Interpreting the past in and around Stonnall
The Lost Lanes of Stonnall
and its neighbourhood, including footpaths
by Julian Ward-Davies BA Hons
Stonnall is a picturesque village located to the south-west of Lichfield, to the north of Birmingham, to the east of Walsall and to the south of Brownhills. The village is divided into Upper and Lower Stonnall, representing the high and low ends of the valley that it occupies.
Mill Lane, Lower Stonnall
At the western side of the valley, there is the particularly high ground of Castle Hill and Lazy Hill. At the eastern side of the valley, there is the high ground of Grove Hill and Church Hill.
The village is associated with the neighbourhoods of Thornes and Lynn.
This paper has a number of purposes. As its title implies, the intention is to identify various lost features of the local landscape. However, this investigation is not limited simply to the identification of, for example, the thoroughfares that have been lost because of the effects of recent housing developments, or that have fallen into disuse because of the prevalence of motorised transport. Whilst that ground will surely be covered, there are other matters which should be taken into consideration.
Most of the road and footpath network in Great Britain and, for that matter, around the world has come about as the result of the habitual and frequent use, based on necessity, of routes that connect points of interest. As such, roads and paths are the products of the economic, social and, we might also say, the military and political needs of the communities and organisations that they served. As these needs changed, so the network changed in response.
In certain cases, some routes have been abandoned altogether and, in that sense, are more-or-less lost to the naked eye. We will encounter a number of such examples during the course of this investigation.
In other cases, however, some routes have not been abandoned and are very much still in everyday use, but nevertheless have failed to achieve the status of a fully-fledged road and, thus, were never surfaced with tarmacadam. For the purposes of this article, such roads are considered as lost.
Next, we will consider certain roads that have been subjected to name-changes in recent times, and any road that is not named explicitly with signage.
Finally, we come to the naming of certain of the roads in the locality. At first glance, road names such as Gravelley Lane, Mill Lane and Church Road present us with no problem in their interpretation. But what about Chester Road? Is the origin of its name as obvious as we may think it is? And what about Watling Street? As we will see, the origin of these road names may be lost in obscurity and mystery and furthermore, that the conventional explanations of their names can be challenged.
Because of the historical importance of some of the routes, we will extend our investigation into the wider Parish of Shenstone, with visits to Wall, Little Aston and the village of Shenstone.
The remains of Letocetum, the Roman ruins at Wall
The ancient town that gave its name to Lichfield.
How Roads Were Maintained
Before the days of the county council and the Department of Transport, the maintenance of
roads was the responsibility of the tenants and landlords who held adjacent land. This business was regulated by a legal instrument known as Statutory Road Duty.
The impact of Statutory Road Duty at Mill Lane, Lower Stonnall
Mill lane passed through the marshy area once known as the Quebb. Here we can see how the verges have been built up in an attempt to isolate the road from the marsh. Inlets and ditches were also constructed to prevent waterlogging.
Decisions relating to the exact liability of each tenant and landlord were made at court hearings. In the Parish of Shenstone, the Swan Inn at Stonnall was often used as an ad hoc courtroom where such proceedings took place.
Old Chester Road, Stonnall. Left, the Manor House, formerly the Swan Inn
The Swan Inn was used as an ad hoc court in the 18th century.
We will be referring to several maps, satellite and aerial photography and a lost history of Britain.
The Tithe Map of the Parish of Shenstone
The Tithe Map of the Parish of Shenstone, which was published in 1838 and which includes a detailed survey of the whole of Stonnall, provides us with an invaluable snapshot of the village as it existed in the immediate post-mediaeval period. It will be our principal source with regard to the identification of lost footpaths and roads.
A Detail of the Tithe Map of the Parish of Shenstone, 1838
Jesus College MS LXI - the Lost History of Britain
We will also refer to another, quite remarkable document for information relating to Watling Street. This document is referred to officially as Jesus College MS LXI (Manuscript 61, kept at Jesus College, Oxford) and informally referred to as The Chronicle of the Early Britons. The document is written in Welsh and its title in that language is Brut y Bryttaniait. With very good reason, it is claimed to be the history of Britain in the pre-Roman period.
For those readers who might be interested, I have included a commentary on the MS in an appendix at the end of this article. Suffice to say for the moment - and as we will see - it offers a very plausible and compelling explanation for the naming of Watling Street.
Other sources will be cited as the necessity arises.
In this first section, we will identify the various footpaths that have disappeared since the time of the Tithe Map survey. Note that, for the purpose of clarity, I have marked the routes on a more recent Ordnance Survey map simply because the Tithe Map is too creased and stained to provide clear images.
A Footpath Connecting Thornes and Main Street
The Tithe Map records a total of three footpaths that connected Main Street to Thornes. Two of these paths still exist: the upper path from Main Street to Church Road and the lower path from Main Street to Church Lane.
A third extended from the boundary of Pear Tree Cottage and an adjoining property (now Ormside House) to Main Street. This footpath had several functions.
Thornes to Main Street
It was one leg of the route between Lower Stonnall and the public house that once existed on the opposite side of the valley.
It was a route to and from Thornes Hall, which was, to all intents and purposes, a kind of mediaeval supermarket. Villagers would have been frequent visitors in order to make purchases of one sort or another.
The Church Road end of the Thornes to Main Street footpath
Schoolchildren from the centre of the village would have used this path to attend the National School in Church Road.
Three events would seal this footpath's fate. Thornes Hall was closed down and eventually demolished. The public house business was removed from that location. The village school was relocated to its present site in 1874. Consequently, the path was abandoned.
A Path between Cartersfield Lane and Main Street
This path represents a short-cut to Main Street. In later maps it is shown as two parallel broken lines, indicating that it may have been, at least for a time, a cart track. Thus, even though the dominant flow of cart traffic was actually directed away from the village, as indicated in the map below by the orientation of the end of Cartersfield Lane, there was a significant, though smaller, amount of traffic actually heading to the village.
Before the path's eventual demise, which is within living memory, there was a stile at both ends, with a gate additionally at the Main Street end.*
The path ceased to exist in 1954, when housing development took place in Main Street and Cartersfield Lane. It is now built over.
Cartersfield Lane to Main Street
How this footpath was lost
This is the text of the notice that extinguished this footpath. Thus, with a stroke of a pen, a right of way that had existed for hundreds and probably thousands of years ceased to exist.
NATIONAL PARKS AND ACCESS TO THE COUNTRYSIDE ACT, 1949.
RURAL DISTRICT COUNCIL OF LICHFIELD.
Lichfield Rural (No. 5) Shenstone Extinguishment Order, 1953.
NOTICE is hereby given that on the 23rd day of February, 1954, the Minister of Housing and Local Government confirmed the above Order. The effect of the Order is to extinguish the public right of way crossing the housing site fronting Main Street and Cartersfield Lane, Stonnall, in the Parish of Shenstone, as indicated in brown colour on the map contained in the Order as between the letters " A " and " B " (through Enclosure number 714 on the Staffordshire Ordnance Survey Map LVIII.9 (1923 Edition)).
The extinguishment will take effect from 27th March, 1954. A certified copy of the Order and of the map contained in the Order as confirmed by the Minister has been deposited at the office of the Clerk to the Rural District Council of Lichfield, Rural Council House, 45, St John Street, Lichfield, and will be open for inspection free of charge between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on any week-day except Saturday, and from 9 a.m. to 12 noon on Saturdays.
The Order becomes operative as from the 12th day of March, 1954, but if any person aggrieved by the Order desires to question the validity thereof or of any provision contained therein on the grounds that it is not within the powers of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, 1949, or on the ground that any requirement of the Act or any regulation made thereunder has not been complied with in relation to the approval of the Order he may, within six weeks from the date of publication of this notice, make application to the High Court.
Dated this 12th day of March, 1954.
G. K. PULLEN,
Clerk to the Council,
Rural Council House,
45, St. John Street, Lichfield.
From: THE LONDON GAZETTE, 12 MARCH, 1954*
A Path between Mill Lane and Church Road
This path represents a simple short-cut to Church Road, where there were more options: continuation to Thornes Hall or to the centre of the village.
As far as is known, this path has not been marked on any map since the Tithe Map survey.
Mill Lane to Church Road
A Footpath and Cart Track from Main Street to Chester Road
This route really falls into the categories of both lane and footpath. It provided access to Chester Road from Lower Farm and thus to many of the fields in the intervening area. It may have been an indirect means of access to Fishpond Cottages. As we will see, it also connected to another lost lane.
Main Street to Chester Road
with Lower Farm and the village of Stonnall in the background. This route met another lost lane at this point. See below for details.
The Main Street end of the route was quite wide and would have been considered as a public road, Indeed, the Tithe Map indicates as much: all public routes were infilled with yellow crayon. The name of the lane, if ever it had one, now appears to be lost.
Main Street to Chester Road
A Footpath between Two Sections of Main Street
This path represents a simple short-cut from one part of Main Street to another, crossing the Wall Long field. In later times, it was used by schoolchildren attending Stonnall School before housing developments at Thornes Croft and Westwick Close in the early 1960s. However, at the time of the Tithe Map survey, there was no school at the present location.
The area is now built over.
Main Street shortcut
In this section, we will identify the various lanes and roads that have either disappeared over the past several centuries or that still exist, but have not been adopted by the Staffordshire County Council and, hence, have never been surfaced.
As already noted, because of the historical importance of some of the routes, we will extend our investigation into the wider Parish of Shenstone, with visits to Wall, Little Aston and the village of Shenstone.
Twenty Acre Lane
For what appears to be a simple farm track. it is difficult to see how Twenty Acre Lane achieved the status of a named thoroughfare. Nevertheless, it did - and it is still very much a feature of the landscape, as its picture below shows clearly.
Twenty Acre Lane, Mill Lane, Lower Stonnall
also known as Twenty Croft Lane.
It appears from the map shown below that there was a pool at one end of the lane. Thus, we might conclude that the lane was formed as a result of the necessity for access to certain fields and the necessity for access to water.
Now little more than a farm track, Hook Lane provides us with a fascinating insight into the general appearance of roads in and around Stonnall before the advent of modern road surfacing.
Twenty Acre Lane and the original six parts of Hook Lane, Lower Stonnall
A, B, C, D, E and F - the shape that gave Hook Lane its name. Part A is depicted in the image below.
G - Twenty Acre Lane.
From the Ordnance Survey, 1902.
Gravel appears to have been laid to provide good traction for wheeled vehicles and to prevent erosion of the underlying soil.
Hook Lane, Lower Stonnall
as seen from Gravelley Lane.
Having never been adopted by Staffordshire County Council, its name has been transferred to another road lower down Footherley Lane.
Hook Lane, Lower Stonnall
as seen from Mill Lane, Lower Stonnall. took its name from its shape.
Lower Lane was a route between Hook Lane and Chester Road at Druid's Heath.
Hook Lane and Lower Lane, Lower Stonnall
A - Hook Lane
B - Lower Lane
From the Yates Map, 1774.
It is a remarkable historical accident that neither Hook Lane nor Lower Lane were adopted by the county council. This oversight allows us, in effect, to peer back through time.
Lower Lane, Lower Stonnall
as seen from Gravelley Lane. It was the route from Lower Stonnall to Druid's Heath at Chester Road.
Sandhill (not the plural Sandhills, as might be expected) Lane is marked on the Tithe Map as adjacent to Fighting Cocks Farm, Cartersfield Lane.
Sandhill Lane, Stonnall
A - Sandhill Lane
B - Another cart track running in parallel with Sandhill Lane
From the Tithe Map, 1838
Note that, in the days before motorised transport, carters were unable to negotiate the gradient of Shire Oak Hill. (For a full explanation, see this article.) Sandhill Lane appears to have provided access for carters to the sand quarry of Sandhills from Cartersfield Lane/Barracks Lane, the by-pass for that gradient. When motorised transport eventually replaced horse-drawn vehicles, the lane became redundant and disappeared consequently.
Sandhill Lane, Cartersfield Lane
now, in part at least, comprising the farmyard at Fighting Cocks Farm.
Route B, as shown in the detail of the Tithe Map above, that runs in parallel with Sandhill Lane
Its name, if ever it had one, is now lost.
Wordsley House to the Lower Farm to Chester Road Route
This lane stretches between Old Chester Road at Wordsley House to the Lower Farm to Chester Road lane and path described above.
Wordsley House to the Lower Farm to Chester Road route
In its heyday, this lane was busy with all types of traffic. Its name, if ever it had one, is now lost.
It is, of course, an established fact that the Romans tended to build roads in straight lines. One has only to travel the old A5, or Watling Street, between Brownhills and Tamworth to appreciate that fact - except, that is, for a curious turn in the road at Wall where it meets the Lichfield to Shenstone road.
The original course of Watling Street, Wall
This might seem to be a strange deviation from Roman engineering practice, until one realises that the original course of the road is represented on the opposite side of the junction by a farm track. Furthermore, the course of the original route can be readily traced with the aid of satellite photography.
The original course of Watling Street, Wall - satellite view
A - old Watling Street
B and C - old Watling Street, represented by a farm track and hedgerow and then a lane
D - Ricknild Street
Ricknild Street was the Roman road that connected the south-west with the north-east and, as such, may be compared to the present-day A38.
The original course of Ricknild Street at Wall, Chesterfield and Shenstone - satellite view
A - the crossroads at old Watling Street, Wall
B - passing through Chesterfield
C - meeting Lynn Lane at Shenstone
It crosses Watling Street at Wall, passes through Chesterfield and then, as Ashcroft Lane, it meets Lynn Lane at Shenstone. It has completely disappeared between there and a point a little north of Little Aston, where it emerges as a farm track and then merges with Forge Lane. It crosses the Aldridge to Little Aston main road and then continues, very appropriately, as Roman Road.
The original course of Ricknild Street, Little Aston - satellite view
A - emerging as a farm track
B - merging with Forge Lane
C - its continuation as Roman Road
Renamed Roads, Alternative Names and No-name Roads
As we will see, several of the roads and lanes in the vicinity have been renamed over the last 200 years or so. There is at least one road with an alternative name that is still in current local usage. Also, we will identify a road that has no road-name signage.
Although some of this material has been covered in The Stonnall Mysteries, it is probably desirable to place all related facts into a single article.
Main Street - renamed
At the time of the Tithe Map survey, this road was known as Stonnall Road.
Church Lane - renamed
At the time of the Tithe Map survey, this road was known as Pound Lane. This lane distinguishes itself as having not been adopted by the county council until the 1960s, even though it was surfaced long before then.
Church Road - renamed
At the time of the Tithe Map survey, at the lower end, this road was known as Thornes Hall Lane and, at the upper end, it was known as Thornes Hall Road.
Mill Lane (from Lynn Lane) - renamed
At the time of the Tithe Map survey, this road was known as Quebb Lane. For an explanation of the name, see The Stonnall Mysteries.
The former Quebb Lane
now Mill Lane, at Lynn Lane, opposite Thorneyhurst Lane.
Thorneyhurst Lane - no name
Thorneyhurst Lane is located opposite the former Quebb Lane (now Mill Lane). It has no road-name signage.
Thorneyhust Lane from Lynn Lane, opposite Mill Lane
incidentally showing Bluebell Wood to the left.
Lynn Lane (at the Cartersfield Lane end) - alternative name
Lynn Lane is known locally as Fighting Cocks Lane at this point.
Lynn Lane meeting Cartersfield Lane
where Lynn Lane is also known as Fighting Cocks Lane.
The Origins of the Names of Certain Roads
In this section, we will challenge the existing conventions relating to the origins of the names of Chester Road and Watling Street.
Chester Road - the road that does not go to Chester
When I was a child, I must admit to having been baffled by the name of Chester Road. Why would a road that terminates at Watling Street, just north of Brownhills and many miles from its supposed namesake city, be named Chester Road?
Since then, of course, I have discovered that the road was used as a stagecoach route between London and Newport in Shropshire and then to Chester. However, this service was only established in the late 17th century and it largely fell into disuse a few decades later. Can this relatively short span of time really account for the naming of this road?
Chester Road was once a toll road, operated by the the Broughton-Chester-Stonebridge Turnpike Trust, which was established in 1759. At that time, it was known as Old Chester Turnpike Road. What can we deduce from this road name?
The evolution of Chester Road, Stonnall
A - the original course of Chester Road
B - an apparent attempt to by-pass the village pond and a generally waterlogged area
C - the current route
From an RAF aerial survey, 1945
The inclusion of the term Turnpike can be readily understood: there were periodic barriers, or turnpikes, where tolls were collected.
However, the qualification of Old Chester Turnpike Road as old is much less immediately obvious. True enough, the road is ancient, undoubtedly originating as a route in the Iron Age of two thousand and more years ago, but it is probably no older than the Lichfield-Walsall Road and certainly not older than Watling Street nor, indeed, older than many other roads in the vicinity, none of which is qualified as old. So why would Chester Road be singled out in this way?
We might come to the conclusion that the road's use as a route - a somewhat indirect route, it must be said - to Chester is an unfortunate co-incidence that has diverted us away from recognising the true origin of the road's name. Could an explanation for the name actually be found elsewhere? If so, the clues might be in the use of the word old and, indeed, the word Chester.
Let us now consider the experience of the tens of thousands of people who have arrived at the entrance to Chester Road from Watling Street over hundreds and, indeed, thousands of years. One of the first instantly recognisable landmarks that they would have encountered en route southwards would have been the hill fort at Castle Hill, Stonnall. As we will see, this may be of great significance.
The Hill Fort, Stonnall
There is too much that can be said of the hill fort to be included here. Suffice for the moment to state that, in the immediate pre-Roman period of the Iron Age, it was a military outpost and a trade and social centre, probably belonging to the Celtic British tribe, the Cornovii. During the Roman period, the hill fort was closed down: the Romans viewed such things as
symbols of British resistance and nationalism and, hence, were not tolerated.
The hill fort may have been re-occupied briefly in the immediate post-Roman period but, in any event, the traditions of its military antecedents have continued to the present day, with the names Old Fort and Castle Hill having been passed down to us.
Castle Hill, Stonnall
as seen from the village playing field.
When Anglo-Saxon people began to arrive in the midland area of southern Britain some time in the 5th and 6th centuries, they encountered many such hill forts and other military installations and borrowed a Latin word to describe them. That word was castrum and the English form of the word was chester. It gave rise to the very many English placenames that end in -chester and -cester.
It should be noted here that the hill fort is located next to Chester Road. Is it possible that Chester Road was so-named because of its association with the hill fort as the first significant landmark encountered en route from Watling Street? If so, it may have been so-named many centuries even before the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons: all the newcomers had to do was to modify the name to suit their own language.
This could also explain the use of the word old. To the Anglo-Saxons, the hill fort belonged to an earlier time and an earlier culture. To them, the fort was indeed old. Thus, we may conclude that the qualification old was applied - not to the road - but to the hill fort or chester. Hence, we arrive at the name of Old Chester Road.
This explanation is, of course, at odds with established convention. It is plausible, but is it correct? You, dear reader, shall be the judge.
The Oxford Dictionary of English Place-names offers the following explanation of the name of Watling Street:
"Roman Road associated with the family or followers of a person called Wacol."
I suspect that even the learned editors and contributors of the esteemed Oxford DoP would readily admit that the interpretation of place and road names is not much more than an educated guess in many cases. But is the transition from Wacol to Watling really credible? Did the editors consult or, for that matter, actually know about Jesus College MS LXI. It seems not, because the MS offers a much more plausible explanation for the name of Watling Street. To appreciate it, we need once again to consider the experience of the very many thousands of people who have travelled the road over thousands of years.
The crossroads of Watling Street and Ryknild Street, Wall
Watling Street is and always has been a route between North Wales and the south-east. We can imagine it as a route favoured by traders, by persons seeking to travel to or from continental Europe and by people moving around in search of seasonal work. But what of the ethnic identity of the travellers? In the days before England had come into existence, many and perhaps most of them would have been native British people, but there were others who would have been very notable for their difference - and these would have been the Irish people who used the road as a route to and from Holyhead where there has always been a connection with Ireland.
In another article, we remarked on the fact that Chester Road was once known colloquially by English people as Welsh Road for the frequency with which Welsh travellers used the route. Would it be a surprise that, for a similar reason, Watling Street was once known as Irish Street?
According to Jesus College MS LXI, that is precisely the meaning of Watling Street. Bearing in mind that we are considering a time before the arrival of the English language, we note that the Old British word for Irish was Gwyddel and that, in certain circumstances, the initial 'g' could be elided or omitted, giving us the word wyddel.
I would suggest that wyddel has a much greater and more obvious affinity with the word Watling than Wacol and that the circumstantial evidence relating to it provides much stronger support for its source as the name of the road. Thus we may conclude that this is the true origin of the name.
A Commentary on Jesus College MS LXI
Let us cast our minds back briefly to what we were told about pre-Roman British history at school. We were told that the British of the time were vaguely similar to the Welsh of the present day. We were told about Queen Cartimandua's dispute with her husband King Venutius (both real historical figures) and a few hazy stories about King Lear and Old King Cole. Other than that, we were told, pre-Roman British History did not exist because the British, illiterate and uncouth barbarians supposedly that we were, did not keep records. British History proper, we were told, began with the invasions of Julius Caesar and the later Roman Conquest in 43AD.
Julius Caesar's Invasions - the Jesus College MS LXI account and Caesar's account compared
Many of us will remember from our schooldays that Caesar invaded Britain twice, in 55 and 54 BC and on the second occasion inflicted a heavy defeat on the British, extracting promises of huge payments of tribute from the natives.
However, according to the MS, he invaded Britain three times and was heavily defeated and expelled by the British on the first two occasions and only managed to extricate himself from further humiliation on the third occasion by a face-saving formula: the British pledged payment of tribute in exchange for Caesar's withdrawal.
So, both accounts agree that the invasions actually took place (although the number of incursions is disputed) and that promises of payments were made. Now, what are we to make of this?
Firstly, we should remember that the official history that we have learned in school relies more-or-less entirely on Caesar's own account of what took place. His story does indeed provide us with invaluable and fascinating insights into the political, cultural and ethnic conditions as they existed in Western Europe two thousand and more years ago. But is his account really trustworthy in every detail? Can we really be sure of its absolute veracity, or did Caesar have reason to write a history that cast him in a more favourable light than was actually deserved?
Caesar characterised his invasions as limited military forays that were intended to punish the British for their supposed support of their relatives in Gaul, but can we accept what he said about that at face value?
A series of cross-channel expeditions, involving dozens of ships and thousands of men and horses with all necessary equipment seems like a highly expensive, dangerous and risky enterprise to achieve such a narrow military objective. Thus, we should bear in mind that, at the time, he was engaged in a campaign to expand the Roman Empire and his motivation for invading Britain must surely have been its conquest in the furtherance of that campaign.
However, his invasions resulted ostensibly in complete failure because Britain remained independent for about another 100 years, Caesar left the island empty-handed and, even by his own admission, no tribute payments were ever made.
Thus in his account, Caesar had every reason to gloss over his lack of success and, therefore, we should view his story with scepticism and as tainted with propaganda.
On the other hand, the MS portrays Caesar's invasions for what they really were - a series of defeats and an ultimate failure. Furthermore, it relates historical details that could only have come from eye-witness reports.
However, we were not told about Jesus College MS LXI, which claims, quite astonishingly, to be a comprehensive history of the British in the pre-Roman era, even from the very foundation of the nation. Why were we not told about this? Why would a document of such apparent, if not immense, importance be ignored, neglected and left in obscurity in this way? The answer is simple: the British (or should I say, English) Historical Establishment has rejected the MS as being of any historical value: to them, it is a mere collection of myths, fables and legends. Hence, for our schoolchildren and for British society at large, it is off-topic and a complete unknown.
Jesus College, Oxford
Frankly, I find this prevailing attitude to be bizarre, considering the MS covers about 1000 years of British history. Certainly, the document contains myths, similar in nature to, for example, the story of Romulus and Remus. But that should not disqualify it from the history curriculum. After all, we were told about the mythical founders of the city of Rome. Moreover, the MS contains a wealth of fascinating stories and provable historical facts that could not have been invented by an obscure Welsh monk who was supposedly intent on writing a piece of fiction some time in the early Middle Ages.
Consequently there is, of course, a minority view - to which I subscribe - that the MS should be brought more fully into public consciousness, so that anybody can make up his or her own mind about it.
The translator, Dr William Cooper, said this of it:
"...it is not as if this chronicle poses any threat or particular challenge to the accepted wisdom of the day. On the contrary, it illuminates parts of early British history that are otherwise obscure, and in one or two places sheds light where before there was only complete and utter darkness."
- Wm R Cooper MA, PhD, ThD, 2002