Bloxwich Parks History

A feature by GEORGE JEVONS in the form of a walk round Bloxwich Parks.

Colour postcard illustrations and modern photos provided by STUART WILLIAMS.
Postcard of Bloxwich Park showing the Bandstand courtesy Walsall Local History Centre.

Introduction & Welcome

Bloxwich has an enviable collection of parks within its boundary including:

  • Promenade Gardens
  • Bloxwich Park
  • King George V Playing Fields

These are controlled and maintained by Walsall Council, who have in their keeping a number of other parks and areas of green space available for leisure activities for people to sit, contemplate, rest and relax.

This feature is an invitation for you to take a look at our parks, learn a little of their history and how they can fit into your life.

The history of Bloxwich is the story of separated communities advancing to a common centre, High Street, but having the common sense to preserve the open spaces in the centre.  The open fields were enclosed in 1818 but the common lands were left open, and today the Promenade Gardens and the park, refreshing to the eye, and healthy for the mind and body, are reminders of the long battles that Bloxwich people have fought for their rights.  Had the Short Heath, Elmore Green, Deadman’s Heath been enclosed earlier, there would no doubt have arisen a wilderness of brick.  This has been spared to Bloxwich people.

Promenade Gardens

Promenade Gardens and Fountain, Bloxwich, late 1920′s

Our walk starts by the fountain in the Promenade Gardens.

Stop 1 – Fountain

This area of formal gardens is almost unique in the Midlands.

By the 18th century Bloxwich consisted of a village surrounded by farmland and increasingly sporadic mine shafts. But it was growing fast, fuelled by coal, by 1853 there were some 19 collieries, most of the newer ones in Bloxwich. 3 had attached ironworks with blast furnaces, Green Lane Colliery had a brick works.

By 1800 what we would see around us would be the main buildings of Bloxwich ending at the High Street & Wolverhampton Road junction and the area around us would be mainly common land or waste land, called Short Heath on the maps of the time. This waste that we would be standing on was not totally isolated it was fringed with cottages making a living off the land and of course local inns like the Bull behind us, which is believed to be on the site of the oldest in Bloxwich and the Bell opposite. In 1818 the Open fields began to become “enclosed” – but the common lands were left open. In 1838 J.L.Chavasse in his book Ancient & Modern History of the Borough of Walsall stated that this common land belonged to the church -  “There is a large open common & a common field of good arable land belonging to the chapelry”

The land was not only used as common land but also for public meetings, particularly this area next to the Bulls Head, and entertainment.  The main entertainment was of course the Wake, and it is recorded that Pat Collins attended his first Wake here in 1882, but more of that later.

These gardens began to take shape around 1829. Then these gardens were called the Green, and depending on who you talked to this either meant just this area in front of the Bull or the entire common, the area we now call Bloxwich park was called the Big Green by some.

By 1828 this area of waste had started to be built on, the National School was first, followed in 1832 by a new Wesleyan chapel was built to the south of what is now Park Road which was licensed in 1837, and then in 1857 by the Music Hall.

This was causing concern to the residents, a miners meeting in this area discussed the rumours that the Music Hall and The Green were going to be privatised.  A monthly meeting of Walsall Council later took the decision to fence in two portions of the land and create a recreation ground, utilising the area extending from the Wesleyan Chapel to Bullocks Fold, and lying between Stafford Road and the road leading to the Bull’s Head Inn.

The fountain dates back to 1890, but it originally was put in Bloxwich Park, over the road, it was began to be moved during 1927, but this job was not finished until 1928 but not without controversy.  A number of people complained to the local press, some were visitors to the area and they commented on the beauty of the gardens. Someone wrote a letter, to the Walsall Observer, in the form of an unfinished play lampooning the time taken (1 year plus) to finish the fountain.

Act 1- Scene: Stafford Rd., Mid Summer 1927
Ethel – The fountain is finished – yo’ see it, by gum!
Harry – Yer fibber, it ain’t, its oney begun
Minnie – I bet it a’ finished by Christmas – a bob
Charlie – Ger gie ‘em a chance to make a job
Act 2 – Scene: The Garden Party – Misummer 1928
Maisy – The fountain is finished, its ripping old bean
Daisy – My dear, you’ve bee dreaming – or sipping I mean
Madam – Come darling be patient, say Christmas, i guess
Daisy – O’ – make it midsummer, or autumn no? yes
Act 3 – Scene White House 1948
Voter – say boss if ‘lected what’s doing fer yurojo?
Candidate – Waal Sonny we did! and they still owe us a drop!
Opponent – You did it? we did it! – say you do the same
Candidate – If ‘lected I’ll finish the Bloxwich fountain
Epilogue – Scene – Bloxwich Cemetery 1988 Extension X
Her lies the gardener – back to the wall
Sam’s got his job, and he’s got a call
Nobody blames him, for he’s doing well -
Gardening still: but his gaffer’s in ———-

The work was eventually finished, and the result is very much as we see it today.  An article on Walsall Parks in the Walsall Observer in July 1928 provided a quote from Councillor Cartwright who expressed the opinion that there was nothing in Walsall, or within 30 miles, to touch the Promenade Gardens in Bloxwich.

The fountain was out of action during the war but restored to use in 1951, when an electric pump was provided to work it instead of direct supply from the mains as before.

The fountain has been restored a number of times, and had a few different colour schemes. This last time was in 2000 with a grant from the Millennium fund applied for by the Friends of Bloxwich Parks, and was re-opened as part of the Millennium Carnival celebrations.  Unfortunately this restoration was left incomplete with the planned protective fence being left out.  Early in 2001 the inevitable happened and the fountain was again vandalised.  Later that year the fence was eventually erected and the damage repaired.  However we are still campaigning to get the fountain back to its original splendour, safe from vandals, and operating regularly and efficiently!

These gardens are the focal point in Bloxwich, and have been used since 1949 for the crowning of Bloxwich’s Carnival Queen. Many have commented on the floral displays In 1933 a note in the Walsall Observer praised Park Keeper H.J. Bullock who designed and laid out the carpet bed in the form of a Staffordshire knot inscribed South Staffs. Now the formal beds floral displays are celebrating the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.

We will now walk to the other portion of the gardens and view Pat Collins Memorial Clock.

Stop 2 – Pat Collins Memorial Clock

Pat Collins Memorial Clock, 2002 (photo by Stuart Williams)

Pat Collins has had a long association with Bloxwich, but he was not from Bloxwich.  He was born on May 12th 1858 in Cheshire and he attended his first Wake in Bloxwich in 1882 on this ground, and rapidly began to transform the travelling fairs.  In 1891 he applied for a licence to hold a fair on Tenters Croft – land behind the house of Richard Thomas – the application was endorsing an established practice.

Pat Collins had a number of encounters with Walsall Council when they tried to abolish the wakes and focus people’s attention on the August Bank holiday instead – the wake was becoming a nightmare of drunkenness and lawlessness, though much enjoyed by local colliers. In 1898 the council announced the wakes were abolished – but Sat Aug 13th Pat opened the fair as usual, he was trying to preserve the Bloxwich Wake – a compromise was reached the event was called “Collins’ Grand Fete and Gala (in commemoration of Bloxwich Wakes)”

By 1899 On the 12th of August Pat advertised in the Walsall Observer that “Collins’ Grand Fete and Gala – to be held ‘in commemoration of the Bloxwich Wakes’” – to be held on a field, Tenter’s Croft, near the Pinfold, that he had leased.

Pat died in Bloxwich in 1943 and the Carnival Committee decided to put up a memorial, but war intervened and it look until 1955 to fulfil this ambition. This Memorial Clock was built using money subscribed to the fund including £100 from the Showman’s Guild that Pat helped to found.  A member of the carnival committee designed it and originally it was set up in the King George V Playing Fields, the committee thinking that that was the most logical place..  It was moved here in the gardens in 1991, overlooking the are that Pat had attended his first Wake and facing King George V Playing Fields, I think that it has now found its rightful place.

Bloxwich Park

Entrance to Bloxwich Park and Anvil Stones, late 1920′s

Crossing the road we enter Bloxwich Park at the Bell In gate.

As early as 1829 maps defined an area on the northern side of Bloxwich as “The Green” which was an area of manorial waste, or common land belonging to the chapelry.  This area was the remains of “The Short Heath”.  Now “The Green” is the name of the road bordering the park next to the Bell Inn Public House and the high-rise flats.

Before this area became a park, as we said earlier, it was used for a number of activities, some of which were illegal – surprisingly In 1629 Edward Leigh of Rushall was imprisoned by the mayor for playing bowls on “an open green” at Bloxwich.

The main event has to have been the Wakes, and a wake has been held in Bloxwich from at least 1769, when the inhabitants fixed the date as the Sunday nearest to the 16th of august. They were not as some of us remember they were more medieval in content with such activities as Bull Baiting, which continued until 1835 when it was banned in law.

In 1888 the local paper reported that – The annual revel of Bloxwich Wakes, was this year more largely attended than usual by shows, roundabouts etc. As the Green is likely soon to be enclosed as a recreation ground, this is perhaps the last occasion on which it will be used for holding this carnival on. On Sundays a number of religious services were often held here by many of the religious groups in the town including the Primitive Methodists, Wesleyans, Church of England, Catholics, Salvation Army, and The Bloxwich Church Mission

Races were held in Bloxwich around 1840.  They coincided with the Wakes, and plays and shows were put on in a temporary theatre on the course.  The site of the original course is currently unknown; but in 1866 the races were run in a field at Blakenall Heath, but they have also been held on the site of the present Leamore Playing Fields

When in 1888 the Town Council began to look to enclosing this area of waste and forming a recreation ground, they had to make applications to Lord Bradford and his trustees. Approval was received from him with the necessary formal documents in 1889. This original agreement included Bloxwich Green and the Sandbank, Elmore Green, Wallington Heath, and Deadman’s Heath, making such lands the property of the Corporation. Though this agreement did not include the mines and minerals, in Bloxwich Green and other wastelands in Bloxwich.

The Bloxwich Recreation Grounds Sub-Committee of the General Purposes Committee of the Town Council recommended that it would be best initially to limit operations to the Bloxwich Green area, which was defined as – “lying to the West of high Street, and extending from that street to Wolverhampton Road”.  The committee prepared a plan for laying out this area which they submitted and received approval. , The park originally had two entrances from High Street, three from Wolverhampton Road, one from Bell Lane, and one from “the road on the northerly side of the Green” which we now know as The Green, allowing “ready access to it to all the residents in the neighbourhood”.

Tenders were received for laying out the park and for constructing the paths and laying in the necessary drains and gullies. The committee awarded the contract to Mr. T.W.Boys of Sutton Coldfield, who had quoted £370. Tenders had also been received for the planting but the committee decided to postpone the selection for two months, as the work could not really start until the autumn.

The tender of Messrs. w. Miller & Son was accepted for the unclimbable fencing for enclosing the whole of the Green. The price of the fencing was 6s 6d per yard, with small gates at a cost of £3 15s each, and large gates at £7 8s giving a total estimated cost of the fencing is £303 17s 6d. The committees also recommended that an agreement be entered with the Bloxwich Church Committee for the stopping up of the right of way across the Green at the back of the schools. The Council agreed to provide and fix at their own expense, two pairs of large gates and two small gates, in the boundary wall, of the school yard Also they agreed to increase the height of the boundary walls. The fence around the schoolmaster’s garden was an average height of seven feet. The one around the back of the girls’ and infants’ school was an average height of seven feet six inches, and that at the back of the boys’ school to an average height of eight feet.

Stop 3 – Anvil Stones and Shelter

Where we now are is by this Pyramid of awl-blade makers’ anvil stones raised as a monument to the ‘bitties & tackies’ – these were small metal workers of Bloxwich.

In the cottages that fringed “Wallington Heath” and the “Short Heath” the people were allied to the land, they farmed their strips of land behind their cottage. In some were spinning wheels, where the women folk and children spun into yarn the wool from the black-faced sheep of the neighbourhood.  In some cottages there were also handlooms.  The coarse cloth was stretched on wires at Tenters Croft opposite the Chapel of great Bloxwich, next to Chapel Field.  In other cottages were workshops making small metal goods for the leather trade mainly – though not for Walsall initially – their original market place was Birmingham.

The stones were used in the awl trade. The holes in them were made to hold the iron & steel blocks on which they shaped the thing they were making. Eventually these were replaced with cast iron slabs & these stones were thrown out. The memorial has had a slightly chequered history set up originally here in 1905, reset in 1915,1925-1928, and restored in 1993. It appears that the mound concept was created when Alderman Ingram was chair of the Parks Committee in the 1920’s.

The origin of the name tackies is difficult, one source defines it as the long tabs with square heads used when all the boots and shoes were hand sewn were used by the cobblers to hold them in place while the stitching was done. Another article states that the stones were used to help make the spurs used in cock fighting.

The Shelter was a topic for the design of a mural in 1999, and the Friends commissioned the repainting as part of the Walsall Youth Arts working with the Learning Gateway Life Skill’s programme supported by West Midland Arts, Walsall Council’s Parks Dept & FOBP.  The intention was two fold:

  1. To provide a focal point that concealed the graffiti.
  2. To involve the local youth population so that they developed a feeling of ownership and pride in the shelter.

The house next to the park was originally the home of the park keeper.  These home often had their own green houses, and in the case of Bloxwich plants grown here later adorned Bloxwich Park, the Promenade Gardens and Bloxwich Cemetery.  In the 1950’s the Park Keeper was Jack Bullock who had two men assisting him in the care of the gardens as well as patrolmen policing the parks.

We now take the path to the centre of the park.

Stop 4 – Bandstand

10082  Bloxwich Park, showing the Bandstand, c1916

The park originally contained a bandstand, the cost of which was raised by public subscription; on the condition it becomes the property of the council. Subscription open-air promenade concerts were held in a field (Mr Archer’s Field) at Wallington Heath in aid of funds for this Public Band stand.  This Bandstand was used regularly for concerts starting with the park opening ceremony in August 1890. The committee under the chair of Alderman D.E.Parry obtained the funding of this bandstand and the fountain.

The Bandstand was a very popular part of the park and was in use very regularly.  The Council now funds “Fundays” in our parks – in 1927 they held Music Concerts and Bloxwich was one of the venues. The choice of music was very wide and the park was often packed for these events. The Bandstand unfortunately no longer exists this and the fencing were removed as the demand for iron grew in the Second World War.

The park was dedicated to Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and finally opened in August 1890.

The fountain, purchased for £240 from Messrs G.Smith & Co. Glasgow, made by Coalbrookdale Co was installed in September. Then in 1928 it was repositioned to its present position in the Promenade Gardens

Trees have been planted in our parks to commemorate important events since their creation. Mrs Mary Dorsett Foster & Mr Alderman Charles Corbett Walker planted trees on 22nd June 1911 to mark the Coronation of King George V; also present were Mr Richard Thomas J.P. (Chairman) & John Williams (mayor). Further trees were planted in 1919 as a peace memorial following the end of the First World War.

The park was not used for sports though on his tour of the park in 1922 Alderman Ingram commented – “… at Bloxwich two great tennis courts have been laid down and a set of 20 flower beds added to those already there.  In addition to this a promenade garden has been opened, and the general condition of the park is good & orderly”

We now take the path to the top corner of the park passing quite close to where the fountain was originally located, leaving the park by the top gate.  We will walk then through the flats and cross the road and enter King George V Playing Fields using the Bell Lane Entrance.

King George V Playing Fields

Stafford Road Entrance, 2002 (photo by Stuart Williams)

A campaign began in the early 1930’s for a to have a playing fields in Bloxwich.  This was badly needed as Bloxwich Park was too small for this purpose and at that time was laid out for passive recreation not for games.  William Wiggin was one of the chief campaigners and when Walsall Corporation under the Walsall Corporation Act of 1925 purchased the “Hills Estate” (with the sanction of the then Ministry of Health), in 1935; he gave additional land adjoining Stafford Road.

Hills farm has been around since 1682 when it belonged to John Cowley’s daughter – Ingrid Pretty of Great Barr in Aldridge. By 1843 the Hills estate consisted of 109 acres, occupied by Joseph Bealey, and other land was let to tenants.

When King George V died it was decided to form a committee to provide playing fields as a memorial.  Walsall in common with other towns in the country began a King George V Memorial Fund.  When the fund was opened it was to provide playing fields for the town, and the Memorial Garden at the top of Ablewell St. but its scope was vague and it failed to attract public interest. Probably the other reason was because the War Memorial Playing Fields set up after the First World War had, in many cases, been allowed to degenerate.

Except in Bloxwich, here Mr. William Wiggin seized upon the scheme as an opportunity to get something done.  He had a playing field vision based on the Sports Club he had formed, and saw to it that the Borough Committee as part of the town’s scheme accepted this vision.

He utilised some of the land he owned along Stafford Road, on this land he built these gate and lodge and the council then gave 26 acres of the Hills estate and agreed to allocate this 40 acre site for the purpose of the proposed “King George’s Field” scheme.

Here we are back to the “them and us” argument with Walsall, because the Walsall Observer commented on William’s scheme that:

“From that moment the Bloxwich scheme became the young cuckoo in the nest; and at a meeting this week, whatever other birds there were – at best they were very weak fledglings – were dropped out of the nest to die.  The one man with a scheme was left to monopolise”.

History tells the rest of the story because in Walsall, Bloxwich alone has a King George V Memorial Playing Fields.  The rest of Walsall had nothing.

William Wiggin sought for support for his vision and quickly gained support from key members of the community.  Certainly he scored heavily when he enlisted the help of Mr. William S. Benton.  “An old Bloxwich lad who has succeeded in the industrial world”. Mr. Benton worked with William Wiggin and his committee and provided both the Stafford road and Bell Lane gates, the Sons of Rest, which bears his name, and lodge at the Stafford Road entrance probably believing that his generous example will fire the enthusiasm of others.

The scheme was approved as a King George Field under the interim procedure and was officially approved on 14th August 1937. the fourth such park in the country.  This official recognition was given early, although the proceedings were at an advanced stage, apparently so that William S. Benton, a Professor of mining at Birmingham University, who had presented the park gates, and was very old, could witness the completion of the scheme. The Walsall Observer appears to disagree because they wrote, on occasion of the gates ceremony,

“Although he is over 80, Mr Benton has the vigour of many a man of 60, and although he said (a point which the mayor appreciated) that he had been too much of a worker to have time to become a talker, he spoke with directness and clarity that was much appreciated”.

William Benton had grown up in Bloxwich and contributed large amounts of money to Bloxwich.  His generosity enabled the building of the Lodge at the Stafford Road entrance, the renewal of the paths around All Saints Church and the Sons of Rest Home.  The council recognised his contributions to Bloxwich by naming Benton Crescent after him in 1959.

The Deed of Declaration was given its official recognition as a King George‘s Field on 26th July 1938, and is held in perpetuity under the provisions of the King George’s Fields Foundation for the use of outdoor sport.

“King George V Playing Fields is held in perpetuity under the provisions of the King George’s Fields Foundation (KGFF) for outdoor recreation, according to the Deed of Dedication dated 26th July 1938. This foundation is now managed by the National Playing fields Association whose specific responsibility is to acquire, protect and improve playing fields, playgrounds and play space where they are most needed, and for those who need them most – in particular, children of all ages and people with disabilities”.

You have got to admire William Wiggin’s energy – perhaps we can say his audacity.  Had he waited for committees and agreements perhaps his scheme would have been as far off getting a real start as the Ablewell St. Memorial Garden part of the proposals.

Once the scheme had been approved in 1937 a “Tree Planting Committee” was set up with such dignitaries as Pat Collins, S. Sanders in order to enhance the park, many of the trees you see originate from that period. We see the attempt to be part of the millennium forest with recent plantings that are struggling to gain a hold.

In 1938 Pat Collins and S Sanders wrote in the Walsall Observer – with a great deal of pride – Remember its initial role was as a playing field, well some of that has receded. One of the park keepers in the 1950’s, Les Mason, tells me that in there used to be four cricket and nine football pitches, which had to be cut, watered and re-seed each year under the eye of the park keeper William Edge.

Now we’re are down to two cricket and seven football pitches.

Around the park the Hills estate was still farmland, so about 1946 Walsall Council let the Hills farmhouse and 120 acres to a tenant farmer, Arnold Roe, who was still farming there by 1973.  Arnold became very active in the community, serving on the Bloxwich Carnival Committee for more than 27 years. Bloxwich Carnival was revived in 1947 so this park was a logical place for terminating the parade and extending the day by putting on field events.  The carnival began in 1919, long before this park was opened, and ran until 1932. The 1949 revival continued in until 1978 when public apathy caused the then Carnival Committee to disband.  This period however was the most successful run of the carnival to date.

Bloxwich Rotary tried to revive the carnival in the 1980’s but these lasted for just 5 years.  In 2000 the carnival was again revived, and this year celebrated its third carnival since its revival and the 50th since 1919.

Reminders of the parks previous history began to come to light during 2001 when holes began to appear in the park.  Some five holes were eventually found which were old mine shafts.  All the available mining records were consulted and found to be inaccurate in a number of areas

In World War II a number of parks were used to support the war either in providing a location for Anderson Shelters, or to extend adjoining allotments. King George V playing Fields had just been created so it was common sense to utilise some of it to grow vegetables.  The Gates luckily escaped the demand for metal.

Stop 5 – Bell Lane entrance

As reported earlier these gates and the Sons of Rest, which bears his name, were built with the money provided to the committee by William Benton.

This end has built up as tradition the area which houses the Pat Collins Fun Fair when it appears in the park, though the area was initially designated as the play area.

The maze was constructed in 1991 (The Year of the Maze) and was funded through the Parks Capital Programme. The original concept behind its construction was that for eleven months of the year it would be used as a maze and that on the twelfth it would act as a hard standing area for the Annual Bloxwich Parks Bonfire. Unfortunately due to financial constraints the Annual Bloxwich Parks Bonfires were stopped in April 1992 together with the Parks Capital programme and the site has not been used since as a bonfire base’.

We now walk down the main path to the Lido.

Stop 6 – Lido & Avenue

The Friends of Bloxwich Parks began a program to provide facilities for the young in 1999 and the first phase of this resulted in the creation of this Lido.   One of our aims is to create facilities for the over 12’s that are in keeping with a park.

We will shortly begin our walk down the William Wiggin Memorial Avenue.  As indicated earlier he was one of the chief campaigners for the paying fields and provided land for the park. There is a memorial to William Wiggin in the avenue.

In addition to the general and boundary trees planted during 1938 a series of tree plantings were undertaken to create an avenue from the Stafford Road entrance. On the 12th March 1938 a tree planting ceremony tool place in the newly created avenue where a tree was planted for every child born in the coronation year.  Mrs Wiggin provided rhododendrons as a gift to the park.  This avenue was a favourite place particularly in spring when the cherry trees were in blossom.

A survey of the avenue commissioned in 2000 by the Friends of Bloxwich Parks showed that the trees were now nearing the end of their life and need removal.  During 2001 a couple of the large Italian Popular tress were bought down in the October gales.  The cherry trees were diagnosed as being diseased with a fungus.  The Friends then began planning for the refurbishment of this feature to bring the avenue to its former glory.  The first phase was completed in March 2002 – 64 years after the original planting.  This first phase will remove the diseased popular trees and plant the first row of flowering cherry trees. Unfortunately as you will see these trees were vandalised so the planned other phases to plant a second row of cherry trees on the left side and a matching set on the right side have been postponed until we can secure the plantings.

We will now walk down the avenue to the Stafford Road gates.

Stop 7 – Lodge Gates

Stafford Road, Bloxwich, late 1920′s

These gates provided by Mr. W. Benton contain the heraldic plates that signify that this is a King George Field.

The lodge has a foundation stone defining the date of construction and recognising Mr. Benton.

Evidence of tree planting by the carnival committee for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation is on a plague on the lodge.

Stop 8 – Wallington Heath Pool

Wallington Heath, Bloxwich, late 1920′s

Settlement since 1775.

Pool used for recreation.

George Jevons

News, heritage and information for Bloxwich and district

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