Edward Airey - Brickmaker

An ongoing series of memories, pictures, and questions, regarding local brickmakers, appears in the Black Country Bugle weekly newspaper. Such a request appeared a couple of weeks ago, asking for more information on a brickmaker of the Victorian era. David Yates of Upper St Mary's Road in Smethwick, a keen local and social historian, had researched the family over many years and replied to The Bugle with the following in-depth response. He writes:

"Mrs Lesley-Ann Green of Oldbury asks for information about her great, great Grandfather, Edward Airey, so hopefully the following from my own research may be of use".

"In 1922 a tall chimney stack off Birch Lane, once a familiar landmark visible from Clent, Frankley and Romsley, was demolished. From 1864 or even earlier this 150-foot red brick stack was the centre of a brick works, one of the staple industries of the area. Known from around 1872 by the name "Airey's Stack", at its base were kilns for firing the bricks, which gave to Birch Lane the local name "Bickle Lane". A number of houses in Birch Lane and Kenilworth Road, a few of which survive to the present day were built specifically for the brick workers. Nearby was a marl hole from which the clay for making the bricks was dug. After falling into disuse this filled with water, becoming a favourite, if dangerous, play area for local children.

Opposite was another, probably connected, brickyard where "slop" bricks were made by the old horse-power method, whereby a horse harnessed to a shaft was driven round a hole in which a ladle attached to a shaft worked the clay into a plastic condition.

Bearwood Road(Poplar Road left) circa 1904
Bearwood Road (Poplar Road left) circa 1904

Bearwood Road circa 1909

"In 1890 plans to build 26 houses in Bearwood Road, Smethwick, were approved by Smethwick Board of Health. They were submitted by one Edward Airey. In December of the same year the Board for commencing to build 10 houses in Poplar Road, Smethwick, without having submitted plans, took proceedings against him. The 26 houses in Bearwood Road seem to be those, now converted to shops, that stand between Adkins Lane and Anderson Road, of which a number house the present day Woolworth's. They are identical to 10 houses that still stand in nearby Poplar Road. These houses are attractive, and their tile decoration and third floor suggestive of up-market development. They represent some of Bearwood's earliest building development and would have been built on the Lightwoods Estate belonging to the family of the late George Caleb Adkins, a wealthy soap and red lead manufacturer, who were still living at Lightwoods House, and who were responsible for the development of a large part of Bearwood. It seems significant that Edward's brickworks closed sometime before 1897, shortly after these houses were built. Perhaps he quit brickmaking in favour of putting his money into bricks and mortar.

"With the demolition of Airey's Stack, its site and that of the kilns was transformed into an orchard, referred to in blossom time as one of the prettiest spots in Warley. Housing development now covers the site.

Mrs Green also mentions the Dearn family. This family was connected with another Beech Lanes (the name given to this little section of Warley) industry not far from the brickworks. The firm was John Palmer & Sons, manufacturers of railway wrenches, hammers etc, who had been operating out of their Lightwoods Works from at least 1873. Palmers numbered among its employees members of three families of Dearns. John Dearn was recorded as a hammer finisher, William, head of another family, was a coach wrench finisher, as was John, head of another family, whose sons David and. Joseph were filers. All lived in Beech Lanes. William Dearn may have been the same William Dearn who lived in Gateley Road, Beech Lanes. His daughter, Millicent, married Stanley Lewis who in 1926 became the second head of Oldbury's prestigious Abbey Road Schools, replacing the school's formidable first head Walter Scott Carrack. Her sister, Edith, married Harold Samuel Shipway of 2 Gateley Road.

Harold was a civil servant who from 1923 to 24 was a Labour councillor for Warley South Ward. During World War One, Stanley Lewis was a conscientious objector, and so was sent away from home on other war service. During this time Millicent Dearn ran a private school from their home of Windy Ridge, Lightwoods Hill. Her sister, Edith, was also a teacher.

"Though his name is spelt Dearne, Harry Dearne, another Warley teacher, may have been related to the Dearns of Beech Lanes. By 1921 he was vice president of Oldbury and Langley Independent Labour Party."

A short look at Beech Lanes.

Beech Lanes was described as a village by baptist missionaries who came there from Birmingham's Bond Street Chapel on an evangelical mission in the 1700s. True, it later had all the hallmarks of a village, two pubs, a blacksmith, wheelwright, post office shops and from around 1824 a Baptist chapel. However, it perhaps should be more properly described as an important service area for the local farming community that bordered the Birmingham Halesowen Turnpike. It may well be that the turnpike and the old road it replaced were responsible for growth of the Beech Lanes community, as may also have been the important crossroad where the road from Harborne to Smethwick crossed the turnpike. At this cross road a toll gate and toll house stood at the junction of the turnpike and what later became Bearwood Road, and opposite was the old King's Head, serving the drovers, carters and stage coaches that plied this route between town and countryside, a service in which The Dog (once known as The Talbot) and Cock and Magpies pubs in Beech Lanes would also have taken part

By the closing decades of the 1800s a number of industries were in evidence in Beech Lanes, John Palmer & Sons, Lightwoods Works, Turners, the basket makers and of course Airy's brickworks. At around the same time, and in line with the development of Edgbaston as an exclusive suburb for Birmingham's well-heeled, a number of large houses were built between the old King's Head to just beyond the Dog public house. Anciently farming had been the mainstay of the district, and would continue to be important to the Beech Lanes economy well into the 1920s. Beech Lanes Farm or Thorneycrofts Farm in particular playing a part in the lives of the Beech Lanes community during this period.

Until the late 1800s the Lightwoods, themselves an extension of Warley Woods and Nortons Wood, lined a large part of Beech Lanes, The Flats were a clearing in the Lightwoods near the Cock & Magpies, where before demolition in the late 1800s a number of cottages stood. These suffered from flooding in periods of heavy rain, when flood water from the Lightwoods and Warley Wood would run through the back doors and out through the front.

In Smethwick, just over the Warley boundary, Bearwood was built up from the mid 1870s to the end of the 1890s. Then, from 1901 to 1911/12 a large part of the Warley Hall Estate, which bordered Beech Lanes, was sold and built over with houses for the artisan and lower middle classes under the auspices of the Birmingham Freehold Land Building Society. Though some of these houses bordered part of Beech Lanes, the impact of building on both Bearwood and the Warley Hall Estate on the Beech Lanes community seems to have been minimal. Perhaps there was a class divide here with folk of Beech Lanes, often self confessedly poor, perceived on a lower class level by their new artisan and lower middle class neighbours and perhaps even their Bearwood neighbours. Certainly at this time there were distinct class divisions in which the those living in the houses of the Warley Hall Estate development looked down on those living in, the houses built on Bearwood's Lightwoods Estate, who in turn looked down on those living in Bearwood's earlier developments. All made common course in looking down on those parts of Smethwick, which were borne to the labouring classes, while of course each class had divisions within it. As Arthur Payne, butcher of Bearwood put it, "you tipped your hat to them up here, you just nodded to them down there".

QLHS 2005

Ed's Comment- I have known David for many years, via our joint Smethwick History Society connections. I asked him for his permission to include The Bugle article in the Oracle, he was more than happy to allow me to do this. The photographs are reproductions of postcards, kindly given to me by another old Smethwickian, whose identity I am asked not to disclose. My thanks to both parties concerned for a most interesting article with obvious Quinton connections.

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