At the opening of the 20th Century, Worcestershire County Council viewed with some disquiet the growth of the industrial metropolis of Birmingham. For too long the parishes of Kings Norton and Yardley, which had been looked upon as provincial backwaters, had been neglected in favour of the larger cities and towns of the county. In an attempt to redress the balance, and to forestall any take-over by the industrial giant, the County Council began pumping money into the two parishes. At Yardley a new Council House was opened in 1902, along the Stratford Road in Sparkhill. A new Council School was built in the village, in the triangle of land between Warwick and Westley Roads. Police Stations were opened in Hay Mills and Yardley Road, Acocks Green. Roads and bridges were improved and plans were laid for the "greening" of the Cole Valley.
By 1900 Birmingham had become the greatest industrial city that the world had ever known. Due to lack of space in the town centre itself, new factories were built on its outskirts, in fields where previously crops had grown. Roads were cut to link these new factories with the town, and speculative builders constructed houses for the workers. L.W.Clarke noted this expansion:
"...the neighbouring hamlets are approached by Birmingham's streets and 'ere long will merge in her arms...the great and multitudinous assemblage of one people - one vast manufacturing community - one Birmingham." (1)
Some neighbouring hamlets were not overjoyed at this prospect. For others, though, it appeared the lesser of two evils. In 1907, Quinton, then part of Halesowen, had come under increasing pressure from its Rural District Council. So much so, that at an extraordinary meeting of the Parish Council, they passed an almost unanimous resolution in favour of incorporation with Birmingham. In February 1909 the Local Government Board held an enquiry into the proposal. Though Worcestershire County Council opposed the annexation ("...plunder and robbery," was how its chairman, J.Willis Bund saw it) the Board agreed to the wishes of the people of Quinton.
The City Council now put forward a proposal for the incorporation of Quinton and the establishment of a Greater Birmingham. The Boundaries Committee accepted the proposal and published its report in February 1909.The report proposed that the borough of Aston Manor, the urban districts of Erdington, Handsworth and Kings Norton and Northfield, and the rural district of Yardley should be incorporated into the City.
In 1881 Yardley, including the Solihull Poor Law Union, had a population of 9,745. By 1909 this had risen to 60,000, due largely to an influx of people from Birmingham. From 1905, new houses were being built an average rate of 820 a year. Yardley District Council was unable to cope with this demographic expansion. Civic amenities were totally inadequate. There was no public library, public baths or refuse collection. Gas and water were supplied from Birmingham. Of its children of school age, 1,325 were attending Birmingham Council schools (2)
On 26th May 1910, the Local Government Board issued a Provisional Order, agreeing in almost every detail the proposal put forward by Birmingham City Council. Aston and Erdington went along with the decision but Handsworth, Kings Norton and Yardley opposed it. The City entered into negotiations with Kings Norton and Northfield, and after agreeing a differential rate of ls.8d in the pound, less than that paid by the existing citizens of Birmingham, Kings Norton agreed to the annexation. A similar agreement was reached with Yardley in November. Only Handsworth held out. The Bill received its third reading in Parliament on 20th February 1911. Handsworth accepted the inevitable, and entered into negotiations for its incorporation. On 9th May 1911, the Bill received the Royal Assent. Acocks Green had become part of Birmingham.
Plans were now set afoot to link the new suburbs to the city centre by trams. Some residents were not keen on the idea, though:
Rumours are afloat that the Tramway authorities are surveying the Acock's Green district with a view of introducing their octopus that is linking up suburban Birmingham. Surely to goodness with such an excellent train service and the improvements now in progress we can do without this peace disturber along our local roads. Already the situation of the present Council Schools is a nightmare to parents, and what with the irresponsible cyclists, the motorists, and a prospect of tram cars, these combined will about complete the death-trap.
A RESIDENT." (3)
Work on improving the Warwick Road, widening, straightening, and draining it, ensured that the tram did not reach Acocks Green until 2nd February 1916. Even then the line terminated at Broad Road. In October 1922 the line was extended into the village, finally terminating at the Green. Further progress to the city boundary with Olton was impossible due to the narrowness of the road through the village.
The following year a bus service was introduced, which linked Acocks Green and Six Ways, Erdington. It was the beginning of the Outer Circle 11 bus route. The Circle was completed on 7th April 1926. That same day the No.1 service, which linked the City and Moseley, was extended as the No.1A, to a new terminus at Acocks Green.
In July 1920 the Co-operative Builders Ltd., erected 20 houses in Fox Hollies Road. It was to be the start of a massive housing project by private builders and the City Surveyor's Department. The Fox Hollies Estate, begun in 1928, represented the high water mark of the City's housing development plan. The estate consisted of over 2,500 houses, with Greenwood Avenue as its focal point. The Avenue was built 150 feet wide from house fence to house fence, with an additional 20 feet of front garden onto the houses. The dual carriageway which ran its length had a tree-lined central reservation. Three types of houses were built on the estate: parlour, non-parlour, and a smaller type of non-parlour. It was to prove a pleasing and attractive estate with gracefully curving roads and an interesting variation in house frontages.
Original rents ranged according to the size of the property: 14s. 11d., 11s. 4d., and 9s. 4d. In July 1928 the City purchased Gospel House Farm, and developed this 92-acre site to provide an additional 2,065 houses.
A new bus service, the No. 31, was introduced in November 1928. It ran between the City centre and Olton Boulevard East. In September 1930, it was extended to Nailstone Crescent, and further extended on lst June 1936 to link up with the new No. 32 bus service. In January 1937 the No. 44 tramway service was replaced by buses, and extended to the City boundary in Warwick Road. In April 1939, due to pressure by residents, the bus route was further extended up Lincoln Road North.
Even before these major housing projects, the Roman Catholic population in the district was on the increase. A convent, dedicated to Our Lady of Compassion, was established at Wilton House, Warwick Road, in 1905. The following year a chapel was constructed from a greenhouse at the back of the house. Mass was said here for 18 months, until a chapel was opened on the upper floor of the newly constructed school next door. The foundation stone of the school was laid on 2nd April 1907 by the Earl of Denbigh, and blessed by Mgr. (later Archbishop) Ilsley. (4)
The foundation stone of the present church, dedicated to the Sacred Heart and Holy Souls, was laid on 18th April 1923. Now known as Holy Souls Church, to differentiate it from the Sacred Heart Church, Aston, it was designed by the architectural firm of Harrison and Cox. The initial construction finished in March 1925, but the church was not finally completed until 1940. (4)
In those years between the wars a by-pass to take heavy traffic away from Acocks Green village was begun. Olton Boulevard, the name given to the new road, was begun in 1929. It started almost opposite the Warwick Road junction with Lincoln Road, and continued across former fields to link up with Greenwood Road, which ran between Victoria Road and Fox Hollies Road. The old road was widened, and incorporated into the new by-pass. While this phase of the scheme was being prepared, work was proceeding on the Tyseley section of the by-pass, between Reddings Lane and Spring Road. The Second World War brought all work on the bypass to a halt in 1939. The section between Reddings Lane and the Warwick Road - Weston Lane junction at Greet was never completed.
There were developments in the village itself. The last of the cottages were demolished, and replaced by shops. In 1929 the Warwick Cinema in Westley Road was opened. It replaced the old Acocks Green Picture Playhouse, situated on the corner of Warwick and Station Roads. On 14th June 1932, Birmingham opened its 24th branch library, at Acocks Green. The long-awaited library cost £13,000 to build and equip, and had an initial stock of 23,000 books. The Lord Mayor, Ald. J.B. Burman performed the opening ceremony, using a silver key presented by the architect, Mr. F.J. Osborne. In its first week, Acocks Green Library issued 9,725 books.
For a short period during the 1930s, Acocks Green had its own 4 page weekly newspaper. 'The Acock's Green Times' was published from Stratford-upon-Avon by E.P. Ray. It cost one penny, and included local news, a women's page and theatre reviews. The paper ran from lst January to 6th May 1932. Its short life was probably due to the fierce competition it faced from such well established Birmingham newspapers as the 'Gazette', 'Mail', 'Post', 'Despatch', 'Weekly Post', and the 'Sunday Mercury'.
In 1939 the Second World War broke out. It was a war that touched both fighting men and civilians. Terror bombing raids on civilian targets made each town and city in the United Kingdom part of the front line. In early December 1940, there were a series of heavy bombing raids on Birmingham. Attacks then shifted to London, but on the night of l0th December, the assault on Birmingham was resumed. At 8.20 p.m. a pattern of high explosive bombs was dropped on Acocks Green. One bomb crashed through the roof of St. Mary's Church, and exploded just in front of the lectern. The roof was utterly destroyed, but surprisingly, not one of the arches in the church was moved even one eighth of an inch out of alignment. In all, nearly 70 high explosive bombs were dropped on Acocks Green during the war. Of these 26 failed to explode. A pattern of 4 unexploded bombs fell on Alexander Road during one raid. At Hazelwood Road, only 1 out of a pattern of 4 exploded. Of the 56 incendiary bombs that were dropped on the suburb, all of them exploded, setting fire to houses and contents. (6)
1. Clarke, L.W., The History of Birmingham, 1870. Unpublished MSS, Local
Studies Dept., Birmingham Reference Library
2. Greater Birmingham: Newspaper Cuttings relating to the City
Extension Scheme, 1911, p.75. (B.R.L. 373354)
3. The Acock's Green, Olton and Solihull Journal, May 1911, p. 209.
4. Catholic Calendar & Directory of the Diocese of Birmingham, 1908
5. The official Catholic Directory of the Archdiocese of Birmingham,
6. Air Raid Maps, Local Studies Dept., Central Library. (B.R.L. 995199)