In 1853 Benjamin Cooke began developing 21,132 square yards of his land in Acocks Green, at the junction of Warwick and Broad Roads. He built 8 residences fronting the Warwick Road, and 5 fronting Broad Road. Five years later he developed that triangle of land between Warwick and Well Lane (or Westley Road as we know it today), upon which was erected Stone Hall and the 'New Inn'. In 1863 Cooke divided up the remainder of his land into building plots, in a field adjoining Acocks Green Station, and fronting onto Yardley Road. Through the centre, he drove a road, which he called The Avenue, to give the development an air of gentility. Cooke charged a ground rent of £90 per annum for each plot, on a 99 year lease. Cooke's actions led to the irrevocable change of Acocks Green from a rural to an urban community. (1)
In 1875, Messrs. Thomas & Betteridge acted as agents in the sale of the last major piece of agricultural land in Acocks Green, on behalf of the Executor of the late Benjamin Cook. It was a large tract of land, owned by John Horton in 1847, and bounded by Shirley Road, Well Lane (now Westley Road), Fox Hollies Road, March Lane (Olton Boulevard East), and bisected by Dog Lane (Hazelwood Road). The land fronting the north side of Victoria Road, and the large field between Victoria Road and Shirley Road, (now bisected by Botteville Road), had been developed from as early as 1859 by John Horton. Thomas Herrivel Bott, a builder, had leased some of it. The original pieces owned by Cook in 1847, between Broad Road and Well Lane along Warwick Road, were also part of the sale. Some building had also taken place there in the 1850s, for example the New Inn and Stone Hall. After these major developments, only small plots in Acocks Green now remained, and these were soon bought up and built upon. (2)
By 1861, Acocks Green had a population of over 1,000 inhabitants. Due to its rapid expansion, it lacked many amenities, not the least of which were spiritual and educational. In 1860 the Congregationalists opened a chapel at the junction of Stockfield Road and Warwick Road, to a design by Yeoville Thomason, who later went on to design the Council House in Birmingham. The chapel was built of yellow Rugby brick, in the Gothic style. (3)
Three years later, Joseph Clarke Dixon, an active member of the Church of England, who lived at Corinthian Villas, Acocks Green, began to agitate for the building of an Anglican church in the village. He received considerable local support, and a site for the church was offered by Yardley Charity Trust. John Field Swinburn of Sherbourne Road, and later Stone Hall, provided an endowment of £1,000 towards the church's erection. It was designed by J.G. Bland of Temple Street in the Gothic style of the 13th Century, and erected in stages. The first stage, which cost £4,744, was consecrated by the Bishop of Worcester, in October 1866. The church was dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin. The nave was completed in 1882, and the chancel, designed by the well known Birmingham firm of J.A. Chatwin & Son, was commenced in 1894. (4)
In 1868 the Wesleyans opened a school and chapel in Shirley Road, at the corner of Botteville Road. It was extended in 1872, and replaced by a new chapel in 1882, at a cost of £1,593. A Primitive Methodist chapel was opened at Station Road in 1892. (5)
The educational needs of Acocks Green were served by Yardley Grammar School, some two miles away, and by two private schools for girls, Miss Martha Bywater's School for Young Ladies, and Miss Ann & Miss Emily Bishop's Ladies Boarding School. (6)
Forster's Education Act of 1870 prompted the Church of England authorities in Acocks Green to press for the building of a school in the community. A site was acquired in Broad Lane, now Broad Road, and work was begun on its construction in December 1872. St. Mary's Church of England School was formally opened on 10th March 1874. It had cost £1,595 to build. The school had accommodation for 402 pupils: boys, girls and infants, who were charged fees of between twopence and threepence per week for their education. (7)
By the late 1870s Acocks Green had become an urban community. Some of the traditional trades had survived on the periphery of the parish. George Muscott had a tannery in Stockfield Road, while Charles Shirley still continued to make bricks, as did Mrs. Caroline Smith's kilns. By and large the farmers had gone. Those who had survived had diversified. Thomas Boston was also a coal merchant, George Clifford a butcher and Charles Rabone a maltster. Shops were opened to serve the needs of Acocks Green's growing population. Bakers, butchers, grocers, fishmongers, drapers, boot and shoe makers, chemists, and wine and spirit merchants were all to be found here in 1878. There were also builders, painters and carpenters to deal with decorating and repairs. Acocks Green possessed five public houses: the 'Red Lion', the 'Spread Eagle', the 'New Inn', the 'Old Dolphin' and the 'Great Western' at Acocks Green Station.
The professional classes were also represented. Apart from the the Rev. Arthur Butler, curate and headmaster at the school, there were two surgeons, William Martin Rosten and Thomas Richard Woodifield, and an Inland Revenue officer, John Price. The Post Office Directory of 1878 lists 199 people under the title of gentry. Of these one was a councillor, Arthur Hulders, and another, a Justice of the Peace, John Field Swinburn. (8)
To supplement the daily train service a Sunday afternoon horse-drawn omnibus service was begun in January 1862. It ran from the Stratford Road, Sparkbrook, to Acocks Green, Solihull and Knowle. The service was begun by William Caswell, son of a Sherlock Street livery stable owner. From Sparkbrook passengers could catch one of Abraham Whitehouse's horse buses along the Stratford Road to take them into Birmingham. In 1867 Whitehouse extended his Sunday afternoon service to Acocks Green, and in 1875 he began operating a daily service from Dale End to Knowle by way of Acocks Green and Solihull. (9)
For the less well-off there were carriers' waggons. As well as conveying goods, they often carried passengers too. White's Directory of Birmingham for 1876 lists several. There was Thomas Eagles who operated out of the 'Phoenix' in Park Street, in the Irish quarter of Birmingham. His waggons travelled to and from Acocks Green every Thursday and Saturday. Other waggons journeying between Birmingham and Solihull, Warwick and Leamington also stopped at the village. A Mr. Coates ran a service to Solihull, from the 'Red Lion' in the Bull Ring, every Monday and Thursday. John Gould travelled to Leamington by way of Acocks Green on Fridays, and Edwin Hollingsworth, beer retailer and carrier, drove a waggon to Warwick and back, every Monday and Thursday.
By the end of the 19th Century new industries had arrived at Acocks Green. There were of course the traditional industries such as tanning, tilemaking and brickmaking, which had been carried out in the region for a hundred years or more. These new locally-based industries meant that at least a portion of Acocks Green's working population could now find work without the necessity of commuting into Birmingham. The Birmingham Woven Wire Mattress Co. Ltd., one of the first of these new factories, provided both manual and clerical employment. It was founded by Messrs. Waterhouse and Blantern, who built their factory at the corner of Fox Hollies and Warwick Roads.
Social life in Acocks Green at the latter end of the 19th Century was not restricted to the church and the public house. There were a number of clubs and societies. Acocks Green Choral Society was founded in 1877. At Christmas tide 1874, so confident of themselves were its members, that they gave a performance of Handel's 'Messiah.'
In 1878 the Acocks Green Institute was founded. A building in the Gothic style was erected at the junction of Dudley Park and Sherbourne Roads, at a cost of £3,000. The Institute met with considerable success. Its aims, as laid down in its original prospectus, were "The extension of literary, scientific and artistic knowledge, improvement in public speaking and debating and the provision of wholesome recreation for its members." (10)
The society provided lectures, musical recitals, tuition in French, English literature, music, history and New Testament studies. Examinations were set, and certificates of merit were awarded to successful students. Amongst its many guest lecturers, perhaps the best known was Oscar Wilde, who spoke to the Institute on 15th March 1887. (11)
The Institute building was for several years used as the meeting place of Yardley District Council, before the opening of its purpose built offices in Stratford Road, Sparkhill (which now houses Sparkhill Library). Under the guise of the District Council's meeting place the Institute was alternatively known as "The Public Hall."
Other clubs and societies flourishing at Acocks Green during this time include a bowling club, cycling club, Conservative club, dramatic society, football club, horticultural society, liberal club, poultry and pigeon society and a Working Men's Society.
In January 1895 "The Yardley News-Letter & House Magazine", edited by William Lupton, made its first appearance. This monthly magazine advertised itself as a "record of local events, places, and people, and a literary journal." It ran for over two years, and during this period gave an interesting, if perhaps whimsical insight, into what was happening in Acocks Green. On a more serious level the magazine gave details of a terrible storm that occurred at Yardley on Sunday, 24th March 1895:
"At Acock's Green the hurricane played great havoc. One of the most alarming mishaps occurred at Mr. Hunn's, 'Silverdale', Sherbourne Road. Just as the fami1y were sitting down to dinner two large chimney stacks fell, and portions of the brickwork crashed through the roof into the attic, passed through the landing ceilings, and a huge mass fell into a dressing-room which Mrs. Hunn had only just quitted. Considerable damage was done to the furniture, and the conservatory was demolished. The condition of the house was such that the family had to leave it for the day. On the Yardley side of the railway bridge a large oak tree was blown down and fell across the road, which with the exception of the pathway, was completely blocked. The branches struck a street lamp and broke the glass. A hay stack near by, on the same property, was blown over. At Mr. E.J.Adams's house, adjoining, part of the roof was torn off, the kitchen window was forced in, and a fowl-pen was blown away. At Camden House, Victoria Road, the residence of Mr J.P.Hunking, a chimney stack was carried away, and a strongly-built fowl-pen, as well as an eighteen-inch wall, were levelled to the ground. Nine fowls were killed and three others badly injured. At Mr. Woodcock's, Acock's Green Farm, a monstrous elm - the largest for miles around - was uprooted, and fell on two carts, smashing them."
The Newsletter also recorded the arrival of the telephone in Acocks Green:
"TELEPHONE EXCHANGE - We hear the accomplishment of this long discussed enterprise will probably take place soon; and it is also proposed to have the Exchange near the Shirley and Warwick Roads. The poles which have to pass through the village are to be of iron, and of an ornamental pattern, and will stand about 60 yards apart."
The arrival of the telephone coincided with moves within Birmingham City Council to extend the city's boundaries. One of the directions considered by the city fathers was eastwards, into Yardley, and Acocks Green.
1. Birmingham Sales Catalogues, B'ham SC/1079. B.R.L. Local Studies Dept.
3. Victoria County History, Warwickshire vol.7, p.449.
4. Ibid., p.391
5. Wesleyan Conference Handbook, 1915, pp.59-61
6. Kelly's Post Office Directory, Birmingham, 1868
7. V.C.H., vol.7, p.533
B. Kelly's Directory, Birmingham, 1878
9. Jenson, Alec G., Birmingham Transport vol.1, pp.46-46, 86, 88
10. Acocks Green Institute Programme (B.R.L. 259711)
11. Birmingham Suburban Institutes Union,1886-87, (B.R.L. 484283)