The Bygone Farms of Hurst Green, Halesowen

By H R Wilson

When I was a lad, the Great War began-and ended; many changes have raced across the farming district surrounding Hurst Green in Halesowen since then and very little remains of the Hurst Green I was raised in during those 'pre-residential' years. The farms have all gone today, though there are still some allotment gardens around where folk can grow fruit and vegetables for the home. Into this century, most non-farming households still had flower gardens, with pear, apple and plum trees; not to mention soft fruit bushes such as raspberries, loganberries, gooseberries, and strawberry patches.

A few houses in the Hurst Green and Cakemore districts still kept pigs, poultry and rabbits during the 1920's and 30's. One man, Mr. Wright had geese. The eggs made a good breakfast, and a friend of mine used to purchase some from him occasionally.

Now that the farming way of life has disappeared, how interesting it would be to see and try out the tools and machines early farmers would have used. The nearest we may get is exploring an agricultural museum, unless we unearth some rusting implement that now lies beneath the flowerbed of a semi-detached home. Also gone are many of the pleasant country stiles for pedestrians using 'rights of way' as short cuts.

A number of farms were worked in the Hurst Green and Cakemore area going back generations. One of the oldest was a cruck house in the Old Lane stretch of Hurst Green Road, which led up to Quinton. This form of housing construction dates back to medieval times. Two trees with a curve at the top were cut down and each trunk carefully sawn in half. These were used to form the gable ends-when the horizontal lintels were put into place, each formed a capital A shape. Wattle and daub was used to make the simple, durable walls; thick clay was plastered over a lattice of woven twigs, once hardened, it was as good as brick for a few years.

The Cruck House at Cakemore by H R Wilson

With the greater use of brick after the industrial revolution, the cruck house style became outdated. Farmers had larger brick houses built alongside the little cruck houses, with the crucks often demoted to the status of outhouse, or small barn. With the passing of years, they fell into disrepair, and were knocked down to give way to more modern farm buildings. A few generations later, those 'new' ones were in turn pulled down to make way for the housing we see about us today.

When the last surviving cruck house situated in Old Lane was dismantled, there were plenty of interested historians prowling about to see what could be discovered. The property had been purchased by builders Harper & Sons, and was shortly to be redeveloped, but luckily a team of enthusiasts were ready to dismantle the house, rather than it be bulldozed.

The whole process was very carefully recorded by Birmingham University, and follow up research revealed the place had been known as Bott's Farm but it was occupied by the Adams family by 1924. One of the experts involved was a Mr. Brain who lived in Dale Road, and he explained exactly how he had helped with the project. Many local farms and other buildings would have been made to the same plan as the one revealed within the extensions of the farmhouse in Old Lane; other examples being Thatcher's Farm, Harper's Farm, Hagge Farm, Cakemore Mansion and its farm buildings, Upper and Lower Holt Farms.

1921 Map of the Area showing some of the farms

When the use of brickwork spread and overtook wattle and daub, enormous quantities of building bricks were made in the large brickworks at Cakemore. The Attwood family had a big financial interest in Cakemore Brick Works.

Before that cruck house stood in Cakemore, there must have been other buildings and settlements, as the monks of Hales Owen Abbey visited the area in 1292, determined to gather what taxes they could for the Abbey.

Cakemore Mansion, Masters Lane, Hurst Green

Cakemore Mansion in Masters Lane was also known as Cakemore House and Cakemore Farm. It stood at the corner of Nimmings Road and Masters Lane. Much history has already been written about “Master Adams of Masters Lane”. Thomas Adams of Cakemore was born at Cakemore House on 8th January 1718 and did not marry until 9th April 1751 when he was in his early 30’s.

His daughter, Ann was borne on January 3rd 1752 and married Mattias Attwood at Rowley Church on 13th December 1775. In 1786, Ann opened one of the first Sunday Schools in Hurst Green. At this school, the children were taught to read and write, and to recite the scriptures of the Holy Bible. This was their only resource to learning in the entire area. Poor children, and sometimes adults attended the lessons.

Ann and Matthias Attwood raised 10 children. Their third, Thomas Attwood became the famous Birmingham Member of Parliament, and champion of the working men for his noble efforts to improve their rights.

By the 1920s, Cakemore Mansion was still the farmhouse of a proper working farm, and had about 6 acres of land when I was a boy.

My grandfather, Eli Everton did some work there, and usually enjoyed a drink of their home made cider as refreshment whenever working on a job at Cakemore Mansion.

Cakemore Mansion

There was obviously hunting going on there at a much earlier time, as I once found the tusk of a wild boar in the grounds of the house. The tusk was keenly accepted for the collections of Birmingham Museum.

Thatchers Barn Farm, Masters Lane, Hurst Green

Also known as Thatchers Farm, it was situated in Masters Lane, the other side of the bend from Cakemore Mansion set back from the junction of Masters Lane and Narrow Lane. Alternatively, the section of Spiral Close now behind that junction would also lead you to that farmstead-if it were still standing.

Having been in the control of the Merris family for several generations, it was also known as Merris’s Farm. In recent generations, with the farms now gone, the Merris family have been associated with the road haulage work.

One of the Merris’s was of great help to me at a desperate time, and gave me and my wife a lift to the Nursing Home when my daughter, Rona was about to be born.

Documents mentioning Thatchers Farm dating back to Tudor times in the reign of Elizabeth I have been discovered, and there may be even earlier ones safely tucked away in some archive or collection somewhere.

From time immemorial until about the late 1700s, houses both large and small had thatched roofs in this district-until the widespread use of clay tiles being churned out by the brickworks took over. Looking at the old pictures of Halesowen as it was then, there are many thatched roofs easily picked out. Although there is no known proof, it seems reasonable to suggest that whoever inhabited the farm in medieval times, he and his family were probably the equivalent of the roofing contractors, the Thatchers. It was unlikely to be associated with any other trade; otherwise for example, it would have been called Potters Farm if they were the local potters or Carpenters Farm if they were in that line of business.

It was still very rustic in the vicinity of Thatchers Farm well into the 1920s and wheat was grown in the fields at the sides of Narrow Lane. The straw from such corn must have been ideal material for thatching in bygone times, and if they needed reeds instead, they too were very abundant in boggy sites locally. I clearly remember that charming old farm that I sketched years ago; it had a number of outbuildings for the workers, with big sheds to park the lorries, tractors and suchlike.

After the farmhouse was demolished, the sheds and barns lingered on for some years. On inspecting one of the remaining barns, it was obvious it was a very ancient building, with massive oak beams. Perhaps it was once a cruck house, or possibly the timbers used had been salvaged from an earlier building somewhere in Hurst Green.

The general layout of the farm was very similar to most roundabouts, and they were all anciently part of a huge expanse of agricultural land controlled by Hales Owen Abbey. The Abbot usually rented out the farm to produce income, not many were actually farmed by monastic men.

Thatchers Farm

Hagge Farm, Round Hills

Hagge Farm is a curious name, and there are several possible interpretations as to what it may mean. 'Hag' can mean a soft place on a moor, or a firm place in bog land. It was once very wet on one side of the farm land there right up till my youth. On the other hand, it may have belonged to an old woman, or herbal medicine dealer-the local witch with the wisdom to heal. What a marvellous name for the imagination to play with.

Mr. Hibbert who lived at Hagge Farm stands out in my childhood memories because mother often sent me on errands to buy eggs or milk from him.

He ran the farm with his sister in those days; they kept fowl and cows, and grew the typical crops on the land between the farmhouse and Edwin Dank's large mansion, Apsley House, on Hagley Road.

Hagge Farm

When investigating a ditch near the farm, I came across many fragments of broken clay pipes of the type tobacco was smoked in before the advent of cigarettes about 150 years ago. There were also some broken lamps. Mr. Hibbert himself made many finds over tile years, including old coins. At least two prehistoric finds were unearthed at Cakemore and sent to Birmingham.

Children used the pathway through the farmland to go to Quinton Church School, and to the Church with their parents. Some continued to go to the Wesley Church, which was built earlier than the Parish Church.

There were four rights of way through the fields of Hagge Farm for walkers: to Hurst Green, to Lovers' Lane on the edge of the golf course, to Narrow Lane, and to Hagley Road, Quinton.

One of my earliest landscapes was a view of the pool when all the farms had gone only fields and hedges, with the remains of Hagge Farm in the distance. I also did a sketch of rusty metal corrugated sheets on the roof of the deserted barn blowing eerily in the wind. All the land, including the site of the farm, are now within Quinton Cemetery.

Upper Holt Farm, Nimmings Road

One side of Upper Holt Farm was edged by what is now Fairfield Road. The Field family had this farm, which is now a car park occupied by motor cars belonging to the workers of nearby Fairfield Park Industrial Estate. Mrs Field was able to sell milk from the farm, which was gradually disappearing when the B.T.H. was taking over the land.

There were several other sections of it existing on old maps: Holt, Holt Wood, and Holt Copse. Not far away in Station Road, Roman coins were found at Dogney Fields in the early 19th century.

Mr Harry Field lived opposite Holt Farm in Douglas Road, and with Mr Frank Price he organised the building of the houses in Fairfield Road, Culmore Road, Douglas Road, Elm Drive and Birch Drive. The houses were not identical replicas of each other, and the carefully thought out development was known as the Model Village due to the pleasant selection of architectural designs chosen.

Hopefully, someone else may know more about the now vanished farm, as I cannot remember seeing any large animals grazing on the fields of Holt Farm. The new Cakemore Road was built by the side of the B.T.H. Works.

Upper Holt Farm

Brandhall Farm

Just on the edge of ‘our’ territory was the isolated Brand Hall Farm. It is difficult to say exactly where it was situated, as there have been so many new roads created; but it is roughly somewhere beneath the Queensway close to Maypole Road. In 1444, Brendhall was mentioned as the Manor House of Warley Wigorn, owned by the Lyttleton Family.

The name of the Manorial estate that still exists today may be associated with the chapel of great antiquity dedicated to St Brendilla. It was probably built and paid for by the Lord of the Manor for him and his family to use as a private chapel.

Despite claims that ‘Brandhall’ was associated with his Lordship’s privileges to brand wandering livestock as his own; no evidence whatsoever has ever been found to substantiate them. Furthermore, Warley operated the ancient traditional’ pound’ system. Villagers paid a small fine to retrieve straying livestock that had been caught and impounded-with the pound situated not far away at the top of Pound Road, which takes its name from that old landmark.

Brand Hall Farm in 1938

Brand Hall was once one of the grange farms that the Abbot of Hales Owen Abbey leased out, but by the time I mad my drawing, the old hall had been long gone. What became known as Brand Hall Farm was thought to be outbuildings and servants quarters, that were later converted into a farm house.

Roundhills Farm, Hurst Green.

Roundhills Farm was also known as Harpers Farm after the family who had run it for generations. In 1964 while enquiring about local farms, Messrs. J. Harper & Sons of Blackheath were of great assistance. There were then seven directors of the firm, and they had control of the land and some houses of Hurst Green. Mr. A. B. Harper kindly came tip with details of the writings of a monk from Hales Owen Abbey; it was in abbreviated French and Latin, and concerned some farmers of the area. He also informed me that the working life of the farm would end in 1965.

Roundhills Farm

Were the 'round hills' the grassy tussocks left by the remnants of tumbled huts of very early settlements? Or, were they perhaps a reference to the presence of' the rounded bowl shapes of mounds made over graves dating back to prehistoric times?

They might even have been tumuli raised over mass graves of warriors slain during the times of the Roman occupation of 55 B.C. to 410 A.D., as there were several fierce battles fought roundabout.

There have been some prehistoric finds in Hurst Green and Cakemore, and there are surely others still awaiting discovery.

The site of Roundhills Farm is very suitably commemorated by the naming of High Farm Road, off Roundhills Road, which stands on the spot once occupied by Roundhills farmhouse and its barns.

Manns Farm, Hurst Green Road

Manns Farm was in Hurst Green Road, just past the end of Summerfields Avenue. I did not see much activity there, although I went there quite frequently. Mrs Mann was concerned in making a living producing tailor made garments. My mother had an interest in that direction, and when the Mann family went to Quinton to live, the interest and their association continued.

The farm was more like a small holding, with little patches where Mrs Mann grew potatoes, root crops, beans and suchlike in small quantities to meet their needs as seasonal vegetables changed. On the other side of the road opposite the farmhouse was some marshy land where wild flowers grew quite thickly there.

Eli Everton’s Cottage, Old Lane, Hurst Green Road

My grandfather, Eli Everton married Sarah Cooper of Coopers Farm, Perry Hill near Cakemore. He worked at Spon Lane in Smethwick, and later at Siviters Lane, Rowley, as a coffin maker. Sarah dealt with the corn grown in the fields off what is now part of the cemetery. Most of her ten children were actually born in that quaint old cottage on Old Lane.

There was no running water, but there again, no water bills to pay, and a water supply of a quality like diamonds in the sunlight was freely available from a spring a few yards away.

Alas, this idyllic place no longer exists, except for my sketches and photographs taken by others-Brandhall Golf links now flourish there instead. The spring was also near to one of several farms in the area called Coopers Farm, and those were close relations of Sarah’s.

Eli Everton was more interested in making and repairing transport and equipment for farmers. Rather than the sombre repetition of hand crafting coffins, the cheerful chap preferred to make people happy by saying “There, good as new again!” He was trained as a blacksmith, wheelwright and carpenter. As a boy it was wonderful to give him a hand making the carriage bodies for milk carts commissioned by the local farmers, He also made wheelbarrows, large dog-kennels, hen houses, pig sties, childrens’ toys such as scooters etc.

Eli and Sarah kept pigs, fowl, and game birds well after they moved to Nimmings Road. He was very proud indeed when he once built a lorry onto the metal chassis in his Long Lane workshop. It was a great change to making milk floats or small carts.

Eli Everton’s quaint little cottage was demolished when the new housing developments began, and the site is now occupied by Woodbury Road, opposite the shopping centre.

The Fairfield, Hurst Green

By the 1880’s, all that remained of the once large village green that Hurst Green is named after was a patch now occupied roughly by the end of Kinniths way, Fairfield Grove, Roundhill Terrace and Westfield Road.

Old maps from the 1880’s show just a few small buildings near the edge of Hurst Green Road near the site of the Fairfield, with nothing at all on the village green.

Two very early maps, and the Ordnance Survey of 1834, show no buildings on the site of the present public house and car park at all. There were many trees encircling the area of the early village.

The green’s boundaries then were along the lines of the modern Fairfield Road, Brandon Road, Moat Drive and Hurst Green Road. Because the wavy contours of the old footpaths and lanes were straightened when Fairfield Road was built, some of the village green that remained in the late 1880’s is now situated on the other side of Fairfield Road for most of its length. This curious effect of land apparently changing sides of the road is quite common after realignment.

As far as I recall during about 1930 to 1933, travelling fairgrounds such as that of the ‘Master Showman’, Pat Collins, still visited Hurst Green. The site where it was always erected is now at the end of Kinith’s Way. To us teenagers, that still open patch of land was known as The Fair Field, because it was where the fair always camped.

There was no welcoming pub called the Fairfield then, just a little beer shop opposite the Fairfield in Hurst Green Road. Although many families still brewed their own beer, it did a fair trade.

Customers could bring their own jug or bottles to the shop. It sold home brewed ales, and a paper label was stuck over the cork if children had been sent to fetch beer; the labels were small pieces of coloured paper, guaranteed to snap if you pulled the stopper out. The drinks were taken home for parents and their visitors.

Mr Dave Morley, Landlord of the Fairfield was most helpful in finding out something of the history of the hostelry. Building work commissioned by Banks Brewery began in 1937 and completed in 1938.

The official opening was on Tuesday 13th September 1938. Originally named the Fairfield Hotel, it later became the Fairfield Inn, but is now called The Fairfield. The premises were always popular from the early days and extensions were necessary in 1983.

John Strickley’s Farm, Corner of Green Lane and Nimmings Road

When it was still an agricultural area, the farms in and about Hurst Green used their horses in the fields for ploughing, cutting grass to make hay, making deliveries of their own produce; and many more jobs we might expect them to do on a farm. Horses were still a common despite the new, noisy motor lorries, vans and tractors that began to take over the work of those magnificent, work-loving creatures.

Mr Strickley of Nimmings Road had shire horses; the biggest of all horses and favoured by farmers as the best for farm work throughout the land. One of Mr Strickleys jobs was keeping the streets and lanes clean, and all the sweepings he collected were piled on to his cart and put to good use. The mixture of dust, soil, mud and loose pebbles was ideal for filling holes and raising the level of the low lying thoroughfares that were prone to flooding.

You could buy a cart load of his sweepings for a shilling, and he would tip it where you needed it-rather than drop it near the main road leaving you to haul it up the lanes yourself. My family who lived at Douglas Road gratefully bought many of his loads as was common in the area then.

As late as the 1920’s, shire horses were common sights. Amongst those using them for haulage were the coal merchants, Cooper Brothers, Joseph Parsons & Son, and W Price Limited... Their horses pulled wagons loaded with literally tons of coal, which was the most used household fuel then.

All had coal yards near Blackheath railway station, and used gigantic shire horses to deliver their goods locally. Shire horses were also used to haul goods to and from Blackheath Station.

Smaller horses were also used to pull the little carts of the milkmen, bakers and fishmongers, as all had deliveries to make. Such traders were Messrs Guest, Brinton, Harris, Hadley and Hopewell & Hobbs. Some of the traders who had rounds in the area came from Quinton, Mr Harris and Mr Perry the milkmen for example. Mr Hobbs the oil merchant, then the bakers Mr Hadley and Mr Hopewell.

Perry’s Dairy, Meadow Road

I have run this article because I was asked some time ago if I had a copy of Horace Wilson’s “Bygone Farms of Hurst Green”. Horace was born on 11th October 1911 and sadly died on 12th June 2006.

He was a lovely man and always willing to share his knowledge and love of the area. His passion was drawing and painting, especially watercolours, the society have an archive of his local buildings such as old farms which were never photographed but live on in Horace’s work.

In 1939 Horace joined the Royal Navy and sketched many of the manoeuvres he was involved in. During his profession in teaching he discovered and catalogued local artists such as David Parkes and A E Everitt. Horace was the first speaker when the society began in 1999; his knowledge of the area and his memory was superb.

I hope you enjoy reading the article and we will end the article with two of Horace’s sketches of Quinton.

Toll House and Wesleyan Chapel

Christ Church, The Quinton

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