THE OUTER CIRCLE – STAGE 1
OK – here’s the plan. You decide, because you are a Brummie, or an adopted Brummie and can’t drag yourself away, to find out more about the outer reaches of the Second City. Then you ask a mate to join you – you’ll find you may need one!
You then choose your mode of transport. Ideally it would be a 1950s Birmingham City Transport double deck bus – but getting one can prove to be a tad expensive, even to hire for a few hours. So you can use your own car, or your mate’s. This is where the need for a companion comes in – someone has to drive whilst you soak up the history. Finally the most economic and “21st century practical” mode of transport would be a modern bus. The fare would be £2.10 (get your mate to pay his own fare)! But of course if you regularly rode on a Birmingham City Transport double deck bus in the 1950s, then you can travel today for free with a pass!
The bus that you need to catch is the 11A preferably at Sarehole Mill on the border of Hall Green and Moseley. This will take you on the Outer Circle in an Anti-clockwise direction. Why Anti-clockwise? More of that later.
Next you need a guide to your journey and this is where Brumpic comes in. This post is the first of several stages that will tell you virtually all you need to know about the history of the Outer Circle. Your own Guided Tour.
The tour was compiled by OuterCircleBus.com and first created for the date of 11-11-11 – a numerical coincidence that could not be ignored. Four years ago I celebrated that date by hiring a 1950s Birmingham City Transport double deck bus and filling it with people eager to hear about their city. We went round the Outer Circle in an Anti-clockwise direction for a simple reason – it was my “happy direction”. In the 1960s I lived in Hall Green (near to Sarehole Mill) and my girlfriend lived in Fox Hollies Road. I went to school in Bournville. So the journeys riding on the bus home from school and visiting my girlfriend both took place in an anti-clockwise direction – my happy direction. By the way that girlfriend is now my wife.
So let’s set off – 11am is a good time – the roads are not too busy and we’ve even planned in a break for a cuppa or a bite to eat half way round.
Our starting point for our circumnavigation of Birmingham’s Outer Circle Bus route is Sarehole Mill. The current mill building dates from 1773 although it seems that there was a mill on this site from 1542. The mill on our left was closed in 1919 and restored in the 1960s after a public appeal against its demolition. The chimney by the mill stands testament to the fact that it was powered by a steam engine to compensate for the lack of water at times. The mill was originally used for grinding corn, but as the industrial revolution encroached on the area it was used for a number of metalworking purposes. Sarehole Mill was one of 16 mills on the River Cole as it ran though southeast Birmingham to where it joins the River Blythe, then the Tame near Coleshill. The mill was powered by the Cole and a tributary, Coldbath Brook that ran from the top of Swanshust Lane. The River Cole is 26 miles long, coincidentally the same length as the Outer Circle Bus route.
Photo 1 – A view of Sarehole Mill taken across the millpond from Wake Green Road in 1905. What is most noticeable is how few trees there are!
The first roundabout is at the junction with Sarehole Road where one would have found, about half a mile away to the left the Aldis factory. This is where the famous Aldis lamps, used for signalling Morse code between ships, were made. The factory was built on a Greenfield site at the start of the First World War in 1914 and later became part of the Bell & Howell Company. I have been reliably informed that Aldis tested and focussed their lamps by shining them at the tower on Moseley School, about 900 yards away. The Aldis name is commemorated in the name of the cul-de-sac of houses built there in the last decade.
At the top of Cole Bank Road we cross Southam Road and to the left about 200 yards along here is the house where comedian Tony Hancock was born and lived until he was three. A statue of Tony Hancock was erected in 1996 in Priory Circus in Birmingham.
After Southam Road we cross what was originally the North Warwickshire Railway line to Stratford-upon-Avon. The railway went on to Cheltenham and the southern part is now the Gloucestershire & Warwickshire Railway. After being built the railway was absorbed into the Great Western Railway and is now on a main commuter route to Birmingham Moor Street. You can still enjoy a ride on a steam train along this line on Sundays throughout the summer months.
We are approaching the Stratford Road, the A34, which was part of the main route from Birmingham to the port of Southampton and consequently became one of the areas busiest highways before the construction of the M40.
Cole Bank Road originally met the Stratford Road at a junction just by the black & white house on the left. This meant that an Outer Circle bus heading in our direction had to make a right turn onto Stratford Road before turning left into School Road. The junction was straightened out to become as we know it now in the 1950s to ease congestion.
The “Tyre Sales” premises on our right stands on the corner of School Road where at one time you would have found the building that was occupied by the ATCO lawnmower company. For many years before and after the Second World War this location was known to bus travellers as the ATCO. Previously this was the site of Cole Bank School that opened in 1791 and gave School Road its name.
Photo 2 – Cole Bank School, once situated on the corner of Stratford Road and School Road. Next door is the pub once known as the Horse Shoe Tavern, now the Horseshoe which apparently offers “north Indian and Modern British cuisine”.
On our right just before we turn off School Road is Hall Green Parish Church – the Church of the Ascension. It was originally known as Job Marston’s Chapel after a local landowner who contributed two thousand pounds towards its construction. It was consecrated in 1704. The original building and additions in the 1860s are in the English Baroque style, unusual in a Church building and it became grade II* listed in Nineteen-Fifty-Two.
On the diagonally opposite corner of the junction from the church is the site of Hall Green Hall, or Hawe Hall as it was originally known. This was a timber-framed house and it was extended in Tudor times and again in the 18th century. Last occupied in 1935, the hall was sold and demolished for the construction of the Charles Lane Almshouses that stand there now.
Photo 3 – Hall Green Hall – Once known as Hawe Hall. Hawe Green took its name from the medieval family whose moated hall stood at the junction of School Road and Fox Hollies Road near the green or common pasture. The word ‘haw’ probably derives from the medieval word haga meaning ‘hedge, enclosure, or enclosed land’. The family had taken their surname from this commonplace name, but whether that was here or elsewhere is not known.
We now turn into Fox Hollies Road, the first of the suburban dual carriageways on our route that were planned by the city between the wars to give easy access around the city. The plans were never completed due to the interruption of the Second World War, and we will see that there are places on our route where housing was built to allow a dual carriageway that was never completed.
The name Fox Hollies comes from the time when the Fox family bought the farm belonging to the atte Holies in the 15th century, and this became the name for the whole of this area between Hall Green and Acocks Green.
We are heading towards the junction with York Road, on the left. If you went down York Road for about a third of a mile you would find, by the railway, the site of the Vellocette factory. Motorcycles, including the famous police “noddy” bikes, were manufactured here between 1926 and 1971.
Photo 4 – The LE became Velocette’s best selling model. It saw widespread adoption by police forces for urban patrol. At the time policemen on foot patrol were required to salute sergeants and inspectors. With the introduction of the LE this became dangerous, requiring the officer to take his hand off the handle bars, and so the rider was allowed to show respect with a smart nod. It has been suggested that this is how the LE became known as “Noddy Bikes”. However, Noddy (the popular cartoon character created by Enid Blyton) who famously had frequent run-ins with the Policeman Mr Plod, is also credited with being the origin.
After we go past the York Pub, look to the left you will see two stone gate pillars by the next bus stop, which is all that remain of Fox Hollies Hall. The son of industrialist Zaccheus Walker built the hall in 1896. His grandson, Lieutenant-Colonel Zaccheus Walker owned the hall up to his death in 1930 when it was passed to the city Parks Department and it then fell into disrepair. The hall was demolished in 1937. Everyone in the area knew the derelict land as Colonel Walker’s, until the three tower blocks were built and the remaining land made into a park in 1965.
Look to the left as we go round the next roundabout at the junction of Olton Boulevard and you can see in the distance Shaftsmoor Lane. If you were to turn left along there and look to the right you would be able to see the house where Bobby Davies lived as a child. “Who” you might ask “is Bobby Davies?”- Well the answer lies in a funky moped and a nutter on the bus – it is Acocks Green’s own folk hero Jasper Carrot.
As we travel along the final part of Fox Hollies Road, to the left you can see Acocks Green Bus Garage, which was opened in 1928 and survived the rationalisation of the bus garages within the city when the transport undertaking was transferred to the West Midlands PTE.
The earliest known reference to Acocks Green is in the Yardley Parish Register of 1604, but the name derives from the Acock family who built a large house in the area in 1370. This was sited about half a mile down the Warwick Road from Acocks Green Village at the junction of Woodcock Lane. Although the Acock family left the area in the 18th century the house remained. It was demolished in the 1950s and replaced with blocks of flats.
At the end of Westley Road on the right is the 10-pin bowling alley which was converted from The Warwick cinema in the 1960s. Next door is the premises of a car tyre dealer, which was once a “pumpless” petrol station. This was a Japanese invention where the pump nozzles were suspended from the ceiling of the canopy and lowered down to a point just above the car roof where the attendant would pull it down the rest of the way to fill the car. What seemed like a good idea never caught on and there were very few of these in the UK. This one closed in the early 1970s.
Acocks Green Village became the centre of the area in the late 19th century, and trams arrived here in 1922. The road layout as we know it now was designed in 1932 and the tram terminus was incorporated into the central traffic island.
Photo 5 – Acocks Green Village in 1932 showing the tram terminus in the centre of the traffic roundabout.
The library building behind us to the right next to what was The New Inns pub was opened in 1932 and was at the time the largest in the city. The building is now Grade A listed.
After the Village, we find another point on the Outer Circle where the number 11 does a double turn, although this time the turn off Westley Road, along Warwick Road into Dudley Park Road was never given the “straightening out” treatment that happened at Hall Green.
With the arrival of the Great Western Railway in Acocks Green in 1852 many large houses were built along here and in the nearby roads as business people from Birmingham moved out to Acocks Green with its new rapid transport link to the city centre. We will soon cross over the station bridge where at one time the railway had two fast lines for expresses and two for the local trains that served Birmingham and Solihull.
The railway line through here from Paddington to Birmingham became very busy in the 1960s when the West Coast (Euston) line was being electrified. Then it was closed down as a route to London and Snow Hill Station was demolished. Now Chiltern Railways who have run trains from Snow Hill to Marylebone since 1996 are running trains that take just 90 minutes to get from the newly restored Moor Street Station to London.
As we cross the railway, to the left is Acocks Green Baptist Church, which is Grade II, listed. But next to it on the corner of Alexander Road is the Arts & Crafts style Glynn Edwards Hall, which could be demolished after plans were submitted for a new community hall to be built in its place. It seems that due to a council cock-up the hall, built in 1924, was not listed correctly when it was given grade A protection. This is an on-going saga with residents & conservationists wanting to save the building, whilst the developers still have the bulldozers on standby!
In the 1920s after Acocks Green was absorbed into the city, a great deal of municipal housing was built in the area. Apparently the better-off that were living here started moving out and the area was given the nickname “Snob’s Green”.
As we leave the rows of terraced houses on the left behind us we cross the Grand Union Canal which was the main link between Birmingham and London in the canal network. To the left the canal would take us through Tyseley and Small Heath skirting round the east side of the city centre to reach Gas Street Basin. To the right the canal goes through Olton on its way to Knowle and Hatton with their famous flights of locks on its way down to London. We always say “down” to London in Birmingham, true on a number of levels!!
About the author
The author of the Outer Circle tour is David Humphries. David was bought up in Hall Green and now lives in Solihull. He, and his wife Pam, started their OuterCircleBus.com tours of the No 11 bus route and have run them every year beteween 2011 and 2014. Visit OuterCircleBus.com to find photographs of the tours and to find out how much money was raised for charities from the tours. David now conducts guided tours of the Birmingham Back to Backs and Newman Brothers at the Coffin Works in Fleet Street.
You can contact David on info@OuterCircleBus.com