Smethwick: Communications

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: Communications', A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17, Offlow Hundred (Part), (London, 1976), pp. 96-98. British History Online [accessed 20 June 2024].

A P Baggs. G C Baugh. C R J Currie. Johnson D A. "Smethwick: Communications", in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17, Offlow Hundred (Part), (London, 1976) 96-98. British History Online, accessed June 20, 2024,

Baggs, A P. Baugh, G C. Currie, C R J. Johnson D A. "Smethwick: Communications", A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 17, Offlow Hundred (Part), (London, 1976). 96-98. British History Online. Web. 20 June 2024,


Smethwick lies on the main road from Birmingham to Oldbury and Dudley. The Smethwick section was mentioned in 1278 as the highway from Smethwick to Birmingham. (fn. 1) It formed part of the main route from London to Shrewsbury by 1675, but by 1723 the older and better route through West Bromwich and Wolverhampton was again preferred. (fn. 2) In 1760 the road through Smethwick was turnpiked as part of the Birmingham, Dudley, and Wolverhampton turnpike. (fn. 3) A toll-gate on the Smethwick section existed by 1762. (fn. 4) It is probably to be identified with the 'Blugates' which a map made in 1767 shows as standing at the junction with what is now Brasshouse Lane. (fn. 5) The later Blue Gates hotel on the opposite side of the main road (opened in 1932) preserved the name of two earlier inns on the same site; the first existed by 1781 and probably 1773, and presumably took its name from the colour of the barrier. (fn. 6) There may have been a toll-gate at the junction of the main road with Holly Lane and Roebuck Lane in the early 19th century: what was probably an inn there was called the White Gates. (fn. 7) By 1857 there was also a toll-gate at the junction with Windmill Lane. (fn. 8) There was another gate at the junction with Grove Lane on the boundary with Birmingham, the toll-house being on the Birmingham side. (fn. 9) The road was disturnpiked in 1876. (fn. 10) The Blue Gates toll-house opposite the Blue Gates hotel has been converted into a shop. The toll-house at Windmill Lane was demolished in 1896 (fn. 11) and that at Grove Lane c. 1925. (fn. 12)

The main road was crossed by other old roads running south-west towards Rowley Regis and Halesowen and north to West Bromwich. One road ran south-west along Stony Lane and Hales Lane and north along Brasshouse Lane and Halford's Lane; the other ran along Holly Lane and Roebuck Lane. The main road was also crossed by the road from Halesowen to Handsworth running from Hales Lane along Cooper's Lane, Crockett's Lane, and Rabone Lane (formerly New Inn Lane), and by the road from Harborne to Handsworth, which branched northeast from Bearwood Road to follow Waterloo Road, Windmill Lane, and Soho Street to Rabone Lane. (fn. 13)

Bearwood Road, which forks south from the Birmingham-Dudley road to run to Bearwood and Harborne, was mentioned as the highway from Smethwick to Harborne in 1278. (fn. 14) At Bearwood it meets the Birmingham-Halesowen road, which formed the boundary between the manors and townships of Smethwick and Harborne. (fn. 15) The Birmingham-Halesowen road was turnpiked in 1753, and by 1858 there was a toll-gate at the Two Mile Stump at the junction with Bearwood Road; it replaced the toll-gate at the near-by junction with Sandon Road (in Edgbaston), in existence in 1814 and apparently still in use in 1842. The road was disturnpiked in 1877. Part of the toll-house was sold that year and the remainder demolished. (fn. 16)

In 1757 and 1760 the Smethwick highway surveyor paid for work on a bridge below Smethwick Chapel; (fn. 17) it presumably carried the present Church Road over Thimblemill Brook. In 1782 the surveyor paid for work on a bridge in Stony Lane over the stream flowing from the grounds of Smethwick Hall. (fn. 18) It may perhaps be the Stonnoss Brook bridge on which work had been carried out in 1757. (fn. 19) There was also a bridge on the Birmingham-Dudley road where it crossed Shireland Brook on the boundary between Birmingham and Smethwick; (fn. 20) it may have been Smethwick bridge, which occurs as a county bridge in 1858 and 1862. (fn. 21) The main road still forded Thimblemill Brook at Bearwood Hill in the early 19th century, but the brook had been culverted by 1842. (fn. 22)

The northern part of Smethwick is crossed by the stretch of the Birmingham Canal built by James Brindley in 1768-9. At first the plan was to tunnel through the high ground in the north-west, but Brindley encountered 'running sand and other bad materials' and instead used 'locks and fireengines'. (fn. 23) In 1788-90 the number of locks at either end of the mile-long summit level was reduced by means of a new line through a cutting; Summit Bridge, which bears the date 1790, was built to carry Roebuck Lane across the cutting. (fn. 24) The line of the canal between Birmingham and Smethwick was straightened as part of Thomas Telford's improvements from 1824, that part of the work being completed in 1827. Telford also by-passed the summit by making a new line from a point east of Rolfe Street through a deep cutting south of the first canal; it was completed in 1829. To carry Roebuck Lane over the new cutting Telford built the cast-iron Galton Bridge in 1828-9, which with its span of 154 feet was the longest canal bridge in the world. (fn. 25) The new line passes under the old canal at the former Spon Lane basin on the north western boundary of Smethwick. There the old canal is joined by the Balls Hill branch canal opened in 1769 from the Hill Top area of West Bromwich. The amount of loading and unloading at Spon Lane basin began to decline in the 1920s, and the basin went out of use in 1954. (fn. 26) The site is now crossed by the M5 motorway.

A reservoir was made to the east of Smethwick Chapel c. 1769 by damming Thimblemill Brook. (fn. 27) It had gone out of use by 1842, (fn. 28) probably as a result of the opening of Rotton Park reservoir in Birmingham in 1826 and the construction by 1832 of the Titford feeder. The feeder runs from Rotton Park to Tat Bank in Oldbury where it joins the Titford branch canal, opened in 1837. It passes through Smethwick, but its course there has always been partly underground and is now almost completely culverted. It was originally carried across Stony Lane by an aqueduct; c. 1930 the aqueduct was removed and replaced by a siphon system. (fn. 29)

The Engine branch canal, which runs from Brindley's canal along the north side of Rolfe Street to Rabone Lane, was built in 1789-90 by making a feeder navigable so that coal could be brought to a pumping engine in Bridge Street. (fn. 30) It is carried over Telford's canal on an aqueduct built at the same time as that canal. Telford also extended the feeder eastwards to Rotton Park reservoir. The pumping engine, which was built by Boulton & Watt, had been erected in 1779 and was moved a short distance to Bridge Street when the new line of the main canal was cut in 1788-90. It remained in operation for over a century but was replaced by new pumping plant on a site west of Brasshouse Lane bridge in 1892. In 1897 it was removed to the canal maintenance depot at Ocker Hill in Tipton where it was preserved as a relic until 1959. It was then dismantled and taken to the Birmingham Museum of Science and Industry. It is thought to be the oldest condensing engine in existence.

The first railway through Smethwick was the Birmingham, Wolverhampton & Stour Valley Railway, opened in 1852 with stations in Rolfe Street and Spon Lane; the first locomotive ran through the area, however, in 1849. Soho station was opened in 1853. Rolfe Street station was rebuilt as part of the road improvement of 1888-90 when level crossings by the station and in Brasshouse Lane were replaced by bridges. The original station at Spon Lane was on the east side of the road, but by the later 1880s a new station had been built on the west side; it was closed in 1964 and has been demolished. Soho station was originally by Muntz's French Walls Works, but by the later 1880s it too had been rebuilt, to the west of Soho Street; it was closed for passengers in 1949 and demolished in 1953. (fn. 31) The Birmingham, Wolverhampton & Dudley Railway, which runs through the northern extremity of the town, was opened in 1854 with a station, Handsworth and Smethwick, just over the Handsworth boundary. (fn. 32) The Stourbridge Extension Railway, which runs through the north-west of the area, was opened in 1867, with a loop joining it to the Stour Valley Railway at Galton Junction; a station called Smethwick Junction (renamed Smethwick West in 1958) was opened south of Oldbury Road. (fn. 33) The Stourbridge Extension joined the Birmingham, Wolverhampton & Dudley Railway at Handsworth Junction near Halford's Lane. In 1931 the Hawthorns halt was opened there to serve the West Bromwich Albion football ground; it was closed in 1968. (fn. 34) The Soho, Handsworth & Perry Barr Junction Railway branching from the Stour Valley line in the north-east of the town was completed in 1889. (fn. 35)


  • 1. S.H.C. 1924. p. 82.
  • 2. V.C.H. Staffs. ii. 278; J. Ogilby, Britannia (1675), 99 and plate preceding; above p. 11.
  • 3. V.C.H. Warws. vii. 27.
  • 4. B.R.L., Pickard 5618, appeal to quarter sessions Apr. 1762 over payment of toll.
  • 5. R. Whitworth, Plan of Intended Navigation from Birmingham to Canal at Aldersley near Wolverhampton survey'd 1767 (copy in W.S.L.).
  • 6. 'Old Smethwick', 7 Apr. 1951; 'Smethwick and Round About', 23 June, 6 and 20 July 1956; Smethwick Telephone, 23 Mar. 1929; S.R.O., D. 1141/4/3, pp. 41-2.
  • 7. B.M., O.S.D. 212 (1816); C. and J. Greenwood, Map of Staffs. (1820), which shows a toll-bar there but calls it Blue Gates; Parson and Bradshaw, Dir. Staffs. (1818).
  • 8. Roper, Plans of Smethwick, 1857, no. 30.
  • 9. 'Smethwick and Round About', 25 July 1952.
  • 10. 'Old Smethwick', 9 July 1949.
  • 11. Smethwick Annual (1903), 21.
  • 12. 'Smethwick and Round About', 25 July 1952.
  • 13. Hackwood, Smethwick, 117; J. Ogilby, Britannia (1675), plate preceding p. 99; Yates, Map of Staffs. (1775); 'Old Smethwick', 21 Aug. 1948, 14 Jan. 1950; above p. 92.
  • 14. S.H.C. 1924, p. 82.
  • 15. See pp. 88, 99.
  • 16. V.C.H. Warws. vii. 28; Roper, Plan of Smethwick, 1858; 'Smethwick and Round About', 1 Feb. 1952; T. Presterne, Harborne once upon a time (Birmingham, 1913), 47; B.M., O.S.D. 256; B.R.L. 662129-30; Town Clerk's Dept., Birmingham, deed packet no. 657, abstract of title of trustees of G. C. Adkins 1902. The Bearwood Rd. toll-gate did not exist in 1842: W.S.L., S. MS. 417/ Harborne, map.
  • 17. W.P.L. 17599, 17629.
  • 18. W.P.L. 17572.
  • 19. W.P.L. 17627.
  • 20. 'Old Smethwick', 22 Apr. 1950; 'Smethwick and Round About', 25 July 1952.
  • 21. Practice of Court of General Quarter Sessions of the Peace for the County of Stafford (Stafford, 1858), 17 (copy in S.R.O.); S.R.O., Q/SB E. 1862.
  • 22. 'Smethwick and Round About', 3 Jan. 1958; B.M., O.S.D. 212; W.S.L., S. MS. 417/Harborne. No ford is shown by C. and J. Greenwood, Map of Staffs. (1820), but the scale is small.
  • 23. V.C.H. Staffs. ii. 288-9; C. Hadfield, Canals of the West Midlands (1969 edn.), 65.
  • 24. Hadfield, Canals of W. Midlands, 67 (plan), 72; Hackwood, Smethwick, 87, 89.
  • 25. V.C.H. Staffs. ii. 294-5; Hadfield, Canals of W. Midlands, 87-8, 320; Staffs. Advertiser, 26 Dec. 1829; Reeves, West Bromwich, 59; Hackwood, Smethwick, 90; J. F. Chance, Hist. of Firm of Chance Brothers & Co. (priv. print. 1919), 19; C. Hicks, A Walk through Smethwick (Birmingham, 1850), 13 (copy in W.P.L.); inscription on the bridge 'Horseley Iron Works 1829'; plate facing p. 96 above. For the continuation of the new line through West Bromwich see above p. 13.
  • 26. Express & Star, 25 May 1963; O.S. Map 1/2,500, Staffs. LXVIII. 14 (1948 edn.); above p. 13.
  • 27. Hadfield, Canals of W. Midlands, 70; Yates, Map of Staffs. (1775); volume of estate maps (1815) in possession of the secretary to the trustees of Dorothy Parkes (Lee, Crowder & Co., Birmingham); Hackwood, Smethwick, 121. An Act of 1769 empowered the canal company to build reservoirs: V.C.H. Staffs. ii. 289.
  • 28. W.S.L., S. MS. 417/Harborne, no. 804.
  • 29. Hadfield, Canals of W. Midlands, 67 (plan), 70, 318-19; J. Phillips and W. F. Hutchings, Map of Staffs. (1832); W.S.L., S. MS. 417/Harborne; 'Old Smethwick', 7 Apr. 1951; 'Smethwick and Round About', 21 Mar. 1952; Smethwick Telephone, 16 Jan. 1953; W.P.L., P. 2649.
  • 30. For this para. see C. P. and C. R. Weaver, 'The Smethwick Pumping Engines', Jnl. Railway and Canal Hist. Soc. xvi. 57-61, which corrects some of the detail in V.C.H. Staffs. ii. 165-6; Hadfield, Canals of W. Midlands, 318-19; Birmingham Canal Navigations (working party rep. 1970), 18, 25 (copy in W.C.L.).
  • 31. C. R. Clinker, Railways of the West Midlands, a Chronology 1808-1954, 21-2, 32, 44, 46, 62; 'Old Smethwick', 11 Sept. 1948, 20 and 27 Aug., 3 Sept. 1949, 28 Apr. 1950; 'Smethwick and Round About', 13 June 1952; Hackwood, Smethwick, 105; Smethwick Telephone, 10 Apr. 1953; O.S. Map 6", Staffs. LXVIII. SW. (1890 edn.). For a view of the first Spon Lane station in the 1850s see below, plate facing p. 112.
  • 32. Clinker, Railways of W. Midlands, 24.
  • 33. Ibid. 32; V.C.H. Staffs. ii. 315-16; ex inf. British Railways, London Midland Region (1973).
  • 34. Clinker, Railways of W. Midlands, 60; Express & Star, 14 Aug. 1968; O.S. Map 1/2,500, Staffs. LXVIII. 15 (1947 edn.).
  • 35. V.C.H. Staffs. ii. 323.