The Kingdom of Mercia became Christian, in name if not in fact, after the death of Penda in 655 AD. Chad, Bishop of Mercia from 669, centred his huge diocese at Lichfield: but in 680 the See of Worcester was detached from it, being allotted an area largely co-extensive with the sub-kingdom of the Hwicce, whose capital was Worcester. These were the West Saxons who had colonised north from the Severn and Avon, and the fact that Yardley (with many other manors in what is now west Warwickshire) was included in Worcester Diocese suggests that it was a Hwiccan settlement despite its nearness to the Anglian immigration route up the Tame.
The Abbey of St. Mary at Pershore came into existence in the 9th century. The manor of Yardley came into its possession before 972, for in that year King Edgar confirmed its title to 5 hides in 'Gyrdleah'. This is the first written evidence of Yardley's existence.
There is no evidence of a church in Yardley before the 12th century and the present building contains no Saxon or Norman work. The Domesday Book records no priest in Beoley and Yardley, which are lumped together in the survey. The dedication of Yardley Church is to St. Edburgha (pronounced Edburra), which was one of several dedications of Pershore Abbey, made when bones of the saint, a grand-daughter of King Alfred, and an Abbess, were brought thither after her death in 960. Proofless tradition has it that some relics of the saint were re-interred beneath Yardley Church.
In the 12th century the church was claimed as a chapel of the church of Aston by the latter's owner, the Abbot of Tickford. The very large parish of Aston included several manors, and was Yardley's neighbour across the Cole. Litigation over the church's ownership lasted for some years. In 1239 the Earl of Warwick acquired a Charter Warren in Yardley and also the advowson, which he bestowed on the Priory of Studley. In 1329 the Convent of Catesby had the right of presentation, appointing the Rector of Yardley. Thereafter the advowson was acquired by William de Clinton; and given by him to Maxstoke Priory which his family had founded: from the 14th century to the Dissolution, Maxstoke provided priests and schoolmasters for Yardley.
The wealthy Pershore Abbey, a Benedictine house from 984, was responsible for Yardley's being allotted to Worcestershire when the shires were created at about that time, although it was geographically part of Warwickshire: the Abbey's insistence on even its most distant possessions being in the same shire created an anomaly that was to last for nine centuries. Its wealth was its undoing, for Edward the Confessor took half its estates to endow his new Abbey of Westminster. Yardley remained in Pershore's possession until the 13th century and was still an odd outlier of Pershore Hundred until 1760. Thereafter it was in Halfshire Hundred. It remained in Worcester Diocese until 1905, when Birmingham Diocese was established, and in Worcestershire until six years later when it became part of Greater Birmingham.
Yardley Church is the usual mixture of periods and styles. The chancel is 13th century; the nave, north aisle, and Becket Chapel are 14th-15th centuries; and the porch, tower and spire are 15th century. The roof is modern. Despite its inconvenient location for most of its congregation, and though neighbouring parishes had chapels-of-ease by the 15th century, St. Edburgha's remained the only church in Yardley until Marston Chapel was consecrated in 1704. This was perhaps due to the fact that there was no nucleated settlement other than the village by the church - elsewhere population was scattered, and probably sparsest in the most distant and still wooded south.
Job Marston of Hall Green left £1,000 for the building of a chapel near the Hall where he lived. The small brick structure was enlarged a century ago, but it did not then acquire the status of a parish church as so many chapels did about that time: this was because a second parish church had been created in 1849, centred on Christ Church, Yardley Wood. It was built and endowed by Sarah Taylor on land acquired from Yardley Wood Common at the final enclosure a few years earlier.
Christ Church received a parish which included a part of Kings Norton as well as the southern part of Yardley.
St. Mary's in Acocks Green was built as a chapel-of-ease to St. Edburgha's in 1866, and became a parish church the next year. St. Cyprian's began as a mission of St .Edburgha's in 1864, the church being built in 1873 by James Horsfall of Hay Mill, whose fancy it was to place it over the millrace. Five years later St. Cyprian's acquired its own parish out of St. Edburgha's.
In that year, 1878, an iron mission church was opened on Sparkhill, following one at Stechford. St. John the Evangelist was first to be rebuilt, on the same site at Sparkhill in 1889, and it became a parish church in 1894 prior to enlargement. All Saints' at Stechford was so called from 1892: the iron building was replaced by the present building in 1898. It was a Conventional District in 1905, and a parish in 1932.
The ancient parish of Yardley had thus far been shared among its own daughter churches, but in 1884 a chapel-of-ease to St. Mary's Church, Moseley, was built on Wake Green, just inside Yardley. Similarly, the Church of Emmanuel, built in 1901, acquired a parish in 1928 which took in Sparkbrook.
St. Christopher's, Springfield, was consecrated as chapel-of-ease to St. John's in 1907, receiving its own parish in 1911. St. Bede's (1907) remains a mission of St. John's in Greet. St. Chad's mission was built by St. Cyprian's in South Yardley the following year. The parish of St. Edmund Tyseley, assigned in 1931, has had three places of worship in its short history: beginning as a mission of St. John's in 1895, and the present brick one alongside in 1940.
Meanwhile, Marston Chapel had at last acquired its sown parish, in 1907: it remained proud of its lack of dedication, as Hall Green Parish Church, until the creation of a Conventional District for St. Peter's in 1954, when it became the Church of Ascension - thus having three names within the lifetime of many worshippers. In the same year St. Michael's, Pitmaston, was consecrated as a mission and, on completion of the permanent church (1971), this became a Conventional District.
Holy Cross, Billesley, was consecrated as a parish church in 1937. With the creation of a new parish in Highters Heath, Christ Church also lost that part of its parish which was outside the Yardley (now Birmingham) boundary, and is now only average-sized. St. Edburgha's was further reduced when St. Michael and All Angels, South Yardley, built in 1912 as a mission, became a separate parish in 1956. That year a mission opened in the Bishop Lightfoot Hall; it became St. Richard's, Lea Hall, in 1963, as a Conventional District, and became a full parish when the new church was built a few years afterwards. St. Peter's became a parish in 1964.
There were Methodist, Congregational, and Roman Catholic meetings in Yardley in 1830, in Hall Green, Tyseley, and Acocks Green, respectively. By 1911 there were 7 Methodist, 4 Congregational, 3 Baptist, 3 Salvation Army, 1 Christadelphian, and 12 Anglican churches including missions, 1 Church of Christ, and 2 Friends' meeting houses. Roman Catholics built one church and a convent in the first decade of this century. By 1964, the total number of places of worship to have been opened in the former parish of Yardley was 65, but some of these have closed in the interim. Others have moved to new premises, but have been included only once in the total.
Places of worship in Yardley:
Before 1704: 1
In 1704: 2
To 1850: 6
To 1880: 15
To 1890: 19
To 1900: 29
To 1911: 38
To 1964: 65
Administration and local government
The first evidence of authority and organisation in the area is Berry Mound, that great earthen hill-fort in Solihull Lodge, whose construction must have required generations of arduous labour. It indicates a strong controlling power, perhaps a family of chiefs who could command the energies of many men in this northern part of Arden during the century before the Roman conquest. But whether they were akin to their subjects or as alien as were the Romans and Normans we cannot say. Before and after the Claudian invasion (44 AD) this region was a No Man's Land between major tribes who retained their identity as states within the Empire. Of provincial power thereabout during the Roman peace little is known, though it lasted for more than three centuries.
In Anglo-Saxon times the folk-moot was the instrument of local authority, it was a democratic gathering which elected the chief and settled disputes. Frank-pledge was the system of justice: in this the tithing or decenary was collectively responsible for the conduct of ten men and their families which comprised it. Ten tithings formed a hundred and they met at the Hundred Moot, every four weeks. The name stayed the same while the numbers belonging to it grew. Yardley was the northernmost part of the Hwiccan (West Saxon) kingdom whose capital was Worcester. Owned by Pershore Abbey from the 10th to the 13th centuries, it was included in Pershore Hundred and its representatives were required to travel the long and hard way to the Avon for the Moot.
When shires were established, about A.D.1000 in the Midlands, supportive areas were allotted to fortress towns by Hundreds. So Hwiccan Yardley, already in the Bishopric of Worcester, went to the shire of Worcester, with the rest of Pershore Hundred and stayed with it until 1912. The Shire Moot met twice yearly, attended by Yardley's reeve, four prominent tenants, and the priest of St. Edburgha's church. Its concerns were justice, tax collection, roads and bridges, and military service. In Domesday Book (1086) Yardley appeared as a 'member' of Beoley: the two manors shared a rad man (literally 'riding man' who was the Abbot's reeve.)
William the Conqueror abolished the folk-moots, replacing them with individual manor courts. He wanted none of that election nonsense. 'Every man must have a lord', the court baron, which met twice a year to administer justice. Manorial officials included the Bailiff, Conners (food and drink inspectors), the Constable and his assistant the Headborough: these were all appointees of the lord's steward, who presided at the courts. Shires, now called counties, were controlled by the King's sheriffs (shire-reeves). Frank-pledge and Hundred Moots continued. Thus in Norman and Medieval times administration and justice were controlled by a blend of Anglo-Saxon and Norman-French institutions.
As manor courts declined with the replacement of labour services by money rents and the nobility killed itself off in civil wars, the local gentry acting as justices acquired greater powers. Ecclesiastical parishes were often, as at Yardley, co-extensive with manors. Two 16th century Acts gave onerous tasks to the Civil Parish of Yardley, often called the Vestry because the officials met therein. From 1547 Overseers, appointed annually by the Justices from among the chief tenants in turn, were required to find work for orphans and fit paupers, money for the sick and indigent, and to keep a register of householders and the poor. Surveyors of Highways similarly appointed from 1555, were responsible for putting parishioners to repairing the roads on their begrudged 'statute days', for ensuring that the wealthy provided carts and horses, and for collecting rates to pay for materials.
So large a parish as Yardley could not be served by one set of overworked and unpaid officers. Originally there were three divisions of the parish south of Warwick Road, one being called Broomhall. Later the south was sufficiently populous to become one of four Quarters. Broomhall then lay between Warwick and Stratford Roads, and Swanshurst was the large area to west and south of the latter highway. Later population growth, and the ever-greater burden of the poor brought sub-division of the Quarters into Near and Far Ends, each with overseers and surveyors. The parish constable, assisted by the headborough and thirdborough of each Quarter, had to prepare lists of men for militia training, keep the peace, lock malefactors into the stocks or the stone lockup by the church school, and take the major criminals to Worcester Assizes. The vestry system survived with little change other than that of title to Parish Council, until the late 19th century. Meanwhile the Yardley Courts Leet and Baron continued to be held at the Trust School: the Taylor squires maintained these anachronistic meetings until 1820.
For more than four hundred years local government was in the hands of Vestrymen, the chief tenants of the manor, who were responsible to the magistracy for poor relief and the maintenance of highways. Vestries met in open meetings, which all ratepayers could attend, or in closed sessions for the 'selectmen' only. These worthies were chiefly concerned with keeping down the Poor Rate. In Victorian times they were rather inaptly called the Guardians of the Poor. Yardley's workhouse was on Red Hill, Coventry Road: out-relief was also given. Beggars and vagrants from other parishes were soon moved on! From 1836, Yardley was in a Poor Law Union with Solihull, where a new workhouse opened two years later.
By 1880 there was a multiplicity of local authorities, all of them levying rates and none of them elected, which had been created by various Acts. Change was overdue. The system established by the Local Government Acts of 1888 and 1894 was to survive with little alteration for eight decades. Council were thence forward elected to control counties, excepting towns of more than 10,000 people. The second Act established Urban and Rural Districts: Yardley became the latter, because despite its population of 18,000 and a phenomenal rate of increase it still had an administration appropriate to a country village. Thanks to County Councillor Joseph Malins of Sparkhill an unnecessary duplication of authority was avoided: he succeeded in amending the second Act so that where as in Yardley the new District and the old Parish covered the same area a single council could perform both functions.
Thus Yardley acquired its first representative local government. Malins was a notable Chairman of the District Council, which met first (1894) in what is now the Sparkhill Institute and then (1902-12) in the new Council House on 'The Hill'. When the Council House was opened in 1902 (having been built with Worcestershire money, the county being anxious to prevent Yardley for succumbing to the blandishments of Birmingham), the porch shields bore only the letter 'Y. D. C.', clearly looking ahead to Urban District status eventually. Birmingham had sought to annex Yardley since the 1880s. The newly-formed Worcestershire County Council was determined to retain the District, and it sought the make good the deficiencies in services: policing had been done by Warwickshire since 1857, but this was taken over and a fine police station was built on Coventry Road - prominently displaying the arms of Worcester. A noble Council House on Sparkhill was both an advertisement for the County and a focus for local pride. The County built a police station, magistrates’ court, fire station and public works depot beside the Council House in the next few years. But water, gas and transport came from Birmingham, as did most of the new Yardleians: these amenities made possible the enormous increase in population (from ten to sixty thousand) in the three decades from 1880. The R. D. C. had an impossible task: with only a rudimentary organisation and too-low rates it could not supply all the services and amenities demanded by the thousands of new. Drainage, street-surfacing and lighting were wholly inadequate, and there was no refuse collection. In 1911 the city's offer to provide everything else and not to claim full rates for the first fifteen years won over Yardley's voters, who decided to become citizens of Birmingham. Thereafter the ancient name has only geographical significance, referring to no more than a square mile of the parish and manor.
The enlarged city was still not fully master in its own house, because administration of the Poor Law remained in the hands of Guardians. In 1912 the several Boards combined in one Union to administer the largest Civil Parish in Britain: its functions were not taken over by the City Council until 1930.
Foundation and ownership
Map: descriptive names
Map: geology and roads
Map: early settlement sites
Map: Yardley about 1750
Watermills and windmills
Administration and local government
Map: Yardley Parish and Vestry prior to 1894
Map: Yardley village 1847 to 1904
Map: parishes in 1911
Map: Yardley schools in 1911