The river had never been usable as a highway except by small flat-boats. About 1795 travel by water across Yardley became possible when the Warwick and Birmingham Canal was constructed. It came along the north slope of the Spark valley, crossing the Cole just below the confluence on a long embankment: culverts were made for the river and head-race to Hay Mill. A feeder was cut from the Spark to the canal, starting just east of the Stratford Road. From a wharf at Danford Lane the folk of Greet could now travel by fast fly-boat to the outskirts of Birmingham, and a few years later to Warwick and then London. Bricks and tiles, the making of which from the excellent mudstone was a winter occupation on many Yardley farms, could be and were taken all over the Midlands by water, while coal and other supplies were brought from the town.
In 1852 the Oxford Railway was opened, broad-gauge lines crossing canal, river, and race on a high embankment which not only cut off the view downstream but impeded air flow, thus making the valley upstream more subject to fogs. For a decade the nearest station was at Acocks Green, but then Small Heath and Sparkbrook Station was opened, chiefly to serve the new B. S. A. factory on the Golden Hillock. Sparkhillians must have thought themselves very well-served then, despite the long walk down and up Danford Lane.
Turnpikes having been abolished in 1872, horse-buses plied to the 'Mermaid' and the Tivoli Gardens behind it. By 1885 steam trams had reached The Hill, and a depot was built where now the Salvation Army Citadel stands. Later the lines were extended to Knowle Road. The humped bridges prevented further progress until their replacement. By 1914 Corporation electric trams were going on to Four Ways, Hall Green. In 1904 the long-awaited tram service began on Stoney Lane, going to what since the annexation of Balsall Heath Local Board District in 1891 had been the City boundary, just south of the Barracks.
The Warwick Road required drastic improvement before trams could use it. There was a weighbridge at the 'Mermaid' to ensure that road-engines were not too heavy for the humped bridges. Horse-buses still plied to Acocks Green. The road had to be widened, straightened, raised, and re-bridged, and the Corporation had not completed this work until 1916. Trams then ran as far as Flint Green, taking workers to the wartime factories between canal and railway on Hay Hall Estate. The extension to Shirley and Westley Brook were post-World War One. The Warwick Road at West Greet was so narrow between terraces that a single track was laid there, its use being controlled by small red and green lights at each end.
In 1907 the North Warwickshire Line was opened by the G. W. R. from a new station, Tyseley Junction, to Stratford. This replaced an abandoned plan for an independent line parallel to the Stratford Road, with a station at Baker Street. A halt was provided at Spring Road, and a station at Hall Green.
The narrow lanes and awkward intersections of rural Yardley needed remaking before tramlines could be laid, and the need for public transport was so immediate that petrol buses were introduced instead. The 1 and 1A to Acocks Green and Moseley were first. College Road and Shaftmoor Lane were tarmac-surfaced and kerbed, lit and drained, for the use of open-topped buses from 1920. By 1924 buses were linking Stoney Lane tram terminus to Yardley Wood and Warstock. The Inner Circle ran along Highgate and Walford Roads from 1928, and a few years later there were services along the Stratford Road to the new housing estates of Hall Green. In 1937, for no reason other than their obstruction of traffic, the trams were taken off and the lines covered.
The final enclosures of land in Yardley were made during the 1840s. In our districts no open fields remained to be carved up among the neighbouring landowners, Taylors and Greswolds, because enclosure of Greet Fields had been completed long before. Only a narrow strip of common survived at Showell Green. All but a tiny patch of it was duly enclosed, as were Greet Common and Wake Green. Several lanes were now public roads, required to be brought up to Commissioners' standards. These including Showell Green Lane. Wake Green Road, and a track which after 1853 was called College Road. The whole area limited by Stoney Lane, the Spark Brook, and the Tyseley Brook, was now parcelled into quadrilateral closes, hedged, ditched, and sometimes drained. There was little agriculture - 'Ploughed Field' (Lea Road) was so called because of its oddity. The few large farms were pastoral, producing meat, milk products, and some vegetables for Birmingham markets. Many farm-workers lined in, but there were some smallholders and rural craftsmen. Those who lacked work went to the town to find it. All this was to change during the next half-century except for the commuting, which was to increase greatly.
In 1847 Henry Greswolde owned 812 acres in Yardley Parish, his local holdings including Manor Farm, Shaftmoor, and Grove Farm. John Taylor, lord of the manor, and his brother owned 1368 acres between them in Swanshurst Quarter: Greetmill Hill was the only property hereabout. The Ryland family owned some of the land between Stoney Lane and the Warwick Road; they later purchased the Gravel Field part of Grove Farm.
The hamlet of Greet never developed, due in part to poor water supply in earlier times and poor communications later. It was in fact to disappear completely, but not before a last burst of activity as a centre of extractive industry. The Greet Brickworks removed a large part of the hillside above Greet House in later Victorian times, and the Burbury Brickworks acquired Greet Farm's Riddings west of the Cole: with clay from its enormous excavation most of Sparkhill and Springfield were built.
Meanwhile a new settlement, called here for convenience West Greet, had developed apace. Hermon Row, Albion and Bertha Roads were built on Greet Farm's Petty Fields in the 1870s, comprising humble terrace rows for artisans. This settlement was clearly associated with the Small Arms factory on Golden Hillock and with a Fog Signal Works fittingly sited near the railway bank in Stock Moor Meadows. Another development south from the Spark Brook was however a suburban overspill from built-up Bordesley. Farms were being bought up, streets laid out, and terraces built. There were large well-capitalised estates like the Barber Trust, and small blocks, with piecemeal completion. See my 'Urbanisation of Yardley'. The streets between the highways, with their variety of buildings from the 1870s to the 1890s. still have something of the look of a country town, though the insertion of workshops and small factories, and haphazard demolition, are destroying this. Later streets, ringing The Hill with their long and uniform tunnelback terraces, are clearly suburban.
The Lloyds' house 'The Chains' was only a few decades old when the family moved out. It was razed and Old Grange Road (an unhistorical name) was built over its site. Between the 1870s and 1900 Gravel Field, between Stratford Road and the riverside meadows, was fully if sporadically built up from north to south. On Percy Road and Saddler Street (now Lea Road) were the earliest terraces. On and near the Stratford Road were large three-storey villas, with smaller ones in continuous rows down the slopes. The personal-name roads on both sides of the highway commemorate members of the Smith-Ryland family which owned the land. When building stopped during World War One, Sparkhill and Greet were fully developed, Showell Green was still semi-rural south of Adria Road, but Springfield had been uniformly laid out between the Park and the river. Green Bank and Tyseley had compact estates among the fields. The demolition of Manor Farm and nearby buildings by 1930 ended the existence of the ancient hamlet. Since then 'Greet' is west of the Cole, and across it Tyseley begins.
Amenities and services
Yardley was notably lacking in public services, as would be expected in a District which had been rural and sparsely populated until the 1870s. The Rural District Council's administration was that of a village, and the demands on its finances of new streets and drains were crippling. Piped water and gas and mains drainage were provided for new dwellings, but road maintenance and refuse collection were inadequate. There were no public baths, wash-houses, or libraries, and the only hospital was the Women's, in a converted villa at the top of Evelyn Road. This moved to its present buildings in 1906. The first power station in the District was built by the City, in Evelyn Road in 1914. Fire and Police Stations had been provided by the County a few years earlier, with a Public Works Yard behind. The library and Baths were to be of City provenance, the latter not until 1931, next to the Council House.
The Yardley Charity Trust owned 333 acres of land. Thanks largely to Councillor Malins, 40 acres were given to the Rural District Council in 1898 for use as public open spaces. Land and income were supposed to be for educational purposes: Malins promised that physical education and instruction would be given, which in practice meant swings, roundabouts, and park keepers! The local patches were Formans Road Recreation Ground and Sparkhill Park, Due to delays while small exchanges were made to simplify the shape, the latter was not opened until 1904. It covers 16 acres, and had a much-loved pool until after World War Two.
For some years before 1899 Yardley was policed from Warwickshire, of which it was always geographically a part, and there was a move then for the District's transfer wholly to that County. It was pointed out that Yardley's connection with Worcestershire was tenuous, with only one of its main roads going into the County, and that there had been no reason for the link since Pershore Abbey had ceased to hold the manor five centuries earlier. But the campaign failed, and Worcestershire regained police powers. Twelve years later Sparkhill Station and Court House were taken over by the Birmingham Force. For two decades thereafter 'the Greet Beat' was always patrolled in pairs because of the unruliness of its inhabitants!
For many centuries the only church in Yardley was St. Edburgha's, three miles from our districts. In 1704 Marston Chapel was consecrated at Hall Green, much nearer. Not until 1878 did Sparkhill have a church, though there were house meetings and missions earlier. In that year the corrugated iron chapel of St. John was opened at the Stratford Road corner of Sturge Street, which was thereupon renamed. The chapel was rebuilt in brick eleven years later and enparished in 1894 prior to enlargement. St. Bede's having begun as a mission in the 'Warwick Market' row, moved to its present site opposite Greet School in 1907. It remains a mission of St. John's in its green 'tin tabernacle'. Emmanuel Church on Golden Hillock Road (1901) acquired a parish in 1928 which included the northmost part of St. John's. The latter's Anglican neighbours now are St. Christopher Springfield (chapel 1907, parish 1911), St. Edmund's Tyseley (1895 and 1931), and St. Agnes Moseley (1884 and 1914). Several Nonconformist churches and chapels have been opened since the 1880's, of which some have closed or been taken over by West Indian or Asian sects. The Byzantine R. C. Church of the English Martyrs has stood in Evelyn Road since 1923, though it was not fully consecrated until 1946.
There was only one school in Yardley, the Trust School by the church, until 1710, when a second one was opened at Hall Green. This was for boys, and was financed by the Great Trust. There was no school for girls until 1840 and then only briefly. St. John's School began on its present site in 1856 in a converted villa. It was rebuilt in 1884, and has been enlarged since World War two. The Yardley School Board was not elected until twenty years after the 1870 Act. Four substantial Board Schools were built in the areas of greatest need; they were Greet and Redhill (Hay Mills) in 1892, and Hall Green and Yardley Wood in 1893. Greet School had been preceded by a makeshift school in Bard Street. The new premises in brick, tile and terra-cotta, were erected on the empty site of Greet Farm. The Yardley Board also built part of College Road Schools in 1900. Its successor, the Worcestershire Education Authority, completed them, and added Formans Road and Golden Hillock Road Schools in 1907 and 1910. The latter year saw the opening of Yardley Secondary School on the Warwick Road, five years after a small beginning in Sparkhill Institute. There has been a Catholic School in Evelyn Road since the 1920s, bombed and rebuilt. Arden Primary School opened on the site of Sparkhill Grove in 1970. The Secondary schools have 'gone Comprehensive' since 1969.
Commerce and industry
There was a post office in Greet a century ago, and 30 shops are listed between St. John's and Percy Roads. They included 5 grocers, 4 butchers, a fried fish dealer, a tripe dresser, 2 greengrocers, 2 shoe-makers, 2 dress-makers, an iron-monger, and a pawn-broker, a doctor and a chemist, dealers in furniture and earthenware, a beer retailer, a coal merchant, a laundress, and a painter of flags and banners. There were five unspecified shopkeepers and a private school. All these premises were converted terrace houses. In the 1880s and 1890s some rows were designed as shops, notably 'Warwick Market'; but conversions have continued to the present. On the Stratford Road large villas became shops, forecourts replacing front gardens, during the same period. 'Eastbourne Market' was purpose-built in 1899. Two shopping lines developed, from Sparkbrook to the 'Mermaid' junction and on The Hill about the tram terminus. They have grown steadily towards each other, and Springfield has developed from small beginnings early this century. The Greet line has remained fairly static. Corner shops are to be found about the district, rarely purpose-built, and some have been re-converted.
When steam-trams brought the green Cole valley within reach of Birmingham's hordes, public houses were built on what was then the edge of town to cater for them Such were the new 'Mermaid', the Sportsman, Cherry Arbour, Greet Inn, Waggon and Horses, and - as the brick tide moved on southward - the College Arms and the Britannia at Tyseley.
Apart from such rural crafts as joinery, smithing, brewing, and brick-making, there was no industry in Greet until the 1880s. The fog signal and fireworks firm, Wilders, tucked safely away along Seeleys Lane, employed few men. Then an umbrella factory opened on Percy Road. There was a second fireworks factory by the Cole south of Formans Road. But apart from those engaged in brick-making and building, most workers walked to Small Heath factories or went by tram to Birmingham firms. The James Cycle Co. on Tomey Road provided local employment before World War One, when there was a great expansion of the B.S.A. and other firms, and industrial growth on the Hay Hall estate. Greet and Tyseley Brickworks went out of use in the 1920s. Light engineering and electrical works multiplied and grew - on Percy Road, on the Warwick Road just west of the river and sporadically to Stockfield, on Weston and Reddings Lanes, and in a large area north of Tyseley. A number of small concerns fitted themselves into yards, gardens and waste patches about the Mermaid. There were notable extensions to the Serck, Brooke Tool, M.E.M., and Lucas works in the 1930s. The wrongly-named Tyseley Industrial Estate has been developed since World War Two about Seeleys Road. Burbury Brickworks closed in the late 1950s, and the enormous pit has been infilled with industrial waste.
Relief and drainage, geology, and the natural landscape
First footers and Anglo-Saxon settlement
The manor of Yardley, the boundaries of Yardley, and the 'Manor' of Greet
Ancient roads, ancient buildings, and watermills
Turnpike roads, bridges, and administration
Urbanisation, and amenities and services
Churches, schools, and commerce and industry
Between the Wars and since, and references