Acock Green and all around (1973), by John Morris Jones, ACP, FRGS
John Morris Jones died in 1986. This booklet is reproduced and edited here with his widow's permission. Selective alterations have been made, for example where buildings have been demolished, and the text and its viewpoint remains authentic as far as is possible. Many of John Morris Jones's works can be accessed from the Birmingham Grid for Learning website at the Birmingham Grid for Learning.
The maps and information in this booklet may be used for educational purposes only, without the necessity to obtain permission, provided that they are properly attributed to the author. No other part of the copyright is waived.
Material sources are as follows:
Medieval Yardley - Victor Skipp, 1970.
Duplicated Notes and Maps - the Discovering Yardley Group, 1960-7.
Urbanisation of Yardley - John Morris Jones 1966-8.
Victoria County History of Warwickshire, Vol. VII - Birmingham, 1964.
Notes and Material for a History of Yardley - W.B. Bickley, late 19th-early 20th century
Mapp of Warwickshire - Henry Beighton, 1725
Ordnance Survey Field Drawing Sheet 2 ins. to 1 mile, c. 1820.
First Edition One-Inch Map, 1833.
Six-Inch Map, 1886, revised 1902-3.
Birmingham (South) Town Planning Scheme, 1918.
The administrative divisions of the large manor of Yardley in Worcestershire were the Quarters, each with its own unpaid Overseers of Highways and Poor Relief. In Tudor times Vestries or Civil Parishes had been established, usually co-extensive with ecclesiastical parishes, to replace the lapsed manorial system of local government. Yardley was conveniently cut into four parts by the highways to Coventry , Warwick, and Stratford: originally all of the manor south of Warwick Road was administered together, so sparse was its population, but later Swanshurst was separated from Broomhall. By the 18th century each of the Quarters had been sub-divided into Near and Far parts.
For some detail of Church End Quarter, see my Manor of Yardley, Boundaries of Yardley, and Urbanisation of Yardley. The north-western parts of Greet, Broomhall, and Swanshurst Quarters are dealt with in my Sparkhill and Greet. The story of the southernmost Quarters is told in Wake Green and Greet Common, Hall Green and Hereabout, and Walks In Yardley Wood. This booklet is largely concerned with the historical geography of that area of Greet and Broomhall Quarters which is bounded by Coventry Road, the River Cole and Tyseley Brook, the Nine Stiles Walk (York Road to Gospel Oak), and the City/Solihull boundary. The districts of Hay Hall, Hay Mill(s), Tyseley, Shaftmoor, Fox Hollies, Stockfield, Flint Green, Fox Green, Westley Brook, 'South Yardley', and Acocks Green, are included therein. There will necessarily be occasional references to places beyond the given bounds.
That the Quarter between Coventry and Warwick Roads should be called 'Greet' seems rather odd, since Greet Fields were in Broomhall and Swanshurst, while Greet Mill, Greet Common, and Greethurst were all in the latter Quarter. The reason was that the manor house of Greet lay just to the north of Warwick Road, on the site of the present Greet Inn, and that this was the property of Humphrey Greswold, lay rector of Yardley and a man of power in the parish. For the three Quarters south of Church End, the name chosen was that of the residence of the most important family, who would have to undertake many onerous tasks of administration. So 'Greet' was preferred to the apparently more suitable Hay Hall.
Bounds of the central Quarters
For a detailed study of boundaries and a comparison of listed topographical features from 972 onward, see my Boundaries of Yardley. Herein I shall give the bounds in modern terms with some reference to past landmarks.
From Coventry Road southward, the garden ends on the east side of Gilbertstone Avenue (former district name, Shawley): the west edge of Lyndon playing field, ancient open field of Lyndon sub-manor, and detached part of Bickenhill: a line south between Longley Crescent and Lowden Croft (in Yardley) and Shalford/Ringwood Roads in Solihull, across the site of Lyndon Green Farm whose buildings were just in the latter manor, to the Bosworth Road/Barn Lane corner: Lincoln Road North and Lincoln Road (formerly Shawley Lane and Rowe Leasowe Lane) to Warwick Road: a line between Gospel Lane and Kineton Green Brook to join Gospel Lane just north of Broomhall Brook: Gospel (Langley) Lane to Leysdown Road: here in Saxon times was 'hidden ford', a firm path across a boggy stream known only to local folk, and Foul Slough Meadow in 1843 : from Leysdown Road a line southwest to Redstone Farm Road at a point north of Wellfield Road: Langley Hall Farm (the' lang' or long ley was the strip of meadow beside Kineton Green Brook),and its buildings stood until recent years where now stands the Hall Green Social Club: this area was 'bromhale' in 972, meaning 'heath where broom grows': Redstone Farm Road (a misplaced name, as the farm was on Warwick Road at the boundary) and The Bridle Path to Stratford Road.
On the west side of Yardley the boundary with Bordesley Manor was the (now culverted) Spark Brook from an ancient ford on Stratford Road just south of Walford Road to Golden Hillock Road, between Walford and Benton Roads, thence the open but threatened brook to a confluence with the Cole just south of the railway embankment, thence the old line of the river to Coventry Road.
Flood control measures have diverted the Cole eastward in a loop beneath the canal embankment, and most of the water now flows down a former flood-race of Hay Mill.
The Yardley bounds listed above probably changed little during eleven centuries, but in 1966 there were small adjustments: now the city boundary includes the whole of the playing field between Gospel Lane and the brook (formerly the Sixty Lands or strips), while the Langley Hall segment east of Gospel Lane has gone to Solihull.
First settlement in Yardley
We know nothing of any colonisation earlier than the Saxon, though that does not necessarily mean that there was none. Perhaps as early as the seventh century but far from certainly, Hwiccans (West Saxons) moved down the ridge east of the Cole and established themselves in a region that was generally settled by Anglian folk who had come from the east. The first open fields of Yardley were on the dry, sandy soil overlooking Stechford. Few as the Saxon settlers were (in 972 there were only five households), some of them must surely have lived farther south: how else, even in that period of small populations and much undeveloped land, could so few have maintained their claim to so large a holding (eleven and a half square miles)? (Tyseley, the farm made in a natural clearing in Arden by a man perhaps named Tissa, could have been one pre-Norman site). But we have no written evidence of assarts (small farms made in virgin waste by enterprising individuals) earlier than 1171. By then Hugh de la Haye or an ancestor had founded his 'haye' (hege, an enclosure in the common waste) on a dry, clear gravelly patch in the forest, fencing his ploughed land to keep out wild animals.
For a summary of the geology and natural vegetation of the area, go to the first map at the bottom of the page.
From 13th-14th Century taxrolls we can extract tenants' names which indicate a scatter of population throughout the manor. This information and much more is available through the five years' research of the Discovering Yardley Group, led by Victor Skipp M.A. His Medieval Yardley summarises their findings and gives a view of Yardley and its people at various times up to the Tudor period. To the given names of some tenants are added place-names, several being recorded for the first time: thus we can confirm that people wore living at Grete (Greet), Hyon (Hiron Hall), Bromhale (Broom Hall), Tisseleye (Tyseley), (Fox) Hollies, Haw (Hall) Green, Hay Hall, and Shirleye - not the modern Shirley, though it meant the same, the clearing on the edge of the shire, but the Gilbertstone Avenue area. But where were the ten taxpayers of Tenchlee, a name which has not survived?
At some time unknown, perhaps the l2th Century, which was a time of local population growth, Yardley's second field system had its beginning. It is possible that the other known communal settlements in the manor, those of Greet and Lea (Hall) were of similar age: but the number of taxpayers is less for these than for Tenchlee, and it is reasonable to assume that the earliest of the three would be the largest. Tenchlee was not an extension of the original northern fields which overlay the ridges between the Cole, Stich Brook, and Yardley Brook. The densest oak forest in the whole manor extended on drift-free clay from just south of the present Yardley village almost to Coventry Road, and this was to be cleared relatively late by generations of farmers living at its edges. The nearest land suitable for communal cultivation was the gently-sloped and well-drained ridge south of the highway, between the Cole and Westley Brook valleys. This area was doubtless already in use as a grazing-ground. On the sand and gravel capping of the ridge the wood was sparser and more easily cleared, while the soil was more easily ploughed than the claylands, if less potentially fertile. It is notable that, like Hay Hall, all the early farm sites were at spring-lines on the edges of the drift cap or upon the cap where there were the advantages of dryness plus an abundance of water from shallow wells.
Within a few seasons one large field was made and fenced. All who helped took a share of each season's land, the shares being for convenience in ploughing furlong strips running downhill. Ultimately one man would work a number of strips in several parts of the various fields, each separated from its neighbours by an unploughed baulk of turf. In accordance with the custom of the manor, the whole of a field would be sown with the same crop or left fallow in its turn.
The first field of Tenchley was called Heyne (High) Field: in modern terms its bounds were Arden, Stockfield, Mansfield, and Wynford Roads. The second field lay to the east of this, which then became Over Heyne Field, and the new one Nether Heyne Field. The ancient ridgeway was on the line of Broad Road, Flint Green Road, Rookwood Road, the alley from Alexander to Douglas Road, Dalston Road and. Wynford Road, and Yardley Road, so that the two fields were on either side of it: Yardley Road probably began as the eastern perimeter track of Nether Field, intended to be temporary but for reasons we can only guess at, such as serious population decline due to plague, perhaps marking the limit of the ploughland for long enough to become a well-worn route: so that when clearance down to Westley Brook was resumed, the track was not ploughed out but remained as the way between the hamlets of Westley Brook and Tenchley. Nether Field stretched, in modern terms, between the line of the ridgeway detailed above, the Warwick Canal, Westley Brook, and Sherbourne/Oxford Roads.
Three streams met just to the east of the spot where now the canal makes its sharp southward turn, and there lay Deep More (more = moor, bog), a morass which discouraged further clearance to the east. In dry weather the water-meadows were sometimes usable for stock-grazing, and hay crops could be taken from there, but the customary pastures were to the north-west and south of the open fields. They were (later) named as Pinfold Green (Stockfield, Yardley, Mansfield Roads), Marlpit Green (Waterloo brickfield), Flint, Fox, and Acocks Greens, and Tibbotts Green (Shirley Road playing fields). As the community grew, doubtless not without setbacks due to plague, crop failure and animal disease, not to mention war, more arable land was needed. That clearance took place only to the north may be explicable by the arc of individual holdings which surrounded Tenchley Fields: Hay Hall, Greet demesne, Tyseley, Hollies, Hiron Hall, Acocks Green House and the estates of religious houses. (See below). The new clearances, Cross Field and Broom Furlong, were made between Yardley Road, Coventry Road, (War)Well Lane, which then extended farther south, and the canalside path. Today Yardley Cemetery occupies much of these fields.
Where did the taxpayers live? Yardley Village was very small, due in part to poor water supply, and some of its farmers lived around the field-edges, nearer to their holdings. The same was most probably true of Tenchley, though water was no problem thereabout. If there were a cluster of dwellings, it would be where a vestigial hamlet survived into the 20th century, about the junction of Yardley, Mansfield, and Wynford Roads: for there was the pinfold for penning strayed stock, there were an inn and a smithy, and three early buildings still stand. But the known scatter of houses about the former field edges, few of which are left now, suggest that Tenchley was a dispersed settlement. The disappearance of the name is easier to understand if that were so: there was no parish of Tenchley, no church to perpetuate the name. Its derivation is unknown: if it means what it seems to mean, there must have been some good reason for naming a settlement after a fish! Was Westley Brook full of the fecund tench, which would provide welcome protein in meatless winters and unfailing food when harvests were poor?
Most people today would call the suggested site of Tenchley hamlet 'South Yardley', but this is a modern misnomer, probably dating from 1852: the south of Yardley Manor is three miles away, where the name of Yardley Wood commemorates the last of the primeval forest to disappear.
Travel through Yardley
When travel on land was so often difficult, all possible use was made of watercourses. It is doubtful whether any of our streams except the Cole would be navigable, but that river was once much larger than forest clearance and modern drainage have made it. Punt-like flatboats would be used in all but the driest summers, and it is possible that rafts were sometimes hauled along the larger tributaries. There were no roads in Yardley until the 18th Century, only directions of travel. The ridgeway kept to the dry, firm, gravelly summit, winding between the valley heads on both sides: it served purely local needs until Greater Birmingham wished to link its new suburbs with a bus service. Then parts of it were to become a dual carriageway: the original route between the Heyne Fields having declined to a mere footpath, Stockfield Road was duly widened in part, though much of the planned highway remains as it was in 1939.
Until such recent times the important routes through Yardley were always those which linked the Avon towns with Birmingham, and these crossed the manor only because it was in the way. Stratford Road, or part of it, was recorded in 972. Both it and Warwick Road were listed, though not so named in a boundary report of 1495, but it may be assumed that the latter had been long in use by that time. Coventry Road was not named in the 972 Charter, and appears in record in 1226: it became a well-used highway through Yardley because for most of its length therein it kept to the drift capping of the ridge. Stratford Road too wound across the ridge, keeping clear of valley heads. But both highways had trouble at the Cole valley edge. Red Hill was a notorious clay slope on Coventry Road which there became a narrow gorge running with water and mud, while Greet Mill Hill on Stratford Road was shorter but steeper, and just as bad. But the latter was for centuries the preferred way to the shire town as far as Hockley Heath, because Warwick Road crossed six boggy valleys on its way to Solihull, and three of these were in Yardley. Those who trod out this route tried to find the firmest way, of course. They used the same Spark Brook ford as did Stratford Road, kept to the drift across Greet which gives that district its name (greot = gravel), made as directly as possible up the slippery clay slope of Greet Hill, slogged aross Tyseley Brook, and thankfully reached the gravelly top of Tyseley Hill. Westley Brook awaited them, and they turned along the east side of its valley before crossing Acocks Green.
Houses and families
Most of the tenants in the early Middle Ages took their surnames from their dwelling-place: the local exceptions were the Sparks and the Hawes, who are remembered in a brook and a district. The only other names to have joined them are those of the Acocks, the Foxes, and (?) the Flints. The Tibbotts are forgotten, and the mighty Greswolds, corruptions of whose name survive in north Yardley, have only the name of an adopted heir (who added an 'e') as a memorial in Springfield and Acocks Green streets. Whether the Hirons gave or took their name is uncertain: their home is commemorated in a municipal estate street, and the family is still going strong hereabout after more than six centuries.
John Akoc, 1420, is the first recorded local member of another family which has not died out but has left the area. Their home was near the Warwick Road/Woodcock Lane corner, and the last building on the site, referred to in 1649, was demolished some years ago. In the 15th Century Thomas Est gained Hay Hall by his marriage to Marion de la Haye, last of her line, and the Greswolds also acquired large Yardley estates by marriage. Their houses were Greet Hall and Shaftmoor: the former was the manor house of Greet, so-called, a moated site near the Cole on Warwick Road, and the latter a three-gabled Tudor house on Shaftmoor Lane. The last building on the Greet Hall site was the 18th century Manor Farm, replaced fifty years ago by the Greet Inn, and a garage occupies the site of Shaftmoor on the steep part of Shaftmoor Lane leading up from the Shaftmoor pub. For two centuries after the Greswolds moved to Malvern Hall in Solihull, Shaftmoor was the home of the Steedmans.
It is likely that all the early houses were protected by a moat against attack by robbers or small bands of soldiers: because drift does not hold surface water, it would be necessary to line the ditches with puddled clay. Most moats were large enough only to contain a house and garden, but Broom Hall had an oval one enclosing an acre or so, which presumably served as a stock-pound. When Tyseley Hall was rebuilt two centuries ago (some three hundred years after the Tyseley family had disappeared from record), the moat was abandoned. The large new farm, its brick buildings grouped on three sides of a yard in what was becoming the local style, was erected seventy yards north of the silted moat. Both sites are today enclosed within the oval of Holcombe, Wetherfield, and Mayfield Roads. Some of the sheltering trees have survived the farm's demolition in the 1920s. Hiron Hall, the l5th-l6th century building, was not pulled down until its successor had been built alongside: the west side of the moat was infilled for this. Oaklands School now occupies the moat site: the Georgian hall stood on the north side of the 1920s Starcross Road.
The Tudor period was a time of growing timber scarcity and costliness, due to the relentless clearances of many centuries. There are several 'riddings' in Yardley (one gives us Reddings Lane), to recall these. New houses in Elizabeth's Reign were open-framed 'chequerboard' construction, which used little timber, or were built of brick. Though tiles had been a continuing product hereabout, brick-making had been a lost art until necessity revived it. As Yardley was wholly built on clay, thinly covered at best, there was no shortage of raw material! The large areas of plaster infilling of chequerboard houses tended to blow out in high winds, so they were usually replaced by brickwork sooner or later. Thus the now lost Field Gate Farm off Yardley Road by the canal, which as the name implies was built beside the gate of Nether Heyne Field, and Stockfield Farm, demolished in the widening of Stockfield Road in the early 1930s: if still standing, the house would block the south-bound carriageway at Denham Road corner. It was in late Tudor or early Stuart times that Hay Hall was encased in red brick, diaper-patterned with imported blue. The gables may still be seen, in the side view from Redfern Road, betraying its original timber construction beneath the bricks.
Several vanished buildings wore probably first erected during the l7th century, among them Broomfield Hall (Woodcock Lane/Clay Lane junction), Rose Cottage on Yardley Road (South Yardley Library site), and the Swan Inn. There have been earlier ones: the Stuart inn lasted until the 1890s, and there have been two other Swans more or less on the same spot since. Greet House, not to be confused with the Hall, stood on the slope overlooking Greet hamlet for three centuries from the 1620s, near the top of the postwar Sunfield Grove. Two recently razed cottages on Amington Road were of similar age.
The long Georgian period saw much rebuilding, addition, and new building. Langley Hall, Greet Mill Hill (Shaftmoor Lane), Gospel Farm (site of Gospel Oak), Sandpits (Shirley Road opposite the playing fields), Pool Farm (near the Round Pool in Fox Hollies Park, Redstone Farm, and the cottages on Shirley Road, are some examples. After a fire in 1810, when Miller Gill's eight workmen helped Dr. Gilboy's servants with water from the millpool, the whole front of Hay Hall had to be rebuilt. A Regency porch and large sash windows were installed, but gables appropriate to the original 15th century hall were built. The Hall had escaped destruction by fire in 1791, when the so-called 'Church and King' rioters from Birmingham were bent on burning the homes of many prominent Dissenters. The then tenant, one Smith, had succeeded in buying them off. Yardley's squire lost both his Halls, at Bordesley and Moseley. The King family were at Hay Hall, as at Gospel Farm and Broomhall, in Victorian times - hence Kings Road. Waterloo Farm and the surviving mansion nearby were built in the 1820s, and of similar age are the cottages on Arden Road. Stockfield Hall, opposite Rushey Lane until a few years ago, and the mansions by Acocks Green Station, were perhaps the last in the Georgian style. The abodes of the wealthy thereafter, fugitives from the reeking town, where their money was made, wore fancy dress and had fancy names. Fox Hollies (the Foxes had acquired it in 1649) which had been an inn, and a centre for local entertainments, was bought by Zaccheus Walker III, merchant: in the 1860s he rebuilt the house in Osborne Italianate at great expense, with stables and kennels. The Stuart house on Warwick Road (corner of Wharfdale Road) was barge-boarded, tastelessly enlarged, and inaccurately titled 'Tyseley Grange' by J.C. Onions, a county councillor. Jumbled monstrosities like Gilbertstone (Tangyes) and The Beeches on Yardley Road provided local amusement and employment. Old inns like the Spread Eagle and Dolphin on Warwick Road were festooned with Victorian decorations. An earlier and happier example of a house brought into line with current taste was the Pinfold House, whose Stuart gables were hidden a century later by a Georgian stucco facade and sides: they may still be seen at the back, however!
Woods and commons
The leafy lanes and hedges of remembered rural Yardley were the legacy of 18th-19th century enclosure and tree-planting. The Georgian landscape was a bare one, with a few small copses only surviving long enough to be recorded on maps. Thus we find Chapel Hurst south of Tyseley Hall, and Wood Close on the manor bound south of Warwick Road. When there were still woods in the middle and south of Yardley, waggons would rumble along the drier lanes of summer, carrying great oaken timbers to coastal shipyards. They returned with beams from broken-up vessels for use in house-building. Pinfold House has some of these in its construction. Yardley's commons did not survive the final enclosures of the 1840s (though part of the largest, Yardley Wood and Billesley Commons have been returned to public use since the City bought them). The others were small and encroached upon. The scatter of houses along Tanyard Lane probably began as squatters' hovels. Their builders had taken advantage of the law of Arden which permitted them to stay on common land if they could erect a hut overnight and have smoke coming from its roofhole at dawn. The hamlet at Acocks Green may have developed similarly.