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Intro


Also known as Gibb Heath, Hockley, Soho, Winson GreenOS Grid Reference: 52°29'N 1°55'W Name Origin: Hockley: Middle English Hokelowe Hucca's mound or hill.

In the 16th century, two small groups of cottages at Winson Green and Hockley constituted the "foreign" of the village of Birmingham. Birmingham Heath was wasteland, with a small lake known as Hockley Pool.

In 1764, Matthew Boulton built his Soho Manufactory on the site a small mill built some years earlier for the manufacture of toys. This was one of several mills along the course of the Hockley Brook, which marked the boundary between Birmingham and its then independent neighbours, Aston and Handsworth. The mill stood where Factory Road crossed the brook, with a pool to the north. Boulton chose the site as it provided a large open space close to a source of water power. He later experimented with steam power; and, following his partnership with James Watt, the design of steam engines became a significant part of the business. The manufactory concentrated on the production of a wide range of finished metal articles, including coins, whilst the components for Watt's steam engines were made at the Soho Foundry in nearby Smethwick.

Soho circa 1841

Soho Manufactory closed after the death of James Watt the younger in 1848, and was demolished some 15 years later. The Great Hockley Pool, by then renamed Soho Pool, was drained, and its site used for railway sidings. The minting of coins continued in Soho; Boulton's steam presses were brought by Ralph Heaton and Son in 1850, and installed at their workshops in Bath Street. The business moved in 1860 to a site in Icknield Street, on the fringe of the jewellery quarter, becoming the Birmingham Mint.

The invention of electro-plating in 1839 led to a great increase in the jewellery trade in the 1840s. Some fine gold and silver articles were produced, but the bulk was plated jewellery and toys: "Brummagem" (from Bromachem, an old version of Birmingham) became a byword for cheap and tawdry goods. Although a number of large factories were built, much of the work was done in small workshops: often a single sub-let room in residential accomodation. The use of outworkers was common in the trade, and remained so long after it had died out elsewhere.

James Brindley's Birmingham Canal opened in 1772, and a number of factories appeared along its banks, the largest being in Smethwick. In the 1820s, Thomas Telford, engaged to improve the canal, thought it "little better than a crooked ditch". He cut a new canal, keeping the bends of the old as branches.

The residential development of Winson Green and Hockley began about the time that Birmingham was granted its Charter as a Municipal Borough in 1838. The houses were mostly back-to-back two-up-two-down dwellings, and later terraces of through houses. The inhabitants were the impoverished labourers and their families, the more well-to-do preferring the nearby urban districts, such as Handsworth (then in Staffordshire, and not incorporated into the city until 1911). Joseph Chamberlain's improvement scheme of 1875/6 introduced short terraces at right angles to the streets. Sanitation was largely by means of the pan closet system, until the city's sewerage works on the river Tame came into operation in the early 20th century.

All Saint's Church was consecrated in 1838, a red-brick gothic edifice later to be sandwiched between the Great Western main line, and Hockley goods yard. A number of missions and churches were built within the Parish boundaries, and as the population rose some were in time provided with parishes created out of All Saints: St Cuthbert's in 1872; St Chrysostom's in 1890; and St Peter's was formed out of All Saints and St Mark's in 1902.

The area was the site of several public institutions. Winston Green Gaol was brought into use in 1849, and extended in the mid 1850s. The first governer was dismissed after complaints of lack of discipline within the prison. His replacement was imprisoned after a Home Office Commission confirmed complaints of brutality. The Lunatic Asylum, next door to the Gaol (and with the same architect, Daniel Hill) was opened shortly after the prison, and was continually extended between 1851 and 1878. The Fever Hospital, opened in 1874, later became All Saint's Hospital. The Union Workhouse was built between 1850 and 1852, replacing the original buildings near the city centre. An infirmary was added in 1889, and from this developed Dudley Road Hospital.

The area was served by two railway companies: the Stour Valley line of the LNWR opened in 1852, and the Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Dudley railway (part of GWR) in 1854. This coincided with the opening of stations in the city centre, thus allowing suburban rail travel, and encouraging the opening of local stations. A cable-car system connecting Colmore Row (in the City Centre) to Hockley was opened in 1888, and extended to New Inns in Handsworth in 1889. This continued in use until replaced by electric trams in 1911.

Map dated 1903


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