Here’s a little bit of a curiosity we’ve dabbled with here on the blog for the last few weeks, that’s taken a new twist. Readers may well remember that there was an enquiry about the Salvation Army Hall in Brownhills; this in turn led to me unearthing a large scale map of Brownhills that at the time, I estimated the date of publication as late 1960s, but as historian Clive Roberts found, appears to be from 1962. This map showed Silver Court, arguably slightly out of position, but four units shorter at the north end.
This discrepancy piqued my interest. I knew I’d seen an image of Silver Court being built in one of Bill Mayo’s books. That didn’t help.
The question I was trying to ask was whether the mapping was wrong, or whether it was correct, and Silver Court was extended? It turns out that I should have known better than to question the Ordnance Survey. The map, it seems, is right.
I had some input from Kate Goodall at Walsall Council, who own Silver Court, and she pointed out a couple of things to me, one of which was the peculiar numbering pattern of the flats and shop units in Silver Court.
To demonstrate this, I pulled up the current Ordnance Survey Street Plus detail mapping.
It can be seen from the section above, that units are numbered from the South to the North, lower level first. Lower are of course, the shops; upper the maisonettes above them. The numbers run 1-6 up on to the offices, then 7-12 for the dwellings above them. The office unit is 13, then numbering recommences on the lower level at 14.
At the 6th north side unit, the numbering halts, and transfers to the dwellings above, finishing at 25. Thus, the last four units appear to have been added afterwards, as they are numbered starting at 26 ground level. So the shops 19 and 26 are adjacent, as are maisonettes 25 and 29.
I went looking for clues in the building itself, which looks pretty uniform. Kate had mentioned something about pillars, so I took a look.
The parade of shops that form Silver Court’s frontage are covered by a canopy, upon which the homes above are built. The canopy is a cast concrete plinth, supported by slim, cast concrete pillars.
Between units 19 and 26, there are two such pillars, immediately adjacent. This happens nowhere else in the frontage. That suggests the end four units were added later, and their plinth cast separately. If you look, there is a crack where the filler between the two has contracted.
There is also evidence of something I can’t work out geometrically at the rear of the the building, too. The gateways that form the access to the tenements themselves lead off a shared walkway that itself sits above garages at a lower level than the shops in front. This odd arrangement makes excellent use of the slope of the site.
Pictured from the rear, there seems to be something not uniform at gate 25:
So it seems that between the 1962 map being surveyed, and Silver Court as we know it today being finished, four units were added to the north end. There is clear evidence of this in both the mapping, and physical fabric of the building. There must be a story as to why this is the case.
The one thing that put me off this theory in the beginning was the uniformity of building materials in the structure. The bricks are the same colour, roofing tiles aged similarly. You can’t see the join from about in aerial imagery.
But then, there was a clincher. Reader Peter wrote to me a week ago and pointed out the photo, originally from Clarice Mayo and Geoff Harrington’s ‘Memories of Brownhills Past’, that I featured in my ‘Clayhanger: the good old days?’ post.
Here it is. Look at the roof of Silver Court:
Silver Court was built using a common contraction technique of the period that involved building dividing brick walls, and creating the infill from panels or prefabricated inserts for the front and back. This was a quick, cheap way of creating high-density terraces; examples exist in places around Walsall, but there are large numbers in Lichfield.
I found a video on British Pathe of the construction of Lichfield’s houses. Worth a watch. Note the warm air central heating systems. They were a nightmare.
This may seem like a lot of fuss over a minor point, but it’s a good bit of history, really, and serves to illustrate that if the map doesn’t seem right, it may be your knowledge, not the map, that’s wrong. It also illustrates that clues to a building’s past can often be found within it’s fabric.
Cheers to Kate, Peter and Clive whose information all proved invaluable.
Edge and Haines builders had offices in the middle bit, and they also owned Jaygor diy, did Edge and Haines actually build Silver Court?
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I lived at number 31 from 1963 to about 1970 before moving to number 9 at the “other end”. My mother remained at number 9 until 2009. I remember, despite being only 4 on moving in, that the last four flats were much newer than the others.
if in doubt, ask a local Old Brigader . I wanted to find out if all three sections of Siver Court were constructed at the same time, given that the central section is architecturally so at odds with the two blocks that adjoin it on either side. So this morning I asked Mr Tuckley, Brownhills Mowers..his shop is on High Street, opposite Silver Court. He and is ancestors are a well known High Street family in Brownhills.His previous shop was also very close to his present one, in fact
I asked the simple question..were all three blocks built at around the same time..His answer was that originally there were two separate blocks of shops built, and at some time later the third one was built in the space between the other two, by Edge and Haines local builders, who then ran a building supplies busness there for some while
I would like to thank Mr Tuckley, who is a regular reader of the blog, by the way, for helping to clarify this matter
Sorry, David, but the way the concrete floor is constructed doesn’t support this assertion which is been one you’ve been making for some time. If one looks at the garages at the back, they are contiguous up to the point the new part was added on the north end, where there is a clear difference.
I’m going to need a bit more evidence than anecdote to accept this as fact.
perhaps other readers are able to offer first hand evidence….perhaps members of the builders families or those who worked in the shop..or others who were also livingor trading directly opposite at that time and witnessed.
I still think it is very odd that a central part of the same development, if indeed it was, should be constructed in different bricks, have different chape concrete pillars, and shop / office floor level and be keyed in to the adjoning buildings so as to mis-key and mis-align with the other brickwork
Thought that might irritate a bit.
I can’t see the evidence for the assertion; that doesn’t mean i’m right. I think, with my knowledge of such things being limited, that to build two rows and ‘add’ a block of offices in the middle – the focal point – seems a bit odd. We can see from the layout and numbering the bit on the end was added; of that there is a wealth of evidence.
But the part in the middle? Why leave a gap? the way these are constructed (one party wall and a flood cast common floor) it would be more expensive to leave the gap than fill it with normal houses. Space and time were clearly at a premium, hence the extras of the end. The gap in the centre would have served no purpose, and I can’t find evidence in aerial images or the fabric of the building.
There are lots of possibilities; visually, because of the odd shape, the offices are substantively brick, so it’s possible construction of those took longer. certainly, the pillars out front were supporting more weight, so would be bulkier. But I’m not seeing the evidence that this was an afterthought like the end block, more that it was planned into the overall structure.
The contribution is interesting, and the debate is there to be had – and we’re having it. But I’ve never treated anecdote as hard evidence, and still don’t; it’s part of the patchwork. I know you’ve been pushing this conjecture for a while and you’ve still yet to sway me. I could, and may well be wrong. That happens, and is all part of the fun.
Evidence? A photo, plans or more corroboration would be good. The topic is open, as every topic always is. Convince me. I may be a stubborn git, but you’ve changed my mind before.
The 4 added at a later date also have different brick sheds built and 2 gates per garden whereas the original only have 1 I have always wondered why that was and your post puts a bit of light on the subject. Great read. Thanks
Jack Edge and Gordon Haines were cousins to my father. Sadly Jack died some years ago but maybe one of your ‘detectives’ could contact Gordon Haines who still lives in Aldridge, on Frank James Hill and ask if he can help?
Would the extra gap at no.25 be for the ventilation shafts for the warm air heating?
I lived at 31 in the 1960s as a child. No warm air heating then. We had a coal fire with a backboiler that fed a radiator in the dining room and one in each of the larger two bedrooms. Nothing in the third bedroom (mine!).
On the 1962 ordinance map, there was an original building in situ where some of the last silver court shops overlap. Which begs the question of wether the council had to wait for that building to be vacated and then demolished before construction of the end shops could go ahead.