by Reg Gower

On 20 February 1952 at 149 Church Lane, the home of Councillor Fred and Mrs Irene Hall, a group met to ‘Promote the History of Handsworth’, and eventually to have a local museum. Councillor Fred Hall was appointed Chairman; Miles Hadfield – Secretary; Mr Bullock Treasurer; and Mr Briggs – Librarian. The Committee decided on an annual subscription of 5s.0d. (25p). The inaugural meeting of the Society, attended by about 120 people, took place in St Mary’s Church Hall, Hamstead Road, on 22 April when Mr Knight of Handsworth Wood Boys’ School, with the aid of slides from Birmingham Reference Library, presented a lantern lecture. Afterwards, Mr Arthur Hetherington spoke of the need to acquire maps of the area.

At a Committee meeting in May it was reported that 85 members had paid 5s.0d. each, and together with some donations the Society had then accumulated £21.5s.0d.

The first outing was on 26 July when Mr Rowe conducted a party round Aston Hall. By 9 September the Committee had agreed rules for the Society based on those of Erdington History Society. The name ‘Handsworth Historical Society’ was decided upon and its objects were to be promoting and encouraging the study of local history, together with collecting and preserving items of local history. On 20 November the second meeting was held and Mr Charles Lines FRSA spoke about National Trust properties. Some 41 years later he came back to us and gave a very interesting talk, again without notes, called ‘Lords, Ladies and Eccentric Squires’.

In April 1953, jointly with Toc ‘H’ the Society held an exhibition of paintings lent by Mrs B Bullock. This was followed by the Society’s second AGM on 2 May at St Mary’s Church Hall, followed by two meetings each for the next few years. On 15 April 1959 the AGM was held at Soho House, the former home of Matthew Boulton, by courtesy of GEC who owned it at the time. In August 1961 the Society held an exhibition of paints and prints at Soho Road Public Library which over 2000 people attended.

Between 1961 and 1967 the University of Birmingham Extramural Department had a series of courses on the History of Handsworth, all held at Elmwood. The lecturers varied from year to year but included the then Rector, the Reverend Charles Tompkins, Mr E E Barker, Mr E F King, Mrs Stedman and Miss Gay, After the courses had finished, the Society benefited from the interest created and acquired many valuable items including a tracing of Handsworth Tithe Map of 1841 (about 8.5 feet by 12 feet) together with a copy of its schedule, a 1794 map and schedule, and an index of local history. Things did not always run smoothly, however, and on 24 February 1972 the meeting had to be postponed until 21 March, there being no electricity due to the ‘Coal Strike’.

In 1973 the Old Town Hall is mentioned in the Minutes for the first time. This is a very good example of a cruckframed building standing at the corner of Slack Lane and College Road, and is believed to date back to 1460, during Henry VI’s reign. The use of the building for the Historical Society was arranged only with a great deal of help from the late Alderman Fred Hall. A year after the Society had celebrated its 25th Birthday in April 1977 with a cheese and wine evening, a seven year lease of the Old Town Hall at a peppercorn rent was granted by arrangement with the City’s Museums Department so that the Society could use half the property, the other half still being occupied.

Now over 40* years old, the Society still has more than 250 members, at least eight meetings and one outing each year, and the Old Town Hall is open for one or two days every month. Unfortunately, we do not do as much research as we would like because in addition to the above activities the Society is represented on the City’s Heritage Forum, and has been helping with the new Soho House project by providing refreshments at its open days, and it has also provided displays at the Local History Fair. We also take school parties round the Old Town Hall by special arrangement, and during a two month period at the end of 1993 seven parties (totalling over 200 children) have visited it and been given guided tours by members of the Society.

Prepared for St Mary’s Parish Magazine January 1994

*NOTE: Now nearly 60 years old

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