A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17, Offlow Hundred (Part). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1976.
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West Bromwich is crossed by the ancient highway from Birmingham to Wolverhampton. By the beginning of the 16th century it was part of the route from London to Shrewsbury and ran from the south-eastern corner of the parish across the Heath and on to Great Bridge where it crossed the Tame. (fn. 1) In the late 17th century it was also being much used for carrying coal and was consequently in a poor state. (fn. 2) Perhaps for that reason an alternative route to Shrewsbury via Smethwick and Dudley was being favoured by long-distance traffic by 1675. (fn. 3) In 1699, however, the road through Great Bridge was described as the great road between London, Chester, and Shrewsbury, and it was the road's importance which caused the county to contribute towards rebuilding the bridge in that year. (fn. 4) By the 1720s it formed part of the post road between London and Shrewsbury and carried much iron, coal, and lime. (fn. 5)
The road which forks from the main road at Carter's Green and runs to Wednesbury and Wolverhampton was also an early one. It was mentioned as the road from Finchpath to Birmingham in the earlier 14th century, (fn. 6) and the bridge at Finchpath by which it crossed the Tame existed by 1225. (fn. 7) In 1685 there is a reference to the 'hollow way' down Finchpath Hill to Wednesbury Bridge; (fn. 8) it may have been cut to facilitate the transport of coal south from the area. (fn. 9) By the 1720s the road from Wednesbury to Carter's Green was in a dangerous state because of the great quantities of ironware and coal taken from Wednesbury to Birmingham. (fn. 10)
Both the main roads were turnpiked in 1727, (fn. 11) but real improvement came only when the coal traffic was transferred to the canal from 1769. (fn. 12) After the turnpiking of the Wednesbury-Bilston road in 1766 the Shrewsbury coaches began to use the shorter route via Wednesbury; (fn. 13) from 1808 this also became the main Holyhead mail route in preference to the road via Coleshill and Lichfield. (fn. 14) There was a toll-gate at Three Mile Oak in the south-east of the parish by 1756. (fn. 15) By 1771 there were also tollgates at Hill Top by the junction with New Street and Coles Lane; at the top of Holloway Bank by the junction with Witton Lane; and at Great Bridge by the junction with Whitehall Road. (fn. 16) By about 1820 there was also a gate by the junction with Sandwell Road. (fn. 17) The steepness of the hill at Holloway Bank was an obstacle. Coach passengers often alighted at the Fountain inn and walked up to ease the burden on the horses, (fn. 18) and in 1819 Thomas Telford described the road up the hill as 'inconveniently steep . . . crooked and much sunk into the ground'. (fn. 19) In 1821 the hill was lowered and the way raised. (fn. 20) Under the West Bromwich Improvement Act of 1854 most of the turnpiked road through the town—from Roebuck Lane to Hill Top and to the gas-works in Swan Village—was taken over from the turnpike trustees by the improvement commissioners. (fn. 21) The remainder was disturnpiked in 1870. (fn. 22)
Besides the two highways there are several ancient roads across the parish, notably those radiating from Lyndon and the area round All Saints' Church, the ancient centre of the parish. By the earlier 13th century there was a road to Wednesbury via Hydes Bridge; it apparently followed the line of Heath Lane to the Hateley Heath area and then ran along Rydding Lane to Hydes Road. (fn. 23) At Rydding Lane, presumably by an early period, the road was joined by another from Stone Cross and the manor-house, corresponding with the present Hall Green Road; its western stretch was straightened in 1817. (fn. 24) The road from the church to Finchpath, which occurs in 1336, presumably followed the Wednesbury road to Hateley Heath and from there ran to Holloway Bank along Jowett's Lane and Witton Lane. (fn. 25) By the end of the 13th century there was a road from the church to Greet mill, continuing thence to Oldbury. It must have followed approximately what are now Vicarage Road and Church Lane to Black Lake and continued either along Bilhay Lane, Claypit Lane, Bull Lane, Albion Road, and West Bromwich Street or along Swan Lane, Phoenix Street, Ryders Green Road, Oldbury Road, and West Bromwich Street. (fn. 26) The road from Lyndon to Walsall via Stone Cross and Tame Bridge was in use by the later Middle Ages; (fn. 27) the present line from Stone Cross to the borough boundary, with its dual carriageway, was opened in 1969. (fn. 28) The road from Lyndon to Birmingham ran south to Mayer's Green and thence south-east to the Birmingham road more or less along the line of the present Beeches Road, a stretch described in 1776 as 'an ancient horse road leading from Mares Green towards the Three Mile Oak Turnpike'. In the earlier 1770s, however, traffic was apparently taking a shorter route from Mayer's Green to the improved Birmingham road, along the present Reform and Bull Streets. The Beeches Road stretch became disused, and by 1776 Lord Dartmouth had taken it into his estate. It still existed as Holly Lane in 1804. (fn. 29) A road from Lyndon to Oldbury occurs in the early 17th century running over Bromwich Heath and along Bromford Lane. (fn. 30) Newton Road running east from the church is probably another old road; it was turnpiked in 1804 as part of the road from the Swan in West Bromwich to Sutton Coldfield, but there is no further record of the turnpike. (fn. 31) It was widened as far as Wigmore Lane in 1920-1 as an unemployment relief work. (fn. 32)
Salter's Lane, running westwards from Dagger Lane to the parish boundary at Park Lane, occurs by the later Middle Ages. It was originally known as Saltwell Lane but the modern name came into use in the 17th century. By the earlier 19th century the eastern half had become a footpath only and has so remained. (fn. 33) There was a road from Hateley Heath to Bird End and Newton by 1526, following the present Marsh Lane (so named by 1681) and Charlemont Road and crossing the Tame at Joan Bridge. (fn. 34) In 1526 there is also mention of the lane leading to Smethwick from the Birmingham-Wolverhampton road in West Bromwich; it was presumably Spon Lane, Roebuck Lane, or Halford's Lane. (fn. 35) Spon Lane occurs by name in 1694. (fn. 36) The highway from Greets Green to Dudley that occurs in the 16th century is presumably Whitehall Road, (fn. 37) and the lane from Great Bridge to Harvills Oak that occurs in 1616 is presumably Brickhouse Lane and Dial Lane. (fn. 38) Tinkers Lane, which ran from Greet mill to Bromford Lane near Bromford Bridge, was mentioned in 1609 but had gone out of use by the 1720s. (fn. 39)
The chief addition to the roads in recent times is the stretch of the M5 motorway which runs on the west side of the town to link with the M6 at Bescot. It was opened in 1970, as was the extension of the M6 to Great Barr. (fn. 40) The stretch of the ring road between Greets Green Road and the roundabout where Birmingham Road crosses the M5 was completed in 1970; the stretch from the roundabout to Carter's Green, the Expressway, was opened in 1973. (fn. 41)
With the Tame forming so much of the boundary West Bromwich possessed several bridges at an early date. The following account begins in the south of the parish and works downstream.
Bromford Bridge, which carries the road to Oldbury over the Tame, existed by 1617. It may have been only a footbridge for there was still a ford there in the earlier 19th century. It had become a county bridge by 1858. (fn. 42)
The bridge which carries Sheepwash Lane over the Tame existed by the earlier 19th century. It was maintained jointly by West Bromwich and Tipton. (fn. 43)
Great Bridge, originally 'Grete' Bridge, (fn. 44) takes the road to Tipton over the Tame. It existed by the 1550s, (fn. 45) and presumably much earlier in view of the importance of the road. It was maintained jointly by West Bromwich and Tipton, but because of the road's importance the county in 1699 assigned £50 towards the cost of its conversion from a horse bridge to a stone cart bridge. (fn. 46) West Bromwich refused to join Tipton in carrying out the work, and in 1702 quarter sessions ordered the justices concerned with the work to repay £20 and spend the remaining £30 on the Tipton half of the bridge and on the causeway leading to it on the Tipton side. (fn. 47) The rebuilding of the bridge had been completed by 1706. Tipton then claimed to be in debt as a result and was compensated by quarter sessions. (fn. 48) The bridge had become a county responsibility by 1780 when it was again rebuilt. It has subsequently been greatly widened, but the 18th-century structure forms the northern part of the present bridge. (fn. 49)
There was a bridge at Finchpath to the south of Wednesbury by 1225, carrying the main Birmingham-Wolverhampton road over the Tame. (fn. 50) The name Finchpath Bridge was still in use at the end of the 16th century, (fn. 51) but the bridge was being referred to as Wednesbury Bridge by 1620. (fn. 52) It was a county bridge by 1667 when quarter sessions ordered a levy for its repair. (fn. 53) It was rebuilt by Telford in 1826 as part of his improvements to the Holyhead road. (fn. 54) It has subsequently been rebuilt again and widened.
By 1858 there was a second Wednesbury Bridge on the Tame 'near Wednesbury'; it too was a county bridge. (fn. 55) It is probably identifiable with Hydes Bridge, which carries Hydes Road over the Tame and existed by 1804. (fn. 56) Hydes Bridge was evidently 'Wysti' Bridge, which occurs in the area in the earlier 13th century. (fn. 57) It is also presumably the bridge over 'Hides Brook' which was maintained jointly by West Bromwich and Wednesbury in the later 18th century; in 1785 the Wednesbury vestry authorized its rebuilding since it was 'insufficient to allow for a waggon'. (fn. 58) The present structure is modern.
Tame Bridge, which carries the road to Walsall over the Tame, probably existed by the later 15th century: by will proved in 1452 Thomas Mollesley of Walsall left 10 marks for building a 'new bridge of Tame'. (fn. 59) At the dissolution of the monasteries the bridge and a stretch of the road on the West Bromwich side were maintained with the profits from the adjoining Tame Bridge meadow, which an abbot of Halesowen had given for the purpose; by 1586 the land was owned by the town feoffees of Walsall, which was thus responsible for maintaining the bridge. (fn. 60) In 1781 the three-arched bridge was dangerous, and West Bromwich, Walsall, and some neighbouring parishes petitioned the county for help towards the cost of rebuilding it; it was rebuilt c. 1783. (fn. 61) In 1867 Walsall corporation sold the land, and in 1894 the owner transferred responsibility for the bridge to the county council with a payment of £100. (fn. 62) The bridge no longer exists, having disappeared in the late 1960s when the road and the river were re-aligned during the construction of the motorway interchange; the new line of the road crosses the Tame further downstream.
There have been two bridges near the site of Joan mill from an early date. Joan Mill Bridge occurs in 1401-2 and presumably carried what is now Charlemont Road over the mill-stream; its maintenance was the responsibility of Sandwell priory, the owner of the mill. (fn. 63) Joan Bridge, which carries the road over the Tame, occurs in 1526 (fn. 64) but presumably existed by the earlier date. By 1549 it was the responsibility of West Bromwich and Great Barr, (fn. 65) and West Bromwich was still involved in its repair in 1767. (fn. 66) By 1831, however, it had become a county bridge. (fn. 67) In 1858 the two bridges, both county bridges, were known as Joan Upper Bridge and Joan Nether Bridge. (fn. 68)
The canals of West Bromwich are concentrated in the western part of the parish where most of the collieries and ironworks developed in the later 18th and earlier 19th centuries. The Birmingham Canal built by James Brindley from Birmingham to Wolverhampton in 1768-72 runs along the boundary of West Bromwich for a short distance on either side of Spon Lane. Telford's new line through the south-west of the parish was built as far as the Albion area c. 1830 and was completed to Tipton in 1838 under an Act of 1835. (fn. 69) The Gower branch, opened in 1836, runs south from Telford's canal at Greets Green to Brindley's canal near Brades Village in Rowley Regis. There were two other branches from the West Bromwich stretch of Telford's canal, Dunkirk, opened in 1850 and abandoned in 1953, and Union (Roway), abandoned in 1954. (fn. 70)
The Balls Hill branch of the Birmingham Canal, built, like the main canal, under an Act of 1768, was opened from Spon Lane to 'Wednesbury Hollow-way' in 1769, three years before the completion of the main canal. It provided the pits of the Wednesbury area with an immediate outlet to Birmingham. The terminus was west of the main road at Hill Top near Golds Green, where coal was being raised at that time. It was described c. 1830 as of little use because a part of it had collapsed as a result of mining subsidence. Much of the canal was abandoned in stages between 1954 and 1960 and filled in. (fn. 71)
A local canal system soon developed, based on the Balls Hill branch. In 1786, under an Act of 1783, a branch was opened from Ryders Green through Great Bridge to Broadwaters in Wednesbury, with eight locks at Ryders Green; it was extended to Walsall in 1799. (fn. 72) Side canals were built from the branch. The Danks branch was built, apparently under the Act of 1783, from Toll End in Tipton through the Golds Green area; it was abandoned in stages between 1954 and 1960. (fn. 73) The Haines branch was opened from Great Bridge to the collieries in the south-west corner of the parish in 1833. (fn. 74) The industrial development of the earlier 19th century produced new branches from the Balls Hill branch. In 1826 the Ridgacre branch was opened from Swan Village to Ridgacre Lane (now Church Lane), and branches were soon built from it: Dartmouth, opened in 1828 to Hateley Heath and largely abandoned in 1947, Halford, also opened in 1828 and largely abandoned in 1947, and Jesson, opened in 1831 and abandoned in 1954. The Izon and Union branches from the Balls Hill branch served works in the south-west; the first was abandoned in 1954 and the second in stages between 1954 and 1965. (fn. 75)
The Tame Valley Canal, which crosses the north of the parish, was built under an Act of 1839 from the Walsall Canal near Ocker Hill in Tipton to the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal near Aston (Warws.). Opened in 1844, it provided a new outlet avoiding Birmingham. (fn. 76)
The first railway in West Bromwich, and also the first really national main line, was the Grand Junction Railway opened between Birmingham and Warrington in 1837. The line crosses the north-eastern part of the ancient parish, and a station was opened in 1837 on the north side of Newton Road. (fn. 77) A new station was opened in 1863 further north on the Great Barr side of the former boundary and was called West Bromwich for a few months before being renamed Newton Road. (fn. 78) A third station was opened to the south of Newton Road in 1902 and remained in use until 1945. (fn. 79) Bescot Junction station just inside the northern boundary of the parish was opened in 1847, with a branch linking the line from that point to the South Staffordshire Railway at Pleck in Walsall. Another link with the South Staffordshire Railway south of Pleck, known as Bescot Curve, was opened in 1850. (fn. 80) The up marshalling yard at Bescot was brought into use in 1881 and a new sorting siding in 1892. (fn. 81)
The opening of the Birmingham, Wolverhampton & Stour Valley Railway in 1852 with stations just over the parish boundary at Spon Lane in Smethwick and Bromford Lane in Oldbury brought the railway closer to the centre of West Bromwich; the station at Albion was opened in 1853. (fn. 82) The line also served the industrial area in the southwestern part of the parish. (fn. 83) Spon Lane was closed in 1964; Albion was closed to passengers in 1960 and to freight in 1964. (fn. 84)
It was only in 1854 that the railway reached the centre of West Bromwich. In that year the Birmingham, Wolverhampton & Dudley Railway was opened from Birmingham to Wolverhampton with two stations in the town; West Bromwich station, off Paradise Street, served the centre of the town, and there was another station at Swan Village. (fn. 85) In 1866 the Great Bridge branch was opened from Swan Village junction to the South Staffordshire line near Great Bridge; the Swan Village Basin branch, apparently the line from Swan Village to the gas-works, was opened the same year. (fn. 86) In 1867 the main line of the Birmingham, Wolverhampton & Dudley Railway was joined by the Stourbridge Extension Railway near Halford's Lane. (fn. 87) Passenger services over the Great Bridge branch were suspended from 1915 to 1920, (fn. 88) and the line was closed in 1964. (fn. 89) Local passenger services along the main Birmingham-Wolverhampton line were much reduced in the late 1960s, and West Bromwich and Swan Village stations became unstaffed halts. The branch line from Swan Village to the gas-works was closed in 1967. (fn. 90) The passenger buildings at West Bromwich station were demolished in 1971, but a large brick goods shed, dating apparently from c. 1854, (fn. 91) was left standing.
The South Staffordshire Railway, opened from Dudley to Wychnor in 1850, runs through the north-west of the parish. It has never had a station within the bounds of the pre-1966 borough. (fn. 92)