Some history on Smethwick in the County of Staffordshire
Smethwick is rather unusual in that it is only a few kilometres from Birmingham but Brummies do not think of it as Brum. And whilst it borders West Bromwich and Oldbury, those living in the Black Country reckon it is too Brummie to be part of their region. Consequently, it is stuck in the middle and seemingly unloved by its neighbours.
When the historian and poet Michael Raven published a comprehensive book on the towns and places of Staffordshire it did not mention Smethwick. Look in Victorian and Edwardian trade directories for the county and you will find that they often lumped Smethwick in the volumes for Birmingham.
Smethwick was originally a township within the ancient parish of Harborne which lay to the south. I guess being part of somewhere else is where it all went wrong in terms of identity. A rough guide to the dividing line between Harborne and Smethwick was the ancient road connecting Birmingham and Halesowen.
Smethwick did get its own identity in the late Victorian period when it became an urban district in 1894, and a borough in 1899. During the reign of King Edward VII it became a county borough in 1907. However, things went pear-shaped in 1966 it became part of the new Worcestershire county borough of Warley. This situation only lasted for eight years and in 1974 Smethwick formed part of the metropolitan borough of Sandwell.
As for being part of Harborne the links were broken in 1891 when that place became part of the county borough of Birmingham. This resulted in Harborne being transferred from Staffordshire to Warwickshire, leaving Smethwick in Staffordshire. So, never a part of Brum, Smethwick is historically a place in Staffordshire. There are some anomalies which add to the confusion, For example Warley Woods, once part of the urban district of Oldbury in Worcestershire, was transferred to Smethwick in 1928.
This section of the website includes Bearwood. Technically correct, but for the people who reside here, Bearwood has a separate character or identity. This possibly stems from the fact that Bearwood remained fairly rural during the 19th century whilst Smethwick, on low-lying ground, became a centre of heavy industry after the cutting of the canal network and compounded by the arrival of the railways.
This image shows repairs being carried out on the railway line following the storm of July 11th 1927. Heavy rain and hailstones fell on Smethwick for over two hours causing two pools to overflow and flood the streets in the vicinity of the Council House. In addition, the heavy rain caused the soil to subside beneath the railway line near Galton Bridge. Tons of soil fell into the canal below. Large crowds descended on the town in order to witness the extensive damage caused by the freak weather conditions.
This Edwardian photograph was taken in the park at Warley Woods. The turreted drinking fountain can be seen behind this horse and cart. The cart has some vital clues that helped with identification. On the side the signwriter has added "High Class Table Waters." On the front board it has Newman's Stores Edgbaston painted on. Although the lettering of the address is indiscernible, this is almost certainly the cart of John Newman who operated an off-licence and stores at No.9 Rutland Road. Looking closely at a map, the boundary line separating Birmingham and Smethwick passed through the premises. Consequently, the horse rested in a stable in Edgbaston whilst the shop was actually part of Smethwick, a most peculiar oddity of mapping. The business was listed in Birmingham trade directories. In 1901 John Newman lived on the premises with his wife Louisa who hailed from Shoreditch in London. However, within a couple of years they moved the short distance to No.18 Barnsley Road, an address that was completely in Edgbaston. John Newman probably operated the shop as a lock-up. Earlier in his career, the beer retailer was a foreman in an engineering machine tool shop. He and Louisa then lived in Windmill Lane, not far from the Windmill InnWindmill Inn.
"It is our painful duty to record another of those horrible tragedies which have of late unhappily been of too frequent occurrence,
namely, the unnatural destruction of children by their parents. The facts of the case which we are about to detail are these : - a man named Samuel
Johnson, labourer, living at Smethwick, three miles from Birmingham, had been for some time in great distress. On Thursday morning he up about 4 o'clock,
dressed himself, took two of his children out of bed, and carried them down to the back yard, where he tied a rope round the neck of one of them, and strangled
it. He then stabbed the other to the heart, and having accomplished this double murder, hanged himself. Yesterday a highly respectable jury met at the Swan Inn,
Smethwick, to investigate the case. The first witness called was Hannah Webb, who deposed as follows : - I am a widow, and reside in the house next to
that in which Samuel Johnson lived; he was a labourer, and about 40 years of age; his son Benjamin was about nine, and Thomas was about five years of age.
Yesterday morning I got up about six, I went out by the back door to go into the brewhouse; the door of the brewhouse was open. Since the door came off it used
generally to lie against the fireplace, but yesterday morning I found it placed against the doorway and the window shutter closed. When I found the door against the
doorway, I went to the window and looked through it, and there saw the deceased Samuel Johnson hanging by a rope, one end of which was fastened round his neck
and the other to a beam, called the sidepiece, which belongs to the roof; there was a ladder close by him; it was reared against the chimney; he must have
stood upon the ladder to enable him to hang himself. I did not go into the brewhouse, because I was so terrified I was unable; I walked as well as I could into
my own house, and screamed out to my daughter to come downstairs : by the time she came down I had recovered, and then I went to Johnson's house and called
up to Mrs. Johnson; I called to her for God's sake come down, for her husband had hanged himself in the brewhouse. She asked in distracted tone what I
said? I repeated the words : she then came down, and I went into my own house. A man who was passing on the road was called in, and he cut him down, but he
was dead. It was not known at that time that the two children were also dead. When Mrs. Johnson came down to the door she looked round her and cried out "Where
is my child Benjamin?" She then exclaimed "Where is my child Thomas?" Mrs. Johnson then ran up the garden at the back of the house to see if the
children were there, and when she got to the pigsty, she exclaimed "Good God, my children are here!" Several persons ran to her, and on looking found
the two children lying both dead. When I saw them they were both all but naked, the elder boy had on his shirt, and the other his nightgown; Benjamin was lying
on his side, and his mouth appeared full of clay. The father of the children had lived very comfortably with his wife latterly; last winter, when there was no
bread for his children, they used to quarrel a little with each other, but it was very trifling; this used to arise from not having food for their children.
There were five children in all; of late he and his family had been very badly off; he owed, I think, about £5 for rent, to Mrs. Betts, and the night
before he destroyed himself she came into my house and said to me she had been to see Johnson, and told him if he did not pay her before next Monday, or find security,
she would put the bailiffs in the house on Tuesday; he was twice married; his wife used to tell me a good deal about her distress; the five children are
all by his last wife. Saturday morning last there was not a morsel of food in Johnson's house; his wife came to me to ask if I would get her a sixpenny loaf
of bread until her husband came home, and I did so; there was not a huckster in the place who would trust her, because she was badly off. Mary Johnson, wife
of the unfortunate man, was next examined. The poor woman was deeply affected, that she could with difficulty proceed. Her evidence was merely corroborative of the
statements of the preceding witness of the extreme distress to which they were reduced. Her husband was a sober man, and always willing to work. John Keen
Maurice, surgeon, deposed to the deaths of the father and elder boy being caused by strangulation. The younger, Thomas, had two wounds on the left side of the
breast produced by a table fork similar to one produced. There was a wound in the cavity of the heart, sufficient to cause death, and another wound superficial, as
if one prong was longer than the other, which was the case. The state of the lungs also indicated attempt at strangulation. Samuel Croxall, miller, at
Smethwick windmill, examined. I have known the deceased for the last 20 years; but have not seen him for the last six months; I used to think, at times, he
was not altogether in his mind; I have heard him talk very incoherently. The jury consulted for a few minutes, and returned a verdict "That the children
died from strangulation and stabbing, and the father from strangulation, whilst labouring under temporary insanity. The deceased was a native of Harlaston, near
Lichfield. He came to Smethwick about 20 years ago, where he settled as a respectable farmer, and rented, up to about 7 years ago, 20 acres of land from Mr. Reynolds;
owing to reverse of fortune it passed through his hands, and he was reduced to the state of a day-labourer."
"Murder Of Two Children By Their Father"
Birmingham Journal : June 17th 1837 Page 4
"William Williams, of Rabone Lane, Smethwick, was summoned for furious driving. Police-Constable Smith deposed that he saw
the defendant driving at a furious speed along Rolfe Street. Defendant said the pony cost only 22s. 6d., and shied at a piece of paper. [Laughter.] -
Mr. Harding said they should take a lenient view of the case, and fined defendant 5s. and costs."
Smethwick Telephone : June 2nd 1888 Page 3
"Edward Cashmore, machinist, residing in Bolham Road, Smethwick, was summoned for unlawfully assaulting his wife, Mary
Cashmore, on the 19th of May. Mr. Sharpe, who appeared for the complainant, stated that the parties had been married about eight years, and formerly lived
at Coventry. The defendant left Coventry, and came into this district to work. The complainant had several times had occasion to complain of the violence of
her husband, and it appeared to have been a very great grievance to him that she should have followed him. However, she said her proper place was with him. On
the 19th of May he told her it was time she had another thrashing, and at once proceeded to strike her, bruising her about the face and body. In consequence of
his threats she was afraid to live with him. After hearing the evidence, the Magistrates would no doubt consider whether it would be a proper termination of that
case to grant a separation order. The defendant had assured his wife that if she came to live with him he would drive her away. He would behave so badly to her
that she would not be able to live with him. The complainant then gave evidence, bearing out the statements made by her solicitor, and asked the Magistrates to
grant her a separation order. She complained that her husband did not give her sufficient money to keep them. Defendant said she was very extravagant. She spent
the money in buying clothes for herself, instead of purchasing ordinary necessaries. Complainant said that remark was untrue. It was her husband who had been
extravagant, having wasted the money in horse-racing and gambling at clubs, where he had stayed very frequently until two o'clock in the morning. A witness,
who had been for many years a neighbour of the parties, said that the defendant had treated his wife very cruelly. Defendant said it was this woman who had just
given evidence that had caused the mischief, and had got the complainant to apply for a separation order. It was a planned job. Mr. Sharpe : Black eyes are not
a planned job. Defendant : I admit striking her, but it was because she took up the poker to assault him. Complainant denied taking hold of the poker. The
Magistrates fined defendant £1 and costs, or, in default of payment, 21 days; but refused to grant a separation order. Mr. Sharpe : The complainant
can't live with him. The defendant paid the fine, and took charge of their only child, a boy about seven years old."
"Assaulting A Wife"
Smethwick Telephone : June 2nd 1888 Page 3
"Today, at Smethwick, William Howard Beddard , described as an agent, and Mary Beddard , his wife,
of Ledsam Street, Birmingham, were charged with stealing £230., the money of John Davis, of Victoria Street, Smethwick, on various dates. It will be
remembered that a few days ago the prosecutor applied for a warrant at the Police Court at Smethwick, but on that occasion the magistrates refused to grant it. The
matter was however, referred to the police to investigate. As a result of these enquiries. Police Inspector Moss, of Smethwick, arrested the prisoners at their home
last evening. It is alleged that the female prisoner, who claims a relationship by marriage with the prosecutor, was in the habit of visiting his house in company
with her husband, and it was during these visits, it is alleged, that the money was taken. Upon the application of Inspector Moss the accused were remanded until
Monday next, bail being refused."
"Serious Charge at Smethwick"
Birmingham Mail : October 17th 1905 Page 4