The Outer Circle – Stage 6
We are about to embark on the final “Stage” of our Outer Circle Tour and we find ourselves descending Linden Road as we travel in to Bournville.
The Cadbury brothers George and Richard bought their chocolate making business here to Bournville in 1879 from Bridge Street off Broad Street in Birmingham where the Hyatt Hotel now stands. The Cadbury name and Bournville are synonymous with the “Garden Village” that the brothers created here to improve the lives of their employees.
On the right after the junction with Woodbrooke Road is the Bournville Carillon built in 1906 with 22 bells, it was increased to its present 48 bells in 1934. According to the Carillon website it is played at 12 noon and again at 3pm on Saturdays.
On the left is Bournville Village Green and amongst the trees is Bournville Rest House, which was built in 1913 paid for by the factory employees. The octagonal design is by W Alexander Harvey and is based on Dunster’s medieval Yarn Market in Somerset. It is currently the Carillon Visitors’ Centre. An inscription inside reads: ”This Rest House was erected to commemorate the Silver Wedding of Mr & Mr George Cadbury by the employees of Cadbury Brothers at Bournville and in all parts of the world. A lasting memorial of esteem and affection as an expression of gratitude for the unceasing interest in their welfare and in admiration of manifold services to the world at large”. A tribute indeed.
On the far side of the green you can see the moated manor house, Selly Manor (also known as Bournbrook Hall) which originally stood in Bournbrook Road at the north of Selly Oak, It is known to have stood there in 1327, and the house was extended in the Tudor period. However, by the late 19th century its earlier status was long gone, it was being rented out as three separate lodgings and falling into disrepair. With the rapid development in the district of terraced rows the house was due to be demolished.
In 1907, busy establishing his vision of a Bournville village, George Cadbury, saved it from demolition. He employed the architect William Alexander Harvey to oversee its relocation to Bournville Green in 1914. Within its grounds also stands the magnificent cruck-framed medieval hall, Minworth Greaves. Dating from the 14th century it originally stood in Minworth and like Selly Manor was dismantled by the Cadburys and re-erected here in 1932. The buildings are now a museum and wedding venue owned by Bournville Village Trust and they are open to the public.
At the bottom of the valley we cross the stream called the Bourn that runs through the Cadbury factory site. The brothers added “ville” to the stream’s name to make it sound French and more sophisticated.
As we climb out of the valley and approach the junction with Bournville Lane behind the brick wall on our left once stood another Bournbrook Hall but this one was demolished by the Cadbury Brothers.
Surviving on the opposite side of the road is the Old Farm Hotel, which was a cider house. When the Cadburys bought the land their Quaker beliefs would not allow the sale of alcohol so the inn was closed, but it is said that they took on the landlady as a tea lady in the factory!
When was the last time we saw a pub? Since we saw the House at Home in Lordswood Road (remember that?) the Duke of York in Harborne was replaced by flats during the last few years, the hairdresser let the Kings Arms catch fire and the Golden Cross by the QE was demolished in 2011. There were three on Outer Circle corners in Selly Oak, but they all went when the Bristol Road was widened in the 1970s, and of course there won’t be any in Bournville. I think that we’ll find the next one is the Grant Arms in Cotteridge.
Franklin Road marks the end of Bournville and the Outer Circle becomes Watford Road as we head into Cotteridge.
Many of the shop buildings around the centre of Cotteridge here are now over a hundred years old and as we turn left out of Watford Road on our right is the site of Cotteridge Bus garage now occupied by retirement flats. Originally this was a tram depot and in October 1942 tram no 821 had been left waiting to turn into the depot. The brakes had not been applied correctly and eventually the tram set of on its own down the hill. When it reached the Breedon Cross pub at the bottom of the hill by the canal bridge it failed to take the bend and overturned. Thankfully no one was injured. When we turn off the Pershore Road you will see the shop on our left at the junction, which was a newsagent at the time where the tram came to rest.
As we start going down Pershore Road look on your right for Kwik Fit Tyres next to Lloyds bank. In the 60s this was the location of the Treasure Trove. Originally located nearer to the tram depot the Treasure Trove was a huge second hand goods shop, the like of which you rarely see now.
As we go along Pershore Road we go across two railway bridges. These cross over two sides of the triangle formed where the main Midland Railway line from New Street through Bromsgrove to Bristol meets the Camp Hill line which heads north to Derby from here avoiding New Street.
As we head towards the foot of the hill you see on your left the premises of Graham Plumbing. This building was a theatre, which originally opened in 1923 as a silent cinema and music hall known as the Kings Norton Palace of Varieties. Ten years later it was refurbished and reopened as the Savoy Cinema; it closed in 1958 and became the Savoy Works, the home of an engineering company Wavern Engineering.
Across the road at the junction with Lifford Lane at one time stood the landmark Breedon Cross pub that was left derelict and was eventually destroyed by fire in 2001. The building on the site now is a block of flats built in 2004. The bridge that we then cross carries the road over the Worcester Canal. If we were to follow the canal for about half a mile to the south (our right) we would reach the junction with the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal. In the heyday of the canal network this was separated from the Worcester canal by a unique guillotine lock, which prevented precious water getting from one canal to the other. The lock is still there and can be seen from the canal bridge.
We turn now off the Pershore Road on to Fordhouse Lane. The firework shop ahead of us is where the runaway tram came to rest on its side in 1942.
Along here on the left is the site of the Willmot Breeden factory. They expanded here in 1972 from their huge site in Tyseley. After the second world war almost every car driver would have had a Willmot Breeden product in their pocket as they made car keys and locks as well as other components such as door handles and bumpers.
Just after the factory site we cross the River Rea as it wanders northwards past Cannon Hill Park on its way to Digbeth then on to meet up with the Tame near Spaghetti Junction.
When we approach the top of the hill we will see on our right the Camp Hill railway line. Built by the Midland Railway as a route north avoiding New Street, at one time this was a suburban commuter line and had stations in Kings Heath, Moseley and Brighton Road in Balsall Heath. The passenger services were axed in 1941 and they never returned. There are plans to open some of the stations and run three trains an hour between Moor Street and Kings Norton. We’ll see!
This area is known as Hazelwell and the land belonged to the Hazelwell family in the 14th century. Away on our left as we turn at the top of the hill is the Hazelwell pub which stands on the site of the last Hazelwell Hall, the original which has connections to the Civil War, was located in the recreation grounds beyond the pub near to Stirchley.
At the top of the hill we now cross the railway and start our straight run to Kings Heath. Vicarage Road is 0.8 of a mile long – even this is longer than Livery Street! Until the development of the Alcester Road in 1767 this area was mainly agriculturally undeveloped heathland standing on part of the royal manor of Kings Norton. Hence the name Kings Heath.
Vicarage Road was originally known as Bleak Lane. Along here on the left was Priory Farm, which dated from the 17th century and was the home of gun maker William Deakins of Sarehole Mill. This was bought by brass founder James Cartland, an ancestor of the prolific novelist Barbara Cartland, along with about 13 acres of land. He rebuilt the farm house in a Gothic style and called it Bleak House. Upon the death of Cartland’s successor Major Howard Cartland in 1940 the land was sold for the building of King Edward VI Camp Hill Schools, which opened here in 1956.
On the right, after we have passed the crossroads, you will see Stanley Road, and during WW2, at number 9 lived Anthony Pratt. “Who was Anthony Pratt?” you may ask. Well, lovers of board games will probably be surprised to learn that around 1943, Pratt, a solicitor’s clerk, invented Cluedo. It was behind the wartime blackouts at No.9 that he devised the much-loved game, which he initially titled simply ‘Murder’. His wife Elva created the board and artwork. Cluedo was Pratt’s sole board game success. ‘Battleships’ sank without trace, ‘Treasure Hunt’ lost its way. But Cluedo, patented in 1944 and mass-produced by Waddingtons from 1949, has made millions of pounds for the company and is still hugely popular. The company persuaded Pratt to sell them the rights to the game and they offered him £5,000 (£100,000 in today’s money) and he took it. A blue plaque commemorating Pratt’s invention is now attached next to the front door of number 9 Stanley Road. Author Jonathan Foster – a Cluedo devotee – has splashed out £400 for the blue plaque, and has written a book The Cluedo Story: How Anthony Pratt Invented The Game Of Murder Mystery.
On our right is the Grade II Listed Ye Olde Red Lion public house. Built in 1903 in a traditional Cotswold style, this was probably the first Birmingham ‘reformed’ pub. Birmingham was an early participant in the movement to replace the small street-corner drinking dens with public houses where a man and wife could drink and eat in well-designed respectable surroundings. They were modelled on an ideal of the village pub at the heart of its community.
On the left after the school is Kings Heath Park in which stands Kings Heath House. Built in 1908 this replaced the original building of that name which was destroyed by fire during the Birmingham ‘Church and King’ Riots of 1791. The building has had various uses including a school and training centre and the Birmingham Horticultural Training School has been housed here since 1952. Part of the park has been used in the past by the BBC for gardening programmes, but of course the BBC doesn’t think Birmingham exists any more.
At the end of Vicarage Road on the left we can see the new Kings Heath Square, which has been created out of land at the end of the road and the churchyard of All Saints Church. There’s a farmers market here every Saturday. Who remembers the subterranean toilets on the traffic roundabout just here?
We now take a right turn (only buses are allowed to turn right here) onto Alcester Road South with the High Street behind us. Then we take a left turn into Addison Road, which is lined with rows of Victorian terraced houses. On the 28th of July 2005 a tornado hit the area and caused damage to properties in Kings Heath, Moseley and worst of all in Balsall Heath.
Addison Road becomes Brook Lane at the junction with Barn Lane and continues along to Billesley. On our right the pub now called The New Billesley was originally built as the Billesley Arms in 1927 and replaced a much smaller late 18th century road house.
At this junction the Outer Circle bus would have originally turned left to go down Coldbath Road. Coldbath Road must be the narrowest road on the 11 bus route and this was not a problem up until the 1960s when car ownership expanded and the residents were forced to park their cars on the road as it is lined with Victorian terraced houses with no off-street parking. In 1986 the bus route was diverted straight on along Brook Lane, which was originally planned as a dual carriageway. We are going to take the new route as we head towards Swanshurst Park, and then turn left into Yardley Wood Road along the side of the park so that we can join the original route.
As we go along Yardley Wood Road in the park on our right we may catch sight of what is called Moseley New Pool. This was created by around 1759 by constructing a dam across a small stream that rises near to Brook Lane to create a Fish Pond. It was called the “New” Pool to distinguish it from three other pools that were dug on adjacent Coldbath Brook that were intended to regulate the flow to Sarehole Mill.
One of those pools is in the golf course, which is on our left as we go round the roundabout into Swanshurst Lane. This feeds the Coldbath Brook which runs down the hill behind the houses on our left in Swanshurst Lane. In the area where the brook runs are the sandpits called Moseley Bog which several years ago was rescued from development by the intervention of botanist & broadcaster David Bellamy because of its rich flora. Moseley Bog was declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1980.
On our right towards the bottom of Swanshurst Lane is Bibsworth Avenue – the houses here are on the site of Sarehole Farm where Matthew Boulton’s father lived for the last few years of his life until his death in 1759. In 1755 Boulton senior took over the lease of Sarehole Mill where they rolled sheet metal for six years although the family business was still based in Snow Hill in Birmingham town centre. Boulton junior moved all production to his new Soho Manufactory on Hockley Brook that he built in the 1760s.
On the left at the bottom of Swanshurst Lane is Wake Green Road, and about 200 metres from the junction is no 264 where JRR Tolkein lived as a child. Tolkien was inspired by the area, the “Bog” was his “Middle Earth” and Sarehole Mill across the road was featured in his Lord of the Rings volumes.
So, once we have gone around the final roundabout at the bottom of Swanshurst Lane we have arrived back at our starting point outside Sarehole Mill.
At the end of our tour we might like to reflect on the fact that modern double deck buses each carry as many as 70 people and the 47 buses that run the Outer Circle route now carry in total about 50 thousand passengers each day.
BRUM’S SOCIAL COHESION
An important social consequence of the predominance of small businesses in Birmingham was that there were no great divisions of wealth or social status between master and employee; in fact there was not even a clear distinction and it was not uncommon to be an employer one day and an employee the next, depending on how things went. This being the case, bosses and workers were quite happy to live cheek by jowl in the same street. This accounts for the mix of large and small houses, and it made Birmingham starkly different from the northern industrial towns, where the stereotypical mill owner, fabulously rich and living in a hilltop mansion, was widely separated in every sense from his badly paid employees in their huddled courts in the valley below.
As Richard Cobden (a contemporary of Birmingham MP John Bright) wrote, ‘The social and political state of [Birmingham] is far more healthy than that of Manchester. There is a freer intercourse between all classes than in the Lancashire town, where a great and impassable gulf separates the workman from the employer … the industry of the Birmingham hardware districts is carried on by small manufacturers, employing a few men and boys each, sometimes only an apprentice or two, whilst the great capitalists in Manchester form an aristocracy.’
So this is the end of our Outer Circle tour. I hope that you’ve enjoyed it. Let us know is you’ve found anything that you’d care to add to the commentary, or just to tell us how you undertook your tour.