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; a thick clay was plastered over a lattice of woven twigs, once hardened, it was as good as brick for a few years.

Cruck House
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With the greater use of brick after the industrial revolution, the cruck house style became outdated.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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

© QLHS & Horace Wilson 2004

Ed’s comment-My thanks to Horace Wilson who gave permission, some time ago now, for the above to be included in the Oracle. The article features extracts and drawings from “The Bygone Farms of Hurst Green, Halesowen” by H R Wilson published by The Gibbons Free Press in 1999

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