Bridges

There were probably footbridges across all the Cole fords by the end of the 18th century. These timber structures were not infrequently swept away by floods, which worsened as the destruction of woodland caused faster run-off from the clay, though they subsided as quickly as they rose. Even today the river can rise as much as six feet from its usual six inches in an hour, but it falls just as quickly. Only one wooden footbridge, and that dating from the late 1930s, can be seen today - at Green Road ford. All the others were replaced early last century, but by brick footbridges only except at Titterford. Four Arches Bridge, narrow and with a low parapet to permit packhorses to cross without catching their loads, was built and maintained by the Yardley Great Trust. Bridges over millraces had to be repaired by the tenant millers. Paving of fords, after centuries of merely dumping more gravel into the potholes, was confined to the turnpikes: only this century have the local ones been concreted.

 

Watermills

The watermills of the Cole and its tributaries are dealt with in my "Watermills of the Cole and Blythe Valleys". Sarehole Mill has its own history/guidebook.

 

Swanshurst Quarter has had three Cole mills and one on a side-stream. Two others were fed by the brooks on the southern boundary but were sited in Solihull. Of all these only Sarehole survives; of nearly sixty mills once to be found within the borders of Birmingham (1974 additions) very few buildings still stand, and of these Sarehole is the only one to have restored waterwheels. They do little practical work, but shake the building quite considerably.

 

Greet Mill is known to have been in existence from at latest 1261 until about 1840, with at least one rebuilding. It was the manorial mill of Greet, whose manor house was three-quarters of a mile downstream. Greet's open fields lay over Sparkhill, fairly near the mill but separated from it by the boggy valley of the Showell Green Brook.

 

The chosen millsite was at a small break of slope, a minor waterfall on the Cole, which could be weired to create a good 'head' of water. When this had been done, with a bank of clay and stone, there would usually be a shallows below, and this combined with the gravelly riverbed (the gravel still piles up and creates an island above the modern bridge and must be removed periodically) made Greet Mill a favoured fording-place, whether or not it had been so originally. Little is known of its early history. Always a grist-mill, it also used waterpower for blade-grinding, sub-contracting during the Civil War and later for army and company suppliers. In 1775 Greet was advertised as a newly-erected Corn Mill with regular supply of water, adjacent to the turnpike road. An estate of 75 acres was attached, for milling was not a full-time occupation in this pastoral region. Supply was directly from the Cole. The new mill was built over a brick culvert which lay between the river, falling over a weir on the west side, and a side-race for flood-water which rejoined the Cole 200 yards north of the turnpike - that is, too far downstream for the excess water to back up and 'tail' the wheels. The ponded Cole, a pool of about three acres surface area, stretched upstream nearly to Green Road ford. That was a right of way which could not be drowned, so the pool's size was restricted - and much water went to waste down the side-race. In drought the reserve was insufficient, and it was not replenished until upstream mills had refilled their pools by diverting the river into them: Greet received water from these only when they were working.

 

After being engaged in steel-rolling during its last years, Greet Mill was out of use in 1843. Economic or other factors may have contributed to its closure, including the availability of steam power at sites much nearer the sources of iron, but lack of water was probably the main reason. By 1868 the pool had fallen below the top of the weir, the river wound through a bog to find its way down the side-race, and the mill buildings had been demolished. Rubble filled the dry culvert, nettled silt covered the site, and the mill was quite forgotten - though the name Greetmill Hill (Shaftmoor Lane) outlasted it - until excavation of a new central channel for the Cole in 1913 disclosed the culvert. Long-buried brickwork from the mill buildings went to fill the old channels, along with material from the two humped bridges, and a wide two-arched bridge was given a stone balustrade to show Birmingham's intention to do its new territories proud.

 

Next in age was probably Sarehole Mill, property of Maxstoke Priory before the Dissolution. After rebuilding in 1542 it still received water only from the Bulley (Coldbath) Brook. In 1768 a half-mile was cut from the 'whirl-hole' on the Cole to the small pond. Three years later a rebuilt mill was advertised for letting. This was the building we see today, built against the pool dam, though it then lacked barn, engine house, and chimney. Like Greet, this was a speculative venture by one Richard Eaves, who saw that there was a lack of waterpower in Birmingham for corn-milling, because the streams there were over-used for industry. He hoped to fill the gap with his Cole mills, despite their distance from the town. The expenditure bankrupted him, and others gained the benefit. About 1840 the forge at the south end, beyond the overshot wheel, was converted into a cottage, the barn was added, and a steam engine was installed to give extra power. Sarehole has two twelve-foot diameter wheels, both now restored, a wide breast wheel for corn-milling and a narrower overshot wheel which powered blade-grinding and boring machinery. This had ceased work by 1873, but corn-grinding continued until 1919. Forty years later the son of the last miller, George Andrew, died and the neglected property passed to the City. Vandals came close to destroying the unguarded buildings, but thanks to the efforts of many people the mill was restored and opened as a branch museum (1969). The workshop has since been restored. The Cole leat, largely infilled, is traceable in The Dingle. Sluices can be seen at Four Arches Bridge and at Coldbath Road corner. 

In 1783 the finest millpool now in the city was constructed in the Coleside meadows at the confluence with the Chinn Brook. Titterford Mill does not appear in records before the advertisement in Aris's Gazette of a new mill with two waterwheels, four pairs of stones, and garners for 2000 bags of wheat. A leat from the Chinn came down to a small pond whose main supply was by leat from the 7.5 acre pool beside the Cole. Only 6 hp was provided thereby, and in the mid-19th century a 20 hp steam-engine was installed to work steel-rolling machinery brought from Sarehole. This was to continue producing pen-nibs until a fire in the 1920s destroyed the mill. The house and extensive farm buildings survived until Trittiford Road was made across the site a few years later. The diversion of the Chinn into a long tail-race to avoid 'tailing' the wheels can still to be seen in the Dingle.

 

Titterford Mill's long head-race leaves the Cole just to the south of Slade Lane, only a few yards north of the spot where the tail-race of Colebrook Priory Mill enters it. It seems odd that the head-race should start above the ford instead of just below it, since this made necessary the provision of a bridge over it for Slade Lane. There must have been a good reason, and it may be that the ford gravel acted as a natural weir to divert water into the race. A removable plank weir nowadays performs this function when required. Bach Mill was in existence when the boundary presentment was written in 1495: it may have been associated with the pre-Dissolution priory nearby. Mill, priory, and the later tower windmill were all on the Solihull side of the border. It was called Bates Mill in 1609. Originally a corn mill, it may have converted to needle-grinding by 1843, a few years after its rebuilding in brick. Water came to it by Cole leat into a small pond. The millpool, Bampton's Pool (Brompton Pool is a map mistake), whose dam takes Priory Road across the brook valley, was originally a fishpond, but it must also have provided water for the mill at times. After World War I both wind and water mill were out of use, replaced by Shirley roller-mill. The open wheel-chamber was visible on the millside until the building was demolished a few years ago. Across the Cole on the Shirley Brook there was a mill which had apparently gone out of use before the Beighton map of 1725. That showed a pool (with the legend 'Old Mill'), which is still traceable between Watwood and Geoffrey Roads.

 

On the Coldbath Brook from at latest the 15th century there was a mill called Lady Mill, probably because its revenue went to support St. Mary's Church in Moseley from about 1500, but earlier called Greethurst Mill. The site was below Coldbath Pool. Stoney Lane (Yardley Wood Road) lay along the millpool's dam, whose dry bed survived in part the raising of the road in 1924 until the making of Linkswood Close a few years ago. There are still prefabs on the site of mill and house, which stood either side of the brook, now culverted, until about 1830, but former sheltering trees survive. Having converted to wire-drawing the mill was replaced as a corn-grindery by a timber post-mill at a corner of the ancient earthwork. This was called Wake Green Mill, and David Cox drew it in ruin. On Yates's map of 1789 a post mill is shown on Yardley Wood Common, in what is now a schools' playing field, but this may be an incorrect siting of the tower mill.

 

The Stratford Canal

In the 1790s a development of importance to the southern part of the Quarter was the construction of the canal to Stratford. It began at a junction with the Worcester Canal near Lifford, followed the valley of the Chinn Brook, and entered Yardley at Warstock, where wharves were made. Thence it went south in a deep cutting through Yardley Wood Common and paralleled the boundary brook for three furlongs before turning into Solihull Lodge. An old lane which became School Road crossed it on High Bridge, a brick arch which still impedes traffic.

 

Not only were supplies of coal for domestic hearths and mill engines brought by boat, but also lime for local kilns and iron rods for cottage nailers. There was a fast flyboat service to Worcester Bar in Birmingham. For most of the Quarter's folk, however, the fast stage-coach or the slow stage-waggon on the Turnpike was the only way of reaching the smoky town other than on horseback or on foot. By 1803 the canal had reached Kingswood and a junction there with the Warwick Canal. In 1816 the line was complete to Stratford, so that Swanshursters had access by water to London, the Avon Navigation, and Bristol.

 

The Tithe Map

The first map to give a detailed picture of Swanshurst Quarter is the Field Drawing Sheet of the Ordnance Survey to a scale of two inches to one mile, drawn about 1820, but it is suspect in its field boundaries and hard to read. The First Edition of the One-Inch Map (published c. 1837) is clearer and more useful, though still not without errors. Map 9 is derived from it. Commons have been added from the 1843 Tithe Map of Yardley, a finely-detailed map which shows every hedgeline, track, and building. It is of great value to the historical geographer. The accompanying Schedule lists the name of every close: few of these are of historical or topographical interest, however, as they chiefly relate to the farms to which they belong. Newly-enclosed pieces had been given number sequences different from surrounding ones, so that their identification is easy. At a meeting in 1832 at the Bull's Head the principal landowners of the parish decided to seek enclosure of the remaining open fields (200 acres in Church End and Greet Quarters) and commons (650 acres, mostly in our Quarter, comprising Showell Green, Wake Green, Greet Common, Swanshurst Slade, Billesley and Sarehole Commons, and Yardley Wood). Piecemeal enclosure at the edges had reduced all these. A Bill was passed in 1833, and the land was eventually shared among the promoters and those few others who had documentary proof of their rights to common. The land was sold to the promoters of the Bill, who then paid the money back to themselves, thus recouping the cost of the Parliamentary process. Nearly all the commons were thus acquired by the Taylors, two members of which family then owned half (1368 acres) of the whole Quarter. See Map Ten. The land was duly hedged and ditched in regular quadrilateral closes. A piece of land four acres in extent was designated as a gravel pit and deeply quarried for some sixty years of road-mending. It is still there filled with trees, beside Wake Green Road opposite Gracewell Lane. Two pieces of land were set aside as allotments for the poor, off Springfield Lane and Stoney Lane. Map Eight shows the roads which were improved to given standards following enclosure.

 

Churches

Until 1704 St. Edburgha's Church had been the only one in the parish, more than five difficult miles away for the folk of Yardley Wood. In that year Job Marston's Chapel was consecrated opposite Hall Green Hall. It was to remain Marston Chapel until 1907 despite enlargement in 1860 to accommodate the increased congregation, because a new parish church had been provided by Sarah Taylor's beneficence on a Yardley Wood Common site beside the canal bridge. This was and is Christ Church, in Early English style, consecrated in 1849. Its parish included the southern third of Yardley and a part of Kings Norton.

In 1878 an iron mission chapel was opened on Sparkhill. This was replaced by a brick building in 1889 which was enparished as St. John's in 1894 prior to enlargement. Meanwhile in 1884 a chapel-of-ease to St. Mary's Moseley had been built on Wake Green just inside Yardley. This is St. Agnes', later given a parish which took in part of our Quarter: its tower was not complete until 1932. St. Christopher's (Springfield) was consecrated as a chapel-of-ease to St. John's in 1907, receiving its own parish four years later. Holy Cross (Billesley) was a parish church from its opening in 1937. When a new church was opened in Highters Heath, Christ Church lost that part of its parish which lay beyond the Yardley boundary.

 

The English Martyrs R. C. Church began as a mission in 1908. Three years later the school at the top of Evelyn Road opened, its hall serving as a chapel until the Byzantine church alongside was completed in 1923. Similarly Our Lady of Lourdes School hall was used from its building in 1935 until the church was opened in 1966. Nonconformist chapels were built as follows: Slade Lane 1888, Church of Christ Sparkhill 1893, Springfield Road 1916, Brook Lane Baptist Chapel  and Trittiford Road Methodist Church in 1928, Stratford Road Springfield 1936, and five later ones.

 

Schools

Hall Green Charity School for boys, an offshoot of the Trust School in Yardley village and like it supported by the Great Trust, was opened in 1712, on the site of the builders' yard next to the Horseshoe Inn on Stratford Road. The Swinburne family provided its schoolmasters for 150 years. There were enlargements in 1825; in 1898 it closed and its pupils went to the nearby Board School. A National (Anglican) School for girls was held in a rented room somewhere in Hall Green from 1833-93. There was a church school in Yardley Wood from 1838, held in a meeting house which also served as a chapel until Christ Church was built. The school closed when the Board School opened, and the building was demolished two decades ago. Its site was near the present vicarage. Spring Hill College for Congregationalist Ministers was built of stone and brick in Gothic style on Wake Green in 1854: its name came from the original college site in Birmingham. Two years later St. John's School began work off the Stratford Road. The present building is 1884 with additions to the 1960s. The College and its grounds were to be in succession a convalescent home, botanical gardens, recruiting centre, and Moseley Grammar School (1922). Now it is part of Moseley Comprehensive.

Yardley School Board was not formed until two decades after the 1870 Act. In a burst of activity it built four brick and terra-cotta schools, two of them in our Quarter - Hall Green and Yardley Wood, both 1893. The former is the only one of the four to retain the gable inscription showing its provenance. College Road (Springfield) Schools opened in 1900. Worcestershire Education Committee succeeded the Board two years later and added to the College Road complex, but built no new schools around here. It did however provide the first purpose-built secondary school in Yardley. In 1904 the Board started a school for older children in the Sparkhill Institute, vacant after the Rural District Council had moved to the new Council House. Yardley Secondary School was opened at Tyseley six years later, and the Institute staff and pupils moved there. Pupils going to this central site from anywhere in the ancient parish could be considered for an educational grant from the Charity Trust. The English Martyrs R. C. School was at work the following year. 

Birmingham Education Committee had to provide school places for the ever-growing child population of municipal and private estates in the Quarter between the wars. Billesley Schools (Al Fresco Folly style) were 1925-6, the secondary accommodation being enlarged in 1938, Yardley Wood Schools 1929-36, the new buildings at Hall Green and the Sparkhill Commercial School (Institute site) 1929, and Highters Heath 1931. Our Lady of Lourdes was four years later. Moseley Secondary Modern School in Glassbox style opened off College Road in 1955, and Chilcote Primary three years later. A new infant School was provided at Hall Green in the 1960s, but the Board School building is part-used by Juniors. The largest complex of schools was built on the northern edge of Billesley Common: a grammar school opened in 1956, a secondary modern/technical (bilateral) school in 1959, and the whole is now combined as Swanshurst (Comprehensive) School. Hall Green Technical College was opened on the site of Cambrai House (Kyotts Lake House), with Hall Green Bilateral School across the railway, in the 1960s.

 

Yardley Rural District

The Vestry became the Parish Council with other functions. In 1892 representative local government came with the first elections to the Rural District Council. Thanks to County Councillor Joseph Malins of Wilton Road Sparkhill the functions of the Parish and District Councils were combined. He was the first Chairman and a great man in Yardley affairs. Sparkhill was then the population centre of Yardley: in 1902 the Council moved from the Institute to the new Aston-Hallish Council House, which had been built by Worcestershire. The County, not wishing to lose Yardley, wanted to show that it could offer as much as Birmingham. The City was hoping to woo the Yardleians with promises of amenities such as public libraries and baths. So the County built a police station, magistrates' court, fire station and public works depot beside the Council House in the next few years. But all was in vain. Yardley voters, many of them immigrants from Birmingham, elected men committed to taking the District into the City on the best possible terms, and in 1912 the annexation took place.

 

 

 

Swanshurst Quarter

Geology, Natural vegetation, and relief and drainage

Early settlement, and Saxon beginnings

Boundaries, Domesday Yardley, and Moats and earthworks

Section two 

Medieval times, and Ancient roads

Perambulations

Old houses, Local government, and Tudor to Georgian times

Families and houses

Georgian times

Section three

Bridges, Watermills, and the Stratford Canal

The Tithe Map

Churches, and Schools

Yardley Rural District

Section four

The City of Birmingham, and Urbanisation

Industry, Between the Wars, and Public transport

Swanshurst Quarter in 1979, and Short bibliography

Maps

 

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