This map extract from 1814 shows the Cradley area and it identifies parts of the town such as Drew's Forge, Two Gates, Homer Hill, Netherend, Lodge Forge, Colman's Hill and The Park, the latter being the wooded area in the middle on which the Tanhouse Estate was built in the 1960's. Though two centuries old, the map has some validity today as many locals could identify the place that they know as modern Cradley. The road layout is pretty much the same and the localities remain in place and retain some of their unique identity. Moreover, Cradley still remains on the edge of the countryside. The bottom third of the map has hardly changed in 200 years.
Although I grew up in Cradley Heath, I have collected a decent number of old images of Cradley and I have spent many years pottering around the locality on my bicycle so I am fairly familiar with the place and many of the changes to the landscape. This photograph of three children is one of the oldest images I have seen of Cradley. The little urchins look slightly undernourished and quite filthy. I realise that children all over the industrial areas of Britain led similar lives to these kids, but there is something about the photograph that reveals what conditions were like for those growing up in Cradley during the late 19th century. Most folks were poor and struggled to get by. Just look at the footwear they have on their feet. It looks as though they have been sent out on some errands or to collect some materials for the fire.
The photograph of the three children may have been taken by the wall of the graveyard looking up towards Homer Hill House. It is possibly the building seen at the top of the hill in the image of Homer Hill Colliery [below]. The photographer of this evocative image was positoned near Lyde Green at a place known as Lane's End. This is roughly where the railway bridge is today and where the tubs were brought down an incline to be loaded onto waggons. The occupier of the house in the late 19th century was Richard Turnley, a Romsley-born colliery clerk who was engaged at Homer Hill Colliery. He had previously worked at Withymoor, another mining area and from where his wife Elizabeth originated. The term 'clerk' is something of a misnomer for Richard Turnley was more of a manager and did rather well for himself.
Homer Hill is thought to be named after the Halmer family who settled in Cradley and worked as blacksmiths. However, there could be something in the fact that, during the late 17th century, a William Hollmer of Cradley was a churchwarden at Halesowen. It is also interesting to note that a Joseph Benjamin Homer once lived in The Chapel House. Indeed, when the Church of St. Peter first opened as a chapel, the Homer family had one of two pews next to the communion table.
Homer Hill Colliery opened in 1865 and when operated by Samuel Evers & Sons, of Cradley Iron Works, there was a disaster in November 1867 in which twelve miners lost their lives following an explosion of gas. Many more colliers were burned and injured in the tragedy that, following several inquests held in local public houses, was blamed on an individual rather than the dangerous operating conditions in which the men toiled. It is thought that there was insufficient wooden supports and a roof collapsed which released the flood of gas that was subsequently set alight. Including the manager named Foley, there were around 45 men and boys beneath the ground at the time of the roof collapsing. The cage was damaged in the explosion and it took up to two hours to get the men to the surface. Hundreds of people flocked to the scene where the injured men were attended by local surgeons.
Homer Hill Colliery was in operation until 1928. It was one of several coal mines in Cradley. The Hayes Colliery was opened some 30 years before Homer Hill but ceased production around the same time. Coal working at several small mines collectively known as Netherend Colliery was another early 19th enterprise that lasted until the mid-1920's. The Cradley Park Colliery remained in use until the following decade. A little further south was the Oldnall Colliery which produced coal until 1944. Operating until 1958, the last mine to close in Cradley was the Beech Tree Colliery close to the Why Not Inn. There were other short-lived collieries such as Hill Bank, Maypole and Lydefield.
This photograph of St. Peter's Church was taken from a position close to Homer Hill House. Note the industry in the Stour valley. The most obvious difference in this image and later photographs is the church tower. Colloquially known as "The Pepperpot," the turret was added to the old tower when the building was restored in 1875. It only lasted until the early 1930's when the Dudley architects, Webb and Gray, recommended its removal in order to maintain the integrity of the tower. Cracks had started to appear in the structure, a result of the coal mining in the locality.
St. Peter's Church has its origins in a Countess of Huntingdon Chapel that was originally sited in Butcher's Lane. The bricks of that building were used to lay the foundations of a 'new' chapel on the present site. Designed by the architect Mark Jones, the chapel opened for worship in 1791. By the end of the 18th century the chapel was taken over by the established church. Thomas Best, the founder of the chapel, became the first perpetual curate. The chapel was dedicated to St. Peter in June 1898.
The Rev. Ronald John Beresford Irwin, a former curate of St. Peter's Church was decorated for heroic conduct in "tending and rescuing wounded officers and men under heavy fire" during World War One. Already a recipient of the Military Cross in January 1916, he was presented with a bar later in that year. The former Cradley curate was appointed a chaplain with the Indian Expeditionary Force in 1914. He was educated at Keble College, Oxford and ordained in 1905. He served for three years as curate of Alnwick before moving to Cradley. In India he was chaplain at Benares, Allahabad, and Lucknow. He was also awarded the Distinguished Service Order. In 1922 he was appointed Vicar of Lillington and was the first Archdeacon of Dorking before he died in 1930, his passing being attributed to wounds he suffered in the First World War.
St. Peter's Church, sans turret, can be seen here in this post-war photograph showing the Baptist Chapel that once stood close to the corner of Blue Ball Lane. The origins of this chapel go back to 1798 when a dozen members of the former independent chapel rejected the absorption into the Church of England. They first held meetings and services in houses around Cradley. Two cottages were later converted into a place of worship that opened in 1803. The chapel was the scene of an ugly fight in 1889 when two factions clashed and the police were called in. The building seen here was designed by the architect Albert Thomas Butler who, in Edwardian times, was based in Cradley Heath. Costing some £3,000 the chapel was built in the Renaissance style utilising brick and terracotta. The congregation dwindled in the 20th century and, with a building that could accommodate 450 people, there were just 17 members in 1979 when this fine edifice was demolished.
This was another chapel that provided a notable chaplain in war years. Pastor Robert Knox-Wylie served as a pastor to General Montgomery's troops and was awarded the MBE. He returned to Cradley after the war but later volunteered to serve as chaplain in the Korean War.
Cradley Baptists later moved to the former British Schools building in Church Lane. This can be accessed on foot by walking through the New Gardens - seen here around 1919 before the War Memorial was erected some nine years later. A bandstand was also dedicated in 1928 but this has since been removed. There was an earlier act of remembrance at Cradley when an avenue of lime trees were planted in 1922 with an oak cross at the top of the walk in the 'new' churchyard. Each of the trees were dedicated to Cradley individuals who lost their lives during the conflict.
Chain and nail-making were key industries at Cradley. Nail making was largely a cottage industry and many Cradley townsfolk were engaged in this trade until the mid-19th century. It was from around 1830 that machinery replaced human endeavour. Nailmaker's who could not compete with the lower prices that automation brought, turned their hands to making chain. It is thought that, by the end of the Victorian period, 90% of all the chain workshops in England and Wales were located at Cradley, Cradley Heath, Old Hill, Quarry Bank and Netherton. By the end of the Edwardian period, there were an estimated 3,500 people toiling away in the chain trade in Cradley and Cradley Heath.
Most chain shops were small outhouse buildings at the rear of a house though, in some cases, they were grouped in yards where people toiled in notoriously squalid conditions. The hot sweaty work necessitated sending a runner to the local tavern to fetch jugs of ale for hydration.
In addition to small chain shops, there were a number of small and medium-sized chain factories dotted around Cradley. Only a few of these buildings have survived, and some are not in their original locations but preserved in museums! The photograph above is not in Cradley but actually in Cradley Heath but it is an important historical image showing the inside of a chain shop in the early Edwardian period. The scene is typical of the work conducted in the Cradley area. This particular chain shop is that of Harry Stevens Limited, a firm based in Oak Street between Reddal Hill and Newtown. The men and women were probably glad of a short break in production to pose for this photograph. Based on this image, it would appear that the company specialised in small chain - not that the labour involved was less strenuous. It is interesting to note that all of the women are very young. Women made up almost two-thirds of the chainmaking workforce.
The proliferation of chain shops amid the dense housing in the heart of Cradley resulted in heavy stamping forming the soundscape for local residents. One of the largest chain works was that of Jones & Lloyd Co. Ltd., a firm founded by Joseph and William Rock in 1837. The company had a 'Lower' Shop in the High Street, close to Lyde Green and a 'Middle' shop near to the Black Swan public house where heavy chain was produced. The company had a 'Top' Shop at High Town. The Old Crown on the corner of Intended Street was this chain shop's local watering hole and benefited from thirsty chainmakers seeking refreshment. The Top Shop, or Scotia Works, was also where the firm's offices were located. The chain shop closed in 1969 and was dismantled and moved to the Avoncroft Museum near Bromsgrove.
More on Cradley to follow VERY SOON!
"On Friday, at the Asylum at Powick. Mr. W. P. Hughes held an inquest touching
the death of Ellen Chambers, aged 24, a patient in the Asylum, and the wife of
James Chambers, of Colley Gate, Cradley. The evidence of Dr. E. M. Cooke,
medical superintendent at the asylum, was to the effect that deceased was
received there as a patient in March last, suffering from melancholia and
extreme depression of spirits. She continued in the same condition up to the
time of her death. She generally employed herself usefully during the day, and
was extremely quiet, giving no anxiety beyond the perpetual trouble of seeing
that she did not make away with herself. Since her admission into the Asylum she
made at least one attempt on her life, by trying to strangle herself with a
skein of cotton. She was constantly watched, and on Wednesday week she seemed in
her usual state. The next day, shortly after seven o'clock, Dr. Cooke received
an urgent message from the assistant medical officer, Mr. Doughty, to the effect
that a woman had cut her throat. He was on the spot in about 10 minutes, and
found the deceased in the lavatory of her ward, covered with blood and quite
dead, with a gash in her throat sufficient to account for death. The order was
that deceased should not go out of the sight of an attendant. Jane Phipps, a
female attendant, stated that deceased was in the ward of which she had charge.
From the time deceased made the former attempt upon her life greater precautions
were taken in looking after her. She got up as usual yesterday week at six
o'clock, and having dressed, she was taken to the lavatory to be washed. She was
subsequently removed from the lavatory by a nurse, named Florence Woodward, to a
gallery adjoining the ward. Witness went to look after deceased to take her to
breakfast, and going to the lavatory found her in a chair, bleeding from the
throat, with the iron scraper produced in her hand. The scraper was covered with
blood. It was an instrument used for scraping the old whitewash off the walls in
the ward in which deceased was located, and was locked up safe on the previous
Monday. Witness could not say how deceased got the scraper, or how she got to
the lavatory. She had told Woodward to look after deceased, as she was called
away to perform other duties. Mr. J. H. Doughty, assistant medical officer, who
was first called to the deceased, said she was partly conscious when he arrived,
but died in two or three minutes. The Jury found that the deceased destroyed
herself while of unsound mind."
"The East Worcestershire coroner received information on Saturday of the
death of George Felton, of Colley Gate, The deceased had been employed at Lord
Dudley's Saltwells Collieries as a loader, and when engaged in a gate road the
roof fell in on top him, inflicting shocking injuries. He was extricated as
speedily as possible, but, although the colliers rendered first aid with
considerable skill, he died on being taken to the pit top.
"On Thursday, a court martial, consisting of Lieut. Homfray [president],
Sergeants Bloxham and Macdonald, and Corporals Webb and Smith, was held at the
Halesowen, to investigate a charge preferred by Joseph Southall, a
horse-nailmaker, Colley Gate, against privates George Potter, Alfred Webb and
Joseph Gill, for firing their rifles into his cottage on their return home from
a review at
Wolverley, on the 10th June. From the evidence for the prosecution, it
appeared that about ten o'clock on the night in question a rifle barrel was
pointed through the window bars of complainant's shop, and fired, shaking and
smothering the place. Southall and two other men ran out, and saw prisoners
running away. They caught Potter, who pointed his rifle at them, and used
profane language when accused of the charge; the other prisoners ran away. Two
other shots were heard while the prisoners were running away, one being, as
described by witness, fired by one the prisoners just previous to his running
down an entry. Potter denied the charge, as did Webb and Gill, who said they
left Potter and went home, admitting, however, that they heard a shot fired.
Samuel Pillow, a member of the corps, admitted having heard a shot fired. He saw
the prisoners Potter and Webb running towards him and Gill, and they all ran
away together, Gill firing his rifle off in his own yard. John Meredith, bugler,
proved the examination of the small pouches of the men but not of the larger
pouches. He admitted seeing two rifles discharged on the road home, but he did
not know for certain who the men were. At the conclusion of the case the court
was cleared for the officers to "find," which will have to be communicated to
the commanding officer and he in due course will make known his decision.
"Private W. Wapp, son of Mr. and Mrs. Wapp, Furlong Lane, Cradley, who had
been awarded the Military Medal, is 20 years old, and has been with the colours
nearly two years. He was formerly with Mr. H. Tate, butcher, of Colley Gate and
was a popular member of local clubs. Another Cradley soldier to win the Military
Medal recently is Private Walter Williams, of the Worcesters, son of Mr. and
Mrs. Williams, High Street, Cradley. In his case the award was made for
signalling in the open in front of the German lines for three hours. He is 22
years of age, and joined the Army in March, 1916.
"At the inquest at Cradley on Monday, on Harry Price , of Colley Gate, who
died as the result of a blow on the temple from a cricket ball on Saturday, a
verdict of "accidental death" was recorded.
Stourbridge Police Court, on Friday, Peter Boxley, chainmaker, Colley Gate,
Cradley, was brought np on remand on the charge of attempting to murder his
wife, Mary Ann Boxley, on the 7th inst. The prisoner's conduct in the dock went
to confirm the statements which had been made as to his insanity, and his wife
gave her evidence with the most evident reluctance, her statement being, indeed,
a negative one as to any incrimination of her husband. She said her husband and
herself were in bed at one o'clock on the morning of the 7th of June, when he
got up and left the room, and on his return he touched her on the shoulder. She
was frightened, but would not say why, and went into her daughter's room. Her
husband followed her. She felt something cut her hand, and she was also cut on
the shoulder. She did not know what her husband had in his hand, only that it
was something which cut. She denied having told anyone she saw a razor in her
husband's hand. She could not tell how the cuts were caused. She could not tell
what took place owing to fright. Her husband had been strange during the day,
and for some time before. Her husband did not say a word to her. He never
threatened her - there was never a kinder father or husband till he became
strange. She had not had any quarrel with him. James Boxley, son of the accused,
said he was in bed on the morning of the 7th when something caused him to get
up, and he went into his sister's room. His father and mother were there. He
laid hold of his father. He did so because his father had hold of his mother. He
denied seeing anything in his father's hand. He did not know what his father was
doing to his mother. He heard screaming before he went into the room. He did not
see any razor or implement in the room. There was no light. Witness was cut on
the leg; he could not tell what with. He did not know how it happened, or who
did it. The Bench : Do you really intend to tell us you don't know who did it?
Was your mother likely to do it? No. Was your sister likely to do it? No. The
questions stopped at this point, and the Bench consulted together as to the
course to be taken in the face of the absence of direct evidence against the
prisoner and of his mental state. The case stood over, with a view to the
attendance of the parochial medical officer to certify as to prisoner's insanity