Of late, I’ve featured a lot of material here on the blog concerning local schools – this is wonderful, but as I have much more to come, but I thought we’d have a brief break today and feature some of the work of eminent local historian Gerald Reece, author of what has to be the greatest work on Brownhills, ‘A walk in Walk Into History’.
Gerald no longer lives in the area, having long ago decamped to Devon, but his influence on local history here is persistent and very much welcome. Today, I dip into his book to feature his musings on the history of Brownhills Common, which I can see drawing some comment from readers.
It may help if you read the previous work Gerald wrote on coal mining in the area.
I thank Gerald for his devotion to Brownhills and the history thereof; for his years of patient and costly research in days before the internet, and for the warmth, generosity and humility he exudes.
Thank you Gerald. I’m sure that even now, the Brownhills debating society have the kettle on and are warming up. It foes look like rain, after all. I do hope there’s Battenburg.
VIII BROWNHILLS COMMON
At the end of the Racecourse Field is a row of up-ended railway sleepers. These mark the boundary between the private owned lands and the common lands. The word ‘Common’ in this context is misleading, it gives the impression that the lands are open and free for all. This is not so. All Common Lands belong to someone, either to one person or to a collective. Brownhills Common is an ancient tract of waste land. The Rights of Common have been handed down as family heirlooms since Domesday times. The area of the Common is bounded, roughly, by the Chester Road, Engine Lane, The Nature Trail, The Watling Street and the Path, now called the Black Path, that forms the boundary between the Ancient Manors of Little Wyrley and Ogley Hay.
A neck of land joined the Common and the canal wharves where the canal ‘curls’ here. Before the South Staffordshire Railway cut through in 1848 there were horse drawn tramways which connected the wharves to a series of pits and workings on Brownhills Common close to where the Watling Street Schools are now. When the railway came through a large amount of top soil was moved to form an artificial hill enabling the railway to be bridged more easily. Wolverhampton Lane was diverted from its ancient route and divided into two separate roads, now known as the Pelsall and Lichfield Roads.
The Rights of Common belonged to the Lords of the Manor of Little Wyrley. In 1922 Brownhills Urban District Council, looking for areas to convert into recreational and playing fields, approached the Trustees of the Hussey Estate with a view to buying part of Brownhills Common. The Trustees however were not at liberty to sell the land. A clause in the will of Phineas Hussey dated 8th July 1867 stipulated that the lands could only be leased and then only for a period not exceeding 21 years. Brownhills Urban District Council were against spending money on land improvements with no long term guarantee. For the next four years they campaigned for use of the desolate and barren area. The main driving force was Councillor Hyla John Holland. In 1926, in a surprise move, the Board of Agriculture conferred the powers of ownership of Brownhills Common upon Brownhills Urban District Council. It now belongs to all the inhabitants of Brownhills but only as a collective body, no individual has any rights. In 1926 the transformation began, trees were planted and The Parade was built. Holland Park, named after Hyla John, was created.
The workings of the old Bell-Pits were made safe and filled with household waste. These depositories of rubbish are now being unearthed. The refuse of the very poorest of families 65 years ago is now regarded as ‘treasures’ by modem day collectors.
In the 1950’s the Council allowed the excavation of sand and gravel on a section of the Common near to the old Midland Railway Station site. They also gave a belated nod of approval to the carving out of a Cycle Race-way by the youth of the area.
Surrounded by Brownhills Common, but not part of it, is the Hussey Arms Public House. Before the public house was built there was a farm and farm buildings on the site, these belonged to the Caddick family. It appeared as a public house in the 1850’s. Landlords have included:
1861 Elijah S tackhouse, Victualler
1878 John Meeson, bom in America
1888 Joseph Reed
1892 George Fox
1908 William Gwilliam
1926 E.G. Bray
1936 James Follows
1940 George Humpries
Malcolm and Sandra Rudge took over in October 1988.
Very httle documented evidence remains recording The Turks Head public house that stood near to where the Hussey Arms is situated. It was in existence in 1800 and is recorded on Estate Maps of that period. In 1830 the Brownhills Amicable Society, a local miners benefit club, was formed there. Subscriptions were placed in a box, which by tradition had three locks. Benefits were made to members who were unable to work either because of injury or ill health. The saying ‘being on the box’ had a far different meaning before the advent of television. In 1830 the landlord was John Webb. By 1854 Charles Linford had taken over.
My ability to snatch names and dates out of the air have only been made possible by my doing a lot of ground-work first. Having nothing better to do one rainy Sunday afternoon I transcribed the complete National Census Returns for the area covering the years 1841-71. I also made a start on transcribing St. James Parish Records. Having copies of these records has given me a good base for my research. It has also had a spin off effect in that I have been able to assist a number of people in the research of their family trees.