Here’s an interesting piece from the Young David Evans about the common that used to exist on Holly Bank, in Walsall Wood. Holly Bank is the land from what is now the Castlefort Estate to the Lichfield Road. Until around 6 decades ago, this was open scrub. Then came the post-war building boom; where once were newt-ponds, roads like Wolverson, Poxon, Sally Ward Drive and others sprang up. Of course, the lorries and builders that worked here were concreting over local kid’s memories.
Thanks to David for a wonderfully evocative piece. I’m sure Walsall Wood folk like David Oakley will have more to add. Please do comment.
The Demise of the last Common in Walsall Wood, 1950s.
This map, which dates back to the 1880s or so, shows one of the two commons in Walsall Wood. There had always been two of them, one on the land which lay between Chester Road, Lichfield Road and Catshill, and the other, shown above, was called Holly Bank and was common land which lay between Castle Road, Salters Road (Salters Lane on the map) and Holly Lane.
For children this open common land was a paradise, a Treasure Island, a Land Safe from Parents’ Watchful Eyes, an Adventure Land and held limitless possibilities for all the local wartime and post-war infants to explore and investigate during school holidays, at weekends, or in the balmy summer evenings before curfew bas bellowed.
Here, would-be aeronautically-minded grown-ups flew the kites that they had spent hours making, the real Heath Robinson inventions, made out of brown paper, string, lashings of cane and glue, long tails of twine and twists of old newspapers. Meanwhile, busy tribes of junior Indian braves, or Special Forces in old ARP helmets, RAF berets, and even a real, treasured and highly valued German helmets, armed with wooden weapons, Agincourt special bows and rubber-tipped arrows which flew, well, in any direction once launched, these brave-hearts of the Wood waged war, went on patrol, and reported back to HQ. The HQ in question always the lad who was the proud possessor of a bullet ‘found’ in the Covey, or a bent medal borrowed from Granddad’s sideboard drawer… and endless hours of raucous battle, or quiet watch, or ‘grub time’ were spent.
The gorse bushes and stinging nettles, the cuckoo-spit that clung to wellington boots and socks, the bulrushes and thistles, the mud, the tracks and twisting paths, the reeds you could blow to whistle, the skylarks singing high, high overhead, invisible in the clear blue skies, precocious in their irresistible running on land, always taking you away from the ground nests you could never find, the lizards, gloriously slippy newts and frogs in the boggy marshes and shallow pools, the lumpy, wrinkled lazy toads, the squadrons of distant pigeons circling and soaring high over the houses, this was the Land of Adventure and Imagination. This was the common.
Then the land was cleared. Roads were laid, and for a while a new temporary battlefield, this time urban warfare, was available. But only for a while. The Land of Adventure, with its sights, sounds and smells, our very own common, was gone Forever.
A farewell to Walsall Wood’s last common. 1952 or 1953.
David Evans, May 2013