Just William


Marklews Pond: unlike the water, the history is opaque and a bit muddy.

The interesting history of William Roberts – the father of modern Brownhills – continues, and this time, Peter ‘pedro’ Cutler has taken issue with some other, intersecting local history, and just when exactly William Roberts came to Brownhills as a lad, and where he lived when his family moved here.

This thread started a few weeks ago, when I featured scans of the April 1990 edition of the Brownhills Gazette, which contained an article by local lady Gwen James, detailing her version of the history of the Station Hotel. As I expected, that article raised some eyebrows in the dress circle, and a further version of the history was detailed in ‘Brownhills Past and Present’, the book issued by Brownhills School in 1985.

Peter ‘Pedro’ Cutler then waded in with his own research, after which I ran the excellent piece of work on Roberts by Gerald Reece, which was first published in 1995 in his book ‘Brownhills: a walk into history’.

Peter, as is his wont, paid great attention to the accumulated work, and has a question or two. I commend you to this this article, it goes to the heart of some other remarkable history recounted here, and shows that the Venn diagram of interconnected history is wonderfully complex in Brownhills.

I thank everyone for their contributions to this research, but particularly Peter, whose gimlet-eye for detail and astounding memory are invaluable, impressive and scary.

William Roberts – sometime railway plate layer, ganger, publican, entrepreneur, civic stalwart, JP and philanthropist was a very rare man in his time, and appears to have been generous, considerate, imbued with a real sense of social justice, and was undoubtedly a sharp-dealing rogue too.

I am terribly sad this fine gentleman has not even a plaque in his honour in Brownhills, and I’d really like one of the successes of this blog to be achieving some kind of memorial or civic recognition no matter how small, to the original Mr. Brownhills.


William Roberts himself. Image from ‘Brownhills: A walk into history’ by Gerald Reece.

Peter wrote:

Having an interest in the Truck System I noticed a link between two articles on the Blog that posed a few questions, some of which are still unanswered.

The article Death of a big, big man, shows the Lichfield Mercury (1906) stating that the family of William Roberts (born 1828) removed from Shenstone to reside at a Brownhills farm house known as the ‘Tommy Shop’. (Gerald Reece in the article ‘Such was his devotion’ says the family moved to Coppice Side). The Roberts family were still at Hook End, Sutton Coldfield in 1841, and therefore William Roberts would have spent only around 6 years in the locality before he left in 1847 for his adventures up North.

In an earlier article A token of my respect the writer informs that a William Marklew was born (1858) in a very old historic house that the family had rented from Squire MacPherson for over 100 years, known as Coppice Farm, and that William some time after 1881, moved with his wife Harriet to a very old historic building known as ‘The Old Tommy Shop’. He ran the shop and was reputed to have been the last operator of a Tommy Shop in the UK! At the age of 40, being around 1898, William moved back to the family farm house.

Was the Old Tommy Shop the same place that William Robert’s parents had moved to, and just where was Coppice Farm? The more I looked at the story of William Marklew, the more I began to think that, in many ways, it did not add up. Could this be yet another example of how the history can get mixed up over time?

The Squire MacPherson referred to would be Lachlan Andrew Macpherson. Elizabeth, daughter of Phineas Fowke Hussey, had inherited the Hussey estate after her father’s death in 1867; she married the Squire.

Taking the 1861 census, when William Marklew would be 3 years old, he is recorded as living with his father Charles (Brick maker with 7 children) and mother Catherine at household schedule 24 Brownhills. I am not sure where this would be, but it is in the middle of a schedule and nothing at all seems special. Going back to the 1851 census Charles has 3 children and registered in Athestone district and living at 60 Dordon.

In the 1871 census William Marklew (13) is recorded with his father Charles (Brick maker) at schedule 49, Brick Kiln Lane. The lane schedule goes from 45 to 76, and again there is nothing special.

(44 is the last number in Wolverhampton Lane, 57 says Farm buildings, 59 Bug Row starts, 76 down as a Tommy shop and Thomas Simmonds?…there is another Tommy shop at 82 in Engine Lane.)

Moving to the 1881 census, William Marklew (23) is still recorded with his father at schedule 37 Chester Road.

(28 is the Hussey Arms, 32 is Rising Sun, 33 is nr Methodist Chapel, 34 is White House, 35 is Old Tommy Shop, Chester Road, 39 is Engine Lane Cottage… Interesting that under the Tommy Shop (35) there are numbers 1 to 4, and Charles Marklew is 37…3!]

On to the 1891 census and William, coal miner, has indeed moved from the family and is located at 102 Wolverhampton Road with 6 children.

(It is a bit puzzling here as the Schedule numbers suddenly change from 49 to 80, however 80 is the Jolly Collier, 85 Fair View, 96 Yew Tree Tavern, 105 is Big House Farm, 106 Slough, 109 Coppice House, 110 Coombe House, 111 Tommy Shop, 116 Coppice Cottages… Charles Marklew was still living at what is now shown as Tommy Shop buildings!)

The 1901 census should give the whereabouts of William Marklew (coal miner hewer) at the age of 43, and he resides at schedule 70, Coppice Side, Coppice Cottages with 11 children, and in the 1911 William was still at Coppice Side.

At this point I had not found any mention of a Coppice Farm, and the Old Tommy Shop, Chester Road had at least four families recorded as resident there.

At last I found a reference to a Coppice Side Farm, Brownhills, from the Lichfield Mercury of September 1917. It confirmed William Marklew as being at the Farm, but sadly it was news that his son had been killed in France. More sad news is received in October of 1936, William whose wife is now deceased, learns that his son Frank, who had emigrated to Australia, had been tragically killed. After the death of William Marklew the Dairy Utensils from Coppice Side Farm were sold at auction.

So where was the Brownhills Farm that the William Roberts moved to sometime after 1841? Big House Farm is mentioned in the Census, but no Coppice Farm, just where was it?

station hotel

The dying days of the Station Hotel, probably around 1986. Image supplied by Mike Leonard.

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43 Responses to Just William

  1. Christine says:

    On the 1911 census his neighbours were John Holland, Mary Coombe and Dr Bradford. I’m assuming that’s where we get Holland Park from and obviously Coombe House and Bradford Road. On Ancestry .co. there is a photo of him and his and his wife Harriet’s Grave Stones in St James Church.

    • Peter says:

      Hi Christine, I asked some time ago the origins of the naming of Holland Park and Bob very kindly took up the challenge and turned it into a post entitled “OLD HOLLAND”. If you search in the search bar above it takes to the article.
      All the best

  2. Andy Dennis says:

    On the 1884 OS mapping several of these places are specified. Big House Farm was on the west side of Coppice Side immediately north of Jolly Collier Bridge. Next going north was Coppice Row, looks like a terrace of 11 houses. Next was Fairview Cottage. which stood back from the road and had several outbuildings, though the 1891 census has several households as “ditto”. Just before Engine Lane was a terrace of about 8 houses named Coppice Cottages, running east-west, frontage to south. Opposite these was an unnamed row of 8 or 9 smaller houses; could be Bug Row? As I understand it there were many poor quality terraces called Bug Row, presumably being infested with small beasties.

    Something I’ve learned from forays into the censuses is that you cannot necessarily assume that the enumerator proceeded in a logical manner, and the 1891 census demonstrates this.

  3. Andy Dennis says:

    See After the gold rush – http://brownhillsbob.com/2012/12/05/after-the-gold-rush-2/, second map, bottom right. Note this names Coppice Cottages on the east side of Coppice Side and I think the map I referred to might mean the same though the words are on the west side.

  4. Pedro says:

    I cannot find any mention of a Coppice Farm or a Coppice Side Farm on the census up to 1911, although Bighouse Farm is shown for way back.

    It appears to me that the name Coppice Side may have come into use around 1900. If you look at the 1888 map the marking for Coppice Lane bends around the corner, however on the 1903 map the mark for Coppice Side has appeared running just inside Birch Coppice opposite Coppice Row.

  5. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    A huge thanks to Pedro and to Andy….super discussion here.Its good when the big guns get going!..makes this blog of yours something very special and highly appreciated…along with your tireless endeavour .
    Kind regards

  6. Christine says:

    1851 William Roberts was listed in Barnsley census as a lodger working on the railways. He married Anne Bradley who was born in Yam, North Yorkshire in 1852 in Stockton on Tees. His journey was following the railway lines. All census after that give his address as Station Hotel. He was born in Shenstone where his father was a farmer.

    • Christine says:

      Should read YARM.

    • Pedro says:

      In 1841 William Roberts is down as 12 years old and living with his father George (a farmer) and mother Mary. They reside at Hill Hook Sutton Coldfield.

      He has an elder brother Jeremiah who is 16.

      • peter says:

        Pedro, Morning. I grew up within a stones throw of Hill Hook (Four Oaks / Little Aston) do you have an address?

        • Christine says:

          It looks like it would be around Blake Street Station. On his baptismal records it says Shenstone Woodend but on the 1841 census it says Hook Hill/Hill Hook and if you look on pages either side the addresses are Watford Gap and Mere Pool. Some census just say Little Aston.

          • Pedro says:

            Shenstone Woodend is of course nearer to the Bull!

            The census entry for Hill Hook starts after Four Oaks Common and goes on reaching Watford Gap, and William Roberts is quite close to the Watford Gap

  7. Andy Dennis says:

    Jeremiah (and the other brother George) show up at Aston in 1861, but Jeremiah lived near the Station Hotel from 1871 and was a platelayer.

    I wonder if Big House Farm and Coppice Side Farm are the same place. There doesn’t seem room for two farms.

    • peter says:

      Andy, Hi. Where was Big House Farm?

      • Andy Dennis says:

        West side of Coppice Side north of canal.

        • Andy Dennis says:

          There is a report of Big House farm in Lichfield Mercury 13 Nov 1914 when a William Howdle was had up for selling adulterated milk. That is the latest reference I can find online, but I’m not sure it helps as to whether it was the same as Coppice Farm.

  8. Pedro says:

    If we have the right William Roberts at the age of 12 and at Hill Hook in 1841, then I think we can discount the Lichfield Mercury’s idea (1906) that he was brought to Brownhills in infancy.

    Maybe someone can ask Gerald on Friday about the information he has to link William to “Coppice Side”

  9. Christine says:

    Usually names are given for place or person, what was on the land before Coppice Side Industrial Estate was built.

    • Andy Dennis says:

      I assume Coppice Side is so named as it runs alongside Birch Coppice.

    • Pedro says:

      If you go to Bob’s article below, and tap on the link 1883 Brownhills you can see the map


    • ivor230240 says:

      There were houses on the land where the industrial estate is now situated, Bug Row, then the Council refuse site, then a small field under the care of the Marklews, then there were three houses, 77, occupied by the Huckers in the 30s, 40s and early 50s, 79 was attached and occupied for many years, (I think 50 years) by my Grand parents (David and Bertha Anne Chandler) and their family until the death of my Grandmother in 1951 or 52, the next house was occupied by Jonah Whitehouse. Then there was a row of cottages running East/West on the South side of Coppice Side with another row of terraced cottages running North South on the East Side of Coppice Side just before the junction with Coppice Lane. There were some very old mine workings behind the houses on the West side of Coppice Side and these led up to the mineral railway line.

  10. Pedro says:

    OK Folks, sticking my neck out and at the risk of Blasphemy I will ask the question!

    Did the family of William Roberts really come to Brownhills before William took over the Station Hotel in 1860?

  11. Andy Dennis says:

    Has anyone been able to find the other members of William’s family in the 1851 census? I can’t. His parents were George (born about 1788, Staffordshire) and Mary (abt 1796, Shenstone) and brothers George (abt 1813, Shenstone) and Jeremiah (abt 1825, Shenstone).

    I have searched page by page the areas around Coppice Side, Wood End and Hill Hook and they are nowhere to be seen.

    • Pedro says:

      I also drew a blank in the same areas.

      I think we can say that his parents correspond to the entry for Hill Hook in 1841. Why would a farmer from Sutton move to a houses built specifically for miners?

      The Lichfield Mercury in 1906 would be looking back 46 years to the time he arrived to the Station. Prior to that the history may probably hearsay? Gerard’s account is similar to the Lichfield Mercury but with additions and subtractions.

      Maybe someone could ask him about the sources?

  12. Pedro says:

    Looking at the article “Back where it all began” link below….


    Gerald has drawn the Tithe Map from 1840 (not orientated N), and Bighouse Farm does not seem to be marked. There are some buildings to the west of the track.

  13. Andy Dennis says:

    The area shown as Big House Farm on the OS 1884 coincides approximately with plots 414, 415E, 416 and 417. The Norton Branch Railway would later follow the western boundary of 417.

  14. Pedro says:

    There is no mention of Roberts or Marklew as farmers for Norton Canes, Brown Hills or Little Wyrley in the White’s Directory of 1851!

  15. Pedro says:

    Gerald says that William Roberts left the area in 1847. He had obtained work with the SS Railway which was under construction, starting as a plate-layer but quickly rising to the position of “ganger”.
    It seems an extraordinary rise for the young man as he would have started in the mines around 14 and become “ganger’ by the age of 19.

    “On October 6th 1846  it was agreed that the South Staffordshire Railway Company would construct a railway line between Walsall and Lichfield Tent Valley with extensions between Walsall and Bescot (to allow through running to Birmingham, Lichfield Trent Valley and Wychnor Junction (to connect with the Midland Railway).”


  16. ivor230240 says:

    Thanks for all this information on Coppice Side. I did most of my growing up, between 1940 and 1952 living at 79 Coppice Side. The “house” was rented to my Grandparents, David and Bertha Anne Chandler. My Grandfather worked at the Grove Colliery looking after the pit ponies. I have clear memories of the two farms, Big House Farm, occupied by the Howdles and Marklews Farm occupied by the Marklew family. Other members of my family, the Chandler side, also lived in Coppice Side, my Uncle Bill and his family in one of the cottages at the end of the road near Marklews farm in the row backing onto the Coppice. My Uncle David lived in a house near to Marklews’ Farm. The pool that came to be known as “Marklews Pool” was always known as “The Brickle Hole” when I was a child and I spent many happy hours fishing there. “Bug Row” was the name given to the terrace of houses nearest to Big House Farm. The Council tip was also located in Coppice Side and from time to time it became a site for “Gypsies.” I have clear and sad memories of the Coppice being ripped apart and desecrated after the end of the Second World War. There was also an underground fire that burned for a long time fuelled. I imagine. by tree roots and outcrop coal.

  17. Christine says:

    I don’t know if this sheds any light on anything but in th UK Poll Books and Electoral Register in 1833 George Roberts was listed at Shenstone Woodend as occupier of land. This continued to 1843/44 when he is listed as Frehold House and Land, Catshill with a tenant Horobin and then Craddock and his residence Wolverhamton. I’ve tried looking for evidence of farms on maps in what could have been part of Catshill and the only one I can find is Warren House Farm. Did they own this and not a farm on Coppiceside.
    Jeramiah Roberts daughters Emily married John Princep and Alice married James Yates, two well known names in Brownhills.

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  19. Stephen cawley says:

    Newcomer to your blog think it’s amazing and brought back many memories.IAm 58 and lived in cop pice side ,bug row up to the age of 3 or 4 so 1960/1 my dad was a miner at Wyrley sinking at this time.HE came originally from ogley crescent but passed away 5 years ago at the age of 81.He was Brownhills through and through we moved from cop pice side to clay hanger opposite howdles butchers so I remember walking across the tip up to pier st bridge,howdles farm on coppice side.later we moved to Brownhills and have lived in the area ever since ,my dad was a labour councillor on BUDC in the60’s and represented Brownhills on staffs county council in about 68.He also worked at mid Cannock and lea hall pits and saw out his working life at McKechnie metals in A ldridge. Families from coppice side were the Huckers,ASprey,Richardsons,Mr &Mrs Farden who had a daughter Ann I think who had polio and was confined to a wicker bed but was always jolly they moved to fullelove road as did the Richardsons. One early memory was riding on the trailer while the adults helped the howdles with the harvesting of straw bales we had to squash down between the bales when the trailer went under the bridge at the back of the cottages in bug row while the adults went up and over the bridge also the cows coming into the dairy at the farm they were massive to a 2 year old,scared me to death,My mom worked for Dr Constance Dawes who was a gp in brickiln street surgery (now the vets) at her house in Adams road,when the doctors mom died she left to join s religious order and went to the recently formed east Pakistan this would be62/63 I think loads more memories I will be in touch again I hope,I have some photos of the council meetings inside Brownhills council house mid 60’s will forward them to you

  20. David Gee says:

    I have a photograph of the Marklew Family taken in 1907 at Copice Side Farm on the back is their names and date of birth. Would this be of help ? I can post a jpeg


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  22. Neil Simmonds says:

    Thanks for the interesting information I am doing my family tree and a name that crops up in your blog is Thomas Simmonds he was married to Hannah and moved from Thringstone Leicestershire to Brick Kiln Lane Norton Canes Brownhills Staffs(Tommy Shop) and in a later entry is down as Number 1 Old Tommy Shop Chester road Norton Canes Brownhills Staffs he has no other entry so I think he must have lived there till his death (date to still to be found) he had 6 children, I like you all can not find out were it was

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