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Interpreting the past in and around Stonnall
The Stonnall Mysteries

by Julian Ward-Davies BA Hons
November 2010

Introduction
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.

St Peter's Church, Stonnall, Staffordshire

© Julian Ward-Davies

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.

Abstract
This paper is intended to identify a number of mysteries associated with Stonnall and its immediate neighbourhood.  As we will see, a number of these mysteries may well be related to each other, whereas others form a loose association based on their proximity in the area. As we explore them, we may discover that certain of the mysteries remain, as yet, inexplicable.

This paper is not intended as a history, which may be the subject of another article. Rather, it draws on historical sources in an attempt to explain in what manner the village has changed and, indeed, how it has remained the same in a number of details.

Sources
In identifying and attempting to explain these mysteries, we will examine toponymic (placename), historical and linguistic evidence. We will also rely on the following sources of information.

The 1838 Tithe Map of the Parish of Shenstone
We will refer frequently to two quite remarkable documents, the Tithe Map of the Parish of Shenstone and its associated Awards Book, which was published in 1838 and which includes a survey of the whole of Stonnall, providing us with an invaluable snapshot of the village as it existed at that time.

It should be noted here that the Tithe Map is orientated differently from modern maps such as the Ordnance Survey Map series.

The purpose of the map was to identify every property and feature of the landscape, including each field, house, road, footpath, etc and associate them with an owner or tenant in order to facilitate the valuation and, in turn, the collection of tithes, which were in that period taxes due to the state called the Statute Measure, and taxes due to the Church.

Detail from the Tithe Map Awards Book

Part of the entry for Mary Adcock. Amongst many other places, she owned property at Lower Shire Oak, Upper Shire Oak and Lynn Lane. The Adcocks were noted as substantial local landowners.

© Lichfield Joint Records Office

The map is large-scale and shows a considerable amount of detail. Every property is associated with a number which was entered into the Awards Book, which is a record of the accounts, and set against the name of every landowner and tenant. The amount of tax was calculated, entered into columns and added up by the scribes who maintained the accounts.

We will also refer to the following book, which was published in 1794.

Miscellaneous Antiquities, (in Continuation of Bibliotheca Topographica Britannica,) No 4, Containing the History and Antiquities of Shenstone
Written by Rev Henry Sanders, the former Vicar of Shenstone, and published posthumously nearly 20 years after its completion, this book is a comprehensive survey of the two divisions of the Parish of Shenstone, namely the village of Shenstone and its associated hamlets, and the village of Stonnall and its associated hamlets of Lynn, Thornes, Shire Oak and Lower Stonnall.

Rev Sanders, who died in 1785, was concerned principally with the families of the parish, establishing origins, legacies, pedigrees, births, marriages and deaths. He also sheds light on the various business transactions of the time, especially the sale or transfer of property. Shenstone's parish register provided him with all the raw material he required.

Although, as noted, he was mainly concerned with family lineage and property ownership, he relates a number of anecdotes that, as we will see, provide us with fascinating and sometimes amusing insights into life in Stonnall of 200 and more years ago.

His detail is a little short with regard to the exact location of a number of properties he describes, but several of the dwellings mentioned still exist, such as Lynn Hall, or their locations are well-known, such as Thornes Hall. Many of the locations mentioned are familiar to us, such as Wall Heath, Carter's Field and the Bosses. Others are less well-known or have been more-or-less completely forgotten. It is for this reason that reference to the Tithe Map is essential for us to achieve an understanding of his work.

Other Sources
We may also refer to A survey of Staffordshire, containing the antiquities of that county by Sampson Erdeswick, as edited by Thomas Harwood. Other sources we will cite as we encounter the necessity.

Lastly, where there is lack of certain authority with regard to matters raised, I will state my own deductions and make it plain that I am so-doing.

A Journey
Our investigation will begin with a journey and, on our way, we will identify each of the mysteries as we encounter them.

The Hill Fort
Our journey begins at the greatest mystery of them all: the hill fort. We are standing at the south gate of the fort looking northwards. Here we can still see the earthworks that provided the basis for its fortification and we can imagine that it once had a stout gate probably made of oak and that the earthworks were mounted with wooden posts so as to create a defensible stockade.

Castle Hill, Stonnall, Staffordshire

as seen from Grove Hill.

© Julian Ward-Davies

We are standing next to a very impressive piece of work that would have required extensive planning, manpower and expense to bring it to a point of completion.

There can be little doubt that the hill fort was constructed by an Iron Age Celtic tribe that occupied the West Midlands and East Wales. We will have more to say about this tribe in a little while. Furthermore, I have collected all the facts, as far as they can be discerned, relating to the hill fort and constructed an historical theory based on them. This theory is online and can be viewed by clicking this link.

We now set off down the hill towards Stonnall and our next point of interest.

Chester Road
As we get to the bottom of the gradient, we arrive at the subject of our next mystery, which is Chester Road. This raises the immediate question: what could possibly be mysterious about Chester Road? We may come to the conclusion that the mystery actually lies in its name or, at least, an unofficial name that it once had.

Chester Road, for its whole length, was once referred to colloquially as Welsh Road. The reason for this is that the Old Chester Turnpike Road was once a major route between London and Chester and hence to North Wales. Thus we may be certain that a very large proportion of the persons en route were of Welsh origin who were making their way to and from their homes. This fact is of great significance with regard to another mystery that we will encounter later.

We will now turn left and make our way to Shire Oak.

Shire Oak, Staffordshire

© Julian Ward-Davies

Shire Oak
As we arrive at Shire Oak, we may consider our next mystery. Both Rev Sanders and the Tithe Map inform us that Shire Oak Inn and Shire Oak Farm were on opposite sides at Lichfield Road where it crosses Chester Road, but where was the oak which, the placename seems to suggest, was located at this point? And what, indeed, are we to make of the use of shire in the placename, which seems to denote a boundary? We are many miles from any border with any adjacent county in any direction.

Shire Oak in 1838

from the Tithe Map.

© Lichfield Joint Records Office

Rev Sanders explains the oak as the landmark of the boundary between the Parish of Shenstone and the Parish of Walsall, thus accounting for the use of the word shire. According to him, the oak still existed in the 1770s and was located "in the valley a quarter of a mile from the farm", ie near Walsall Wood, probably at Street Corner. This may come as a surprise to many of us who might have assumed that the oak stood next to the inn.

The oak of Shire Oak marked on the south side of Lichfield-Walsall Turnpike Road and on the Walsall side of the parish boundary

near Street Corner, Walsall Wood, from the Tithe Map.

© Lichfield Joint Records Office

The oak of Shire Oak is noted by a traveller as still existing as late as 1846, but in a very poor state.

The oak of Shire Oak

sketched by F P Palmer, from The wanderings of a pen and pencil, 1846.

Incidentally, in the 1770s, the woodland of Walsall Wood had recently been cleared and Rev Sanders referred to its previous state as a "den of thieves".

We will now make our way through Brownhills - which, Rev Sanders noted, supplied coal to the surrounding villages, including Stonnall - and onward to our next point of interest at Watling Street.

Knaves Castle
Though not in Stonnall, I include it in our itinerary because it is (or rather was, having almost entirely disappeared) an Iron Age hill fort and must necessarily for that reason be associated in some way with the hill fort at Stonnall.

Having recently encountered a number of attempts at explaining the mysterious use of the word knave in its placename, I now offer my own solution which, if correct, connects us with conditions that existed in this area 2000 and more years ago.

As noted, the hill fort at Stonnall was constructed by an Iron Age Celtic tribe and, it would seem, because of the proximity of their locations and their strategic situations on major roads, that Knaves Castle was constructed by the same tribe. That tribe is known as the Cornovii, sometimes written as Cornavii. Therefore, it seems entirely plausible to me that knave is a contraction and slightly corrupted version of that tribal name. Thus we may conclude that Knaves Castle means the Castle of the Cornavii. In support of this argument, we should also remember that the initial 'k' in words such as knave, knee and knight were once not omitted, but pronounced as in k'nave, k'nee and k'night.

We will have much more to say of the two hill forts, Chester Road and Watling Street in another article. For now, we must hurry back to Stonnall where there is more to be uncovered.

We now return to where we set off at the base of Castle Hill and enter Main Street from Chester Road. This is, of course, Old Chester Road, and it represents the route through the village that existed before the by-pass was constructed in 1920.

The Chester Road Triangle

© Julian Ward-Davies

The Chester Road Triangle
Our next mystery is not too far away. We notice that there is a wedge of land that is formed out of the route back to Castle Hill and the route that would take us back to Shire Oak. This roughly triangular piece of land has some ruins within it. Clearly, buildings once stood at this place.

Referring to the Tithe Map, we find that there were once two cottages located here and that around 1840 they were occupied by Mr Samuel Hathaway and Mr Thomas James. See below for a graphic which probably depicts the area as it appeared in the early 19th century.

© William Salt Library

A cottage in Stonnall, late 18th or early 19th century

entitled Number 1, Stonnall. Is that Grove Hill in the background?

It has been suggested* that this scene depicts the piece of land that would eventually become the Chester Road Triangle, and that the cottage shown here is one of the two cottages that were once located there. The title Number 1 Stonnall would certainly seem to support this suggestion, as would the road which seems to pass to the left of the cottage.

If this is correct, Old Chester Road is seen in the foreground just as it turns sharply to the left towards the crossroads with Lazy Hill Road and Stonnall Road (now Main Street). Compare the image with a modern photograph of Chester Road below.



© Julian Ward-Davies

Despite the construction of the by-pass in the 1920s, the cottages remained in use until they were abandoned and left derelict in the late 1930s*.

Wordsley House
As we continue down Old Chester Road, we pass by Wordsley House on the left, which embodies our next mystery. This is now a private residence, but once it had a very different function. This house was once nationally famous as the now almost legendary Welsh Harp.

Wordsley House, the former Welsh Harp

The Welsh Harp started life as a roadside kiosk that was run by John Smith to cater for passing trade en route between London, Chester and North Wales. The business was so successful that he was able to finance the building of this rather fine house, sometime around 1700, or perhaps a little before.

The Welsh Harp would eventually become one of the official staging points on the London - Chester stagecoach route.

Reputedly, it is the birthplace of Tom King, highwayman Dick Turpin's mate.

© Julian Ward-Davies

Now we may ask, how it was that an inn in the English Midlands took such a name. The explanation is, as I see it, the same as it is for the naming of the Irish Harp at Chester Road, Mill Green near Little Aston. As we have already noted, Chester Road was a major route between London and North Wales. Thus many of the people en route were not only Welsh, but there was also a very high proportion of travellers who were Irish people on their way to and from Holyhead, where there has always been a major connection to Ireland. Thus the Welsh Harp and the Irish Harp provided, supposedly, a home-from-home ambience for the straightforward commercial purpose of attracting more customers.

Stonnall was one of the major staging posts on the Old Chester Turnpike Road and, evidently, was very busy, because the original owner Mr John Smith, so Rev Sanders informs us, "raised a good fortune" from the business.

In the early 18th century, persons travelling to Chester and beyond began to favour a route through Birmingham and Wolverhampton and, consequently, trade on Old Chester Turnpike Road declined. As a direct result, the Welsh Harp ceased trading as an inn in 1762 and became a private residence.

The Stonnall Kink
We will now continue our journey to where Old Chester Road meets the junction with Lazy Hill Road and Main Street proper. Before proceeding, we may look back up the hill and consider for a moment that Old Chester Road is as much a route to and from Castle Hill as it is the way to Shire Oak. We may ask why it was that these two routes converged. Referring to the Tithe Map, we note that Old Chester Road continued from this point towards Castle Bromwich and hence to the heart of England. The deviation of the road from what would otherwise be its natural course of progression, requiring it to pass through this point at Lazy Hill Road, created the so-called Stonnall Kink. Thus we may ask how it was that this deviation came to be.

The Stonnall Kink from a detail of a printed version of the Tithe Map

Note that the Tithe Map is orientated differently from modern maps.

Running left to right - Old Chester Turnpike Road, with a marked kink focused at the crossroads.
Running top to bottom at the left - Lazy Hill Road followed by, from the crossroads, Stonnall Road (now Main Street).
Running from Castle Bank - Castle Hill Road.
At the crossroads:-
Upper left - outbuildings and yard, probably associated with the Manor House.
Upper right - the Manor House and above that, apparently the location of a bowling green.
Lower left - the village pond.
Note that there is a tree marked at the centre of the crossroads.
Immediately to the left of the "Over Stonnall" legend - the Welsh Harp.
Just above the Welsh Harp can be seen the piece of land that would become the Chester Road Triangle.

© Lichfield Joint Records Office

Referring to the Tithe Map once again, we note that the village pond was located at this point. Thus we may be certain that the convergence of the two roads and resulting kink are ancient features that were caused by the necessity to obtain water, both for the Iron Age residents of the Old Fort and for travellers along Chester Road.

The Manor House
The house known as the Manor House is clearly visible in the Tithe Map at the Chester Road crossroads. In the 1830s, it was owned by Mr William Leigh who, incidentally, possessed an enormous amount of land in the Parish of Shenstone. The tenant of the house at that time was Mr George Wright, who seems to have been one of the major local farmers. Incidentally, he rented the Grove Hill field amongst many other similar holdings.

These are the facts concerning the Manor House as it was in the early 19th century. However, as we will see, the Manor House may not be what it seems to be.

The Swan Inn and its True Identity
We may now consider another feature that was once present and, as we will see, may still be present at this location and which may be largely forgotten or shrouded in mystery. This was the original Swan Inn. It was erected in the early 18th century by Mr Rowland Fryth as competition to the Welsh Harp.

Evidently, the Swan was an imposing structure, because Rev Sanders describes it as "a considerable farm" and a "very handsome and commodious" house. But where exactly was it and, moreover, is it possible that it still exists, albeit in a different guise?

A detail of the 1774 Yates Map of Staffordshire

showing Over (Upper) and Lower Stonnall, Thornes and Lynn.

Note that the Swan Inn is marked to the left of the turn of Chester Road.

© Lichfield Joint Records Office

There are three pieces of evidence that point to the inn's location and its true identity. Firstly, Rev Sanders informs us that it was situated "on the same road" as the Welsh Harp. As we know for certain that the Welsh Harp was on Old Chester Road, we may conclude that the Swan was too. Secondly, the choice of name Swan would seem to indicate a location near a pool: the village pond was located on Old Chester Road at the crossroads. Finally, the Yates Map of 1774 indicates the Swan Inn as a heavily marked rectangle to the left of Old Chester Road where the road turns at the focus of the kink (see above).

In terms of age, description, appearance and location, there is only one building that fits the available evidence. Thus, we may conclude that the house known as the Manor House is the original Swan Inn.

After the Welsh Harp closed down, an attempt to consolidate the trade from Old Chester Turnpike Road was made by the renaming of the Swan Inn as The Welsh Harp and Swan. Ultimately, this strategy failed. It is not yet known exactly when it closed its doors, but it was certainly before the Tithe Map survey took place in 1840.

The Village of Stonnall
We will now continue our journey into the heart of the village along Main Street which was, incidentally, known as Stonnall Road in former times, and pause for a moment to relate one of Rev Sanders' anecdotes concerning some of the habits of the parishioners of Shenstone and Stonnall.

Main Street, Upper Stonnall, Staffordshire, formerly known as Stonnall Road

© Julian Ward-Davies

Evidently, there was a significant survival of the pagan practice of Well Worship within the parish which, as long as it was expressed on Christian holy days, was tolerated by the Church. (We should note here that, similarly, the pagan ritual known as the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance was once performed on Christmas Day, New Year's Day and Twelfth Day.)

Rev Sanders describes it as: "...adorning such wells with boughs and flowers upon Holy Thursday especially, as was usual also at all Gospel-places, whether wells, trees, or hills. Upon such occasions the people frequently diverted themselves with cakes and ale, music and dancing, with other like sports and amusements; which were innocent enough...". He then adds, somewhat darkly: "...and tolerable in comparison of what had formerly been".

Rev Sanders informs us that there had once been a stone cross located in the middle of the street at Upper Stonnall but that, in his time, only the base of the pillar remained.

The Harp
On the right-hand side of the road, we note a dwelling that was once a house and builder's yard. Previously however, this was the site of a public house.

At the time of the Tithe Map survey, the property was noted as a public house, outbuildings, yard and garden owned by Mr Joseph Bagnall. The tenant was named, somewhat ironically, as Mr George Swan. Unfortunately, the Tithe Map did not mark the name of of this public house. However, it was the only public house in the village of Stonnall at the time.

We note from the Staffordshire Trade Directory of 1834 that the one and only pub in Stonnall was called The Harp and we can be certain that this was not a reference to the Welsh Harp because, as already noted, it had closed down as an inn many years before the Tithe Map survey.

A cottage in Stonnall, dated 20th June, 1813

© William Salt Library

Main Street and the Brook
As we travel down Main Street, eventually we pass by the entrance to a public footpath that runs alongside the village playing field and the end of Thornes Croft. It crosses the village brook, the point of our next mystery: has this stream always been known as the brook? Or did it once have a name that has been largely forgotten?

Rev Sanders informs us that the stream was known as the Pen or Penk and describes its source as follows:

"The Pen or Penke, a pretty rivulet, rises in Upper Stonall, in the lands of Noel Hill, esq. called the Spring Pieces, most delightfully bubbling out of the earth in ten or twelve different places, nearly together. It runs in its channel for six or seven hundred yards, above that part of the Stonall road that leads to Aldrich [ie Lazy Hill Road]".

He goes on to say that "It continues its course upon the great road...", that is to say, Pen Brook flowed over Old Chester Turnpike Road, creating what was, in effect, a ford. Here we may note that when the by-pass was constructed in 1920, involving the creation of a new and raised causeway, the road engineers placed several conduits at the base of the causeway so as to allow for the continued flow of water that would otherwise have been obstructed.

The Well and the Wallongs
We may now consider the function of the public footpath and ask whether it was simply a short-cut to Church Road on the opposite side of the valley, or whether it had some other purpose additionally. Referring to the Tithe Map, we find that the village playing field was once known as the Well and we may conclude from the name that the footpath provided public access to fresh water from Pen Brook to those villagers who did not have access to a private well.

The Well, by the public footpath between Main Street and Church Lane

Pen Brook, just before it disappears into the culvert that conducts it all the way to Wall Heath. The brook appears to have been deepened artificially at this point, thus facilitating the drawing of water. There may also have been a simple sluice to maintain a reasonable depth.

© Julian Ward-Davies

To the left of the footpath, we discover that this field in Rev Sanders' time, presently occupied by a row of shops, Westwick Close and Thornes Croft was known as the Wallong. Some 70 or so years later, we discover from the Tithe Map that the Wallong field had been sub-divided, so that the field presently occupied by Thornes Croft was known as Little Wallong.

For centuries, much of the Wallong area was a marshland which, at certain times of the year, would be susceptible to flooding that would extend as far as lower Church Lane, Main Street and Lynn Lane. Many of the residents referred to the area as 'the flood'. In winter, ice-skating was possible on the temporary lake that the flooding would create. The area was drained in fairly recent times, not many years before Thornes Croft was built.

It may be noted here that all the fields of the Wallong have produced crops within living memory, that they once featured a pool opposite the Old Smithy and that Westwick Close was named after the variety of blackcurrants that were once grown there.

The Church Lane end of the footpath before housing development at St Peter's Close

as it looked from probably well before the Middle Ages until the early 1980s.

This field was known as Little Croft and Wallong.

Photo submitted by Steve Hickman

Now, what are we to make of this mysterious name Wallong? It seems to be unique, because I have not been able to find a reference to it anywhere so far, except in the sources stated above. The first syllable might indicate a wall or a well, the latter being the most likely in the circumstances. However, the second syllable presents us with a problem: if it indicates the adjective long, then we might expect it to precede wall.

The key to this mystery lies in the Anglo-Saxon origin of the name. When Germanic incomers entered the territory in the Dark Ages, they would have encountered a marshy area with several pools and at least one stream. To them, the area was a source of fresh water and the features of the landscape that supplied this resource were known as waellen or waellan, the plural form of waelle, the word that gave us our modern word well. We may eventually conclude that it is related to another name that we will encounter in a little while and, thus, we will have a little more to say about it later.

The heart of Upper Stonnall in the 1830s

from the Tithe Map which, unfortunately, is somewhat creased and damaged in this area.

Centre-left, below field A180 - the Well, now the village playing fields. Below that, the Wallong fields (now Thornes Croft and Westwick Close) which are just above the junction of Stonnall Road (now Main Street), Cartersfield Lane and Pound Lane (now Church Lane).

The boundary hedge to the left of the Well marks the course of Pen Brook, which can also be seen at the upper left as a meandering boundary. Eventually, the brook followed the boundary hedge of the Little Wallong field, which can be seen where Pound Lane meets Stonnall Road at the lower left. Here, the brook crossed the road and flowed alongside Stonnall Road to Wall Heath, where it crossed Wall Heath Lane and into the marshy area, known as the Quebb.

The boundary hedge seen here at the bottom of the Well field marks the public footpath between Main Street and Church Lane. Pedestrians on the footpath had to skip over the brook near a crossing where the course of the footpath changed from one side of the boundary hedge to the other. In the 21st century, the course of the footpath is on the same side of the boundary hedge for its full length, due to a recent housing development.

The field to the lower left of the footpath was the 'unofficial' village playing field until late in the 1960s.

Note how the end of Cartersfield Lane (lower left) does not point to the heart of the village. This proves that, over many centuries, the bulk of horse and cart traffic frequenting the lane was not passing through the village. See below for an explanation.

This view of Stonnall remained substantially unchanged until the 1950s, when large scale public and private housing developments commenced.

© Lichfield Joint Records Office

Cartersfield Lane
Moving on, we then see that Main Street curves at the Old Smithy and meets the end of Cartersfield Lane. Now, if ever there was a name that is trying to say something to us, it would be Cartersfield Lane, but what precisely is it trying to tell us? Does it mean a lane that runs through a field owned by a family called
Carter
? Or does it possibly mean a lane that runs through a field that is used by carters? After we examine all the circumstantial evidence, we may come to a somewhat different conclusion.

Firstly, it should be noted that Cartersfield Lane is undoubtedly complementary to Barracks Lane and that they should be considered together as a single route.

Many of us will think of Cartersfield Lane as a way of getting to Lichfield Road, but a route through Hilton provides a better connection to Muckley Corner where there are more options. As a route to Brownhills or Walsall, it is clearly of not much use. We may think of it as a way to Chasetown when we consider it as an extension of Barracks Lane, but there is something much more important en route before we get that far - and that is Watling Street - the real destination of Cartersfield Lane/Barracks Lane.

So why, we may ask, was there a necessity in the old days for an alternative route to and from Watling Street when there was a very good connection via Chester Road? The answer lies in the topography of the area.

Chester Road does indeed provide a very good connection to Watling Street, but there is a problem with it: there is a large and prolonged gradient between Brownhills and Shire Oak. In times before the age of motorised transport, this may not have been much of a barrier for drovers, pedestrians and those on horseback, but for somebody driving a heavily-laden cart with a single animal, it would have been a formidable, if not impossible obstacle. Thus, Cartersfield Lane/Barracks Lane is no less than a by-pass that circumvents Shire Oak Hill.

Thus, in the old days, Cartersfield Lane would have been noted for the large number of carters who used it and, therefore, we may interpret its name as the lane that passes through an open area and which is used a lot by carters.

The Surface and General Appearance of Cartersfield Lane
Fortunately, we have some eye-witness accounts of the original state of the lane. It was much narrower than it is at the present time. When carts encountered each other moving in opposite directions, there were cutaways at the roadsides, enabling carters to pass by without difficulty.

The road surface consisted of three lines of cobbles: to the left and right for cartwheels, and at the centre for carthorses.

When the road surface required repair, labourers accessed cobbles that had been removed from the fields. These were collected by local people, who measured out a yard square, which was then built up into a pyramid structure with the stones. Road repair labourers raided these pyramids as necessary. Collectors were paid for their work.

The Mystery of the Carters
Thus, we have explained the name of the lane and recreated its original appearance, but only to uncover another mystery: from where and to where exactly were all these carters actually coming and going?

According to all the old maps we have, the Stonnall end of Cartersfield Lane used to sweep to the left as it meets Main Street and certainly away from the heart of the village. This proves that the outward and return journeys of most of the Cartersfield Lane traffic over many centuries did not pass through the village. There are several clues that indicate the real target of the traffic and, thus, we will have more to say about it later.

Lynn Lane meeting Cartersfield Lane

where Lynn Lane is also known as Fighting Cocks Lane.

© Julian Ward-Davies

Fighting Cocks Farm - Another Mystery
We move down Cartersfield Lane for a little distance and on the left we encounter Fighting Cocks Farm. This house presents us, or at least it would have done in the old days, with an excellent location for a certain type of establishment.

The house at Fighting Cocks Farm

before it was renovated. Was it ever a public house? Its name and location strongly suggest that it was.

It is placed very nicely at the junction of Lynn Lane and Cartersfield Lane where there was a lot of convergent cart traffic and hence there was the considerable potential for passing trade. Are we to believe that the owners of the house would have passed up this golden opportunity? And what, indeed, would be a better place for a public house? And what would be a better name for a public house than The Fighting Cocks?

Before we return to the Main Street end of Cartersfield Lane, we note that this end of Lynn Lane is referred to by local people, even to the present day, as Fighting Cocks Lane.*

The Original Course of Pen Brook
Returning to and then continuing from the end of Cartersfield Lane, we then see that the Main Street curve eventually meets Church Lane and Thornes Croft by the village school. It was here that it was once necessary for pedestrians to skip over Pen Brook, before it was hidden by a culvert, as it crossed Main Street at this point. Previous to the construction of the culvert of course, the brook flowed alongside Main Street for a distance until it crossed Wall Heath Lane before flowing on towards Shenstone.

One of the mysteries associated with the brook is concerned with which side of the road it flowed along: was it the left-hand side or the right-hand side facing Lower Stonnall? This mystery can be solved with reference to an aerial photograph of the area from 1945. The brook's gully is clearly visible on the left of the road.

An aerial photograph of the eastern end of Main Street from 1945

A - the gully of Pen Brook
B - roadside hedgerows
C - St Peter's C of E School, schoolmaster's house and playground

Picture: Google Earth, from a wartime RAF survey

The whole of this piece of land on the left hand side of Main Street at this point, currently occupied by the surgery, school and a row of modern houses was, in the time of the Tithe Map, an arable field called the Croft.

Church Lane and Church Road
We may now consider our next mystery. St Peter's Church did not exist before 1823. What, then, was the name of Church Lane before the church was built? And for that matter, what was the name of Church Road?

Church Road, formerly known as Thornes Hall Road

Left - the location of Thornes Hall
Right - Thornes Hall Farm

© Julian Ward-Davies

We discover from the Tithe Map that Church Lane and Church Road were once called Pound Lane and Thornes Hall Lane/Thornes Hall Road respectively. Pound Lane is easily explained as the way to the pinfold at the junction of Church Lane and Church Road. Thornes Hall Lane/Road took its name from the eponymous and long-demolished mansion, which we will be visiting, so to speak, a little later.

Wall Heath Lane and Lynn Lane
We now arrive at the end of Main Street and turn left into Wall Heath Lane. It was here that it was necessary in former times for pedestrians to skip over Pen Brook as it flowed over the road in the direction of Shenstone.

The entrance to Wall Heath Lane from Church Road

where Pen Brook crossed the road.

Left - the eastern end of Main Street.
Right - the location of the the marshy area known as the Quebb, the source of Quebb Brook.

© Julian Ward-Davies

We may pause for a moment and consider the name Wall Heath. The second element is easily explained as "the place where heather grows", ie land that has been cleared of trees, but not yet put to any use, a wasteland.

The first element is not likely to be related in any way with the village of Wall, which is too far away to be of any relevance, and therefore we should expect that it is a form of the Anglo-Saxon word waelle for well. Thus, we may interpret the name as the place where a source of water flows through a wasteland. Clearly, the name is connected to Wallong: they both contain the same element and follow the same format,
ie wall-long and wall-heath.

Quebb Meadow and The Quakers' Graveyard
Moving on, we turn right into Lynn Lane, pass by Lynn Hall to our left and continue in the direction of Shenstone. We are now in Lynn and we discover from Rev Sanders that local Quakers were buried in a graveyard nearby. The Tithe Map survey fills in the missing details and the cemetery's whereabouts are shown in the map below.

The location of the Quaker graveyard in Lynn

A - the graveyard
B - Lynn Lane
C - Quebb Lane (Mill Lane)
D - Thorneyhurst Lane

© Lichfield Joint Records Office

Eventually, just before we arrive at Mill Lane, we pass by a field to the right that is named in the Tithe Map Awards book - and mentioned several times by Rev Sanders - as Quebb Meadow.

Mill Lane and Lower Stonnall
We turn right into Mill Lane and, referring to the Tithe Map, we discover that it was once called Quebb Lane. We will encounter the name Quebb once again a little later.

We continue along Mill Lane and past the houses there. Again it was once necessary at this point to skip over Pen Brook as it flowed on towards Shenstone. In Rev Sanders time, this road was a quiet country lane, as it is in the 21st century. However, just after the Tithe Map was published in 1840, it was the scene of the advent of the Industrial Revolution in Stonnall. On the right, in the grounds of one of the houses, we would have encountered a steam-driven corn mill.

This was constructed by Mr Samuel Essington Brawn and featured a massive water reservoir that may still be observed in the grounds of the nearby house. A little later, the source of its water supply will become apparent. No doubt, it was fuelled by the coal mines of Brownhills. As to its power plant, we may speculate that it was driven by a Boulton Watt parallel motion steam engine of a type that had been manufactured in Soho, Birmingham since 1775. If so, the interior of his mill may well have looked like the scene depicted in the picture below.

A Boulton Watt parallel motion steam engine

Picture: Wikimedia

The Brawns seem to have been a local family with interests in brick-making at the Bosses in Lower Stonnall. They are recorded in the Tithe Map Awards book as "James and George Brawn, brickyard, house and garden at New Barn Lane, Lower Stonnall". Some 50 or so years later, Kellys Directory of Staffordshire, 1892, appears to record their descendants, also named George and James Brawn as farmers at Sandhills and the Bosses respectively.

It is also recorded in The British Magazine: Volume 25 - Page 228 that in 1844 Rev James Downes, the first Vicar of Stonnall, of whom we shall say a little more later, married Maria, the daughter of Mr J Brawn of Shelfield, near Walsall.

Continuing our journey, just past the site of the mill, on the left we encounter a farm track that was once a short, but fully-fledged road that is marked on the Tithe Map as Twenty Acre Lane.

Footherley Lane and Mill Lane
We now arrive at the junction of Mill Lane to the right and Footherley Lane to the left. The Tithe Map records these roads as Lower Stonnall Road and Hook Lane respectively. It should be noted here that Hook Lane is presently the name of a road that is located further down Footherley Lane in the direction of Footherley and Wood End.

Footherley Lane, Lower Stonnall

looking towards its junction with Mill Lane in the distance.

At the time of the Tithe Map survey, this lane was known as Hook Lane.

© Julian Ward-Davies

We turn right and past the property with the namestone inscribed John Smith 1747 to our right. We might wonder whether this John Smith was connected in some way to John Smith, the first proprietor of the Welsh Harp who did, in fact, have a son named John.

The Mystery of St Peter's Chapel, Lower Stonnall
As we approach the end of Mill Lane at Church Road and Wall Heath Lane, we note from The Tithe Map and Rev Sanders that the fields to the left are recorded as Chapel Field and Chapel Hill. Rev Sanders informs us that, according to the anecdotes of his parishioners and various charters, there was once a chapel in Lower Stonnall dedicated to St Peter, as is the present church located at the summit of Church Hill.

He goes on to state that he thought it had been demolished as a result of a law passed in 1545 which required the closure of any chapel that did not have sufficient income to maintain itself. He adds further:

"The South chancel of Shenstone church was built, it is said, of materials taken from Nether Stonall chapel, which is not unlikely, being different from the rest of that structure, and chiefly of brick-work; and, as that chapel was dedicated to St. Peter, there is a memorial of it in the work, namely, the keys which are generally given him."

The location of St Peter's Chapel, Lower Stonnall may no longer be a mystery, however. Please see the article In Search of the Lost Chapel of Stonnall for an update.

The Meandering Hedge
On the other side of the end of this part of Mill Lane, we note a curious meandering hedge, to which I have previously referred in another article, where I suggested that it marked the course of a stream, now disappeared. Rev Sanders confirms that this interpretation is essentially correct.

The Ordnance Survey Map of the Lynn Rectangle, 1887

A - Wall Heath Lane
B - Lynn Lane
C - Quebb Lane (now Mill Lane)
D - Lower Stonnall Road (now Mill Lane)
E - Twenty Acre Lane (now a farm track)
F - Quebb Brook, marked by a meandering boundary hedge, still existing
G - Pen Brook, also marked by a boundary hedge, partially still existing

© HMSO

This area was once a marsh, or as it would have been expressed in Anglo-Saxon, a quebb, according to The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Place-names. Thus the marsh took the name the Quebb and the stream that rose from it took the same name.

The meandering hedge

This area was known as the Quebb, a marshy area. The hedge was laid alongside the brook which once rose here.

Quebb is an Anglo-Saxon word which means marsh. It is related to the old Dutch word kwabbe, with the same meaning, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Place-names.

© Julian Ward-Davies

Evidently, in Rev Sanders' time, there was still a considerable amount of water left over from the time of the Lost Lake of Stonnall, not only at the Quebb, but also to the rear of the John Smith property, which was referred to as the Marshes or Smith's Marshes. Furthermore, there was a pool located in the Marshes, as indicated by the Tithe Map.

The antiquity of the meandering hedge

The huge trunk of one of the hawthorns of the hedge. A trunk this size might indicate an age of 200+ years. If so, the hedge would have been laid originally in about 1800, or perhaps even earlier than that. Over to the dendrochronologists...

© Julian Ward-Davies

There is yet more evidence that this area at the end of Mill Lane was once very waterlogged. Firstly, as noted in the article referred to above, the entrance to Mill Lane is offset with regard to the end of Main Street, whereas a more direct connection would be expected. This indicates that travellers were obliged to avoid an obstacle when moving between Upper and Lower Stonnall.

Inlets and ditch

cut through the verge at the side of Lower Stonnall Road, now Mill Lane. This was an attempt to drain an area of the road that was prone to waterlogging due to the Quebb.

© Julian Ward-Davies

Further, at the Quebb side of Mill Lane, there are some inlets leading from the roadside to a ditch that runs alongside the boundary hedge of the adjacent field. I believe that this is a very old feature that was constructed long before the surface of Mill Lane was metalled, as an attempt to drain a road with a very muddy surface. Indeed, it appears to be marked on the Tithe Map, as shown in the picture below.

Part of Lower Stonnall, Thornes and Lynn

from a printed copy of the Tithe Map

Centre - something marked towards the end of Lower Stonnall Lane (now Mill Lane), which is at the exact location of the inlets mentioned above. It appears from this that a rut was constructed across the road, the inlet being all that remains of it. This connected two ditches.for the purpose of draining a road that habitually suffered from waterlogging.

Note that this feature is located near to the marshy area known as the Quebb, and the area to its left known as Chapel Hill, from which water was constantly draining.

St Peter's Chapel was located somewhere in this area, according to Rev Sanders.

© Lichfield JRO

Of course, Rev Sanders could have had no inkling that the combined flow of the Pen and the Quebb would eventually supply the water reservoir of the steam mill at Quebb Lane.

Rev Sander's observations of the streams in Stonnall

Rev Sanders records these observations of the Pen and the Quebb and one other stream, the Tumbledown:-

He says of the Pen that it"...passes down Stonall through the lands named the Wallongs, down to the Wall heaths, then joins the Quebb".

"The Quebb is a little water which rises near the Wall heath pieces, in the lands called Smith's marshes, and, uniting with the Pen, passes to Birchley farm, near Lynne and Owls hall, to the Bourn, or Footherley brook, by which time it becomes a large water, runs next to the Holme, and into Cranbrook by Shenstone mill, and to Black brooke".

Of the Tumbledown, rising at Castle Hill, he states: "This rivulet runs on the side of the village opposite to the Penke, but in a wet season runs down the street-way, and joins the Penke in the Pease croft near the Swan inn".

Thornes and Thornes Hall
We will now continue, turning left into Church Road and onwards up the hill, where we arrive at the pinfold, thus entering Thornes.

The location of Thornes Hall, Thornes Hall Road (now Church Road), Stonnall

within the grounds of the Old Vicarage, incidentally showing the stranded tree of Grove Hill and the grassy knoll that once surrounded it. The hedgerow at the foot of Grove Hill marks the public footpath between Main Street  and Church Road.

© Julian Ward-Davies

Moving on, we arrive at the location of Thornes Hall, which was located approximately at the site of the Old Vicarage. The hall was a very old establishment and of such importance that its adjacent road was named after it.

Rev Sanders, without whom the place would be shrouded in mystery, has much to say of it, providing us with enough information to compose a reasonable history of it. Suffice for the moment to record his description of it as it appeared in his own time: "...the present part, now a farm in the tenure of Richard Farnell, is spacious and convenient, with a handsome court in the front placed high with brick, in the style of the house itself". In those days, the owner was Mr William Tennant, a substantial local landowner.

The plan of Thornes Hall, from the Tithe Map

on the right at Thornes Hall Road (Church Road). On the left, Thornes Hall Farm.

© Lichfield Joint Records Office

It is known that the south-west wing of the hall contained its kitchen, because the ground around it is full of broken sherds of quite high-class crockery. Evidently, the occupants had been in the habit of chucking out broken vessels into the yard outside from the kitchen door. In years to come, these sherds may be of considerable interest to any archaeologists who might care to examine the area.

At the time of the Tithe Map, Thornes Hall was owned by Mr William Leigh of Little Aston who was a major local landowner. However, the Awards Book notes no tenant, probably because it was in a serious state of disrepair.

The sandstone barn at Thornes Hall Farm

This structure did not exist at the time of the Tithe Map survey (see the map above) and yet, even though the farm was not built until about 1800 or a little before, the barn has a decidedly mediaeval appearance, indicating that it is actually much older than the other farm buildings. What could account for this apparent anachronism?

Thornes Hall owed its origins in the mediaeval period and, thus, we can be certain that some of its structures belonged to that period. Referring to the map of Thornes Hall above, we note that there was an outbuilding next to the road. Is it possible that, when the house was demolished, the outbuilding was dismantled and then reassembled at this location?

© Julian Ward-Davies

White's Directory of 1840 states that Rev James Downes and Mr Leigh, attempted to refashion its structure to provide accommodation for the homeless of the village and also a free school. These efforts proved fruitless for whatever reason and the Hall was demolished. Shortly after, a new vicarage was built nearby and Rev Downes, the first Vicar of Stonnall, was its first occupant.

The new house was built on a plot that is offset slightly to the north relative to the site of the hall. This is because it may have been too much trouble to clear away the demolition rubble, and its wrecked outline remained for many years before most of it was finally cleared away. Even as late as the 1970s, bits and pieces of it remained visible above ground.

Thornes Hall and Cherry Orchard
At the time of the Farnell tenancy of Thornes Hall in the 18th century, the field to the rear of the premises was a cherry orchard, so Rev Sanders informs us, and was part of the hall's business. In the early 19th century, even though the field appears to have been cleared of trees, the Tithe Map survey nevertheless refers to the property as Cherry Orchard.

Thornes Hall Farm
As we have noted, Rev Sanders refers to Thornes Hall as a "farm" and does not attempt to distinguish it from any other farm in Thornes. Thus we may conclude that Thornes Hall Farm, on the opposite side of Thornes Hall Road, did not exist at the time of his research. Indeed, the contemporaneous Yates Map of 1774 (see above) does not record it.

Thus what, if anything, was located at this place before Thornes Hall Farm was built? There are two pieces of evidence which indicate the previous use of the land.

The Butts
Firstly, without actually identifying its precise location, Rev Sanders informs us that there was a butts in Thornes. Every village in England had a butts enclosure and it was the place where all male villagers were obliged to practice regularly the martial art of archery before, as Rev Sanders puts it: "fire-arms became so frequent as they now are".

The precise location of the Butts does not remain a mystery for very long, however, because the Tithe Map survey fills in the missing details. We find that the Thornes Hall Farm plot was known as Butts Head and an adjacent field was known as Butts Croft.

The National School and Sand Pit
We have now almost reached the top of Church Hill and we note that there is a house situated just below the church. This house was built for a particular purpose and it was associated with another building, now demolished, that once stood next to it. This was the School Master's House of Stonnall National School.

St Peter's Church and the sand pit, Thornes Hall Road, about 1830

© William Salt Library

Built in about 1835, this project was financed by public subscription, in effect, from the donations of local people. This was Stonnall's entry into the era of modern education. The school remained in use until 1874 when St Peter's Church of England School was built on the site of the present school. The National School wasn't demolished until the 1960s.

The National School was built on the site of an earlier feature, a sand pit, as shown in the picture above. The workings of the pit on the side of the hill can be easily recognised to the present day. The pit was owned by the Surveyors of Shenstone Highway and operated by John and Samuel Sidgwick. Evidently, the extracted materials were used for road maintenance.

The National School, Thornes, Stonnall

From a sketch by A Heywood, 1955.

Having now arrived at the top of the hill and looking west, in the distance we see the starting point of our journey, Castle Hill, and note how it dominates the area. In between, we note Grove Hill and its solitary tree. Grove Hill presents us with another mystery and we will be returning to it a little later on.

The Gravel Pit
We now descend Church Hill towards Gravelley Lane. Looking to our right we note that the Tithe Map marked a substantial gravel pit to the right hand side of Thornes Hall Road.

Thornes and the Cartersfield Lane Connection
As we now approach Gravelley Lane, we are about to leave Thornes. Let us pause for a moment to consider the lingering mystery of the carters of Cartersfield Lane.

As we have already noted, this lane was a bypass to Shire Oak Hill for heavily-laden carts being driven to and from Watling Street. Also, the orientation of the Stonnall end of Cartersfield Lane proves that, over many centuries, the bulk of horse and cart traffic to and from Watling Street did not pass through the heart of the village of Stonnall.

Let us assume for a moment that most of this traffic proceeded via Church Lane, Church Road and Gravelley Lane. In these circumstances, the seemingly obvious target or source of traffic might have been the connection with Chester Road. However, this could not have been the case and we can be sure of this for two reasons.

Firstly, the Gravelley Lane side of Church Hill is very steep and just as unsuitable for horse and cart traffic as Shire Oak Hill. Furthermore, even if carters could manage this side of the hill, we can be certain that very few of them did so. This is because Church Road comes to a dead stop at Gravelley Lane: if carters were using Church Road as a means of connecting with Chester Road, Church Road would have continued on towards Little Aston but, as we know, it does not.

This can mean only one thing: the real target of the traffic was located somewhere between the end of Cartersfield Lane and the top of Church Hill. There is only one possible candidate and that is Thornes Hall.

This ties in neatly with the Hall's role as a trading centre. For centuries, it had been the target of countless collections and deliveries, generating so much traffic that a lane had been shaped by and named after the innumerable carters who plied their trade along it.

More Mysteries
We can now conclude that, historically, there was a considerable amount of traffic between Watling Street  and Thornes Hall, but only to uncover other mysteries: what commodities were being carried and why was the connection to Watling Street in particular so important?

As far as commodities are concerned, we can largely rule out the bringing in of perishable items such as foodstuffs and beer. Stonnall was a farming community above all else and there is much evidence that brewing was a feature of the local economy, both as a formal business and as a cottage industry. So we are left with other possibilities, such as tools, earthenware, pots and pans, salt, clothing and so on. These things might account for some of the traffic, but they would not explain the importance of the connection to Watling Street.

To explain these mysteries, we should now take a look at the plan of Thornes Hall and note that the house appeared to have three large chimney breasts at the front. The associated fireplaces would have needed a good supply of fuel for at least six months of any year.

Thus, we can now deduce the identity of the commodity that was being delivered regularly and why the connection to Watling Street was so important. Many, perhaps even a very large majority of the carters were carrying coal from the open-cast mines of Brownhills and Cannock and delivering it to Thornes Hall. There, the carters may well have picked up other commodities, such as agricultural produce, to take back to their home communities. This scenario fits exactly the Hall's reputation as a trading centre.

We could even go a little further and describe Thornes Hall not only as a coal consumer but also as a coal stockist. We can imagine that one of the frequent chores in the winter months for many villagers was to cross the fields to buy a bucket of coal from the local coal depot, Thornes Hall.

The Carter Network
Now that we have identified one of the principal commodities that was carried by carters, we should consider for a moment that, important though it was, Thornes Hall could not have been the only target of the Cartersfield Lane traffic. Lynn Hall, as another trading centre, was a very similar establishment and we note that Lynn Lane branches off from Cartersfield Lane and that, from the carters' point of view, it provided an easy connection to Lynn, Shenstone and other communities in the area.

Stonnall Gate
When we get to the bottom of the Church Hill we turn right into Gravelley Lane and eventually arrive at Chester Road. Looking left, we note that Chester Road bends to the right in the near distance. It was here that there was a toll point on Old Chester Turnpike Road called Stonnall Gate. One of the cottages on the left-hand side of the road was the toll house, occupied by the toll collector.

The location of Stonnall Gate toll point and the toll collector's house, Chester Road, Stonnall

© Julian Ward-Davies

The tollboard at Stonnall Gate, Old Chester Turnpike Road

© William Salt Library

Groves's Leasow and Grove Hil
We turn right at the end of Gravelley Lane into Chester Road and we are immediately presented with a very substantial mystery as we move on towards Castle Hill - the solitary tree of Grove Hill, which has become an icon of Stonnall.

Looking to the left of the road, there are some fields and, referring to the Tithe Map, we note that one of them is called Groves's Leasow. The boundary of this field is directly opposite the boundary of the Grove Hill field on the other side of Chester Road. This may not be a co-incidence and we may speculate that these two pieces of land are related in some way.

Grove Hill, Stonnall

The tree is at least 150 years old because it is marked on the Ordnance Survey Map of 1887, but could it be older than 300 years? Its somewhat exposed location could account for its relatively small size, which might make an age of 300 years credible. Also, It has been suggested* that the main trunk was broken at some stage. This could account for its lack of stature. Was the trunk broken as the result of a strange incident in 1718 that Rev Sanders reported?

© Julian Ward-Davies

Rev Sanders informs us that the Grove family were substantial landowners residing in Shenstone. And there is one other piece of land in Stonnall in Mill Lane, marked in the Awards Book as Grove Croft, located next to the John Smith property. Were they once owned by a person by the name of Grove? Even if they were, it would in no way explain the stranded tree, which is not marked on the 1838 Tithe Map, but the 1887 Ordnance Survey map displays it, including the grassy knoll that once surrounded it.

A reconstruction of Grove Hill as it appeared in 1883

when viewed from Chester Road.

A Photoshop approximation, created from a modern photograph, of Grove Hill, with trees placed in accordance with the 1883 map of Stonnall. If this represents the remains of a grove, then the hill received its name from the group of trees and not from the name of a landowner.

Note the somewhat unnatural profile of the hill to the left. Is this evidence that the summit of the hill is a man-made earthworks? And if it is, what was its purpose?..

© Julian Ward-Davies

At this point we may ask: why did the Tithe Map not display the Grove Hill tree? There can be only three possible explanations for this: either the tree did not then exist, or it was considered too small or too insignificant to be included: the Tithe Map did not generally mark trees, unless they were recognised landmarks, such as the Shire Oak tree and the Old Chester Road crossroads tree, or unless they constituted a definite woodland area. Thus, of one thing we may be certain: there was not a dense group of trees, or grove, at the top of Grove Hill at the time of the Tithe Map, though there may have been a single tree or a small number of trees that the surveyors considered too insignificant to record.

The upper part of Thornes, from the 1887 Ordnance Survey Map

Left - Grove Hill, the tree and the grassy knoll.
Right - St Peter's Church and the National School and School Master's House. The children's playground was located to the rear of the school.

© HMSO

Rev Sanders makes no mention of Grove Hill by name, but he relates the following anecdote when talking about Thornes Hall.

"Some persons of seeming veracity have affirmed to me, that there grew a thick wood of large timber near Thornes, upon the adjoining eminence, which, about the year 1718, was all blown down in one night by a strong wind. Others supposed, that it was occasioned by an earthquake, and observed, that the roots of the thickest and firmest trees were strangely torn up, and lay out of the ground."

Unfortunately, he does not identify the 'adjoining eminence', which could be Church Hill or Grove Hill or, indeed, it could be both. Even so, this could explain the origin of the name, in the sense that there was once a clump of trees, or grove, at the top of the hill. It could even explain the solitary tree, which might have been one of a few survivors of the strange incident he reports. However, we are still left with a difficulty. Can the tree really be around 300 years old, as implied by his anecdote? It has been suggested* that the trunk of the tree was broken off at some point and that this would account for its lack of height. It is possible that this damage was sustained as a result of the event which Rev Sander reports. If this is correct, then the tree could easily be 300 or more years old.

Grove Hill, Stonnall, as seen from the Well (now the village playing fields)

If the placement of the tree really was the work of human hands, great care seems to have been taken to ensure that it dominates the skyline when viewed from the valley. It is as if it was intended to be a constant reminder of something but, if that is so, what is it supposed to commemorate exactly?

Is it the last resting place of an Iron Age British prince or princess?

© Julian Ward-Davies

Another difficulty is this: why would generations of farmers tolerate a single tree and its associated grassed area taking up valuable space, not to mention the difficulty of ploughing around it? Could this be related to local folklore, which tells us that the tree marks the place of an ancient tumulus? Is it possible that farmers have known of this and sought to preserve the tradition?

The 1887 Ordnance Survey Map, displaying a detail of Thornes

A - The apparent outline of Thornes Hall to the south of the new vicarage, visible as uncleared demolition rubble.
B - Thornes Hall Farm, appearing to have been extended since the Tithe Map survey. Were the materials used for the extensions recovered from the fabric of Thornes Hall?
C - A pool and two stranded trees, now disappeared.

These two trees indicate that the stranded tree of Grove Hill was not unique. However, these trees became stranded as the result of the removal of a hedgerow of which they were once part. This is unlikely to explain the isolation of the Grove Hill tree.

Local folklore says that there was once a lake located at the rear of Thornes Hall and that it disappeared mysteriously after a thunderstorm. Could this story be related to Rev Sanders' account of the uprooted trees incident and was the pool all that remained of the lake?

© HMSO

My own theory is as follows: the top of Grove Hill is a tumulus and the tradition of it has been preserved for centuries. There was once a grove of trees at the summit which marked the burial ground and which gave its name to the hill. The grove may have been an irritation to generations of farmers, but its removal may have been inhibited, possibly by superstition or possibly by an overriding reluctance to break a tradition and an ancient feature of the landscape.

An aerial photo of the Grove Hill field from 1945

This photo is quite remarkable for the quantity of soil stains/crop marks in the field as much as anything else.

A number of these features appear to be straight lines radiating out from central points. I have blown up two of these marks and inset them. Are these traces of the roots of the trees that once formed the grove of Grove Hill?.

Picture: Google Earth, from a wartime RAF survey

Then, as I see it, these are the possible scenarios. Either at some stage, a compromise solution was devised, whereby all the trees were removed except one. Or alternatively, after the incident reported by Rev Sanders, which removed all the trees in a freakish act of nature, a single tree was planted to continue the established tradition, or a surviving sapling was allowed to flourish for the same reason.

Until such time as more information comes to light, Grove Hill remains a mystery.

Journey's End
We have now completed our journey. There is just one thing left to do and that is to attempt to explain the somewhat mysterious name of Pen or Penk Brook.

The oak of Shire Oak marked on the south side of Lichfield-Walsall Road by Holly Lane in 1763

*from a plan of the Walsall estate belonging to the Countess of Mountrath.

© Walsall Local History Centre

Along with some other names in the area, such as Lynn, we should consider Penn/Penk to be of Celtic origin, not forgetting that this area was once occupied by the Celtic tribe the Cornovii: pen means end or head, but in a topographical sense, when applied to a feature of the landscape, it means headland. Also, one version of the name ends with a 'k', which might indicate a lost syllable starting with that sound.

If this is correct, then the name might be reconstructed as Pencwm or, as it would be spelled in English, Pencombe. This hypothetical second syllable means valley. Together, these two elements match perfectly the topography of Stonnall and, thus, the implied meaning of the brook's name would be: the stream that flows from the headland of the valley.


**********

© Julian Ward-Davies 2010

*I am indebted to the following contributors:-
Clive Roberts for information relating to the Shire Oak tree and for submitting the Mountrath image.
Steve Hickman for information and suggestions relating to the Chester Road Triangle and for submitting the footpath photo.
Graeme Fisher for suggestions relating to the tree of Grove Hill.
Gordon Mycock and Alan Ramsell for information relating to Cartersfield Lane and Fighting Cocks Farm.

This article is a work in progress. Please revisit to review additions and amendments.

If you have any information, suggestions and/or photographs relating to the subject matter, no matter how trivial, please contact the author by one of the methods shown below.


Thanks to Google Books, without which the research would have been extremely arduous.

Web design and programming are the work of the author.

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