In 2016, young people and staff from the Walsall Academy in Lichfield Road, Bloxwich (site of the former T.P. Riley Comprehensive School) joined forces with Walsall Council’s Creative Development Team, video producers and digital media specialists Catcher Media, local writer and Bloxwich Telegraph editor Stuart Williams, Walsall Local History Centre, Walsall Council Regeneration and other local people on a very special Heritage Lottery-funded project to literally focus on the history and heritage of Bloxwich through the eyes, ears and voices of the school’s students, local people and other contributors and through the camera eye of Catcher Media.
What’s it all about?
The basic idea of the project, known as Rediscover Bloxwich, was:
What if each Bloxwich building or street has a story to tell? And what if some of these stories are fascinating? Or scary? Or funny? And what if they make you think about Bloxwich in a new way? Re-discover it.
So Walsall Academy students set out to find out about Bloxwich’s heritage, and to tell that story back to Bloxwich residents. They talked to celebrities, their own families, older people and historians.
The Rediscover website and the film they made pools all of the information, photos, interviews and stories that came to light throughout the project.
The project is also being followed up by the production and installation of a range of related public heritage art pieces set to be installed in Bloxwich centre later this year.
What’s on the site?
Apart from information about the project and the main video content itself, there are also a number of pages which offer links to more resources, several video clips of extra interviews of local people and Bloxwich rock legend Noddy Holder of Slade fame, and several pages themed on local Bloxwich heritage topics, with historical information, covering everything from Bloxwich pubs and local myths to industry, churches, fairs – and the Bloxwich lion! Information is also provided about the planned heritage artworks, and credits and acknowledgements.
Linking up for Bloxwich
TheBloxwich Telegraph, whose editor Stuart Williams was commissioned to act as Historical Advisor to the project, is proud to announce its formal – and now digital – links with the project, the film and the resulting website.
From time to time we will highlight aspects of the project from this site and and on our social media. To this end we have now installed a permanent direct link to Rediscover Bloxwich on our main site menu, and via clicking on the Rediscover logo in the right-hand column of every page.
We hope you enjoy finding out about Bloxwich’s past, through Rediscover Bloxwich and via the pages of The Bloxwich Telegraph.
For further information, please click on the following link or any of the others highlighted in this news item.
Walsall Council’s Creative Development Team and Regeneration and Development Service are currently working on a heritage project in Bloxwich to design, fabricate and install 4 new public art pieces in different locations, to promote and celebrate the history and heritage of Bloxwich. This has been made possible from Council and Section106 funding.
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.
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.
“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.”
All comments are welcomed by Bromford and must be submitted by 16th October 2015.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
Bloxwich (Blocheswic in Domesday Book, 1086) or ‘Bloc’s Village’, existed before the Norman Conquest, as part of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia, when the Mercian family of Bloc settled there.
In 1162, the Manor of Walsall was granted to Herbert Ruffus by King Henry II, Bloxwich being included as part of the Foreign of Walsall. Medieval Bloxwich, a small agricultural village, population c600, expanded in the 1700s with coal mining and cottage industries.
From the 1400s, Bloxwich had a chapel of ease within the parish of Walsall, but no separate parish until 1842. Originally dedicated to St. Thomas of Canterbury, All Saints Church dates mostly from c1872-5 when it was rebuilt. A 13th century preaching cross stands in the churchyard. A workhouse on ‘Chapel Green’ (now Elmore Green) was open by 1752. It was on the site of the present car park.
From the mid-1600s, a rivalry built up between Bloxwich and Walsall, when during the English Civil War Bloxwich was Royalist and Walsall Parliamentarian in sympathy. This traditional rivalry, now (usually!) more friendly, has continued down the centuries.
By the early 1800s Bloxwich was surrounded by canals, allowing goods to be transported more easily, encouraging expansion. The village became justly famed for its light metalwork and especially ‘awl blades of Bloxwich repute’. A monument to the ‘bitties and tackies’ of Bloxwich, a mound of anvil stones, is in Bloxwich Park (the village green) and a Victorian fountain is in the Promenade Gardens.
Interesting buildings, apart from the largely Victorian High Street, include amongst others Bloxwich Hall, built 1830, restored as offices in the 1980s and Bloxwich Hospital, formerly ‘Manor House’, built c1850 and made a maternity hospital in 1928, now offering mental health services for older people. Eden Florists (the ‘Cottage Shop’) has 1400s foundations.
The 1832 Methodist Chapel in Park Road has since the early 1900s been a cinema, garage, factory and retail unit. Its 1864 successor was replaced in the 1960s by St John’s Church. A splendid Victorian villa, ‘Bellfield’, is situated in Stafford Road. And, close to the Bloxwich boundary on the A34, is Yieldfields Hall, a haven for Roman Catholic recusants from the mid-1600s onwards.
Bloxwich is noted for its historic pubs, dating from the 1700s-1930s. Those currently open include the Royal Exchange, Turf Tavern, Romping Cat, Bell Inn, Wheatsheaf, Spotted Cow, Spring Cottage, Hatherton Arms, Prince of Wales, Lady Diana, Lamp Tavern and Sir Robert Peel. The Georgian ‘George’ is now a hardware store. Modern pubs include the Queen’s Head, Magic Lantern and One Man and His Dog, and at Little Bloxwich the Beacon Way and Saddler’s Arms.
Fairground and cinema mogul, Liberal councillor, mayor, MP and Freeman of the Borough Pat Collins, ‘King of Showmen’, was based from the early 1900s at his Bloxwich Wakes Ground on the present ASDA site. He built a cinema, ‘The Grosvenor’ (later becoming an Odeon) on High Street, which is now a Wetherspoon’s pub named after him, ‘The Bloxwich Showman’. His home, Lime Tree House, remained until c1972.
Bloxwich had an 1857 Music Hall (now used for sports), and three cinemas from c1912. The last, Pat Collins’ 1922 Grosvenor (later Odeon) closed in 1959 and has since had several uses. Bloxwich’s first (1861) police station was built onto the Music Hall and is now a school reception. The second police station (and library!) opened in 1874 and is now part of the Bloxwich Memorial Club. It was followed by Bloxwich Public Buildings in 1882-4, demolished in 2000 for the present Bloxwich Police Station, opened in 2002 by the Princess Royal.
A new Bloxwich Library on the Pinfold was converted from a WWII ARP First Aid Station in 1948, itself being replaced by the present Bloxwich Library & Theatre (Bookmark Bloxwich) in 1960-64.
The Bloxwich area was heavily developed for council housing from around 1925-39. Such housing expanded further during the 1950s-60s, mainly at Mossley, Beechdale, Lower Farm, Dudley Fields and Chepstow plus the Rivers at Blakenall Heath. Many private and housing association dwellings have been built in more recent years.
Bloxwich’s first purpose-built school was ‘The National’, built 1828 and rebuilt 1862 (now Bloxwich C.E. Primary). The first ‘Board’ school opened at Leamore (1872). Various others opened in the early-mid 1900s. Comprehensives arrived in 1958 (T. P. Riley and later Frank F. Harrison and Forest) and more primaries in the 1960s. Elmore Green High School (now Primary) became the T. P. Riley Annexe. T. P. Riley Comprehensive was replaced by Walsall Academy in 2002. In recent years there have been more changes.
Today, Bloxwich is a pleasant, leafy place to live, semi-rural in places and with a range of attractive parks, playing fields and green spaces which add to its character, while still being proud to be part of the historic Black Country.
This is just a taster article – more will follow, focusing on particular aspects of Bloxwich and district!
The people of Bloxwich and district are well-known for their interest in local history and heritage, whether it be of people and places, pubs and parks, chapels and churches, or ghosts and goings-on in their own area.
And both The Bloxwich Telegraph and its predecessor The Bloxidge Tallygraph are well-known for supporting that interest.
Now, our readers can look forward to reading a range of local history articles penned by our editor, Stuart WIlliams – all within these pages. Some of these will be new, others will be updates or expansions of past features we have published over the years.
You can even look forward to some spooky fiction around Hallowe’en time…
First up will be a short potted history of Bloxwich, entitled Bloxwich – Then and Now. Watch this space!
This Friday, 24 April sees the annual ‘Walking the Fair’ event in Walsall.
Each year the Mayor, guests and townsfolk walk the symbolic route through the town centre and Walsall Market in recognition of the vital role that markets play in establishing enterprise in the town.
According to its organisers Walsall Civic Society, the age-old walk is steeped in history and dates back as far as 1662. It heralds the opening of annual fairs, or markets and celebrates the town’s right to trade. This right was originally granted in Walsall’s charter by King Charles I.
The Mayor of Walsall, Peter Smith will lead this year’s celebration from the town centre.
He said, “This is a vibrant and colourful event and a highlight of my Mayoral Year. It is important to value heritage events like Walking the Fair as it not only keeps the tradition alive, but provides entertainment for local people. I’m delighted to be taking part and look forward to chatting to our time honoured traders along the way.”
The opening to the walk starts at 10.30am in the square outside The Crossing at St Paul’s in Darwall Street, adjacent to the Bus Station.
Performance highlights from outside the church include a special ‘Sister Dora Dance’ from The Glorishears of Brummagem Morris dancers, and a special call to order from the Town Crier, Cyril Richardson, who will then give readings from the Ruffus Charter of 1225, the town’s oldest document.
The procession, which is expected to last an hour, will then cross The Bridge and move up Bradford Street and through the Market, where the Mayor will meet with traders who have collected gifts for his charity.
A special event designed to bring local and family history alive in Walsall will be taking place at Walsall Museum on Saturday 13 October.
Walsall Local History Centre, the archives service and local studies library for the Walsall borough, has joined forces with the museum for the second year running to bring together displays and local and family history and heritage organisations from across the borough and beyond.
Walsall Local History Fair will take place at the Lichfield Street museum, above the Central Library, on 13 October, between 10.30am – 3.30pm.
And as well as displays and the chance to talk to representatives of the centre, museum and other organisations throughout the day, there will also be special talks and other activities, including local historian and author Ian Bott who will speak on ‘Black Country Murders’ between 2pm – 3pm, Paul Ford, archivist at Walsall Local History Centre, speaking on ‘An Edwardian Family Mystery’ at 11.00 am and 3.00pm and Tariq Khan from the Heritage Lottery Fund who will give an overview of heritage lottery funding from 11.30 am-12.15pm.
Admission to Walsall Local History Fair is free of charge and all are welcome!
Walsall Local History Centre is the archives service and local studies library for Walsall metropolitan borough and is part of Walsall Council. Parking is available on-site.
The first in an exciting all-new series of fun, locally-themed ‘mummers plays’ for Walsall is set to be performed in the town centre on Saturday 25th August 2012.
Penned on commission from Walsall Civic Society by noted local playwright and author David Calcutt, the plays are in the medieval tradition but with a fun modern edge, being part of the Bayard’s Colts Project, a Heritage Lottery-funded Walsall local heritage and arts project led by the Society working with Walsall Council, Walsall Museum, local groups, creatives, historians and experts.
And the first of four such pieces of street theatre, entitled ‘Robin Hood and the Giant’ will be performed on the 25th at 12 noon, 2pm and 4pm in the open air on Walsall’s ancient High Street, between the Black Country Arms (originally named the Green Dragon) pub and the Asda superstore.
David Calcutt said:
“Robin Hood and the Giant” is based on traditional mummers plays. It’s part of a much larger, ongoing project, and we’d love everyone to come and see it, and support the venture.
“It’ll be fast, funny, furious. And free. So we hope to see you there!”
The Bloxwich Telegraph’s Editor, Stuart Williams, will certainly be there to photograph the event, which looks like a lot of fun!