School’s out


The former St. John’s School and adjacent bungalow have stood as a grim gateway to Walsall Wood for nigh on 40 years now.

I think this might be controversial. From recent activity at the site, it seems like the former St. John’s School, in Lichfield Road Walsall Wood, may be about to be demolished, and it’s site possibly redeveloped, together with the derelict bungalow next door.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw an asbestos removal crew checking the place out, and other readers have written to me to tell me about other crews being seen around the derelict buildings, in one case an observer being told they were being prepared for demolition.

As far as I’m concerned, after four decades empty, neglected and a total eyesore, good riddance.

I am, of course, very well aware of the history of the building, but in itself, it’s not historic. It’s not listed, and has no special interest architecturally, in that it’s similar to many hundreds of schools of the period still extant throughout the country. I agree that in the history of Walsall Wood, it is socially significant, but it’s time has passed, and like the former Warrener’s Arms in Brownhills, it’s time to let it go.

Added to this, there are the practical considerations. When I first started to look at the planning history of this sad, decaying and once proud building way back in the beginnings of this blog in 2009, I expected the story to be different. I thought there had been a succession of failed applications. The legend had it the building was listed, and that the authorities would not let it be developed. This isn’t the case at all, and confounded me. So much so that I don’t think I ever managed to write a proper article about it.

The former school has been passed from owner to owner for more or less 40 years now, and a procession of planning applications have been made, and generally approved; from conversions into flats, to a Senior Citizens care home and even a craft centre. None came to fruition, and I suspect the reason for that is that the building would be very expensive to convert to another use. As planning wonk and top bloke Andy Dennis has pointed out on several occasions here, it’s important and necessary to preserve heritage, but it’s very hard to find uses that are economically viable, and government agencies provide little incentive to do so.


The gable end is still occupied and appears to have been recently refurbished, and the Co-op nursery operates from the building to the rear.

Complicating this, of course, has been the nursery operating from part of the same site, and the former Caretaker’s House in one gable remaining in use and different ownership, currently the Co-op, apparently. The whole thing, in my view, if not a poisoned chalice is certainly a Curate’s Egg. There is much to resolve in any development on the site – not least how you raze the derelict part without harming the occupied section. Look at the distortion in the roof timbers.

The last planning application to be submitted in 2012 – 12/0736/FL ‘Demolition of the former St. John’s School and no.11 Lichfield Road, Walsall Wood and construction of 12 houses with associated car parking and site works’ was recommended for approval last December, and is currently still pending subject to agreements on Section 106 matters.

Section 106 is the legality surrounding mitigatory actions obliged to be taken by developers in return for the granting of planning permission. A good definition can be found here – in short, the planning application is awaiting agreement on what a future developer will agree to do in return for receiving permission to proceed.

The whole site has a sale posting at Savills Property Sales which closed November 4th 2013. It’s reasonable to think the site has now been purchased, and a developer is cracking on. Of course, following clearance, the site could lie undeveloped, be resold, or a modified or new application could be submitted, so keep watching carefully.

The details of the current planning application are below. As can be seen, they involve demolition of the derelict majority of the former school and bungalow next door, leaving the occupied gable intact and building on a row of terraced homes, in a broadly similar style to the building demolished. In the land behind, a close of dwellings will be constructed, to a total of 12 homes.

I would draw reader’s attention particularly to the Structural Report and Design and Access Statement.

Proposed Site Plan and Elevations1

From the planning application, this terrace will replace the school itself. Please bear in mind the isn’t yet formally approved, and things may well change. Click for a larger version.

Proposed Site Plan and Elevations

Entire site plan and elevations, from submitted panning documents. Click for a larger version. It’s big, so be patient.

I don’t have a problem with this. We need the homes. A couple of derelict, eyesore buildings that attract ASB and look awful will be gone. Yes, we’ll lose part of Walsall Wood’s historic architecture. But there’s nothing else on the table, and with the building in the state it’s in, there’s never likely to be. The site has had four decades to find new purpose, and hasn’t. As Matthew Carter said, ‘If you love something, you have to let it change’. So be it.

People are always more important than buildings in my view. The history is people, memories and the recording thereof, not decaying bricks and mortar, no matter how noble they are or were. Communities have to move forward, take heed of the past but not be hidebound by it.

I’m not expecting many folk will agree with this. Feel free to comment or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Cheers.

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13 Responses to School’s out

  1. stymaster says:

    I agree, but with a sad sigh. The building has been derelict since I moved to Walsall Wood in the early 90s, and has got slowly worse. It would have made a lovely building if restored, but, to be practical, it’s totally beyond saving now- it’s a miracle the roof hasn’t collapsed.

    I saw a crew working there a week or two ago, and meant to drop you an email: did consider asking them for a nose inside, but doubted my chances, plus it was pissing down. As far as I could tell, they were cleaning up bricks and re-using them inside the building, adjacent to the occupied gable- maybe shoring up the dividing wall before the rest is demolished?

    Can’t entirely agree about the relative unimportance of buildings (the buildings last longer, and we are but temporary guardians), but obviously, if they’re as fucked as this one has become, there’s no point getting sentimental. I do still have problems with modern bits glued on to old buildings, but what’s the alternative? [shrug]

  2. Edwina. says:

    Its a shame, but so be it, age comes to all in time, sad to say, upwards and onwards ….

  3. Andy Dennis says:

    Thanks, Bob. A good piece! Could not agree more.

  4. Fawlty says:

    Hi Bob. As previously stated I lived in the bungalow between 1965 and 1967. The school was still open then. and I think stayed open for some time after that. To my knowledge the bungalow was still occupied for a long time after that. Be interested to know when the school actually closed. When we lived there the bungalow had a very large and well kept rear garden, which my Dad continued to maintain fastidiously. Many happy memories for me and sad to see it go, but life moves on.

  5. David Oakley says:

    As a former old pupil of the school, I agree wholeheartedly with your comments. The school which held so many memories for me and others of my generation, has been left for far too long , lying blind and incapacitated along the main route through the village.
    No one who attended there, will ever forget the old school, and thankfully, with the current pictures and space recently devoted to its history, courtesy of Bob and David Evans, younger members of the community can share in a little taste of this particular morsel of Walsall Wood’s past, quite easily.
    For myself, I entered the school in 1939, after leaving the Infants school which lay just behind it, both Church schools, with frequent visits from the vicar, Rev. J Stackhouse, to both schools., leaving in 1942 to attend the Council Senior School in Brownhills Road. So I experienced the onset of World War Two whilst at the school. The playground was unpaved at the time, being composed of dirt, with many large stones. To make a ‘den’ in a corner, for games like ‘releas-e-o, involved the scuffing of boots in the dirt to make a visible demarcation line. Fist fights were common, as ‘pecking order’ rights were established. Playground gangs were formed around the popular leaders and gang fights took place occasionally, but with more bluster than action, little damage was done.
    Between the school and the boundary wall, which separated it from the bungalow, next door, was a narrow ‘pass’ about three feet wide, a favourite activity was ‘holding the pass’, in which two or three of the stronger pupils, bracing arms and legs quite wide, could block the pass, preventing entry. The pass would be filled with a heaving mass of kids, with all impetus directed at the blockers, a huge cheer going up when they were forced to yield
    So, yes. Let the old school be put out of its misery and humiliation. I would like to think that there may be re-usable building materials that may ultimately grace the fabric of other new buildings. In the meantine, as the saying goes, may the new development rest lightly on this ground, which for so many years helped to fashion both the education and moral guidance of so many Walsall Wood children.

  6. Ann Cross says:

    I do agree, and as David says, those of us who were pupils there will never forget it, and we have the pictures to remind us, thanks to Bob and everyone who has contributed.

  7. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    the memories and history are safe; thanks to your blog. The new houses will be a fine development and will bring new life to this part of Walsall Wood.
    thank you for this very informative article

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  12. Eryl says:

    Totally agree Bob.

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