Some history of Cradley
Cradley has lost most of its pubs. From a list of almost fifty public houses, only a few remain trading. Indeed, at one time it would have been tough going to drink in all the pubs from the River Stour, up along the High Street, to Colley Gate. In 2020 just the one pub was still open for business. It is a similar story across the county border in neighbouring Cradley Heath. For those who do not know the area too well, Cradley is towards the northern extreme of Worcestershire, whilst Cradley Heath is across the River Stour and, consequently, was part of Staffordshire. Cradley borders Quarry Bank at Cradley Forge, Lye near The Hayes, Wollescote over Oldnall Fields and Halesowen near Lutley Gutter. But for those hunting around for their ancestors Cradley was once part of the borough of Halesowen so you may need to dig into that town's archive material which may require looking into records for Shropshire.
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 1960s. 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 affecting the landscape and topography. Of course, I do not know Cradley as well as those who grew up here. I knew every centimetre of old Reddal Hill and I imagine there are people who, like me across the county border, roamed every street and footpath here in Cradley, along with playing in the river and sneaking into forbidden places. However, in trying to explain some of Cradley's history I thought it might be a good idea to have something like a town trail, interspersed with the images I have acquired over the years. The images are in some of sequence so that readers could follow it on the ground or, if browsing from another part of the globe, they can be used in conjunction with a digital street view for a virtual tour.
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. Many 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 may have been taken by the wall of the graveyard looking up towards Homer Hill House, possibly the building seen at the top of the hill. 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.
I struggled with the issue of where to start a tour of Cradley. The church seemed a logical place, though the settlement pre-dates the building first opened as a meeting house in 1789. I therefore thought I would go back to the start of the industrial revolution and kick-off at Cradley Forge. This will no doubt be controversial as I am straying into Staffordshire. The boundary between the two counties can be seen running along the middle of the River Stour. This remains the divide between Sandwell and Dudley. Part of the industrial buildings seen here on this map extract from 1884 are south of the river and in Cradley. The modern housing in the cul-de-sac named The Forge stand on the site of these old buildings.
A forge was established near this location in the seventeenth century by Dud Dudley. It was sited close to the confluence of Mousesweet Brook and the River Stour. It is thought that this is where he made his first experiments using coal to smelt iron. Cradley Forge was a water-powered forge producing iron subsequently slit into rods for the manufacture of chains and nails. It was first recorded in 1610 but could have existed some time before this date.
From about 1610 to approximately 1630 Cradley Forge was managed by Dud Dudley who claimed to have smelted iron using coal instead of the usual charcoal. This occurred around 1620, almost 90 years before it was achieved by Abraham Darby at Coalbrookdale in Shropshire. If this is accurate then this water junction is arguably one of the most important heritage sites in the country. This begs the question why it is not promoted as such? After all, if the claims are correct, then this site is where the industrial revolution started.
I am just nipping over the border into Staffordshire for a bit of context - I will be back in Worcestershire in a jiffy. The original Cradley Forge, also known as Lower Forge, was situated on the south bank of the River Stour and was associated with an iron-smelting furnace on the north bank. The furnace was driven by bellows powered by the water from the New Pool near what is now Forge Lane. Indeed, W. Yates's 1775 map of Staffordshire shows a large pool served by three brooks south of Mushroom Green and east of Birch Coppice. New Pool was fed by two streams from the north and poured its abundant water by a rapid cataract into the Stour. In 1832 W. Scott described this area and noted that within the fork of the pool, formed by two rivulets, stands the village of Musham [now called Mushroom Green]. The rivulet into Cradley Forge's pool was called Watchern [now Mousesweet Brook]. At its confluence with Archill Brook, the stream was dammed to form New Pool which powered Cradley Forge and another forge further upstream. In Philip Foley's stock and debts book for 1668 it is stated that Cradley Forge and the nearby Slitting Mill were operated by John Wheeler. There is a memorial tablet to him at Oldswinford Parish Church.
It is not surprising that the Foley family were involved with Cradley Forge for they dominated the local iron industry in the 17th century. The furnace went out of use by 1792, production being moved to a new forge, the Upper Forge, built on Mousesweet Brook around 1775. By the middle of the 19th century a small hamlet had developed around Cradley Forge, on both sides of the River Stour. In Staffordshire there was a Methodist Chapel and the Waggon and Horses public-house, the earlier building being known as the Hammer Inn. On the Worcestershire side there was a cluster of cottages around an old tavern known as the Maypole Inn.
Samuel Evers & Sons became tenants of the forges, the firm produced both rolled and slit iron. The colliery at Homer Hill provided the fuel for the forges. Water power was replaced by steam and New Pool was drained in 1878. Cradley Forge was taken over by Guest & Co. in 1896. They were a local firm involved in nail and rod manufacturing. They closed down in 1906 making 200 workers redundant. Both forges were demolished in 1907. It is easy to say in hindsight, but if these buildings had survived and subsequently preserved then this location would be attracting visitors from all over the world. Remains of the walls can be traced by both the River Stour and Mousesweet Brook.
This tour of Cradley is going to head south-west. However, if you were to walk up Maypole Hill to the railway bridge you would be in a place once known as Lane's End. The photographer of this evocative image was positioned near the bridge and captured the landscape in early Edwardian times. 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 Saint 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 were 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.
Although this is in the Cradley area, I am not sure which pit is featured in the photograph. It would appear to show two owners or managers, along with four men who did some of the hard graft. If anybody knows the exact location of this pit then please let me know. I have the original plate so have provided an enlarged image of the men just in case somebody recognises an ancestor.
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 century enterprise that lasted until the mid-1920s. 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.
The tour of Cradley heads across what was once an old footpath but is now the road called Maypole Fields, passing through industrial buildings to the junction of Mogul Lane. For those seeking a greener route, it is possible to walk along the River Stour to the foot-bridge at the former Cradley Mill at Saltbrook End and retrace back to this road junction at the bottom of The Bower.
The inter-war houses on the north-eastern corner of Mogul Lane and Maypole Fields pre-date the road from Cradley Forge. It is marked as a footpath on maps dating from 1938. In more recent times Heale Close was laid out and developed on the site of the Horse and Jockey and its extensive bowling green. The cul-de-sac is named after Rev. Alfred James Heale, a Plymouth-born minister who married Lydia Seymour, a key figure of The Order of Pioneer Preachers and Sisters in London. The couple moved to Cradley following his appointment as minister of the Unitarian Chapel during the inter-war years. They must have made quite an impression or did good work for the local community to have a road named after them.
The shafts and earth mounds [marked on the above map extract] on the opposite side of the road was the New Netherend Colliery operated by W. H. King and Charles King, Clay Masters, Fire Brick and Retort Manufacturers. This firm sank a number of pits in the area, some more successful than others. Continuing up the hill the blue gates on the right-hand side, just before the railway bridge, was an entrance to the foundry of George Clancey Limited. I will discuss this firm when the tour passed the company's main site at Belle Vale.
This is the view from the railway bridge on Mogul Lane, looking north-east to the bridge at Maypole Hill. The railway first cut through the parish of Cradley in the mid-1860s and would later play a key role in the transportation of industrial goods, particularly benefiting the fireclay and brick works. The Stourbridge Railway was incorporated under an Act of Parliament, dated 14th June 1860, to construct a line from the Oxford, Worcester & Wolverhampton Railway at Stourbridge Junction to Old Hill. A further Act was passed so that the track could be extended to the Stour Valley Line at Smethwick. The whole route was open by April 1867. In later years there were goods sheds at Cradley Forge, a link to Homer Hill Colliery and, most importantly, a line to the 'top' of Park Lane that served the brick works and collieries.
Just a few metres along the road is Netherend Square. Today, there is a constant flow of builder's trucks and vans entering or leaving Mogul Stone, a landscaping business that has been here for some years. It is ironic perhaps that the business sells bricks but the brick industry at Cradley has long since vanished. With its chapel, school, pub and shops, Netherend Square may once have seemed like the heart of a small hamlet. The Old Mogul Inn stood on the northern side of the road directly opposite the old shop on the corner of Netherend Square, the post box of which can still be found in the wall. In the early 20th century that post box was cleared three times per day, unlike the sketchy postal service of today. Eliza Southall kept the shop for many years before the Second World War, helped by her neighbour Olive Hough. Albert and Myra Powell also ran a general shop a couple of doors away. Myra kept the shop whilst Albert worked in one of the local factories.
A track led off Netherend Square and connected with Parsonage Drive where, indeed, the Minister of the Unitarian Chapel took up residence. Only the old Sunday School building remains these days. One can see from the map extract above that there were once two separate school buildings for girls and boys. In the days when they were run by Unitarians, the children were taken on an annual day trip to Clent for a picnic. Gladys Bartindale was the headmistress of Netherend County Primary School during the inter-war years. Born in Leeds, the spinster was feared by many of the children as she was a woman who brandished a cane at will and ruled with formidable discipline. In recent years the former school has housed a neighbourhood centre, children's play group and also a dog-training school.
The origins of the Unitarian Chapel can be traced back to an early 18th Presbyterian Meeting House in Pensnett burned down by a rioting mob in a resurgence of the Sacheverell Riots. The congregation were formerly Presbyterians but drifted towards Unitarianism during the early 19th century. With a foundation stone being laid in April 1795, the chapel was built soon after the appointment of James Scott as minister. He is commemorated in a nearby road name, though it is not the prettiest of Cradley's thoroughfares. It was once known as Pit Lane. James Scott's wife is said to have practiced spiritualism in the Parsonage which caused some consternation with the locals.
The one thing that must cause consternation with today's congregation of the Unitarian Chapel is the continual destruction of the wall. I have lost count how many times a local boy racer has ploughed through the brickwork on this bend. In recent years a motorway-style crash barrier was erected to protect the wall but even that has failed to stop the carnage.
This map extract shows another 'lost' small community that once existed amid the collieries and brick works. I have marked James Scott Road so that the visitor can get their bearings. Up until the Second World War the landscape looking across to, and including, The Hayes was completely dominated by the production of bricks. The clay here, like that around Withymoor and Amblecote, produced some of the finest bricks in the region. Aerial photographs of this area show that it was peppered with beehive kilns and was quite a sight. Pit Lane led to the Old Netherend Colliery, once operated by the King family.
The cluster of cottages seen on the map survived until the post-war years. A few were old farmhouses in which some eccentric souls from another era were still in residence. There was one shop run by Bert and Ethel Johnson. Children buying sweets would hope that Ethel served them as she was known for tipping the scales in their favour.
Continuing along Park Lane, one of the few relics of the brick industry stands next to the Park Lane Tavern. The old drying house was later used as a foundry.
Park Lane is named after the wooded park and hunting ground that once existed here. Thought to have been contested by landed gentry in medieval times, it was certainly documented during the reign of King Henry VIII. Consisting of some 150 acres, the park continued up the hill, the ancient road to Oldswinford marking its limit. Where Park Lane meets Park Road, part of the old turnpike road from Birmingham to Stourbridge, there is a gravel path up the bank on the opposite side of the road. This path roughly follows the line of a lost section of Tanhouse Lane close to which stood Park House. The 'modern' extension to this property was dated 1689, the earlier structure possibly dated from Tudor times. It is thought that Park House was used to store weapons belonging to the Lord of the Manor for the occasions that he brought a party of friends to hunt in the park. However, in the late 15th century, when Ormonde held this position, it was recorded that the numbers of deer were already depleted.
Ignoring pleas from local residents, in the early 1970s the authorities pulled down Park House for a relief road scheme that never happened. Once more, for the sake of the motor car, Cradley lost one of its treasures. All around the parish, there have been road-widening schemes which has resulted in architectural vandalism.
Once known as Cuckoo's Corner, there used to be a chain shop at the junction of Barrack Lane. The grounds of the Chapel House extended to Park Road and were opposite the chain shop buildings. This view from the inter-war years is looking up the hill from Cuckoo's Corner. All the buildings on the left have gone. The first property, a large villa, has a sign for T. M. Clewes & Son, a firm listed in a 1932 trade directory as "woollen merchants, mop head, rope, twine and waterproof manufacturers, of Park Mills. It is nice to see a couple of cyclists pedalling up the hill. These days it is horrible cycling up this stretch of road as traffic is normally backed up to Park Lane at busy periods and the fumes are awful. Provision for cyclists in modern Cradley is virtually non-existent. Note the tower of Oliver's Brewery at the Talbot Hotel at the top of the hill.
This is a closer view of the house on Park Road occupied by the Clewes family. I am not sure if any of the family are featured on this photograph. It would appear that the two young men are about to embark on a touring ride. The sign for T. M. Clewes & Son in the earlier photograph refers to Thomas Matthew Clewes who was born in Hartlebury in 1806 and established his manufactory here by the mid-19th century. He had married Susannah Hodgetts at Halesowen in July 1833. His sons, Thomas and Moses, were assisting in the business by the 1850s. However, it was a younger son Charles who appears to have managed the company in later years. The firm survived a bankruptcy scare in 1869 to prosper in subsequent decades, becoming Government contractors at a lucrative period. However you wish to view it, some people profited from the First World War.
Charles Hodgetts Clewes became involved in public affairs and stood in the 1898 elections for Cradley and served as a county councillor for two decades. The first president of Cradley Liberal Club, he was appointed as a magistrate in 1905. He died at this house in December 1923. His wife Annie passed away in August 1931.
This view of Park Road is further up the hill towards Colley Gate. The brewery tower of William Oliver and Sons can be seen behind the Talbot Hotel, an establishment converted into a children's nursery in recent times. The brewery remained independent until it was acquired by Darby's of Greets Green in 1935. This is one of the few views that shows the cottages fronting the main road. Near the top was an old boozer called The Vine which faced another tavern known as the Malt Shovel. The photograph may have been captured on a Sunday - note the men walking along the middle of the road as there is little traffic. No rest for the wicked though as the coal merchant is still out and about delivering sacks of the black stuff. The boy on the left is well turned out so we can rule out that he is a rough urchin of the locality! Modern bungalows have taken the place of the old cottages.
The tour of Cradley has now reached the former Talbot Hotel and this is a good time to look back at where we have come. This view is looking back down Park Road. Frustratingly, the wall and tree hide the former Vine beer house. The British Legion Memorial Club was built on the corner and site of The Vine. The track that emerged between the wall and the Talbot Hotel would become Burfield Road. The British Legion closed in the 1970s and was later demolished. The members moved to another building in Beecher Place but this has also gone. The wooden memorial plaque featuring the Roll of Honour of both World Wars was moved to the parish church. 114 men of the parish were killed in the First World War and 36 died during the Second World War.
This view is also looking back along Park Road from the junction of Colley Lane. Some of the buildings on this side of the road have survived, including Park Terrace which has a date stone of 1894. The house in the foreground used to stand on what is now a grassed space on the corner of Chapelhouse Lane. The first building behind the tree was the old Malt Shovel which, as its name suggested, had a malthouse to the rear. A pair of semi-detached houses now occupy the site. The old malthouse of the Talbot Hotel has survived along the edge of Burfield Road.
In more recent times those passing through this junction would often see an exotic car parked on the plot next to D & D Motor Services. The bloke running this place seemed to spend many hours leaning against door frame watching life go by. I know little about the business but it seemed to specialise in classic car body repairs or restoration. However, he did accept the wreckage of my car that met with an accident near Anvil Yard when somebody flew out of Mapletree Lane and into the side of my jalopy [Like all good cyclists, I spend more on two wheels than four]. Anyway, he could work magic on a car body and it came back as good as new! I wish I had chatted with him before he retired as he was a fixture of this part of Cradley for a few decades.
In December 2020 [when typing this] the row of shops on the north side of Colley Gate, just along from Colley Lane were still standing. For some years these properties were in a poor state. I took the above photograph in 2006 and they looked shabby then. The Golden Cup traded for some years after this date but eventually the whole row was boarded up. I was hoping that the buildings would be restored but admit there is little of architectural merit to warrant any sort of campaign by local residents. Below I am including some images that show the buildings during better times ....
The same row of shops can be seen on the left in this photograph taken at the end of the Edwardian period. The properties were little more than a decade old by this time. The photographer is looking along Colley Gate which, to me at least, refers to this stretch of road from The Park to Windmill Hill and the land between here and Tanhouse Lane not the whole neigbourhood. In the 21st century this road is noisy and full of heavy traffic most of the day.
Here are three of the four shops on the row, along with shopkeepers and local residents. The headlines on the newspaper boards suggest that this image was captured in May 1910 during the visit of the German Emperor to London. Many of the picture postcards of Cradley were sold from the shop in the centre of this photograph. The business was run by Arthur Samuel Hickman, a newsagent, stationer and tobacconist. That is possibly his wife Agnes on the doorstep of the shop. At this time their son Francis was a school teacher. To the left of the photograph is the general stores run by the Bird family. Alfred Bird also worked as a maltster at Oliver's Brewery next to the Talbot Hotel. Stood in the doorway of the shop, the woman with her hands on her hips is probably his wife Elizabeth. The younger woman wearing spectacles could be one of their three daughters. Out of the picture, the shop next door on the corner of Colley Lane [the aforementioned Golden Cup in later years] was a butcher's shop run by William Mole.
In this photograph we see the shop once run by the Hickman family in the centre of the image. The Hickman's by this point had moved a few metres along the road to No.116, a property that would remain a newsagent's for decades. Located close to the bus-stop, many people will remember it as Stars. In this image taken just after the First World War, their old shop had been taken over by Annie Lavender who concentrated on the confectionery side of things. I suspect that she is the woman in front of the entrance addressing a teenage girl. The premises next door on the right of this image had become an office for the London Joint City & Midland Bank Ltd. with John A. James as manager. It was an occasional branch office and only opened for a few hours on Tuesday and Friday. The Bird family were still at the shop to the left of the picture. The people outside have suitcases so I assume they are awaiting transport for a holiday. The butcher's shop run by William Mole had gone and the corner shop [out of picture] was occupied by the milliner Lucy Farmer.
This view of Colley Gate is a few metres further along from the row of shops. The first building on the left was a divided property known as Aston Villas. A date stone to the side shows that the building was erected in 1872. It was rather upmarket and featured a small front garden behind a low wall with cast-iron railings. When this photograph was taken the property was occupied by William and Lillie Clewes. The Leicester-born accountant was a director of the Home Brewery in Quarry Bank. Towards the end of the 20th century, after the property had become a commercial building, the left side was occupied by a Chinese Takeaway called Lucky Star, whilst the other section of the building was trading as Powell's the Chemist. In 2020, the chemist remained, though it had changed hands and traded as the Modi Pharmacy. After remaining empty for a short period, the former Chinese Takeaway became the Chainmaker's Chip Shop. The next building along is the aforementioned stationery outlet of Arthur and Agnes Hickman. The corner of Mapletree Lane is now an empty space but, as can be seen here, once had a shop operated by the draper Bertram and Lucy Errington.
This image shows a slightly better view of the drapery business on the corner of Mapletree Lane. The property was known as Bradford House. The high wall enclosed the plot occupied by the Gate Inn. Note how narrow the gap was for the old line of Mapletree Lane. This would be opened out in later years. The draper's career was interrupted by service in World War One when daughter Gwendoline was still a baby. He later suffered a tragedy when his wife was killed in a car accident near Ombersley in April 1934. His daughter was seriously injured in the collision with a furniture van. Following this terrible affair, Bertram re-married and he, along with his second wife Rita, operated another shop at Hagley Road West. They later lived on Barrs Road.
Retracing back to the traffic lights, Colley Gate House once stood on the eastern corner of Chapelhouse Lane. Thankfully, Geoff Grove captured the place not long before the decaying building was pulled down. This is another residence that would have continued to enhance the townscape of Cradley but once again provision for motor cars resulted in an enlarged traffic junction. The butcher John Attwood and his family lived in Colley Gate House during the late Victorian era. Following in his father's footsteps, he traded from a shop near the junction of High Street and The Innage. In his retirement years he and his wife Hannah lived here throughout the Edwardian period and remained in residence during the First World War.
This advertisement from 1881 provides a brief description of Colley Gate House. It is interesting to note that those wishing to rent the property had the option of the four acres of land adjoining the property. This extended over the land on which Greenways and Orchard Close would be laid out. Interested parties were to apply to William Kendrick of Colley Gate who, I assume, held the freehold. A former forgeman, he lived at West End at Colley Gate.
Following the First World War, Colley Gate House was occupied by Richard and Annie Green, a couple that moved up the hill from Chester Road in Cradley Heath. Born in 1871, Richard Green was a chain and nail manufacturer with a factory at Cokeland Place. Another of the prominent Liberals of Cradley, he was later chairman of Halesowen Urban District Council. The industrialist lived at Colley Gate House until his death in February 1943. Widow Annie Green was 91 when she died in February 1962.
Chapelhouse Lane was named after the mansion house thought to have been built by the affluent ironmonger Humphrey Buffery in the late 18th century. However, the land on which he erected his pile was already known as Chapel Yard Close and next to a field called Chapel Meadow. The location of an ancient chapel seems to have been lost in the mists of time but it was evidently in the vicinity.
During the 19th century The Chapel House was occupied by some of the area's prosperous industrialists, including Noah Hingley and James Evers. However, the most notable resident was Joseph Priestley Jnr., his father being one of founding fathers of chemistry and British Unitarianism. At first the family's move to Birmingham was a perfect fit where his father met and discussed ideas with other members of the Lunar Society. However, his theological and political ideas led to the riots of 1791 and the family's move to the United States. Following the death of his father, Joseph Priestley Jnr., returned to England and settled here in Cradley. His daughter married William Bowen, minister of the Unitarian Chapel until moving to Australia in the mid-19th century.
This photograph of the houses on the south-eastern side of Chapelhouse Lane was taken soon after this side of the road was developed in the 1930s. The house in the middle of the image became the home of Mervyn and Margaret Taylor who, for many years, had a fruit and vegetable business in Blackheath. Mervyn, along with his son Matthew, later took on a plot near The Hyde at Kinver, where they developed a nursery and sold the plants at car boot sales. I once witnessed Mervyn in full market-trader mode at Wychbury - he certainly had the gift of the gab for retailing. He later became the manager of Cradley Heath Market where he had the dreaded task of collecting the rents from traders struggling to turn a profit.
When property prices soared the Taylor family acquired part of the neighbour's land which, after they knocked down their garage and sheds, just about created enough space in which to build a house for their son. A date stone of 2010 can be seen at No.7, though it took many more years for them to complete the project themselves. Fair play though - they found a way to sidestep the property price boom. Mervyn and Margaret later bought a narrowboat and spent their retirement years on the waterways.
No tarmac in Chapelhouse Lane in the mid-1930s! Part of The Chapel House can be seen on the right of this image. The main house faced towards The Park but here it can be seen there was an adjoining cottage-like building on Chapelhouse Lane. I assume that this was the surgery of Dr. John Shedden, who succeeded Dr. Ashley Belbin as Medical Officer and Public Vaccinator for the district. The surgery remained in this building until the site was redeveloped at the end of the 1960s. No.36 stands on the site of the old Chapel House. Below I have included a zoom-in image of the surgery but the photograph is a bit fuzzy.
One will notice in the 1930s image that there were open fields in the background of the photograph. However, if one had walked down Chapelhouse Lane in the 1970s or 1980s then the sight of the Tanhouse Flats would have dominated the view. Three blocks of flats were constructed by Wimpey in the late 1960s and were named after literary figures. Byron House and Kipling House [seen here in the foreground] were 20-storey blocks and each contained 304 flats. The smaller Chaucer House is an 11-storey block containing 65 flats. When constructed, the towers were regarded as models of urban regeneration but over the years the estate developed a reputation for crime and violence. In 1999 the two tall towers were demolished and the estate redeveloped. Chaucer House survived and is still used as a polling station during local and general elections.
Winding the clock back to Edwardian times, this is the land on which the Tanhouse Estate would be developed sixty years later. The people involved in the harvest are William and Mary Stevens with his sons Joe and William Henry. The cluster of buildings behind them are probably the old tannery from which Tanhouse Lane gets its name. The two sons were born in Tanhouse Lane at the family farmhouse. They were born in 1897 and 1899 respectively which, judging from their appearance in this photograph, dates the image to around 1914. This means that Netherton-born Mary Stevens dressed very traditionally and retained a full length dress at a time when hemlines were heading upwards. She had not long been married to William, this being his second marriage. He was the son of Richard Stevens who once kept the Windmill Inn before moving to Fatherless Barn Farm.
William and Mary Stevens and the two lads lived in the aforementioned Park House at the bottom of a 'lost' section of Tanhouse Lane. William is remembered for farming in the traditional old-fashioned way and he scattered his seeds by hand. Championed by Clifford Willetts, the local authority named a road after the Stevens family when the Tanhouse Estate was laid out but it disappeared during the redevelopment following the removal of the tower blocks.
Joseph Stevens, or Joey as he was known, became a haulier for Harper and Moore's, transporting coal from Beech Tree Colliery. He became known for transporting local children in his cart, and on the journey they enjoyed a sing-song. He did this throughout his life and the memories of travelling in his cart remained a fond memory for many Cradley children. Fittingly, on his headstone at the Unitarian Chapel there is a simple epitaph "In memory of Joe, the Childrens' Friend."
The Old Tannery stood on the flat section of Tanhouse Lane near to the junction of Chapelhouse Lane. The actual tannery buildings stood on what is now No.15 Tregarron Road, just off Tanhouse Lane, though other buildings did front the older road. Tanhouse Lane is indeed an old route up to Two Gates. However, I have no idea how anybody managed to haul a cart up the steep incline. Perhaps an old pack horse was deployed, though I imagine most people went the long way around. As a cyclist who loves pedalling uphill, I have a penchant for this climb. When I have wanted to build up some leg muscle I have been known to do laps. One time I went up 21 times to pay homage to L'Alpe d'Huez much to the bemusement of one of the residents tending to his garden. I prefer Brook Holloway but, for a short sharp shock to the system, Tanhouse Lane is excellent.
I may not have mentioned the pong of the brickworks along Park Lane. Apparently, it was rather sickening to some people. So, I have tried to imagine what the air was like here where the stench of a tannery combined with the whiff of clay being cooked in the furnaces. This photograph shows John Ashmore in a cart belonging to his father George. The Ashmore family had lived here since the early 1890s. Born in 1847 at Bromsgrove, George Ashmore had migrated to Cradley to work in the brick industry where work was plentiful. He took up the trade of horse slaughterer and moved to Tanhouse Lane, by which time I believe the tannery had ceased to operate. The last person listed in trade directories as a tanner was John Pateshill during the 1880s.
The tour now follows an easy gradient around Severn Road up to Chaucer House. Here there are some steps leading to a path through the houses to emerge on Two Gates. The path is an old one and would have been used by miners walking to Cradley Park Colliery.
At Two Gates the tour goes right [south-west] for around 100 metres to the junction of Foxcote Lane. I have published details of the Why Not Inn which one can see up Why Not Street. Serving a locale known as Parkside, there used to be a general shop on the corner of Foxcote Lane where today there is a grassed area. At the end of the Victorian period Thomas Crampton was listed in a trade directory as both grocer and nailmaker. In reality, it was probably his wife Emily and daughter Annie who kept the shop whilst he laboured in the forge. The shop can be seen above, along with a line of cottages that were known as Gingerbread Row. Why the row was so named is a mystery.
The main road continues to Wollescote where, at the border of the parish, there was once a workhouse. It probably ceased to operate in the early 19th century, following the construction of a large workhouse at Wordsley that served most of the region, including Cradley. There were some remains of the brickwork and if you are so inclined you can carry on to seek these out, along with the remains of Oldnall Colliery to the north of the road. Amblecote coal and clay master J. B. Fisher was already operating the Hayes Colliery when he secured the mineral rights beneath the soil of Oldnall fields. Shafts were sunk in 1873 though production ceased in the late 19th century before a new Oldnall Colliery Company was created by Messrs. Mobberley and Perry.
The tour now heads up Foxcote Lane to the crest of the hill. It was along this lane that another boundary with Wollescote was marked by a so-called Broadstone, though in earlier times four ash trees were used as a demarcation point. Despite the awful road surface, I often cycle along Foxcote Lane which I use as a gateway to the open territory of Worcestershire. The lane's name is thought to derive from Faulk's Cot which itself stems from the Old English term 'Dic Bofan Foxcotum' used in a Saxon charter dated 958AD. This translates to 'Dyke over the Foxe's Hole.' Foxcote Lane was once used by drovers who were paid by Cradley's butchers to deliver livestock bought at Hagley Cattle Market. Two Gates is said to be named after the two gates placed to stop sheep and livestock straying onto the open farmland of Cradley Fields. Marked on early maps of the area, the 'bottom' gate was located close to the Old Two Gates Inn at the junction of Tanhouse Lane and the 'top' gate was close to Why Not Street.
As you can see from my photograph from 2002, in which I was walking with our dearly-departed boxer dog, there used to be a pleasant walkway along the old spoil heap of the Beech Tree Colliery. A good deal of work was undertaken around the time of the new millennium to create a path through the woods but the efforts of volunteers have deteriorated somewhat. There was also some old colliery fencing along Foxcote Lane but this mysteriously vanished, probably onto the back of a tatter's pick-up truck. On the opposite side of the road are the tangible remains of the Beech Tree Colliery in the form of a shower block or bath house.
Formerly called the Foxcote Colliery, a shaft was sunk here by Sir Charles Holcroft in 1873. Initially, this pit was beset with problems and it was not until after the First World War that any significant production was achieved. Under new ownership, coal from the Beech Tree Pit was transported on a narrow gauge tramway, crossing Oldnall Road, past the old Oldnall Colliery, and down the hill to The Hayes.
The taverns along Two Gates must have served as welcome watering holes for thirsty miners seeking refreshment after a shift working the seam. Conditions at the colliery were, by all accounts, fairly grim. The relatively poor quality of the coal meant that it was only sold to factories and there was little investment in machinery. As a result, it was tough work for the men bringing the tubs out of the colliery. Even the cage was wound by a horse that had to walk around in a circle. During the Second World War a number of foreigners were brought in to work the seam. Men from Poland, Latvia and the Czech region brought a new dialect to this pocket of the Black Country.
Following the Second World War, the colliery came under the nationalisation programme which resulted in the construction of an office, canteen, and bath house. Production figures exceeded 80,000 tons per annum before disaster struck in 1958 when water seeped into the mine and caused flooding. Although the water could have been pumped out, the added cost to production was possibly prohibitive. The National Coal Board decided to close the mine, resulting in the loss of 118 jobs. The pithead gear was dismantled in 1959. A large crowd gathered to watch the stack coming down. After much restructuring work, the bath house was converted into a headquarters for the local scouts, the 2nd Cradley St Peter's Group. Amid the trees of Foxcote Coppice the old bath house still stands as a reminder of the last pit to operate in Cradley.
Walking back down Two Gates, the entrance to Humber Gardens marks the site of the Vine Inn, a tavern that closed in March 1992. Occupying an old farmhouse, the New Two Gates Inn stood almost opposite. Just along the road stands Two Gates Ragged School, a term that stemmed from one of the earliest of such charitable institutions at Portsmouth where John Pounds provided free education to destitute children. The solicitor Jeston Homfray, from a family of Kidderminster ironmasters, was instrumental in the creation of the school at Two Gates. Noah Hingley, in addition to being a personal benefactor, held picnics at Park Farm to help raise funds for the project. The two men acquired the site from Samuel Bennett, publican of the New Two Gates Inn in 1867.
The convenience store at the junction of Tanhouse Lane was once The Broadstone public-house, though it is some distance from the original stone that marked the boundary between Cradley and Wollescote. However, the ancient stone is now closer to the former pub as it was moved to the Ragged School in 1967 following a prank in which some locals moved it!
The road junction here looked very different in former times. Tanhouse Lane, Two Gates and Toys Lane were all very narrow where they converged. Toys Lane was widened considerably so that traffic coming over from Oldnall flowed down to Colley Gate. The photographer in the above image is stood in Toys Lane and the Old Two Gates Inn would have been to the right. You can just see a wall to the right of this photograph - this is the corner where the former Broadstone stands. Two Gates headed off behind the shop on the corner. This grocery store was operated for generations of the Perry family. At the time of this photograph Harry and Kate Perry were running the business. That is probably them on the doorstep of the premises, along with Lilian, the youngest of their two daughters.
For a good century or more Tregaron House [sometimes marked as Tregarron] must have enjoyed splendid views across the lower landscape and to the hills in the distance. Until, that is, they laid out Greenways. The house once had a large plot including an orchard. I have not seen the front of the house and the building has generally been behind a high wall and gate. It is on the left going down the hill. The above notice advertising an auction of furniture suggests that the house was once occupied by John Jones, the vicar of Saint Peter's Church in the early 19th century. Tregaron House would later be occupied by some of the region's industrialists. In 1892, for example, Tregaron House was the home of William Griffin and his family. By this time he had retired from business as a chain and anchor manufacturer. He is also remembered as a social and Christian worker.
Born at Billingsley near Bridgnorth in 1825, William Griffin was first apprenticed to a blacksmith named Dawley at Bewdley, during which time he joined the Wesleyan Church and became a preacher. He moved the Black Country at the age of 21 and started up in business as a shackle maker at a shop in Toy's Green. This brought him into contact with Noah Hingley who, on showing him a wooden pattern of an anchor, asked him to manufacture one. The finished item is credited with being the first anchor made in Cradley. This started the rapid growth of his business and he twice moved to larger premises before occupying Lodge Forge. With continuing growth in the business, he built large works in Mill Street. Here his son, also named William, joined the firm. He would later take over the large works of J. Wood Aston & Co. near Cradley Heath railway station.
It was around 1890 a "breakdown of a very serious character" resulted in the transfer of the business to his son and William Griffin went into retirement from industry. However, with improving health, he took a more active role in the church. He had joined the Primitive Methodist Connexion about 30 years previously. A Methodist of the old type, he was a local preacher and a class leader at Grainger's Lane Church. However, when his son James entered the Primitive Methodist ministry, he transferred his attentions to Cradley and helped to build a new chapel on land in the High Street. William Griffin also represented Cradley on the Board of Guardians between 1887-1890. It was reported that he was "always generous to the poor, and gave to them not grudgingly or of necessity, but with tact and sympathy." His time at Tregaron House was reportedly one of happiness and many guests were invited into his home.
This photograph was taken a little further down Toy's Lane and is looking back towards the large barn that stands next to the gate of Tregaron House. Cradley-born builder Reuben Rudge, who lived in Tregaron House with his wife Matilda and children at the time of this photograph, owned the barn which was used by local firewatchers during the Second World War. The first house on the right of this image was the home of the chainmaker Samuel Chatwin and his wife Rebecca. Next door was Leonard and Nellie Dunn.
The tour now goes to the other side of Toy's Lane, named after William Toy who held land in this locality. The Toy family name appears frequently in early 18th parish registers when Cradley formed part of Halesowen parish. On the right-hand side of the road, just next to Toy's Cottage, is a former chain works which can be seen on this map extract from 1955. However, on Victorian maps the site is marked as a nail works.
The present owner told me that it was formerly Beaconsfield House and I found this advertisement from 1886 that describes the premises. A large chain shop and two nail shops were part of the site. I assume this advertisement was when Thomas Williams gave up the premises as he was listed here in trade directory published two years earlier. Bloomer & Sons were also chain makers based at Colley Orchard. I wandered into the yard in December 2020 and was pleased to see the place was still engaged in manufacturing. The firm, based here since 2004, produces u-bolts and foundation bolts amongst other things.
The tour continues down Toy's Lane to the junction of Colley Gate. The Labour Club is on the left. This used to occupy The Limes, a large house that stood between the 'new' Labour Club and Toy's Lane. The foundations of the building are probably still underneath the tarmac of the car park! The house was once owned by the solicitor Thomas Homer. Admitted to the Law Society in 1867, he was said to be the oldest practising solicitor in the country when he died at The Limes, aged 89 years of age. He enjoyed very good health and was known to walk to his office and back home, a distance of some 8 miles. He died after he fell down the stairs at The Limes in March 1927. A newspaper reported that the solicitor "had one or two curious whims, and the most remarkable for a man in his profession was that of refusing to have a typewriter or a telephone." Following his death, The Limes was sold at auction to the chainmaker and trade unionist Alf Westwood who, in turn, sold the house to the Labour Party.
The 1906 photograph above, showing the butcher's shop of William Tate, was taken from the junction of Toy's Lane. I can remember the place as a butcher's but the photograph here is one I took after it was too late. The shop had closed down and the premises boarded up. The Tate family had been butchers and publicans for many years in Cradley. In the mid-19th century members of the clan were in business at the bottom of Furlong Lane, along with Abel Tate running the Bull's Head. William Tate operated this shop with his son Frederick "Harry" Tate. He would later succeed his father. A stone on the corner of Furlong Lane bore the date of 1902 and the name of Providence House. The gate to the left led to a slaughter yard. The building to the left was a video store at the height of film rentals in the 1980s.
The tour of Cradley now goes along Colley Gate to the former Talbot Hotel and turns right into Colley Lane. The tour has looped around from the Talbot Hotel in order to look at The Park, High Park, Two Gates and Colley Gate. It will not be the only loop of the tour as it returns to Windmill Hill later. In this image the butcher's shop run by the Tate family can be seen on the right. Next to it is a barber's pole. This was the salon and shop of the Smith family. Percy Smith chopped the hair off Cradley's men whilst, in later years, daughter Winifred tended to the bonces of local women. Annie Smith, wife of Percy, kept a general shop. The family were here until the Second World War.
This view shows Colley Gate at the end of the swinging sixties, though I doubt if the swinging bit ever found its way to Cradley. The butcher's shop is still in evidence on the right. The shop next door was now just a general store selling confectionary and ice cream. There is a frozen delivery from Fiesta with the driver parking on the area in front of the fence to the Gate Inn's rather fine bowling green. One can see a sign for fish and chips too. On the left is the large car park to the Labour Club. The driver of the Morris is endeavouring to drive into the Hillman saloon. It has always been a dodgy junction, made worse here with some road works. At one time there was a plan to create a one-way circular route formed by Chapel Street at Colley Orchard, Toy's Lane and the lower section of Windmill Hill.
In this view the photographer is further along Colley Gate and is pointing the camera back towards the junction of Furlong Lane. There is a sign for Lyon's Ice Cream on the side of the shop. Cars can be seen on the small car park of the Gate Inn. A row of houses was built on the site around 2018. I believe that the developer wanted to demolish the pub but the local authority wanted to retain the old building and have it converted into a residential house or flats. The photographer would have been stood in front of Wilson Hall, next to which stands the Old Vicarage. This large Victorian property can be seen from the gates.
As the tour moves around the corner into Colley Lane I guess I should mention the name itself. One theory put forward by some is that there was a turnpike gate here and it was manned by somebody called Coley. Sounds feasible until one learns that the name Coley appears in a Halesowen Parish Register in 1695. There probably was a gate and could have been where a Pavage was collected, a toll levied by the parish vestry from the 14th century onwards. It is all a bit vague but often such names or terms are shrouded in mystery.
Although Colley Lane has a few structures of note, I am a little sad that the wrecking ball was taken to some buildings that were in sound condition and could have served a new role for future generations. The three inter-war houses on the left-hand side of the road may have been built on land once owned by the Oliver family who operated the Talbot Hotel. The properties had probably just been completed when this photograph was taken as a notice in the window of the second house advertised that it was 'To Let.' The detached house to the left was occupied by the retired teacher Alfred Hickman and his wife Elizabeth. Born in 1867, and growing up on Park Road, he had lived in Cradley all of his life and became a school teacher at an early age. His wife Elizabeth was from Cinderford in the Forest of Dean. Alfred could listen to the sound of children playing in the school ground until he reached the grand age of 90 when he died in December 1957.
Only two of the houses in this photograph have survived as I type in 2020. No.36 still stands and, beyond the former infant's school, the two chimneys of the detached No.40 [sans one chimney these days] can be seen. The first building on the right caught my eye as the bay window features etched-glass similar to that seen on a pub building. I am trying to locate an old pub in Colley Lane but this building is far too 'modern.' At the end of the Victorian era this was the premises of the chainmaker Arthur Wyer who lived here with his wife Lizzie. A chain shop and gateway can be seen on the extreme right of the photograph. Much of Colley Lane was home to chainmakers at this time. Arthur and Lizzie would later move to Talbot Street from where he would continue to work as a chainmaker.
Further along Colley Lane, opposite the Primary School, stood the Police Station, where many a trouble-maker who had kicked off in a public-house could have found themselves spending the night before appearing before the magistrates. Around the time of this photograph Police Sergeant Walter Clark was in charge of the station and had three constables under him. The police sergeant hailed from deepest Gloucestershire so perhaps needed one of the constables to act as interpreter when a drunken Cradley chainmaker was hauled into the building. I am not sure when the station was closed but the building lay empty for some time. In 1969 Worcestershire County Council offered the old station to the Cradley Community Association. Halesowen Borough Council had already set aside the site of the Blue Ball Inn for a new Community Centre and work was due to start in 1971. However, as you can see, the site of the old police station is now occupied by the Community Centre, a rather functional building but an important component of the social fabric of Cradley.
This photograph shows the police station in its wider setting. It is possibly 1911 rather than 1910 as I have suggested. There is a contractors shed belonging to J. Guest in the grounds of the Primary School, the building for boys formally replaced the old British School on February 1st, 1911. The Colley Lane School for Girls was built in 1902, along with the Infant's School. Both were enlarged in 1911 when the boys' school was constructed. Note the large lantern above the gated entrance to access the rear of the police station. The house next door still stands. The infant's school can be seen in the distance. I love the old tree which, in those days, did not have to be cut down for horse-drawn traffic. By the way, the building firm of John Guest & Son were based at the bottom of Brettell Lane roughly where a Lidl supermarket stands in 2020.
The large tree seen in the last photograph would just be to the left of the photographer in this shot. It looks as though the building work has been completed and both schools are open. In July 1910 Mrs. E. Hackett was appointed as a certified teacher at a salary of £80 which a price and inflation checker calculates as a gross wage of £9,604.30 in 2020 money. In a directory published in 1912 Miss Elizabeth Edwards is recorded as the mistress of the girls' school, whilst John James Homer was the master of the boys' school.
In what was the equivalent of an Ofsted Inspection today, the Department of Education published a report on the new schools by Inspector Cartwright in March 1912. He stated that the buildings were both suitable and well-equipped, and that they were sensibly organised, and the teachers worked with energy and considerable success. With regard to the boys' school, he wrote that "a piano should be supplied and some good framed pictures are much needed." Mr. Cartwright also stated that "a shed should be provided for storing the garden tools, which are at present kept in the cloakroom." The boys, the Inspector remarked, "are in capital order, and show interest in their work." The girls had suffered, Mr. Cartwright observed, because of the absence of teachers through illness. He wrote that "it is to be regretted that no provision is made for instruction in cookery, and that there were only three girls in Standard VII." He did praise the girls for their "smart performance" in physical exercises. Again, the lack of piano and pictures was highlighted. Overall, the Chairman considered the report was very satisfactory. The Clerk [Mr. George Green] pointed out that the reports were of a more critical nature than they used to be. The Revd. A. H. Shelley said that Mr. Cartwright was much more critical than some of the inspectors they had had.
This is Form 4 of Colley Lane School but they have failed their exam by not writing the year on the hand-held chalkboard. I think the master on the right is Norman Bird who worked at the school in the 1930s.
The former infant's school, enlarged in 1911, remains across the road and now houses Little Hands Children's Centre. For some time it was used as a clinic. At the outbreak of the Second World War, the infant's were re-housed in the Girls' School so that the building could be converted into an ARP centre. The school was subsequently staffed 24-7 by ARP Wardens and First Aid Volunteers. The former air raid shelter of the old Colley Lane Schools was spared demolition and is used as an educational resource.
The Elms stood next to Colley Lane Schools where today there is a cluster of bungalows for the elderly. This image shows the rear of the house that may have been built for the wealthy industrialist James Wood Aston and his wife Caroline. Born in Lye in 1825, he was a manufacturer of chains, anvils, anchors and shovels. When he died in May 1873 Caroline Wood Aston inherited a small fortune. She re-married in July of the following year to William Pearson Strawson. However, she only lived until March 1875, leaving much of her estate to her second husband. Whilst she had control of her finances she donated a peal of eight bells and an organ to the parish church. She passed away before the bells were rung in the new tower. She also bequeathed a sum of money to Powick Asylum, the committee of which deciding to invest the money and apply the income in relieving poor patients on their leaving the asylum.
Cardiff-born William Strawson re-married in May 1877 to Annie Marshall of Grimsby in Lincolnshire. He continued the business of James Wood Aston & Co. based at the Stour Iron Works. The son of a civil engineer, he also acquired the Garth Iron Works at Taff's Well. Although he was involved in public affairs and sat on the Rowley Regis Local Board, his heart remained in Wales. Following his death in May 1891, he was interred in the family vault at Llanishen Churchyard.
Annie Strawson did some good work in the community and was credited with establishing a weekly Mother's Meeting in Cradley. The number of local women attending the meetings grew considerably and the local newspaper stated that this was "due to the unflagging care and exertions of Mrs. Strawson." In July 1889 126 mothers gathered in front of The Elms, from where they were conveyed in brakes to the Lickey Hills for an annual excursion where a "sumptious meat tea was served."
Widow Annie Strawson moved back to Lincolnshire, residing at Wood Furze, a villa built for Sir George Doughty, a fishing and shipping entrepreneur who served as the town's Mayor and Member of Parliament. It was from Wood Furze that she instructed her agent to sell The Elms in October 1902. The advertisement provides us some details of the house. A sale of the house was announced in 1896 but I assume that this did not take place.
Spinster sisters, Annie and Alice Fox, were in residence from the mid-Edwardian period. By all accounts, they were an odd couple and rode around Cradley to collect their rents from property they owned. They were the daughters of the maltster Thomas Fox who, along with his wife Caroline lived in Furlong Lane.
I believe that The Elms became a restaurant during the Second World War. I am not sure how this came about or the years that the building served in this role. The property was left to decay in later years and finally demolished, though I cannot help think that it could have been converted into flats rather than being wiped from Cradley's landscape.
The public library is opposite the site of The Elms. Indeed, the former house was once mooted as a potential building for conversion into a library. Containing 4,000 books, a new library was opened with a gold presentation key on March 26th, 1936, by Seth S. Somers, Chairman of Walter Somers Ltd. of Mucklow Hill. The event was presided by the school master Walter Hodgetts, chairman of the Halesowen Urban District Council.
The work of Halesowen U.D.C. Surveyor, George Spurr, the library has some splendid architectural features, though I preferred it when there was more woodwork inside with the offices for library staff. There is a large clock suspended from the ceiling on chains [appropriate in Cradley] and there is a lovely leaded stained-glass window bearing the motto Respice Aspice Prospice meaning "Look to the past, the present and the future." This was the arms of Halesowen Borough Council and featured a shield with emblems representing the principal owners of the Manor of Hales. The Earl Roger of Montgomery was represented with the red half of the lion, whist the green half of the lion represented Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. The fleur-de-lis is a reference to the Premonstratensian Canons and the scallops, the Lyttleton family who first held the manor in 1559. Iron and steel industries were represented in the crest, along with the chain-making industry of Cradley. The left-hand supporter was another reference to the Canons whilst opposite was intended for Sir Thomas Lyttelton, Lord Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas.
Although I knew the arms dated from 1937 I was not sure when the window was installed at the library. I am grateful to Jill Guest of Cradley Links, and former head librarian here, who told me that "the stained-glass window was added a few months after the library opened to celebrate Halesowen becoming a Borough. Windows were also installed at Long Lane Library and the Central Library in Hagley Street at Halesowen." This photograph is therefore 1936 as it shows the library without the stained-glass window. The above image shows the lovely lanterns that were once mounted on the stone pillars forming the entrance to the library. This shows that the building doubled as the rates office.
A few metres along Colley Lane, on the same side of the library is a narrow passage, of which there are many in Cradley. Indeed, this is one of two connecting Colley Lane with Mapletree Lane. This particular alley was well trodden by those who put in a shift at Reece's chain shop which adjoined the passage. Sporting a trilby hat rather than a flat cap worn by his employees, Glen Reece is stood to the right of this image. He took over the business following the death of his father Henry in July 1924. His father worked on his own account at Intended Street in High Town before the family moved to Colley Lane. Although he had been ill for some time, his death at the early age of 49 came as a blow to many as he was such a prominent figure in the life of Cradley folk. Henry Reece was a chairman of the Halesowen Rural District Council and, for 21 years, a member of Cradley Parish Council. He took a deep interest in the public life of the parish, and was chairman of Hayley Green Hospital Committee, along with being a school manager of Colley Lane School. He was also one of the trustees of Cradley Liberal Club where he had been elected life member. He was held in such high esteem that the funeral at St. Peter's Church was reportedly the largest seen in many years. Hundreds of people lined the route of the procession and filled the church. The headstone of the Reece family grave is of a quite singular design.
Opposite the alleyway stands the Liberal Club, one of Cradley's few mix-and-match 'catalogue' structures from the early days of King George V's reign. Work started on this building in the autumn of 1910 and it was nearing completion by the end of the year. It went up in a bit of a rush as the work was being undertaken during a general election, the second of the year due to there being a hung parliament. The Liberal John William Wilson, whose father was a partner in the chemical manufacturing firm of Albright and Wilson Limited at Oldbury, won the seat for North Worcestershire in January and retained it in December. When he attended a fund-raising bazaar prior to the second election he said to the audience that "the new club was one of the quickest and best-built he had seen for a long time. If the M.P. had paid to sit at the fortune-telling stall run by Winifred Hodgetts, he may have learned of his forthcoming victory in the election!
Cradley Liberals had been using a building in Church Street prior to the construction of this club. They had been using the new premises for three months before the official opening ceremony on Monday April 3rd, 1911. The club was formally opened by John William Wilson MP, the delay largely due to the death of his wife Florence in February. Charles Hodgetts Clewes, who presided, stated that "he hoped the club would not only foster innocent amusement, but would also be for the intellectual, social and moral good of the parish." The architect of the structure was Philip L. Best, and the building, featuring a significant Baroque pediment, was constructed by Mr. J. Tate. The total cost of the enterprise, including the bowling green, billiard tables and furnishings was £1,400. Mrs. Tamar Starling, of Furlong Lane, speaking for the Women's Liberal Association, said "she hoped they would be able to provide a special building for the women." As can be seen from the date stone of the extension, this did not happen until 1924. Mrs. Isabella Wilson, second wife of John William Wilson, performed the opening ceremony.
The tour is going down towards the church but first we are taking a little detour down Intended Street. The above view shows the rebuilt Old Crown that stood at the top of the street. The view is from Mapletree Lane so the tour is approaching from the left. The pub, a classic of the early 1960s public-house, was pulled down in 2008 but, although some foundations were started for new development, the site was abandoned and remained a pile of weeds for over a decade. It makes you want to cry into your beer to see such a sad sight.
The earlier Old Crown used to stand right on the corner and was almost a canteen of the Scotia Works or 'Top Shop' of Jones and Lloyd, one of the largest of Cradley's chain manufacturers. In 1970 the Top Shop was moved to the Avoncroft Museum near Bromsgrove.
I have bodged a map to show the locations of both Old Crown buildings. This map extract shows the layout of an area known as High Town in the mid-1950s. Many of the buildings in this section of Intended Street have survived into the 21st century. I find this thoroughfare very interesting and full of intrigue, largely because it is hard to detect who did what and where. This is due to a lack of house numbering in old documents and the fact I never seem to see beyond the frontages and wonder what lies behind in the long back gardens where, in the late Victorian era, there were plenty of outbuildings, workshops and cottages.
I only have one old photograph of Intended Street and it shows a street party, possibly where Nos.41-43 were built in later years, but more likely in the section redeveloped for the bungalows. The houses in the background could be those of Masons Close. I am told that this postcard image shows a street party for the coronation of 1953. However, the lack of male presence suggests to me that the photograph was taken at the end of the Second World War. A few children are chomping on a sandwich but there are seemingly no cakes! Still, everybody seem to be having a good time. UPDATE: Steph Robinson contacted me to say that she is pretty sure the boy at the bottom right of the photograph is Dennis Robinson. He was born in 1927 so this is possibly a party for the 1937 Coronation of King George.
Like Talbot Street and Spring Street, this section of Intended Street has retained most of the original housing, many of which were constructed in 1902. Apart from a few cases, the initial cost of the build was probably a lot less than in, say, Talbot Street, there being little decoration on most of the properties. The house in the foreground is one exception and features stone dressings and keystones to the window and door, along with voussoirs forming the archway - most of the other houses have simple brick. This building has the look of a former shop. There is another house with a shop-like window at No.18. At the end of the Edwardian period the latter was recorded as a shop run by Joseph Parsons. In 1908 Jemima Cox is listed as a shopkeeper in Intended Street but she was up near the Old Crown. The elderly widow kept a grocery store whilst her sons, Edwin, Joseph and Walter, worked as a chainmakers. Indeed, most of the men living this street worked in the chain industry, either at one of the local shops or on their own account at the back of the premises. It is interesting to note that many of the houses here have a large double gated entry, suggesting industry was conducted on a domestic scale.
Incidentally, I read somewhere, but cannot remember where, that one man bought the land here with the intention of building houses but failed due to financial failure - hence, although he 'intended' the street, he never realised it himself. I must try and find the source of this folklore.
Back up to the main road and across into the tree-lined walled area. The living conditions of the working-classes in early Victorian Cradley ranged from fairly harsh to unimaginable squalor and filth. The most notorious hell-hole was in this plot known as Anvil Yard. A cluster of seventeen cottages and the near-ruins of a 17th century house formed what became known as Purser's Square or Anvil Yard. It is thought to have been owned by Joseph Purser of Reddal Hill, a local magistrate and proprietor of mines, notably the colliery at Lydefield or Lyde Green. Whilst he lived in some refinement at Reddal Hill and, later, at Hanley Castle, he invested little or nothing on sanitation and improving the conditions for those who paid their rents to his clerk.
Of course, we will never know the real Joseph Purser but, on the evidence that can be gleaned from his time in the Black Country, he will not be remembered as a great social reformer. An outbreak of typhoid was traced back to Anvil Yard and a subsequent Government Board of Trade Report published in 1888 described the place as "a region of squalor and dirt far surpassing anything I had yet seen. Rents are high here and range from 3s. to 4s. In one case, a covered drain running past the end of a dwelling house, struck damp through the house wall from floor to ceiling; open drains everywhere carrying off household refuse, and ruinous privies with overflowing ash pits, loading the atmosphere with the most pungent odours. Here, also, are the little domestic workshops, built on to the houses, so that the occupants can step at once from kitchen to anvil."
At one time more than 90 people were crammed into the 17 households of Anvil Yard. Most of the men walked to the larger chain shops to endure 10-hour shifts whilst the women toiled at an anvil manufacturing small-link chain for wealthy iron-masters who exploited and abused them horribly. They had little time to run a mop around the blue-brick floors of their home for they spent most of their day achieving a given chain length in order to avoid a financial penalty from exploitative chain merchants. Childcare in those days consisted of sticking them in a corner of the chain shop, the women keeping half an eye on them whilst they formed chain links with their hammers. One can see a child in the corner of the chain shop shown above.
Adjoining Anvil Yard, and located where the garage stands around the corner, was the old Blue Ball Inn. Early publicans here were also metal-bashers as they brewed beer and worked as sword-blade forgers
On the opposite corner of Blue Ball Lane stood the imposing Cradley Baptist Church. Look closely at pavement level and one can see fragments of the stone steps that led up to entrance. It was a crying shame that this building with a lovely brick and terracotta façade was pulled down. I recognise that maintaining such buildings is costly but I had hoped that it could have served in some alternative role. The building's life was less than eight decades and it was demolished in 1979. The congregation moved to the school building in Church Road. The church had a turbulent time right from the start. Opened in February 1901, the building was designed by Albert Thomas Butler who, at the time, was based in Cradley Heath. He drew up the plans and invited tenders from builders in 1898. The total cost of the church was £4,000 but there was a shortfall of £1,872 and the debt proved to be a burden. Butler's work was normally sound but the church was in need of repairs and renovation by 1927. The combination of repair costs and a reduction in the congregation led to the closure of the Baptist Church fifty years later.
To the rear of the site once occupied by the Baptist Church another of Cradley's old footpaths has survived and leads up to the war memorial. Local folklore has it that the path was used by those seeking refreshment at the Blue Ball Inn when the church service concluded, or even for a quickie during a long interminable sermon!
There used to be a cluster of half-a-dozen or so dwellings in front of the church. The land was cleared and a garden created around 1912. Hardly big enough to be described as a park or pleasure ground, the gardens were allowed to become untidy until a makeover around 1927. The war memorial was unveiled on the site on January 28th, 1928. The ceremony, along with the opening of a bandstand, took place on a Saturday afternoon. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the time of year, the weather was pretty foul during the event. In what was described as 'wretched conditions,' around 1,500 people assembled in the gardens to see the cross, bearing the names of 118 men of the parish who gave their lives in the First World War. The memorial, the work of Stanley Griffiths, was unveiled by Viscount Cobham, Lord-Lieutenant of the county, and dedicated by the Rev. W. S. Cooper, parish vicar.
The Rev. Ronald John Beresford Irwin, a former curate of Saint 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.
This photograph of the interior of Saint Peter's Church was taken in the days leading up to Remembrance Sunday 2020. Work was being undertaken on the community-knitted poppy cascade which hung from the tower. In what was a tremendous community effort, almost 5,000 unique poppies were created and donated, resulting in a cascade measuring seventy-five feet. The interior of the church is unusual in that there is a gallery on both sides of the nave. The building was originally a Methodist Chapel and this elevated seating furnishes the building with the appearance of a non-conformist building.
The 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 Saint Peter in June 1898. Another unusual feature is that the tower was added at the east end of the building in 1874. Consequently, the church is oriented with a chancel at the west end. Standing on the site of the old portico, work on the tower commenced in July 1874. The contractor was a Mr. Nelson of Dudley who followed the instructions of John Cotton, the Birmingham-based architect.
The builder Joseph Bloomer was responsible for the work carried out on the main body of the church, including the replacement of the octagonal roof. The building was completely re-floored and the pews were installed soon afterwards. The peal of eight bells, donated by the aforementioned Caroline Wood Aston were cast in 1873, for the Vienna Exhibition, "at the special desire of Baron Swarz von Seaborn, who undertook at his own expense to erect the elegant belfry, in which they were fixed and rung during that great exhibition." An organ, containing fifteen stops and built by Messrs. Gray and Damson, of London, was also paid for by Caroline Wood Aston of The Elms. When the church re-opened in October 1875, the service must have sounded magnificent. The regular choir were joined by the Smethwick choir and voices of Halesowen church. The organ, if it could be heard over the massed voices, was played by Mr. T. Troman of Oxford.
From the church follow the path on the south side up to the wooden cross and memorial stone. This photograph of Saint Peter's Church was taken from a position fairly close to where the wooden cross would be erected, roughly midway between the church and 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 1930s 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 mining in the locality.
The large oak cross forms part of a memorial to 60 former pupils of Cradley Church Schools who died in the First World War. An avenue of remembrance was created with each lime tree being dedicated to a named individual. A further 60 poplar trees were planted along the boundary with Homer Hill Road. The above photograph shows the oak cross from the gate at Homer Hill Road. The cross was donated by Joseph Jaquiss, former headmaster of Cradley Church Schools. A procession and service was held on 16th December 1922 when the memorial stone was unveiled, the inscription reading: "To the Glory of God and the everlasting memory of the sixty old scholars of the Church Schools who fell in the Great War, 1914-18. These trees were planted and this stone erected by their old school fellows." Following the service relatives and friends of the fallen planted the trees allotted to them.
From the lime tree avenue turn right and continue up the hill on Homer Hill Park. Elements of both World Wars here have slipped into memory of those of a certain age. The bandstand and Sons of Rest building have gone, along with a former air raid shelter and gas decontamination centre. The park itself formed part of Cradley's remembrance. It was a local councillor who suggested that a park and recreation ground, with a children's play area, could form part of a memorial scheme. Ben Hodgetts, a local chainmaker, purchased land about Homer Hill for this purpose. His name is remembered in Benjamin Drive. The park is not on the former Homer Hill Colliery - that was just over the hill on which the modern housing estate stands. The land levelled for the park was formerly the Cradley Colliery that operated until 1917. The former Sons of Rest building can be seen in the above photograph. It overlooked the bowling green which has been converted into a play area.
The tour follows Benjamin Drive around the park and down into the gardens. The road separates the park from Lime Gardens, a retirement village of 120 apartments built on the site of the former Cradley High School. The latter had been derelict following its closure in 2010. The buildings were relatively modern, the original Cradley Secondary Modern School of 1939 having been largely rebuilt between 1987-1992.
The gardens are hardly up to Chelsea Flower Show standards but a cash-strapped local authority struggles to maintain the grounds, often vandalised by those with little regard for their own environment. Once, I had a very embarrassing moment when walking my boxer dog through these gardens. I let her off the lead and she pottered around for a bit before walking up to the hedge dividing the gardens from the football field. That was the moment she spotted the ball being lumped around by 22 blokes. She was a really well-behaved dog but the moment she saw a ball she totally lost the plot. Despite my shouts for her to come back she was off down the left wing on a mazy dribble like she was Diego Maradona. The players thought it was hilarious but I was so ashamed.
The exit of the gardens is on Slade Road. A lane connecting Barrack Lane with Church Road, this was once called The Sladpiece, probably derived from the Germanic "slecke," meaning small pieces of coal. Barrack Lane, the road on which the Crown Inn faces, is thought to commemorate a barracks for Parliamentary troops stationed here during the English Civil War.
The tour continues along Church Road, at the head of which stands Cleveland Villa, a red-brick house of 1895. The National Schools, or Church School, was originally in a simple building built in 1789. Part of the present building was erected around 1854, along with the two cottages [pictured above] that have, at times, housed school teachers or church vergers. This was the work of the architect Francis Smalman Smith who was based at Union Chambers in Stourbridge. Discipline in the mid-19th century was harsh and the punishment severe. However, in March 1861 Mary Ann Woolridge, a mistress at the school, was charged with assault and found guilty of beating a six year-old girl named Hannah Morris. The magistrates were told that the young girl was told by the schoolmistress to hang her brother's cap on a peg. It was stated that the child did not immediately comply, whereupon the mistress struck her several times, one blow injuring her right eye, which bled until she returned home. Her mother was shocked to find that she had several marks on her arms and neck. Despite some evidence being presented in her defence, the magistrates were of the opinion that Mary Ann Woolridge had beaten the child with undue severity. They therefore inflicted a heavy fine.
A new infant's school was opened in 1897, the year of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. The architect for the project was Albert Thomas Butler who, from his Cradley Heath office, designed a building in the Renaissance style. Accommodating 227 pupils, the school was constructed by the firm of J. A. Meredith. An opening ceremony was performed by Sir Benjamin Hingley.
Over the years the school buildings have been renovated and extended, particularly in 1928 which saw the school enlarged considerably. However, it is still possible to see the distinctive styles of the 1850s and 1890s standing side-by-side. The A. T. Butler school is to the left in the above photograph. The hotch-potch wall has sadly gone.
On the opposite side of Church Road is Cradley Baptist Church. When the former Baptist Church was demolished in 1979 the congregation moved to this building, the former Cradley British Schools. A foundation or memorial stone states that it was laid on September 18th, 1871 by Mrs. Thomas Wood of Colley Gate House. She did lay the stone for the infant's school so I assume there is another stone for the rest of the structure. This was laid by George Turton of Caldwell Hall at Kidderminster who, due to the illness of Thomas Wood, stepped in to perform ceremonial duties. It was stated that it would take two months for the builder T. Lewis to complete the project. The Revd. M. Morgan told the audience that there were 400 Sunday scholars and that the new building would be a major improvement on the existing arrangements and "a blessing to the locality, both in a spiritual and moral point of view."
The tour now passes the war memorial and down to the cobble stones on the corner of Blue Ball Lane. The above photograph shows the same corner with the Baptist Chapel, War Memorial and St. Peter's Church. The trees in front of the church were removed to open up the vista. The origins of the Baptist 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. 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.
The area below the church and war memorial was once known as Dungeon Head as it is said that there was a lock-up in which miscreants would spend the night if causing trouble in the streets or public-houses. A set of stocks also stood here for dishing out punishment to those who committed minor crimes. This could include shopkeepers or publicans found guilty of short measure or failing the inspection of an ale conner. There were also some mounting steps for horse-riders and it is thought that these were used by John Wesley when preaching to the people of Cradley. The stone on which he stood has been preserved in the High Town Ragged School located in Mapletree Lane.
As previously mentioned, a cluster of half-a-dozen or so dwellings used to stand in front of the church. In this photograph from 1912 the demolition work was well underway. A crowd gathered for the photographer recording the event. Many of the people gathered are young children - no high-vis and helmets in those days! And don't worry about falling masonry, let the children clamber up to the first floor to join the demolition gang pausing for the photographer! Note that, although the frontages of these buildings had been altered over the years, the rear wall reveals that these were timber-framed buildings and of some antiquity.
The demolition definitely took place in 1912 as the Cradley Parish Council, when meeting in December of that year, discussed proposals for "the site of the property recently demolished between the Parish Church and the Baptist Chapel." There was little agreement at the meeting in which a road through the site was discussed. Thankfully, they opted for what was called a recreation ground but little more than formal gardens. I suspect that some school boys were drafted in to help as part of their education was in gardening lessons. The new public space was marked as a recreation ground on maps and was referred to as the recreation ground in some articles.
The tour is now going down the old High Street. On the left-side of the road Nos.53 and 53a are in the above photograph [the street numbering was different in earlier years]. They are the houses above the cart seen in the image. Commissioned by the Rev. Henry James Quilter and his wife Emma of Clyndon House at Lyde Green. He was the Oxford-born Wesleyan minister of Cradley but, as was the normal procedure of the time, moved around quite a bit. The couple would later live at Dursley in Gloucestershire before moving to Swanscombe in Kent.
The large white building on the corner was probably another timber-framed building. Here it was being used as the premises of William Corbett, a plumber and decorator. From here the Corbett family traded in oil paint, sheet lead, zinc and iron spouting, wallpaper and glass. His sons were involved in the business as house painters.
In this image we can see the premises next door to the Corbett family. This is the house now numbered 53. Here, it can be seen that it was a pawnbroker's shop in 1895. The proprietor of this business was Herbert Edmunds who lived here with his Dudley-born wife Keturah. He continued in this trade when moving to Stourbridge Road in Halesowen during the Edwardian period. He would later cross the border and conduct his business in Cradley Heath.
In this view, we have fast-forwarded by 10 years to the mid-Edwardian period. On the left is the same pawnbroker's shop with a slightly different window arrangement. A new wall in brick and terracotta with iron railings has been added at the front - I am not sure why such a nice wall has since been removed? Herbert Edmunds was still listed at this address in a 1904 trade directory. He and his wife Keturah had two daughters, Kitty and Beatrice. The also employed Edith Pemberton as a domestic servant. The house next door was occupied by the commercial clerk George Plant and his wife Mary. The two properties to the right of the photograph also have shop frontages. The first was occupied by Daniel and Elizabeth Parsons. He went out to work as coal loader at one of the local pits. It was Elizabeth who kept the grocery shop. Next door was the butcher Joseph Hodgetts who lived on the premises with his wife Fanny.
Facing the pawnbroker's shop on the opposite side of the High Street was the Fish Inn. The pub is just out of sight on this image. The board displaying the name of the licensee is projecting from the frontage. Also note how the pub has a painted sign on a neighbouring projecting wall - one can just see the letters FIS. The publican at the time of this image was Hezekiah Walker, a chainmaker by trade and pub gaffer at night. When not on duty, the public-house was run by his wife Amelia. The small projecting sign in the centre of the photograph is for the draper's business run by David and Myra Harper. Next to them was a grocery shop run by Walter and Elizabeth Talbot. These shops faced what would become the recreation ground where the war memorial is sited.
This photograph shows the drapery store a little later in the Edwardian period. Three smartly-dressed boys are stood outside, perhaps waiting for a parent purchasing items inside. It would appear that they were kitted out from this emporium at some point. One of the lads seems to be carrying a loaf of bread. It is possible to see some of the items on sale in the window, particularly a range of hats. The shop changed hands in the late Edwardian period and was being run by Leah Bate who lived here with her widowed mother Ann and sister Lucy, the latter working as a telegraph clerk. The Fish Inn had also changed hands and was now being run by the Auden family. The painted wall sign has been changed to advertise their home-brewed ales. A little further down the hill is a barber's pole. This business was housed in a single-storey lock-up building next to the Holly Bush Inn which, at the time of this image, was kept by Francis Ellis.
This view of the High Street was captured lower down the road looking back at the properties discussed above. The postman is stood close to the drapery store with its sun canopy extended. The hairdresser's can be seen clearly in this image. The adjacent property was being rebuilt and a steel joist has been inserted to create a new shop front. The horse and trap is parked outside the Robin Hood on the corner of New Street. The signboard reveals that the publican was William Tibbetts. The Cradley Heath-born landlord kept the pub with his wife Hannah for one year between 1904 and 1905. They would later move to the New Inn on Grainger's Lane.
This horse and cart was photographed on the opposite side of the High Street around 1908. The double-door entry can still be found between No.59 and a shop that has recently traded as Safebury's. The entry was virtually opposite the aforementioned barber's shop next to the Holly Bush Inn. The man on the left is leaning against the former shop front of No.59. The waggon belonged to William H. James, a hide, skin, fat and wool merchant based in Green Street and, later, Bowling Green Road at Stourbridge. Originally from Kenilworth his business was continued by his son. He certainly looks chuffed with himself at the reins. He was probably doing business with Joseph Hodgetts and Daniel Gill, both of whom traded as butchers in this section of the High Street.
The shops with the double-door entry seen above were seemingly a fairly new build because this earlier photograph, dating from no later than 1904, shows two rudimentary single-storey buildings in the same position on the High Street. The street seems to have had a number of development projects during the early Edwardian period. The telegraph pole on the left of this image was almost directly opposite the Holly Bush Inn. The shops in the foreground have largely gone but the buildings remain on the High Street, having been converted to houses in more recent times. The young woman was stood outside the grocery store run by the elderly Hannah Bridgwater. Indeed, she may be one of two granddaughters, Hannah or Sarah, both of whom lived on the premises and no doubt assisted with the business. In 2020 she would be stood outside the front doors of Nos.69 and 71.
The large double-fronted shop in the middle of the photograph has become a house, numbered 73. Here it was the drapery store of Richard and Annie Dallow. By the end of the decade their daughter Mildred was assisting in the business. Growing up on Hawes Lane in Rowley Regis, Richard Dallow had, like his father, previously worked as a labourer in a tube works. The shop was still a drapery store in the mid-1920s when it traded as Round & Nichol, though by 1928 George Westwood was the draper operating from this address.
The stepped frontages of the building in the foreground remains a commercial property in the 21st century. For a number of years it traded as Motabits but, more recently, has been Kulab Nails and Beauty. The cobbles on the pavement to the right was the entrance to a wide passage to the rear of the properties. I went up there in 2002 and there were still a range of hotch-potch outbuildings that had survived.
Returning to the former drapery store .... many people will remember the shop as Jack Holloway's. He operated a hardware store of the old school and had an extraordinary stockholding. Anybody in Cradley who came unstuck with a particular item that needed replacing, be it a 1930's radio valve, a weird angle bracket or the hinges from a 1960's Formica cupboard went to Jack Holloway who, more often than not had one in stock. I can remember calling in at various times and asking if he had got a such-and-such and he would say "hang on me mon, I'll goo an' check," before he disappeared into his labyrinth of boxes and drawers. Donning his old brown work coat, the sort that the set-fixers would wear on Morecambe & Wise, he would generally emerge brandishing the required item, asking for a price that was also outdated. I would end up paying more than requested. What a cult this emporium was. Sadly, this photograph was taken during a stock clearance following Jack Holloway's passing.
This photograph was taken a little back up the High Street and, in the foreground, features the buildings discussed above. However, one can now see down the street and into Little Hill. From this position the High Street disappears around the corner to the left. The view is principally down Little Hill which continued after the White Horse Inn. The pub at the time of this image was being kept by Daniel and Charlotte Batham, though Charlotte died in 1906. In the distance the landscape drops down to the River Stour at Toy's Green and back up the hill to Cradley Heath. The inn sign board seen to the right is that of the Robin Hood on the corner of New Street. The tall three-storey building was a new mixed-use development. A long-standing business here before and after the First World War was kept by the tobacconist, stationer and newsagent Thomas Chambers. For some years his neighbour was the fishmonger Thomas Plant. It must have been heartbreaking to watch these buildings being pulled down for the Huntingdon Gardens development.
Continuing down the hill, past the Rose and Crown, the next property was also two shops in former times. During the Second World War Bert and Annie Millward operated a shop selling a bit of all sorts including hardware, paraffin, toys and, well all sorts of stuff that "would come in handy one day!" The name of the place, "Tinkalary" has pervaded, allegedly because the original owner, grandfather of Bert Millward, was a tinker and repaired pots and pans - poor folks would try to maximise the lifespan of precious items such as cooking vessels. The lower side of the property on the right was a grocery store kept by George and Emma Westwood. The house is now called The Vault but I am not sure if there is another tale associated with the place.
The Primitive Methodist [Bethesda] Chapel that stood a few metres down the hill was demolished many moons ago. The congregation had moved to form Overend Methodist Church in 1971. The chapel was formerly used as a chain warehouse but altered to accommodate the congregation who had formerly met in New Street. The church was opened at the beginning on 1872 and served for a century before being pulled down. The old Sunday School building that was behind the chapel was still standing in December 2020 but some of the windows were smashed so perhaps it was not in use. It had been sold to The Assemblies of God Church, part of the Pentecostal movement.
Across the High Street was the so-called 'bottom shop' of Messrs. Jones & Lloyd Co. Ltd., a chain-manufacturing firm founded by Joseph and William Rock in 1837. Quite close to the factory where heavy chain was produced was the Black Swan public-house.
A little further down the hill there is a high wall next to the triangular road junction. The wall was, as can be seen in the above photograph, much higher and behind was the Trinity Wesleyan Methodist Church. The site was formerly occupied by an Ebenezer Chapel erected around 1825. A larger edifice designed in the Early English style by the West Bromwich-based architect Edward Pincher was built by Messrs. Round & Bagnall of Oldbury. Accommodating 350 adults, with a large gallery at the north-east end for 250 children and the choir, the building was opened in June 1874. The project cost £2,800. A decade later a new Sunday School in the Gothic style was erected to the rear and opened in July 1884. This was locally designed and built, the architect being Mr. Meacham and the contractor Henry Dorse and Sons. The date stone for the school can be seen in the reconstructed wall on the corner of Middle Tree Road, along with some inscribed names on bricks. These were members of the congregation who had subscribed to the construction of the Sunday School. Incidentally, the report on the opening of the school lists J. Meacham as the architect but I suspect a typo and that it was Isaac Meacham who did a lot of work on chapels in the local area. His office was in Cradley Road.
I have placed this image here as the tour is now going up Middle Tree Road which, in the Edwardian period was simply fields with grazing cattle and horses. This photograph shows the edge of Lyde Green with the hill beneath the church, now partly wooded but also featuring modern housing development. A walk to the end of Silver Innage will bring one to a pair of very old cottages that were part of the High Street. Indeed, they still have a Colley Lane address. In the past they were numbered 79 and 81 High Street. This is a good example of maximising development within a plot of land, with shops to the front building line and housing to the rear to generate further income.
Heading back along Silver Innage the tour of Cradley arrives at the junction of Hammersley Close. This was the site of a relatively large clothing factory, part of the Hammersley family's group of four production facilities that provided jobs for 700 people. Pictured above is Stephen Hammersley, managing director of the firm in the cutting room of the factory in 1968. Two years earlier, he had visited New York with an official Board of Trade export mission, and this ushered in a prosperous period of exporting tweed jackets to the United States. Indeed, many Americans suddenly desired a light Harris Tweed jacket which was a speciality of E. R. Hammersley and Co. Ltd. The firm used cloth produced in Harris and Lewis in the Outer Hebrides and produced clothing that sold in most major U.S. cities. The family crest was introduced on labels and price tickets and they became a sort of badge-of-honour to consumers.
The company was founded by Stephen Hammersley's father, Edwin Ragsdale Hammersley. Born in Kingswinford in 1862, he was the son of a French-born pawnbroker who had married a Gloucestershire woman and settled in the Black Country. Edwin assisted in the business which, in the late Victorian era, traded from a shop in Cradley Heath High Street near to the Four Ways. Edwin started the wholesale clothing business through a chain of out-workers in the Black Country. He later established a works in Queen Street [opposite the modern Tesco supermarket]. It was in 1936 that the firm moved into the factory on Lyde Green.
During the Second World War the plant was turned over to produce aircraft fuel tanks - a little odd in my opinion as I thought it would be better suited to the production of uniforms or parachutes. It was during the war that Edwin Hammersley died at his home in Western Road at Hagley. Management of the business had already passed to son Stephen who lived at Woodside on Mucklow Hill in Halesowen.
In July 1938 Stephen Hammersley married Winifred James in her hometown of Nottingham. She was better known as Freda James, three-times winner of women's doubles in Grand Slam events. In 1933 she triumphed with Betty Nuthall at the US Women's National Championship. In 1935 and 1936 she won at Wimbledon alongside Kay Stammers. Below you can follow a film clip of Freda James in action at the Wightman Cup in 1939, though the Americans won on this occasion.
Following the war Stephen Hammersley expanded his business by acquiring other clothing firms in the Midlands, one of which was Holloway Brothers of Stroud. That factory eventually closed as the firm were unable to attract new employees. Indeed, this was an issue at Lyde Green in the 1960s. The company had relied on young female school-leavers but Stephen Hammersley told a reporter that the raising of the school-leaving age, combined with social change, had made it harder to attract labour.
E. R. Hammersley and Co. Ltd. made the headlines in 1953 when it cleared its warehouse of stocks of overcoats and gave them to victims of the East Coast floods, a disaster that cost the lives of 307 people in the counties of Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex.
E. R. Hammersley and Co. Ltd. eventually became part of BMB a subsidiary of William Baird PLC., and the brand was sold into the Marks and Spencer Group, though the Lyde Green factory had long since closed down and production moved elsewhere. In retirement Stephen and Freda Hammersley lived at 15 South Road in Hagley. The former managing director died in August 1983 and was buried at Broome. Tennis superstar Freda died five years later in December 1988.
From the site of the clothing factory the tour heads back down to Lyde Green and turns left. The large property on the left was, in recent times, the Eversley Nursing Home. Following a damning report which stated that "residents were not being kept safe from coronavirus," the home was closed and put on the market. I took this photograph just after the property had sold under the hammer for £434,000. The house had once been The Manse and was occupied by the family of the minister at the Trinity Wesleyan Methodist Church. Following the doctrine of John Wesley, ministers moved on a frequent basis, often annually. Consequently, The Manse would have housed many people over the years. At the outbreak of World War 2, The Manse was occupied by Clifford and Doris Gilwhite, a couple who had married in October 1934. They had moved from the Walsall Mission at Aldridge.
A little further along the road there is a cluster of older buildings, what I regard as the nucleus of Lyde Green. I have included a map extract from 1884 to show that the old road is now a back road and that the main road followed the line of a former footpath. I have marked the location of where the Vine Inn was built on this 'new' road, along with the location of the 'lost' Crown Inn, a pub that was later enlarged from what is shown on this map extract. This pub, colloquially known as The Blue Brick, stood to the left of No.86, the latter being a café for many years. The Vine Inn was built just after the First World War, replacing an older Vine Inn kept by chainmaking beer retailers. There was also a brewery at Lyde Green. Frederick Cutler operated it in the past and supplied his small group of pubs, including the Rose and Crown on the High Street.
The tour does return to the bottom of the old High Street but if you feel inclined to look at some more modern housing then just after Wesley Avenue on the right [north] side Nos.142-4 were built on the site of the old Good Shepherd Mission Chapel. This satellite place of worship was built and opened in 1909. In July 1910 it was reported that the choir, accompanied by the Rev.d R. H. Edmondson, enjoyed an outing to Holt Fleet. The chapel was burned down in April 1958.
Returning along Lyde Green, the tour turns left at the main road, and along what was once Bridge Street. On the left one can make out the entrance to what was once Mill Street. Many Cradley folk will remember this as the entrance to Cradley Castings Limited, though it was originally a street of mixed development. There were a good number of houses amid several works. At the end of the street there was an anchor works in which John Ness, William Pegg and Harry Forrest, the original partners of what would become Cradley Castings, produced small chain. Founded in 1921, their business, known as the Cradley Chain and Manufacturing Company, initially flourished but met with difficult trading conditions during the 1930s. Following the Second World War, the company changed direction and started up a foundry to manufacture castings.
As the business grew, the firm started to eat into and mop up the residential buildings in Mill Street. The shop that stood on the corner of Mill Street lasted until the early 1980s but was eventually demolished, the land being used as a staff car park. The shop can be seen in the earlier image above. On the opposite corner, just out of the shot, stood the old mill from which the thoroughfare running parallel to the River Stour was named. The mill was later used by Bridge Crystal. Bev Pegg, grandson of the founder, took over as managing director of Cradley Castings in 1964, juggling the life of an industrialist with that of entertainer. He has performed many styles of music, from jazz and blues, to country, folk and skiffle.
On the opposite side of Bridge Street there is a memorial to Steve Bloomer, goalscoring machine for Derby County who was the David Beckman of the late Victorian and early Edwardian periods. He was born in Cradley in January 1874. However, the memorial is not on the site of the house in which he was born - that was across the other side of Bridge Street near the junction of Lyde Green. But although born in the Black Country, he was brought up in Derby as his family moved when he was just five years-old. He enjoyed a dazzling career scoring hundreds of goals and playing for England. Although he was known for his perfect timing on the pitch, he miscalculated when moving to Germany to coach football just before the outbreak of World War One. He spent the war interned within a civilian camp at Ruhleben in the Spandau district of Berlin. Conditions were poor and the crowded inmates had very basic rationing.
Despite becoming a celebrity and earning considerable sums through endorsements, a rare thing in those days, Steve Bloomer died with little money. He ended up working as a groundsman at the Baseball Ground. He passed away in a room within the Great Northern Inn on Junction Street, a Derby tavern run by his daughter Doris along with husband Cyril Richards. A measure of the stature of Steve Bloomer is that, a century after he was scoring goals left, right and centre, a bust of him was unveiled next to the home dugout at the home of Derby County. Moreover, the club anthem, "Steve Bloomer's Watchin'," is played before every home game.
The Steve Bloomer memorial is close to the site of the Bridge Inn, which stood almost directly opposite Mill Street. The former pub was acquired by Cradley Castings and used as offices during the mid-1950s. It was later used as the house of the firm's caretaker but finally demolished at the end of the 1960s.
In the 21st century, the River Stour marks the boundary between the metropolitan boroughs of Dudley and Sandwell. Historically, the river was the boundary between Worcestershire and Staffordshire. Immediately before the 1974 county boundary changes, Cradley fell under Halesowen Borough Council whilst, on the other side of the river, Cradley Heath was part of Warley County Borough. In terms of this website, these 'modern' changes are all pretty irrelevant as I have stuck to the old counties as I am dealing with the history of properties, many of which did not survive to see 1974. Consequently, there is no West Midlands section on the site.
The tour now follows a footpath on the Cradley side of the river. This was a little messy when I took the above photograph in December 2020 but plans were afoot for a community programme to improve the conditions for wildlife and plants, thus encouraging a sense of ownership with the local community. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution the Stour has suffered from terrible pollution. However, the reduction in heavy industry is bringing a change to the water and some species are re-populating the woodlands and river bank. Heck, I have even spotted kingfishers on this stretch of the river.
It is only a short distance to a footbridge that connected the area below the High Street with Toy's Green and on towards Cradley Heath. The old bridge had been used for some vehicular traffic. In this photograph taken in the Edwardian period, the river is flowing over the bridge. The water level was particularly high in 1915 when the river flooded to levels not seen for a quarter of a century. There was also a flood in 1912 but that appears to have affected Cradley Forge more than Lodge Forge.
The Hipkiss family were operating Lodge Forge in the mid-19th century. Indeed, it was said that they were the first occupiers of the forge. The family denied this when it was mooted that they should finance repairs to the bridge which had become dangerous through the lack of maintenance and the repeated flooding. As the bridge straddled two boroughs in separate counties, the bureaucratic arguments over responsibility and funding became a local farce. It took a couple of decades to finalise an agreement and the bridge was finally reconstructed in the early 1920s.
All of the housing and streets seen in the photograph taken by Lodge Forge Bridge have long gone. The area, including an old chapel, a couple of public-houses and workshops was swept away for the development of Huntingdon Gardens, a poorly-conceived and ill-fated social housing scheme. After standing for just three decades, this would also be removed from the landscape for the present housing development.
The tour follows the River Stour until the path heads up some steps to Butcher's Lane. The above photograph was taken near the top of the steps and is looking back along the Stour valley. With less heavy industry along its banks, the river is slowly recovering from several centuries of abuse. Perhaps trout will one day be seen in its waters. Rising from the Clent Hills near to St. Kenelm's Church in Romsley, the river is around 40 kilometres in length and a tributary of the River Severn.
Butcher's Lane must surely be named after the people engaged in this trade over the years. There was once a butcher's shop on the corner of High Street but there several trading in the area at the bottom of Furlong Lane. Indeed, this was possibly the reason for an inn sign of the Bull's Head, a tavern close to the corner of Banner's Street, and a public-house once kept by a family of butchers. The footpath emerges fairly close to No.79, the only remaining house from the 19th century where there was once a cluster of dwellings. On the opposite side of the road stood the chain shop of Mary Gill, the last woman to produce chain in Cradley. The building was later removed to Temple Meadow School in Old Hill where it was rebuilt and used as an educational resource.
At one time there were almshouses at the junction of Furlong Lane. The Sun Inn stood on the left-hand [northern] side of the road, almost directly opposite Furlong Lane. Part of another cluster of cottages, the building stood at an angle to the road. Continuing on the north side of the road, there is an old shop that faced Banner's Lane. This is a most unusual building in that a vertical extension was made to the house below in order to gain a frontage to Overend Road. The above photograph shows the house beneath the retail premises. For many years the retail part of the building was a newsagent's shop. Caleb Cooper had the business for some years before the Gauden family. They operated the lock-up premises from their home in Timberdine Close, just off Furlong Lane. In the latter part of the 20th century it was known as the Little 'Un and run for many years by an Asian man who would always engage in a bit of conversation but I cannot remember his name? There is still some engineering taking place next to Willow Cottage as Roy Deeley has established a motorcycle restoration business here.
When the Little 'Un was moved up the road to larger premises the building became a flower shop and plant centre. The pretty street display would always catch the eye of passers-by. The people running this business moved to a bigger site with a yard by Lowe's transport yard on Powke Lane. This photograph shows the 'new' location of the Little 'Un, though by the time of this photograph it was run by different people. The buildings seen here are believed to form part of Morgan's Buildings labelled as such in the census of 1901. The Morgan family originated from Pontypridd and worked as anchor smiths. Lewis Morgan caused quite a stir in 1903 when he appeared in court on a charge of deserting his wife after he had allegedly assaulted her. He was ordered to pay maintenance of 10s. for the upkeep of his wife Agnes.
The row of houses behind the corner shop is a little like the housing on Netherend Square. During the Second World War the houses were mainly occupied by metal workers. In taking the photograph I am standing close to the River Stour which was channelled beneath Overend Road. The grass space on the eastern side of the road had, until recent years, been the site of an iron and steel stockholders. In Victorian times a tramway passed across the land and into the site of the Corngreaves Works, an extensive site now partly occupied by Cradley Business Park. A little further upstream there was a blacking mill, where charcoal was ground into a fine powder which was then used for the dusting of moulds in foundries. This was operated by the horse slaughterer George Billingham.
Having reached the edge of Cradley, the tour returns to the traffic lights and the junction of Banner's Lane. The land behind the garage and motor dealership was once used as a cricket field in the Victorian years. This later became the site of the Belle Vale foundry, operated for many years as Oakley Brothers. The firm did however retain a recreation ground. When the foundry site was redeveloped with housing, the cricket field was commemorated in the street names Century Way, Batsman Close and The Infield. The factory was served by the jug department of the Black Horse that stood just around the corner of Banner's Lane. This was an old road that led to Colman Hill. However, the tour goes up Banner's Street, a thoroughfare laid out at the fag end of the Victorian era and developed in the Edwardian period.
The house behind the wall topped with metal railings, on the corner of Banner's Street, was the site of the Bull's Head. There was once a small chain works behind No.6 and there are a couple of curious prefabricated houses opposite the Overend Methodist Mission. Founded in 1905, this was originally a non-denominational People's Mission but has since become the central place of worship for the former congregations of three other churches. When the Primitive Methodist [Bethesda] Church on the High Street closed in 1971, the congregation moved to this building. In 1995 they were joined by the worshippers of the Wesleyan Methodist Church at Lyde Green. Nine years later those who had attended the Primitive Methodist Church in Grainger's Lane moved here when their building closed.
The People's Mission was formerly in a building on Overend Road close to the junction of Furlong Lane. Harry Hemming had a grocery shop on the eastern corner of Furlong Lane and provided the land free-of-rent for a five year term. The building, largely of corrugated iron, was quickly erected and opened in November 1905. The lower part of the building was made with bricks, the six foundation stones of which, including the names of Harry Hemming, Joseph Holt and Benjamin Southall, can be seen on the Overend Methodist Mission. The preservation of the Harry Hemming stone is a curiosity because his refusal to renew the lease of the mission forced the congregation to move to this site. Indeed, it is said that he padlocked the old mission room so that he could repossess the land. The congregation met in a neighbouring cottage whilst a new building was erected here in Banner's Street.
The land for the new mission room was acquired from William Jones and Mary Ann Sutton. The central foundation stone was laid by Elizabeth Smith of Spinner's End in April 1911. The building cost in the region of £350 and was built by Alfred and Harry Southall with Herbert and Edward Roberts, all of whom were members of the congregation. The doors were officially opened by the parish cleark Edwin Bird on April 1st 1911. On the following Monday a celebratory evening tea was held, followed by an entertainment given by the Red Rose Troupe, with Frank Woodhouse presiding.
Work on the adjoining school room commenced in 1933 and was built by J. M. Tate & Sons to the plans of Cyril Turner of Old Hill. Conducted by Rev. Walter C. Chrimes, the stone-laying ceremony took place in August 1933.
The old warehouse next to the Mission is still operational. There was another small chain shop behind No.19. During the Second World War this was operated by Ernest Woodhouse. No.25 was once a grocery store kept by William and Hilda Hawkeswood. In fact, he would deliver groceries and vegetables around the area whilst Hilda managed the shop. There had been another greengrocery at No.16 opposite the Mission. The small off-shoot called The Close was developed on the site of a nut and bolt factory. The entry to the left of No.29 led to the chain works of Bertie Worton who, I believe, was well-known in the locality for his comedy and singing at church halls and societies. The site of the chain works was on the development of Pennant Drive off Banner's Lane. However, Bertie and his wife Hannah lived at No.29.
There are traces of a wall sign above No.50 which used to be a grocery shop many years ago. Harry Wallace was listed as a grocer here in a trade directory published in 1932. I think that the gap between Nos.52 and 54 once provided access to the sinks collecting water from the spring further up the hill, one of many in the locality. Earlier mapping suggests that a channel was cut to allow the water to flow into sinks to the rear of the garden of No.56. The tour now goes off-road again, following a footpath through the coppice in a south-westerly direction. I love the fact that Cradley has such an interesting network of paths. This one passes close to the source of the aforementioned spring.
The path through this little coppice and wildlife haven is not of great antiquity and does not appear on maps until after the Second World War. It is well-trodden now and a handy route for those living in Overend up to Highfield Crescent and Windmill Hill. The path emerges on a pathway that is historic. The 70 steps form part of a route that, according to local folklore, was a pathway used by Cradley folk to attend church at Halesowen before St. Peter's opened. If true, then it is a route that many pilgrims have followed for prayer and spiritual enlightenment. On reaching the steps, the route turns right and down towards Hillside Avenue. This is an inter-war development that was there by March 1934 as Samuel Tromans, who lived at No.20, was fined during that month for not displaying a tax disc on his lorry. Reginald Shuker, who lived at No.25 with his wife Lily, also drove a lorry in his job as a fruit grower and merchant. Most of the men living in Hillside Avenue during the 1930s worked as chainmakers or within local factories. One person, Cyril Hendrick of No.31, worked as a frost cog maker, a job with little future in the 1930s. At No.30 Walter Pugh listed his trade as a body builder!
Although many streets in the Black Country have been redeveloped to a certain degree, there is often fragments of the past to be found. At the end of Hillside Avenue, almost straight across the road on Furlong Lane, there are two old properties amid more modern houses. These formed a row of four that probably all dated from the same period. No.117 had a little more money spent on it and features friezes to the windows and, voila, a dated stone informing the curious onlooker that it was erected in 1886. It was even bestowed with the name of Vale Cottage. For those who like to delve into the past this sort of thing makes it so much easier! There is a pub connection with this house because George Ingley, former licensee of the Old Mogul Inn at Netherend lived here during his retirement in the 1930s. The neighbouring house has been rebuilt but No.113 is of interest to me as a cyclist because this was once a cycle agency run by the Grove family. Old maps suggests that this property extended some way back from the Furlong Lane frontage but there is a gap between the house and the cottages around the back in Osmington Grove.
The tour continues up the hill on this side of Furlong Lane. At the junction of Hill Bank Road there is a path alongside No.107. Continue up this path which is another section of the aformentioned Church Highway. On the left-hand side of the path there is a former chain shop of the classic design and a rare survivor in a town that was awash with such buildings. Although sharing a frontage with the footpath, the chain shop was approached via an entry between Nos.34-36 Ladysmith Road. I am not sure when chain was last worked in this building. However, just before the Second World War the chainmaker Walter Cox lived at No.36. His neighbour at No.34 was John Priest, an edge tool spade maker. There was a much bigger chain-making enterprise a few metres further on. The site was behind the tall wall of breeze blocks.
Continue up to Mapletree Lane and turn left for High Town Ragged School and Chapel. Surviving Ragged Schools are few and far between in the UK but Cradley has two of them! The school's tenth annual report was published in 1872 so the building is a little older than the Two Gates Ragged School. Noah Hingley, along with Thomas Crowther, were the driving force in the school's establishment. The chainmaker Thomas Bloomer also supported the institution. The school houses the stone on which John Wesley preached to the people of Cradley at Dungeon Head. There are also three windows by the Smethwick-based stained-glass artist Walter Camm. There were many local residents who devoted their lives to the High Town Ragged School. James Davies was a teacher for 40 years. John Bills of Overend spent 20 years of his relatively short life as a teacher. The chainmaker Benjamin Hodgetts, of Dane Tree House on Colley Gate, from his early youth was identified with the school. For 50 years he was a Sunday School teacher before his death in 1926.
The aforementioned chain works of the Reece family stood opposite - Number 41 standing on the site of the factory. For much of the 19th century the Ragged School stood in splendid isolation, a time when the land later occupied by Ladysmith Road was largely given over to allotment gardens.
I am not comfortable with the name of Ladysmith Road but I am not an advocate of presentism. As one would expect with the name, the road was laid out and developed at the turn of the 20th century, though the chain shops preceded many of the houses. At the top of the road, modern housing stands on the site of the chain works of Willetts and Sons. However, No.52, the house in which the founder Charles Willetts lived, still stands next to the narrow gullet. The son of a chainmaker, he grew up on Corngreaves Road in Cradley Heath. He married Leah Bloomer in July 1888. She was the daughter of the Cradley chainmaker Caleb Bloomer and, accordingly, the couple settled nearby. He established his chain works in the newly-developed Ladysmith Road. His eldest sons, Gilbert and Harold, were working with him by the end of King Edward VII's reign. Charles and Leah did not seek country air like some contemporaries and they remained in their modest house amid the sound and smell of the chain shop. Charles died in Ladysmith Road in March 1947.
At No.46, the end of the terraced row on the left-hand side of the road, lived John Denning, the celebrated pigeon fancier whose house was probably full of trophies as his birds won hundreds of prizes. Apparently, his secret was Karswood Poultry Spice which he used for many years as he claimed it was excellent for Show Birds and egg production. Living here in the 1920s, he may have been the same John Denning who kept the Anchor Hotel at Cradley Heath during the First World War.
No.38 used to be the home of the Davies family. When James Davies died in November 1923 the local newspaper printed: "Cradley has lost one of its best known and respected residents. James Davies, who was born In Dudley, spent over sixty years of his life in Cradley, and for a considerable number of years worked as a vice-maker with Messrs. Brooks, of Lye. He was 72 years of age, and leaves a widow, four sons and two daughters to mourn their loss. He was a staunch Liberal and, for over 40 years, a Sunday School teacher at High Town Ragged School. He was throughout his life greatly interested in poultry keeping." At his funeral Walter Hodgetts said: "Mr. Davies would be greatly missed by the workers of the Sunday School, and that his life would always stand out as an example to many."
On the opposite side of the road No.35 has had quite a makeover in recent years. The date stone shows that the house, named Haven Cottage, was built in 1927. The letters H. M. stand for Henry Mundon, a former coal miner and council roadman, better known as Harry. He really should have included the initial E for his wife Ellen whom he married in April 1918. Their son Horace occasionally lived with them but he spent a lot of time on the road as a journeyman butcher.
Another group of modern houses [Nos.8-22] occupies the former site of Joseph Bloomer & Sons Ltd. This was one of the larger concerns in Cradley. The son of a chainmaker turned coal dealer, Joseph Bloomer grew up in High Town. Founding his own chain business around 1900, he enjoyed great success and by 1920 bought a nice house on Western Road in Hagley where he lived with his wife Alice. He was a keen cricketer and turned out for the Hagley team. He took up bowls in later life. His two sons joined the firm. Joseph Bloomer died in November 1963.
Almost immediately across the junction with Furlong Lane is No.64 which many would hardly recognise as a former butcher's shop.
This photograph shows the building during the inter-war years. The tall frontage has been changed with a canopy but the front door remains. The tall chimney stacks have gone but they can still be seen. The side entrance and small window has been bricked up. Standing in front of the premises is Ernest and Lucy Hodgetts. Born in 1885, Ernest was the son of the chainmaker Benjamin Hodgetts, a long-serving employee and foreman at the works of Noah Hingley and a founder member of the Chainmakers' and Strikers' Association. Like his brother Joseph, Ernest became a master butcher. Joseph traded in the High Street at No.2, premises where Ernest plied his trade before moving to Furlong Lane in the late 1920s with his wife whom he had married just before the First World War.
The next property up the hill is Church Ivy House, a tall property built in 1892. For some years this was the home of the Meredith family. The building contractor Joseph Meredith and his wife Maria had formerly lived in the Red House at Colley Orchard. Joseph Meredith had a large yard and workshop here. He was responsible for many notable buildings in the local area, including the Primitive Methodist Chapel on Grainger's Lane in Cradley Heath. Following his death, his wife continued to live here with her son Joseph, also a master builder. He had married Marjorie Payne at Leominster in 1938. In their retirement years they moved out to Harvington near Evesham.
As I was taking a photograph of Church Ivy House a woman was walking down the road and, after a chat with her, it turned out that her mother had bought this house and she had lived here in the past. What a coincidence! She was one of ten children, though by the time the Cox family moved into this house some of her siblings had married and lived elsewhere. She told me that her brother was a pattern-maker and he wanted the workshop and yard for his work.
In more recent times the building has been used on a part-time basis as a brewery. Angel Ales was founded by Nick Pritchard and Andy Kirk, two men who met whilst working for a civil engineering company in Birmingham. They established the brewery in 2011. They told a local newspaper that the premises was "a pre-1900 chapel of rest and coffin makers." The pair remained in civil engineering and operated the brewery as a hobby. However, their recipes proved popular and they have won awards at local beer festivals. Indeed, I have enjoyed a beer or two of theirs and they are excellent.
Between the former butcher's shop and Church Ivy House there used to be a spring used by local residents as a key water supply. A drain cover is the location of the spring, the water level being too low for collection these days. Indeed, the parish council inspected the spring in 1895 and found it to be running very low and only able to provide for three or four houses. Councillor Hingley thought perhaps it was drying up. Another councillor suggested the course of the water had been disrupted by construction work.
It is thought that the spring was used as a flaxen well in former times when linen textiles were produced from flax grown in the fields. It was still an area of open fields until the late Victorian period when the houses started to be built around the site of the spring. The date stone of 1892 is a good indicator when the houses started to appear at this section of Furlong Lane. Edwardian photographers taking images looking up the hill recorded the road as Spring Lane. Indeed, early census records suggest that the lower part of the road was named as such. However, the entire length of the road from Windmill Hill to Overend was marked as Furlong Lane on a map published in 1884. The name is thought to refer to the length of the fields extending from the road, though I am not so sure as the field boundaries were pretty irregular.
In taking this photograph, the person on the other side of the lens was stood between Church Ivy House and No.95 on the opposite side of the road. The two dormer windows of Nos.58 and 60 can be seen on the left. In the late 1930s No.60 was the home of the colliery clerk Alfred Wooldridge and his wife Ada. Their two daughters, Ada and Annie, both in their 30s, had not flown the nest, working as a dressmaker and short-hand typist respectively. Next door at No.58 was the Parry family. Bertie Parry, a widower, was a foreman in the warehouse of a chain works. The small lad on the pavement is stood in front of Beecher View, another house erected in 1892. For many years it was the home of the electrical engineer Hubert Byard-Jones and his wife Hilda. Formerly a resident of Banner's Lane, Hubert moved to Furlong Lane as a schoolboy. He lived alone with his mother Merab. After his marriage his mother continued to live in the house. Hubert enjoyed a very successful career as a contractor. He served as an A.R.P. Warden during the Second World War. He lived here for the rest of his life but died at Wordsley Hospital in July 1963.
I suspect that the man tending to the horse and cart was George Harris, a coal merchant who lived here in Furlong Lane in the Edwardian period. In later years William and Ethel Hall occupied No.54, along with their son Roland who worked as a bricklayer. At the start of 2020 the woman living here set up her own brownie baking company called Flo's at 54. Wow, the smell of home-baking and brewing a few doors from each other. The neighbours living between must enjoy some fine whiffs wafting across their gardens!
The tour now turns up Spring Street. The Edwardian houses here were built a little later. No.9, named Springfield View, is dated 1897. Highfield Cottages were erected in the following year. At the end of the Edwardian period No.9 was occupied by the chainmaker Tydal Robinson and his family. His 15 year-old son Norman was secretary of Short Cross Rovers Reserves in 1911. He had already started work as a clerk with one of the local chain firms. He married Maggie Hancox at Stourbridge in July 1923. He had his head screwed on and would eventually become a general manager for an iron and steel manufacturer. He and his wife later lived in Hayley Green.
On the opposite side of the street, No.12 used to be a general shop. At the fag end of the 1930s this was run by Ellen Nock, wife of the retired chainmaker William Nock.
The Edwardian houses in Spring Street are sturdy properties and I suspect they will still be standing at the end of the 21st century. This auction notice of 1928 offers a glimpse at what the properties were like during the inter-war years. The double covered gateway to these properties is still there. No.17 had a Minton tiled entrance but none of them had an indoor toilet at this time. Brrr, I remember the outdoor loo when I was a child. In the winter it was freezing!
For over half a century Spring Street ended at No.31 on the eastern side and No.32 on the opposite side. There was however a footpath continuation up to Foredraft Street. Planning permission was granted in 1963 for the construction of the houses at the top of the road. The tour continues up to the path between Nos.44 and 46. At the top of the steps the path goes right. Ignore the left turn and follow the small dog leg to the top of Talbot Street. This too has modern houses at the top but one is soon back in Edwardiana. This street is a little older than Spring Street and many of the houses are of a higher standard. Bay windows, stone dressings and terracotta were deployed in these slightly upmarket properties.
Note the very steep steps to No.28, tough going for hauling one's shopping into the house. I saw the resident around Christmas 2020 as he was unloading his groceries from his car. He was lobbing the light stuff from the pavement. I commented on the steps and he said he had lived there for 50 years and was used to them.
Going down the hill, on the left Haden View was constructed in 1900. The census enumerator, recording the occupants in the following year, wrote that the 'new' street had not yet been named. The first occupants of No.8 were the grocer John Roper, along his wife Caroline who was mistress of the National infant's school. Their next door neighbour at No.6 was the widow Ann Corbett who lived with her young son Nathan, a carpenter's apprentice. Spring Field House at No.4 was a slightly older property, but only by one year. The letters on the date stone represent Mary Ann Harper, a widow who used to keep the Duke William Inn on Furlong Lane. She only enjoyed her new home for six years as she died in June 1905. Her grandson Stephen Willets, a carpenter, featured in her will and was living here during the Second World War.
Across the street No.9 was a semi-commercial property in the 1930s with Martha Clewitt trading as a fancy draper. Her husband James was a tailor who had traded from a shop on the High Street in Cradley Heath. Following in the footsteps [or scissors] of his father, he was no ordinary tailor, he was top drawer in his trade and scooped the first prize in a national competition in 1893. Born in Lye, he did not originally take up his father's trade and I believe he took an assisted passage to Canada to try his luck in a new country. Certainly, he was later recorded as an ex-Canadian serviceman. In what was an usual life and career path, he became a tailor and triumphed at the Academy of Cutters in London. He returned to the Black Country to take over his shop. He married Martha Ellen Harbach at Stourbridge in April 1920. Martha died in October 1958 and her husband died here in December 1960.
Back down to Furlong Lane and turn left up the hill. If you were here in the middle of the Edwardian period than after a few steps this would have been the view looking back down the road. The junction of Talbot Street is to the right with Victoria Villa on the corner, a house erected in 1894. It would become the home of the widow Mary Ann Wylde and some of her children. The family had lived on Park Lane where her husband William Wylde was the manager of a brick works. In the late 1930s Victoria Villa was the home of the works manager Arthur Griffiths and his wife Edith, both of whom were born four years before the corner property was built. This view along the south-eastern side of Furlong Lane is pretty much the same today. The properties on the opposite side only appeared at a much later date.
This view is taken just a few steps further up the hill but shows a very similar view of Furlong Lane. The lighting has been completed so the lane would not have been so dark in the evenings. In this view one can see a larger two bay house to the right. In the Second World War this was the home of the district nurse and midwife Lilian Ratcliff. As the tour went up Spring Street and Talbot Street I have not mentioned that there was a grocery shop between the two thoroughfares, close to where the youngsters are in this image. If Lilian Ratcliff had wanted to buy a few provisions then she could have called at No.38 which was kept by James and Lydia Adams. In the Edwardian period James Adams had sold groceries in the post-office on Windmill Hill, his father being the sub-postmaster.
The end-on rectangular building next to the former midwife's house marks the limit of old Furlong Lane, in that it was the top section of the road that saw early development. Nowadays this house and two old cottages stand starkly juxtaposed adjoining Furlong Court, a three-storey block of apartments erected on the site of the British Arms Inn. Part of the pub can be seen here and also the house in brick long before it was clad in another material. An elderly widow named Rebecca Jenkins lived here during the Second World War. At that time the left-cottage, No.24, was occupied by John and Alice Southall who were in their retirement years. Next door at No.22 lived the bricklayer Samuel Brettell. He co-habited with Clarence and Lily Homer.
The bay window to the left of this photograph is that of No.29 on the north-western side of Furlong Lane. These houses were erected in the inter-war years with walls and boundaries made of old stones, perhaps recycled from the old walls separating the lane with the fields. This has all gone, along with the vegetation as most of the residents have opted for low brick walls and car parking for several vehicles per household. There is one addition as No.37 used to occupy a large plot. A new-build house has taken part of this space. They are typical for the period but a few have splashes of individuality, such as No.47 which has retained the original front door hinting at art deco. This house also has a lovely window to the staircase.
In this image, dating from the late Edwardian period, the photographer is stood close to the junction of Windmill Hill and Colley Gate, looking down Furlong Lane. The aforementioned British Arms Inn can be seen on the right in the distance, the wall of which was light in colour. The whitewashed building in the foreground on the right adjoins a single-storey building once used as a sword forge. Starting with Joseph and Sarah Hill, this pair of buildings were occupied by several generations of the Hill family. The single-storey forge, which had been converted into a kitchen, laundry and bathroom, was demolished around 2015 and No.2C now stands on the site. It was when the forge was operated by William Nicklin that swords were produced for the British military. Almost opposite on the left stood the Duke William Inn. There was once an old Gaol Yard adjoining the tavern.
This photograph captures the buildings at the top of Furlong Lane. The premises of the painter, decorator and plumber, Harry Beasley was at No.1 and adjoined Tate's butcher's shop at Providence House on the corner of Colley Gate. The site is now a grass bank in front of the modern housing. The man in the photograph is possibly the bricklayer Joseph Knowles who, along with his wife Mary, lived next door to the Beasley's. The couple had three children and three youngsters can be seen in the photograph. Their children were named Lily, Frank and Harry. The next light-coloured house was occupied by the maltster George Mapp and his family. The nearby Mapp's Close, just off Furlong Lane, commemorates the family. William, son of George and Susannah Mapp who, serving with the 7th Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment, was awarded the Military Medal for gallantry in 1917. He was shot in the right thigh in the following June but returned to England where he resumed his trade of a butcher.
From Furlong Lane the tour turns left and goes up Windmill Hill. The ground floor of the building on the corner was once a part-time sub-branch of the Midland Bank. The other major banks also had sub-branches in Cradley. Lloyd's had an occasional branch at 114 Colley Gate whilst Barclay's conducted their business at 21 High Street. As you advance along the street note the street sign next to the lamp-post. The name plate is modern but the cast-iron base is very old. The above photograph shows the buildings immediately after this. A woman is sticking her head out of the doorway of No.102, a house at the time but a hair salon in more recent times. In the 1930s the building was the premises of the plumber and decorator Samuel Gauden. A young man is stood on the step of the doorway to what is now The Laurels. This entrance has gone and a letterbox and window have taken its place. The building was formerly the Cradley & District Conservative & Unionist Club.cradley-windmill-hill-1937.jpg cradley-windmill-hill-harry-woodall.jpg cradley-windmill-hill-cooked-meat-shop.jpg cradley-windmill-hill-white-lion-and-shops.jpg cradley-windmill-hill-shops-1908 cradley-windmill-hill-1909.jpg CHURCH cradley-windmill-hill-houses.jpg cradley-windmill-hill-bunting.jpg cradley-windmill-hill-1932.jpg cradley-windmill-hill-shops.jpg
MORE TO FOLLOW ON THIS CRADLEY TOUR
Have Your Say
If you would like to share any further information on Cradley - 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 will post it here.
Related Newspaper Articles
"At a representative meeting of chainmakers at Cradley Heath
on Friday it was stated that nearly all the leading employers had conceded an advance, but there were still about 2,000 operatives out on strike owing to small employers
refusing to concede the advance. It was reported that upwards of £100 had been expended in providing relief for starving families, and it was announced nearly £50
had been received from newspaper proprietors at Liverpool. It was resolved to continue the strike. During Sunday night the chain factory of Mr. Allen Beasley, Colley Gate,
was broken into and ten pairs of bellows were destroyed. During the same night Mrs. Male's factory, at Cradley, was broken into, and four pairs of bellows were rendered
useless. The damage is estimated at about £30. A meeting of the chainmakers on strike was held on Monday. Reference was made to the rattening which had taken place in
the Cradley district, and regret was expressed that any outrages should have been committed."
"The Strike in the Chain Trade"
Worcester Journal : May 21st 1887 Page 2
"P.C. Bricknell had a most sensational surprise yesterday [Friday] morning, at 5.30. He was passing the police station in Colley
Lane, when he noticed a man lying within the railings which are erected in front of the station. On closer inspection he found that the man's throat was cut and
blood flowing freely, but he was not unconscious. Bricknell immediately called up P.C. Nobes, and P.C. Ashford also arrived on the scene. Meantime Dr. Belbin was sent
for, the man was removed into the station and bathed, and when Dr. Belbin arrived he dressed the wound, which was about 14 inches long, following which the man was
removed to the Workhouse Infirmsry. It transpired that his name is Harry Willetts, aged 37, chain striker, of Little Hill, Cradley. He gave the police no reason for
the attempt on his life, or why the police station had been selected as the place for the purpose. The wound is not a serious one. A pocket knife covered with blood
was found on the ground near the man."
"Policeman's Startling Discovery"
County Express : July 2nd 1910 Page 8
Links to Other Websites