The river Cole in Yardley, and its fords and bridges
The River Cole is about 25 miles long. It rises on the lower slopes of Forhill, one of the south-western ramparts of the Birmingham Plateau, and flows largely north-east across the plateau to enter the River Blythe below Coleshill. Its source is very near the main watershed of Midland England: tributaries are few and very short except in the lower reaches, outside Yardley, so the Cole is only a small stream. Average gradient of the central reaches is 10½ feet in a mile. There is a fast run-off from the drift-covered clay which makes up its catchment area, and heavy rain produces sudden floods: in the absence of replenishing side-streams these subside as quickly as they rise. The Cole is normally shallow, except where weirs maintain an artificial depth. The name is probably Celtic, from the word meaning 'hazel'. In the Charter of 972 the river throughout Yardley is Colle: it has since borne several different local names:
1275 Maerebroc (Boundary Brook)*
1495 The Water of Cowle
1609 The Water of Cole
1649 Inkford Brook *
Hemill, Hay Mill Brook 1700s
Low Brook 1700s *
Greet Brook 1700s
* - south of Yardley
The Cole has been employed to work 12 watermills, 5 of them in Yardley, and its tributaries 8 possibly 9, of which 2 were in our manor. Riverside ones were Greet (ref. 1275), Sarehole (pre-1542), Hay Mill (1495), Wash Mill (? 1385), and Titterford (1779). The others were Lady Mill on Coldbath Brook (1685), Broomhall (1778), and a possible mill powered by Danford Lake.
The oldest fords across Cole were probably at Titterford and Stechford, where the through-Yardley ridgeway descends into the valley. Rotyford on Yardley Green Road was a crossing of necessity, but a bad one in clay - its name seems to mean 'slimy, slippery' - whereas the others had firm gravel beds. It is at least possible that from early medieval times millweirs at Titterford and Stechford held back the river, creating a shallows which would in normal flow be forded safely. (For practical reasons later and rebuilt mills were sited in riverside meadows and fed by leats). Certainly at Greet Mill Stratford Road diverges to cross below the site of the weir, making use of the gravel bed and the customary shallows - but from the 13th century there are records of men and horses swept away there during floods. Hay Mill ford, so called, was far downstream of the mill and below the confluence with the sometime 'torrent' of Spark Brook, so that it too must have been dangerous after heavy rain.
Fords and bridges on the river Cole
SLADE LANE Footbridge, first ref. 1769, modern girder replacement.
SCRIBERS LANE Footbridge, first ref. 1769, original arches, new walls.
TITTERFORD Ref. 1546. Wain bridge early 19th century. Much restoration.
BROOK-WEBB LANE Four Arches Bridge, foot and packhorse, ref. 1822. Restored 1956-7, low parapets.
SAREHOLE FARM Footbridge ref. 1820, out of use 1935, now no trace.
SAREHOLE MILL (Cole Bank Road), ref. 1768, 2-arch brick, replaced 1924.
GREEN ROAD Footbridge, timber, several rebuildings, original 19th century.
GREET MILL Ford ref. 1275. No bridges shown on Beighton Map 1725, not certainly accurate. Birmingham to Edgehill Turnpike 1726-7, ford paved? Horses drowned crossing during floods, 1752, 1759. County bridge thereafter? Millrace bridge new - or rebuilt 1775. About 1860 Cole flow diverted down race, old channel disused. In 1913 the river was returned to its former course while the race was infilled with rubble from mill foundations, a new central channel was cut through the mill site, deepened and stone-lined, the Cole was turned into it and the old channel was infilled. The two humped brick bridges 70 yards apart were razed and replaced by a twin-arched brick span clad in stone with a noble balustrade, 60 feet wide, able to carry double tramtracks.
FORMANS ROAD (Fomer 1725, Fomen 1821) Footbridge swept away by flood 1766. Single-arch brick bridge 1914.
GREET BRIDGE Warwick Road. Bridge of two arches shown on Beighton Map of 1725, spanning two channels, with causeway between. Bridge rebuilt 1777 four feet wider, with 'two proper and sufficient arches' for the causeway, after flood had damaged it and swept away Fomer Bridge. Later damage made the bridge unusable, and the Yardley Overseers were indicted for failing to repair it (1817). The major reconstruction of that year lasted until the present bridge was built over a single channel in 1902.
HAY MILL The mill was recorded in 1495. 'Hemill Bridge' is shown on Plate 50 of John Ogilby's 'Britannia' 1675, but it may have been no more than a footbridge until after the turnpiking of Coventry Road in 1745. Telford's improvements of c. 1820 probably included a wain bridge. The tailrace from Hay Mill was spanned by a small humped bridge, which was demolished after waterpower was discontinued at the mill in 1865. Until the present bridge was built in 1914, pedestrians still paid toll to cross the river.
HOBMOOR ROAD No record, but often painted during the 19th century. Footbridge only until Hobmoor Road was extended into Yardley in the 1920s across a wide brick bridge. The ford upstream and the wooden bridge have disappeared.
NEW BRIDGE Blakeley Ford ref. 1383, Rotyford 1435. Present brick wain bridge 1810. Footbridge 1464?
STECHFORD Ford ref. 1249, bridge (foot only?) 1497. Present bridge early 20th century.
COLEFORD No ref. to ford or (foot?) bridge before 1405. Present bridge c. 1960.
LEA FORD Ford ref. 1544. Footbridge replaced by Bailey Bridge post-1945. Present bridge c. 1960.
Sources of dates are Beighton and early O.S. Maps, the Yardley Charity Estates Deeds (1913), the list of bridges kept in order by the Yardley Trustees (1900), the Mss. notes of W.B. Bickley, some newspaper items, and the researches of the Discovering Yardley Group 1960-7.
The waters of Yardley