Before becoming part of Birmingham in 1891, Balsall Heath used to be part of Kings Norton Parish in the county of Worcestershire. This old parish was divided into ancient divisions for tax reasons known as ‘yields’ and Balsall Heath was within the ‘Moseley Yield’ along with Moseley, Kings Heath and Brandwood End.
The remainder of the Moseley Yield (as well as the majority of Kings Norton Parish) eventually followed Balsall Heath in becoming part of Birmingham twenty years later in 1911.
Balsall Heath formed the northernmost part of the ancient Kings Norton Parish and the boundaries of Balsall Heath follow the old parish boundary for most of its length.
The boundaries which I’ve used for the map of Balsall Heath are as follows:
The western boundary of Balsall Heath is formed by the River Rea, which separated Kings Norton from the neighbouring parish of Edgbaston. Going north, the boundary then turns east, following the course of a small stream/or ditch, which once separated Kings Norton from the parish of Aston. The boundary then joins Highgate Lane, which it follows eastward until it reaches Stoney Lane. Here the boundary takes a 90 degree turn southwards along Stoney Lane itself, which formed the boundary between Kings Norton and yet another ancient parish – Yardley. The Balsall Heath boundary then splits from the course of the outer boundary of Kings Norton and instead turns westward, zig-zagging along field boundaries, before joining Edgbaston Lane. South of this boundary lay Moseley. The Balsall Heath boundary then follows Edgbaston Lane back to the River Rea.
Balsall Heath before 1838
Balsall Heath was historically an area of farmland and commons sandwiched between the ancient settlement of Moseley and the ever-expanding town of Birmingham.
The areas of farmland, which consisting mainly of meadowland (particularly near the River Rea) and pastures, would have likely been divided up into estates, each typically centred around a large house or farmstead.
Birmingham and Moseley were connected by an old trackway/trading route which pretty much followed the route of the modern day Moseley Road/Alcester Road. In wet weather the trackway running through Balsall Heath was notoriously treacherous as the clay, upon which the area stands, turned to thick mud. Things weren’t much easier in summer as the clay baked hard to form a very uneven surface with deep ridges¹.
This important trackway crossed through a large area of common-land (or waste) which would have been used by local people (commoners) mainly for grazing animals, and in some places possibly for open field strip farming. This area was known as ‘Balsall Heath’.
In 1767 the main road through Balsall Heath was put in the care of a turnpike trust in order to maintain and improve it² and shortly after this in 1772 the Enclosure Act was passed which resulted in the enclosure of the large tracts of common land.
The map below shows Balsall Heath how it may have appeared in around 1770.
Balsall Heath in 1838
By 1838 the farmed landscape of the area was rapidly changing as the quickly-growing workforce of Birmingham meant that more and more homes were needed to house them both in Birmingham itself but also in neighbouring parishes.
Balsall Heath Road was laid out in 1829³ and it was the first of a number of new streets to be constructed around this time in the north-western section of Balsall Heath as farmland was carved up to be instead laid out as housing.
Initially developers had planned to create another Edgbaston – with large, good quality housing, but the lack of the strict controls of its neighbouring parish meant that housing here ended up being more of a mixture – with some larger houses, but also a lot of higher density, lower quality housing including many back-to-backs.
Another significant change which took place around this time was the construction of the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway, which was completed in 1840, though Balsall Heath had to wait until 1875 for its own station (Brighton Road Station⁴).
In 1838 the south and eastern parts of Balsall Heath were still predominantly a rural landscape comprised of scattered farm estates with a mixture of meadows and pastures though with noticeably less arable land than other areas of the parish – possibly to the more clayey nature of the soil?
The western half of Balsall Heath drained towards the River Rea, while east of the Turnpike Road the area drained towards the River Cole via the Spark Brook.
By 1838 the following roads were already in existence (those marked with a * had probably been laid out after 1829) :
|Present Day Name||Tithe Map Name (1838)||Other Names|
|Arler Street* (part)||Mount Pleasant|
|Balsall Heath Road*||Balsall Heath Road|
|Belgrave Road*||Belgrave Street|
|Edgbaston Road||Edgbaston Lane|
|Edward Road*||Edwards Street|
|George Street*||George Street|
|Haden Street*||Haden Street|
|Homer Street*||Homer Street|
|Highgate Road||Highgate Lane|
|Ladypool Road||Lady Pool Lane||Gudfrey Lane? (1608)|
|Mary Street*||Mary Street|
|Moseley Road||Alcester Turnpike Road||Digbeth to Spernal Ash Turnpike|
|Runcorn Road||John Street|
|Sherbourne Street*||Sherbourne Street|
|Stoney Lane||Stoney Lane||Lowe Lane (1608)|
|Tindal Street*||Tindal Street|
|Vincent Parade*||Vincent Parade|
|Vincent Street*||Vincent Street|
|Wenman Street*||Wenman Street|
In 1838 the following roads existed but in the present day are no longer in existence:
- Oakfield Road – the original Oakfield Road was very narrow and windy. This was replaced by the present day Oakfield Road which was built nearby on a much straighter course.
- Longbridge Road – now the site of Bridge Croft
Along the Alcester Turnpike Road
By 1838 the expanse of common land (‘Balsall Heath’) from Belgrave Road to Edgbaston Lane had now been enclosed and parcelled off into individual plots of land.
Western Side of the Alcester Turnpike Road (moving north to south)
At the northern end of the western side of the Turnpike Road, just south of the junction with Belgrave stood a large house, with landscaped gardens belonging to Cornelius and Ebenezer Robins. By 1889 this building had gone and it was the site of a hotel.
Moving southwards on the western side of the Turnpike Road, the next buildings we would arrive at would be between Haden Street and Balsall Heath Road. The first of these was a house and garden belonging to Thomas Hancox and occupied by Samuel Caswell. Next to this, on the corner of Balsall Heath Road was the Waggon and Horses inn.
Waggon & Horses
The Waggon & Houses was built around 1835 and also included stables and a yard. In 1838 it was owned by Thomas Hancox and occupied by Holborn Brookes. A pub on this spot survived until the mid 1980s when it was replaced with warehouse buildings.
South of Balsall Heath Road and before the junction of Vincent Street stood three houses owned by Thomas Matthews.
South of Vincent Street, there were a further seven houses owned by various people.
New Inn Beerhouse
South of Edward Road stood the New Inn Beerhouse, garden and stables, owned and occupied by John Aspinall. A pub called the New Inn existed here until it closed in about 2010 and has now reopened as a restaurant. South of the New Inn were two further houses and then Homer Street.
South of Homer Street stood a house, orchard, gig house (a gig is a light, two-wheeled carriage) and gardens belonging to Bennett Dones.
The Priory was a large house which stood in landscaped grounds between Tindall Street and Turnpike Road. Along with the house itself was a coach house, stable, shrubbery, lawn, meadow and plantation. It was owned and occupied by John Towers Lawrence. The house is still depicted on maps up until 1921 but by 1938 it was no more. John Towers Lawrence was the oldest surviving child of John Towers Lawrence and Anne Potts who married in 1798. In 1830 John Towers Lawrence (Jnr) married Priscilla Noble of Leeds, who died in 1835 aged 29). A John Towers Lawrence is listed as a Justice for the Peace for Worcestershire.
Eastern Side of the Alcester Turnpike Road (moving north to south)
Just south of the junction of Highgate Lane stood six houses, while a further house stook opposite the junction of Sherbourne Road and another four houses stood opposite the junction with Balsall Heath Road.
Clifton Road used follow a route straight from the junction of Edward Road/Turnpike Road to the Railway arch. It was only later (certainly by 1884) that the road was altered to its present day curved route. North of Clifton Road stood a large house situated in the centre of a sizeable landscaped garden. This house was owned and occupied by Richard Henry Tarleton, who was probably a solicitor.
By 1889 the large house had gone to be replaced by Lime Grove.
Richard Henry Tarleton also owned two houses, in each of two corners of the large garden and which faced directly onto the turnpike road. The northernmost of these houses was occupied by Samuel Pigg and the southernmost, which was known as Myrtle Cottage, was then located on the corner of the original course of Clifton Road and Turnpike Road. In 1838 it was occupied by Sarah Hodgkinson. Myrtle Cottage is thought to have been originally built around 1790.
Myrtle Cottage still stands today (though with some 20th century alterations) and forms part of the Old Print Works Complex (together they are a grade II listed building).
South of this point along the turnpike road was meadowland.
South of Belgrave Street
Since 1829 large areas of the farmland south of Belgrade Street were being bought by developers and portioned off into small units for the building of houses. These new streets are listed below:
On the northside there were 14 houses. The south side of the road was still largely undeveloped pasture.
North of Sherbourne Road opposite the junction with Mount Pleasant stood Balsall Heath Cottage and its gardens, owned and occupied by Edward Townshend Cox. Along the northern side of the road stood a further 13 houses and a shop. On the southern side of the road stood 14 houses and a malthouse.
Balsall Heath Road
On the northern side of the road stood 14 houses plus another 5 houses along Longbridge Road. The southern side of the road was still largely undeveloped pasture and meadow.
There was a set of 6 houses on the southern side of the road near the Turnpike Road, while a further two houses stood along the northern side of the road.
Located along this road were 5 houses as well as two brickyards.
Located along this road were 6 houses as well a Wesleyan Chapel, which was located opposite the junction with Vincent Parade. The chapel is labelled as a meeting house up until the 1950’s, when it became a woodworking factory. The building was demolished when Haden Way was constructed.
Mary Street was as yet, still mostly undeveloped and had 8 houses along it.
Edward Street came to a dead end just west of Cannon Hill Road. Along this road stood 14 houses as well as a brickyard.
Along George Street stood 9 houses and a malthouse.
Four houses stood along Tindall Street as well as The Priory and its grounds (described earlier).
Homer street was relatively developed with 14 houses long its length including a large house with a stable and garden, known as Manor Cottage which stood on the northern side of the street and was owned by James Curnin and occupied by Thomas York. It had gone by 1884.
Longmoor as an area located on the east bank of the River Rea and is signalled by the location of the present day Longmore Street. In 1838 this area was still mostly meadowland.
Longmoors is first mentioned in 1608, and the name is thought to be of medieval origin. The Longmoors estate was centred around a house known as Longmore Cottage and in 1838 this was owned by Reverend Doctor John Cox and occupied by Charles Kempster. The land belonging to the house stretched northwards from Sherbourne Road down to the end of Court Road. The farm was sold in 1869 and by 1887 the house had gone, to be replaced by Clevedon Road.
South of this was an area of land, laid out in a series of small rectangular fields. It may have possibly have been a series of allotment gardens or some sort. It was owned by William Court, after whom, Court Road may possibly be named.
North of Edgbaston Lane
In 1838 the land north of Edgbaston Lane was still characterised by farmland and large estates.
The Willows House, along with offices, buildings, shrubberies and garden stood just off Edgbaston Lane between the present day Willows Road and Cannon Hill Road. The estate was owned by Charlotte Primer and occupied by Timothy East and stretched northwards towards Edward Road.
By 1887 Russell Road (later Willows Road) had been built, which chopped through the estate and by 1904 the house had been replaced by a Vicarage.
In 1838 Oakfield Road followed a much more windy route than the later road, which had been laid out by 1904. Along Oakfield Road were three large houses, the first of which was Oakfield House.
The house, along with offices, lawns, woodland, carriage road and a pool stood east of Oakfield Road and was owned and occupied by Thomas Wilson. The house is still shown on the 1889 map, but by 1904 it had been replaced by the construction of Beaconsfield Road.
Next along Oakfield Road stood Oakfield Cottage along with its associated office buildings and garden, which was owned and occupied by Thomas Gilbert, who also owned a large meadow on the opposite side of Oakfield Road. The house is still shown on the 1889 map, but by 1904 it had been replaced by the construction of Beaconsfield Road.
Located to the north of Oakfield Cottage at the corner of Oakfield Road stood Oak House, along with a lodge, lawn and garden which was owned and occupied by Elizabeth Potts. The house is still shown on the 1889 map, but by 1904 it had been replaced by the construction of Oakfield Road.
Lady Pool Lane
Lady Pool Lane (now Church Road/Ladypool Road) ran from Wake Green Road northwards to Highgate Lane. The land on this side of Balsall Heath was still mostly farmland in 1838 and was dominated by meadowland.
Lady Pool Cottage
Lady Pool Cottage stood on the eastern side of Lady Pool Lane roughly where Alder Road is today. North of the cottage was an ‘L’-shaped pool, which is thought to potentially be the ‘Lady Pool’ after which the road is named. In 1838 the cottage was owned and occupied by a goldsmith and jeweller called Frederick Noble Bedford, but by 1889 the cottage and pool had gone to be replaced by Alder Drive and Birchwood Road.
Moving north up Lady Pool Lane, the next building would have been Laurell Cottage, which stood on the opposite side of the road at the junction with John Street (now Runcorn Road). The cottage was owned by Thomas Wilson and occupied by Ann Nead. The cottage had probably been demolished by 1889.
North of this on the same side of the road stood a house, stable, gig-house and garden owned by a merchant named Samuel Rawlins and occupied by John Brown. On the 1904 map this is named Acacia House but it had been replaced by terraced housing by 1916.
Further north along Lady Pool Lane was a farm belonging to Thomas Simcox, whose land stretched Northwards from where Clifton Road is today up to just south of the present day Oldfield Road. The estate was centred around a farmhouse, which was set back from Lady Pool Lane, and was occupied by Thomas Day. By 1904 the farm had been replaced by terraced housing and the farm building itself became the site of the present day Clifton Primary School.
Between Lady Pool Lane and Stoney Lane stood a farm belonging to William Anderton who also owned substantial amounts of land in Kings Heath.. The farmhouse, itself was surrounded by a landscaped garden including woodland and a pool and stood roughly midway along where Birchwood Crescent is today. The farm was occupied by Phillip Bartlam. East of the farm, along Stoney Lane stood two houses, respectively owned by John Shepherd and John Gregory Watkins.
Further north along Stoney Lane was a farm which was owned by John Gregory Watkins and was centred around a farmhouse, farm buildings, yard and garden which stood roughly where Spark Green Park is today. In 1838 the farm was occupied by Richard Hill. The farm was still present as late as 1890 but by 1904 it had been replaced by housing.
Along the northern boundary of Balsall Heath ran Highgate Lane, which by 1838 was already becoming quite developed with 18 houses on the southern side and a number of houses on the northern side.