Monday, 4 June 2012

West Bromwich

 

West Bromwich, "the little village on the heath of broom" from which it gets its name, was the property of William Fitz Ansculf of Dudley Castle. West Bromwich has the remains of a Benedictine Priory which dates back from 1130 and which suffered as most did in the dissolution of the monastaries in 1525. Excavations on the site have uncovered human remains. The Domesday Book tells us that West Bromwich had just 70 inhabitants.

Originally just a small farming community based round All Saints Church, it became a stop off point along the Birmingham turnpike road of 1727. However, in the 17th century progress had already been made and the local people were making nails and gun locks from their cottages. This undoubtedly helped develop the town and it became an important route for traffic in and out of Birmingham and the West Midlands. Then came the ironworks and coal was discovered. The canals arrived and iron melting forges, furnaces and foundries were established. At one time West Bromwich was dubbed the "Chicago of the Midlands".

H.V. Morton wrote of West Bromwich, " West Bromwich is one of those happy old Saxon villages in which nothing ever happened except Civil Wars and Wesley until the discovery of coal. Then chimneys appeared, blast furnaces and canals. Today West Bromwich is so modern that it is only by an extraordinary feat of imagination that a man can visualise the first little Saxon hamlet among the furze bushes from which it takes its name."

Significantly in 1802, 400 acres of heathland were enclosed for purposes of development and the high street became the centre of activity in the town. Industry consisted mainly of ironworks until the Black Country coal desposits were discovered which transformed the whole region and had a profound affect on the quiet backwater life that would be absored forever under the rapidly expanding West Bromwich.

By the turn of the century and arrival of the 1900's the census records a population of over 65,0000. By contrast, in 1801 there had only been 5,600 inhabitants in the town. West Bromwich was once a Borough which was created in 1966 when local government in the West Midlands was reorganised. At this time the former Boroughs of Tipton and Wednesbury were added to West Bromwich. Today it is the largest town in the Borough of Sandwell and boasts a population of just under 200,000.

Industry has left its mark on West Bromwich and the evidence of its past can be seen amongst the landmarks that still stand testamant to the industrial age. When people mention the Black Country they tend to talk about Dudley, Wolverhampton and Walsall forgetting that West Bromwich is an integral and important part of Black Country History. Suprisingly even West Bromwich does not seem to make much of its obvious attractions and seems prepared to be content with travellers passing through it on their way to some other destination. In fact, West Bromwich is well worth a look round.

The remains of a Benedictine Priory, the Oak House and Sandwell Valley Park are all within easy reach of a good day out. The pedestrian shopping area of West Bromwich is also more extensive than many would believe. It is also of course home to the West Bromwich Albion Football Club.

As you come of Junction 1 of the M5 you can't help noticing a strange old building sitting on the edge of the large roundabout. This is actually part of the remains of Sandwell Hall which was built in 1705.

The Sandwell Council Website can be found at http://www.smbc.sandwell.gov.uk/









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