An offer too good to accept?

Over the course of my near seven year tenure at the helm of this blog, I’ve tried to encourage a pride in Brownhills and the place we live, and despite a few playful forays, there’s a tricky subject I’ve rarely broached, but something occurred this week that’s made me truly angry, and I need to share it with readers.

Up until 1974, Brownhills, along with most of the Black Country, was in Staffordshire. After the West Midlands was formed in that year, our town was unceremoniously bolted to Walsall, and we shared its fate – bad governance. For decades we’ve suffered from  poor investment and low regard from the burghers to our southwest who see little point in investing much in this frontier town who could see Walsall Council for what it was – bumbling, and rather stupid.

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Back in the good old days, before we left Staffordshire, the sight of international playboys and their toys was common at Chaswater.

The border that so callously cleaved us from our fellow Staffordians even cut through Chasewater for a while, and runs around the very periphery of Brownhills. Frequently, we look out on rural idylls – say at Shire Oak, or towards Hammerwich – from dingy, urban sprawl. Even the Staffordshire Hoard was cruelly taken from us in advance by the mercenary scalpel cut of a few measly yards of demarkation.

The bitterness of our involuntary separation and forced adoption by a town who clearly didn’t want or understand us has lingered like the smell of industrial effluent over the area ever since, and has on many occasions been addressed by politicians. Several independents and even a few far-right types have promised, in the unlikely event of winning a place at Walsall’s swill-trough, that they would ‘Take us back into Staffordshire’.

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The seal of Brownhills Urban District Council: lost forever to be subjugated by heathens to our southwest.

Sadly, save for the votes a few credulous hopefuls, these candidates have rarely polled higher than their own IQ, itself usually barely in double figures. It seem as though those still wistfully writing their address as ‘Brownhills, Staffs’ would forever be hopeful, but their desire would remain unsated.

Why I bring this up now is that last weekend I saw some papers and had a chance to speak to a few souls who had actually been involved in negotiations to take Brownhills back home into the loving bosom of Stafford, only to be cruelly thwarted.

After the Conservative-Liberal coalition came to power in Walsall in 2009, and Mike Bird was reinstated as leader, a team was formed to look at reshaping the borough, to streamline it and make the whole authority agile and ready for a difficult financial future. A crack squad picked from the cream of the authority’s political and social talent was formed in secret, and both contractors set about work to try and streamline the UK’s most incongruous council.

It didn’t take long for the brains down in the Civic Centre to come up with a solution; Brownhills was to be annexed back into Staffordshire, Darlaston into Sandwell and Pheasey Park Farm into Sutton Coldfield. It was a no brainer: most of these places wanted out anyway and money that was continually wasted in the ingrate areas like ours – paying for things like grass cutting, street lighting and refuse collection could then be redirected at really needy areas like Aldridge and Pelsall, which had the misfortune of being so affluent they didn’t even qualify for Deprived Area Status Grants.

Sign recently erected on the A461, Lichfield Road, Sandhills, just before the Barracks Lane junction. 4:10pm Wednesday, 26th January 2011.

We were deprived by an unjust, cruelly-drawn border. And the fact that we were too broke to stump up.

Teams were quickly dispatched in secret to neighbouring boroughs to sell this excellent idea. Over the matter of Brownhills, Staffordshire were said to be hugely positive providing copyright was included on Morris Miner merchandise and Brownhills West could be transferred to Pelsall. Birmingham were cool with Pheasey Park Farm providing the offer didn’t include ownership of Adrian Andrew, and Sandwell’s councillors were happy as long as they finally got reduced entry deals to the Greenhouse at Darkeston Green.

All was going swimmingly, but there was to be a fly in the ointment: Lichfield District Council had got wind of the potential deal, and the city were not happy at all.

Records from the time that I’ve seen showed that once news leaked into LDC chambers, rumours spread in the small city, and the population became unsettled. Brownhills back in Staffordshire? The drunks had only just sobered from the 1974 leaving party and like a really unpleasant verruca that came back after cutting, there was nothing left but to freeze the unpleasant parasite out.

Questions were being asked – would Brownhillians be allowed to travel into Lichfield? The bus service had been pitiful for years, acting as a filter so only those with a high disposable income or with a car could get there; if we were reunified, would there be C1, C2, D’s and E’s  bearing down on Bore Street? Would these people develop ideas of social progression, maybe moving into the city? Over 12,000 potential incomers, not a single one with any idea what a grapefruit knife looked like, nor owning an ironically named cat?

It was shame enough that Lichfield Cathedral had a WS postcode as it was, without inflicting the grubby little town to the south on them. Imagine if these people got into local drinking establishments of civility and charm, like The Scales? There was no way the city’s MP could be expected to cover Brownhills, either: it was bad enough having to ignore Burntwood.

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Left: Lichfeldian wildlife. Right: Honourable member.

If this awful plan came to fruition, there would soon be men with monosyllabic names in Waitrose manhandling the melons and fondling the focaccia. There would be civil insurrection – this would have to be stopped forthwith.

At a crisis meeting of Lichfield District Council in 2012, the salient points were debated: The historic city couldn’t risk being overrun with the proletariat, and would need to play it’s trump card – if Brownhills joined Staffordshire – Lichfield would leave, and offer it’s countyhood to the highest bidder.

Sadly, the prospect of losing a city full of Gilbert and Sullivan corduroy fetishists was too much for Staffordshire, and they pulled out of the deal. Similar trouble was encountered with Birmingham when they realised that the wheelie bins in common use in Walsall were incompatible with the horse-drawn carts they used to collect refuse and Sandwell back-pedalled when they realised Rough Hay wasn’t really the quaint nature reserve the regeneration team had described.

We all want to be part of Staffordshire, and they really want us to be part of them – after all, why else would they wish to erect a giant metal Saxon Warrior if not in tribute to the great Morris Miner? – but as long as Lichfield has it’s head up it’s arse, it seems like we’ll be forever unloved as part of Walsall.

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A miner case of metallic envy.

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13 Responses to An offer too good to accept?

  1. stymaster says:

    Lets not forget that Brownhills (and indeed Walsall Wood) has a very Staffordshire STD code 😉

    • Indeed. My joy will always be that the Cathedral, with a Walsall postcode, doesn’t even get a unique number:

      19A The Close,
      Lichfield,
      Staffordshire
      WS13 7LD

      Bus ticket to Lichfield – £6
      Lunch in a respectable cafe – £8
      Gloating about postcodes – Priceless

      Bob

  2. Edwina. says:

    Nice bit of work there Bob, fancy taking up the cudgel??? We are a long forgotten strip or stripe, of land call it what you will, neither wanted by Walsall nor Lichfield. But it’s time something was done for our sadly deprived piece of ???? …. Mmmm what should I call it? …. Perhaps not, but is anyone in Brownhills proud to say they live in Brownhills … really??? Sad to say I am not one of those people, proud, nay, take a look around you what is there as Brownhillians that we can be proud of? Not a lot … No … Not a lot at all.

    • Edwina

      Some of us do have pride, and what we feel is lacking we work to correct.

      Others just complain, in a manner that could hoover all the joy out of a rice pudding.

      I know which camp I’m in.

      it wouldn’t be the same without you!
      Best wishes
      Bob

  3. Ade Reid says:

    Well said and totally true.But If you think Brownhills itself was neglected,try living the Whitehorse Road side of the A5.That really was the forgotten area of Brownhills.So close to Staffordshire but so far away.But still does not detract from the fact that Brownhills was a great place to grow up and live in.And ive many happy and fond memories of my time spent in this great little town..

  4. As it’s after noon now I’ll just mention that I do know it’s 1st April 🙂 Nice one.

  5. brian stringer says:

    Bob has produced a wonderful piece here. Folk ask, ‘what have we got in Brownhills? Where to begin? A Tesco’s, an Aldi, a Wilko’s, a Farm Foods, A post office, A bank, A canoe Centre, A Medical Centre where you can see a doctor the same day, a thriving Community Association, A library, a regular bin collection, a regular bus service to Birmingham and Walsall, an abundant choice of pubs and restaurants open all day, a Scout group, an Army cadets HQ, a RAF HQ, a Naval cadets HQ, part of a canal system, a Boxing Club, a Youth club, several places of worship, schools and nurseries, a garden centre, an Opticians, a dentist, Free car parking, two Parks and play areas, (3 if we count Clayhanger,) surrounded by fields and woodland walks, herds of roaming deer on a wonderful piece of common land, a photo Club ,Art club, a Bowling club, Senior Citizens Club. I’ve probably missed a lot , but name me one other town in the Walsall borough that can match this.Go on, just one. Pelsall,? Aldridge,? Rushall?, Darlo? I don’t think so. There is just one thing that we have in abundance though that we could well do without. Apathy.
    Several other things we don’t want I’m sure, like empty shops, litter etc but doesn’t everyone.

    • Thanks Brian

      I’ve spent a huge amount of time over the years trying to convey that although we have issues here like any post-industrial town, we have a huge amount to celebrate and be proud of. From our environment and wildlife, to our rich and surprisingly complex history, to the things we have now like Clayhanger Common that were the products of historic foresight.

      Sometimes it’s like shouting into the darkness. We all – me included – have plenty to say about what’s wrong. But we should be equally loud and vociferous about the stuff we have to enjoy.

      A good few of us – like you Brian – are trying hard.

      Best wishes
      Bob

  6. David Evans says:

    HI Bob
    I wonder how many other blogs have a calendar girl of their very own?
    cheers
    David

  7. aerreg says:

    in the begining there was a place called brownhills district council well establised organised every day folk family heritaged with every thing you could wish for .then along came the do gooders who knew it all lets expand we will join up with aldridge trouble beagins new wine in old bottles moore do gooders come along walsall town comes on the scence urban district no longer town life takes over two differant worlds and ways of life again new wine in good old wine bottles are a reciepy for disaster yes brownhills has for many years been mauled by other do gooders so make stand now stoke has joined in with the saxon gold no way if there is to be a statue so be it but not on side of the motorway but on the old joe lane stack site this overlooks letocitom the cannock chase walsall and brum and lichfield stating this is brownhiils the hub to the lot on yer god bless

  8. Andy Dennis says:

    Great piece, Bob! I wonder if some readers have missed something?

    It’s odd how administrative boundaries affect people’s lives. There was a post code lottery before we even had post codes. My house began life in Hammerwich, within Lichfield Rural District. I guess that is why I was born at St Michael’s, Lichfield, rather than Sister Dora. Presumably, it is why Mom dragged me on the train to Lichfield when expecting my sister. It then came under Brownhills Urban District, then Aldridge-Brownhills. An then, of course, Walsall and West Midlands. Peripheral areas are always less well cared for, whatever the overall wealth of an area, possible evn in you own back garden, though I think I prefer the periphery of Walsall to that of (say) Burma.

  9. Edwina. says:

    Having lived in Brownhills almost 50 years, i am well aware of what’s what. I love where I live and yes Ade Reid I know where you are talking about. I live there. I have done my bit in my time. I have supported what I could when I could and bought up 3 first class Brownhills people, who are well educated, well mannered and who contribute magnificently to society. I am not apathetic – I am not a moaner, just saying my point of view, think that is what we today might call a democracy, but it’s interesting to see how hot under the collar it makes some people, always up for a scrap the Brownhills folk eh?

    • Edwina, we wouldn’t have you any other way.

      Democracy or not, most people took this post for what it was: a piece of seasonal satire.

      If you don’t wish to be perceived as negative, just be positive occasionally

      Cheers
      Bob

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