The way of the Sons of Waetla

The Watling Street has a huge history. Image from my 365days archive.

As I’m still catching up, I thought today might be a good time to feature the writings of an old pal of the blog, Gerald Reece, and his musings on the A5 Watling Street, Newtown, Knaves Castle and the pubs thereabouts.

The A5 Watling Street is, along with the Chester Road, the backbone of Brownhills, and almost the dividing line between us and Staffordshire. It’s a road of antiquity and great history, and I think much in this article will be a talking point.

The original article is 100% the work of Gerald Reece and I salute his work, and in light of the fact that Gerald has stated his work is unlikely to be reissued, coupled with the rarity of the book, I like to share his work here from time to time. Remember, this stuff was all written and researched in a time before the internet. It remains inspirational.

Please, if you see a copy of ‘Brownhills A Walk Into History’ – buy it sharpish. I paid a several multiples of the cover price but it’s well worth the money. It remains the best work on Brownhills ever written.

If you have anything to say, please do – comment here, ping me on social media or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com.

The below film taken by Fred Shingler and subsequently shared by Barbara via David Evans originally featured in this article here, shows many of the pubs Gerald mentions in his article, and was taken as the dual carriageway was created.

Gerald wrote:

XVII WATLING STREET

It is now the belief of many historians that the section of the Watling Street that runs through Brownhills was in existence long before the Romans used it as their invasion route into North Wales. The Anglo-Saxons called the road ‘the way of the Sons of Waetla’. The same term that they used to describe the Milky Way constellation.

Across the canal, on the south side of the Watling Street is the site of Knaves Castle. In 1850 it was described as ‘a small tumulus, inclosed within three ditches, the entrance is on the south side, it has been hollowed on the top’. What it really was we can only speculate. Learned guesses include:

  • A Neolithic burial mound
  •  A Roman guard house
  • The tomb of a boy or servant (Knave)
  • A Castrum Aestivum (Summer Fort)
  • A Roman encampment

Situated as it was on a hill overlooking the junction of three main trading routes, i.e. Watling Street, Coventry Road and Ironstone Road, my personal theory is that it was a Roman fortified guard house. Whatever it was we will never know for sure. The site was sold in 1902 as a building plot. The mound and ditches were levelled.

The original Freeth Bridge was built in 1849. It was named after John Freeth, Clerk of the Birmingham Canal Navigation Company. His position of Clerk was far removed from the pen-pusher we often associate with that title. He was a brilliant administrator and finance controller. He joined BCN in 1789 and remained with them until 1844. During his 55 year career he became the driving force in BCN’s progress. It was he who realised the potential of having the Wyrley and Essington Canal Company as partners and not as rivals. He was responsible for the subsequent merger of the two companies in April 1840. The merger brought the BCN use of Cannock Chase Reservoir. Previous to this they were having to buy water for topping up their Canal System from the Wyrley and Essington Canal Company, an expense of £3,000 per year.

I have found little information about the Walsh Harp Inn – the coaching inn that stood near to Knaves Castle at the junction of the Watling Street Road, the Old Coventry Road and the Ironstone Road. It was situated near to where the shops now stand opposite Deakin Avenue. The Inn would have been an important transit point for travellers up until the mid 18th century. It is fully mentioned in the Perambulation of the Bounds of Little Wyrley in 1743.

Original drawing by Gerald Reece.

A reference to its demise was made by W.H. Duignan, the Walsall historian, in an article in 1896. He wrote: ‘The Walsh (Welsh) Harp was closed, on account of waning traffic, about 1790, and the business transferred.

Prince of Wales, 98 Watling Street.

1908: S. Page
1914: W.A. Norris
1940: Mrs. Mary Prior
1986: Bob and Sue Greaves

White Horse, White Horse Road.

1861: Samuel Bickley
1914: G.H. Perks
1936: Arthur Preston
1940: Frank Atkinson

At the corner of Deakin Avenue and Watling Street stood Fox’s Row and the Anglesey Arms public house. Joseph Fox came to Brownhills from Rushall in 1841 he worked as a miner and lodged with Isaiah Craddock and his family in Ogley Hay. In 1851 he had a wife named Eliza and he was working as a provision dealer. In 1855 he had moved to the Watling Street where he is described as a shopkeeper and publican at the Anglesey Arms, 83, Watling Street. He was one of the landlords taken to court in 1858 and he was fined 7/6d for having short measures and defective scales. He died in the 1860’s and his wife remarried, a man twenty years her junior called Thomas Crisp. They lived at the Anglesey Arms for two years, they then sold up and moved next door into Fox’s Row. The Public House was taken over by William Turner from West Bromwich.

1878: Joseph Scott
1892: William Teece
1914: Thomas Yates
1926: Wallace J. Shingler
1940: Anker Brookes

The Lamb Inn stood at 119 Watling Street.

1861: Thomas Bates
1878: Joseph Whittingham
1880: Charles Harrington
1888: Jeremiah Craddock
1908: Thomas Forth
1914: J.R. Williams
1926: E. Prior

The Queens Head Public House stood on the comer of The Fault and Watling Street.

1888: John Mallard
1892: Thomas Wood
1900: Miss Maud Norris. She kept the pub for over 30 years.

The Queens Head was finally closed in 1966. The last landlord, Edwin Collis, was asked to quit and dehver up possession of the property by 10.00 am on Monday, the Twelfth day of December 1966.

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4 Responses to The way of the Sons of Waetla

  1. alvin cox says:

    brilliant history

  2. Kay Torné says:

    Fantastic history. Very interesting to read about the area I grew up
    In.

  3. andkindred says:

    Copy of Brownhills A Walk Into History available via Alibris – https://www.alibris.co.uk/booksearch?keyword=Brownhills+A+Walk+Into+History&mtype=B&hs.x=33&hs.y=16&hs=Submit – £30, though.

  4. David Evans says:

    HI Bob
    Gerald’s work is totally captivating and we are indebted to him for all the time and patient research he put in to his work. He is also a true gentleman who I have had the honour of meeting.
    kind regards
    David

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