AROUND OLD YARDLEY
Thursday 14th July found members of the North Arden Local History Society enjoying a guided tour (by means of colour slides) around old Yardley village and Blakesley Hall by courtesy of Mr Michael Byrne our guest speaker. Mr Byrne had previously visited our Society when he guided us round the northern boundary of Yardley that included Kitts Green, Shard End and Stechford.
The heart of any historic village in England is usually its parish church surrounded by cottages, farms, the village green and Manor House. This is very much proven if you visit Yardley village, very much a venue bypassed by time itself. It is unique in Birmingham – of which it has been a part since 1911, when it ceased to be a small part of Worcestershire (with the possible exception of Kings Norton). It owes its uniqueness to the fact that it was recognised and protected as early as 1969 becoming the first of what we now call conservation zones and the prohibition of through traffic on Church Road in 1976. Mr Byrne began by showing a section of the Tithe Apportionment Map from the 1840’s; at first sight rather confusing in that it was drawn with ‘North’ on the right hand side as opposed to the modern practice that puts it at the top of the ‘page’. Never the less many of today’s features could be recognised with the Church, many of the remaining cottages/farm buildings, Blakeseley Hall and green open spaces being evident.
Shown also on the Tithe Map were fields showing border lines in the form of a shallow reversed ‘S’ which is significant of pre agrarian revolution open field farming from the medieval period that is visible today as ridge and furrow markings (humps and bumps) caused by the method of ploughing. An example of this can be seen in the parkland (Churchfields) behind the Church. The fields on the Tithe Map were indicated as Stitchford Fields and were those formerly farmed by villagers of Stitchford – Stechford as readers now know it only came about due to a spelling mistake by a Railway Company in the 1840’s!
Yardley’s medieval moated manor house was adjacent to the Church indicated on maps as Rents Moat not to be confused with nearby Kent’s Moat (which was in old Sheldon). Mr Byrne told us that it was actually a double moat that still had water present in 1947 but the buildings, abandoned in 1700, had long been demolished. An attempt in the 1920’s to hold an outdoor service on the ‘moat platform’ had to be abandoned when the congregation was attacked by a plague of midges due to the wet nature of the area.
Using a series of photographs many taken from sepia toned Post Cards from the early 1900’s as well as views he had photographed personally to show how little had changed in a hundred years we embarked on our tour of old Yardley. The area is quite accessible and well worth a visit on a Sunday afternoon, especially if you combine it with a visit to nearby Blakeley Hall where there is a car park and ‘Tea-Room’. The Church itself is dedicated St Edburgha a Saxon saint and grand-daughter of Alfred the Great although the earliest masonry still present belongs to the 13th Century. A noteworthy feature is a 15th Century doorway in the wall that has a Tudor Rose and a Pomegranate carved into the stonework of the lintel for the commemoration of the marriage of Catherine of Aragon and Prince Arthur (Henry VIII elder brother who predeceased his father) – Catherine received the Manor of Yardley as part of her divorce settlement from Henry. In the outside wall can be seen pronounced vertical grooves in the sandstone: these are a common feature of many medieval churches that are thought to be left by the local men sharpening farming tools but more usually from arrows since between 1252 until around 1600 statutes were in place that obliged all men and boys to be proficient with the ‘Long Bow’; Butt’s (Targets) may been established in churchyards and Yew trees, a common feature, provided the key ingredient for the bows themselves. There was also evidence that that there were stocks and a whipping post for village miscreants, a common part of village life in the past and often to be seen around the countryside (Berkswell).
We were shown the actual buildings once used by the blacksmith, the wheelwright – later to become the Butchers complete with its own slaughterhouse to ensure fresh meat and the Girls School on the site of a farm dated to 1463. Adjacent to the church are Alms Houses (1903) built to replace much earlier ones that were not taken down at the time and the outstanding black and white timbered building next to the church was originally for the Yardley Trust School founded in 1575 that remained operational until 1908 when Church Road School opened near the Yew Tree. Brick is very much in evidence in all these older buildings and Mr Byrne explained that most of these were locally produced from Yardley Clay; as, most likely was the wall around the Church Yard when it was a grave yard, two photographs showed this, at its original height in about 1905 and at a reduced height in the 1930’s when the Vicar complained that heavy goods vehicles (?) were ruining the buildings driving along Church Road. At one time there were seven schools in Yardley and at one (the Trust School?) we heard of the Master, the Rev’ William Sutherns punishing students who forgot what he had told them by making them lie on the floor until they remembered (no cane which was then popular).
We also looked at the ‘Grange’ a house once lived (c.1835) in by a Mr Ebenezer Hoskins who was a Birmingham Bed manufacturer, his company specialised in hospital beds and other equipment including beds for the ill-fated Titanic; it was said the firm was still active in the 1990’s and may still be thriving: the house later became a Carmelite Convent in 1933 and was later converted to Sheltered Housing, it was located on Church Road towards the junction with Barrows Lane. A 1923 photograph of the Talbot Public House was one of those easily dated by the clothes people were wearing as several people were outside the Talbot so that they could get in the photo’ amongst them was the landlord who is thought to have been a Mr Barrows; it was speculated by the audience that nearby Barrow’s Lane was probably named after him, or his family.
One of the easiest ways of getting to Yardley’s Conservation Zone from the Castle Bromwich Area is to get to the Meadway via Lea Village or Kingshurst (Cooks Lane) and follow this and Bordesley Green to the traffic lights at Stoney Lane (Stechford Police Station) turn left and first left again into Vicarage Road, turn right at the junction with Church Road and find somewhere to park – this is the part of Church Road closed to traffic for the last 40 years! We had been enjoying the evening looking at Mr Byrnes photographs of the buildings around here many of which date from the 19th Century although there is now much evidence of ‘home improvements’ (not necessarily in keeping with the area): the most ‘drastic’ of these was the removal of a large Victorian House called the ‘Cottage’ that was set in it’s own grounds at the junction of Vicarage Road and Stoney Lane (the Outer-Circle ’route). It was far too large to be classed as a cottage – but that was the Victorians for you! At one time it was the home of the Sumners who came from Coleshill and were the founders of ‘Typhoo Tea’.
Mr Byrne wound up this part of his talk by telling us about Canon Cochrane. The Canon was no mean photographer but also involved himself deeply in local community affairs making his views on what the village needed and didn’t need in letters to Birmingham City Planners notably when it came to demolishing historic properties to make way for new developments. Consequently after we had been shown round the older parts of the village, using photographs and relating anecdotes of bygone residents the talk finished up with a quick visit to Blakesley Hall (now owned by the City Museums and Art Gallery) a gem of Tudor Building preserved amidst rows of 1930’s houses.
This house was built for Richard Smallbroke whose family were Birmingham Mercers on the site of an earlier dwelling lived in by his father – the site first being recorded in 1316. Tests of the timber framing of the house in 1990 showed that the trees had been felled in the 1590’s. Mr Byrne had managed to find illustrations of both the exterior and interior of the building over the years and was able to give us a very detailed history: it remained the home of the Smallbroke’s and their descendants (the Folliot’s) until 1685 when it was bought by the Rev’ Greswolde (of Solihull/Knowle) who leased it out. Over the years it saw several different tenants who made alterations and added various outbuildings a practice that continued until 1932 when it purchased by the City of Birmingham for use as a museum.
As a result of bomb damage the Hall was closed to the public until it reopened in 1957 and Mr Byrne explained all about how the interior of the Hall had been through various changes and ‘improvements’ over the years so much so that none of the original items of furniture survived and when it closed for major works between 2000 and 2002 the Museum were faced with a shopping list based on the items detailed in Richard Smallbroke’s probate inventory. During the millennium restoration work 17th Century wall paper was revealed that proved that our ancestors liked colour on their walls which were not lime washed plaster as is the impression one get when visiting period houses elsewhere in the country. At the same time a visitor centre and tea room where incorporated adjacent to a new car park (access from Stuarts Road) making the hall an ideal venue for a visit, especially so when they have ‘themed’ weekends for you to see how our ancestors lived.
See Press/Internet for details of the Nationwide Heritage Open Days on Sat/Sun 10th & 11th September 2011 – including Blakesley Hall; Yardley Church will also be open for ‘tours’ on the Sunday only.
It was a most informative and enjoyable evening which had been very well researched and full of facts and we are very grateful to Mr Byrne for coming along and giving us his time. Thank you so much Mr Byrne, we look forward to learning more about Old Yardley on a future occasion.
We are always pleased to welcome guests and visitors at our meetings, the next of which will be on 8th September when the topic will be ‘Crime and Punishment in Bygone Times’ presented by Patsie Jarman. The following meeting will be 12th October by Mrs Greta Lacey. Meetings are held in the Spencer Lounge Bar at Arden Hall, Water Orton Road at 7.45pm.