The Ancient Parish
The Church Beginnings
Wythall in the Middle Ages
Wythall 1500 - 1800
The Early Nonconformists
Wythall Chapel 1826
Wythall Chapel 1848
The Growing Parish
St Marys Wythall, Exterior
St Marys Wythall, Interior
Wythall Baptist Church
St Aidan's RC
R A F Wythall
The period between the close of the Middle Ages and the late 18th century is marked by a further expansion of agriculture culminating in the Parliamentary Enclosure of 1772-4. In the 16th and 17th centuries several new consolidated farmsteads were created such as Barn Hill and Cranmore Farms, whilst many earlier houses on medieval sites, like Inkford Brook Farm were rebuilt.
Meanwhile the medieval estates of Houndsfield and Wythworth continued to thrive. Willam Sheldon died in 1517 holding the manor of Wythworth in Kings Norton, which he bequeathed to his brother Ralph. In 633 the manor with Kilcupps watermill was sold by William Cowper to William Chambers and in 1711 it passed into the possession of John Holrnden. At the dissolution of the monasteries Houndsfield was granted to John Arrowsmith who later sold it to William Gilbert. a former monastic bailill and rent collector. The Gilberts continued to live at Houndsfield until the end of the 17th century, when it passed into the hands of the Bytons, who were succeeded by Grevises, Salters, Heveninghams and Stokes. 1
A vivid picture of contemporary life may be built up from such documents as manorial court rolls and probate records for this period. Within the decade 1494 to 1504 a considerable number of varied offences are recorded for Wythall people in the court rolls of the manor of Bromsgrove and Kings Norton.2 Thus in the early months of 1504 Robert Wylles (or Wylhouse) accused Nicholas Gilbert of Houndsfield of the taking and unjust holding of a copper pot worth 3s. 4d. on December 28th 1503 whereby he claims the defendant broke and entered his house and close at Walkersheth and took the pot to his own house. The case continued until the end of June 1504, being considered at every court, but the defendant failed to appear.
In the rolls there are frequent references to offences concerning the failure of individuals to keep the roads and banks bordering their property in a satisfactory condition. For example in 1499 Humphrey Feld was fined twopence through defect in cleansing the banks in Berkers Lane and John Felde of Gorshaw four pence for a similar offence between Shawbrook and Wythworth Heath. Seven references to attempted murder are recorded in the period. One of the most interesting is that of William Columbyne who assaulted Baldwin Felde, whose son attacked the former and drew his blood. John Preston of Solyhull was fined four pence for overstocking the common and would have to pay 6/8d, if he does it again. John Tailor cut down a tree in Drake Lane without permission in 1500 and was fined four pence.
Inventories taken at the death of local inhabitants not only inform us of the value of all the household goods and furniture, but the later examples often list individual rooms in houses and thus provide extremely valuable information about the layout and size of homes in the period. The inventory of Richard Gilbert of Houndsfield taken on 23rd September 1687 gives a vivid impression of the home of a wealthy yeoman. His whole goods were valued at £1,118 l4s. 4d, of which £880 were out in hopefull debts. The inventory refers to twenty feather beds and five four posters with provision for thirteen servants. Some refineries, such as two looking glasses, screens and a few books, are also mentioned. The house contained eight living and three working rooms with eight storerooms. We are also told that there were two furnaces in the old kitchen, a malt mill in the South floer and a gatehouse room.
Mary Lea, whose inventory is dated 4 May 1678, lived at Lea Green Farm, a house largely rebuilt in the 19th century. She was a member of a very old Kings Norton family and appears to have been a spinner of local flax into yarn, as the inventory refers to three spinning wheels, yarn and a large stock of linnens. William Collins died at Withworth greene in 1718 leaving extensive estates in Kings Norton, Birmingham and Harborne. His inventory describes him as a tanner but having no stock or tools and £270 in ready money it looks as if Collins sold his tanning business shortly before his death. From the will of Mary Holbech of Withall alias Wigghall of 1721 we learn that she was related to the Middlemores, another old Kings Norton family. Mary probably earned a living laundering as six large and little tubs are mentioned and other washing utensils coming to £2 8s 3d out of a total of £26 12s 6d. 3
The tanning industry seems to have flourished at Tanners or Withall Green in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was certainly established by the 15th century and as Amicia, wife of John the tanner, is mentioned in the 1275 Lay Subsidy Roll for Kings Norton we may tentatively suggest a 13th century origin for this local industry. 4. The preparation of hides necessitated an abundant supply of good fresh water for rinsing the hides. They were then scoured and cleaned of hair over a period of one year by passing through pits filled with a lime solution. After two months the hides would be removed, cleansed and replaced again. Having been thoroughly scoured the hides were rinsed in the River Cole to remove all traces of the lime. Alternatively scouring could be done with the sour liquor of oak bark, which was ground in a stone mill like a Cyder Mill, soaked in spring water and allowed to ferment. The name Barkers Lane, first mentioned in the late 15th century, has its origin in this process of the tanning industry. Both the lime pit and bark infusion methods appear to have been employed at Wythall. The actual tanning was done in pits lined with timber either by creating layers of bark and hide adding clear water or by soaking the hides in the bark mixture. The leather remained there for another year after which it would be dried on poles and pressed. 5
Wills and inventories throw some light on the extent and nature of the local industry. In 1671 Humphrey Moore of Kings Norton died leaving in his backhouse one Beame and scale and one hachell worth four shillings - a beam was used to stretch the hides for scouring, whilst all his leather in his tanhouse greene hyde and skinns amounted to £33. A few years later the inventory of Thomas Collins of Withard Greene mentions his leather tanned and ontanned with the bark allowed for the tanning of it worth £204 7s. 6d, calve skinns tanned and ontanned £6 5s. 6d. and one beame t(w)o beame knives troughs and other tooles belonging to the trade of a tanner 6/3d. Samuel Fields will of 1728 makes a bequest to the preaching minister of Withall chapel, whilst his inventory lists his tanning stock 6
|In the tanhouse Barke||5||10||0|
|One horse one Pigskin and one Kip (the undressed hide of a young steer, cow or horse)||8||0|
|Horns and Tails||13||6|
|In the Limes 19 Hides||9||18||6|
|In theTann Pitt 40 Hides||24||19||0|
|The Mill for Grinding Bark||1||0||0|
|Weights Scales and strike||5||6|
By 1840 tanning was confined to one family, the Grevises, who lived at Tanners Green House, now Lonnin End. The Tannery Bark Mill of 1843 is still standing, although converted into a private residence. 7. The industry appears to have ended at Wythall c.1880 8
Another local industry relying on a plentiful supply of good water was the flax trade. Having been harvested the flax is retted or rotted thereby separating the woody core of the stem from the fibre or~ filament. The two principal methods of retting are dew and water retting. It is likely that the latter was employed at Wythall as the Cole and its tributaries create ample facilities and fill a number of retting pits. The flax would be immersed in the retting pools for a period of between seven to twenty days to allow decomposition. It would then have its bark stripped from the woody core in buckhouses and then put in to open shocks to dry. Subsequently it was crushed and split up. To wash and straighten out the fibre, the flax was scotched by shaking by hand and rough combing. Field names such as Lint, Yarn and Buckhouse Meadow from the 1843 Tithe Award indicate centres of flax cultivation at Barn Hill, Houndsfield, Crabtree, Chapel Green and Tanners Green Farms. Sheets were still being woven from locally grown flax in 1856 9, but the industry seems to have lapsed soon after that date. Local flax also supplied the wick yarn business situated in the late 18th century at Wythall Heath. 10
In 1629 the manor of Kings Norton was settled on Queen Henrietta Maria and nine years later she attempted to enclose about a third or 669 acres of the common land lying at Kingswood. The enclosure went under the guise of an improvement, but the tenants were not convinced and threw down the newly erected fences. Sir Thomas Hatton, sent to Kings Norton to settle the matter, threatened force with the result that at least part of Kingswood was thus enclosed.11 Meanwhile individuals continued to enclose small areas of the common land for growing flax. In this way some of the long and narrow roadside fields of the parish were created.
At the seizure of the crown lands in 1649 a parliamentary survey of the manor of Kings Norton was undertaken in the following year. It describes the extensive heaths, Wasts and Comons called Boswell heath, Wake Greene, Kings heath, hayters heath, Kingswood, Norton Wood, truemans heath, Withall heath, headley heath, Walkers heath, West heath, Robery hills and the Achey (and all of them doe conteyne in the whole by estemacion 3000 acres or thereabouts).12 These common lands were finally enclosed in 1772 when an act was passed for The dividing and enclosing the commons and wastes lands within the Manor and Parish of Kings Norton in the County of Worcester. The award was dated March 15 1774, but there is unfortunately no accompanying map.13 William Hutton however gives us art interesting glimpse of some of the troubles he encountered with his scattered estate at Withall Heath. He writes: 14
Other proprietors had their allotment laid near their farms; had every convenience at hand to improve them; and being upon the spot could watch that and promote that improvement at small expense. But I had no land near, no team to assist, or servants to act, but was obliged to hire all the work, and at double the price.
Every neighbour was my enemy; for What right had a tradesman to come among them? Whatever property was movable was stolen. Even the fences I have planted three times over (were destroyed). Sowed seeds, and found fourteen horses eating the crop. No law will support a single man against a country.
Thus circumstanced I was obliged to let if for a mere trifle, which was never paid. I afterwards granted a lease . . . with a determination never to meddle with waste land.