Monday, 23 November 2015

Brookvale Park in Pictures

Brookvale Park, 1912.

The areas around Witton are very watery with Salford Lake, the Upper and Lower Witton Lakes, as well as the lake at Brookvale Park. None of these are natural lakes, they were all formed to bring drinking water to Birmingham from the 1830s onwards, utilising the waters of the River Tame, and the lesser known Hawthorne brook, that comes into the Tame under Spaghetti Junction. Much of the Hawthorne Brook flows underground now, but you can find it here and there, including in Brookvale Park.

Here is what the park looked like over the last 100 years (from the Aston & Erdington, Past & Present site: here).

Brookvale Park, 1937 with George Road in the distance.

Brookvale Park, 1909.

Brookvale Park, 1910.

Brookvale Park, 1912, Slade Road entrance with public conveniences
on the right.

Brookvale Park, 1912, with the small stream (probably Hawthorne Brook),
known as 'Children's Corner).

Brookvale Park, 1912, with children at the goldfish pond.

Brookvale Park, 1913, with new houses on George Road and
the bandstand.

Brookvale Park, 1914.

Brookvale Park, 1915.

Brookvale Park, 1917.

Brookvale Park, 1922, with the old park-keepers cottage.

Brookvale Park, 1925.

Brookvale Park, 1940.

Brookvale Park, 1913.

Brookvale Park, 1910 with George Road on the right.

Brookvale Park, 1915, with George Road.

Brookvale Road

River Tame on Brookvale Road, 1918

Witton in the 1930s

Witton in the 1930s

Fisher and Ludlow in Pictures















Saturday, 27 June 2015

This River Tame




As part of our project Brendan Hawthorne, Poet Laureate of Wednesbury, has written this wonderful poem about the river between Perry Bridges (in Perry Barr where the Holbrook comes in) and Salford Junction (in Nechells near where the Hockley Brook comes in). Brendan comes from a little further upstream, but traveled down to write and read 'This River Tame' at our walks and our closing event. Copyright Brendan Hawthorne 2015.

This River Tame

This River Tame
Grey metallic silk artery of revolutionary industries
This River Tame
Bends at will and yet re-formed for greater design
This River Tame
Omnipresent friend silent and sometimes unseen
This River Tame
Seemingly forever rolling the gravel pits of time

At Perry Bridges …
tandemspans leap
Built over two hundred years apart
The oldestzig-zag structure
now mirrored byJazz Age update
once ferried packhorsecargo
with lay-by refuge for muscle and cart
allowing ebb and flow commuting
toan ever-changing workplace estate

This River Tame
Grey metallic silk artery of revolutionary industries
This River Tame
Bends at will and yet re-formed for greater design
This River Tame
Omnipresent friend silent and sometimes unseen
This River Tame
Seemingly forever rolling the gravel pits of time

At Ryknield Street …
the famed mettle of Roman marches
reinforces an ancient footfall crossing
Here the memory of invasion is legion
and reflects on those gone before
Now an insightful water-meadow fording
giving rest to those whose myriad paths
have traversed these rippling shallows
from its warrened banks to its gentle shore

This River Tame
Grey metallic silk artery of revolutionary industries
This River Tame
Bends at will and yet re-formed for greater design
This River Tame
Omnipresent friend silent and sometimes unseen
This River Tame
Seemingly forever rolling the gravel pits of time

At Holford Mills …
Tame water is harnessed
Has driven the mill wheels of centuries
from cleansing wool to finery
shaped, cast and wrought
A darkened meandering river cutting
where blades were sharpened
and gun grey barrels bored
and a twist in the tale is bought

This River Tame
Grey metallic silk artery of revolutionary industries
This River Tame
Bends at will and yet re-formed for greater design
This River Tame
Omnipresent friend silent and sometimes unseen
This River Tame
Seemingly forever rolling the gravel pits of time

At Willow Grove …
an echo of a forgotten bridge
weeps the lime green willows low
Bowing sentinels to bygone pathways
and custodians of the lions roar
Waters erode the shifting footprints
of its diverse labouring people
A place where joyous arcs spring
and fountains rainbows soar

This River Tame
Grey metallic silk artery of revolutionary industries
This River Tame
Bends at will and yet re-formed for greater design
This River Tame
Omnipresent friend silent and sometimes unseen
This River Tame
Seemingly forever rolling the gravel pits of time

At Witton Bridge …
turquoise waters bled from Kynoch’s copper casings
Outfalls from packing ammunition for sport and war
The elements of alloys and allies drifted unhindered
channeled along these bends of blends to dilution
at an ancient muddy low point intersection
made rank and foul by nature
now passive in looks and demeanor
once crossed by trades of expanding conurbation

This River Tame
Grey metallic silk artery of revolutionary industries
This River Tame
Bends at will and yet re-formed for greater design
This River Tame
Omnipresent friend silent and sometimes unseen
This River Tame
Seemingly forever rolling the gravel pits of time

At Electric Avenue …
there’s a street with buzz
where three-phase currents co-exist
along this broad thoroughfare
From nearby,wavelets of river flow
and the spirit-breath of air turbulence
thatswitch to bridge rectification
in bluest tungsten filament light
where energy sparks and lanterns glow

This River Tame
Grey metallic silk artery of revolutionary industries
This River Tame
Bends at will and yet re-formed for greater design
This River Tame
Omnipresent friend silent and sometimes unseen
This River Tame
Seemingly forever rolling the gravel pits of time

At Salford Park …
some say this drinking water reservoir
is the oldest in all this land
Hollowed out to slake the thirst of workers
and all its nearby tempered forges
Collecting libation for Birmingham’s
ever-growing unquenched demand
An interchange where sweat dries
anda region’s demand engorges

This River Tame
Grey metallic silk artery of revolutionary industries
This River Tame
Bends at will and yet re-formed for greater design
This River Tame
Omnipresent friend silent and sometimes unseen
This River Tame
Seemingly forever rolling the gravel pits of time

At Hawthorn Brook …
the healing nature is of tame confluence and direction
Where mystical scrates are lost to road
and yet remain enigmatic by design
Hosting shelter from search light bombings raids
seeking sight and range on wartime munitions
Their ghosts and stories are still here
in whispers along cuttings and skyways
waiting to be heard before cadence fades

This River Tame
Grey metallic silk artery of revolutionary industries
This River Tame
Bends at will and yet re-formed for greater design
This River Tame
Omnipresent friend silent and sometimes unseen
This River Tame
Seemingly forever rolling the gravel pits of time

At Hockley Brook …
along the way from olden Scraford
a trinity of canals link arms unnoticed
Set in the shadows of Bromford ‘duct
where glory days of construction last
a source emerges that once powered Soho
Its fame and fortunes cast at this point
asrail and canal meet river and brook
delivering another layer to cover your past

This River Tame
Grey metallic silk artery of revolutionary industries
This River Tame
Bends at will and yet re-formed for greater design
This River Tame
Omnipresent friend silent and sometimes unseen
This River Tame
Seemingly forever rolling the gravel pits of time

Thursday, 18 June 2015

"One of the Most Perfect Little Paradises": Perry Pont House

Perry Pont House in 1909. In 1833 Mr. & Mrs. Osborn held a lawn party in a
tent here "to partake of a handsome cold collation [cold food]" in 
celebration of the consecration of the nearby church to St. John. A 
musical band played and fifty-four rounds of cannon fire were set off.   

In Perry Barr, at the place where the river curves sharply just before it comes upon Perry Bridge (taking traffic over the Aldridge Road), a little island of land is formed, hemmed in by the river on two sides and the road on one. It was here that wine merchant and coal dealer, William Henry Osborn, created "one of the most perfect little paradises which any man could desire", or so it was said by those surveying the new Grand Junction Railway in 1838. On the site stood Perry Pont House (a Georgian six bedroomed villa), a walled garden, several different kinds of trees, gardens, as well as meadows leading down to the, then, meandering river; it was a beautiful spot. Osborn was a keen gardener and achieved green-fingered 'fame' for growing a perfect green rose at Perry Pont, as well as the first to officially record the Elford Pippin apple (apparently, a delicious dessert fruit), and appeared in Regency botanical publications such as The Floral Cabinet.

Considering his love of the garden it seems likely that it was Osborn that turned the grounds of Perry Pont onto a wondrous park of outdoor curiosities, as in 1938 it was described that throughout the grounds were grottoes, statues and other follies, including a miniature church. The church could contain six people, and was complete with font and altar. One folly had an arched entrance and stained glass windows , with oyster shells set into the roof, another had a miniature of Cleopatra's Needle at the entrance and inside a mosaic floor made of horses teeth and animal bones; its stained glass was filled with imagery of unicorns and lions. Some follies had collapsed, but one that had survived was described in detail: 
"only a glimmer of light oozes through air holes in the rock roof. The pillar is coated with pearly coloured oyster shells, interlaced with ribs of polished black stone and coral; on the walls are more oyster shells and pieces of shiny stone. At one side there is a miniature fire-place, its mantel-shelf decorated with pearly shells. And at intervals around the walls are small niches." 
Below is the "entrance to a secret passage". 

Entrance to a secret passage at Perry Pont, 1909.
Entrance to the miniature church, 1938.
Stool found at Perry Pont in 1909, which had the inscription
that it was made from part of the root of the tree which
Charles II sheltered within in 1651 after the Battle of
Worcester. The householders seem to have had a taste
for curiosities. 

By 1938 the river was dirty and muddy; its situation as a beauty spot diminished, and the house was planned to be demolished and replaced by industry. This may have taken several decades, as the house can be seen on maps through and after the war period, but by the 1960s the site was a builders' yard.

NOTES
William Henry Osborn died on 21 December 1862, and his wife, Mary Ann, on 8 May 1869.

Monday, 15 June 2015

The Serpentine & the Aston Tavern

Aston Church with the River Tame nearby, before the railway
cut it away from Aston village. 

Today the River Tame seems to skirt past the Aston area; taking a sharp turn under Witton Bridge, and then creeping behind the houses and industries of Tame Road, only to emerge under the Aston Expressway at the other end of Witton. But the old village of Aston grew up along the river, its shape determined by it and especially a large meander, later called the Serpentine. The Tame and its meander formed the north-east border of what was called Aston Manor, a smaller administrative division in the huge parish of Aston, set out at least by the time of George III.* This watery boundary line stretched from Witton Bridge (where the Shire Brook once joined the Tame, forming itself the north-west boundary) to just past Salford Bridge, where the Hockley Brook comes in (which formed the south-east boundary).

The Manor of Aston contained the central hub of Aston Parish; the village, the parish church, and the great manor house called Aston Hall (with its historic deer park), but when the Grand Junction Railway was driven through the area, it drew a line separating the river from Aston Manor. The Serpentine, the meander which lurched too deeply into the village of Aston, was also cut away by the railroad, and left as a motionless arc shaped pool. More pools formed at its centre, and the nearby Aston Tavern utilised the picturesque ‘Old River Tame’ at the bottom of its sloping ornamental ‘tea gardens’ and platforms were erected for fishing (which was, apparently, excellent, and one of the favourite spots around Birmingham). Further from the Tavern, boathouses were built, and you can imagine summer afternoons with the paddles sweeping against the water, and Victorian ladies reclining with their parasols. It was described in 1838 that the Aston Tavern attracted “a great deal of company in fine weather, from the pleasantness of the situation and the taste displayed in the laying out of the ground”. Its situation during the nineteenth century was a fine one; it stood with a number of other buildings (some timber-built Tudor constructions) along what was called Aston Street (now Witton Lane), with the Holte Almshouses (completed 1656, see images below) standing opposite.

Looking down Aston Street from outside the Aston Tavern in 1897, with
the Holte Almshouses on the other side.
Holte Almshouses.
Aston Street with the Old Aston Tavern on the left, during
the days when the gardens behind led to a picturesque
river remnant; the Serpentine.
The Old Aston Tavern shortly before demolition and rebuild,
with the spire of Aston Church behind.

Moving the River Tame, in 1838, was not the easiest of tasks. The new course was dug out, but the railway line needed to be raised on an embankment to protect it from floods (where it still resides) which kept collapsing, as the riverside ground consisted of thousands of years of soft river deposit. It was the local gravel that saved the day, and was built up to form a firm foundation for the embankment that would support the heavy traffic on top. These setbacks caused a substantial delay, and the workmen worked “by sunlight and by moonlight” to get the line ready for its official opening.

There has been a settlement near the river here since at least Saxon times, with a moated manor house on the banks of the river just south of where Witton Bridge is today; this was early Aston, though the Saxon’s called it Enstone. Although the house had disappeared, the moat was still drawn into the ground in the days of Birmingham’s first historian, William Hutton (1782), who noted that the trenches were often flooded by the river. After the Saxon’s fell, the Domesday Book describes 44 inhabitants, one being a priest (suggesting that the church was already built), as well as a mill, which would have been water powered and situated along the Tame. Although probably older, evidence of the village on the banks of the Serpentine Tame can be traced back to the thirteenth century, with finds of pottery (such as cooking pots), a medieval stone wall, and what seem like drainage channels to the river discovered during archaeological digs. Traces of an orchard from the fifteenth and/or sixteenth centuries were also found. It is also possible that a predecessor to the Aston Tavern may have stood on the site in the eighteenth century, as drinking vessels and handled mugs from that period were found during excavations.

Aston Hall with the Grand Junction Railway passing.

In more modern times, the great curve and pools of the Serpentine began to silt up and were eventually filled in. In the 20th century the ancient Onion Fair was moved out of the city centre to the suburbs, and by 1914 had moved to the ‘Serpentine Grounds’. The annual fair remained on this site till about the 1960s or early 1970s.

Birmingham Onion Fair Week. Birmingham Gazette, 1 October 1915.


NOTES

* The parish of Aston was huge and contained a number of administrative divisions: these were Bordesley, Castle Bromwich, Deritend, Duddeston & Nechells, Erdington, Little Bromwich, Saltley & Washwood, Witton and Water Orton. Only Bordesley and Deritend (and the Duddeston part of Duddeston & Nechells) did not have the River Tame as part of their boundaries.