Well, here it is. Not merry Christmas (although that’s bearing down upon us…) but the fourth and final instalment of the history of Ogley Hay, as researched and written by local historian Gerald Reece, in his remarkable book ‘Brownhills A Walk Into History’.
In the previous three articles in this series, Gerald covered the original wastes of Ogley Hay, the Manor of Ogley Hay, the land Inclosure, the start of industrialisation – Ogley Hay Steam Flour Mill, and the decline of the Cotterill empire.
This final part encompasses the frantic expansion of Ogley Hay as the spiritual centre of modern Brownhills, with its social housing, pubs, schools and places of worship.
There is some interesting detail here about the Hill family, and their involvement in Ogley Squarre and its clearance. It seems the two elderly sisters may not have been quite as green as we first thought…
I will reiterate that these pieces are 100% the writings of Gerald Reece and I salute his brilliant, informative and influential work. Please, if you see a copy of ‘Brownhills A Walk Into History’ – buy it sharpish. I paid a several multiples of the cover price but it’s well worth the money.
A huge thank you to Gerald for his work, guile and generosity in allowing this work to be shared. There is no other work of this quality available on Brownhills, and it is a joy to be able to make it available to all those who come looking for clues as to their history and heritage.
The firm of Joseph Greene & Company thrived by their speculation in several land deals. They bought back Seven House Row and the Buildings at the Warreners Farm.
Housing for the ever increasing mining community was much in demand. The derelict Iron Foundry and Steam Engine Works were demolished. In their place was built, in fort like fashion, thirty dwelling houses in four blocks. The backs of these dwellings opened onto one common yard. In the centre of the yard were built 12 lavatories and 11 wash-houses. Planning regulations did not require there to be a separate toilet for each dwelling. The official name of the development was Ogley Square. It was to stand for 90 years in an ever increasing state of dilapidation.
Plot No. 30 on the plan came back onto the market in August 1851 after the death of Edward Holden. John Nicholson of Joseph Greene & Company snapped it up for £170 at public auction. It had increased 300% in value in just 10 years.
In 1854 the partnership of Joseph Greene and Company turned sour and it was dissolved by a Deed of Partition. The Estate was put into the hands of a Receiver where it was used as collateral in a number of business undertakings over the next ten years.
In July 1866 the estate was in the hands of Thomas Benjamin Gibbons of Liverpool. Having several other business ‘irons in the fire’ at that time he mortgaged the estate for £8,000 plus 5% per annum, he too developed a cash-flow problem and he was forced to surrender Ogley Hay Farm Lands. The size of die estate was then down to 119 acres.
It was acquired by the firm of Fielden Brothers of Todmorden in Yorkshire. The four Directors of the Company were not brothers at all but were in fact the two brothers and two sons of John Fielden the self made millionaire industrialist who had transformed the cotton industry in the North of England. In a round-about way he had a link with the people of Brownhills. It was pardy through his efforts that the exploitation of women and children in the Coal Mining Industry was abolished. Although a ‘Big Boss’ himself he introduced and backed several Acts into Parliament for the improvement of working conditions in factories and mines. The Fielden Brothers held the estate as security on a loan until March 1868 when it became theirs by right through default. They quickly sold it on for £8,500 to Thomas and William Henry Hill, brothers, of Walsall. Ogley Hay Farm Lands were to remain, in an ever decreasing size, in the possession of the Hill family for the next 100 years.
The Hill’s built up a property empire, not only in Brownhills but in most of the surrounding district. They also acquired large land holdings in Walsall.
The rise in the value of land can be seen from a transaction that took place in 1886. Brownhills Local Board purchased from Messrs. Hill an acre of land at 1/- per yard. As the payments were spread over four years, with interest, the annual payment was £64.2s.0d.
The area purchased was part of No. 8 on the Farm Lands plan. It was being farmed at the time by George Hodgkins who rented the piece of ground. He was reimbursed for his growing crop. The reason for the Brownhills Local Board’s purchase was to excavate sand and gravel from a deposit under the land. This material was used in road construction and for building purposes. A brick kiln was erected nearby. When the deposits of material were exhausted in 1902 the contemporary Brownhills Urban District Council filled in the gravel pit with household refuse.
The early efforts of the Hill Brothers came to nothing after their deaths. Their empire faded and with it Ogley Farm Lands, they were gradually sold.
In the 1930’s Brownhills Urban District Council bought up large areas of the Farm Lands and began their programme of ‘Council Housing’. The Hill Estate lands in Brownhills were then down to only 21 acres. Their land in Brickiln Street was leased to Alfred Price for £38.3s.l0d. per annum. On this land had been built 14 dwelling houses. Documents relating to the subsequent sale of these houses in the 1950’s are lodged in the archives of Worcester Record Office. There is however a 50 year restriction on them. I can’t wait that long.
The Hills also owned two houses in Lichfield Road Nos. 25 and 27 and two houses in Ogley Road Nos. 13 and 17. Their ‘little earner’ was still the notorious Ogley Square, which brought them in £200 per year, this was soon to change. In 1934 Brownhills Urban District Council applied for an Order for the demolition of the property which they claimed was unfit for human habitation. The Ministry of Health tok an interest and held an inquiry. In the minutes of the inquiry a mention is made to the area being the site of an Iron Foundry. Conditions in ‘The Square’ were described as appalling, 166 people living in very close proximity. The list of defects was endless. The Hill’s Agent did not agree that the property was below standard and he blamed the poor state of the buildings on ‘children playing football and throwing stones’. It soon became clear to all involved that the buildings would have to be demolished. The Hill’s agent asked for a compensation of £2,500. The Council offered £2,100, it was grudgingly accepted. ‘This will impose real hardship on the owners’ stated the Agent, ‘they are entirely dependant on this unearned income.‘
Ogley Square was demolished in early 1937. Most of the former tenants were rehoused in the new council houses in the area of Vicarage Road. Also demolished at that time was the ‘Woodman’, a beer house that had stood near to the Square. It had been built in the 1850’s. Landlords and landladies included;
1861 Joseph Smith
1871 John Sutton
1880 Samuel Bickley
1914 J. Taylor
1932 Samuel Jones
1936 Rose Ewins (Mrs)
The Wheatsheaf, 132 Ogley Road, was built on the site of Ogley Square in 1938. Just in time for the War. The first Landlord was John Insull, he had been the last Landlord of The Wheatsheaf, 118 High Street.
The final remnants of Ogley Farm Lands were sold in February 1952 when the fields No’s 21 and 22 were sold to Brownhills Urban District Council for more council houses.
Ogley Hay Farm building is now the site of Ogley Hay Working Men’s Club. The first meetings of the club were held in a bam at the Farm house in 1918. In 1919 a smoking room and bar were opened. In 1926 a billiard room was added. Gradually the club took over from the Farm House. In 1937 a concert room was opened, this was extended two years later. In October 1958 the old club closed and the new club was opened. The first Steward of the old club is recorded as W. Teece. Job Smith was the first secretary and D. Bradley was elected as the first president.
St. James’ parish church was built in 1851 and the vicarage two years later. Before the church was consecrated services were often held in the small school room that stood in Ogley Road almost opposite the Wheatsheaf. Weddings and funerals were not officiated there, baptisms were allowed. The first person recorded as being baptised in the new parish was William Taylor, son of William and Sarah Taylor of Ogley Hay. The Reverend James Downes officiated. The first National School stood where the Manpower Services built playground is situated opposite the Infant School in Church Road and was built in 1850. Originally it was built to accommodate 200 children but this was enlarged over the years. The Infants School was built in 1884. The Central School at Brownhills Bridge was built in 1893 as a mixed school but it became a boys only school in 1932. The Watling Street Schools were built in 1878 and were originally an Infants and a Mixed Junior School. The first Headmaster of the National School was Joseph Aldridge, he died in July 1851 aged 63 years, ‘after giving years of faithful service’. Remains of his grave, somewhat humbled by the Church’s flat earth policy of the 1960’s, can still be seen within the lawned enclosures of St. James’ churchyard.
The school in Great Charles Street was opened in 1932 as a girls-only school. The one acre of land purchased by Brownhills Local Board in 1886 from the Hill family (no 8 on your programme) and later filled with household waste by Brownhills Urban District Council has for the past 60 years been the school’s sports field. Good game, pitch was rubbish!
St. James’ church hall was built on land left to the parish in the will of George Hodgkinson in 1924. The land was first used as a tennis court and then during the 1939 – 1945 war. Two air raid shelters were built there. The church hall was opened on 6th October 1956 by the Bishop of Lichfield, Dr. A.S. Reeve.
The Gospel Hall in School Avenue was opened in 1934. I attended Sunday School there from a very early age. I showed no particular religious belief but the Gospel Hall had the best outing trips in the summer and a good party with presents and prize books at Christmas. In my youth I defected to the Mount Zion in order to qualify for membership of their youth club held on a Saturday evening. They had a modem gramophone and records, dancing was allowed.