Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Perry Bridges and the Holford

View of Perry Hall (c. 1725), by Thomas Bardwell. Held at BMAG.

After forming the boundary between Birmingham and Sandwell through Sandwell Valley Nature Reserve and Hamstead, the River Tame enters Birmingham through Perry Barr, meandering gently round the tatty industrial estates near Hamstead Station and through the green expanse of Perry Hall Park. The ‘Perry Hall’ part is a reminder of a red brick Elizabethan moated mansion that stood in the park till its demolition in about 1929 (see image above). Although the house passed through a number of hands, it is generally remembered as the seat of the Gough family, who owned much of the land around where the River Tame took its course through the green open scenery that was this part of Staffordshire at the time (Perry Barr was part of Staffordshire till 1924 when it became incorporated as part of Birmingham). The many generations of Gough’s that lived at Perry Hall used the Tame for fishing and boating. As the river leaves the park it is hidden from all but those who go looking for it; it has been diverted past the One Stop Shopping Centre and Perry Barr Greyhound Stadium, before it slips quietly under the Aldridge Road.

It is here, at the Aldridge Road, that you can (with a small climb over a railing) get down to the river and begin to follow it downstream, not far from where a little stream called the Holbrook joins the Tame. It is thought that this was the point that King Charles I crossed the River Tame, over a little wooden bridge, on his way to Aston Hall when that building was being attacked. Kingstanding, nearby, is said to be named from this royal visit too. By 1711 a new stone bridge had replaced the wooden one and the road it supported was turnpiked (tolls were collected along it); this bridge was erected with twelve arches, showing that the river was once wider and shallower, but all but four are now blocked up. At over 300 years old, the bridge, locally known as the Zigzag Bridge, is Birmingham’s oldest structure. This crossing is probably relatively new, usurping the old Holford, an ancient crossing that was about 200 yards further downstream. The Zigzag Bridge was itself usurped in 1932 when the Aldridge Road was widened to support the traffic of the 20th century and a new Art Deco bridge was constructed adjacent to the stone one. The old bridge, now, is reserved for pedestrians and Pooh Sticks.
Postcard of Perry Bridge before 1930.
Perry Bridge today, with walkers on
our Tame Walk, by Richard Kiely.
Tame water at Perry Bridge, by Richard Kiely.

The ‘hol’ part of the names Holbrook and Holford comes from the word ‘holm’, meaning ‘water meadows’, and the area around here forms a flat, low landscape that would have flooded and formed these meadows. Archaeological digs around the river area suggest that this area was damp, open grassland since at least the third century AD, and before this the area had been wood and shrub land. The Holford, which was situated not far from where Elliott Way comes down to the Tame today, was the site where the Roman road Ryknield (sometimes pronounced Icknield (pink on our map)) Street is thought to have crossed the river. Today a pair of kingfishers is often seen skimming up and down the river here under the shadow of the M6 and electricity pylons, away from everyone apart from the most intrepid explorer. As you follow the river the signs of human life are only the hum from the motorway, and the clanking of machinery from the industries whose back walls line the river, and rabbits hop away surprised if they see anyone walking along the river. It seems strange that this band of green and serenity streaks through the industrial estates of Perry Barr, and on, into Witton.

Victorian Tame looking upstream from the site of the old
Holford (Ryknield Street)........
........and a similar viewpoint today,
taken May 3rd 2015 by Richard Kiely.

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