Milking it

Untitled 7

Dairy Farm in Walsall Wood – no longer farming, but still there. Is this remarkable barn the oldest local building? Imagery from Bing! Maps. Click for a larger version.

I’ve long held the suspicion that the barn at the aptly-named Dairy Farm in Hall Lane, Walsall Wood is one of the oldest, if not the oldest surviving building in Walsall Wood and Brownhills. I think parts of the recently converted barn at Warrenhouse are probably older, but that’s not really Brownhills (but I invite debate on that – we’ve never had a good discussion about the bounds of our territory…)

Recently, top local history wonk the young David Evans has been thinking a bit about Dairy Farm, too. In his own inimitable way he’s been out, got talking to the current owners and taken a whole bunch of pictures giving blog readers access to the building few of us ever have had. What a star.

I’d quite like this to be a starting point. I’d like readers to consider farming in the local area, and Dairy Farm is part of that. It did, after all, provide a clue in my ruminations upon the Black Cock landscape, but there are other lost farms, too, like Sunnyside, Swingbridge, Shire Oak Farm, the two Highfields Farms – and those still extant like Home Farm and Big House Farm.

Come on then, what have you got? These farms once fed us, gave us flour for our bread and milk for our tea. Comments invited, as ever, or BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com.

My gratitude and best wishes to both David and Mrs. Toms for a great glimpse into another bit of local history.

David Evans wrote:

Hall Lane Farm, Walsall Wood and a jewel of a barn!

I wanted to see what remains of the farm in Hall Lane, Walsall Wood, in 2014. Thanks to the kindness of Mrs. Toms the present owner, I have been able to photograph the beautiful barn and the old farmhouse that lie at this southern edge of Walsall Wood, and whose fields overlook the Coppy Woods, the former Goblins Pit, The farm bordered on the part of the village once called Pepper Alley and Bullings Heath.

British History on Line has this to say in an article from 1974:

’The lord of Shelfield manor was holding two courts a year by 1317, (fn. 14) and in 1632 he was said to possess view of frankpledge. (fn. 15) Otherwise the evidence shows Walsall Wood and Shelfield as part of Walsall manor. (fn. 16) In the earlier 19th century pinners for Walsall Wood and Shelfield were appointed at Walsall manor court. (fn. 17) There was a pound at Bullings Heath, Walsall Wood, at the east end of Green Lane, in the earlier 1840s. (fn. 18)

Shelfield formed part of Cannock forest by the later 12th century, and the wood of Walsall was mentioned in 1199-1200. (fn. 72) The woodland was still extensive in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. (fn. 73) By 1843, however, 21 a. at Paul’s Coppice and 6 a. at Goblins Pit were all that remained. (fn. 74)

Early clearance was presumably around the settlement at Shelfield. In 1086 a hide of arable there was waste. (fn. 75) By 1317 there were three common fields. Town field lay on either side of the present Field Lane and was bounded by Mill Lane, Ford Brook Lane, Coronation Road, Spring Lane, and Birch Lane. Another field, called Wadgreve or Wadgrene in 1317, Watgreave or Thorneyfield in 1766, and Thorn field by 1784, lay north of High Heath. A third, Rodbardesfeld, is probably identifiable with the 18th-century Pool field, which lay west of the heath and north of Coronation Road. All three fields were apparently still open in 1766 but had been inclosed by 1819. (fn. 76) The common fields, however, were small, and by the later Middle Ages most farm-land was probably held in severalty. In the late 16th and early 17th centuries farming was mainly pastoral, with stock consisting of cattle, sheep, and some pigs. Rye, oats, and barley were grown. (fn. 77)

By 1576 much of the waste round Shelfield had evidently been inclosed; it then consisted of three commons, Shelfield Green (later Birches Green), Colliers Ford Heath (probably the later Coalheath), and High Heath. At Clayhanger 160 a. of ‘sterile ground’ was held in severalty; the rest of the Walsall Wood area was one large common. Squatting on the waste, however, had already begun. A house and 4 a. at Walsall Wood and a cottage on High Heath were recent encroachments. (fn. 78) In 1617 a shop and 8 cottages stood on the waste; 6 cottages had been built recently. (fn. 79) By 1763 there were 124 encroachments at Walsall Wood, 11 at Coalheath, 10 at Green Lane, Shelfield, and Irondish, and one at High Heath. The waste, however, was still extensive. The southern commons, High Heath, Shelfield Green, Coalheath, and Moss Pit Green to the west of Shelfield, covered 37 a.; Walsall Wood and Clayhanger Commons formed a single stretch of waste of 504 a. (fn. 80) The part of Walsall Wood Common south of Lichfield Road was known by 1805 as Holly Bank Common. There were then some 218 encroachments; 25 were at or near Shelfield and the rest in the north, 99 being on Walsall Wood Common. (fn. 81) By 1843 the northern waste, though still continuous, had been further reduced; Clayhanger, Walsall Wood, and Holly Bank Commons covered c. 365 a. (fn. 82) In 1876 the surviving commons, altogether 350 a., were inclosed under an Act of 1865, partly for agriculture and partly for new roads and houses. (fn. 83)

The area of farm-land was greatly reduced to make way for housing after the Second World War. By 1974 four farms remained. Grange farm west of Green Lane consisted of 177 a. used for dairying and corn-growing. Dairy farm in Hall Lane, c. 70 a., produced beef, barley, and potatoes. Shelfield House farm consisted of 63 a.; 8 a. was under barley and the rest was used for dairy cattle, pigs, and poultry. Vigo farm was a 12-acre small holding. (fn. 84)’

Untitled 7

From the Lichfield Mercury, Friday 13th November 1914. Spotted by the wonderful Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler.

The 1891 census shows that a Mr. Thomas Butler, aged 54 and born in Darlaston was the only farmer in Hall Lane. In the 1861 census a Mr. John Eadon was the only farmer listed in Hall Lane.

I think we can go back in time to the 1750 Tithe Map:


Section of 1850 Tithe Map. Image supplied previously by reader [Howmuch?].

Here we see Hall Lane where it joins Green Lane at Bullings Heath. The straight vertical line is only the join of two pages of the plan. The thick black line seems to indicate the limit of the tithe area and the boundary with Walsall Grammar School land, and has no plots or buildings showing.

The small enclosure ‘11’ shows a’ Mr. Davison’and ‘Rickyard’ – a farmyard where ricks of hay where stored. Is this the site of the barn was built? Did a certain Mr. Henry Rowe keep his hay there, or Mr. Davison?

I would like to thank Mrs.Toms for allowing me to take the photographs of her farm, and Mr. Peter Cutler, researcher extraordinaire, for his invaluable help, too

David Evans, march 2014

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21 Responses to Milking it

  1. Joe Headley says:

    Hi Bob,
    Another fantastic stroll down memory lane kindly provided by you and David. It’s perhaps not relevant to the ancient history which David gives us all the benefit of but never the less I thought it may be of interest in the general scheme of things.
    My uncle and aunt farmed Dairy Farm from I guess the middle forties to about 1959/60 Austin and Annie Snape. Annie was nee Headley and photos of that family you have been kind enough to show and catalogue in other posts.The Snape family were also butchers in Pelsall.
    I had the pleasure of spending every moment of my childhood that I could manage at Dairy Frm., My Dad used to cross the road in High St with me on my three wheel bike and I then used to cycle like fury along Coppice Rd., Camden St and my Aunt would meet me at the foot of the Black Cock Bridge. A great adventure!
    The old barn I spent many happy hours playing in and around. From the photos it has undergone internal alterations as it had a floor inside on both sides of the main gallery about eight to ten feet above ground level. Looking at David’s picture of the inside, the one with, I think the mast of a fork-lift truck , to the left hand side of that and on the upper floor my uncle let me keep a few pigeons. They gained access through a sliding window in the rear wall of the barn; that sowed the seeds of a love of pigeons and racing that I still have to-day.
    In those days to the rear of the barn was a steel structure known as a dutch barn ( a digger and the remains of a white van occupy this space now it would seem) where I can remember days spent threshing with all the noise and dust, things just made for childhood. The many air bricks shown in the barn provided hours of entertainment seeking house sparrow nests and eggs.
    In the aerial photo, the buildings on the right of the barn were pig stys and loose boxes at right angles to those and forming the boundary with Hall Lane was the milking parlour where 12 to 16 cows were milked.
    The land then was worked with a shire horse by the name of Bob (funnily enough) and I can vividly recall harrowing the fields around the house as a boy with the mighty Bob. A gentle giant and again the memory provoked by this great blog but I can remember going with my uncle and aunt to buy Bob from a farm sale at Draycot-in -the Clay.Later tractor power was introduced and supplied by a man called Ernie Smith, he had a wooden leg and lived up the Castles if I remember rightly a place always referred to as Holly Bank by the older generation.
    Wednesdays were market days and that meant a trip in Mrs Baileys taxi to Uttoxeter,, tea and lunch in Elkes’ (think that is spelt correctly) café. Happy days!
    Sorry if I’ve rambled Bob and gone a little off topic but edit as you please no offence will be taken by me.

  2. Clive says:

    This Barn is so over the top, why is it so big and flash, just look a the brickwork. No humble farmer had this built! And where did they get the bricks from! There`s more to this than meets the eye. All questions and no answers at the moment. Big thank you to all involved.
    I wonder if it was some sort of compensation when the canal cut through his land!

  3. David Oakley says:

    Hi Bob,
    Clive’s right, What a magnificent barn. Its very structure suggests to me that its original use was as a threshing barn, or as a Great Barn as it was sometimes termed. Two hundred years ago, the vagaries of the weather was of prime importance to the farmer and fine weather until “All is safely gathered in”, could mark the difference between success and financial disaster for that particular farming year.
    A good, dry well ventilated barn, was perhaps the prime requirement of a barn in those days. Barns were workshops, and many farm tasks were carried out in the barn in wet weather, primarily. threshing, in which, in the smaller farms, could be carried out by hand by means of threshing flails. In the 1850’s tithe map, could that be a barn at the top left of Mr, Davison’s rickyard ? Threshing barns were often in close proximity to the rickyard for obvious reasons, You will probably notice that the rickyard and barn was fully enclosed by a fence, this was to keep farm animals out. What could be more attractive to a farm animal than an unlimited supply of corn or hay? The high opening into the barn was to enable the cart, piled high with corn sheaves, full access into the barn
    The Victorian builders, would make no apologies, for building a barn to these grandiose standards, and the decorative ventilation would be carefully thought out. The barn was large and quite high, to account for its usage, and looking at the bricks, commercially wire-cut, I would assume that they came from a brickyard not two miles away from the site A .barn of this nature was of prime importance to a farm of this size, perhaps of more importance than the conditions of the dwelling-house, and to endure for nearly two hundred years, when the conditions appertaining to the original construction of the barn have disappeared , could set the barn apart as a trifle ‘over the top’. Farmers were never ostentatious’ Business failures instilled a strong sense of caution, but ‘build well and build to last’ is a phenomenon now manifest in the number of old barns still standing throughout the country.
    Finally, a comment to Joe Headley, who gives me so much pleasure with his memories, many akin to my own. Austin Snape, his uncle, farmed the little farm in Holly bank , originally Craddocks Farm , before succeeding to Dairy Farm. One of Austin’s field’s was directly behind the garden’s of the council houses in Salters Road. In the hawthorn hedge at the top of the garden there lurked a elderberry bush, one of the softer trees trees going. My father had a splendid garden, that July. and Austin’s cows found it ! crashing through the elderberry tree and gorging themselves on peas, beans and all the delights of a wartime urban garden. Black day for my father, I think that by then there must have been some building plans for the development of the farm lands and common land for the future Castlefort Estate, causing Austin to move to the Dairy Farm. a little later.
    Without the help of Bob’s blog and David Evans unique contribution, local history would be so much the poorer, so once again, my humble thanks.

  4. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    The Tithe plan is dated 1750 and not1850. I zoomed in to take my photo of this small part of my own paper photocopy of the whole plan to show the feature and also the names in as much detail as possible.
    Thank you Bob for your fine presentation of the raw notes …yet again…and I hope that with readers kind help we may be able to reveal more of this very old farming hamlet’s story.
    Kind regards

  5. Pedro says:

    So what do we know….?

    First mention of Dairy Farm is 1914 when Mr T Sheldon is leaving. Not a large concern?

    A tenant farmer?

    The Threshing Barn looks to have been built much earlier, and Barn’s brickwork is probably up there with the best you can find. Maybe a statement made by the Landowner, could it be the Earl of Bradford?

    Other Farms mentioned in connection with Walsall Wood are…

    1902..Highfields farm

    1901….44…King Hayes Farm

    1900….1954….Grange Farm

    1914….1943….Dairy Farm

    The other mentions For Dairy Farm were an add in March 1943…
    Tractor Ploughing and Disc Harrowing. Large or small orders receive prompt attention…Byrne, Dairy Farm, Walsall Wood.

    And in Aug 1941 a mention of Phyllis Burns, Dairy Farm, WW

  6. Pedro says:

    In the latest excellent article concerning mapping you can take a picture of the area in 1883, 1901 and 1938. The name Dairy Farm only occurs on the 1938, and as the first mention is 1914, the name of the farm may have come between 1901 and that date?

    On the three maps the building shapes remain the same, and the field shapes can be seen on Google Earth.

    Was the section of the Barn that we see today part of a much grander symmetrical building?

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  8. Pedro says:

    My theory concerning Lord Bradford is probably incorrect.

    From the book by Brian Rollins, Coalmining in the north-east section of the Walsall Metropolitan Borough. (2006)

    Brian mentions other Leases applicable to Warsall Wood Colliery, which was indeed was on land owned by Lord Bradford. The underground workings extended and approached the limit of the coal in the of ownership of the Earl of Bradford. To enable the coals beyond this limit to be worked, leashes had to be negotiated with the owners of these other coals.

    One of these was the coal under Dairy House Farm, Walsall Wood, which lay between Hall Lane and the Green Lane and south of the Black Cock Inn. The surface area being 70 acres.

    The land was owned by the Trustees of Queen Mary’s school in Warsall.

  9. Pedro says:

    Above I suggested that the name “Dairy Farm” was given sometime after 1901 and before the date of the sale advert in 1914, as no name is seen on the 1888 and 1901 maps.

    I have found another sale for January 1901 that is very interesting…

    Walsall Wood Farm, near the Black Cock Inn, Walsall Wood…

    Instructed to sell by the Brownhills Urban District Council, by Auction…

    Stack of hay 18 tons. The produce of
    20 acres of wheat and oats in the Straw
    20 tons of wheat and oat straw
    30 tons of Mangolds
    120 tons of Swedes
    30 tons of potatoes. “Up-to-date”
    70 bags of White Oats, Garton’s abundance
    Two newly carved heifers, and their carves

    I had noticed, in some accounts of the BUDC meetings, that there were instructions to sell various farmyard stock and produce. Could it be that at the time they had farming concerns of their own?

  10. Pedro says:

    Of course near the Black Cock Inn, just to the north, was the Sewerage Farm and run by the Council.

    • Hilary says:

      Hi Pedro,
      It would seem that brownhills local board bought land from edmund arblaster sometime prior to 1893. Please see the plans relating to the inclosure act and the splitting of Joseph Wright’s land. I wonder however, what was the extent of this sale. Arblaster farmed almost 110 acres ……could that have included the dairy farm? I have a list of the numbers of the parcels of land he owned in 1876 but as yet no map to locate them. Might they be of any help?

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  12. Pedro says:

    Hi Hillary,

    Clive’s observation has certainly caused some puzzlement!

    I think we may get closer to the answer by looking at the Queen Mary School; it was founded in the 1500s….The Letters Patent founding the School allowed rents from fields around Walsall – amounting to £10 per annum to be used to maintain the new school…

    I think the barn must have been built before 1883 and in the “Victorian Era”

    From the Lichfield `Mercury June 1883…A meeting of the Governors of the school fixed the rent of the farm at Shelfield at £80 and that at Walsall Wood as £105.

    If Brian Rollins is right then the land was owned by the Queen Mary School, and they fixed the rent. The farmer would surely not have the means to built such a magnificent barn. May be it was used by a few farms?

    In 1850 a new school in Walsall had been built on land bought from Lord Hatherton.

  13. Hilary says:

    Hi Pedro, have a look at A Filthy Business, here on the blog (if you haven’t already seen it) There is a plan on there that shows that the field next to the coppice wood was owned by Queen Mary’s Govs. Is this part of the dairy farm too or did QM own various plots? I was thinking that maybe the barn was more of a “community” thing rather than belonging to just one farm. The first edition of the os map that covers “goblins pit farm” shows “something” where the barn is but I can’t work out what it is. (See “goblin it up”)
    Curiouser and curiouser

    • Pedro says:

      This is what Brian Rollins says…

      Leases by WW Colliery to enable coals beyond the limit of the coal in the ownership of the Earl of Bradford…

      One such ownership was with the Trustees of Queen Mary’s School in Walsall. The coal was situated under Dairy House Farm, Walsall Wood, which lay between Hall Lane and Green Lane and south of the Black Cock in. The surface area was some 70 acres. The agreed lease provided for a minimum rent of £35 each half-year…and a standard royalty of 6d per ton….

      (the date of the lease is not given)

      • Pedro says:

        Off the top of my head I think Goblin’s Pit Farm and Goblins Pit Wood were on the other side of Green Lane. There is a references to something like 200 oaks being sold from the wood in around 1790, and leased by a name I cannot at the moment recall.

  14. Hilary says:

    Agreed but if you look above the “pit” in “goblins pit farm” marked on the map…you will see something is marked in the place where the dairy farm stands. The top end of green lane is shortened on the map but you can still locate it. I don’t know if it’s a building or a group of trees 🙂

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