Acocks Green and all around, section two




The story of local watermills, so far as it is known, is told in my Watermills of the Cole Valley. The first hereabout was Greet Mill, referred to in 1254, which lay a half-mile above Greet Hall whose property it was. There was a good natural fall which could be increased by a weir. The normal shallows below this was the crossing point of what became Stratford Road: it is interesting if fruitless to speculate whether the ford predated the mill or vice-versa. The power of Greet Mill was used to produce sword blades at one time - during the Civil War? - and it was perhaps then that a corn mill to replace it was built on Tyseley Brook just above its confluence with the Cole (north of Roma Road). The only evidence for this, which I call 'Lower Greet Mill', is Beighton's map of 1725 and a later map which may be a copy: no field or other name has survived, there are no traces on the ground (though there is a modern weir on the spot, a flood-control installation), and the first O.S. Map does not show the mill. It had gone, if it ever existed, by 1820.


Of Broomhall Mill' s existence we can be certain, but not of its foundation. The 1609 Boundary Report refers to the 'Rasse' where a mention of Broomhall Brook could be expected, and that brook was the tail-race of the mill. It ground corn all its days, going out of use about ninety years ago. The brook had been dammed to create a narrow pool, and flood-water was diverted into a parallel channel. Bordering trees still define the now dry side-pond, and the brook's steep fall has been utilised in a concrete cascade. The dam and millsite were at its foot. The Round Pool, also in Fox Hollies Park, is still a fishpond as were all bodies of water in the manor: its high earthen banks bear witness to many dredgings to maintain the depth.


The first reference to Hay Mill is that of 1495, when the 'pool tail' is listed as the point at which Yardley's bound leaves the Cole: this is what we would call the start of the head-race, where water is taken from the river. It was just below the confluence with the Spark, and the early millsite lay beside the present weir, opposite the Tyseley Refuse Destructor works. Hay Mill was turning out blades in 1820 and had perhaps been doing so for a century: Beighton's map shows a windmill on Red Hill nearby, and there are several local examples of such proximity where wind has taken over corn-grinding from water which is employed in industry. The miller's house outlasted the mill, being known as Hay Hall Cottage into the 20th century: it stood alongside the mill on a path which led, via a humped bridge over the canal, to the Hall. About 1830 a new mill was built below a larger pool, of about three acres, a hundred yards downstream. The slightly greater fall and the much greater reserve of water were employed in the service of William Deakin, swordsmith and gunmaker of Snow Hill, who had several mills working for him on overseas arms contracts, 1836-40. Thereafter the power was used by James Horsfall for wire-drawing, and he won a contract to suply iron sheathing wire for the first Atlantic cable. This required enlargement of the works, and factory buildings spread along the fordrough beside the tail-race, from 1865. Waterpower proved to be insufficient and was supplemented by steam, later abandoned altogether. The mill had been demolished by the turn of the century, and its site was overbuilt during World War One. The pool bed is a reedy bog, but the upper pool survives in an artificial gorge created by banks of clinker from the destructor.



Early church history


The civil and ecclesiastical parishes of Yardley were co-extensive. St. Edburgha's Church, named after Alfred the Great's grand-daughter, served the whole manor of eleven and a half square miles. See my Ecclesiastical History of Yardley. It is an indication of the scatter and smallness of the population that there was no other church until 1704, despite the difficulty of reaching Yardley Village for everyone except the Church Enders. Job Marston, who lived in Haw Hall (Hall Green Hall), left land and £1,000 for the building and endowment of a chapel opposite his house. Christenings, marriages, and funerals could be held there. The small Queen Anne building, in red brick with stone balustrade, portico and quoins, and a copper-domed cupola, served the whole of the two southern Quarters for one hundred and sixty-two years. It was enlarged by the addition of short transepts and apse, without balustrade, in 1860, but remained a chapelry until 1908.





Yardley was a possession of Pershore Abbey from the mid-10th century for about two centuries. As part of Pershore Hundred it was included in the shire of Worcester established by King Edgar about 1000 A.D., though its geographical position should have placed it in Warwickshire. The Beauchamps and their successors as Earls of Warwick, the Nevilles, held the manor from 1260 until 1473. Thereafter it was in the hands or the gift of the Crown until 1629, when Sir Richard Grevis of Moseley Hall acquired the lordship. His descendants sold much of the land, and only one-seventh of the manor remained to the last of the line, Henshaw Grevis, who in 1766 sold it with the title to John Taylor, the wealthy Birmingham manufacturer. He thus acquired Greet Mill Hill Farm, and a large part of Swanshurst Quarter.


In 1254 Studley Priory bought large estates in Yardley and Greet. They included Greet demesne, Lyddstree, Riddings, and Shaftmoor - roughly the area between the Cole, Tyseley Brook, and the Nine Stiles Walk. Maxstoke Priory gained by purchase and bequest even more land over two centuries: Great Mill Hill, Hollies, Hawes House, and the Breaches, in central Yardley; and Greethurst, Sarehole, and Swanshurst in the south. At the Dissolution, about 1540, all the property of the religious houses was sequestrated and sold off. The Greswolds then acquired the 'manor of Greet' (which was probably never a fully independent manor within Yardley), and were possessed of 467 acres in 1562.



Georgian Yardley


Henry Beighton's 'Mapp of Warwickshire', surveyed 1722-5, shows the bounding features of Yardley, the three highways across it, and the intersections of lanes therewith. These can be identified, and so a provisional map of the manor can be drawn, with the addition of lanes which must have existed then to serve the known farms, fields, and mills. Old names we can attribute from other sources are Well and Breach Lanes (Warwell and Clay Lanes), Dogge Lane (Hazelwood Road), Lyddstree Lane (Spring Road) , Riddings Lane (formerly Scotts Lane: Reddings Lane), Hay Hall Lane, Daisy Lane (Kings Road), Foulmore Lane (Formans Road), Woodcock Lane, Green Lane (Dolphin Lane), Fox Green Lane (Broad Road), Flint Green Lane (Road), Rushall Lane (Stockfield Road), Tyseley Lane, Mad Cat Lane (Graham Road), and Wharf Lane (after 1795: Wharfdale Road). Mansfield Road commemorates the family which owned Pinfold House and sixty-four acres thereabout. Westley Road bears the corruption of Whisley Brook's name.


The highways were those to Coventry, Solihull, and Henley. The two last gained their present names during the l8th century. When first turnpiked, in 1726-7, they became the Birmingham to Warmington, and the Birmingham to Edge Hill Turnpikes respectively. The name 'Stratford Road' became more usual after 1816 when Stratford became the terminus of a canal, a horse-tramway, and the improved Avon Navigation.


Early improvements after turnpiking were not drastic: the worst holes were infilled, holloways on the Coleside slopes were raised and ditches were dug, the labour still being performed by parishioners on their begrudged 'statutory days'. Their resentment of the unpaid work they had to do to ease foreigners' travel across Yardley was hardly lessened by their privilege of using the turnpikes between tollgates without payment, and the poor quality of their work reflected this! Tolls were increased by a half in 1770-1 to pay for such essential improvements as straightening sharp bends, lessening steep gradients, and making entirely new stretches of road where the old ways were especially bad. I believe but cannot prove that the original line of Warwick Road was along Quality Lane (Arden Road). The holloway near the top of Red Hill, where the Coventry Road traffic had worn a narrow gorge twenty-five feet deep, was eventually abandoned: but this may not have been done until Thomas Telford re-made the road as part of his Holyhead Road, sixty years after the first company was formed to maintain the road (1745).


There were tollgates at the Swan, at the Mermaid junction and opposite the Dolphin, at Cole Bank (School Road Hall Green) and at Shirley. After 1745 there were milestones - opposite the Workhouse, which stood on the corner of Holder Road, and at Gilbertstone, one hundred and five and one hundred and four miles from London respectively, at Green Bank on Stratford Road (one hundred and thirteen miles); and at Seeleys Road and Stockfield Road on the Warwick Turnpike. Those last two showed the distance from the start of the road at the Mermaid - one and two miles - which would seem to indicate that this was never a highway to and from the capital as the others were. The taking of tolls at the gates was 'farmed' by the Companies: in 1793 someone paid £365 for the right to collect tolls at Acocks Green Gate, but took only £293 in his year - an indication of the road's unpopularity. There were bridges across the streams by this time - Westley Brook 1722, Tyseley Brook 1758 - but Stratford Road was preferred.


The methods of MacAdam and Telford transformed road-making, and in the early 19th century the smooth if narrow and dusty highways permitted the use of light, fast coaches: there were five daily to and from Stratford in 1817. They stopped at inns like the Bull's Head to take on and set down passengers, but not at the gates, which were swung wide when the guard's horn warned the keeper not to delay his coach. Known smithies were at Greet, Tyseley, Six Ways (Robin Hood), the Swan and the New Inn. At the Mermaid a weighbridge was installed to check heavy waggons before they were allowed to cross the humped bridges over the brooks.


Cole bridges were the responsibility of the Quarters' Overseers, and they were arraigned in 1776 for failing to restore Greet Bridge on Warwick Road, practically destroyed by flood ten years before. The new bridge had arches across the central island between two channels, so that water would not pile up against the causeway and destroy the bridge like its predecessors. As we learn from Aris's Birmingham Gazette, the turnpikes were infested by footpads and highwaymen, who waylaid many a traveller. It was in an attempt to track down these and other town-spawned criminals that the Yardley Association for the Prosecution of Felons was formed in 1785. There was never a gibbet on our turnpikes as there was at Washwood Heath, which may suggest that the Association was not very successful.


By the end of the 18th century the name of Tenchley was no longer in use, and the main fields were called Stock(stile) Field and Acocks Green. The south end of the former was now Crabtree Field, and that part of the latter which lay west of Yardley Road was called Little Field. The strips, five and a half yards wide, went west to east, right down to the bank of Westley Brook. There were hamlets still at the Swan and the Pinfold, at Westley Brook where Shirley Road and Westley Roads (modern names) met the Turnpike, and by the Dolphin tollgate near the boundary. Otherwise the central Quarters were enclosed into the crofts and pieces of the comparatively few large farms, save where squatters clustered at the reduced common edges.



The Warwick and Birmingham Canal


An event of importance to Yardley's economy came in the early 1790s. A Company was formed to build an artificial waterway from the Digbeth Branch of the Birmingham Canal Navigation to Warwick, and work began in 1793. A flight of six locks brought the canal to summit level, three hundred and eighty feet, at Camp Hill, which was to be maintained as far as Knowle. A feeder was taken from Spark Brook east of the Stratford Turnpike to join the cut north of Danford (Golden Hillock Road). At the Cole-Spark confluence a long embankment was needed to maintain the level: brick tunnels took the river and Hay Mill head-race beneath the canal. The gradient of the Stockfield ridge was lessened on both sides by a tributary valley, those of the Red Hill and Field Gate Brooks. The canal made use of these, with a deep cut between the valley heads, and at the high point below Yardley Road a two hundred and eighty-yard tunnel was made. Boats had to be legged through this as there was no towpath, and the horse was either taken aboard or led over the top. Beyond the tunnel, where the land fell away to Deep More, the canal turned sharply southward, up the valley of Westley Brook, cutting off the eastern edge of Acocks Green Field. The brook became a feeder, near what is now the east end of Malvern Road, and thence the canal turned south-east into another cutting. Of the original high brick bridges over Hay Hall Lane, Rushall Lane, Woodcock Lane, and Rowe Leasowe Lane, only the third survives. A wharf for Black Country coal (formerly brought by Joshua Yates's carts nine miles from the pits), was made east of the tunnel, behind Field Gate Farm, wharves for loading bricks and tiles for export were built below Pinfold House, and opposite there were others for loading sand and gravel. Fast flyboats drawn by several horses sped between Camp Hill and Yardley Road.


The Warwick Canal was continued beyond the Avon to join the Oxford Canal at Napton in 1799. It thus linked the B.C.N., and thereby all the canals of the Mid1ands with the Thames and London. Later its link with the Grand Junction Canal at Braunston gave a better route to the capital. In 1816 it was possible to travel from Yardley via the Warwick Canal to Kingswood Junction, thence by way of the Stratford Canal to the Avon Navigation and the Severn. Having long-distance traffic and short-haul boats paying tolls, the Warwick Canal prospered. Yardley prospered with it: bricks and tiles from many farm kilns were brought by waggon to the wharves for distribution far and wide. Sand and gravel were quarried and exported from the north end of Stock Field (off Kilmorie Road), south of the coal wharf (off Francis Road), and north of Woodcock Lane.





In mid-Victorian times rail-borne Welsh slate became available for roofing. It was cheaper than tiles, and the local industry declined rapidly from its peak of 150,000 tiles annually. The claypits on a score of Yardley farms were abandoned. Brick-making became concentrated in larger works between the canal and Tanyard Lane, which was now a continuous track to Kings Road. Muscott's Tannery was rebuilt, and was by the century's end the lone survivor of an ancient Yardley industry. Marlpit Green, taking its name from an early excavation, was eaten away as the Waterloo Brickworks flourished. The great pit ultimately extended over land intended for terrace streets on Red Hill. There were other pits at Greet and Tyseley: Sparkhill was built of bricks from the Burbury Pit on Greet House land.


Yardley's industry had always been based on farm, cottage, and mill. Until mid-century, apart from rural crafts employing one man and a boy or a few men, the chief occupations were still agricultural and mostly pastoral. Birmingham's nearness made market gardening profitable. Small-holdings catered largely for town consumers, and allotments grew food for home consumption. Smithing, brewing, service trades, joinery, saddlery, brick- and wire-making, were occupations other than farming. By the century's end the following factories were at work: the Pioneer Cabinet Works on Fox Hollies Road near Warwick Road, the Vanguard tinware works on Kings Road and Tyseley iron foundry opposite, both alongside and served by the canal, and two fog-signal and fireworks factories - Wilder's in the Cole/Spark confluence meadows, and another off Formans Road. Webster & Horsfall's wireworks had been much enlarged.



Yardley in 1847


Following the Tithe Commutation Act large-scale accurate maps were made of all the Yardley Quarters. They show every fence or hedge, lane, track, and building. The 0.S. Field Drawing Sheets, and the One-Inch First Edition based upon them, are earlier (1820s-30s), but some of the detail on these is hard to make out and the land divisions of the former are inaccurate. The 1847 Tithe Map and the accompanying Schedule are mines of information, which the Discovering Yardley Group dug for five years. The extent of open fields and commons surviving at the time of enclosure a few years earlier, the name of every close and piece, the owners and tenants of land, and the identity of every farm, house, and cottage, have all been extracted. Few names of 'fields', using the term in its modern sense for any enclosed piece of land, are topographically or historically interesting, as most refer to location in a particular farm. Others are named after a barn, pit, or rickyard within or nearby. Only the extensive Riddings, between Reddings Lane and Tyseley Brook, and Chapel Hurst south of Tyseley Farm, tell of vanished Arden. Stock Field is no more, being completely enclosed into named pieces, but Acocks Green Field is still shown to have strips at its north-east end.


We learn from the Schedule that half of Yardley's seven thousand, five hundred acres was owned in 1847 by eleven people. The members of the Taylor family, absentee squires, owned a seventh of the manor, mostly in Broomhall and Swanshurst Quarters, and Henry Greswolde one ninth. William Gilbey owned Hay Hall and three hundred acres, of which Edward King was tenant: the latter also farmed two hundred acres at Gospel House Farm, the property of the Wigley Heirs. Their Hall Green Hall farm, one hundred and fifty-four acres, was tenanted by William King, and a third member of that family, John, was at Greswolde's one hundred and twenty-two-acre Greet Farm. Benjamin Steedman farmed two hundred and twenty-one acres at Shaftmoor, and Robert Holloway one hundred and forty-nine acres at Moat Farm - both Greswolde properties. Richard Kemp rented the Bull's Head and two hundred and ninety-three acres of Wigley and Taylor land. The Rev. J. Ryland's one hundred and forty-seven acres at Tyseley Farm were rented by Benjamin Parkes.


The chief landowners, notably Greswolde and Taylor, had obtained Enclosure Acts (1833-46) which enabled them to enclose the remaining two hundred acres of open fields, whose strips were owned by forty-one people, and six hundred acres of common. The land was apportioned in quadrilateral pieces among the owners of strips: the poorest could not afford to fence and ditch their small shares, and so sold out to wealthier neighbours. The proceeds of the sale of the commons went to reimburse those who had met the cost of promoting the Bills: the same men had bought the former commons, so that they were paying themselves. The Taylors thus acquired Yardley Wood and Billesley Commons. Only those who had documentary rights to use of the commons had any claim to a share of the land or the profit from its sale: thus squatters on the common edges lost all but their gardens, and had to pay rent for their plots.


A consequence of enclosure was the improvement of former tracks. Yardley Road became a thirty-foot highway, and the coming of the railway station on it a few years later ensured ensured its becoming the main road through Yardley rather than Stockfield Road. The old ridgeway, Wynford Road, was to be merely a footway, four feet wide.


For a summary of how the area looked a decade after the survey, go to the map at the bottom of the page. 


Later churches


The information that follows is largely derived from the Victoria County History of Warwickshire, Vol. VII (Birmingham).


Marston Chapel served the Anglicans of Broomhall and Swanshurst Quarters from 1704. In 1849 the opening of Christ Church on the former Yardley Wood Common eased the lot of parishioners in the south. Those of Acocks Green acquired their own chapel in 1866, and this was enparished a year later. As elsewhere - Hall Green for instance - the parish name tended to supersede other district names. St. Mary's Acocks Green was built off Warwick Road at Westley Brook in the Early English style. It was enlarged in 1882, and after bomb damage in 1940 major restoration was necessary .There was a mission in Spring Lane (1881-c. 1905), replaced by St. Gabriel's Summer Road (c. 1905-26). Bishop Westcott Hall in Greenwood Avenue was opened in 1936.


At the entrance to his Hay Mill Works James Horsfall built cottages, a school, and a small chapel, which was licensed for worship in 1864. When he replaced it with St. Cyprian's chapel nine years later, it was his fancy to erect the building over the tail-race from Hay Mill, so that water flows in a culvert under the south entrance, emerging beneath the west wall. The chapel was enparished in 1878. After meeting in some odd places Congregationalists built Yardley's first Nonconformist chapel on Rushall Lane in 1827. This was closed when a large yellow-brick church was opened on the Warwick Road corner 33 years later: but although that church closed and was demolished a few years ago, the old chapel still stands on Stockfield Road, blackened and camouflaged by a shed frontage. Another Congregational chapel was opened on Coventry Road Hay Mill(s) in 1900.


Wesleyan Methodists had a mission in Shirley Road from 1863. Their new chapel was opened in 1882, and enlarged 1927-31. The Mansfield Road Wesleyan Chapel dates from 1883, and that in Reddings Lane from 1924. A Methodist mission in Church Road Yardley before 1873 was the fore-runner of Coventry Road Church (1929). There were other chapels, in Station Road Acocks Green (1892) and Warwick Road Tyseley (1915). The Christadelphian chapel in Station Road is dated 1902, and the next year a Baptist chapel opened in Alexander Road: it was rebuilt in 1914, with a frontage on Yardley Road. A Salvation Army Citadel was built on the site of Sparkhill tramcar depot in 1909, and the Brethren's Church in Waterloo Road is two years younger.


St. Edmund's Tyseley began as a mission of St. John's Sparkhill in 1895. An iron building was licensed in 1913 and became a parish church in 1931-2. The present church was completed in 1940.


Catholic masses were conducted in Acocks Green houses during the 19th century, but there was no mission hall until that of 1905 on Warwick Road. The permanent Church of the Sacred Heart and Holy Souls was completed in 1940 and consecrated five years later.


Acocks Green around 1860
JPG Image 70.7 KB