The Early History of Handsworth
Geographically, the parish of Handsworth is set in the centre of the diamond-shaped Birmingham Plateau, surrounded by the rivers Trent, Severn and Avon and cut into by the Tame. The latter is important from the point of view of local history. This location, together with the fact that it was a forest area, shaped its early history more than any single factor.
The settlement received its name as a derivation from that of the chieftain making the settlement, the chief’s name being possibly “Honde” or “Hune”. Early forms of Handsworth were possibly “Hondesworde” and “Hunesworth”, signifying Honde’s or Hune’s estate.
There are no signs of any extensive Roman settlement in Handsworth, although the Romans certainly passed through the parish on their way north by way of the minor Roman road of Ryknield Street.
The most interesting discovery of Roman remains in the Handsworth District was in 1959 when a large quantity of kiln debris was found at 224 Wellington Road. The siting of the pottery within easy reach of Ryknield Street is typical of other potteries in the West Midlands, all relatively near Watling Street.
It was about 150 years after the Romans left Britain that effective settlement in the Tame valley appears to have begun, during the Anglo-Saxon period (560-613). The Anglo-Saxon agriculturists, skilled in the use of the plough and of tools to clear woodland, would have been attracted by the broad Tame valley.
For ease of administration, it was convenient to divide the kingdom into shire based on such defended places as Stafford.The shires were divided into hundreds, each of a hundred hides. A hide varied in acreage according to the fertility of the land, but the criterion was that it should be sufficient to support a household.
Staffordshire was composed of five hundreds. More often than not, the hundred was named after the place where the hundred court met. One of the hundreds, Offlow, named after a tumulus two and a half miles south of Lichfield, included Handsworth.
In the great national land register of 1084-6, ordered by King William and known as the Domesday Survey, part of the Handsworth portion was mislaid and included in the Oxfordshire records leaving, in Handsworth, only one hide of arable land instead of six, and two acres of meadow instead of twenty two. Although there were two mills – Hamstead and Forge Mills – only the Hamstead Mill is mentioned. The value of the whole manor was stated to be twenty shillings instead of 5 pounds.
The ancient parish of Handsworth was in Staffordshire until 1911, when it became a suburb of Birmingham. It originally covered an area of 7,752 acres lying roughly north-east and south-west of the River Tame, on land that rises from the river valley (at the 300 ft. level) to 550 ft. in the extreme north-east and south-west corners of the parish.
The northern part of the parish was bounded by the present Queslett Road, Chester Road, and College Road to the junction with Kingstanding Road, and from that junction, the boundary turned south to the Tame, following Ryknield Street which is not marked by a modern road. Following the river to Witton Bridge and then along approximately the present Witton Road, Lozells Road and Hunters Road to the Brook at Hockley. It then followed the Brook across Ninevah Road, Boulton Road to Foundry Lane, near to the site of the Soho Foundry, now Messrs. Avery’s works. The boundary continues westward to the junction of Cornwall Road and Downing Street, where it turns north, crossing Middlemore Road reaching Holyhead Road just between Middlemore Road and Halford Lane by the side of the West Bromwich Albion Football Ground. The boundary then continued north along Park Lane and Forge Lane to the junction with Newton Road and turning eastward, passes the Scott Arms to Queslett Road.
Handsworth was originally divided into eight named areas of “Ends”.
The Ends each contained a group of habitations, probably set around village greens, e.g. Wilkes Green.
The name was probably derived from Old English “hlidgeat” – swing-gate. It seems to occur for the first time in a deed mentioned in the Holden Breviate (mid-seventeenth century) in Birmingham Reference Library, by which William atte Lyddiate of Handsworth granted to Henry, son of Cecilia, two pieces of land in Town End adjoining to Lydiate Lane dated 1333.
The area included Deadmore Lane (Rookery Road). A yeoman, William Hodgetts (1573-1615), is described as of Lydiate End or the Grove, so that it is clear that the latter place was also in Lydiate End. The boundaries of Lydiate End were probably the present Oxhill Road, Camp Lane, Island Road, Holyhead Road and Grove Lane. The Austins estate, which formed part of Lydiate End, belonged in the sixteenth century to a family named Warner. A descendent of the family at the end of that century was referred to as Gregory Warner of Lydiate End.
Town End Field was bounded by Lydiate Lane in the early fourteenth century, and was probably the “Townhalfelde” mentioned in a deed of 1483 (Birmingham Reference Library) and that the latter name is connected with the fifteenth century building still standing in Slack Lane and generally known as the Old Town Hall. There is no evidence that this building ever served any administrative purpose. It is supposed that the name Town Hall was the “Hall” or principal house of Town End. Another theory is that it derived from “Tun Hall”. ‘Tun’ meant an enclosure of a more or less defensible character, probably no more than a place into which animals were driven at night. It was obviously convenient for a dwelling to be built within the enclosure for protection in an age of violence; so often was this done that the word acquired a secondary meaning of “enclosure put up for the protection of its inhabitants, and hence has descended to the modern term “town”.
Wootton End adjoined Town End on the Western side, and extended to include Sandwell Green where there was a small community of cottagers, mainly farm labourers. It also adjoined the boundary with West Bromwich along Park Lane, and extended along the main Wolverhampton Road to Island Road. There must have been quite a large hamlet at this point; the will of Sir William Whorwood of Sandwell Hall, dated 9th November, 1611, bequeathed a charge upon the rectorial tithes of West Bromwich to be distributed among the poor of West Bromwich “and such poor of Handsworth as dwell along the highway near Sandwell.”
Ley End and Church End.
This double form of the name, which always occurred in the sixteenth century registers, gives the general position of this End. It included both Ley Hall in Wood Lane, and the Parish Church, and must have adjoined Lydiate End along or near Grove Lane, and was bounded by the River Tame beyond Ley Hall. It is suggested that it included Browne’s Green and, if so, it must have marched with Hamstead in that direction; it also included Handsworth Heath to the boundary with Aston.
This end contained a hamlet around the church. Several names of houses are known as far back as the sixteenth century. At that time, rectors found it convenient to let the rectory house and themselves to live elsewhere. On 17th April, 1560, was buried John Denton, gentleman, “late farmer of the rectory”. At that time or a little later (mentioned 18th March, 1581), William Walker was curate and farmer of the rectory, and his father, buried 10th June, 1566, was described as of the rectory. After William became Rector in 1570, the rectory was for some years let to a certain Vincent Pitcourt, gentleman, 1576-82.
A house, called the Church House, was inhabited by weavers who also for some time discharged some office in the church and may well have held the house by virtue of that duty. From about 1567 until his death in 1581, the house was in the hands of William Wardle, organist and weaver. Thomas Wayte, an attorney and notary public, lived at Le Churchill, possible an early Churchill House (now the Endwood Hotel).
The name Birchfield survives today. It adjoined Ley End and extended along the River Tame and included Holford Farm, near the site of the ford by which the Roman Road (Ryknield Street) crossed the river. Holford Farm, begun in 1560, was occupied by Thomas Wyrley, who succeeded his father, William Wyrley, in 1562, and later moved to Hamstead Hall. The farm then passed to a family named Carter, who liver there from 1571-1602.
Over End means the Upper End. It lay on that side of Holyhead Road adjoining the boundary of Smethwick and Winson Green. It included an estate of the Stanford-Middlemore family of New Inn Hall. The nineteenth-century New Inns hotel stands on the other side of Holyhead Road on the corner of Sandwell Road. The original New Inns was kept as early as 1538, by Bartholomew Lane. He died in 1572, his wife and several children as well as himself being buried within a few weeks, indicating that there must have been an epidemic at the Inn. Thomas Rabone (1574-76), Hugh Shirrock (1573-94) and Richard Moore (1597-1615) are the next three innkeepers attested.
The name Hamstead is extant from the thirteenth century and simply means “homestead”. It was the principal manorial centre from the Middle Ages until the present time. It lay on both side of the Tame, and in the thirteenth century, land in Hamstead was described by boundaries, including the present Perry Barr-Walsall Road, clearly to the north of the River Tame.
Hamstead in Parva Barr.
This area included a manor house described as “Tower Hill”, inhabited in 1559-62, by Henry Wallixall, lorimer. He had it by a lease from the Holden family in 1534/5, which was renewed in 1556/7; the lease and the freehold were granted to Roger Stanford in 1659/70. (Holden Breviate Nos. 355, 390, 401). Stanford was described as of Tower Hill by 1574 (11th July in Parish Register). This house was, no doubt, the Little Barr Hall to which John Holden was admitted tenant at Perry Hamstead manor court in October, 1418. (Birmingham Reference Library, No. 242453).
Parva Barre later became known as Perry Barr.
Towards the end of Henry II’s reign (1154-1189), Pagan de Parles, presumably a Norman, married Alice, an English girl, who brought him as her marriage portion, the estate of Handsworth, held under the Baron of Dudley. In 1216, Pagan’s son William, who adhered to the King’ enemies, had his lands taken from him by the Sheriff of Staffordshire and delivered to Robert de Teneray.
William’s son John de Parles in 1243 held one-fifth knight’s fee in Handsworth and added to it the advowson of the parish church. In 1254, John’s son William, who had been knighted, accompanied by his wife and a number of neighbours and supporters, ejected from his residence in Weddington in Warwickshire the parson and then proceeded to carry off his goods and chattels. When summoned to court, they were unable to give a satisfactory explanation of their conduct. In the same year, William, accompanied by Adam, Lord of Perry, and a following of retainers, attacked Sandwell Priory. The Prior escaped by barricading himself within his monastery.
In 1255, Sir William acknowledged that he owed Roger de Somery, Baron of Dudley, service of one knight’s fee and suit of court at Dudley. In spite of this, Sir William was on the side of the rebel barons in the Civil War of 1265, though his overlord, Roger de Somery, remained true to the King. After the defeat of Simon de Montford at Evesham. Sir William was punished, his manor was handed over to Roger de Clifford, and William himself imprisoned in Dudley Castle. A year or two later, he appears to have recovered his possessions and to have been restored to royal favour. Henry III not only re-instated him tin the possession of Handsworth, but granted him (1275) superior rights in the whole Hundred of Offlow. He was privileged to hold a free court outside the jurisdiction of the Sheriff, and also had manorial rights of ‘frank-pledge’ and ‘waif’.
In Edward I’s reign, the Sheriff stated that Sir William was disobedient and rebellious to the Sheriff’s precept so that the King’s commands could not be carried out.
Sir William borrowed money from Sampson, a money lender of Lichfield, who, unable to collect his debts from the borrower, sold them to Roger de Somery who, by virtue of the royal course, took possession of the manor of Handsworth and all goods and chattels which had been given in pledge for these debts. Sir William, with his son John and his friend and neighbour, Adam, Lord of Perry, organised a raid on his forfeited property and broke into the Park of Handsworth one night and drove off sixty head of cattle. He was arrested and imprisoned. It is said that upon recovering his freedom, he proposed to join the VII Crusade to the Holy Land which was being planned. Handsworth was taxed from the Crusade, but there is no proof that Sir William actually set out.
In August 1271, Sir William was called to the Assize at Wolverhampton to answer charges. It is stated that he did not appear, but his Bailiff answered for him. There is no suggestion that Sir William was out of the country. Later he was charged as a felon and hanged. At the time of his death, according to different Inquisitions, he held Handsworth for a half or quarter knight’s fee and after the customary lapse of a year and a day, Roger de Somery took over the manor on the grounds that the property of a felon is forfeited.
Sir William’s son, John de Parles, preferred to make his claim for the sub-tenure of the manor, not as the son of a felon but as through hereditary descent from Alice, who brought the property into the family by marriage. During the next fifty years, other members of the family also attempted to recover the manor, but it was retained in demesne by Roger de Somery and his successors.
The Wyrleys of Hamstead Hall
In 1228, William de Wirleia was Rector of the church of Hunnesworth, and so continued until his death nineteen years later. This is the earliest record of a Wyrley, so named resident in Handsworth. Robert, the earliest named ancestor, lived in the reign of Henry III, followed by William, who served on a Inquisition with Thomas de Hamstead in 1276. In 1279, he sued Richard, son of Henry of Perry for two-thirds of the manor of Perry, and four years later this was conceded to him.
Guy de Wyrley was sometimes called Guy de Hamstead. De Hamsteads are not recorded after the end of the thirteenth century. It is possible, therefore, that they and the Wyrleys were kinsmen – the territorial name being used in earlier days, and the family name coming into common usage at a later date. In the subsidy Roll of 1332, Robert appears resident in Handsworth while his father, John, is found in the Perry and Little Barr schedule, making the same contribution as John of Perry, Lord of the manor.
A Roger de Wyrley was granted Holford Mill with Fishery in the River Tame, by John Botetort, in 1358, and eleven years later, was sued by Henry de Morwode, the parson, for conspiracy. Although nothing is known about the Wyrley dwelling house at this time, the Episcopal Registers of Lichfield indicate that in the fourteenth century the Wyrleys were allowed a private chapel in their family home. The Kalendar for January 1360 records that the bishop had granted to Roger de Wyrley a licence to celebrate Mass in his overtories or household chapels at Honnesworth and at Tybinton (Tipton) for a term of two years.
An impression of the status of the Wyrley family and the extent of their estates in Elizabethan times can be gained from a marriage settlement made in 1592 between John Wyrley of “Hampsted” and Edward Holte of Duddeston in confirmation of marriage between Humphrey Wyrley, son and heir apparent of John, and Katerin Holte, daughter of Edward. (The original document is in Birmingham Reference Library).
Edward Holte was to pay 700 marks and “diverse goods” to John Wyrley who, in return, covenanted to settle part of his estate on his son. This was to include “that capital message and farm of Holford called Holford House and all lands and tenements adjoining same”, also the hammer mill in Holford with waters, streams and pools belonging to it and pastures and meadows in Perry Barr. Humphrey was in addition to have rights to half the corn mill called Perry Mill with its dams, steams, etc. John Wyrley r etained for his own use the fishing rights in the waters of both mills. Settlement was made on Humphrey of lands and pastures in Great Barr and Wednesbury after the death of Dorothy, widowed mother of John Wyrley, who held these for her lifetime. Finally, the inheritance after the death of John Wyrley himself was legalised. This included long lists of named meadows and woods, “Hampsteed Mylles”, the blade mill and “the capital house of Hampsteed called Wyrley’s Hall with all barns, stables, houses, gardens, orchards, hop-yards, courts, fold yards and backside to the same belonging”. Provision was made for Goodith, John’s wife, if she outlived him, and very involved arrangements made to cover the eventualities of either of the young couple dying before the age of 22 or before producing a male heir. If Humphrey died before reaching 22 and without a male heir, any daughters were to share between them £233.6s8d but if Katerin were to die, her father Edward Holte, was to be paid £233.6s8d at “his new dwelling house at Duddeston”.
In 1680, Sir John Wyrley bought the manor of Handsworth from Richard Best and rebuilt the first manor house. Sir John was followed by his nephew, Humphrey Wyrley. His daughter, Sybil, married Dr. Peter Birch. They had two sons, Humphrey and John, who both adopted the name Wyrley-Birch and who both died childless. The estate eventually passed by will to a distant relative, George Birch of Harborne. In ‘776, he married Ann Lane, grand-daughter of Mary Wyrley, and he became the last lord of the manor. In 1819, the greater part of the estate was sold to William, Earl of Dartmouth of Sandwell Hall, West Bromwich.
The Hodgetts of Handsworth
The earliest references to the Hodgetts family appear to be in 1430-31 and in 1440 when John Hodgettes and Agnes, his wife, were concerned with grants of land. A hundred years later a John Hodgetts held of the lord of the manor a messuage and lands. It is probably this John who is described as yeoman of Lydiate in the earliest Parish Register of 1559. From the information supplied in the register of that time by William Walker, curate, later rector, one can get a picture of the Hodgetts family in Elizabethan times.
John and Joan, his wife had six sons and five daughters. Their eldest son, William, is described as husbandman and later yeoman of “Le Grove” (1595), and probably inherited the family holdings to the east of Grove Lane. The homestead may have been on the same site as the eighteenth-century farmhouse which was demolished when the Public Baths were built in 1907. William and his wife had twelve children, two of whom died in infancy.