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.