Smethwick: Local government

A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17, Offlow Hundred (Part). Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1976.

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A P Baggs. G C Baugh. C R J Currie. Johnson D A, 'Smethwick: Local government', A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17, Offlow Hundred (Part), (London, 1976), pp. 118-120. British History Online [accessed 18 June 2024].

A P Baggs. G C Baugh. C R J Currie. Johnson D A. "Smethwick: Local government", in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17, Offlow Hundred (Part), (London, 1976) 118-120. British History Online, accessed June 18, 2024,

Baggs, A P. Baugh, G C. Currie, C R J. Johnson D A. "Smethwick: Local government", A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17, Offlow Hundred (Part), (London, 1976). 118-120. British History Online. Web. 18 June 2024,


There was a single court baron for the jointly held manors of Harborne and Smethwick probably by the late 13th century, (fn. 1) although by c. 1275 each manor had its own reeve. (fn. 2) It seems likely that the court had ceased to meet regularly by 1535. (fn. 3) That was certainly so by 1575 when the lord of Harborne and Smethwick held 'scantly one court in a whole year'. (fn. 4) It is not known where the court normally met, but in 1628 there is record of its meeting at Smethwick. (fn. 5) A court baron was held for Smethwick after the two manors were separated in 1710. Between at least 1757 and 1802 it met at irregular intervals, apparently when specially summoned to deal with conveyances of copyhold land. (fn. 6) In the 1890s it was stated that no manorial court or customs had existed within living memory and that there was no copyhold land in Smethwick. (fn. 7)

In the late 13th century Smethwick was doing suit with Harborne at the bishop's view of frankpledge at Lichfield. (fn. 8) Harborne and Smethwick were presenting jointly by three frankpledges at the bishop's view at Longdon by 1327; by 1640 a constable and a thirdborough were presenting. (fn. 9) Expenses for attendance at Longdon court still appear in the constable's accounts in 1780. (fn. 10)

Although part of Harborne parish Smethwick was recognized as a distinct township by the 14th century. (fn. 11) In 1668 'the parish of Harborne and Smethwick' is mentioned, and the usage occurs regularly in parish documents of the earlier 18th century. (fn. 12) In 1733 it was decided that parish meetings should be held alternately at Harborne and Smethwick 'for the ease of the said parish'. (fn. 13)

By the early 18th century, even before the building of the chapel, a churchwarden was being appointed for Smethwick by the Harborne vestry. The system remained in force until 1834, but after that year the vestry minutes simply record the appointment of two churchwardens for Harborne parish. In 1845 a chapelwarden for Smethwick was also appointed. (fn. 14) There was a beadle for Smethwick by 1816. (fn. 15)

It was the vestry's practice by the earlier 18th century to appoint a constable for the Smethwick side of the parish and a thirdborough for the Harborne side in one year, and vice versa the next year. (fn. 16) By 1830 there was simply a constable for each. (fn. 17) Under the Lighting and Watching Act of 1830 the vestry made various attempts to improve policing: it established a body of 'inspectors' for Harborne in 1830 and another for Smethwick in 1836, increased the number of parish constables, and paid some of them. (fn. 18)

The vestry was appointing two overseers of the poor for each side of the parish by the earlier 18th century, and separate accounts were kept. (fn. 19) By 1830 there was a single overseer for each side, but there was also a salaried assistant overseer for the whole parish. (fn. 20) In addition the parish had adopted Gilbert's Act of 1782 by 1796, when two guardians and a visitor of the workhouse occur. (fn. 21) From 1830, after the vestry had examined the provisions of the Act, five guardians for each side and a visitor were appointed; one of the ten guardians assumed chief responsibility and was paid a salary. (fn. 22) A parish workhouse had been built by 1785. About 1796, under the terms of Gilbert's Act, either this or a new house was fitted out for the reception and employment of the poor; it stood on part of the Parish Lands at the junction of the present Lordswood and Gillhurst Roads in Harborne. (fn. 23) In 1836 Smethwick passed with the rest of Harborne into the King's Norton poor-law union. (fn. 24)

A surveyor of the highways was appointed for each side by the vestry by the earlier 18th century. (fn. 25) From 1836 the vestry tried various new ways of managing the roads of the parish. In Smethwick the experiments included the appointment of a second surveyor, of a salaried assistant, and of a board of surveyors. (fn. 26)

A parish pound occurs in 1776. (fn. 27) By 1829 the vestry was appointing the pinner, but the lord of Harborne manor was responsible for the upkeep of the pound. (fn. 28) It is presumably to be identified with the pound that stood next to the toll-house at the junction of Bearwood Road and the BirminghamHalesowen road in 1877. (fn. 29) There was also a Smethwich pound in Oldbury Road, a smithy being built on the site of it c. 1878. (fn. 30)

In 1853 a movement was started for the establishment of a local board of health for Smethwick, and a board with 12 elected members was set up in 1856. (fn. 31) In 1888 a proposal that Smethwick should become part of Birmingham was defeated at a meeting of the board only by the chairman's casting vote. (fn. 32) In 1890 the membership of the board was increased to 15, divided between five wards. (fn. 33) The board became an urban district council in 1894. (fn. 34) The local board held its first meeting at the Star in Rolfe Street and later met at the office, also in Rolfe Street, of Ralph Docker, a solicitor and parttime clerk to the board. (fn. 35) Public buildings were erected in High Street in 1866-7, designed in a Gothic style by Yeoville Thomason. (fn. 36) A building to the north, dating from 1880, housed the free library and the offices of the gas undertaking; it was also used by the magistrates of the West Bromwich petty sessional division who held fortnightly sessions at Smethwick from 1882. (fn. 37)

Smethwick became a borough in 1899 (fn. 38) and a county borough in 1907. (fn. 39) The council consisted of 6 aldermen and 18 councillors representing six wards: Bearwood, Sandwell, Soho, Spon Lane, Uplands, and Victoria. (fn. 40) Smethwick put forward a proposal in 1920 for the extension of its boundary to include Oldbury urban district (Worcs.); shortage of space at that time was forcing the council to acquire land in Oldbury for housing. (fn. 41) The proposal achieved partial success when in 1928 the Warley Woods area of Oldbury was added to Smethwick. The number of wards was increased to eight: the new area became Warley Woods ward, and Cape ward was formed out of Bearwood ward. An alderman and three councillors were assigned to each of the new wards. (fn. 42) The borough was granted a commission of the peace in 1901 and a court of quarter sessions in 1919. (fn. 43) In 1945 Smethwick and West Bromwich were planning to amalgamate, but in the event the only amalgamation was that of the two fire brigades in 1948. (fn. 44) In 1966, as part of the reorganization of local government in the West Midlands, Smethwick county borough became part of the new Worcestershire county borough of Warley, (fn. 45) which in 1974 became part of the metropolitan borough of Sandwell. (fn. 46)

The Labour party secured a majority on the borough council in 1926. In 1928, after the creation of the two new wards, the Unionists and Independents combined had as many seats as Labour, but the Labour party again secured a majority in 1929. Between 1930 and 1933 there seems to have been some fluctuation in control, but in 1934 the Conservatives had an over-all majority. They kept it until 1945 when the Labour party won control, retaining it until 1964. Racial matters had by then become an issue. The Conservatives took control in 1964 and kept it for the rest of the existence of the borough. (fn. 47)

The public buildings in High Street were replaced by the Council House, also in High Street, which was built in 1905-7. It was designed by F. J. Gill of Smethwick in a style that has been described as 'a free, somewhat Baroque William and Mary'; of brick and Bath stone, it consists of two storeys with a central portico and a cupola. (fn. 48) An extension, linked to the main building by a bridge, was opened in 1957. (fn. 49) The first public buildings, after being used as an employment exchange, were converted into the central library in 1927-8. (fn. 50) The court-house on the corner of Crockett's Lane and Piddock Street was built in 1931. (fn. 51)

The insignia of the former borough include a gold mayoral chain presented in 1899 by Jabez Lones, the first mayor (1899-1901), and his business partner Edward Holden, and a silver mace given by Samuel Smith, mayor in 1901-2. (fn. 52) The seal of the borough in use from 1899 to 1907 depicted the unregistered arms. That in use from 1907 to 1966 depicted the arms granted in 1907 but was otherwise similar. (fn. 53) It was circular, 2½"; legend, humanistic: COMMON SEAL OF THE MAYOR ALDERMEN AND BURGESSES OF THE BOROUGH OF SMETHWICK.

The arms of the borough from 1899 to 1907 were quartered to represent various industries of the town and showed a pumping engine, a lighthouse, a gasholder, and a worker at an anvil; the motto was 'Orbis terrarum officina'. (fn. 54) New arms were granted in 1907 which were derived partly from those of James Watt, Matthew Boulton, and Sir James Timmins Chance and also contained emblems representing various industries of the town; the motto, 'labore et ingenio', was that of James Watt reversed. (fn. 55)

The Borough of Smethwick

Or, a club in bend sinister surmounted by a caduceus in bend dexter, both proper; on a chief azure a beacon fired, between two symbols of the planet Mars or. [Granted 1907]

A complete list of mayors is given in the County Borough of Smethwick Municipal Year Book 1965-1966.


  • 1. Tax. Eccl. (Rec. Com.), 251; B.R.L. 347166. In the latter the court is referred to as curia magna, but the word magna, though inserted as an afterthought, is incorrect.
  • 2. Court Rolls of the Manor of Hales, 1270-1307 (Worcs. Hist. Soc.), i. 21, 23.
  • 3. Profits of court then averaged only 1s. 8d. a year: Valor Eccl. (Rec. Com.), iii. 206.
  • 4. Req. 2/80/49.
  • 5. W.S.L. 82/17/43; 82/18/43.
  • 6. S.R.O., D. 1141/4/4, ct. bk. 1757-87; B.R.L. 445767-8. The court book is the only known set of court rolls for Smethwick manor.
  • 7. Hackwood, Smethwick, 48.
  • 8. Plac. de Quo Warr. (Rec. Com.), 711.
  • 9. S.R.O., D.(W.)1734/2/1/598, mm. 2d., 4; D.(W.) 1734/2/1/615.
  • 10. For these expenses in the 18th century see docs. at St. Peter's, Harborne, 151A (1704-5); ibid., 151D, ff. 169v., 219v., 220; W.P.L. 17628; B.R.L., Pickard 5618.
  • 11. See e.g. S.H.C. vii (1), 234; x (1), 102; 1923, 252-5; 1929, 297; 4th ser. vi. 11.
  • 12. B.R.L. 449574, ff. 12, 18; Redhead, Local Govt. 2; B.R.L., Pickard 5618; docs. at St. Peter's, Harborne, 151D, f. 230v. In 1341 there is reference to the church of Harborne and Smethwick: Inq. Non. (Rec. Com.), 131.
  • 13. Docs. at St. Peter's, Harborne, 151D, f. 227v.
  • 14. B.R.L., Pickard 5618; docs. at St. Peter's, Harborne, 14, Vestry Mins. 1829-57; ibid. 151A, 151D.
  • 15. Docs. at St. Peter's, Harborne, 14, Churchwardens' Bk. 1813-32, 11 Apr. 1816.
  • 16. B.R.L., Pickard 5618; docs. at St. Peter's, Harborne, 151D.
  • 17. Docs. at St. Peter's, Harborne, 14, Vestry Mins. 1829-57.
  • 18. Ibid. ff. 43-5, 107-8, 136-7, 149-50, and 27 Sept. 1842 sqq.; S.R.O., Q/APr 3; 11 Geo IV, c. 27.
  • 19. B.R.L., Pickard 5618; docs. at St. Peter's, Harborne, 151D.
  • 20. Vestry Mins. 1829-57.
  • 21. Docs. at St. Peter's, Harborne, 151C.
  • 22. Vestry Mins. 1829-57.
  • 23. V.C.H. Warws. vii. 335; W.S.L., S. MS. 417/Harborne; 'Smethwick and Round About', 1 Feb. 1952. For the Parish Lands see below pp. 141-2.
  • 24. 3rd Ann. Rep. Poor Law Com. H.C. 546-I, p. 167 (1837), xxxi.
  • 25. B.R.L., Pickard 5618; docs. at St. Peter's, Harborne, 151D.
  • 26. Vestry Mins. 1829-57.
  • 27. Redhead, Local Govt. 6.
  • 28. Vestry Mins. 1829-57, 22 Sept. 1829, 2 Apr. 1841, 31 Mar. 1847, 17 Aug. 1855.
  • 29. Town Clerk's Dept., Birmingham, deed packet no. 657, abstract of title of trustees of G. C. Adkins 1902; 'Smethwick and Round About', 1 Feb. 1952; above p. 97.
  • 30. 'Old Smethwick', 18 Dec. 1948.
  • 31. Redhead, Local Govt. 25-9; Lond. Gaz. 25 Apr. 1856, pp. 1538-40.
  • 32. 'Old Smethwick', 26 Aug. 1950.
  • 33. Hackwood, Smethwick, 106; Smethwick Local Board of Health 1891-2 Members, Meetings, etc. (copy in W.P.L.).
  • 34. Hackwood, Smethwick, 106; W.P.L., Min. Bk. 15, pp. 228, 240, 246.
  • 35. W.P.L., Min. Bk. 1, pp. 1, 5, 7, 9, 30.
  • 36. Hackwood, Smethwick, 103; 'Smethwick and Round About', 20 Sept. 1957; Pevsner, Worcs. 91; plate facing p. 97 above.
  • 37. S.R.O., Q/SOp 3, 17 Oct. 1881; Staffs. Advertiser (S. Staffs. edn.), 20 May 1882; Kelly's Dir. Birm. (1882); 'Smethwick and Round About', 20 July 1956; below p. 135.
  • 38. Hackwood, Smethwick, 107-9; K. W. Inskip, Smethwick: from Hamlet to County Borough (Smethwick, 1966), 10 (copy in W.P.L.); 'Old Smethwick', 31 Dec. 1949; Lond. Gaz. 18 Apr. 1899, pp. 2461-6; printed copy of charter of incorporation in W.P.L.
  • 39. Local Govt. Board's Provisional Order Confirmation (No. 6) Act, 1906, 6 Edw. VII, c. 105 (Local).
  • 40. Boro. of Smethwick Municipal Diary 1900-1 (copy in W.P.L.).
  • 41. County Boro. of Smethwick, Representation to Minister of Health for Alteration of Boundary of Boro. (1920; copy in W.P.L.); W.P.L. 3017; below p. 121.
  • 42. Smethwick Corp. Act, 1927, 17 & 18 Geo. V, c. 65 (Local).
  • 43. County Boro. of Smethwick, Representation to Minister of Health (1920), 3; Smethwick Telephone, 4 Jan. 1902.
  • 44. See pp. 122, 136-7.
  • 45. West Midlands Order 1965, S.I. 1965, no. 2139, pp. 5-7, 85-6, 120, 122-3.
  • 46. Local Govt. Act 1972, c. 70; The Metropolitan Districts (Names) Order 1973, S.I. 1973, no. 137; letters patent of 27 Feb. 1974 granting the district of Sandwell borough status (in possession of the chief executive).
  • 47. Smethwick Telephone, 6 Nov. 1926, 24 Mar. 1928, 9 Nov. 1929, 7 Nov. 1931, 5 Nov. 1932, 4 Nov. 1933, 3 Nov. 1934, 9 Nov. 1935, 5 Nov. 1938, 10 Nov. 1945, 18 May 1962, 15 May and 3 July 1964, 21 May 1965; Birmingham Post, 3 Nov. 1930; below p. 123.
  • 48. Pevsner, Worcs. 91; inscription on foundation-stone and plaque at entrance.
  • 49. County Boro. of Smethwick, Formal Opening of First Phase of the Council House Extension . . . 22nd May 1957 (copy in W.P.L.).
  • 50. Smethwick Official Handbook [1959], 53; below p. 135.
  • 51. Smethwick Telephone, 7 Nov. 1931; Kelly's Dir. Birm. (1932).
  • 52. Inscriptions on chain and mace; 'Old Smethwick', 25 Sept. 1948; Inskip, Smethwick, 12.
  • 53. Ex inf. Mr. D. B. J. Hodgetts, Town Clerk's Dept., Warley (1971); die of 1907 seal in possession of the town clerk of Warley (1971).
  • 54. To be found e.g. on the mace.
  • 55. W.P.L. 501; Inskip, Smethwick, inside front cover.