Category Archives: Heritage

Walsall’s burning – but what next?

Burning Boak (courtesy Sgt John De Hayes @ResponseSgt)

It will be no news to many readers of The Bloxwich Telegraph that over the past few years there has been an increasing trend in the area for historic local pubs in particular to close and, having deteriorated over time, whether by misfortune or by intent, to either be demolished because of their poor condition or, something which has become a blight on the borough of late, ‘spontaneously combust’.

This latter event seems to happen either ‘accidentally’ due to people breaking in and smoking etc or – as seems more and more often to be the case – as a result of deliberate arson.  Yet no-one ever seems to be brought to justice.

The Crown at Leamore on fire (Johnny Sanders)
The Crown at Leamore on fire (courtesy Johnny Sanders)

In Walsall town itself, there is now a disturbing trend for large,historic, often former industrial buildings, to be let fall into disrepair and eventually go up in smoke.  Some of this at least is clearly due to deliberate arson, for what purpose we can only conjecture.

There has been much speculation off and online by local people as to whether there is a definable pattern to this, and what is or should be being done about it.  In an area which has lost so many of its historic buildings to often ill-considered ‘redevelopment’ in the past 150 years we cannot afford to lose any more of our built heritage.

Perhaps more importantly to many minds, this plague of conflagrations which seems to be sweeping the Walsall area is bound, if it continues, to result in loss of life, whether public or within the emergency services, and damage to other properties, including both homes and businesses.  The whole of Station Street and Navigation Street could easily have been destroyed as a result of the recent act of arson committed on the massive former Boak Ravenscraig leather works, for example.

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

This whole sorry matter has clearly come to a head now, and at the AGM of Walsall Civic Society earlier this month, angry questions were being asked by members about the plague of fires and derelict heritage buildings, and what was being done about it by Walsall Police and Walsall Council in particular.

This week the Civic Society has written to the local press, the Council and the Police raising the matter in no uncertain terms.  Their letter, sent on the Society’s behalf by the Secretary,  John French, is as follows:

“Dear Sir.

Walsall in Flames

To whom should we assign blame for the regular disappearance of historic buildings in Walsall?

Certainly to the man or woman with the box of matches. But that is too easy. What about owners who care too little for their buildings to arrange appropriate maintenance and security?

What about the Council itself which fails to exercise its enforcement powers on recalcitrant owners? What about the Police whose investigations are fruitless, if they happen at all?

Nationally listed, Iocally listed, historically interesting, or architecturally interesting buildings have a value to the whole community not just to their legal owners. This point seems to have escaped all the above, they should wake up to it.

Yours faithfully,

etc.”

The concerned citizen of Walsall borough can hardly argue with the  questions asked and sentiments expressed above.

This appalling and ongoing state of affairs in the Walsall area has understandably also exercised the active and rightly outspoken Twitterati of Walsall, as well as the borough’s prominent blogosphere.

After the Fire (courtesy Brownhills Bob's Brownhills Blog)
After the Fire (courtesy Brownhills Bob’s Brownhills Blog)

The latest stage of the debate, which has been facilitated by historically-inclined local activist and blogger Brownhills Bob in his post “After the fire had gone out – an appeal’, is also about what can be done in a practical way to raise the profile of, in particular, historic buildings at risk, bring them to the attention of the Council and others, and perhaps make a record of them for posterity.  Hopefully this will eventually develop into a community-led initiative in this regard.

The Bloxwich Telegraph certainly supports the initiatives of both Walsall Civic Society and Brownhills Bob and other local people as well as anything that Walsall Council and the Emergency Services can do.

Also, the members of the Walsall Flickr Group are very heritage minded, and this is very much a topic of conversation there, where you’ll find many a sad but well-taken photo of the demise of the Boak Ravenscraig Works at the moment – check it out via this link.

We would like to encourage you, our readers, to join in the debate and express your concern about the accelerating loss of our built heritage, whether it be by neglect or by criminal activity. We invite you to do all of the following:

  • Write to the local newspapers.
  • Email your local blog.
  • Contact your local Councillor and express your concern.
  • Write to Walsall Council, Walsall Police and West Midlands Fire Service and ask them what they are doing about this.
  • Keep an eye out for buildings at risk and report them to the authorities.
  • Let us know at The Bloxwich Telegraph about any specific concerns you have for historic buildings in Bloxwich, Blakenall Heath, Leamore or Birchills.

We simply can no longer afford to watch our history and our lives go up in smoke. Now is the time to stand up for our local heritage, as never before!

The picture of the Boak fire at the top of this page is published courtesy of Sgt John DeHayes (@ResponseSgt)

Arson appeal over Boak burning

Boak factory fire courtesy Sgt John De Hayes (@ResponseSgt)
Boak factory fire courtesy Sgt John De Hayes (@ResponseSgt)

Walsall police are appealing for information about Monday night’s torching of the former Boak factory on the corner of Navigation Street and Station Street, Walsall, which was widely reported live on Twitter after the fire took hold.

The police are officially treating the fire as arson, and are urging members of the public to come forward with any information they may have about the incident.

Emergency services were called to the long-disused Boak leather currying factory, originally know as the Ravenscraig works, on Monday at around 10.30pm.

The fire, which was visible from as far away as Leamore and was the topic of much agitated discussion on Twitter as well as at the AGM of Walsall Civic Society on Tuesday evening completely destroyed the Grade II listed building and roads in the vicinity were closed for days as the premises were made safe.

Detectives from force CID in Bloxwich have launched an investigation and are appealing for anyone who saw anything suspicious from around 9pm on Monday evening to come forward.

If you have any information that may help the investigation then please call DC Matthew Jones at force CID by calling 101. Alternatively you can leave information anonymously by contacting Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Wheely fun at Aston Manor Transport Museum Open Day this Sunday!

Aston Manor Transport Museum at Aldridge

Beecham Business Park on Northgate, Aldridge will be a hive of activity again this Sunday 8th July when Aston Manor Transport Museum hold their 25th Annual July Open Day.

And while we don’t normally cover Aldridge, The Bloxwich Telegraph is very pleased to assist by publicising the event as this museum is well worthy of support and an important new attraction for the borough!

This will be the first year that the Open Day is not based at the Old Tram Depot in Witton, but with most of the vehicles and artefacts stored on that site now over at Aldridge, it will be almost home from home.

With free bus services going to Walsall, Sutton, a Barr Beacon circular and a link with Chasewater Railway that will coincide with their train timetable, this promises to be even better than the 24 previous events.  There will also be a display of all types of road transport on Beecham Business Park, with the whole site opened up so that visitors can also see what else takes place.

While there will be a small admission charge to go on site, there will also be an opportunity for visitors to see inside the museum store where, for the enthusiast, there will also be some sales stands to occupy them – and other visitors may well find something of interest there too.  Food and drink will be available also and something to occupy the children as well, if they get tired of the bus rides.

The previous 2 open days held recently did allow visitors to park their cars on site, but with display vehicles as well, car parking will be easily available on other sites close by with just a short walk to Beecham Business Park.

First bus service (to Walsall) leaves at 10.00am with the event starting then as well, and continuing until around 5.00pm.  For the full timetable, see the Museum website.

Location map for Beecham Business Park:

Bulls Head at Bloxwich to rise Phoenix-like from ashes

The Bull's Head before closing, summer 2007

One of Bloxwich’s best-known watering holes, which closed in the summer of 2007 amid reports of violent incidents, and which was later targeted by vandals and arsonists in November 2010 leaving the upstairs and roof burnt out, now looks set at long last to spring back into life as a JD Wetherspoon’s pub.

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

The mock-Tudor styled Bull’s Head in Park Road, which replaced its genuine 16th-century namesake, 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.

Up for sale since closing, the “Bull” as it is affectionately known to Bloxwich folk, narrowly escaped being lined up by owner Aldridge based Dorchester Land Ltd for conversion to shop units.  Not being a listed building, presumably due to alterations over the decades, the historic pub had little legal protection from redevelopment despite being situated within the Bloxwich Conservation Area.

In the event, there were no takers until recently, when the heritage-minded Wetherspoon’s pub company, which has long had a track record of sympathetic conversions of historic buildings, reportedly took a tentative interest last year.

Original Bulls Head Bloxwich 10 June 1927
The original Bull's Head and The Wishing Tree (left), Bloxwich, 10 June 1927 (W. Meikle)

Since then there has been public silence on the matter, but now a planning application is up for consideration by Walsall Council this Thursday, and the refurbishment and extension of the pub, if it goes ahead, will hopefully generate up to fifty new jobs at a cost of £1 million in investment.

Not everyone thinks this is good news, however, and a letter with 28 signatures protesting against the proposal has apparently been received, together with an additional five individual letters, all from local residents citing noise, litter, anti-social behaviour and parking issues as factors against reopening the pub.

In mitigation, the planning application states that, as in keeping with many Wetherspoon’s pubs, there will be no music, that adequate parking will be provided and that the pub is close to public transport.

Members of Walsall’s planning comittee will be recommended to approve the application, subject to conditions, in their meeting at Walsall Council House on Thursday evening.

The JD Wetherspoon company was founded as a single pub  in 1979 by Tim Martin.  The company now owns 835 outlets including the recently converted St Matthew’s Hall (formerly the County Court) and the Imperial (a converted theatre), in Walsall town centre.  They have a reputation for decent food and good beer at reasonable prices, so hopefully things now are looking up in Bloxwich on the foodie pub front at least.

New exhibition takes a leaf out of Walsall’s history

Cath Yates views Gems from the Local Studies Library
Cath Yates views Gems from the Local Studies Library

Walsall Local History Centre’s latest exhibition ‘Gems from the Local Studies Library,’ showcasing fine examples from the historic Local Studies Collections at the Centre and curated by Local Studies Librarian Cath Yates, is now open to the public.

A series of high quality archival exhibition prints has been made from pages and illustrations from local books, trade catalogues and ephemera dating from the 1600s to the present day, and put on show in the Essex Street Centre’s exhibition area for visitors to view free of charge during normal opening hours.

Councillor Anthony Harris, cabinet member for leisure at Walsall Council, said: “Walsall Local History Centre’s local studies library contains a wealth of information about the borough of Walsall. The library dates back to the 1920s when it was known as the Staffordshire and Walsall Collection. It was then housed in Walsall Central Library and moved to the Local History Centre when it opened in 1986.”

“This exhibition presents some remarkable examples of books in the library as well as giving a flavour of its other collections which include posters and theatre playbills, maps and trade catalogues.”

The exhibition, which opened on 21 November and runs till 31 December, 2011, has been prepared entirely in-house by Centre Photographer Stuart Williams and Conservation Assistant Janet Courtenay.

Telephone 01922 721305 for details or visit the Centre’s website: www.walsall.gov.uk/localhistorycentre

Walsall Local History Centre, Essex Street, Walsall, WS2 7AS.

Walsall Local History Centre is the archives and local studies service for Walsall Metropolitan Borough, and is part of Walsall Council.

Time for the Last Post?

A Victorian Postman.
A Victorian Postman.

A cold wind is blowing through Bloxwich, and its not just the herald of winter, it’s the wind of change, the sort of stiff breeze up the Khyber which often blows no-one any good.  That change is imminent in our once-great postal service, which back in the Victorian era when it was invented could offer as many as three local deliveries a day, and even same day, or evening, for the price of a penny, and without modern technology and transport.

Today, having been given a rather undeserved battering over the past couple of decades by successive governments and management of questionable quality, our Royal Mail is not what it was.  A first class stamp at 46p is no guarantee of even next day delivery, deliveries can indeed turn up pretty much any time of day, collections have been cut back and recent speculation on possible increases to up to £3 for a first class letter is alarming to say the least.

It’s only to be expected that some change will be needed to allow for the fact that a lot of ‘snail’ mail has been replaced by email for routine chit-chat and general communication, of course.  But this can be taken too far, to the point where ideology and profit weigh more in the balance than the service ethic that used to hold sway in such enterprises.

Now, we are receiving letters from Royal Mail’s Delivery Sector Manager for the Walsall area, stating that change is coming.  Where is he? Plymouth, of all places, according to the letter!  Of course, the word ‘modernise’ is coming into play, and immediately we can see where this is going.  Cost-cutting and ‘efficiency’ savings, no doubt.

What is going to happen? Deliveries will be spread out over a longer period during the day, so it seems likely that fewer of us will get our post first thing, nor at a time convenient to us.  Routes will be longer, and when you get your post will depend on where you are on the route.  When mail volumes vary, delivery arrangements and times will be adjusted accordingly, so you won’t be able to predict when your post will arrive.

What about our friendly posties? Well, they will be asked to carry more and heavier mail, though there will apparently be investment “in new equipment” to “reduce the risk of injury to our postmen and women.”  Powered trolleys may shortly be seen trundling around our estates, then, and vans will be shared.  New machinery will also replace jobs in sorting offices. Chances are that your usual postie will disappear onto another route or be shuffled around to take up the slack as required.

How will all this work out? Well clearly it remains to be seen.  Obviously changes need to be made in modern circumstances.  But if they are used as excuses to cut and cut again for profit or to make ready for privatisation, we will all lose out. Queen Victoria would certainly not be amused…

You can find out more on the Royal Mail website: http://bit.ly/lJ7Vmk

Discover the story of your house at Walsall Local History Centre

Walsall Local History Centre
Walsall Local History Centre

Whether you’ve moved in today or your ancestors have lived there for generations, the history of your house can be full of fascination – and surprises!

In fact, so many people in the Walsall borough are curious about their home’s past that Walsall Local History Centre is now laying on a special workshop session for local people wanting to discover their house’s history, and the story of the people who lived in it.

Paul Ford, archivist at Walsall Local History Centre, who is leading the workshop, said: “If you want to know how to find out when your house was built, what was there before it was constructed, who has lived there and more, why not join us in a workshop at the Local History Centre on How to Trace the History of your House.  Find out what you can learn from maps, plans, directories, the census and more.  Whether your house is old or new you can discover more about it.”

The workshop, which costs just £3, takes place on Friday, 28 October 1.30pm-4.30pm and is repeated on Saturday, 29 October 10.00am-1.00pm at Walsall Local History Centre, in Essex Street, Walsall.  Booking is essential on 01922 721305.

The Centre is Walsall Council’s archives and local studies service for the whole of Walsall Metropolitan Borough.

Admission to Walsall Local History Centre is free of charge during normal opening hours.  Telephone 01922 721305 for details or view Walsall Local History Centre’s website: http://cms.walsall.gov.uk/localhistorycentre