History by Michael Byrne

In a handful of years before and after 1930 the area round the Yew Tree underwent huge changes. From open countryside dotted with a few houses and cottages, and still fewer terrace rows, this part of Yardley became a bustling suburb. The Marlborough Farm and Fast Pits municipal estate of over 2,000 houses filled in most of the area between the river and Clements Road. Yardley village itself, although the nominal centre of the large Parish which had stretched from Lea Hall to Yardley Wood, was still a backwater, while Sparkhill, Acocks Green and Hay Mills had been built up. In fact the Swan was locally where the meetings and important activities took place. Worcestershire had tried to elevate the status of its activity in Yardley by building a Council House at Sparkhill, and police stations there, at Hay Mills, and at Acocks Green, where a new courthouse was also opened. It was all to no avail, and the takeover by Birmingham in 1911 had sealed the fate of the fields and farms.

Flavells Lane from the Yew Tree became Hobmoor Road, a straight road to a 1926 bridge across the river, while the old lane was reduced to a short council estate street. Wash Lane was extended westwards to meet Deakins Lane near the old Hob Moor Lane, which became Fast Pits Road. The old ford, photographed so many times, became redundant. The Yew Tree pub, built on land previously owned by Yardley House, opened in 1926, and Stoney Lane was re-aligned and widened at the edge of that estate, leaving a terrace row nicely separated from the increasing volume of traffic. New shops appeared at the Yew Tree, a branch of the Birmingham Municipal Bank opened there, and commercial activity flourished, with some terrace houses getting in on the act and becoming shops. Church Road to the Yew Tree was widened to a dual carriageway, and at the Swan junction the land vacated by Painters when they moved to Yardley Road beyond the Swan was used by Harding for the imposing block of their bakery. In the mid-1930s, an attractive row of shops was built in front of the bakery. Bordesley Green East brought more trams to Yardley in 1928. Two years earlier the Outer Circle route had begun, but although it passed nearby, Yardley village was not changed by better public transport links. Trams ran to Stechford and the Swan until 1937. After this trolleybuses took over those routes, but eventually motorbuses took these routes too, as well as the ones they already had.

New schools opened: Bierton in 1928 and Hobmoor primary in 1933. The changes were not entirely about covering all the available open space, however. The city had bought the Oaklands estate in 1923, and added the grounds to the1898 donation by the Yardley Charities of land for a Recreation Ground at the corner of Coventry and Holder Roads. The Oaklands has been the subject of controversy ever since. Although the restrictive covenants only ever applied to the small 1898 piece, local people have always resisted the city’s proposals to use Oaklands for anything other than open space. Oaklands has some history from the 19th century. In the centre there used to be a gravel pit, and there had been a brick kiln and clay pit at Holder Road/Deakins Road near Deakins/Fast Pits Farm. A private sports club was near Church Road, off the Causeway, and it was later the Post and Mail ground. Yardley Fields remained open space. The riverside was also not built on. South Yardley library opened in 1939 on land bought from Painters. Yardley Baptist church opened at Rowlands Road c. 1939. The Salvation Army opened a hall at Blakesley Road in 1938. New public houses with impressive facilities, both inside and outside, appeared. The Blakesley opened in 1931 (later it was called the Village Arms and the Innisfree), the Hobmoor officially opened in 1931 despite a 1928 date above the door, the Good Companions opened in 1939, in the same year that a new larger Ring o’ Bells opened behind the earlier on. The 1931 addition of Sheldon and the Gilbertstone pushed the city boundary some distance away.

By the outbreak of war in 1939, private housebuilders had matched the city’s activity east of Church Road and from Clements Road eastwards. Open space remained south of Sedgemere Road and at Gilbertstone. The old ridge and furrow fields and manor house platform east of Yardley church continued to survive as public parkland. The war brought an anti-aircraft gun site to the Oaklands, together with associated huts at the Church Road side. A public underground air raid shelter was built in front of the Municipal Bank. An experimental rocket anti-aircraft site was at Cockshut Hill. A wartime nursery opened behind the 1905 ornate drinking fountain on the Coventry Road. Restrictive covenants meant nothing in wartime! Prefabs appeared at several sites after the war: Queens Road and Sedgemere Road, Broadstone Road, off Millhouse Road, Hobmoor Road and Wash Lane/Holder Road, Yew Tree Lane near Harvey Road, (near where three towers were built in the 1950s), and Moat Lane. One of Moat Lane’s Arcon Mk V’s was dismantled and donated to the Avoncroft Museum of Buildings, opening as an exhibit in 1983. The prefabs around the edge of the Oaklands required some levelling of the ground. Some open space remained post-wartime allotments for a while. There were two new schools: Blakesley Hall primary school of 1959 on part of Yardley Fields took Bierton’s primary age children and St Bernadette’s R.C. primary opened in 1966.

In the 1960s the whole character of the Swan junction changed. Hardings sold up to the city. The result was the Swan Centre and Bakeman House. A sinuous office block was built opposite in the 1970s. The junction was reconfigured to prioritise Coventry Road traffic via an underpass, while Outer Circle traffic had to negotiate a doughnut roundabout above. While the junction now had a wow element, for pedestrians this meant a descent to their own underpass, which eventually became degraded, smelling of urine and causing unease. The 1898 Swan was demolished and a new super pub opened, with a suite of imaginatively named rooms and the longest bar in the country or even Europe. Big rock groups played there. The attractive 1930s shops at the Church Road/Coventry Road corner were bulldozed when only thirty years old. Across Yardley Road at the Swan, Colliers left for Tyseley in 1971 and the site was then occupied by a large warehouse, for a long time B and Q. The Victorian New inn also went in 1964, and was replaced by the ‘Shack’, then finally a new build in 1983. The Swan Centre contained many small shops. It was designed by the same architect as the Rotunda. The first St. Michael’s near Milton Crescent closed in 1964. Their new church at the junction of Yew Tree Lane and Rowlands Road was consecrated in 1966. A few years earlier the Digbeth-in-the-Field U.R. church was built on Moat Lane, replacing a 1949 church hall. An Elim church opened at Broadstone Road in 1950. In the early 1970s, Gilbertstone Recreation Ground hosted a short-lived dry ski slope experiment.

Post-war styled shop fronts appeared at the Yew Tree, including one masking an old house at the corner of Croft Road, the Shrubbery. The Cottage at Vicarage Road had gone as a result of road widening, and the old malthouse on Stoney Lane was replaced by a small municipal estate in the 1950s. Some small council houses appeared just to the west of Yardley Village, which remained serene and untroubled despite the activity all around. It became one of the City’s first Conservation Areas in 1969. Blakesley Hall, a short distance away, did not have this tucked away feel. You accessed the museum directly from opposite a row of inter-war semis. That was remedied between 1999 and 2002, when Blakesley Hall was re-imagined as a yeoman’s house of 1590, with a new car park at the rear and a modern visitor centre separating the car park from the courtyard. The 1980s saw further development of the A45 as a fast route between the airport and the city, resulting in the destruction of half of Hay Mills’ shops. For pedestrians the result was a dangerous race-track and the demise of the once great shopping area. ‘Derrington’s’ Congregationalist chapel at the Causeway was demolished c. 1992.

Social life changed dramatically between the late 1950s and the 1980s. More women worked (of course, many had worked in wartime!). Previously they had tended to shop every day at local shops, where there would be a choice of butcher, baker, greengrocer and so on. Supermarkets reached by the increasing number of cars, reduced business at local shops. Home video recording and cheap supermarket booze increased time at home, and local pubs declined. The Tivoli cinema closed in 1961. The Good Companions (1993)), the Yew Tree (2000), the Hobmoor (c. 1989 or after the licence was not renewed in1992), the Blakesley (2005, demolished 2007, with the site only being replaced by housing after nearly a decade), the third Ring o’ Bells (2008, burnt out and replaced by housing), and even the Swan, disappeared. With fewer older men in the pubs to control the behaviour of the youths, and their ability to travel easily out of the area where they were known, more disruptive behaviour happened in the pubs. Bringing in disco bars and nights did not help. The Hay Mills police station at Holder Road corner became a pub, the Old Bull and Bill, retaining the business of the Bulls Head, demolished with Hay Mills shops in 1983/4, and is still in business. Wetherspoons also bucked the trend at the old Woolworths building in Church Road, and a pub/restaurant, the Clumsy Swan, replaced the police-closed Yew Tree in a new build complex at the junction. The Co-op, which had originally opened a little way up Stoney Lane before closing in the 1970s, has re-surfaced in the new complex. The Carmelite convent next door to the Ring o’Bells became sheltered housing. Sheltered housing for older people in various forms has been growing as a trend since the 1980s. Changes in the birth rate in the past resulted in some school closures, like Bierton Road, which closed as a school in 1985. It survived offering adult education and a nursery, and since 2012 has a new lease of life as an outlier of Starcross primary school. Hobmoor primary school was rebuilt at the north west end of the Oaklands in 2007, and a new community centre was also built there, resulting in the Hay Mills and Yardley Community Association’s building transforming itself into a youth centre. The wartime nursery was moved to a new site at the end of Boughton Road. The old fountain at the Coventry Road became derelict, and the splendid decorative urinal, also nearby, was removed c. 1984. Oaklands has shrunk but has recently had considerable investment, paid for by Tesco as a condition of having the old Swan Centre site for their gigantic supermarket. It must have seemed for many years that the by then tatty terraces on Church Road had a charmed life, but they went as part of this development, and Church Road now winds it way intriguingly round the Tesco car park. The remaining part of Yardley Fields has become Marlborough House ‘community park’. Meanwhile Yardley village remains protected in its time warp, and has been enhanced by the removal of the architecturally inappropriate 1960s old people’s home, Yardley Grange. Pleasant new housing has taken its place, and a completely new and very attractive Yardley Grange has been built at the vicarage site. Long may the peace and tranquillity of the old village continue.

by Michael Byrne, Historian
for more visit Mike’s website

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