A short history of Acocks Green
The name Acocks Green comes from the Acock family who built a large house in the area about five hundred years ago. The present centre is at a roundabout where the Warwick Road meets Shirley and Westley Roads, and locals call this the Green. The name makes us think of a village developing gradually over the centuries. The actual history of the area is not that straightforward.
The first known settlement in the area was a little further north, around a medieval open field system at Tenchlee or Tenelea (ten clearings). This settlement has completely disappeared, but some of the private enterprise farms and estates which developed have survived into modern times, even if only in name. Huyon Hall and Broom Hall were moated sites. The Fox family bought the farm belonging to the atte Holies in the fifteenth century, and the name Fox Hollies resulted from that association. The Acock family acquired Notings Land, an estate out near today's city boundary: in 1626 Acocks Green House and other estates were given by Richard Acock to his son as a wedding gift. This early reference to Acocks Green is therefore not to today's 'Green' but to an area about a quarter of a mile further out on the Warwick Road.
Near this house were two inns: the Spread Eagle and the Dolphin. Stage coaches stopped at the Dolphin, and in 1725 the Warwick Road was turnpiked and a tollgate placed across the road there. In the last years of the eighteenth century the Birmingham to Warwick canal was cut across the area, and wharves opened at Stockfield Road and Yardley Road. Tiles, brick, sand and gravel were exported, and coal and Welsh slate were imported. With increased prosperity came the rebuilding of farms and the construction of large residences, but it was a later period which saw the transformation of Acocks Green from a rural backwater into a bustling suburb.
The Birmingham to Oxford railway opened with a station at Acocks Green in 1852. Wealthy businessmen could now leave the dirty and unhealthy town of Birmingham for a pleasant life in the country after work, or in retirement. At this time there were three hamlets along the Warwick Road, all now completely swallowed up in the larger Acocks Green. These were Flint Green, Acocks Green, and between them Westley Brook, the location of today's centre. The building of mansions, churches and other manifestations of social life near to the station pulled the centre of activity to Westley Brook away from the Dolphin. In a few short decades a veritable wealth of social and cultural activities developed, making Acocks Green a high-class suburb in the mould of Edgbaston.
This middle class quality of life was not to last for long after Yardley, of which Acocks Green was a part, was absorbed into Birmingham in 1911. Trams came to Broad Road from 1916, and to the Green from 1922. The city was desperate for land for housing, and in a few years from the mid-1920s half of Acocks Green was built on with municipal housing. Not only was much of the rural landscape obliterated, but a social upheaval resulted, with many newcomers sensing that they were not welcome, and many existing residents moving out elsewhere. Acocks Green acquired the name of Snobs Green or Snobs Paradise for some! However, the increase in population brought an increase in commerce, and Acocks Green grew into a major shopping district with over two hundred shops. Churches were extended, they built meeting rooms and halls, and their activities mushroomed. The centre of Acocks Green was remodelled in 1932, and a large island incorporating the tram terminus was created. After the trams finished, the island was grassed over, and this relatively young feature became the 'Green'. It is a little ironic that a former tram terminus has become the symbol of a village identity!
Since the war, this sense of belonging to a strong local community has been gradually eroded, particularly as the shopping facilities have declined. Even as late as the 1960s, many people identified with small very local shopping areas, where they could get most of their purchases. The huge increase in traffic has made walking round local shops much less pleasant, and people have come to prefer other ways of buying things. Some aspects of local social life have also declined, for example life centred on the churches. Even some of the pubs have gone, and a number of large houses, sports grounds and green spaces have been replaced by higher density housing. One might think that a mature suburb such has Acocks Green has undergone most of the change it can. This is far from the truth. The evidence around us is that change is continuing at a surprising rate. If we were to come back not far into the new Millennium, we might well find that a lot of what we take for granted now will have disappeared or changed substantially.
Michael Byrne, Secretary of the Society
Other histories of Acocks Green