Some history on Romsley in the county of Worcestershire
I do not know Romsley very well and yet there are parts of it that I know intimately. Every now and then I cycle to Shutt Mill and then point my bicycle up Winwood Heath Road. It is a testing hill climb that delivers a little hurt until one reaches Daleswood Park. The alternative is the easier climb up Farley Lane from Bell Heath, a route that I have cycled hundreds of times!
This Edwardian view of Shutt Mill is one of rural idyll, except that there is a bit of graft taking place. I am not exactly sure what the men are doing here but if you do then please let me know. It appears that a couple of trees have been felled and are ready for loading onto a heavy waggon. The horses will be doing a bit of work if they are going up towards Walton Hill.
I have included a zoomed-in image of the men at Shutt Mill just in case anybody recognises a distant ancestor. Shut Mill is thought to date back to the 13th century when the Abbot of Halesowen ordered its construction. The Abbot also insisted that his tenants grind their corn here too. Corn was produced at the mill almost until it closure in 1886. In recent times a double garage stood on the site of the original mill. The house was purchased by Professor Leonard Wills in 1926 who ingeniously installed a turbine on the stream to provide electricity for the house. He also owned Farley Cottage, thought to have been the home of the scythemaker John Melley who died in 1605. Professor Wills once hoped that Farley Cottage would be converted into a Geological Field Studies Centre but, following its sale, the money was used to found a similar research establishment in Somerset.
The gradient of Winwood Heath Road does not look too bad on this photograph. However, it is a hill that will have you clicking for the easiest sprocket on your bike. The best time to cycle up the lane is during the height of the bluebell season, generally early-mid May, as the carpet of flowers takes your mind off the pain in your legs and lungs. Great Farley Wood looks glorious at this time of year.
Winwood Heath Road joins Farley Lane near the highest point of Romsley Hill where the landmark water tower is located. Erected by the South Staffordshire Water Works, the tower had benefited from an aqua-themed paint job not long before I took this photograph. Work on the tower commenced in 1930 and was completed during the following year. A third of the way up the tower there is the crest of the water company with the motto Nil sine aqua, which translates to "Nothing without water."
St. Kenelm's Church is not too far from the site of the Red Cow, a fine building with a rather singular story. It has been written that it was the Abbot of Halesowen Abbey who first built a chapel on what had already become a site of pilgrimage. This would date it to the early 13th century but Nikolaus Pevsner thought the structure was built in the previous century. However, any doubts over the age of the building is nothing compared to the legend of Saint Kenelm himself.
The church is reputed to stand on the spot where Kenelm, King of Mercia, was slain by a dodgy character called Askobert. According to legend, he acted upon the wishes of Kenelm's sister Quendryda who clearly had designs on the throne for herself. Between them they plotted his murder which was to take place during a hunting trip to Clent, a ride from which Kenelm was not to return. They set up an overnight camp here between Clent and Romsley but whilst Kenelm caught up with his kipping, Askobert burnt the midnight oil digging the King's grave. Can you imagine how startled Askobert was when, just as he was digging the last spade's worth, Kenelm tapped him on the shoulder? The king had not only sussed the devious plan, but he told Askobert that he had seen it all in a dream. They did not enter into a debate over the matter - Askobert promptly lopped off Kenelm's head with one stroke of his sword and rode back to the Mercian capital of Winchcombe. Legend has it that a ray of light then illuminated the ground where Kenelm was buried and that it became a favoured spot for cows to graze. Indeed, it was even said that cows chomping the grass here would yield a double supply of milk. If this is all starting to sound a little fantastic then wait for the next bit ..... a white dove flew down and appeared before the Pope as he was celebrating Mass at the Vatican. The bird was carrying a scroll which revealed the location of Kenelm's grave. The papal messenger service kicked into action and Wulfred, Archbishop of Canterbury, was told to investigate the matter. It is tempting to suggest that a Cadfael character was put on the case. Anyway, a party of monks were despatched from Winchcombe Abbey and, on digging up the the King's body, removed him for burial next to his father, Kenulph.
Queen Quendryda was having none of this so during the funeral service started to sing the 108th Psalm backwards. Before the crowd had time to be completely spooked by this, her eyes popped out onto a blood-splattered psalter. The eyeless Queen soon died but there was not a church in the land that would accept her body so she was simply lobbed into a ditch. The story was possibly cooked up by the monks at Halesowen Abbey who were keen to have a saint of their own. Indeed, the Abbot further exploited the fable in order to gain a royal charter for an annual fair. The fair continued to be held up until the 19th century. However, the legend of Saint Kenelm continues to the present day for behind the church there is a spring which is said to 'burst forth on the site marking the spot where Kenelm died.' A plaque at the top of the steps reads: "The legend has been interpreted and celebrated by the artist, Michael Fairfax in partnership with the people of Romsley and Hunnington." The project which was completed in 1995 is a little overgrown these days.
Saint Kenelm is portrayed in many works of varying age inside the church, including the windows. Some of these were donated in 1915 by the Camm family in memory of child victims of the Great War. The interior of the church was changed considerably during a restoration by the architect, Richard Hussey, in 1846. During the work he discovered a number of wall paintings which depicted Saint Kenelm's grisly end. He recorded these in drawings which are held by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
"A farmer named Edward Stevens , of Romsley, committed suicide on Monday under painful circumstances. Deceased had
received notice to quit his farm, and on Monday morning he sent his wife to a house he had taken at Walton Hill, a short distance away. When Mrs. Stevens went out
deceased was in the house, and upon returning shortly afterwards, she found that he was missing. She at once proceeded to the barn, where she discovered her husband
hanging. Police-Constable Clarke, who was called in, cut the body down, but life was then extinct."
"Suicide of a Farmer"
County Express : June 20th 1891 Page 3
"The Birmingham City Coroner [Mr. Isaac Bradley] held an inquest on Friday in last week, at the Victoria Courts, Birmingham, on
the body of Frederick George Holmes , who resided at Romsley, near Halesowen. The child was run over at Romsley on the previous Tuesday afternoon.
Whilst a timber wagon was at a standstill the boy, with other children, went underneath. He was there when the waggoner, who was ignorant of the fact, started the
horses. The result was that the boy was knocked down, and the wheel of the vehicle passed over the right thigh. Death took place at the General Hospital, Birmingham,
shortly after admission. A verdict of "Accidental death" was returned. The Coroner said that no blame was attached to the driver. The bereaved father stated
that only a week before this accident his wife died."
"The Romsley Fatal Accident"
Bromsgrove & Droitwich Messenger : August 26th 1905 Page 3
"A traction engine attached to a wagon laden with bricks, and belonging to Mr. Henry Boyes, of Walsall, was being driven through Romsley,
when a child named Alfred Hill, aged four years, and residing at Romsley, commenced to play near it. The child was warned to keep away by the flagman, but
immediately afterwards the lad was seen to stoop to pick something up, when his pinafore caught the wheel. He was drawn under the engine and crushed almost to a
Bromsgrove & Droitwich Messenger : September 8th 1906 Page 6
"Mr. Charles Watkins, of Walton Hill, gave three men permission to shoot rabbits on his farm on Tuesday, and one of them, Harry Keys,
a labourer, of Romsley, was in the act of shooting when the left barrel of the gun exploded, blowing away a part of his left hand. The man was attended by Dr. Young, of
Halesowen, and then taken to the General Hospital at Birmingham."
Bromsgrove & Droitwich Messenger : January 26th 1907 Page 8