A borough wide project set up to celebrate 25 years of delivering community arts in Walsall has drafted in renowned Beano artist Hunt Emerson to help design 11 unique tapestries.
The ‘Silver Thread’ project involving an army of local people will see 11 unique tapestries created representing the six towns and other areas in Walsall Borough. Reflecting the borough’s living history the tapestries will show the diversity while acknowledging the past, reflecting the present and embracing the future.
A successful £73,400 Arts Council England Lottery Funding bid is allowing Walsall Council Creative Development Team to deliver the unique year long community arts project which will involve an army of local people.
Hunt Emerson said of his involvement in the creation of the tapestries, “This project provides a fantastic opportunity for local residents to put forward their suggestions for what should be included in each tapestry and how it represents their view of the world. This is about ways of seeing the world and I’m looking forward to making their creative imaginings take shape.”
The tapestry aspect of the project is aimed to provide a common thread of arts and local history and runs alongside work to produce a commemorative book featuring 25 of Walsall Council’s Creative Development Teams most notable projects.
The first meeting dates have been set for local people to help decide what will be included on the tapestries. Walsall Council Creative Development Team are inviting anyone who has an interest in local history, local Identity or to find out more about the project to come along to a meeting in different localities across the borough.
Walsall’s new ‘Silver Thread’ project is a great new local community project organised by the Walsall Council Creative Development Team. It celebrates both local history and arts, and 25 years of work by the Team (which will itself be marked with a new book).
The project, which covers Walsall Metropolitan Borough, has now been launched and is being organised on many fronts – including Facebook! A brand new social media page is now online, and can be visited via the following link: Walsall Silver Thread Facebook page
There will be local meetings in many places across the Borough to involve local people with the project on the history, arts and crafts front. Many local towns and villages are being represented in a series of ‘tapestry’ works which will be created.
Anyone interested in their local history (including in living memory) or who was involved in the past local manufacture of needles and awl blades (for which Bloxwich is historically famed), or who is a keen sewer or in a sewing group, will be particularly welcome. Arboretum Craft Group are the first sewing group to sign up to help sew the Silver Thread Tapestries.
Also, contacts are invited by the organisers from people who have been involved with past Creative Development Team projects like The Bloxwich Tardis on Elmore Green, or The Brownhills Miner!
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.
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).”
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.
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.
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!
Seventeen mysterious carved wooden clubs, known as the Bayard’s Colts, have gone on open display at Walsall Museum, but members of the public will need to visit the museum above Walsall Central Library as soon as they can to take advantage of this rare opportunity, as Walsall Museum is now slated for closure on 31 March due to budget cuts.
The ‘colts’ are thought be at least 300 years old but their exact age, origins and even how they got their name remain a mystery. Last year the museum received a £12,000 grant from the Arts Council to increase public awareness including commissioning an acclaimed play called the Tat Man Tales, family fun days and storytelling courses.
The clubs were carried behind the Mayor in ceremonial processions at the openings of markets and fairs and on other civic occasions.The colts were hung up on the wall of the Magistrates Court in the Guildhall when the Walking the Fair tradition was discontinued in 1870.
They were transferred into the care of Walsall Museum in the 1960s although continued to remain hung in the Magistrates Court, out of public view, before returning to the museum in 2012. They are now on show in the Changing Face of Walsall gallery.
Sadly, following the full Walsall Council meeting on 26 February, the popular museum announced on Twitter that it would close on 31 March 2015. Museum staff thanked their visitors, donors and volunteers for all their support over the years.
The thousands of artefacts held by the museum will be put into storage. A bid for Heritage Lottery Funding will be made to hopefully redisplay collections at some future time.
Entrance to the museum, above the library in Lichfield Street, is free. It is open Tuesdays to Fridays 10am to 5pm and Saturdays, 10am to 4pm.
A very special book about the men on the Elmore Green School Great War Memorial is now available again at a very special price (see below), exclusively from Blakenall Village Centre – but hurry, time is short!
Sorrow into Pride tells the story of the social and military history of the ‘old boys’ of Elmore Green School, Bloxwich, who went off to fight in the First World War. Written by two retired teachers and local historians, Barry Crutchley and Ken Wayman (pictured, above, at the launch), the book reveals the search for a ‘lost’ war memorial, the stories of the commemorated lads and its re-adoption by the original school.
Sorrow into Pride
Elmore Green School Old Boys’ Association war memorial was unveiled in the school hall in 1922. It commemorated the sacrifice made by former pupils of the school in the Great War of 1914-18, listing sixty-seven ‘old boys’ of what was then Elmore Green Central School, later High School, who gave their young lives in “the war to end all wars”, some not passing away until 1919. It had been moved from the school in 1958 when the secondary functions of Elmore Green High School were transferred to the new T.P. Riley Comprehensive, not far away in Lichfield Road.
The memorial quietly became part of the life of the new school until, in 2001, T.P. Riley was demolished and replaced by the present Walsall Academy, which opened in 2003. It was around this time that the finely carved marble sculpture by Bloxwich-born Frederick T. Perry “disappeared” from the public eye. In fact, it had been put into storage because it was not required by the academy, but for a long time this was forgotten.
Over the following years, various people including Bloxwich local historians Edna Marshall, Barry Crutchley and ex-T.P. Riley history teacher Ken Wayman, had tried to find and raise the profile of the missing memorial and eventually, following convoluted enquiries via the Academy and within Walsall Council departments, in late 2010 it was tracked down to the premises of monumental masons A. Walker & Sons of Cannock, who had been storing it safely since the demolition of T.P. Riley years ago.
Following work done by Walsall Council officers Mike Gaffney and the now late Elaine Box, funding was found from the Council to have the memorial returned to its original home in March 2011, when it was mounted on the wall of the school hall by the masons who had preserved it. On Armistice Day that year, a special service of re-dedication was held at the school, truly bringing the memorial home.
Barry Crutchley (left) and Ken Wayman ponder the men on the memorial.
Sorrow into Pride traces the families and experiences of the lads named on the alabaster memorial, as well as one Old Boy who for some unknown reason was omitted from the list. In addition, the events leading to the deaths of ten servicemen closely related to those commemorated are examined, showing how the war affected their wider families; moreover, a number of related servicemen who fought in the Great War have been bound into the tale.
Now re-adopted by the school community from whence it came, the war memorial has re-invigorated the local community and brought forward numerous descendants of the Old Boys, furnishing invaluable information, precious photographs and memorabilia.
The authors owe a debt of gratitude to the present school community and its enthusiastic head-teacher Jane Humphreys, staff and pupils – following the hard work of local historians and council officers, they gave the war memorial’s story an unexpected happy ending.
New Horizons Community Enterprise, which runs the Blakenall Village Centre and a number of local projects and activities, is proud to have sponsored the publishing of the book, which adds an important chapter to the history of Bloxwich and its people.
The 458-page profusely illustrated softback book is published by Tommies Guides under the Reveille Press imprint with the ISBN: 978-1-908336-44-6.
The normal retail price is £18.99 plus postage, but for a short period – until the end of April 2013 – signed copies of the books can be obtained for just £11.40 each or 2 books for £20, exclusively from Reception, Blakenall Village Centre, Thames Rd, Blakenall Heath, Monday-Friday 9am-5pm. Please note – cash purchases only.
For further information and to order Sorrow into Pride, please contact Terri Wall, Service Manager of Blakenall Village Centre – email email@example.com or telephone 01922 714900.
People from across Walsall borough will soon be able to find out about the history of one of our most historic local towns, Darlaston, in a public talk on Monday 4 March 2013 at Walsall Local History Centre.
The Essex Street centre is hosting one of Darlaston’s most noted local historians, Mr Terry Smitheman, who will present a fascinating slide illustrated talk all about that fine old Black Country town between 7.30pm – 9pm, and admission will cost just £2.00!
Darlaston has a long and varied history stretching at least as far back as the Domesday Book (1086) and was once an important industrial and engineering centre. Mr Smitheman is one of the leading experts of Darlaston Local History Society, and has many years experience of researching and writing about Darlaston and district.
Advance booking is essential, and tickets for the talk can be reserved now by telephoning Walsall Local History Centre on 01922 721305.
Walsall Local History Centre is the archives service and local studies library for Walsall Metropolitan Borough, and is part of Walsall Council. It is located in Essex Street, Walsall, WS2 7AS. Disable facilities and on-site parking are available.