Brains and Brawns

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The view down Sandhills to Lichfield – local, iconic and beautiful. Image from 365daysofbiking.

I love it when I ask an innocent question here that I think is throwaway, and through some mistake I make, or some side debate, a whole new historical vista opens up – and this has been the case this week the the history of Sandhills, Shire Oak, and the Brawn and Lane family dynasties.

If you don’t follow comments on articles, it’s worth paying a visit to this growing thread. It all started when I posted a newspaper article about air raid emergency exercises in 1940, and I got the location of Sandhills House utterly wrong; my correction article the following week took off like a rocket.

By way of overlapping connections, the young David Evans has been paying close attention. In the following article he prepared yesterday, David explains his interest and hopefully expands the topic a little further.

I thank David for a lovely, lovingly-researched article, and I commend readers to explore the links within. Yet again, I have been humbled by the readers and contributors.

Long may it continue. Thanks to you all.

David Evans wrote:

The stretch of the Lichfield to Walsall road, the A461 at Sandhills, Shire Oak has always intrigued me. I got to know it as a schoolboy passenger on my way to and from King Edwards Grammar School in Lichfield, aboard the trusty blue no 16 double decker bus… initially one equipped with slatted wooden seats in the upstairs.

Crossing from Shire Oak revealed a panorama unlike that I had known until then. Fields, beautiful beech trees, gently rolling slopes, and in the distance the three spires of the Cathedral in Lichfield.

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Sandhills, the lodge to the farm, with ‘Brans Drive’ adjacent. Image from 365daysofbiking.

The beautiful lodge and long driveway down to the large Victrorian house brightened my morning ride as I began to imagine what life for the farming community was, and had been in times long since passed.

I started to research the history of the area – often called Sandhills – a long time ago.

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This cottage is now gone, but existed at plot 102 on the Tithe Map below. This image dates from the 1970s/ Image supplied by David Evans.

As time went by I got to know the family that lived in the cottage pictured above. I wrote an article about Jenny, which Brownills Bob kindly published in February 2012 (‘Tools for the job’) and with the kind help of Julian Ward Davies of the Stonnall History Group, obtained part of the 1850 Tithe plan for this little hamlet, Sandhills.

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Part of the tithe plan, showing Sandhills in 1850. The plots numbered 102 and 103 are of interest. The drive to Brawn’s farms is on the right, opposite plot numbered 103. Image posted by Stonnall History Group and supplied by David Evans.

So I was truly delighted to see that Brawns farm and estate appeared, in the blog article last week ‘Never forget the Tools‘ in which our two researchers par excellence, Peter Cutler and Andy Dennis, plus several other helpful readers have assisted me in ways I would not have been able to manage by myself. We have really been able to expand this story.

There had been another cottage, (Plot 103) which intriguingly was not there in 1850. Jenny called this cottage Brawns cottage so when I saw reference to it in the information I received in private e-mails from the Andy and Peter, my eyes lit up. This cottage was unlike the others along the road, only one of which remains.

It was a fine building which stood back from the road a little, It had a high roof which sloped down just above the downstairs window level. There was a central porch, a bay window at the side. The tile pattern to the roof showed a mark of quality and design. Some tiles were diagonal pattern, I remember.

The wide drive at the left hand side led round to an attached large barn/stable with large doors. The was a verandah to the kitchen. I knew that the kitchen had a large range or Aga cooker, and unusually there were stairs leading upstairs from the kitchen.

Who lived there, and when? This is what the readers found for me, and what I delighted to present the following news clipping:

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Lichfield Mercury, October 1887. Clipping spotted by Peter Cutler via David Evans.

Did the cottage ever have a name? Jenny recalled an elderly lady and another lady who lived there ‘for many years’…

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Lichfield Mercury, July 1935 – is the title a mistake, or some form of press etiquette? Clipping spotted by Peter Cutler via David Evans.

Caroline C. G. Brawn died 4 July 1935 age 74 at Oldhams Hall, The Schools, Shrewsbury, the home of her daughter Ethel.

According to the Lichfield Mercury 12 July 1935 Mrs Brawn was interred at Stonnall and was the last surviving granddaughter of Thomas Pavier Jackson of Hammerwich Hall.  Floral  tributes were many, but included: ‘All at Spinney Cottage; Miss Arrowsmith and Miss Lane’

It seems the cottage contents were sold six moths later.

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Lichfield Mercury, January 1935. Clipping spotted by Peter Cutler via David Evans.

Then, very recently, I was shown this beautiful Victorian silver locket and chain which had been given to a young girl who lived nearby, by the kind old lady who lived in Brawns cottage. The locket has remained a treasured childhood memory, by the girl,who is now in her 80s.

Oh yes, and what about Jenny ,who lived in the cottage at plot 102?

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Photo taken in 1967, a few years before she died, in her own cottage. Image supplied by David Evans.

The little farming hamlet with its simple cottages, farm labour and then collier community has largely faded away over the years, and with it a way of life.

Like the Brawns, Jenny is also buried in the cemetery at Stonnall Church, though in a more modest, plain grave.

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Sandhills is a place of great history, and still retains – despite the busy road – an air of a self-contained hamlet. Image from 365daysofbiking.

I would like to thank all those whose background research and kind help has enabled me to compose this article

David Evans, September 2015

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10 Responses to Brains and Brawns

  1. aerreg says:

    hi bob re sanhills here is a bit of childhood goble goo at the bottom of sand hills opposite barracks lane a pair of semi detatached houses were built by tom griffiths my uncle elijah trawford being one of the brick layers he told me one of the front garden walls was built in a twisted patern this was because whilst prepairing to build it a snake grass was found now how is that for an historic item i can hear my family now saying yes we have heard it all before ha ha god bless

  2. Andy Dennis says:

    Nice work David. What an ornate motif!

    That sense that you progress suddenly from the urban to the rural was one of the cornerstones of our argument against development of Sandhills.

  3. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    many thanks for turning my raw notes into this well presented article. One error- mine- the tithe map section is 1838.
    kind regards
    David

  4. peter says:

    David, Thank you for the article, you have summed up (As Andy attests) how urban sprawl smog and hustle suddenly in the space of a few yards quickly appears to be rolling countryside with fields and fresh air and a rural feel once you cross over the traffic lights at the Shire Oak Pub……….
    I’d often wondered about the life and community at the bottom of the Sandhills, around by the Leopard Pub etc how it used to be and what it was like before the trucks, vans, cars etc thundered up and down on a regular basis.
    I wondered if you can clear something up for me David, I’m a little unsure whether plot number 102 was called “Spinney Cottage” or “Ash Cottage”, maybe I’m not reading it properly………. but I’m not sure.
    Thanks again for the article David, looking forward to your next article…

    All the best

    Peter

  5. David Evans says:

    Hi Peter
    thanks for your kind words. its…Plot 103 that was Ash Cottage . It was demolished in the late 1970s, I think. There are two detached houses there now. The sycamore tree will help you to locate where it once stood. Spinney Cottage still exists, its within the estate grounds. ..a blue brick cottage! There are many stories about Sandhills…one of my favoruite relates the local peoples pigs being taken across the road to drink from the ditch when the brewery at the top of the hill emptied its waste .
    The colliers who lived in Sandhills had to walk over Shire Oak hill and back every day to go to work at Walsall Wood pit. Those who worked at the estate started the days work with prayers in the estate chapel, along the main drive.The children had to walk to Stonnall Junior School and back, every day.
    Mr Carl and Mrs Patience Collins occupied Ash Cottage after MrsBrawn died.Mrs Collins , a piano teacher of note, was also president of the Womens Institute, who met …in the Boat Inn.
    apologies for the long comment, Bob ,but I hope this is of interest to Peter.
    the local damson wine is another story!
    David

  6. David Evans says:

    HI Peter
    I do remember the time when, for the first time, Dudley castle could be seen from the top deck of the bus as I crossed Shire Oak hill on my way home from school. ..late 1950s or so. The atmosphere had became much cleaner as houses and indutry turned from burning coal to using gas or electricity. In the 1970s the intricate patchwork quilt of hedgerows and small fields…particularly between Stonnall and Shenstone, became the vast, open, and largely silent fields that we have today.
    David

    • Pedro says:

      Bet it was a bit chilly David on the top deck of the bus when crossing Shire Oak Hill in the Winter. That wind coming all the way from Russia.

  7. David Evans says:

    Hi Pedro
    thats why my cheeks are all rosy!
    cheers
    David

  8. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    a phone call to David Oakley a few days ago….turns out he was one of the bus drivers for this route at that time … good old Walsall Corporation route 16 !
    David

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