Some history on Halesowen in the county of Worcestershire



Map extract from Emmanuel Bowen' "Map of the county of Worcester divided into its hundreds" showing Halesowen [1760]

Visitors to modern Halesowen would probably be surprised to learn that the town is an ancient settlement. Modernised in the 1960s beyond even the locals recognition, Halesowen has been a victim of some scandalous town planning. However, the ruins of one of its earliest buildings still stands and remains a testament to the wealth and power the settlement once enjoyed. It was in 1218, three years after the signing of the Magna Carta by King John, that monks of the Premonstratensian Order established an Abbey here on the River Stour. It was founded by Peter de Roche, Bishop of Winchester. The monk's order originated at Prémontré in France. The settlement of Halesowen had until then belonged to the family of the Welsh Prince Dafydd ap Owen who claimed it in 1177.

The settlement was recorded in Domesday as the manor of Halas. After the abolishment of the monastic system by Henry VIII, the lands owned by the Halesowen monks were forfeited to Sir John Dudley, then lord of Dudley Castle. Religious ornaments and furniture from the Abbey were transferred to Halesowen Parish Church which still stands today as a fine example of medieval architecture. The abbey is open for limited periods during the summer so it is possible to view the buildings that stands within a working farm. Parts of the presbytery, south transept, refectory remain along with the infirmary which survives in a complete state. The site is occupied by Manor Abbey Farm and the area of the cloisters has been colonised by the farm's buildings. Next to the building complex is the Abbey fishponds. Earthworks and breached dams across the valley suggest a flight of five major fishponds. Built by the monks, with sluices and channels to control water levels, the ponds were designed for breeding fish - probably bream at first and carp later. Fish was a very important part of the monk's diet as the strict monastic rule forbade the eating of meat or game.

A few hundred yards from the site of the Abbey is the Manor Abbey Sports Ground, home of Halesowen Athletic and Cycling Club. Further down the road is The Grange, a fine early Georgian mansion which is now a sports and social club. Formerly the home farm of the Abbey, the house was rebuilt by the Lea-Smith family who inherited the title of Lord Dudley. The building was used as a hospital during World War One and was later purchased by Seth Somers, son of Walter Somers, founder of the large forge on Mucklow Hill. Walter Somers originated from Repton in Derbyshire but established a forge here in 1867. He lived at the top of Mucklow Hill at Belle Vue where, it has been joked, 'he could keep an eye on things."

One of Halesowen's most famous sons is the poet, William Shenstone, who was born at The Leasowes in 1714. He devoted much of his life to landscape gardening and The Leasowes has been restored in a bid to recapture the splendour of his work. He began work on the Leasowes off Mucklow Hill in 1743, turning it from a grazing farm into a model of Romantic landscape design that was visited by many famous people of the time and acted as a considerable source of inspiration to others. He devised a circuit walk around the 'Arcadian' farm and set up monuments, urns, statues, seats and follies at appropriate points to encourage visitors to appreciate the essence of the many different views and aspects. Following his death in 1763, he was buried in the ancient churchyard in the shadow of the spire which featured in many of his views. Now a Grade I-listed garden, The Leasowes [pronounced Lezzoes] is a delightful area of historic landscape and ancient woodland. A walk through the stream's valley is quite wonderful. There is even the site of a ruinated priory which was built by Shenstone to resemble a ruin but also acted as a modest dwelling for his gardener. He is rumoured to have built it with stone from Halesowen Abbey. Virgil's Grove is the most famous element of the 18th century park. In Shenstone's day it was a grassy vale in a wooded valley where a stream wound through to a pool surrounded by yew trees. In the vale stood an obelisk dedicated to Virgil, the Roman poet. This area epitomised Shenstone's philosophy of picturesque gardening and was visited by many famous dignitaries including William Pitt. The site of William Shenstone's farm house is now occupied by a house built in 1776-8 by Edward Horne. It is now the clubhouse of Halesowen Golf Club.

Another famous son of Halesowen is the political reformer Thomas Attwood. Born in 1783 at Hawne House, he founded the Birmingham Political Union for the protection of Public Rights in 1830 and was a protagonist in the Chartist movement before winning a seat in parliament. A memorial to him can be found at the entrance to the Recreation Ground on Stourbridge Road, a work featuring some of his quotations.

Hawne Basin is located to the north-east of the town close to an area called Coombeswood, formerly Coombe's Wood. This probably conjures up images of a sleepy hollow. Indeed, until the industrial revolution, it was a tranquil place as Coombeswood formed part of the Great Mercian Forest. It has been established that Iron Age people farmed the area. However, after the industrial revolution, Coombeswood became one of the most heavily industrialised areas in the Black Country. This was due to its mineral resources and the coming of, first the canal, and then the railway. There was a coal pit at Coombeswood and it was operational until 1948 but the region is more famous for the Coombeswood Tube Works. It was built in 1860 and eventually became part of the once great Stewart's and Lloyd's firm and, ultimately, the British Steel Corporation, before its closure. Today, the site is a ghost of its former glory days - and for the most part, only the foundations of the buildings remain. A light industrial development has emerged on part of the site.

The Hereford to Birmingham train line passes nearby but the Dudley to Halesowen branch line that passed through Coombeswood was closed following the Beecham Report of the 1960s. The Dudley No.2 canal was first commissioned in 1793 and opened four years later. It was built to link the No.1 canal at Parkhead with the Worcester and Birmingham Canal at Selly Oak. With no tow path, the barges would have been 'legged' through the tunnel. However, in the early part of the twentieth century, the BCN operated a tug service through the tunnel and the remains of its dock can be found at the northern portal. The tunnel's confined bore is infamous in boating circles. Working boatmen were content to abandon the tiller and spend the time it took to pass through the 557 yards in their boat cabins because the boat could hardly crash about, so tight would it lie to the tunnel walls on either side.

Coombe's Bridge has an interesting story. It was originally built to maintain a link for the upper and lower Coombe's Corn Mills. However, miners represented most of the traffic passing over the bridge as they made their way to the pit at Coombeswood. Just along from the bridge, Hawne Basin was opened in 1797 as served as a public wharf for Halesowen. The original hump-backed brick built, Coombe's Bridge, was demolished by the Home Guard in 1944 as an anti-invasion measure to protect canalside factories involved in the war effort. You can just imagine a group led a Captain Mainwaring-like figure making a right hash of it! It was not until 1993 that the present iron bridge was erected. It was provided by the Halesowen Abbey Trust and once again reconnects Green Lane with the Stour Valley. Today, there are still many pleasant aspects to be found in Coombeswood and the hill on which the settlement was founded affords some splendid views of the surrounding region.

A good route into the town is a landscaped walkway created by William Whitworth. A 1909 tablet informs the visitor that he designed this approach to the town during the depression of trade to assist the unemployed and to beautify Rumbow. This was formerly the main route into Halesowen from Birmingham. On descending the steps one will see the steep climb to the church - the one remaining old thoroughfare of the town. At the foot of the hill at No.10 is a pleasant Victorian cottage. This is located at what used to be Dog Lane. Remains of a structure under the bridge and several inlets under the cottage suggest that this was once a small watermill, one of many situated along the River Stour. Just around the bend of Rumbow is Benjamin's Bar and Restaurant. This was formerly a Methodist church. The foundation stones of this building can still be seen by the front entrance. They were laid by various local dignitaries including Benjamin Hingley, the Member of Parliament for North Worcestershire which, in 1889, included Halesowen.

Up Church Lane is Whitefriars. These buildings are thought to date from the sixteenth century but could be even earlier. It is incredible to think that even these buildings were threatened with demolition in the 1960s but the owner battled to protect them. The cottages are faced by a hideous concrete multi-storey car park which ranks as one of the most awful examples of town planning. Whoever approved this grotesque sight, which faces both the cottages and the church, should be tied to a skateboard and dispatched down Church Lane, especially as it replaced a pub which stood on the corner. Talking of skateboards - when I was taking some photographs, a group of boys were whizzing around the town and the car park. I have yet to see anyone with the bottle to skateboard down Church Lane! There are a few pleasing Georgian buildings, doorways and façades that have survived the planner's pencil on High Street. Ivy House is a little further on from the car park and at the end by the roundabout was an appropriately named pub - The George.

As one walks through the churchyard it will be noticed that former headstones have been used to form the footpaths. Many of these are more than 300 years-old and display interesting carved details and inscriptions. At the townside corner of the churchyard stands the medieval cross which was originally sited at the Bull Ring in the Cornbow. It was blown down by a gale in 1908 and incredibly ended up in a rubbish tip until Job Garratt, a civic-minded local industrialist rescued it. The tall shaft of the cross is much fractured and weathered and is now protected by a metal frame and chains.

The site of Halesowen's church, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, may have been used in Saxon times. Enjoying a prominent position, the present building, although very impressive, is a bit of a hotch-potch because of a partial collapse of the tower in the fifteenth century. This took with it the whole east part of the nave. So although much Norman work remains, the church is not all Norman in its character. The grey recessed spire, which has lucarnes in three tiers, crowns a slender Perpendicular crossing tower. The Norman west wall features a doorway with zigzag arch and one order of colonettes. The interior features an unusual font because, although Norman, features some decoration which is Viking in style. Another outstanding feature is a monument to William Shenstone by the famous 18th century sculptor Thomas Banks.

At the bottom of Peckingham Street and just around the corner in High Street is the tall gabled Nos.87 and 89 plus the former Lyttleton Arms public-house. This trio of buildings also serve to remind how Halesowen was once structured. It is likely that a pub has been on this site since 1756, although the present building dates from the mid-late 19th century. The pub has an attractive apsidal end dictated by is position on this once busy road junction that, up until the 1960s, took traffic away from the town towards Birmingham. Nos.75-77 High Street, although modest in scale, are indicative of how the majority of the town's shops looked prior to its 1960s redevelopment. The late 18th century front of No.75 hides a well-preserved 15th century timber-framed Merchant's House with a particularly fine roof structure. The timber-frame is still exposed at the rear which can be reached via the service road at the back of the premises. No.77 is a red brick building with a hipped roof, moulded wood eaves and a late 19th century shop front. The interior of the building is also of interest as it still retains many of the original chemist's shop fittings and display items.

Although now a bland shopping mall, Peckingham Street has quite a history. Originally called Prickingham Street, it has been a shopping street for almost four centuries. Around the turn of the 20th century the street had four public-houses to quench the thirst of the nailmakers who worked and lived in nearby Birmingham Street. The street was closed to vehicles on 15th September 1968. Just around the corner at the top is the Queen's Head which is much older than it looks. It replaced a pub of the same name in Peckingham Street. This can be traced back to 1675. The present pub, despite its Victorian trimmings, is thought to date from the 17th century. The corner of Hagley Street and Great Cornbow also provides a glimpse of how Halesowen used to look. The name Cornbow emerged some 200 years ago when a map showed the name next to a short stretch of track beyond the River Stour alongside a building identified as Corn Mill. However, Cornbow was once called High Cross - a name applied because the market cross was located there until 1908.

The area at the top of Cornbow [opposite No.24] was called The Bull Ring and was almost certainly the market centre in earlier times. The imposing early Victorian buildings here have survived and evidence of their early use can be found on the frontage because Nos.25 & 25a still bear the Halesowen Borough coat-of-arms which marks it as the former Mayor's parlour. No.24 is built in Regency style and features a stuccoed Ionic doorcase and a fan-like tympanum. One can trace the date [1817] and initials set in the brickwork on either side of the front door. Facing the former James Hobbs' building is the very attractive former Lloyd's bank building. Designed by J. B. Chatwin during the Edwardian period, the building has retained its upper stories of pointed arches and terracotta panels.

Coal played an important part in Halesowen's industrialisation and was worked at Hawne from the thirteenth century. In fact, up until the 1920s there existed the Hawne and Whitley collieries separated by the main road to Stourbridge. Whitley was closed in 1921 and The Hawne flooded during the general strike of 1926 when the pumps were unstaffed. However, visitors can see a partly restored engine house in Hayseech Road. Not too far from the engine house are the gates to Corngreaves Hall.

Tucked away in a sleepy hollow is Lutley Mill. Located on Lutley Gutter, the brook that powered the mill originates in the Clent Hills and joins the River Stour downstream at Belle Vale.

1873 Littlebury's Directory and Gazetteer

Halesowen is an extensive and populous parish, 7 miles W.S.W. of Birmingham, 4½ E. of Stourbridge, 5 S. of Dudley, 8 W. of Bromsgrove, and 23 N.N.E. of Worcester ; it is in the eastern division of the county and hundred of Upper Halfshire ; is the head of a polling district and petty sessional division ; is in the union and county court district of Stourbridge ; is in the diocese and archdeaconry of Worcester [Archdeacon Hone being the rector of the parish], and rural deanery of Dudley. Prior to an act passed in 1844, respecting isolated portions of counties, Halesowen formed part of Shropshire, but it is now in the county of Worcester. The parish church, dedicated to St. Mary and St. John, has a chancel, nave, aisles, tower, and spire ; and presents specimens of all the styles from Norman downwards. At the east end of the north aisle is an urn on a pedestal, erected to the memory of Shenstone, the poet, who was born at the Leasowes, in this parish, in 1714, and died in 1763. On the north wall of the chancel is a large marble monument to the memory of Major Delap Halliday, late of Castlemaine, who purchased the Leasowes estate after Shenstone's death. The living is a rectory, annual value about £700 with residence, in the patronage of Lord Lyttelton, and held by the Venerable Richard Brindley Hone, M.A., of Brasenose College, Oxford. The register dates from 1559. The acreage of the entire parish is 12,245.
Halesowen is situate in a pleasant valley, possessing a rich clay soil, fertile in grain and pasturage, watered by the Stour, which rises in the adjoining parish of Frankley. The Clent and Walton hills and the woods of the neighbourhood add greatly to the beauty of the scenery. There are quarries of red sandstone, and lime-burning is carried on. Fire bricks are also largely manufactured. There are many small dairy farms, and potatoes are much cultivated. Halesowen will shortly have the advantages of railway communication, a new line being now in course of construction from Northfield on the Midland railway, and another line has been proposed to join the Great Western main line at Netherton [(Dudley]. At present the nearest stations are at Old Hill and Cradley. The Netherton canal passes through the parish. The principal landowners are Lord Lyttelton [lord of the manor], and Ferdinando Dudley Lea Smith, Esq. The town is made picturesque by timber-framed houses of the 16th and 17th century. It was a borough in Henry III's reign, having a high and low bailiff, a court of pleas, a weekly market, and a fair on the 8th and 9th of October. An abbey was founded here in the time of King John, and the ruins still exist, about a mile from the town. A bull-ring in the town was used within the present century for bull-baiting. A military road, called the Portway, passes through a part of the parish, being probably a branch of the Roman Icknield street; and there is a place called the Quinton, in reference probably to the old Roman game of that name. The principal employment of the people is the making of nails, rivets, spades, shovels, horse-shoes, gun-barrels, gas and water tubes, and some other hardware trades. Buttons and black ornaments are also manufactured here to some extent. There are several collieries in this district. The town is lit with gas. The market is on Saturday, a fair is held by ancient charter on Easter Monday and Tuesday, and a servants' "statute" in October. The magistrates meet every alternate Tuesday, at the Public office, in petty sessions. There is a branch of Lloyds' Banking Company open for business on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, from 11 a.m. till 3 pm. A Free Grammar school is regulated by a scheme of the Charity Commissioners in 1864, whereby the master, who must be a graduate of an English University, is required to teach 50 boys, sons of inhabitants of the parish, in Latin and the rudiments of a good English education, which regulation has been efficiently carried out. The school is under the management of feoffees, who allows the head master to receive twelve boarders. The present head master is Mr. W. F. Matthews, M.A., of Catherine College, Cambridge. There are also National schools for boys, girls, and infants, very numerously attended. A new school, built on a site which was the gift of Lord Lyttelton, at Hasbury in this parish, was opened, September 26th, 1870. The cost of building was about £430. There is a British school, in Hagley street, with an average attendance of 120 children. Islington day and evening ragged school was erected in 1867. It was established through the exertions of Mr. W. C. H. Bloomer, and is an excellent institution, with an average attendance of 75. The Congregational chapel is in Hagley Street ; Bethel Baptist chapel, in Birmingham Street, was erected in 1848 ; Zion Methodist chapel, in Stourbridge Road, in 1842 ; Ebenezer Primitive Methodist chapel, at Hasbury, in l861 ; another Primitive Methodist chapel, in Birmingham Street, in 1868 ; another in Long Lane in 1866 ; the Primitive Methodists have a school at Short Cross [built in 1868[, which is also used as a chapel.
With regard to the many townships and chapelries of the parish of Halesowen, great changes have taken place under Orders of Council made in 1841, 1845, 1863, and 1866, whereby St. Kenelm's, Oldbury, Cradley, The Quinton, and Langley, were constituted separate parishes and ecclesiastical livings, but chiefly in the gift of the rector of Halesowen. An arrangement of the tithes was also made between Lord Lyttelton, the lay impropriator, and the incumbents of Halesowen, The Quinton, and St. Kenelm's, whereby great tithes, to the value of about £300 a year, were conveyed to the clergy, on condition of all Lord Lyttelton's estates being made tithe-free. Thus the net augmentation of those three benefices is about £100 a year, and the augmentations procured from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners' grants of income nearly equal in value to Lord Lyttelton's benefaction. Thus there are no chapels of ease in the parish, but its six divisions - Halesowen rectory, St. Kenelm's rectory, The Quinton rectory, and the vicarages or perpetual curacies of Oldbury, Langley, and Cradley, have churches of their own. A new church at Blackheath [St. Paul's] also has been built [in 1869] for the contiguous parts of Rowley, Halesowen, and The Quinton, at a cost of more than £6,000, and has been endowed by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.

Photographs of Halesowen

Halesowen : Aerial Photograph [1955]
© Image from author's photographic archive. DO NOT COPY

This aerial view of Halesowen was captured in 1955, the camera lens pointing in a northerly direction. Hagley Street and High Street are easily picked out, running from the old Bull Ring to the parish church. The open space and steps are in front of the library and council chamber, opened in July 1933. The tall building close to the library was the old Congregational Chapel that stood on the corner of Hagley Street and Great Cornbow. Note at the top of the image it can be seen that the junction of Rumbow and New Road/Whitehall Road had been widened with the creation of the gardens.

Halesowen : Hagley Street Shops [1912]
© Image from author's photographic archive. DO NOT COPY

This photograph shows some of the shops on the western side of Hagley Street. The shop at the far left of the image was that of the grocery business of Peach & Co., a firm that also had premises at 35 High Street. At the time of this photograph these premises, at No.24 Hagley Street, were occupied by Charles Peach, recorded as a grocer and provision merchant. Assisting in the business was his wife, Dora. Born in Bicester in 1874, Charles Peach had worked in the grocery trade from a boy. He made his way to the Black Country by the Edwardian period, working as an assistant for John Goodwin & Son at Quarry Bank. He married Doris Mason at Stourbridge in 1903. She hailed from Cradley Heath. Together, they would run a successful grocery business in Halesowen for several decades. Charles Peach was also managing director of Danic Dairy Co. The business extended into the adjacent premises in later years.

With striped canvas covering the windows, No.25 was unoccupied at the time of the 1911 census. It had been the bakery outlet of Horace Barnwell. He was the son of the baker and grocer Edward Barnwell who traded in Worcester Street at Stourbridge. It was at this time he married Ethel Priest, the couple emigrating for a new life in Queensland, Australia. From a newspaper report published in October 1911 it would appear that the grocer was doing a runner as he had appeared at Halesowen Police Court for non-payment of the poor rate when a warrant was issued against him.

The newspaper headlines printed on the bill posters outside the next shop date this photograph to February 1912. Most of them feature Winston Churchill, particularly his speech to Ulster and his outline of the Home Rule Bill. One could pick up a copy of the newspapers from this emporium of the printer and stationer Harry Parkes. Born in Quinton in 1870, he grew up on Spies Lane before being apprenticed in the printing trade. In 1891 he was recorded as a compositor. He set up his own business later in the decade, established in premises on Rumbow. He had married Mary Ann Jones of Islington in March 1889. The couple moved to these premises in Hagley Street by 1900. Behind the shop premises there was a printing works from where Harry Parkes headed a successful firm. The Parkes family lived here at first but in the Edwardian period they bought a house at Blackberry Lane. During the picture postcard boom in the early 20th century, the business produced a large number of real photographic cards of the local area. Some may have seemed unremarkable at the time but they now form a priceless record of Halesowen in earlier times. Indeed, this photograph may have been produced by the firm. There is a sign outside the entrance stating "this shop is closed today except for the sale of tobacco and newspapers."

The shop nearest the camera, and featuring a smartly-dressed boy outside, was the greengrocery business run by Charles and Sarah Grainger. The fruiterer had followed in his father's footsteps who had a similar business at Spring Hill in the 1880s. Like Harry Parkes, he established the family home at Blackberry Lane.

Halesowen : Stewart's and Lloyd's Lorry at Corngreaves [c.1925]
© Image from author's photographic archive. DO NOT COPY

The first thing I ought to mention regarding this image is that the photograph was NOT taken in Halesowen. Nearly but not quite. The lorry is parked in front of the entrance to Corngreaves Hall, located a few metres across the River Stour and therefore in Cradley Heath. Unfortunately, I do not know the type of lorry featured in the photograph. It must have been state-of-the-art for the company to go to the trouble of producing a publicity shot. The owners of the Coombeswood Tube Works may have had a fleet of these as this one has No.11 painted on the side of the cab. I have undertook a quick search of old lorries and have not found a photograph showing a similar model to this vehicle. Some have suggested that it was a steam lorry. However, I do not think this is the case. I know little about old lorries but this one seems to have a radiator rather than a boiler at the front. There is a large exhaust underneath for spent petrol fumes. And thirdly, the lorry has a starting handle - cranking up this beast by hand must have been a tall order.


Contemporary Photographs

Halesowen : Saint John's Church from Whitehall Drive [2006]
© Image taken by author on June 19th, 2006. DO NOT COPY

Cradley Heath Advertisements

Halesowen : Advertisement for Halesowen Steel Co. [1921]

Halesowen : Advertisement for Harry Rudge Limited [1961]

Halesowen : Advertisement Joseph Sidaway of the Furnace Forge [1883]

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Related Newspaper Articles

"At Halesowen, on Tuesday last, two young men named William Beach, of Worcester, and Daniel Leyshon were committed for trial for breaking into a stable and cutting the manes and tails of five horses, belonging to Mr. Nock, Halesowen, and doing damage to the amount of £10. A large quantity of chains and other property were also missed. Beach admitted cutting the tails and selling the hair, and said that Leyshon received a portion of the money paid for the hair."
"Stealing Horsehair at Halesowen"
Worcester Chronicle : May 24th 1890 Page 6

"Charles Hackett, of Islington, Halesowen, appeared upon two charges of using indecent language in his own house at Islington on the 13th and 14th of August. Miss Goddard, a next door neighbour gave evidence as to defendant using bad language on the 13th, and Police-Constable Underwood said the defendant admitted the offence to him. In the second case Police-Constable Edkins said he heard Hackett swearing at his wife, who was upstairs. Defendant was fined 10s. and costs or fourteen days' in each case."
"Indecent Language"
Bromsgrove & Droitwich Messenger : August 27th 1904 Page 7

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