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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.