Over on Facebook over the weekend, there was a passing question about the derivation of Barracks Lane, a name that’s puzzled many interested in local history, since there’s scant evidence of much military activity in Brownhills, particularly not at Springhill and Warrenhouse, where the lane runs.
We’ve speculated on that before, mainly in post comments, and I tend to side with the explanation posited by Kate Cardigan of Lichfield Lore that it’s most likely from Hay Barracks, as the barn at Warrenhouse, where the veterinary hospital is today, is possibly one of the oldest buildings in the area and suggests a long history of agriculture and hay production there.
This set me thinking that Brownhills does have a strong military history, and indeed, a military tradition that endures to this day, as my last post here shows, but apart from Soldiers once stationed on the common at Brownhills as documented here, we’ve never done much about it.
I remembered that Brownhills historian and old pal of the blog Sir Gerald of Reece (hello if you’re reading mate) had written about the Brownhills Militia and later history in his book ‘Brownhills a walk into history’, published in 1996.
I thought this might be a good time to include that here.
I thank Gerald for his work, painstakingly undertaken in a time well before the internet, and am hugely grateful for him allowing me to reproduce it here. Gerald, you’re a gentleman. Thanks.
So grab a brew, pull up a comfy seat, and read up… Comments, observations? Feel free – comment here or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Thanks.
In 1859 Napoleon III was making threats and in true patriotic fashion the civil population of Britain declared themselves ready to fight for Queen and Country. A call went out for volunteers to muster to the Flag. 40 Volunteer Companies were formed in Staffordshire alone. The 22nd Brownhills Company of the Staffordshire Volunteer Corps was formed on 17 April 1860. The 40 Companies were formed into Battalions. The 22nd Brownhills Company was initially designated to the 2nd Battalion but because this was over strength they were placed in the 5th battalion, Staffordshire Rifle Volunteers. At its inception the 22nd Company had the following officers:-
Captain John Harrison Hon. Chaplain Rev. Thomas Jackson
Lieut. W. B. Harrison Hon. Asst. Surgeon J.C. Blackford
Ensign R.N. Boyd
Company Strength of Brownhills Volunteers 76
The Staffordshire Rifle Volunteers were the first County Volunteer force in the Country to adopt a uniform uniform. Dark Grey Melton jacket5 and trousers. The jacket had dark green facings for the collar and cuffs. A practical type of uniform and without any of the fashionable ornate braidings.
In 1860 The Staffordshire Rifle Association was formed. To assist in giving permanence to the Volunteer Corps and to promote shooting throughout the County’. The Brownhills rifle range was situated on the south side of the Chase Reservoir. It was constructed as a full military range with butts close to waters edge and firing points at 100 yards intervals back to a 600 yard point. In 1861/62 and 1863 the annual Staffordshire County Rifle Championships took place here.
Volunteers for all over the county were mustered for their summer camp. The event usually lasted for four days, the Volunteers sleeping out under canvas on Norton Common. Events sometimes got a little out of hand and ‘War Games’ are reported to have taken place between local miners and the volunteers in the neighbouring Public Houses.
In 1880 the Battalions of the Staffordshire Rifle Volunteers were reformed. The 22nd Brownhills Company joined the 3rd Consolidated Battalion. Its officers at that time were:-
Captain Alfred F.J. Fisher
Sub Lieut. E. Joberns
Surgeon David Edgar Finn
Chaplain Rev. C.B. Walton
Vicar Rev. Cierlans Bailey
In 1883 the Staffordshire Rifle Volunteers were upgraded into a Line Regiment. The Brownhills Company were retitled. The 22nd Brownhills Company of the 2nd Volunteer Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment. They wore the badges shown below.
The badges of the 22nd Brownhills Company. Images from original text.
In 1907 The Territorial & Reserve Forces Act changed the Volunteers into Territorials. In 1908 the 2nd Volunteer Battalion became the 5th South Staffordshire Regiment Territorial Force. In March 1915 the 5th became part of the Staffordshire Division of the 46th (North Midland) Division. They were the first fully territorial formation to be sent to the War in France. After the War the Volunteer Force was disbanded in September 1919.
The men of Brownhills were never short in coming forward in times of war. The Memorial Hall in Lichfield Road was built by public subscription in 1926 as a tribute to the men of the town who were killed in the 1914-18 War. After the 1939-45 War another brass plaque heralded more sacrifices. My father’s name is engraved upon it.
Even then we were proud to do our bit. As youths we joined the Army or Air Force Cadets and met in huts at the rear of the Fire Station. This stood where the Police Station is now in Chester Road North. Next to the Fire station was Woodbine Terrace, a row of terraced houses with Taylor’s Shop and Cafe situated at the end. I mention Woodbine Terrace in the Military context for it was here that Tom Sedgewick lived. Tom had been a soldier in the 1939 – 45 Classic and had spent time as a prisoner of war. He was CO. of the Army Cadets and by his example and leadership many young men of the area gained valuable personal and spiritual guidance. It is with pride that I include the photograph of Tom receiving The Colours of the South Staffordshire Army Cadet Force outside the National Schools in Church Road in May 1953. In the Colour Escort is Ron Bould, Bill Wright and A.N. Other.
In 1958 I carried on the tradition of military service and I enlisted in the Royal Marines for 9 years. I served overseas with several Commando Units and I saw ‘action’ in Borneo and Brunei. I earned my medals and I came home.