Around and About Bloxwich

“Bloxwich is a large and pleasant village, seated on an eminence two and a half miles N by W of Walsall, and comprising within its chapelry the whole township of the Foreign of Walsall, except Walsall Wood church district. The inhabitants of Bloxwich are chiefly employed in the manufacture of saddlers’ ironmongery, and awl blades, for which the village is more celebrated than any other in the kingdom. In Domesday Book, Blockeswich is described as being held by the king, and having a wood three furlongs in length and one in breadth. “

From History, Gazetteer and Directory of Staffordshire, William White, Sheffield, 1851

Bloxwich includes Bloxwich itself, comprising Litte Bloxwich and Great Bloxwich, as well as Blakenall Heath, Leamore, and Harden, and associated places.

It is possibly the oldest part of Walsall Metropolitan Borough and may even pre-date Walsall itself, since Walsall is not shown in the Domesday Book of 1086, compiled for William the Conqueror, and Bloxwich is!

These brief notes refer to what can be seen of the Bloxwich area on the 1902 Ordnance Survey County Series map, including history up to around 1902, and will be expanded upon in due course.  The period photographs have been kindly provided by Walsall Local History Centre, who are able to sell copies of the originals (see under Acknowledgements).

Bloxwich

6931  High Street, Bloxwich, showing the original Electric Palac Cinema, early 20th century

When the Romans left, Britain was invaded by the Anglo-Saxons and the Midlands became the Kingdom of Mercia.  Mercian families established many small communities in the area and the family of Bloc settled in Bloxwich (Blocheswic in Domesday Book, meaning Bloc’s Village).  In 1162 the Manor of Walsall was granted to Herbert Ruffus by William II.  Bloxwich was included in the grant as part of the ‘Foreign of Walsall’ and together with the other communities shown here plus one or two other areas was known as such until 1835.

Throughout the Middle Ages Bloxwich was a small agricultural village with a population of around 600, but it expanded in the 18th century when coal mines were opened.  There were many cottage industries at this time, making awls, nails, needles and saddle blades.  By the early 19th century Bloxwich was surrounded by canals, with the extension of the Birmingham Canal Navigations’ Wyrley & Essington Canal in the late 19th century particularly encouraging expansion.

By 1837 the Grand Junction Railway opened between Birmingham and Bescot.  The march of industry continued with the South Staffordshire Railway through Bescot and Walsall to Bloxwich.  Bloxwich Railway Station was opened in 1858, off a lane leading to Sots Hole, an ancient centre for coal mining and metal work.  The lane was renamed Station Street.  The line was joined by the Cannock Mineral Railway in 1859, itself taken over by the London and North Western Railway in 1867, and still in their possession in 1902.

A chapel of ease to Walsall Parish Church was licensed for services at Bloxwich in 1413, being rebuilt 1790-1794, but in 1874 was reconstructed completely, in the Gothic revival style, by which time Bloxwich had its own parish.  Dedicated to St. Thomas of Canterbury, it was re-dedicated to All Saints in 1875 when the foundation stone for a new tower was laid, and was re-opened on 16th April 1877.

The preaching cross in the churchyard is thought to date from the 13th or 14th century, has a ball rather than a cross-piece, and is the oldest monument in Walsall Metropolitan Borough.  Church Street led to the poorest part of Bloxwich known as Chapel Field Cottages.

11558  Bloxwich House, Elmore Row, Bloxwich – part of the former Bloxwich Workhouse

A workhouse on Elmore Green (formerly Chapel Green), accommodating 70 people, was open for the ‘Poor of Bloxwich’ by 1752, located on the present shoppers car park site in Elmore Row.  It closed in 1838 when Walsall Workhouse in Pleck Road, now the Manor Hospital, was built.  Bloxwich Workhouse was turned into houses, numbers 14 to 18, and number 19 was the former home of the Workhouse Master. Later it was known as ‘Bloxwich House’ and was converted into a shop known as ‘Fanny Beech’s’.  The remaining building was demolished in 1937.

Bloxwich Hall was built around 1830 in the Tudor style, probably for Henry Morson, an ironmaster and leading local figure.  It later passed to Mr. Deeley, a local councillor.  The Hall was later left to fall derelict, and was restored in the mid 1980’s as the headquarters of Barry Rhodes Advertising Agency.  It is now the home of several different companies.

Next to the Hall were the Bloxwich Public Buildings, built in the 1880’s, and which comprised Bloxwich Police Station and the Public Library.  The new (opened 2002) Bloxwich Police Station stands on that site today.  Nearby is the 19th century ‘Manor House’, now ‘Bloxwich Hospital’.  It was never a manor house as such, though.

4022  Bloxwich Wesleyan Church, corner of High Street and Victoria Avenue, early 20th century

Methodism came early to Bloxwich, and thrived amongst the ‘bitties and tackies’ living around the Short Heath (now Bloxwich Park and Sandbank), it is even rumoured that John Wesley peached in the area.  The first Methodists worshipped in a converted flax oven and in 1832 built the Chapel in Park Road which is now in use as a furniture shop.

A Primitive Methodist chapel was built in High Street, near The Pinfold, in 1842, and by 1850 there was also a Sunday School.  The chapel was rebuilt in 1895-6 and a new school begun in 1902.  As Pinfold Methodist Church, it was sold in 1964 and the site is now covered by the remains of a garage.

230  Pinfold, Bloxwich, 1938 (photo by Douglas W. Glbert)

The Pinfold, at the south end of High Street, was the site of the stray animal pound built in 1639 and which replaced an earlier pound dating from c.1490. The Pinfold was the original centre of Great Bloxwich and one of the Borough’s famous old inns was located here, The Wheatsheaf, dating from the 16th century.  The building survived largely unaltered until it was demolished and replaced with the present Wheatsheaf in the late 19th century.  Other pubs nearby in Field Street (now Field Road) at the time of this map were the Queen’s Head, on the corner of Church Street, there since at least 1861 but rebuilt in 1973, and the Carrier’s Arms, in existence by 1851.

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Blakenall Heath

2177  Tree planting in Blakenall by Councillor Somerfield as part of the World War One peace celebrations, 1919.  Christ Church in the background.

Blakenall Heath (now often known simply as ‘Blakenall’) is first mentioned in c.1300 when it was crossed by the road from Leamore to Goscote, the present Blakenall Lane. It remained as largely uninhabited heathland for several centuries.  By 1763 a small community had grown up around the common.  In 1813 when Thomas Pearce published his History and Directory of Walsall there were several metal workers living in the area and during the 19th century new streets were laid out to house the growing population.

A National School and Church of England mission were opened in 1843 by which time houses were being built along Harden Lane – now Walker Road and Barracks Lane.  Barracks Lane was named after the building called the Barracks which stood on the corner of Well Lane and Barracks Lane, where it is said that volunteers were housed during the Boer War.

Christ Church originated as a mission of Bloxwich Church at the Blakenall National School.  A site in Bloxwich Road, Leamore, was originally chosen to build a church in 1865 but the foundations were moved to a site in Blakenall Heath given by Lord Bradford.  The church, designed in Early English style by Mr. Naden of Birmingham and built from local limestone, was opened in 1870.  It was consecrated in 1872 and a year later the parish was assigned out of Bloxwich.  The tower was not completed until 1882 with money provided by J. E. Bealey of the Hills who also presented the church with five bells.

2726  Chantry Avenue, Blakenall, c1920 (photo by W. Bullock)

A Primitive Methodist Chapel was built in Chapel Street (known as Church Street 1884 – 1887) around 1886.  The chapel was converted into shops in 1920.  A Methodist Free Chapel was built on the corner of Booth Street and Blakenall Lane in 1871, by Mr. Booth, builder of Booth Street’s earliest houses.  The chapel was closed a few years later before being taken over by the Congregational Church in 1882.  A new chapel and schools were begun on the corner of Chantry Avenue and Blakenall Lane in 1933, and opened in 1936.  In recent years that chapel itself was demolished and rebuilt in modern form.   It was not until 1928, however, that Blakenall Heath Junior & Infants School (now officially the “Sunshine School”) opened next door in Blakenall Lane.

Pubs in Blakenall Heath at the time of the map included the Royal Oak in Harden Lane, and the Kings Head in what is now Ingram Road, near Christ Church.  The Kings Head had been there since at least 1851, and by 1904 was being run by William Wooldridge.  It was rebuilt in 1929.  The old Royal Oak was in Harden Lane, near the northern end, and was there from at least 1861, when the publican was James Emery, a bit-maker. It was being run by William Deuce by 1908, but closed on 29th March 1929, when the new Royal Oak opened at the junction of Walker Road and Well Lane.  Along Blakenall Lane there was also the New Inn, there from at least 1861.  The publican around the time of the map was Joseph Whitehead.  The old New Inn closed in 1938, when a new building was opened nearby.

Between the wars the area saw a vast development in council housing. The first council house in the borough opened at 98 Blakenall Lane in 1920 and by 1927, 450 houses had been built on the Blakenall estate.

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Leamore

9538  Bloxwich Road, Leamore, c1920’s – 30’s

Leamore means lea – a pasture or field, and more – a moor or heath.  It is mentioned in property deeds in 1420 and was probably uninhabited heathland for centuries.  By c.1775 however, a settlement had grown in the area around Leamore Lane, Broadstone (now Bloxwich Road and Broadstone Avenue) and the northern end of Green Lane.  During the 19th century the area was developed, with mining becoming the main local industry.  The part of the lane adjoining Green Lane was called Bentley Lane on a sale map of 1886, however this is not the case on the Ordnance Survey map of the same year.

Leamore House was put up for auction in 1886 as a genteel family residence.  It was then occupied by a John Williams Esq. and had been owned since the 1840’s by the Badger family.  It had stables and pasture land.  Later Jabez Cope, bridle cutter and currier, and councillor for the Leamore Ward, lived here, he was first elected to the council in 1890.

Nearby, off Leamore Lane, St. John’s mission church from Christ Church, Blakenall Heath, was built in 1883, rebuilt in 1931 and demolished in 1967.  A Wesleyan Methodist chapel was established not far away in Broadstone (Bloxwich Road) in 1862-3, and extended in 1864, hosting a flourishing Sunday School.  It was demolished in 1963.

Leamore Junior & Infants School, Bloxwich Road, was opened in 1873 as a board school for boys, girls and infants, and is still in use today.

9898  Little Black Horse (Georgian version or later ‘Old Black Horse’) public house, Leamore, pre-1911

Pubs in Leamore around 1902 included the early 19th century Spread Eagle public house (rebuilt by 1932), with the Red Lion (there from at least 1838 but rebuilt in the early 20th century) nearby.  The Old Black Horse and the New Black Horse were on opposite corners of Harden Lane and Bloxwich Road.  The Old Black Horse was owned in 1835 by John Kirk.  It was a Tudor building and this ‘Old Black Horse’ was demolished about 1880, then was rebuilt and became the ‘New Black Horse’, acquired by Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries in 1907, and is still there, somewhat enlarged, as ‘The Black Horse’.  Meanwhile the New Black Horse, a Georgian building, became the ‘Old Black Horse’.  It was renovated but was later pulled down, and a mock-Tudor building replaced it as the ‘Butlers Arms’, itself being rebuilt in 1925.

In addition there was The Crown in Leamore Lane (with an inn of that name being mentioned in Leamore from at least the 18th century, the present building is late 19th/early 20th century), The Four Crosses on the Green Lane/Leamore Lane crossroads (there from at least 1835 as a coaching inn, but completely rebuilt in 1924) and the Railway Inn on the corner of what is now Broadstone Avenue and Bloxwich Road (there from at least 1880, rebuilt in the 1920’s and 1960’s).

Development continued into the early part of the 20th century with the building of Cope, Beatrice and May Streets.  A council estate, including flats, was built in the late 1920’s, and in the 1950’s land south of Leamore Lane was cleared to replace earlier slum dwellings with a modern estate.

Forest Colliery was mined extensively during the 19th century, but by the time of the map was disused.  The place name was derived from a local field name, The Forest, identified on the Tithe map of 1843.  This lay between the present day Forest Lane and Hawbush Road.

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Harden

    Harden has had many spellings through the ages and the meaning is high farm or estate.  Harden existed by the late 13th century and was a tiny hamlet lying at the junction of Harden Road and Well Lane.  It had its own common fields, Harden field from 1513 and Great and Little Fursons in 1617, the exact location of these fields is unknown.  In 1619 there were 120 recipients of Mollesley’s Dole and in 1652 there were 166.  This charity was distributed on Twelfth Night Eve, when every man, woman and child in the Parish of Walsall received one penny.  Census returns of 1801 list several bitmakers and awl blade makers and coal was mined at Harden during the 19th century.  Harden No. 1 colliery ceased production in 1905.

Cromwell Cottage in Harden Lane (now Road), now demolished, was probably the oldest building in the area, but in spite of the name no associations with Oliver Cromwell have been found.  In c.1800 the cottage was a shop which the local Roman Catholic community turned into a chapel dedicated to St. Thomas the Apostle.  It was enlarged in 1808 and described as a ‘small but neat place of worship, capable of between three or four hundred persons’.’ It was decorated with paintings and the altar – piece represented ‘the dead body of our Saviour after it had been taken down from the Cross’, and was much admired.  The pastor at this time was the Revd. Francis Martin.  From 1825 a Roman Catholic Day School was held in a room next to the chapel.

The Trooper public house was licensed to Joseph Lea in the 18th century and in 1774 the Amicable Friendly Society had 110 male members at this inn.  Early in the 20th century it was described as having a fine Georgian fireplace and grate, this was removed at Christmas 1925 and the old Trooper closed in March 1930.  A new inn of the same name opened the next day, but has since been demolished.

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