THE OUTER CIRCLE – STAGE 3
If you’ve missed the first two parts of our tour of Birmingham’s Outer Circle bus route then you’ve plunged in part way round.
Previously we’d reached the River Tame as it goes through Bromford, and remarked that you can now see herons and kingfishers here if you care to spend time and look. This is despite the fact that this polluted stretch was water was known for almost 200 years as the “Black Brook”. But we do not have time to stand and stare – let us move on towards Erdington. But if you want to start from the beginning then search out Stage 1 of our tour on this site.
As we come out from under the M6, to our right is the end of the Fort Parkway. This relatively new road was built to serve the industrial units built around Fort Dunlop, and if you take this road it would bring you to the Jaguar car factory at Castle Bromwich. During the Second World War the factories on this site, which were established by Lord Nuffield, produced more than half of the Spitfire aircraft. In the 1960s Pressed Steel Fisher on the same site produced bodies for the Austin Mini, which were taken around the Outer Circle on transporters to Longbridge.
As we head towards Erdington on the Outer Circle we pass over the Birmingham to Fazeley Canal which was completed in 1789. As with all these big projects the whole scheme was mired in controversy with the contractors and the canal company falling out over the materials used and the design of the route. The sorry tale held up the construction of the canal and ended up with the canal company superintendent James Bough being imprisoned for libel and Pinkertons the contractors making a loss of about £2,500 – a large sum in the Eighteenth Century.
We then cross the A38 Tyburn Road which is one of the main commuter routes into the city and forms part of a major trunk road that originally ran from Bodmin in Cornwall through Bristol, Birmingham and on through Derby to Mansfield in Nottinghamshire.
As we head up this last part of Bromford Lane on the right we see The Lad in the Lane pub which was originally Ye Olde Old Green Man, believed to be one of the oldest inns still in continuous use in England. It is a rare example in Birmingham of a cruck-framed building and was originally a private residence. When tested the timbers were found to have been felled in the spring of 1400.
Ye Olde Green Man in Erdington. I’m guessing this photo was taken around 1900 – anyone else got any ideas? Let us know.
At top of the hill we reach the end of Bromford Lane where we meet the junction with Kingsbury Road. Along Kingsbury Road to the right is Rookery House, sited in Rookery Park. The house was built for an important local iron merchant Abraham Spooner around 1727. His grandson Richard Spooner was born here in 1783 and became Birmingham’s first Tory Member of Parliament. The politician William Wilberforce, known for his part in the abolition of slavery, married Richard Spooner’s sister Barbara and he lived in the house for a time. In 1852 the house was leased by Abraham Dixon, a county magistrate and merchant, who was brother of the famous civic politician, George Dixon – more about George Dixon later on in our journey.
Rookery House was at one time Erdington’s Town Hall and is now owned by the city but has fallen into disrepair. The Birmingham Conservation Trust is currently engaged in its restoration.
The Outer Circle once again becomes a single carriageway was we pass rows of Victorian Houses, built along Wood End Road as the area around Erdington grew.
On our left we can see the back gardens of the new houses built on the site of the Jaffray Hospital. This was opened in 1885 by The Prince of Wales and was named after John Jaffray, owner of the Birmingham Daily Post and Governor of the General Hospital. The hospital was designed by architect Yeoville Thomason who also designed Birmingham’s impressive Council House that dominates Victoria Square.
We now climb the hill up to Six-Ways Erdington. Built in the late 1880s Wood End Road was the last road to meet the junction at Erdington that gave this location its name.
After Six Ways our bus now takes us along Reservoir Road and over the Sutton Coldfield Branch of the old Midland railway. Erdington Station is located about half a mile up the line to our right on Station Road.
On our left after the railway bridge is the site once known as Erdington Cottage Homes. This was opened in 1900 as the Aston Union Cottage Homes and was one of three established in Birmingham to replace the workhouses that housed the homeless and destitute. The Erdington Cottage Homes were 17 houses for children each run by a foster mother or a married couple. The site included a small hospital, school and swimming baths. The site was closed in 1984 and redeveloped as private housing.
The decorative clock tower that stands in the centre of the Erdington Cottage Homes estate that was first donated by WJ Adams, the Chairman of the Aston Union. This was burnt down by vandals and rebuilt by local craftsmen in 1998.
At the brow of the hill on the right there is a grass bank that leads up to the reservoir that gives the road its name.
The name Erdington appears to have come from Henry de Erdington who was granted manorial rights to the area in the Twelfth century. The de Erdington family lived in a fortified manor house just north of the river Tame at Bromford Bridge, the site of which now lies under Tyburn Road.
When we reach the end of Reservoir Road we are at Stockland Green. This was farmland until the end of the Nineteenth century and the name Stockland probably comes from the fact there may have been enclosures for livestock in the area. The oldest houses here would have been built as Birmingham’s urban sprawl engulfed Erdington and the area became part of the City in 1911.
Over to the far right is The Plaza, now a bingo hall. The Plaza cinema opened on Boxing Day 1927. In April 1930 the first talkie was shown here and the cinema closed in 1978. Apparently Handsworth born Violet Pretty got her first job as an usherette at the Plaza before moving to the Palace in Erdington. Violet later became the film actress Anne Haywood.
The stone clad building on the far right of the junction is now a Chinese restaurant, but it was originally the Stockland Inn which was built by M&B in 1924.
Stockland Green was famous for the experimental ‘Tracline’ guided bus system that was laid in 1984 to take the buses on a concrete track of 600 yards from Stockland Green along Streetly Road on our right to the terminus at Short Heath. This was the first of these systems to be tested in the UK. Many lovely mature trees were destroyed to accommodate the ‘Tracline’, which was dismantled just three years later. There are a number of guided busways in the UK now, the best known being in Cambridge which, as is with all such schemes, was thirty-one million pounds over budget and almost two & a half years late opening.
Tracline 85 – This was Britain’s first kerb guided busway. Operated by the West Midlands PTE (Centro) it featured six passenger stations (bus stops), which were equipped with shelters, tip-up seats and electronic information displays advising passengers when the next bus would be due. Access to the stops was by ramp, so even though the vehicles were not ‘low floor’ they were still more easily reached by people with special needs.
The busway “track” consisted of a concrete road surface into which steel guide-walls were set, with the centre strip between the bus’ wheels ‘rough surfaced’ to deter cars from using it and overall landscaping designed to deter pedestrians from wandering where they were not wanted.
We have on our journey been heading in a generally northerly direction, however as we leave Stockland Green along Marsh Hill we start heading toward the south.
Marsh Hill was widened in 1923 when many of the houses we see now were built. Further along at the foot of the hill the road sweeps around the end of Brookvale Park, which is on our left. The park is mainly occupied by a reservoir, which was built along with Witton Lakes higher up the hill behind the houses on our right. The lakes stand on brooks that rise in Kingstanding and Erdington and were created in the 19th century to supply drinking water for Birmingham. They were then in the countryside, and the water relatively clean. Industrialisation and urban sprawl led to the water no longer being fit for drinking, so Birmingham turned to the Elan Valley in Wales for a supply. Brookvale Park Lake covers 18 acres and was used for outdoor swimming early last century; it was a favourite with youngsters as a local venue for outdoor activities. Much of the park between the lake and the M6 motorway was built on in the 1970s.
On the other side of the road before going under the M6 is Witton cemetery, which was opened in 1863 by Birmingham Corporation, the first in the city. It covers 103 acres and the surrounding brick wall is 2 miles long – said to be the longest in the Midlands.
As we continue down what is now Brookvale Road we dive under the M6 once more, leaving residential Erdington behind us to arrive in industrial Witton. The decent down Marsh Lane and Brookvale Road has bought us to the floor of the Tame valley and immediately after the M6 we cross the Tame Valley Canal, the last of the Birmingham canals which was cut through here in 1842. Then on the right we see the River Tame again as it runs along side of the road behind the railings. 300 homes here were flooded when the river burst its banks in 2007.
The area on the other side of the River Tame to the right is known as Holford and gets its name from a ford over the Tame about half a mile away to the north. The industrial buildings that we now see here are built on the site of the ICI & later IMI Kynoch explosives factory. Born near Aberdeen in 1834 George Kynoch became a bank clerk and joined a firm of ammunition manufacturers in Birmingham’s Gun Quarter. Following an explosion in 1861 Kynoch moved the factory to farmland here in Witton and started production at The Lion Works. The business expanded rapidly and ultimately occupied nearly 200 acres of land at this site. Knyoch became MP for Aston and Chairman of Aston Villa, subsequently he was forced out of the company in 1888, unable to meet his commitments. He died in poverty in South Africa three years later. The Company became ICI in 1926 & then IMI in the sixties. IMI left the site in 2007.
The gatehouse and main buildings of IMI (formerly ICI) at Witton Cross in 2003 just prior to demolition.
Brookvale Road now becomes Witton Road and we cross the River Tame for the second time. The whole area on our left was once the huge GEC factory where up to 18,000 people were employed.
For the first time on our journey we go under a railway. This line and the nearby Witton Station were opened in 1837 by the Grand Junction Railway as part of a line from Curzon Street to Walsall & on to Manchester.
As we go around the roundabout on our left just down Witton Road is the Aston Manor Tramways Depot that was opened in 1882 for use by steam trams. This was taken over by Birmingham Corporation in 1912 and was closed in 1950; it was subsequently used for cutting up withdrawn trams. It then became a car show room and was then occupied by the Aston Manor Transport Museum from 14 November 1988. The museum closed in October 2011 following a decision by Birmingham City Council to cease funding the museum and the old buses were moved to an industrial unit in Aldridge.
Trams at Witton (Aston Manor) Tram Depot
We turn right now into Aston Lane and we plan to take a break from our perambulations at the Tesco store, which is on the right where you find toilets and an excellent cafe on the first floor.
Whilst we enjoy a cuppa, lets look at the history of our wonderful bus route. The Outer Circle no 11 route opened in full on 26 April 1926 and comprised parts of two routes. The original no 11 from Erdington to Acocks Green and the 10 from Kings Heath to the Kings Head Bearwood which both had been introduced in 1923. The gaps were filled in and we have what we now know as the Outer Circle, which with only a few alterations is almost the same as we are travelling today.
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