Some history of Villa Street
Although Villa Street has pretty much retained its original line and length, there is nothing left of the old days - it's all gone. The thoroughfare which lies in both Hockley and Lozells is now lined with modern housing. The oldest section of the thoroughfare possibly dates from the 1820s when land was being auctioned off in the 'improving neighbourhood of The Lozells.' However, early building work continued throughout the 1830s and 1840s. Many of the neighbouring were laid out by William Wills and George Barker, two of which were named after them. This created issues for the early residents of the northern part of the thoroughfare which was in Aston rather than Birmingham. People were being charged rates but the street, privately owned and not belonging to a corporation, was not maintained or cleaned to the same degree as those living in Hockley.
As for the Villa name, well, the thoroughfare continued northwards along George Street and emerged close to Villa Cross, a junction formed by Heathfield Road, Villa Road and Lozells Road. The junction was probably named after a large house named Aston Villa and erected close to this junction. The earliest mention I have seen of Aston Villa is a newspaper article dated 1826. Aston Villa School, in the parish of Handsworth, was also mentioned in 1826. However, the name of Aston Villa only seems to have appeared on the Ordnance Survey from 1834. Some forty years later, Aston Villa Football Club was formed at the Methodist Church on the corner of George Street and Lozells Road.
Some of the houses erected at the Lozells end of the thoroughfare were erected for the upper echelons of the working class or, indeed, some middle class people. When Mr. Oxenbould decided to sell his property in 1849 the advertisement for his 'genteel cottage residence' showed his house to be well appointed. The cottage contained two parlours, kitchen, pantry, brewhouse, dry cellaring, and a suitable number of bedrooms. The property also featured a coach-house, stable and other out-buildings, along with a large garden.
Once the dust had settled in the locality, Villa Street commenced at Bridge Street West and followed a northerly route across Farm Street, past Hunter's Vale, across Nursery Terrace [later named Nursery Road] and ended at Wills Street where the Angel Inn stood on the corner of George Street. The below photograph was taken from outside the Victoria Inn on the corner of Guest Street and Bridge Street West.
A church was erected at the southern end of Villa Street, on the corner of Bridge Street. Saint Saviour's Church was consecrated on Friday May 2nd, 1874 by the Bishop of Worcester. The local newspaper reporters described the new structure as 'an unpretentious sructure but admirably adapted to the purpose for which it had been erected.' Saint Saviour's Church was designed in the Gothic style by J. A. Chatwin and the work was undertaken by Mr. W. Partridge of Monument Lane. The cost of construction was £5,200.
The church was built of brick with stone columns to the nave arcade, and stone traceried windows. The church consisted of a nave, north and south aisles and apsidal chancel. At the west end of the building there was a tower and spire rising to a height of 120ft, the spire being constructed of wood and slate. There was a small organ chamber and vestries in the north side of the chancel. The nave arcades consisted of five arches, each of the pillars supporting them having carved capitals. There were five large windows in each of the aisles, and further light was secured by a row of clerestory windows. At the time of construction there was accommodation for 600 adults in open seats, all of which were free.
Some local notables contributed to the fixtures and fittings. For example, Mrs. Dickenson of Birchfield provided for the pulpit. Mr. Peter Hollins paid for the font and Mrs. Bradley donated the communion table, the cloth, chairs and oak communion rails, with two standards. Mr. and Mrs. T. B. Wright presented the brass lectern and a clock was presented by Mrs. Pinnington. The Reverend M. Parker was nominated the first vicar of the church. At the consecration service there was a crowded congregation, and a large attendance of clergy, most of whom retired to Saint Matthias's schoolroom for a luncheon. Indeed, the parish was assigned out of that of St Matthias. The church closed in the early 1960s and the parish was united with St Silas's Church at Lozells.
Street Scenes in Villa Street
This photograph shows Villa Street Post Office that was located on the south-eastern corner of the junction with Nursery Road. This was not however the original location of the Villa Street Post Office. In April 1893 the old post office at No.156 Villa Street, near Wills Street, was offered at auction. The business was then run by Mr. Rogers, a local grocer and postmaster. The hosier Thomas Allsop took over at No.156. At that time these premises on the corner of Nursery Road was a bakery run by Henry Stephens. The Powick-born baker had operated the business for many years. He had lived in the locality for a generation, but during the Edwardian period he and his wife Emily upped sticks and took on a farm in the village of his birth - not that the family relinquished interest in this shop for it started to trade as Henry Stephens & Sons. To the right of the Post Office in this photograph there is a gate leading to Singleton & Son, packing case manufacturers. This firm had been operating here for a good many years - they were listed here during the Second World War. I assume they occupied some or all of the building once dedicated to the bakery. The post office seemed to move around a bit. During the war it was next door to the Crown Inn at No.93.
In capturing this image, the photographer would have been stood in the middle of Villa Street close to the aforementioned bakery. This is the junction with Nursery Road and the camera is pointing north up Villa Street. The Crown Inn would be to the left of the photographer. The houses on the eastern side of Villa Street all appear to have a small front garden enclosed by iron railings or wooden picket fences. The mature trees probably date from the period when Villa Street was laid out. The houses on the western side of the street are closer to the road though some still have a modest garden. A few doors up on the left is a shop that, during the 1940s, was occupied by the drapers Hands & Whitcroft.
In this close-up view of the previous image we can see the lorry parked up in Villa Street. If I am honest I was hoping that it was a brewery dray making a delivery to the Vine Inn. However, the lorry is parked a little further down the hill and there is no way the draymen were going to park where they would have to roll 36 gallon barrels up the slope! The lanterns of the Vine Inn can be seen a short distance up the hill.
An outdoor licence was granted to William Gumbley at No.130 Villa Street in July 1877.
Have Your Say
If you would like to share any further information on Villa Street - perhaps you drank in one of the pubs in the past? Or maybe knew a previous publican running one of the boozers? Whatever the reason it would be great to hear of your stories or gossip. Simply send a message and I'll post it here.
Related Newspaper Articles
"A shocking case of non-interment of a dead body has been brought to light in a court in Villa Street, Hockley, just outside the borough
boundary. In a two-roomed house, in an entry from Villa Street running alongside of Hockley Brook, there has resided for the past nine months an old man named William
Owen, a japanner by trade, and formerly working for an employer in Exeter Row. Previous to his taking this house he was the tenant of a small dwelling in Hunter's Vale,
which is situate in the same locality. Although his circumstances for a long time have been very straitened, and he has been obliged to accept the succour of charitable
neighbours, he has always maintained a strict reserve, and manifested great unwillingness to allow anyone to enter his door. One or two people, however, became aware of
his possessing a huge wooden chest, and it has been freely gossiped that there was some mystery connected with it. Latterly he has been in a very destitute condition,
and a few days since he allowed the confession to leak out that the chest contained the body of his sister, who died twenty years ago. The matter was reported by the
district visitor to the Rev. C. G. Baskerville, vicar of St. Silas's, Lozells, who in turn communicated with Mr. Armstrong, relieving officer of the district. On
Tuesday evening Mr. Armstrong visited Owen, and the latter corroborated the report, but it was not till yesterday that it was verified by an actual examination of the
chest, which was made by some neighbours and the police, who broke into the house after Owen had left, in accordance with Mr. Armstrong's recommendation, to seek
admission to the workhouse at Gravelly Hill. The house was in a very filthy condition, and contained but few articles of furniture, its principal contents being five
rickety chairs, a small table, a heap of rags upstairs, which served Owen for a bed, and the mysterious chest. The latter, which stood against the wall of the downstairs
room on the side opposite the door, was a roughly constructed wooden case, fastened with nails, and having been at some former time bound with iron strip. Upon a portion
of the lid being forced open, the box was found to contain a quantity of shavings and a metallic air-tight coffin, a glass panel in which showed the shrunken and
blackened lineaments of the corpse, According to Owen's statement to the relieving officer - and it is confirmed by a registrar's certificate which he had in
his possession - the deceased woman, Ellen Perry, died in the Islington Workhouse in November, 1863, aged between sixty and seventy years. As she had before her death
expressed great abhorrence of being buried by the parish, Owen, who was then at work in London, claimed the body, and upon his providing the metallic coffin, for which he
paid £3. 5s., it was given up to him. Some other relatives were residing in Birmingham, whom Owen expected would share the cost of a proper interment, and he
accordingly arranged to bring the body to Birmingham for burial. He got a friend to make the wooden chest, and as the railway charge for the removal was too heavy, he got
the coffin brought to Birmingham by road, at a cost of £3. On reaching Birmingham the relatives whom he expected to assist him failed to do so, and having no further
means himself he took the coffin to the house in Hunter's Vale, determining to keep it as long as he lived. For nearly twenty years, as before stated, he remained at
the house, and it is said that for fifteen years no one but himself entered his doors. He did his own washing, locked his house door when away at work, and engaged no one
to do any cleaning. About five years ago the property was sold, and the nosy landlord insisted on entering Owen's house. It was found to be in a wretched state. The
eccentric tenant had evidently used one of the bedrooms as a living room as well as a sleeping room, and the mysterious box was placed in the kitchen. The box was then
bound up with hoop-iron, but since its removal to Villa Street Owen has been so impoverished that he has taken off the iron bands and sold them, it is believed, to
purchase food. After the landlord had practically forced an entrance into the house at Hunter's Vale, Owen became a little more sociable, or, as the neighbours put it,
'civilised.' He associated a little with the neighbours, and sometimes spoke of his relations, particularly his dead sister. On one occasion, before leaving
Hunter's Vale, a woman who had been in his house asked him what the "big box" contained, as she felt sure there must be something peculiar in it. He gave an
evasive reply, and, though the question was put several times afterwards, he never gratified the curiosity of his interrogator. When he left Hunter's Vale for the
court in Villa Street, about nine months ago, he asked two men to help him to remove the box. One of the men, puzzled by the weight of the box, asked in a jocular way
whether he would give it him for a coffin. Owen seemed very confused on hearing the remark, and said. "They would know what was inside some day." Statements are
freely made by the neighbours as to smells which have been noticed proceeding from Owen's house, but the body appears to have been so carefully enclosed that if there
were such smells they were due to some other cause. The coffin was removed last evening by the parish undertaker, and the body will be interred at Aston in due
"Ghastly Discovery in Villa Street"
Birmingham Daily Post : January 10th 1884 Page 4