Marklews Pond: unlike the water, the history is opaque and a bit muddy.
The interesting history of William Roberts – the father of modern Brownhills – continues, and this time, Peter ‘pedro’ Cutler has taken issue with some other, intersecting local history, and just when exactly William Roberts came to Brownhills as a lad, and where he lived when his family moved here.
This thread started a few weeks ago, when I featured scans of the April 1990 edition of the Brownhills Gazette, which contained an article by local lady Gwen James, detailing her version of the history of the Station Hotel. As I expected, that article raised some eyebrows in the dress circle, and a further version of the history was detailed in ‘Brownhills Past and Present’, the book issued by Brownhills School in 1985.
Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler then waded in with his own research, after which I ran the excellent piece of work on Roberts by Gerald Reece, which was first published in 1995 in his book ‘Brownhills: a walk into history’.
Peter, as is his wont, paid great attention to the accumulated work, and has a question or two. I commend you to this this article, it goes to the heart of some other remarkable history recounted here, and shows that the Venn diagram of interconnected history is wonderfully complex in Brownhills.
I thank everyone for their contributions to this research, but particularly Peter, whose gimlet-eye for detail and astounding memory are invaluable, impressive and scary.
William Roberts – sometime railway plate layer, ganger, publican, entrepreneur, civic stalwart, JP and philanthropist was a very rare man in his time, and appears to have been generous, considerate, imbued with a real sense of social justice, and was undoubtedly a sharp-dealing rogue too.
I am terribly sad this fine gentleman has not even a plaque in his honour in Brownhills, and I’d really like one of the successes of this blog to be achieving some kind of memorial or civic recognition no matter how small, to the original Mr. Brownhills.
William Roberts himself. Image from ‘Brownhills: A walk into history’ by Gerald Reece.
Having an interest in the Truck System I noticed a link between two articles on the Blog that posed a few questions, some of which are still unanswered.
The article Death of a big, big man, shows the Lichfield Mercury (1906) stating that the family of William Roberts (born 1828) removed from Shenstone to reside at a Brownhills farm house known as the ‘Tommy Shop’. (Gerald Reece in the article ‘Such was his devotion’ says the family moved to Coppice Side). The Roberts family were still at Hook End, Sutton Coldfield in 1841, and therefore William Roberts would have spent only around 6 years in the locality before he left in 1847 for his adventures up North.
In an earlier article A token of my respect the writer informs that a William Marklew was born (1858) in a very old historic house that the family had rented from Squire MacPherson for over 100 years, known as Coppice Farm, and that William some time after 1881, moved with his wife Harriet to a very old historic building known as ‘The Old Tommy Shop’. He ran the shop and was reputed to have been the last operator of a Tommy Shop in the UK! At the age of 40, being around 1898, William moved back to the family farm house.
Was the Old Tommy Shop the same place that William Robert’s parents had moved to, and just where was Coppice Farm? The more I looked at the story of William Marklew, the more I began to think that, in many ways, it did not add up. Could this be yet another example of how the history can get mixed up over time?
The Squire MacPherson referred to would be Lachlan Andrew Macpherson. Elizabeth, daughter of Phineas Fowke Hussey, had inherited the Hussey estate after her father’s death in 1867; she married the Squire.
Taking the 1861 census, when William Marklew would be 3 years old, he is recorded as living with his father Charles (Brick maker with 7 children) and mother Catherine at household schedule 24 Brownhills. I am not sure where this would be, but it is in the middle of a schedule and nothing at all seems special. Going back to the 1851 census Charles has 3 children and registered in Athestone district and living at 60 Dordon.
In the 1871 census William Marklew (13) is recorded with his father Charles (Brick maker) at schedule 49, Brick Kiln Lane. The lane schedule goes from 45 to 76, and again there is nothing special.
(44 is the last number in Wolverhampton Lane, 57 says Farm buildings, 59 Bug Row starts, 76 down as a Tommy shop and Thomas Simmonds?…there is another Tommy shop at 82 in Engine Lane.)
Moving to the 1881 census, William Marklew (23) is still recorded with his father at schedule 37 Chester Road.
(28 is the Hussey Arms, 32 is Rising Sun, 33 is nr Methodist Chapel, 34 is White House, 35 is Old Tommy Shop, Chester Road, 39 is Engine Lane Cottage… Interesting that under the Tommy Shop (35) there are numbers 1 to 4, and Charles Marklew is 37…3!]
On to the 1891 census and William, coal miner, has indeed moved from the family and is located at 102 Wolverhampton Road with 6 children.
(It is a bit puzzling here as the Schedule numbers suddenly change from 49 to 80, however 80 is the Jolly Collier, 85 Fair View, 96 Yew Tree Tavern, 105 is Big House Farm, 106 Slough, 109 Coppice House, 110 Coombe House, 111 Tommy Shop, 116 Coppice Cottages… Charles Marklew was still living at what is now shown as Tommy Shop buildings!)
The 1901 census should give the whereabouts of William Marklew (coal miner hewer) at the age of 43, and he resides at schedule 70, Coppice Side, Coppice Cottages with 11 children, and in the 1911 William was still at Coppice Side.
At this point I had not found any mention of a Coppice Farm, and the Old Tommy Shop, Chester Road had at least four families recorded as resident there.
At last I found a reference to a Coppice Side Farm, Brownhills, from the Lichfield Mercury of September 1917. It confirmed William Marklew as being at the Farm, but sadly it was news that his son had been killed in France. More sad news is received in October of 1936, William whose wife is now deceased, learns that his son Frank, who had emigrated to Australia, had been tragically killed. After the death of William Marklew the Dairy Utensils from Coppice Side Farm were sold at auction.
So where was the Brownhills Farm that the William Roberts moved to sometime after 1841? Big House Farm is mentioned in the Census, but no Coppice Farm, just where was it?
The dying days of the Station Hotel, probably around 1986. Image supplied by Mike Leonard.