Black Country Ride No 7 - Halesowen and Clent

Our very own Roving Reporter Dennis revisits the Black Country to find out what's still there and what has changed.

Moderators: admin, mallosa

Black Country Ride No 7 - Halesowen and Clent

Postby Dennis » Fri Feb 12, 2010 9:08 pm

Halesowen and Clent

At school we had a history master whose solution to the problem of remembering our names was to call us all 'John'. (Fortunately, it was a boys school.) His vision of the perfect medieval English place was Halesowen. We would stalk around the playground, pinching our noses to produce a passable version of his adenoidal Yorkshire, and intoning, “Now, John, take a town like Halesowen…”. All this by way of saying that Halesowen and I go back a long way. Our dark green pre-War family Ford 8 would struggle asthmatically up its hilly streets on the way to Bewdley or, in the days before motorways, would take the same route towards Worcester on our twelve-hour odyssey to the English Riviera. The name Halesowen - formerly Hales Owen - is half Saxon and half Welsh, probably meaning a place of hollows or nooks (of which there is no shortage hereabouts) and connected with Henry II’s brother-in-law, Prince Dafydd ab Owain of Gwynedd, who died in 1203. Halesowen was, at least when seen from one particular angle, a famously picturesque town. That view of it was, of course, from the bottom of Siviter Street, looking out over Rumbow with its little green which hides the minute and meandering River Stour, up Church Lane past the half-timbered Whitefriars to the spire of the gorgeous sandstone church of St John the Baptist, which goes back to at least 1083. The town is very old indeed. In sepia postcards of the Church Lane scene there was often a wisp of smoke seen rising from a cottage chimney and a row of runner beans in a back garden. It was enough to raise a lump in your throat for the world we had lost - and that was then, in the quiet and austere 1950s, before we'd lost it. O fortunatos nimium sua si bona norint: how lucky we were, but we didn't realize the full extent of our luck…

Let's start at the vertiginous summit of Gorsty Hill Road.

1. Gorsty Hill Road , Shropshire hills in the distance S.jpg
1. Gorsty Hill Road , Shropshire hills in the distance S.jpg (32.42 KiB) Viewed 5964 times

I used to freewheel down from here to Haden Hill Road, my ears popping throughout the steep descent and with the fervent hope that my brakes would actually work when it mattered. There was plenty to see on the way down. On a clear day you could make out the distant Shropshire hills on your right as you rounded the first bend. Running under the road was the busy Dudley No. 2 Canal serving Stewarts & Lloyds' massive steel tube factory, set over on the left in the deep combe of Coombes Wood. There's hardly a trace of it now. The forty-acre Victorian monster, which was still belching smoke and fumes in the 1950s, has been replaced by numerous small, well behaved industrial units in the modern mode. The gorse and birch trees around the steep edges of this enormous hollow seem to have made a comeback. But there's still a recalcitrant lump of old red brick masonry opposite where the factory stood and a flight of steps leading up from it to the main road.

2. Remains of old buildings and steps up to main road, Coombes Wood S.jpg
2. Remains of old buildings and steps up to main road, Coombes Wood S.jpg (39.51 KiB) Viewed 5964 times

3. Nature returns to the edge of Coombes Wood S.jpg
3. Nature returns to the edge of Coombes Wood S.jpg (30.36 KiB) Viewed 5964 times

4. The former Stewarts & Lloyds site, Coombes Wood, now an industrial estate S.jpg
4. The former Stewarts & Lloyds site, Coombes Wood, now an industrial estate S.jpg (43.67 KiB) Viewed 5964 times

5. Gorsty Hill. looking towards Blackheath S.jpg
5. Gorsty Hill. looking towards Blackheath S.jpg (29.05 KiB) Viewed 5964 times

If you take the trouble to follow the course of the canal where it passes under Gorsty (or Gosty) Hill towards Old Hill station, you'll find a blue brick ventilation shaft standing somewhat surreally in the front garden of a house on Station Road. The Dudley No. 2 Canal once continued under Mucklow(s) Hill, where it became known as the Lapal canal and went through an unbelievably long and claustrophobic tunnel to emerge in Selly Oak, Birmingham. The tunnel collapsed long ago but enthusiasts hope to reinstate it one day. In the meantime there is a rather unkempt and isolated bit of the Lapal canal in Leasowes Park, Halesowen, full of well fed ducks which, even if they have nowhere much to go, at least have a miniature steam railway along the towpath to watch from time to time. (I couldn't possibly make that up.)

6. Ventilation shaft for Dudley No 2 canal as it passes under Gorsty Hill, Station Road S.jpg
6. Ventilation shaft for Dudley No 2 canal as it passes under Gorsty Hill, Station Road S.jpg (39.93 KiB) Viewed 5960 times

7. The Lapal Canal and its well fed ducks S.jpg
7. The Lapal Canal and its well fed ducks S.jpg (39.32 KiB) Viewed 5960 times

8. Miniature railway, Lapal Canal, Leasowes Park, Halesowen S.jpg
8. Miniature railway, Lapal Canal, Leasowes Park, Halesowen S.jpg (54.29 KiB) Viewed 5960 times

Onwards and downwards. The real Halesowen Railway used to cross the bottom of Gorsty Hill, the stretch known as Furnace Hill. Little locomotives used to clank back and forth over it, heading to and from Old Hill. From Haden Hill Road you can still see the wooded ridge where the line used to run. Halesowen railway station itself was near Mucklows Hill, just below Walter Somers’ foundry, whose round chimney is one of the few still to survive in the area. The Halesowen Railway had long ceased to be a normal passenger line by my lifetime (apart from its taking Austin workers to Longbridge), but its presence was felt even out in the countryside at Hunnington, where it served the Blue Bird Toffee factory and where the station is now a private house. On Furnace Hill there is just a stretch of blue bricks to mark the spot where the railway bridge once stood. I miss it.

9. The site of the former railway bridge at the bottom of Gorsty Hill, Halesowen S.jpg
9. The site of the former railway bridge at the bottom of Gorsty Hill, Halesowen S.jpg (43.99 KiB) Viewed 5960 times

10. Walter Somers foundry with old chimney S.jpg
10. Walter Somers foundry with old chimney S.jpg (44.88 KiB) Viewed 5960 times

11. Former Blue Bird Toffee factory, Hunnington S.jpg
11. Former Blue Bird Toffee factory, Hunnington S.jpg (31.83 KiB) Viewed 5960 times

12. Hunnington station, Halesowen Railway, now a private house S.jpg
12. Hunnington station, Halesowen Railway, now a private house S.jpg (51.9 KiB) Viewed 5960 times

The entry to Halesowen town was at one time almost theatrical. From the crossroads, where there is now a huge and rather terrifying traffic island, Whitehall Road led you to Rumbow round a sweep of bend which suddenly revealed that classic view of the upper Stour valley, with the ancient houses and the church and everything looking just as it should in an English heaven. Comparisons could be made, on a smaller scale, with Ludlow. I won't labour the point which you know well enough already. This perfect scene was, for no good reason, coventriert, devastated in the manner of Coventry, and not by German bombs but by office blocks and a multi-storey car park. As Einstein said, “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former.” With a bit of careful photo cropping it's just about possible, on the right day, to glimpse how it all once looked. Alas, Ni temps passé / Ni les amours reviennent, neither time past nor love comes back...

13. View of Halesowen and Clent Hills from Mucklow Hill S.jpg
13. View of Halesowen and Clent Hills from Mucklow Hill S.jpg (31.65 KiB) Viewed 5959 times

14. St John's church and Whitefriars from Siviter Street , Halesowen S.jpg
14. St John's church and Whitefriars from Siviter Street , Halesowen S.jpg (43.71 KiB) Viewed 5959 times

With the wanton destruction of the 1960s came a reorganisation of the town's roads. Traffic was taken away from the centre, which was pedestrianised. You might imagine that this would make life safer for shoppers. I did too until, on the High Street the other day, I came within six inches of being mown down by a silent youth travelling at supersonic speed on a mountain bike. At the end of Rumbow you can no longer drive straight up Birmingham Road past the Lyttleton Arms on the corner and along Hagley Street to Hagley Road. If you really insist on going that way on foot, you have to walk up a lane full of parked vehicles towards the shopping area. So I decide to follow the diverted traffic up towards Great Cornbow, the way we used to walk from the bus to the new Swimming Baths, in the days before Swimming Baths had mutated into Leisure Centres. The Olde Queen's Head is still going strong, once frequented by my Dad and his brothers..

15. The Olde Queen's Head, Halesowen S.jpg
15. The Olde Queen's Head, Halesowen S.jpg (44.59 KiB) Viewed 5959 times
....and across the Bull Ring, which was probably the oldest market area in the town, is 24 Great Cornbow, Comberton House, as elegant a building as you could wish to find and dating back to at least 1750.

16. Comberton House, 24 Great Cornbow, Halesowen in a snowstorm S.jpg
16. Comberton House, 24 Great Cornbow, Halesowen in a snowstorm S.jpg (36.03 KiB) Viewed 5959 times

In fact the whole row down to Hagley Street is pretty impressive. Probably the least said the better about the Swimming Baths further along Great Cornbow, but we were young then and it was big, shiny and new, which was all we wanted. After one noisy session there I remember Mick Aston, now of the Time Team, showing me a place nearby on the Stour where there'd once been a watermill. Mick really loved the Middle Ages.

17. Halesowen Swimming Baths, opened July 1963, now Halesowen Leisure Centre S.jpg
17. Halesowen Swimming Baths, opened July 1963, now Halesowen Leisure Centre S.jpg (34.19 KiB) Viewed 5959 times

It's a relief to see that Hagley Street still has one or two old buildings left. I get that sudden shock of deep recognition when I look up the hill to the junction with Hagley Road and remember how hard it was to keep going up that incline with the feeble three-speed Sturmey-Archer gears on my heavy bike. Sooner or later I always ended up walking with it to the Lyttleton Cinema on my way out to Clent. Ah yes, the Lyttleton Cinema, up at the top of the hill, back in the days of High Society, Sailor Beware! and Doctor in the House… The last time I went there was in 1967 with my (now) wife to see Ken Loach's ghastly kitchen sink drama with Carol White, [i]Poor Cow. I'd no doubt made the mistake of trusting a rhapsodic review in The Guardian. But the word had clearly got out around Halesowen. The Lyttleton was as quiet as Aberdeen on a flag day.

18. The former Lloyds Bank, Hagley Street , Halesowen S.jpg
18. The former Lloyds Bank, Hagley Street , Halesowen S.jpg (38.08 KiB) Viewed 5958 times

Looking downhill past the Cornbow shopping mall towards the junction with High Street I note that the pub is still there, now called Picks (the Pick family once ran it when it was still the Lyttleton Arms). I reach Queensway and St John's parish church just as a stinging February snowstorm is unleashed. The church looks as timelessly wonderful as it always did, but I seek shelter from the weather down Church Lane, once rather less seductively called Dog Lane. There are two buildings of note, the very fine Whitefriars on the right, which is half-timbered and could be late medieval, and at the bottom a more recent house next to the infant Stour. But I advise you not to look anywhere over to your left, where all is now concrete and ugliness.

19. The Cornbow and Hagley Street , looking downhill towards High Street, Halesowen S.jpg
19. The Cornbow and Hagley Street , looking downhill towards High Street, Halesowen S.jpg (34.48 KiB) Viewed 5958 times

20. Picks, formerly the Lyttleton Arms, at the junction of High Street (left) and Birmingham Road S.jpg
20. Picks, formerly the Lyttleton Arms, at the junction of High Street (left) and Birmingham Road S.jpg (32.42 KiB) Viewed 5958 times

21. The parish church of St John the Baptist, Halesowen, and the Cross S.jpg
21. The parish church of St John the Baptist, Halesowen, and the Cross S.jpg (29.12 KiB) Viewed 5958 times

22. Whitefriars, Church Lane , Halesowen S.jpg
22. Whitefriars, Church Lane , Halesowen S.jpg (35.1 KiB) Viewed 5958 times

23. St John's and Whitefriars seen from Church Lane , Halesowen S.jpg
23. St John's and Whitefriars seen from Church Lane , Halesowen S.jpg (46.86 KiB) Viewed 5958 times

24. Cottage next to the River Stour, Church Lane , Halesowen S.jpg
24. Cottage next to the River Stour, Church Lane , Halesowen S.jpg (45.54 KiB) Viewed 5958 times

Time to head out into the country. Walter Allen is my guru on Clent in his hugely readable and beautifully illustrated 1940s book, The Black Country: “Are the Clent Hills in the Black Country? They are not, but they are Black Country by extension, the Black Country playground and the time-honoured resort of the Sunday School trips of Birmingham and South Staffordshire , of works outings too.” The road from Halesowen to Clent once took you from Hagley Road to Uffmoor Lane. Don't try that now: Uffmoor Lane was sliced in two by the Halesowen bypass, alias Manor Way, in 1958. The bypass allegedly became the best place in the area to get up to 100 mph on a motorbike. But I'm travelling at the sedate pace of the elderly along the lane to St Kenelm's church.

25. Clent Hill seen from Uffmoor Lane S.jpg
25. Clent Hill seen from Uffmoor Lane S.jpg (33.38 KiB) Viewed 5958 times

In all the years I've been cycling or driving past it, I've never once set foot in the churchyard before today. And if ever there was a place where you could imagine yourself slipping through a hole in time, it's here, on this bright, frosty midday in winter, with nobody about at all. I walk around the outside of the sandstone church of St Kenelm with its oddly narrow tower and carvings. Kenelm, or Cynehelm, was - depending on which source you consult - either a little boy or a young man who inherited his father Kenulph's (or Coenwulf's) Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia in the early 800s AD. Kenelm dreamt that he was going to be murdered, and indeed he was, by a certain Askebert, who either beheaded him or cut his throat on the slopes of these hills, and then buried him under a thorn bush. When Kenelm's body was found, a spring began to flow from the spot, and it became a place of pilgrimage for hundreds of years. Chaucer mentions the young martyr and in the nineteenth century Cardinal Newman visited this church dedicated to his memory. The lost village of Kenelmstowe grew up around the holy spring and shrine. So there is a weight of history here, and you can feel it.

26. St Kenelm’s church, Romsley, with Turner’s Hill, Rowley Regis in the distance R.jpg
26. St Kenelm’s church, Romsley, with Turner’s Hill, Rowley Regis in the distance R.jpg (32.09 KiB) Viewed 5958 times

27. The site of St Kenelm's Spring, which is also a source of the River Stour S.jpg
27. The site of St Kenelm's Spring, which is also a source of the River Stour S.jpg (44.53 KiB) Viewed 5958 times

In a deep hollow beside the church is the spring itself, its healing water channelled between stone slabs down to an open chamber where it can be collected. From the tree above it hang ribbons and strips of cloth, I presume as votive offerings, such as I've seen at other sacred springs, at Madron in Cornwall, for example. Its a practice that's often associated with the Celtic veneration of the spirits of springs and pools. There are clearly a lot of people who come here and believe in the power of this place. And I'm sure I'm not the first person to feel slightly unsettled. The church of St Kenelm itself, where I would feel more at home, is ironically grilled and padlocked.

28. St Kenelm's Spring, Romsley SS.jpg
28. St Kenelm's Spring, Romsley SS.jpg (45.3 KiB) Viewed 5958 times

29, View from St Kenelm's Spring back up to the church, with the ribbons in the tree S.jpg
29, View from St Kenelm's Spring back up to the church, with the ribbons in the tree S.jpg (42.89 KiB) Viewed 5958 times

The Clent hills are full of springs which seem to gush out at the surface everywhere. Little rills trickle along the lanes or, as today, freeze to a mass of slush. The two main individual hills are Walton Hill, where we always went when I was a child - it has incomparable views towards the Welsh Border and marvellous bluebells in May - and Clent Hill with its teashop and fake stone circle. Wychbury Hill, which has a genuine Iron Age fort at the top, is also part of the hill chain and is another extraordinarily atmospheric place, I clambered over it with Mick Aston in the mid-1960s. In these hills you are within sight of the Post Office Tower in Birmingham and, in the other direction, of Dudley Castle, and yet you seem to be in deepest rural England. St Kenelm's Pass is the valley between Walton Hill and Clent Hill which leads you safely down a lane to the village of Clent, just as it might a weary medieval pilgrim.

30. The Horse's Mane, a beechtree hanger on Clent Hill, seen from Walton Hill S.jpg
30. The Horse's Mane, a beechtree hanger on Clent Hill, seen from Walton Hill S.jpg (33.4 KiB) Viewed 5958 times

31. St Thomas 's spire and Dudley Castle , seen from Clent Hill S.jpg
31. St Thomas 's spire and Dudley Castle , seen from Clent Hill S.jpg (29.49 KiB) Viewed 5958 times

32. Wychbury Hill and obelisk (left), Stourbridge and the distant Wrekin (right), seen from Clent Hill S.jpg
32. Wychbury Hill and obelisk (left), Stourbridge and the distant Wrekin (right), seen from Clent Hill S.jpg (24.94 KiB) Viewed 5958 times

33. Turner's Hill and Rowley Regis, seen from Clent Hill S.jpg
33. Turner's Hill and Rowley Regis, seen from Clent Hill S.jpg (31.99 KiB) Viewed 5958 times

34. St Kenelm's Pass, looking down towards Clent village S.jpg
34. St Kenelm's Pass, looking down towards Clent village S.jpg (36.98 KiB) Viewed 5958 times

Near the bottom of the lane is The Vine pub where, on summer nights, I used to play in the stream and on the slopes with other children whose parents were, like mine, relaxing over a drink. Nothing much seems to have changed, which is probably about as good as it gets these days.

35. The Vine Inn, Clent S.jpg
35. The Vine Inn, Clent S.jpg (37.52 KiB) Viewed 5958 times

36. The stream, Vine Inn, Clent  SS.jpg
36. The stream, Vine Inn, Clent SS.jpg (54.45 KiB) Viewed 5958 times


© Dennis Wood 2010
Dennis
 
Posts: 418
Joined: Wed Oct 01, 2008 10:26 am

Re: Black Country Ride No 7 - Halesowen and Clent

Postby mallosa » Mon Feb 15, 2010 12:34 am

I can't believe how close those houses are to that Ventilation shaft :? (Pic: 6)
If you would like to have your photo's included in our Gallery, please send me a pm.

Researching: Evans, Rollason, Henley/Hendley, Brookes, Taylor (Wilson - Birmingham)
User avatar
mallosa
 
Posts: 20447
Joined: Mon Sep 29, 2008 9:59 pm
Location: Yardley, Birmingham

Re: Black Country Ride No 7 - Halesowen and Clent

Postby Dennis » Mon Feb 15, 2010 8:36 am

According to the Birmingham Evening Mail in 2000, San, the flue, probably built in 1793, is only 10 feet from the house and casts a shadow on it. The lady who lived there in 2000 said she was told when she moved in that the flue might be removed. But British Waterways, who owned it, said that it couldn't.
Dennis
 
Posts: 418
Joined: Wed Oct 01, 2008 10:26 am

Re: Black Country Ride No 7 - Halesowen and Clent

Postby Sharon » Mon Feb 15, 2010 9:25 pm

We had friends who lived in the next house lower on the hill in the 1980's. It certainly casts it shadow on the interior! Its known locally as "the pepperpot"!
Sharon
 
Posts: 177
Joined: Sun Jan 04, 2009 3:05 pm

Re: Black Country Ride No 7 - Halesowen and Clent

Postby linell » Tue Feb 16, 2010 8:37 am

Thanks so much for that Dennis, really did take me back to the Halesowen that I remember from 50 years ago. Indeed it was once one of the most picturesque of places, time and man have put paid to that. Many thanks from Lin.
User avatar
linell
 
Posts: 5048
Joined: Wed Oct 01, 2008 9:50 am
Location: Stafford

Re: Black Country Ride No 7 - Halesowen and Clent

Postby Dennis » Tue Feb 16, 2010 11:31 am

Many thanks, Sharon and Linell. Halesowen still has real atmosphere, despite everything that's happened to it.
Dennis
 
Posts: 418
Joined: Wed Oct 01, 2008 10:26 am

Re: Black Country Ride No 7 - Halesowen and Clent

Postby sparkstopper » Tue Feb 16, 2010 11:41 am

During the early 1960s, As part of my duties in the Birmingham Fire Service, we had to attend to a
partially underground Nuclear 'Early Warning' Centre at ROMSLEY......Just wondered if you knew if it
was still in existance, can't give you any further details.......Sparks......
Semper Paratus:
User avatar
sparkstopper
 
Posts: 3009
Joined: Wed Apr 29, 2009 8:48 am
Location: Tamworth/Lichfield.

Re: Black Country Ride No 7 - Halesowen and Clent

Postby Dennis » Tue Feb 16, 2010 6:41 pm

Mny thanks, Sparkstopper: There may be something here:

http://www.ringbell.co.uk/ukwmo/Page253.htm

I believe there was once a bunker of some sort in Edgbaston, off Woodbourne Road, I used to get a frisson when I drove past it, remembering - as I still do, vividly - the Cuban Missile Crisis of the early 1960s when push very nearly came to shove...
Dennis
 
Posts: 418
Joined: Wed Oct 01, 2008 10:26 am

Re: Black Country Ride No 7 - Halesowen and Clent

Postby sparkstopper » Wed Feb 17, 2010 12:40 pm

Thanks Dennis ...Yes thats right, there was also one in Sutton Coldfield, manned by the 'Observer Corps'...
Hope we never have to return to those days, those methods we practised seem so antiquated now. Derek.
Semper Paratus:
User avatar
sparkstopper
 
Posts: 3009
Joined: Wed Apr 29, 2009 8:48 am
Location: Tamworth/Lichfield.


Return to Our Den - Out and about

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest