Category Archives: Bloxwich

Project will sew a Silver Thread of arts and history

The project's sewing group, left to right: Colette Mumford, Yvonne Thomas, Beth Porter, Eunice Kirby, Joyce Lilwall, Lynne Tandy & Sue Collingwood.
The project’s sewing group, left to right: Colette Mumford, Yvonne Thomas, Beth Porter, Eunice Kirby, Joyce Lilwall, Lynne Tandy & Sue Collingwood.

As part of a celebration of a quarter of a century working in community arts, Walsall Council’s Creative Development Team are now set to deliver a unique year long community arts project for Walsall Borough.

The scheme is being funded through a successful application for £73,400 from Arts Council England Lottery Funding.

Involving an army of local people, the ‘Silver Thread’ project will see 11 unique tapestries created, representing the six towns and other areas in Walsall Borough. The tapestries will reflect the borough’s living history, diversity and commonality; acknowledge the past, reflect the present and embrace the future.

A common thread

Creating the tapestries will provide the common thread to produce a commemorative book featuring 25 of Walsall Council’s Creative Development Team projects, which include the Bloxwich Tardis monument, the Brownhills Miner, festivals and a host of other projects from the 25 year history of the team’s work.

The book will tell the story of the engaging creative processes and the impact participatory arts have made in Walsall’s communities across an area so diverse in history, heritage and geography.

The Silver Thread Tapestries and the book project will demonstrate how the Creative Development Team is a thread linking people, places and policies and instigating positive change in communities. The aim of the project is to celebrate and bring to life the thread sewn over the life of the teams work in community arts.

Meetings across the borough

Throughout February and March organisers will be hosting meetings in 11 different areas of Walsall to plan the content for the tapestries and they are inviting local community groups, history groups, and individuals to help decide what to feature on the tapestries. If you would like to help tell Walsall’s story or you would like to attend a meeting in your local area please contact 01922 653114.

Awl blades of Bloxwich repute

Local historian Billy Meikle took this picture of a typical Sandbank awl blade maker’s workshop in 1915 (courtesy Walsall Local History Centre)
Local historian Billy Meikle took this picture of a typical Sandbank awl blade maker’s workshop in 1915 (courtesy Walsall Local History Centre)

Included on the tapestries will be leather work to show the rich history associated with the leather industry in Walsall.  An example of this link can be seen with the famed association Bloxwich had for centuries with needle and awl blade making through local people in tiny home workshops and firms like Somerfields of Clarendon Street, who operated for over 200 years until around 1992.

During their time in Bloxwich, Somerfields made it into the Guinness book of records for the world’s largest needle measuring more than 6ft long for sewing mattresses, made by Mr George Davies, master forger.

Letterhead of Somerfields of Bloxwich, circa 1930’s, (courtesy Walsall Local History Centre).
Letterhead of Somerfields of Bloxwich, circa 1930’s, (courtesy Walsall Local History Centre).

A tribute

The Mayor of Walsall, Councillor Underhill, when talking about the project stated:“This project is a fitting tribute to the work the team has carried out over the last 25 years and reflects the creative energy that the people of Walsall exhibit in not only the industry of the borough but also throughout the region’s history and culture.”

Content and sewing

Once the content for the tapestries has been decided, Midlands Artist Hunt Emerson famous for being an artist on the Beano comic will create the designs for the 11 tapestries. Once the designs are completed organisers will be recruiting an army of volunteers through sewing groups and individuals to help sew the images.

Starting after Easter sewing will continue until the autumn to create the unique set of tapestries to be exhibited together and toured around the borough in January 2017. If you or your sewing group or community group would like to take part in the sewing we call 01922 653114.  As well as sewing volunteers project organisers are also keen to hear from sewing experts able to lead groups and look after a tapestry as part of the delivery team.

Past projects included

Over the past 25 years Walsall Council’s Creative Development Team (Formerly known as Walsall Council Community Arts Team) delivered hundreds of participatory arts projects involving thousands of local people.

Of the best projects 25 of the best will feature as examples in the ‘Silver Thread’ book and the team are eager to hear from anyone who remembers participating in past projects to help tell the story of local communities and the impact these had for participants. If you remember taking part in any of the theatre projects, exhibitions, events, projects or festivals thye want to hear from you. Contact the team on 01922 65311.

Christmas fun begins in Bloxwich this Saturday!

Christmas

A glittering slide into Christmas for Bloxwich and district begins this Saturday 28th November with the annual ‘Sparkle into a Bloxwich Christmas’ event in the village centre.

Organised by Walsall Council in co-operation with the Rotary Club of Bloxwich Phoenix, local businesses and more, the popular annual event is now a firm fixture on the festive calendar, and offers family fun – and shopping opportunities – for all!

This Saturday’s activities, which are focused on Bloxwich Park,  High Street and All Saints Church, Elmore Row, run from 10am-4pm.

Fun for all!

There’ll be all the following:

  • A Christmas Trail
  • Santa on his sleigh handing out a FREE gift
  • Local Bloxwich choir performances
  • Christmas drinks and cakes
  • Christmas entertainment acts
  • Christmas donkeys!
  • Christmas shop window displays
  • Children’s rides
  • Christmas stalls

And at All Saints Church

  • Stalls
  • Rides
  • And a Christmas Concert from 4pm onwards!

Anyone looking for further information can contact Sharan at Walsall Council District Centre Management on 01922 654324.

Click on the image below for a larger version to print!

Sparkle into a Bloxwich Christmas - Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge

A Sunday to Remember in Bloxwich

Veterans, cadets and local groups march behind the standards to All Saints Church (pic Stuart Williams)
Veterans, cadets and local groups march behind the standards to All Saints Church (pic Stuart Williams)

This year’s Remembrance Sunday in Bloxwich was indeed one to remember, mostly for all the right reasons – but was also an event dogged by confusion and controversy.

Most importantly, the local community came together in their hundreds once again as they have done since the 1920s, to remember and honour in silence and in song those fallen in war and conflict, especially local servicemen and women and the other victims of war – and to hope for that peace which is the right of all but which is so rarely found in this world.

It has to be said, however, that the day was sadly somewhat tarnished by the controversy over the cancellation of the traditional High Street parade of veterans and local groups, including youth groups, who enthusiastically but thoughtfully gather to march each year.

The band leads the somewhat curtailed Bloxwich Remembrance parade past the grave of Bloxwich rebel Samuel Wilks (pic Stuart Williams)
The band leads the somewhat curtailed Bloxwich Remembrance parade past the grave of Bloxwich rebel Samuel Wilks (pic Stuart Williams)
Conspiracy theories and confusion

Confusion over the reasons behind the parade’s cancellation resulted in understandably angry but sometimes, it has to be said, ill-informed mutterings on local social media and on the streets of Bloxwich and district. Some of that was to be expected, as information was at first scarce and communication from organisers who were desperately trying to rescue the event and other official channels was sometimes confused. But then the publicising of the Bloxwich event has never been very good and always last minute, something which needs to be rectified in future.

No Legion, no parade

Variously blaming Walsall Council, local councilors, Walsall Police and others, these stirrings mostly missed the main reason why the parade was cancelled and re-scheduled as a short march through the grounds of All Saints Church. This was, as was widely reported in the Bloxwich Telegraph, primarily down to the demise of the Bloxwich branch of the Royal British Legion, presumably due to insufficient local support, in 2013.  This meant that, due to a combination of health and safety law and official red tape, as well as perfectly reasonable safety concerns, together with the unwillingness of the Royal British Legion to extend insurance for the march without a local branch, the usual parade could not go ahead.

Veterans and cadets march behind the standards to enter All Saints Church (pic Stuart Williams)
Veterans and cadets march behind the standards to enter All Saints Church (pic Stuart Williams)
Police cuts

Overshadowing this primary problem was the issue of nationwide police cuts due to our national Conservative government’s ‘austerity’ policies, something which has received a massive amount of media coverage in recent weeks. Even had there been a branch of the Legion to insure and organise a parade, our sources informed us,  it would almost certainly have been cut back due to there being half as many police available to marshal road closures as last year. This is a situation likely to get worse next year.

All Saints Church was packed to the rafters for the reading of names and service of Remembrance (pic Stuart Williams)
All Saints Church was packed to the rafters for the reading of names and service of Remembrance (pic Stuart Williams)
The Bloxwich Royal British Legion must be reformed

So, it is absolutely essential that a new branch of the Royal British Legion be formed in Bloxwich, so that local veterans may be supported locally, so that funds may contnue to be raised for the charity, and  so that Bloxwich people may see the return of their traditional Remembrance Sunday parade.

Thankfully, local interest in forming such a branch is already taking shape, and anyone who is interested in helping and taking part is invited to contact the Legion’s local contact, Mr Bill Griffiths, by telephoning  07944869687 or 01922 492064.

The future

The present police cuts and the prospect of more of the same next year may call the parade’s future  into question again, even if, as is hoped, a new branch of the Legion rises phoenix-like in Bloxwich in time for Remembrance Sunday 2016. It looks like any future organisers will have to fund and organise at least part of the traffic management themselves, due to reduced numbers of police available.

Between now and then, Bloxwich people will really have to ‘step up to the plate’ and help.  After all, Remembrance is for life, not just Remembrance Sunday.

The reading of the names of the Fallen (pic Stuart Williams)
The reading of the names of the Fallen (pic Stuart Williams)
Bloxwich can still be proud

But whatever happens next year, Bloxwich can at least be proud that disaster was largely averted this year by the hard work of public-spirited local councillors, All Saints Church and representatives of other churches, many local groups and police – and not least the veterans themselves – who came together with other local people to organise a shortened march through the church grounds and a massively well-supported Service of Remembrance within the church itself.

Not only that, thanks should also be offered to those many local people who, whether unable to get into the church or determined, as Bloxwich folk often are, to stand up for Bloxwich and for tradition, still gathered round the Bloxwich War Memorial to pay their respects as in days gone by.

Hopefully, everyone who turned out in church or on the streets of Bloxwich on Sunday last will actively support the future of the Royal British Legion and Remembrance in Bloxwich as well as looking to the past  – otherwise it may have no future!

Paying tribute at Bloxwich War Memorial -- lest we forget... (pic Stuart Williams)
Paying tribute at Bloxwich War Memorial — lest we forget… (pic Stuart Williams)

 

To view larger versions of the above photographs, and for more pictures of the day by Stuart Williams, follow this link to a Flickr photo album.

For more background to this event, see our previous reports.

Bloxwich Remembrance parade replaced with church service

Remembrance in Bloxwich, 2012. Will this poignant scene become a thing of the past? (pic Stuart Williams, click to enlarge)
Remembrance in Bloxwich, 2012. Will this poignant scene become a thing of the past? (pic Stuart Williams, click to enlarge)

Bloxwich is to lose its popular Remembrance Sunday parade this weekend, amid a storm of media reports highlighting government police cuts as the cause of reduced road closure support for such events this year. Officially, the cancellation of the cherished Bloxwich parade has been blamed on the closure of the village’s local branch of the Royal British Legion in 2013.

However, even though there will be no Bloxwich High Street parade, a Service of Remembrance organised to partially rescue the much-loved event at the last minute will still take place, at a new venue – All Saints Church, Bloxwich – this Sunday 8th November, beginning at 10.30am, and all are welcome. Following the service, wreaths will be laid at the nearby Bloxwich War Memorial.

A perfect storm

Austerity-driven cuts in public services nationwide and the confusion surrounding the loss of one of Bloxwich’s most important annual events, as well as reported policing issues with other such events boroughwide, have combined to create a perfect storm  of angry public opinion, both on social media and amongst local people in person, blaming the police, the council and the government, but official messages have been vague till now.

Reliable sources have told the Bloxwich Telegraph that the reason for there being no parade in Bloxwich this year – and possibly in future years – is due to the closure of the Bloxwich Branch of the Royal British Legion in 2013, which has resulted in there being no official organiser for the event in 2015.

Had there been a Legion branch in charge of the event, we are informed, Walsall Police would have been happy to work with event organisers and deploy what  police numbers they had available on the day.  However, according to Bloxwich East Councillor Julie Fitzpatrick, it would not have been possible to have a parade down Bloxwich High Street with the small numbers of police expected to be available anyway.

A past Remembrance parade in Bloxwich (pic Stuart Williams)
A past Remembrance parade in Bloxwich (pic Stuart Williams)
Council clarification

The Walsall Advertiser newspaper recently published a news item about the parade cancellation, quoting Councillors Julie and Shaun Fitzpatrick on the matter. They were approached by Walsall Police to see if they could help because of their well-known community work, and they did their level best to try and rescue the parade, sadly without success.

We subsequently published an outline of why the parade was unlikely to go ahead, based on information received from Mrs Fitzpatrick and a local representative of the Royal British Legion, Mr Bill Griffiths:

http://thebloxwichtelegraph.com/2015/10/25/bloxwich-remembrance-parade-expected-to-be-cancelled/

Cllr Julie Fitzpatrick said at the time:

“Due to cuts to the police budgets, last year in Bloxwich we had 12 police to maintain public safety during the parade, this year we have 5. Due to this the High Street cannot be used and we are looking at alternative options at this time which have yet to be confirmed.”

Police statement

Inspector Keeley Bevington of Walsall Police has since issued a statement to the Bloxwich Telegraph via Kevin Pitt of the force’s Walsall Partnerships Team:

“Please contact Cllr Julie Fitzpatrick who is fully aware of the issues in Bloxwich and who has worked hard on this. In short there is no Royal British Legion Branch in Bloxwich and no organiser for the parade. The Council and Police legally need the details of an organiser with liability cover to allow the event to go ahead but due to the RBL not supporting activity in this area then there is no-one that can take on this responsibility which leaves issues around health and safety and organiser liability.

“All other areas where the events are taking place have an RBL organiser supporting the event with the appropriate liability cover. The church and individuals do not feel that the public liability would be covered by their own insurances so cannot volunteer as organisers. The only event taking place is at the church service and then after in the church grounds.

“I know this is disappointing but without RBL support this cannot be progressed. Please be assured a lot of work has been undertaken by police, council and councillors to try and find an RBL member with liability to support this but they do not have a branch in this area. There are around 9 other events taking place where RBL branches exist with an organiser across Walsall. I can confirm it is not the police or council stopping the parade but that the RBL have not asked for an event and are not supporting one in this area as there is no branch.”

New arrangements for Sunday

All Saints Church have thankfully stepped in to provide the venue for the now curtailed event, as it was necessary for there to be public liability cover, and this already applies to events within the church and grounds.

Groups traditionally involved in the Bloxwich event attended a meeting to discuss the new arrangements at the church on Monday evening, to discuss how the service should go and how they could take part.

The marching band and groups will now march within the church grounds then go into the church at 10.30am. The service of Remembrance will take place in the church and Rev Roger Williams, Rector of Bloxwich, is organising loudspeakers so that anyone outside the church can hear it. The aim is to get as many people in the church as possible.

After the national anthem the usual representatives will leave and place their wreaths around the War Memorial.

We Will Remember Them... (pic Stuart Williams)
We Will Remember Them… (pic Stuart Williams)
Across the borough

This problem is not unique to Bloxwich, by the way.  Police numbers are apparently down across Walsall Metropolitan Borough, and a similar situation seems to have unfolded in Walsall Wood, as was well described in Brownhills Bob’s popular Brownhills Blog earlier this month.

What’s more, we understand from Brownhills Bob that the Walsall Wood parade has never had an organiser, which calls into question at least some of the official reasoning behind the cancellation of the Bloxwich event.

Next year

There will likely be no Bloxwich Remembrance parade next year also, if as seems probable there continues to be no official organiser for the Bloxwich Remembrance Sunday.  Sources have also implied that there will probably be even fewer police available by then, and this is supported by national news stories about police cuts this past week.

Please share

Because of the confusion, the Bloxwich Telegraph has done its best to help clarify the matter for local people, and we would be grateful if our readers would share this post with their friends and others to help spread the word.

Needless to say, our editor Stuart Williams will be attending the service as always.

Words on the Bloxwich War Memorial (pic Stuart Williams)
Words on the Bloxwich War Memorial (pic Stuart Williams)

 

Bloxwich Remembrance parade expected to be cancelled

Bloxwich War Memorial - the village remembers... (pic Stuart Williams)
Bloxwich War Memorial – the village remembers… (pic Stuart Williams)

A reluctant decision to cut back police support for Remembrance Sunday parade road closures in the borough this year due to lack of resources has left a trail of dismay and confusion in its wake. The closure of the village’s local branch of the Royal British Legion in 2013 has combined with this to create a perfect storm which means that Bloxwich is expected to lose its long-cherished remembrance parade this year.

Because of the confusion, the Bloxwich Telegraph is doing its best to help clarify the matter for local people, and we would be grateful if our readers would share this post with their friends and others to help spread the word.

Royal British Legion

On Friday, we were contacted by Bill Griffiths, the Royal British Legion official for the local poppy appeal and the Bloxwich Remembrance Parade, which had originally been scheduled for Sunday 8th November 2015.  Mr Griffiths has asked us to advise people from Bloxwich and the surrounding area that, sadly, there will now be no parade in Bloxwich on that date.  Instead, Bill says, paraders will be asked to meet at All Saints Church instead, before the usual service of remembrance takes place at the war memorial on High Street.

Council clarification

Subsequent to being contacted by Mr Griffiths, we noted that the Walsall Advertiser newspaper had published a news item about the parade cancellation this week, quoting Bloxwich East Councillors Julie and Shaun Fitzpatrick on the matter. We immediately contacted Mrs Fitzpatrick for clarification, and it now appears that she and her husband were approached by Walsall Police to see if they could help because of their well-known community work.

There are two difficulties standing firmly in the way of a parade this year. Firstly, because Bloxwich no longer has a branch of the Royal British Legion, despite Mr Griffiths best efforts there is currently no effective local organisation to take the lead on Remembrance activities.  Last year’s parade went ahead because, so we are told, Sergeant Jim Nixon of Walsall Police arranged it with another person. However, this year the police will not approve that kind of arrangement because of reduced police numbers.

How it works

It is usual for branches of the Royal British Legion to take the lead on parades and work with the police regarding the route. The local event organiser (in past years the Bloxwich branch of the RBL) then advises Walsall Council’s Traffic Management section, and if they are assured that the route has enough police marshalling it to maintain public safety, then Traffic Management will issue the necessary road closures.

On Parade in Bloxwich (pic Stuart Williams)
On Parade in Bloxwich (pic Stuart Williams)
Cuts leave no alternative

This year, because the numbers of police generally have been reduced due to government cuts, Traffic Management have not been satisfied that there are enough police available to safely close off Bloxwich High Street.  Clllrs Shaun and Julie Fitzpatrick have done their best to try and make alternative arrangements by asking whether Walsall Housing Group could provide funding for other traffic management, but their Local Neighbourhood Fund scheme cannot, unfortunately, be used to pay wages.

Liability

Another significant problem is public liability, as the event organiser needs to be an organisation rather than an individual.  At the moment, however, no formal event organiser has been established and so even if there were enough police available the usual parade could not go ahead.

Cllr Julie Fitzpatrick has advised the Bloxwich Telegraph that she has contacted the local Group Secretary of the Royal British Legion, and the County Secretary has been in touch, but no assistance has yet been forthcoming.

What next?

On Friday, the Rector of All Saints Church, Revd. Roger Williams, returned from holiday and Walsall Council has recommended something through him, but as of Friday this still had to be discussed.  This is presumably the arrangement communicated to us by Mr Griffiths.

Cllr Julie Fitzpatrick said:

“Due to cuts to the police budgets, last year in Bloxwich we had 12 police to maintain public safety during the parade, this year we have 5. Due to this the High Street cannot be used and we are looking at alternative options at this time which have yet to be confirmed.”

Service to go ahead
Words on the Bloxwich War Memorial (pic Stuart Williams)
Words on the Bloxwich War Memorial (pic Stuart Williams)

So, as it stands, it looks almost certain that there will be no Remembrance Sunday parade in Bloxwich this year, due to the lack of both an organisation to take responsibility and liability for it, combined with the inability of police to provide sufficient martialling to meet safety requirements. Despite the fact that local police voluntarily do the work, thanks to government cuts in police numbers there are quite simply not enough of them available.

It does seem, however, that the service of Remembrance will still go ahead at the Bloxwich War Memorial as usual, probably with the participants gathering at All Saints Church beforehand, though specific arrangements have yet to be confirmed. We expect to be there to cover it as usual.

Across the borough

This difficulty is not unique to Bloxwich, by the way.  Police numbers are apparently down across Walsall Metropolitan Borough, and a similar situation seems to have unfolded in Walsall Wood, as was well described in Brownhills Bob’s popular Brownhills Blog earlier this month.

Whatever arrangements are finally confirmed, the Bloxwich Telegraph will do its best to let our readers know as soon as we do.

Remembrance in Bloxwich, 2012 (pic Stuart Williams, click to enlarge)
Remembrance in Bloxwich, 2012 (pic Stuart Williams, click to enlarge)

 

Preaching across time in Bloxwich

The Preaching Cross at All Saints, Bloxwich, c1950 (pic E.J. Homeshaw)
The Preaching Cross at All Saints, Bloxwich, c1950 (pic E.J. Homeshaw)

It is not generally known that Bloxwich possesses one of the oldest and most complete monuments in the Midlands – although it is of two different periods – and it is certainly the oldest thing in Bloxwich.

The old preaching cross or column standing in All Saints churchyard, on the south side close to the church itself, has been an object of curiosity to generations of parishioners. We may safely designate it as a cross, since by no means all old crosses conformed to the true cruciform shape. But this cross is far older than the church itself, being probably the oldest monument in the borough, and is very important.

Throughout the Middle Ages, Bloxwich was a small agricultural village with a population of around 600. A Chapel of Ease to Walsall Parish Church was licensed for services at Bloxwich in 1413, but Bloxwich did not have its own separate parish until 1842. The chapel had a tower by the 1500s. In 1790 it was decided that the chapel should be rebuilt and the tower altered. This work was completed in 1794. All Saints Church as it is today dates mostly from 1875-1877 when the earlier church, St. Thomas of Canterbury (named such for the original 1842 parish), was rebuilt and rededicated.

Relic hunters
All Saints Church, Bloxwich, late 1800s
All Saints Church, Bloxwich, late 1800s

In 1940, when local historian Billy Meikle wrote about the Bloxwich Preaching Cross, he said that “The churchwardens are so jealous of this, their only historic treasure, that they have planted a grove of trees round it, possibly to protect it from local vandals or American ‘relic hunters’.  The cross is eighteen feet high, and cannot be seen from the church gates, even in winter when the foliage has gone.”

No records of the cross appear to have survived, nor was any indication of its full age discovered on it when it was restored in 1935. We are therefore thrown back upon the opinions of experts. All authorities are agreed that the practice of erecting such crosses goes back to the earliest days of Christianity. Sometimes, in English villages, they were set up on the spot where the Gospel was first preached. As time went on, according to historians, the south side of every churchyard contained a cross.

The fact that the Bloxwich cross occupies this position, as well as the fact that it is of the primitive ‘shaft with steps’ type and betrays the wear of centuries of rain and frost, suggests a very early origin.  Professor Hearnshaw, of King’s College, London, once wrote: “I should date it 13th or 14th century (say A.D. 1300).”

The cross
The Preaching Cross, 1940 (watercolour by Billy Meikle)
The Preaching Cross, 1940 (watercolour by Billy Meikle)

Though not of the usual form, the cross itself consists of an eight-sided shaft, slightly tapering towards the top, and terminating in a later Jacobean capital surmounted by a Jacobean ball, both of the early 1600s.  It is mounted on a base of three stone steps.

Meikle commented that he had noticed that “…the churchwardens, although taking care of it one way, have allowed the contractor for the tarmac path round the church to lop off the corner of the bottom step (which is probably five centuries old) in order to continue the line of the gutter.  Fancy cutting the corner of an ancient monument so that the rain water could have a straight course, instead of a ‘wimple’ round the corner.  Notwithstanding this, the cross is in wonderful condition.”

The support of the stone ball had gone, leaving the iron rod which goes through the capital exposed.  Meikle thought this would certainly collapse in due course, and ought to be judiciously repaired “…not like a portion of Dudley Castle and other places which could be mentioned, but under the supervision of a local antiquary, if such there be in Bloxwich.”

He also noticed that at one time the centre of the steps had been clamped with iron staples, but these had rusted away except for the portions which were leaded into the stone.  An attempt to repair the clamping on the top tier had been made, but given up by the repairer as he had only been able to drill to a depth of three quarters of an inch.

Graffiti
All Saints Church, war memorial and High Street, 1920s
All Saints Church, war memorial and High Street, 1920s

Meikle went on “The shaft, which has been painted (another piece of folly) contains many initials carved on the surface, but I could find no date.”  He must have missed an 18th century date, part of centuries-old graffiti which is certainly visible now, but he concluded that the character of some of the lettering would indicate its dating back to about 1600, and the bottom steps “…would very likely be 13th century work.”

A thought for Christmas…

This coming festive season, which is not too far away, perhaps readers of this article, whether Christian or not, might like to go and stand by the old Bloxwich Preaching Cross and reflect for a moment, as Billy Meikle may have done before them, on what Christmas may have been like for their ancestors all those centuries ago when there was no church, and no traffic to disturb their quiet Yuletide contemplation.

Stuart Williams & Billy Meikle

 

Historic images courtesy Walsall Local History Centre

Bull’s Head Bloxwich redevelopment – Consultation

The "new" Bull's Head in summer 2007
The “new” Bull’s Head in summer 2007

We have been informed by Walsall Council that proposals are being made to demolish and replace the now-derelict former ‘Bulls Head’ public house in Park Road, off Bloxwich High Street.

Accord to the developers, Bromford Developments:

“Proposals are to be submitted for the redevelopment of the long vacant former pub site for residential purposes. The ambition is to provide a place full of opportunity and promise and bring life back to this derelict and unsafe site.”

Once one of Bloxwich’s best-known watering holes, the 1928 Bull’s Head, the second pub of that name on the site, closed in the summer of 2007 amid reports of violent incidents, and was later targeted by vandals and arsonists in November 2010, leaving the upstairs and roof burnt out. Since then it has been boarded up and vandalised even further.

The mock-Tudor styled building, which replaced its genuine 16th-century namesake, which was famed for the legendary ‘Bloxwich Wishing Tree’ outside its doors,  in 1928, has been a local landmark since living memory, but went into decline in the last years of its life, partly due to the economic downturn and partly due to a troubled reputation.

Bull's Head Burnt Down 6 Nov 10
Firemen damping down the badly burnt Bull’s Head, 6 November 2010 (courtesy Terry Humphries)

As far back as 2012, it was looking like the badly-damaged pub would be taken over and rebuilt as a Wetherspoon’s pub, but this did not go ahead, and instead J.D. Wetherspoon converted the old Grosvenor Cinema at the other end of High Street, which re-opened as ‘The Bloxwich Showman’ earlier this year.

Bromford Developments go on to say:

“We would like to advise you of a planning application that Brooke Smith Planning are preparing on behalf of Bromford Developments Ltd, for the redevelopment of a long vacant site.

“A fire in 2010 caused significant damage to the former pub, leaving it structurally unsafe and is now at a stage where it is beyond repair. Despite active marketing, there has been little interest in the site coming back to life as a pub, or alternative retail use.

Apartments

“Bromford have great aspirations to bring life back to this site with proposals for 14 self-contained apartments for Adults with Learning Disabilities, to be provided through one of Bromford’s innovative housing support models. Bromford’s housing initiatives have been met with great success and have proven results of decreases in dependency.”

Bromford have said that they would welcome local people’s views on the proposals, so that they “…can pursue the best possible development of the site that will not only provide a solution to a need, but will do so in a way that is supported by the local community.”

The Bull's Head today
The Bull’s Head today

All comments are welcomed by Bromford and must be submitted by 16th October 2015.

Consultation

You can either download and  fill in the consultation questionnaire, which includes more information and a picture of the proposed apartments, via this link- Bulls Head Consultation – and return it to : Bulls Head Consultation, Brooke Smith Planning, The Cloisters, 12 George Road, Birmingham, B15 1NP, or log onto the following website: www.brokesmithplanning.com/consultation

Harold Parry – Bloxwich war poet

Parry with Poppies

On National Poetry Day, what better than to revisit the poignant story of a local Bloxwich poet – a man who also made the ultimate sacrifice for king and country in the Great War of 1914-18?

Harold Parry (‘Hal’ to his friends), son of Alderman, mine engineer, colliery proprietor and landowner David Ebenezer Parry and Sarah Parry, of ‘Croxdene’, Bloxwich, was born on 13 December, 1896, one of twins.

Croxdene in the late 1960s.
Croxdene in the late 1960s.

After studying at a junior school in Bloxwich (probably the National School, High Street), Hal won a scholarship to Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Walsall, where he became an outstanding pupil, head of his House and captain of the school’s football and cricket teams, as well as a cadet officer.  While studying there, he won the Queen’s Prize for History and in 1915 won an Open History Scholarship to Exeter College, Oxford.

Exeter College, Oxford (Wikimedia Commons).
Exeter College, Oxford (Wikimedia Commons).

Hal volunteered for army service in January 1916, being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, and after training at Rugeley he transferred to the 17th Battalion, The King’s Royal Rifle Corps, on the front line in France.

Badge of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (Wikimedia Commons).
Badge of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (Wikimedia Commons).
Badge of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps (Wikimedia Commons).
Badge of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps (Wikimedia Commons).

Before the war, Parry had been a prolific writer of poetry.  The bitter experiences of the trenches, at the Somme and in Belgium, soon made him turn again, this time for relief, to poetry, both reading and writing, and letters home to family and friends.  He could express himself clearly in both prose and verse, and his writings are important in that they reveal what the young men who died in “the war to end all wars” thought about their experiences in that terrible conflict.

A trench on The Somme, 1916.
A British trench on The Somme, 1916.

One of his shortest poems, ‘Tommy’s Dwelling’, written in the field, tells of the ever-present water and mud which was the curse of the trenches:

Tommy’s Dwelling

I come from trenches deep in slime,

Soft slime so sweet and yellow,

And rumble down the steps in time

To souse “some shivering fellow”.

I trickle in and trickle out

Of every nook and corner,

And, rushing like some waterspout,

Make many a rat a mourner.

I gather in from near and far

A thousand brooklets swelling,

And laugh aloud a great “Ha, ha!”

To flood poor Tommy’s dwelling.

Continue reading Harold Parry – Bloxwich war poet

The Old Bull’s Head & The Bloxwich Wishing Tree

The old Bull's Head pub, Park Rd, Bloxwich, 10 June 1927 (pic by Billy Meikle)
The old Bull’s Head pub, Park Rd, Bloxwich, 10 June 1927 (pic by Billy Meikle)

Bloxwich was once particularly rich in old public houses, many dating to the Georgian era and before.

By the time local historian Billy Meikle (1858-1943), who spent most of his life in Walsall, wrote about the old Bull’s Head pub in Park Road, Bloxwich, few such early inns remained, and today many surviving Bloxwich pubs are sadly closed, converted or under threat for economic reasons.

Arms of the Skeffington family
Arms of the Skeffington family

The original Bull’s Head inn had been in what was later named Park Road, Bloxwich, since Tudor times.  The name of the pub is traditionally said to be inspired by the bull’s head which was part of the coat of arms of John Skeffington, a Bloxwich landowner of the 1500s.  However there was once a long tradition of bull-baiting in Britain, and pubs of this name often refer to this now-extinct blood sport, so there may also be an element of this in the origins of the name.

The Bull’s Head was for centuries a thriving social centre and a popular meeting place for local workmen.  Indeed the ‘Amicable Society’ – the town’s largest friendly society – met there from 1785.  They had seventy-two male members and by 1811 there were forty women on the register.  A Catholic Society also met there in the early 1800s, with Titus Somerfield as secretary and a membership of 260.

Arthur and Mrs Banks outside the old Bull's Head, 10 June 1927 (pic by Billy Meikle)
Arthur and Mrs Banks outside the old Bull’s Head, 10 June 1927 (pic by Billy Meikle)

William Colbourne owned the Bull’s Head in 1813.  By 1818 Thomas Taylor had taken over, and was still there in 1834.  In 1851, Samuel Taylor was the licensee but by 1880 it had changed hands again.  William Fryer was the landlord in 1908, by which time the weekly takings were £11 and four shillings.

Though latterly having a plastered Victorian façade added, by the time Billy Meikle came on the scene in the early 1900s the pub still retained its ancient oak beams, an ingle nook and an 18th century fireplace, giving it a cosy atmosphere.  In 1938, Meikle wrote that forty years ago the Tudor fire grate had been removed.

Kitchen of the old Bull's Head, 1927 (watercolour by Billy Meikle)
Kitchen of the old Bull’s Head, 1927 (watercolour by Billy Meikle)

The old Bull’s Head was much-loved, both by locals and by Meikle, who photographed the pub, together with its last landlord Arthur Banks and his wife, on 10 June 1927, not long before it was demolished by Walsall council.

Later, he painted watercolours of the interior to complement his fine photography, leaving a unique record of a wonderful old ‘watering hole’ now sadly lost to us.  Continue reading The Old Bull’s Head & The Bloxwich Wishing Tree

Bloxwich versus Walsall: A Foreign Feud

Plan of Walsall, 1679
Plan of Walsall, 1679

The modern Walsall Metropolitan Borough is a substantial area housing around a quarter of a million people. But it was not always so extensive, or so populous!

In 1831, the old Parish of Walsall,  at that time divided into the townships of the ‘Borough’ and the ‘Foreign’ for the purpose of collecting the Poor Rate, included just 15,066 people.

But what were the Borough and Foreign?  Simply put, the Borough was the old town itself, the rough equivalent in size of modern Walsall’s town centre. Today, it would not take you long to cross it on foot – if you got off the bus outside The Prince pub in Stafford Street and walked south to the Wheatsheaf pub in Birmingham Road, you will have travelled across the town of Walsall: the old Borough.

The Foreign was every place within the old Parish of Walsall but outside the Borough. In those days, when Bloxwich had a chapel of ease but no parish of its own, the Foreign primarily included such places as Bloxwich (the effective centre of the Foreign), Little Bloxwich, Blakenall Heath, Leamore, Birchills, Shelfield and (albeit semi-detached) Walsall Wood. It also included such smaller locations as Pleck, Caldmore, Chuckery and Palfrey.

1800s, the brown line is the old Foreign boundary - click to enlarge
Map of Walsall boundaries in the mid-1800s, the brown line is the old Foreign boundary – click to enlarge

Rushall, Pelsall, Brownhills, Aldridge, Streetly, Bentley, Darlaston and Willenhall, which were not part of the old Borough and Foreign, did not come under the administration of Walsall until the mid 1960s-70s, which changes caused some controversy within those towns and villages. The present Metropolitan Borough itself (preceded by the County Borough) came into being on 1 April, 1974.

The rivalries between these later additions and Walsall itself were foreshadowed by the long-standing feuding between Bloxwich and Walsall, which despite their distinctness and one-time geographical separation before the surrounding areas were filled in with houses, shops and industrial development, are thought to have been historically associated for almost 1000 years.

In practice, the separate identity of the Foreign or ‘forren’ goes back at least as far as the 13th century, when the Ruffus Charter of c1225 mentions the ‘forin woods’, and a lease of 1485 refers to ‘the Manor of the Forren of Walsall’.

St Matthew's Church in an engraving of 1795
St Matthew’s Church in an engraving of 1795

Continue reading Bloxwich versus Walsall: A Foreign Feud