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Stonnall History

Ancient Features with Ancient Names in Stonnall and Lynn
Natural drainage in Stonnall and Lynn has been represented by two brooks. Their traditional names were recorded by the 18th century historian, Rev Henry Sanders, who informs us that they were the Pen and the Quebb.

Pen Brook rises near the Fox Covey between Castle Hill and Lazy Hill and flows down the hill to Stonnall Gorse where it crosses under Lazy Hill Road and then flows alongside that road until it enters a covert at Chester Road. In the Old Days, the brook forded Old Chester Road and filled a pond opposite the Manor House. From there, it flowed alongside Main Street for about 100 yards, but this section of the brook has also been coverted since the late 1950s because of housing developments.

It then takes a sharp right turn, followed by a sharp left turn, until it flows alongside the eastern boundary of the playing field, at the end of which it is coverted once again under Thornes Croft. The brook emerges from the covert at the eastern side of Wall Heath Lane and then flows through an enclosure formerly known as Gorsey Piece.

Quebb Brook used to rise in the formerly marshy area between Wall Heath Lane and Ivy House Farm. Attempts to control flooding in that part of Mill Lane are still visible in the form of several run-off channels that were cut into the verge probably hundreds of years ago. These channels have long-since ceased to function with the consequences that Mill Lane is very prone to flooding in that area and the brook has all but ceased to flow. However, its course can easily be seen by the shape of the crooked hedge that was set alongside it. In the 19th century, the brook was artificially directed to the water reservoir in the grounds of the steam mill that used to be in Mill Lane, Lower Stonnall.

The course of Quebb Brook, as marked out by the zig-zag hedge that was set alongside it.
© Julian Ward-Davies

So far, we have noted how the natural drainage of water from the high points of Castle Hill and Church Hill created the features known as Pen Brook, Quebb Brook and Gorsey Piece. We will now look a little more closely at their names and that of the area with which they are primarily associated.

We can say with certainty that the names Gorse, Lynn and Pen originated in the Brittonic-speaking Iron Age and were coined by our Cornovian predecessors who inhabited this part of the West Midlands in that period. We can be certain of this because the words still exist virtually unchanged in the language of the Cornovians’ present-day Welsh-speaking cousins, with the meanings marsh , lake/flood and head/end respectively. Bearing in mind that Pen Brook rises at the headland of the valley, the name fits perfectly, as does Gorsey Piece, the formerly marshy area into which it still flows. Similarly, Lynn fits as a place liable to flooding and we know that pools of standing water existed in historical times between it and Lower Stonnall.

Of all the names cited so far, Quebb is the odd one out, but only from a linguistic point of view, as it was brought into the area, as it were, by Germanic migrants in the Dark Ages in around the 6th century. The word means marsh, which should not cause too much of a surprise in view of the circumstances. The word exists in one form or another in many of the English language’s European cousin languages such as German and Dutch.

It is quite remarkable that these names have survived the cultural and ethnic upheavals that have occurred over the last 2,000+ years. They are some of the reasons that make Stonnall a very special place.

For a comprehensive digest of local place, water and feature names, connect to Echoes From the Past.

Julian Ward-Davies
January 2019

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Remembering Maria Middleton
Maria Middleton was born in 1839. The Church of England’s Tithe Map survey of 1838 states that the Middleton family, headed by her father, Joseph, occupied Fighting Cocks Farm in Cartersfield Lane, Stonnall. Some time after she was born, the family moved to Thornes Hall Farm in Church Road. From there, as a little girl, Maria only had to walk the 100 yards or so to attend the Church of England National School that used to be by the church. Maria has bequeathed to us the only account of the school by one of its former pupils.

Thornes Hall Farm as Maria would have known it.
© Julian Ward-Davies

In Maria’s time, the schoolteacher was Isaac Watts, who was assisted by his wife, Ann. They occupied the Master’s House, now named Church Cottage, next to the school. Attendance cost 1d a week initially, but increased to 2d as soon as a child reached copybook age. Concerts and other events took place frequently on the premises and a piano that the school accommodated was put to full use. Rev James Downes was often the master of ceremonies on such occasions.

Maria said that, when she was a child, she had swung on the old tree to which highwaymen Dick Turpin and Tom King were reputed to have tethered their horses. This is certainly a reference to the huge elm tree that once stood outside Elm Cottage in Main Street, roughly where the bus shelter is located. On leaving school, Maria went to Aston, which she remembered as open country, in order to learn dressmaking. Shortly after, she met her husband, William Hingley, who was the bailiff at Ramrod Farm, Blackheath. The couple had several children, one of whom, Joseph, eventually occupied Shire Oak Farm.

The Middleton family occupied Thornes Hall Farm for over 40 years. In 1884, Joseph Middleton reported local drunkard, poacher and ne'er-do-well, Billy Broadhurst, for sleeping rough in one of his outhouses.

Maria passed away in January 1934 at the age of 94. In a final expression of her enduring love for Stonnall, she was laid to rest in the grounds of St Peter’s Church, only a short distance from the places associated with the halcyon days of her childhood.

Julian Ward-Davies
February 2019

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Putting on the Guarantee, Putting on the Stiles
Many of us who grew up in Stonnall during the 1950s will remember a number of stiles that were located here and there on public footpaths. Typically, stiles were located at the ends of the footways and sometimes where rights of way crossed boundaries of fields. There was always an assumption that these obstructions were intended to prevent animals from entering fields, or leaving fields or moving from field to field. Although this is partly correct, it does not represent the complete reason as to why these stiles were installed.

The locations of stiles.
© Julian Ward-Davies

In the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a series of Inclosure Acts that parcelled off common land, which was then sold to investors. Stonnall, Thornes and Lynn were subject to one of these acts in 1817.

As a result, the Commissioners, as agents of Parliament, found it necessary to stop up various roads. Some were stopped up to all traffic, including pedestrians, and some were stopped up for horses and horse-drawn vehicles, but remained open to those on foot.

This latter category meant that a number of stiles had to be installed at strategic points along former bridleways as the only possible guarantee that unauthorised traffic could be excluded.

Most have now disappeared, but many of us will remember where some of them were located. These points are marked in blue Xs on the map shown. The only one of the originals known to still exist is marked in green by Thornes Hall Farm. The stile in Wall Heath Lane appears to be a recent replacement.

Left - a stile between Main Street and Church Road.
© Julian Ward-Davies

The hedgerow shown in the photo in the middle distance is that of the footway between Main Street and Church Road. The stile that is visible on the left of the hedge is represented by the third cross from the left on the footway in the lower part of the map. Its purpose was to stop up an old road between Grove Hill and roughly where the entrance to Thornes Croft now is.

The green circle marks the entrance to the old bridleway for horses and carts in the upper part of the map. It could not be stopped up with a stile because it was also the entrance to a field (called Little Croft and Wallong). There was a stile, used by pedestrians, a little further up Church Lane by the pound, but that was of a different type from those employed elsewhere.

All the stiles, except the one just mentioned, had the same form - two wooden steps divided by a wooden hurdle. The only one that was different was the one by the pound. It consisted of a horizontal section of wooden pole that had become polished by the years and years of people clambering over it. To get to it, it was necessary to take two or three very crude, but very effective and stable stone steps up the bank. That particular stile was from a different time and was probably more to do with keeping animals in the field than anything else.

The former bridleway between the Smithy and Cartersfield Lane remained open to pedestrians after being stopped up. But it was closed completely by an Act of Parliament in 1954 so that council housing could be built on Cartersfield Lane.

Several old roads were stopped up in Lynn, including Twenty Acre Lane, off Mill Lane. It was stopped up to all traffic and is gated off now.

Julian Ward-Davies
July 2019

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The Strange Case of the Death of Richard Bott
Richard Bott was 20 years old in 1852. He worked as a blacksmith and lived in Stonnall with his mother and brothers.

One Sunday early in the year, he went to church and returned home for his Sunday dinner. He went back to church for the evening service and then, with a group of friends, he went to the Plough and Harrow public house.

The Plough and Harrow, Chester Road, as Richard Bott would have known it.
© Julian Ward-Davies

The party left the pub some time between 9pm and 10pm to return to Stonnall. Richard walked with John Asbury and his wife to their house at which point he said that he was going home, about a quarter of a mile further.

He did not arrive home and enquiries as to his whereabouts the following day yielded no results.

The following Wednesday, Mary Banks was standing in her doorway and noticed something near a gate at the entrance to a field. This proved to be Richard Bott's body. He was in a sitting posture with one end of a handkerchief tied tightly around his neck and the other tied to the gate.

Mary Banks claimed that she had looked at the gateway on the previous day and that the body had definitely not been present at that time.

An inquest into the death of Richard Bott took place at the Old Harp, Stonnall, on 8 May, 1852, before the Deputy Coroner, George Hayes Hinchcliffe. As an investigation into the incident had yielded no results, an open verdict was recorded.

Julian Ward-Davies
July 2019

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William Bott and the Pound
William Bott was a local farmer in the 19th century. In May 1854, some of his sheep and lambs had strayed into Thornyhurst Lane between Lynn and Hilton. The animals were spotted by Police Constable Stephen Rollins, who had been appointed as Pinner by the Surveyor of Highways. Consequently, PC Rollins rounded up the animals and was driving them to the pound in Church Road.

The pound.
© Julian Ward-Davies

In the usual course of events, once livestock was impounded, the owner would be traced and recovery of strays would only be permitted on payment of a fine.

However, on this occasion, Farmer Bott discovered what was going on and decided to intervene in order to rescue his animals without going through the necessary formalities, no doubt in the hope of escaping a fine. Consequently, he was summonsed to the Magistrates' Court in Lichfield, with Rev Floyer and Captain Mousley presiding. He was fined 5s with 8s/6d costs, or 14 days imprisonment in default.

Julian Ward-Davies
July 2019

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The Consecration of Shenstone's New Church in 1853
In the early 19th century, it was clear that Shenstone's mediæval church had become dilapidated to the point of being beyond repair. A new church was constructed, principally out of sandstone, and was consecrated on Thursday, 4 October, 1853, although the tower remained to be built at that time.

St John the Baptist and St Peter's Church, Shenstone, in the late 19th century.
© Julian Ward-Davies

The architect was Mr Gibson of Westminster and the construction contractors were Locke and Neasham of London. The organ was built by George Holdich of Euston Road, London (who also built the organ in Lichfield Cathedral) and was the gift of John Manley, Esq, of Manley Hall. The altar cloth was the gift of Mrs Wayte and the stone font was the gift of Mrs Mayne. The sandstone was the gift of Frederick Gough and was produced at his quarry in the Parish of Shenstone.

The cost of completing the project was estimated to be £5,300 at the time of consecration. About £4,400 of this had been raised by contributions from parishioners.

Between 600 and 700 attended the consecration ceremony, which was led by the Lord Bishop of Lichfield, assisted by 30 local clergymen, including Rev Essington of Shenstone and Rev Downes of Stonnall. The church was dedicated to St John the Baptist and St Peter.

A booth had been erected in the vicarage garden and, following the service, a luncheon was provided for the clergy and leading parishioners, during which various toasts and speeches were delivered.

Julian Ward-Davies
July 2019

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© Julian Ward-Davies BA Hons 2019

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