a star shell fired by the Germans towards evening lit up all the men in the middle as well as the trenches. During the interlude a mass grave was dug in no-man’s land and the dead from each side buried.

Many adjacent commanders on both sides disapproved of the fraternisation, and when they heard of it the Generals were furious. There was no truce in 1915 (Gen. Dorrien-Smith threatened Court Martials for breach of this order) or in 1916, but one did take place at Christmas 1917. Some officers bought a duck from a farmer to supplement their Christmas rations, which included plum pudding, and drank ‘The Boy’ (champagne). On New Year’s Day a dog jumped into the Warwicks’ trenches with a message from the Germans, including a request to send it back. But the dog was given some corned beef and did not want to return.

By January Robert’s hearing had been affected and he was sent on sick leave. Thus he missed the 2nd Battle of Ypres in which another 400 Warwicks died, including Private Tapp. Robert was sent to Hereford to command the Detention Barracks, which was filled with conscientious objectors. He hated the job. After his family sold Avoncliffe in Tiddington, Stratford-on-Avon, in 1921, Robert became a farmer near Tavistock. The Secretary of the local Golf club sent him an unpleasant letter alleging that his sons had played more holes than paid for, and had damaged the greens. Robert Died aged 81 in 1959.

Return to TOP



Talk by John Aitken on 18 April 2011 to the Solihull LHC

The Calthorpe Estate was developed mainly between 1790-1890, with plots rented to the middle class. George Cadbury developed Bournville from 1890 selling freeholds to provide as wide a social mix as possible. Both estates had green policies.

Although some building had taken place from 1786, it was the 3rd Lord Calthorpe (1807-51) who developed his Edgbaston country estate. He left the Hall (now the Golf Clubhouse) to live on his Hampshire and Suffolk estates. Unlike other local landowning families (eg the Gooches), the Calthorpes did not sell land but rented out plots. Because of the Napoleonic Wars and economic recession, the initial take-up was disappointing. An early terrace on the Hagley Road dates from 1810, and the small firms that built it and others often cut corners. Manufacturers never had much disposable income and it was not until the 1820s that the professional classes began to show interest. Individual houses were built on George Road and Frederick Road, but the Birmingham middle class grew only slowly. By 1858 only one household in ten had three servants.

 The Estate stipulated that there could be “no houses for the poor, no shops, and no place of public amusement whatsoever.” Industry was not permitted, and the environment was to remain green. Lord Calthorpe did not want to emulate The Crescent, a 1780s development copied from Bath, which had failed because of the activities of the nearby canal wharf. The canal and railway through his estate were tightly controlled, as was the main road: buses were tolerated, but not the cheap trams (despite the need to/from the working class areas of Harborne and Selly Oak).

Houses dating from 1840 in Carpenter Road have insurance plates and Chinese style porches. There were grand houses in Calthorpe Road (to which John Cadbury, his wife and six children – including George and Richard – moved in 1850) and Harborne Road where Joseph Chamberlain lived before moving into Highbury. Westbourne Road was also prestigious, and the first house in Victorian Gothic was built in Ampton Road. Bidlake designed Garth House in 1890, and J.L.Blore built Winterbourne for the Nettlefolds in 1903. Many residents were Unitarians or Quakers, imbued with philanthropic and public service ideals. In the late 19th century up to half the Birmingham Town Council lived in Edgbaston.


The Calthorpe Estate supported local charities. It ensured that the Botanical Gardens (1832) were open to the working classes for 1d, and Calthorpe Park was free for “the six working days”. An elementary school was provided in 1847; there was a School for the Deaf (1815) and the blind Institution dated from 1851: all paid very low rents. A site for the University was made available in 1900.

Industrialists had built villages before Bournville (eg Saltaire in 1850, though that was not a garden estate). The first 15 houses were for supervisors in the new factory (1879), but these were later demolished due to its expansion. It was never a company village, and the Bournville Trust has always been independent. George Cadbury intended that good housing should be provided for all sections of the community, and that 10% of the land should be open space.

He re-erected Selly Manor and a mediaeval barn on to the estate, and the Rest House (1914) was modelled on the 16th century yarn market at Dunster. The Friends’ Meeting House was built in 1905 and St Francis of Assisi Church in 1925, but there were to be no pubs or cinemas. Cadbury won his battle against the Education Authority that classrooms should hold no more than 40 (as opposed to 60), and the junior school was erected in 1902 with its famous carillon of 48 bells. Alexander Harvey, the Trust’s first architect, designed all these buildings, and also much of the housing whose frontages were deliberately varied. Some of the early houses had no separate bathroom, but the bath was built into the floor, or a cupboard, of the kitchen. Many houses were placed back from the road, or at right angles to it.


In 1900 40% of the houses were owner occupied (now it is 50%), and the 1901 Census revealed that half the heads of households were skilled people. The Cadbury Brothers (John and Benjamin) were shrewd – siting their factory next to canal and railway; proclaiming their company was based in “London and Birmingham” (when the former had only a tiny office); and emphasising the popular French version of chocolate, and hence Bournville.


 Return to TOP


Talk given by Elaine Warner of the Knowle LHS on 21 March 2011 to SLHC

Knoll (meaning hill) is 418ft above sea level. Its first written record was the Grant of Dower in 1208 when the Lord of the Manor gave it to his wife. King Edward I bought it in 1284. When his wife (Eleanor of Castille) died in 1396 he gave it to the monks of Westminster Abbey to pray for her soul. In the same year Walter Cook (Treasurer of St Paul’s and pluralist Canon), a native of the village and its greatest benefactor, founded a chantry chapel, the north transept of the church which was consecrated in February 1402/03. The exterior of its east end is very rough as it was built up to the boundary where there was an adjacent building. As ecclesiastical processions were not allowed to leave consecrated ground but had to circumnavigate the church, a subway was built under the chancel. This has been filled in, but the doorways on each side can still be seen. A buttress now supports the east end as the foundations had been weakened by the subway. A college was founded in the church in 1416. The church (and its chantry) had its own priests but nevertheless remained a chapel of ease within Hampton-in-Arden. It was a Peculiar, which meant that it was under the jurisdiction of the Lord of the Manor and not the Bishop. Its incumbent could therefore legally marry couples without banns being called. Out of 274 marriages in one period, 200 were outsiders and many were not even named in the registers. It was not until 1859 that Knowle became an independent parish.

 The Guild of St Anne, a religious guild with its own priest, was founded in February 1412/13. Its second register covering the period 1451-1535, now in the Birmingham Central Library, contains 15,000 names – so membership was clearly popular. Along with the College, the Guild was dissolved in 1547, but the church was saved as villagers argued that, because of the flooding of the River Blythe (the original reason for its construction), they could not reach Hampton-in-Arden. In 1912 Mr Jackson bought the 15th century Guildhouse, restored it, and gave it back to the church.

 Following the dissolution of Westminster Abbey in 1540, Knowle Manor passed through several owners, including Queen Elizabeth, until the Grevilles (created Earls of Warwick in 1759) acquired it in 1623. They built the Hall in the 1660s, but the building has been much changed since. They also established the Free School, and Thomas Treherne – followed by his son – were its Masters from 1721 to 1800. Thomas also ran a boys’ boarding school in the village which the poet Walter Savage Landor attended from 1778 to 1783. The Grevilles remained Lords of the Manor (although sharing it with the Greswolds for a period) until the 19th century, when William Wilson of Gumley (near Market Harborough) bought it. He was extravagant and had to sell the estate in 1849. But the family retained the Lordship until it passed to the Everitts, who retain it today.

 The village contains many fine buildings. Chester House was originally two adjacent buildings dating from c1400 and c1500, and joined together c1600. It became the library in 1975. Milverton House was reputedly the birthplace of Walter Cook. The High Street has many timber framed 17th century structures, many of which were faced with brick in the 18th century. There were several inns, all with their own bowling greens: the White Swan and the Red Lion were ancient establishments, as was the Rising Sun, renamed the Wilson Arms in 1839 in honour of the Lord of the Manor. The Mermaid was renamed the Greswolde for the same reason; it had extensive stabling and was where the mail coaches (eight a day between Birmingham and Warwick) stopped. The Grand Union Canal opened in 1799 (leading to several drownings), and Knowle had its own wharf used mainly by coal merchants. Many alehouses, both in the village and beyond, opened to serve the navvies. The canal passed close to Grimshaw Hall built in 1560 and the home of that family until 1700. It fell on hard times but had been restored by James Murray by 1913.

 There was little open field system since the area was so wooded. The Enclosure Map was drawn in 1817 and the last common went in 1820. Up until then the village had expanded along the Kenilworth Road, but now it started to develop up the Warwick Road (created a turnpike in 1825), westwards, and around Knowle Station (opened in 1853). With fewer potholes, roads narrowed leaving grass verges at the side which householders sometimes took into their own holdings. Shops appeared in the High Street (including one in the Guildhouse in 1873), a new school was built in 1871 and the almshouses in 1886. In 1800 the Knowle Association for Prosecuting Felons was formed. It still holds its annual dinner today. 81 men did not return from WWI and the stables at Springfield were used as a hospital for the wounded.

 The Playhouse Cinema in Station Road opened in 1924 and became popular with the cheapest ‘seats’ (benches) priced at 3d. It closed in 1954. The unusual Congregational Church was built in 1931-34, the Wilson Arms Garage was opened by Jack Johnson in 1933, and the Greswolde Swimming Pool a year later. It closed in 1965. Knowle had its own Fire Engine with a volunteer crew. At the start of WWII the village took evacuees from London and Coventry, but they (and their head lice) were not welcomed by the locals. Conversely the American medical team, which arrived for seven months immediately prior the 1944 invasion of France, left many broken hearts.

 After the War many cottages, whose low ceilings and lack of a damp proof course were contrary to building regulations, were demolished. As no council houses were built in Knowle, their inhabitants were dispersed to Shirley, Solihull and Bentley Heath. The annual carnival started in 1949 to raise funds for the village hall, which was opened in 1962. The village’s population in the late 1940s was 4,600: it is now 11,000, but many of the old established shops (eg Maddocks, Sodens) have now closed

 Return to TOP


Talk given by Bob Burton of Kings Norton on 21 February 2011 to Solihull LHC

Bob demonstrated his £400 Laser Rapier Detector which was lightweight and fitted with headphones. It bleeped when it found metal. More sophisticated detectors (costing £1,000+) have computers which can block out signals from unwanted metals and portray the object below ground – thus avoiding the need to dig unnecessarily. For Bob the pleasure was both the locating and the digging (he was a professional gardener). He has worked with several BBC Time Team digs, and contributed to both metal detecting magazines – Searcher and Treasure. The qualities needed for this hobby were an enquiring mind and persistence; one never knew what to expect.

 Bob gave an amusing, lighthearted talk of his experiences and finds, illustrated with photographs and artefacts which he took round his audience. Musket shot was a common find but came in various sizes – small for shooting rabbits, larger for horses and humans. When the lead did not fit the gun, it was often chewed to size. Keys were also common, partly because they were needed to open the locks on the barrels of beer or cider provided for workers in the fields. Temperance Society badges were fairly frequent, along with pub tokens and medallions (eg to commemorate the alteration of Kings Norton boundaries).

 Coins were common finds. Modern currency soon tarnished badly, but the metals of older items survived well. Bob had found several silver groats (a 4d piece) at Lapworth, a Henry III short-cross penny at Baverstoke School (Highters Heath), and a half crown of 1644 (although this proved to be a fake). Other coins had come from Harborne cricket ground, which had also yielded hunting whistles, ammunition and shrapnel from WWII.

 Unusual finds were part of a mediaeval crucifix (gilded with amethysts) from Tanners Green, and a flat metal swan (a Victorian door fitting ?) from the White Swan at Wythal. Another find at Wythal were several very big horseshoes: research revealed that a local farrier had bred extra large Shire horses. Curious finds were the remains of a saddle (made by Toothil of Alcester), Chinese chess pieces, a bust of Shakespeare (in two separate bits, one found a few days after the first) and a WWI Chaplain’s badge, which had been blackened before he went into action. Bob ended his talk by showing two mystery artefacts: a small pharaoh (made of brass, it was probably a Georgian/Victorian handle) and a small lead receptacle (not an inkwell, but a mediaeval bird feeder).

Return to TOP

.                  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      For reports on earlier meetings, go to Archives

Return to Homepage
Updated: 20/11/2012