Local History

Alum Rock Road, 1900's

Surprisingly the district has nothing to do with salt; instead the origin of it's name is deeply rural and arises from two Old English words. The ‘ley’ element comes from ‘leah’, meaning a clearing probably in a woodland setting, whilst the ‘salt’ part derives from ‘sealuht’, denoting willows. First recorded as Sautlega in a document from about 1170, the district’s name was written down in a variety of ways thereafter. It was given as Salutlege in 1285 and Saluetley in 1320. Just two years later it was recorded as Salteleye and from the seventeenth century it was spelled as it was pronounced – Saltley.

As part of the extensive parish of Aston, the manor of Saltley emerged in the later twelfth century. It was a greater area than the present district and included Washwood Heath, much of Alum Rock and a large part of Bordesley Green. To the west, the boundary of Saltley was the River Rea, which separated it from Duddeston and Nechells. This means that although local folk stated that the Devon Street neighbourhood was in Saltley actually it lay within Duddeston.

To the north, Satlley was cut off from Erdington by the River Tame, into which the Rea flowed; whilst on the east the Wash Brook marked it off from Little Bromwich. The southern limits of Saltley with Bordesley were less clear, following as they did a line that ran close to what would become Garrison Lane and road of Bordesley Green.

One of the earliest records relating to Saltley is a grant from William, son of Nicholas of Saluteley, to William Smith of Erdintone of the moiety (half) of his lands. Dating from the late thirteenth century, it was followed in 1322 by a deed of Joan Wrax releasing lands in Salutleye to Henry le Earl. Twenty-one years later, the manor was bought by Walter de Clodeshale – remembered in Clodeshale Road. He was a wealthy wool merchant based in Birmingham, for at that time the town was a centre of cloth production and Walter was one of the leading figures locally.

In 1330 he had endowed Clodeshale’s Chantry at the altar of Our Lady in Saint Martin’s in the Bull Ring, paying for an altar and a priest. Seventeen years later, his son, Richard, added to the endowment so as to support a second priest to pray for himself and his wife. That chantry remains in Birmingham’s parish church. Richard’s grandson was named after him and he married a daughter of the Middlemores of Edgbaston. After his death, Saltley Manor passed to their daughter, Elizabeth Clodeshale, who was married to Robert Arden – hence Arden Road.

Amongst the other possessions of the Arden’s locally were Pype Hayes Park, parts of Minworth and Curdworth and the manor of Bearwood, which had passed down from Turchill and which included Castle Bromwich and the modern Castle Vale.  The family lived at Park Hall, Castle Bromwich. The direct male line of the family died out in 1643 with Robert Arden. His lands were divided amongst his sisters. The youngest, Anne, was married to Sir Charles Adderley and they gained Saltley. Their descendants continued as lords of the manor until the later nineteenth century.

According to Tomlinson’s Map of Saltley in 1760, Sir Lister Holte of Aston Hall was also a major landowner in the district and had eight farmers as his tenants along with a man with a house and small holding. As for the Adderleys, they lived at Hams Hall in north Warwickshire, hence Hams Road, and owned four farms - the main one of which was Saltley Hall. This may have been the manor house of the de Clodeshalls and is recalled by Hall Road. There were nine other farms locally, varying in size and belonging to other people. Most of the farmers lived on the land they cultivated, and there was a small settlement on Adderley property close to Saltley Bridge (Viaduct) on what would become Saltley High Street.

The crossing over the Rea at Saltley was an old one, and in the later Middle Ages allowed parishioners from more distant Ward End and Castle Bromwich to make their way to worship at Aston Parish Church. A bridge is mentioned from at least 1738; however, the watery nature of the location still led to problems. William Hutton, Birmingham’s first historian, lived at Bennetts Hill, hence Bennetts Road, close to the modern Hutton Road. In 1781 he wrote that at Saltley ‘every flood annoys the traveller’.

Twenty-two years before, the road to Castle Bromwich and then Coleshill had been turnpiked. This followed the modern Saltley High Street and the Washwood Heath Road, avoiding what became the Alum Rock Road because it was narrow, had sharp bends, and was hollowed out. Turn-piking meant that a trust took a road over, maintaining it and charging a toll on those wished to pass along. They did so at a gate. The one at Saltley gave its name to Gate Street and the ‘Gate’ pub. The pub has been demolished recently but the name Saltley Gate lives on, although the road itself ceased to be part of a trust in 1877.

Saltley Mill with its pool lay just above Saltley Bridge in Mill Meadows, through part of which Mill Street, later called Crawford Street, would be cut. In existence by about 1542-3, the mill ground corn but became a blade mill in the later seventeenth century. It reverted to a corn mill in the early nineteenth century and was still in existence in 1880. Soon afterwards it disappeared by its site was occupied instead by a gas holder.

A description from about 1840 highlights the intensely rural nature of the area, well into the industrial age. It had a mere 696 people, including those in Washwood Heath. There was a small bridge over the River Rea, near to which were the ‘Gate’ and ‘Shepherd and Shepherdess’ pubs. Osier beds lined the flat low road in this vicinity. These provide a firm link with the meaning of the name Saltley for osiers were willows that grew long rod-like twigs that were used in basketry.

In other parts of the district there were ‘enormous Lombardy poplars, beeches, oaks, meadows and shady lanes’, Hutton’s house, Saltley Hall, Shaw Hill House, a few old farm houses, and some cottages’ – from one of which in Mill Street the family sold curds and whey. But change was in the offing for this ‘pretty little village’ – and it was the railways that brought it.

Joseph Wright's Carriage Works, 1850.

In 1845 Joseph Wright, a coach builder from London, decided that he needed to embrace the new mode of transportation. He and his two sons came to Saltley and built a railway carriage works on what had been Broad Meadow. A working- class village soon emerged around Gate Street and High Street, but elsewhere development was slow.

Five years later, in 1850, Wright gave the large sum of £500 to Charles Bowyer Adderley to build the church of Saint Saviour. It seated 800 and was intended to be the focus of life in the village that  C.B. Adderley, later becoming Lord Norton in 1878 planned. His family is recalled in Adderley Street, Bordesley and in Adderley Road, Bowyer Road and Norton Hall in Saltley. His wife was Julia the daughter of Baron Leigh of Stoneleigh, giving rise to Leigh Road, whilst his mother was Anna Maria Cradock-Hartopp. A descendant of Oliver Cromwell she is brought to mind in Hartopp Road.

Adderley succeeded to the family’s great estates in Warwickshire and Staffordshire when he was only twelve.  A devout Christian, he had a strong sense of duty and as well as he promoting the parish church he pushed for the foundation of the Saltley Church Training College. Afterwards called Saint Peter’s College for the training of teachers it is no longer in use for that purpose but its buildings remain in College Road.

Adderley also played a crucial role in the founding of the Saltley Reformatory on the model of that at Mettray, near Tours, in France. Better known as the Norton Boys Home, it became an approved school under the control of the Home Office with a large estate. In the 1920s much of that land was built on by the Council with 262 parlour and 344 non-parlour houses. The aptly-named Norton Crescent was at the hub of this new development.

At the start of the Second World War the boys from the home were evacuated to Wales, after which the building was compulsorily purchased by the Post Office for. With the coming of peace in 1945 the school was relocated to Little Kineton, Warwickshire. It was closed forty years later, after which the property was sold and its funds transferred to the Trustees of the Norton Foundation. This body now gives grants to help needy young people under the age of twenty five.

Lord of the manor he may have been, but Charles Adderley was active in providing facilities for the well being of local people. He decided that working folk desperately needed a park to be able to walk in and enjoy greenery and fresh air. Accordingly in 1855 he offered ten acres of his land to Birmingham Council. His gesture was ignored. Unsurprisingly Adderley was angered.  He wrote to the Council regretting ‘that the public should now be deprived of an expected place for recreation . . . I will myself, set apart the same space of ground in the proposed quarter for the public . . . such a piece of ground will serve as well all the purposes of a play-ground for all classes of people.’

Adderley Park and Library, late 19th Century.

The next year the Corporation relented and leased Adderley Park for 999 years at a rent of five shillings per annum. It was the town’s first public park. Couchman Road is named after a man who supported Adderley’s strenuous efforts to bring a much-needed facility to local people.

Adderley then built a public library and museum beside the arched entrance. It was re-opened as Birmingham's second Free Library in January 1864.

Despite these improvements, as late as 1875, Saltley could boast only one public lamp on its streets. That year the district became a Local Board of Health and the provision of services began to improve, much needed as it was because of the growth of population. Fortunately Adderley was keen that the new housing in his district should be well-built terraces and not back-to-backs, and that they should be set in wide roads and not narrow streets with courtyards hidden behind them.

By the early 1890s, houses were lining the Alum Rock Road, whilst Havelock Road, George Arthur Road, Ralph Road and Reginald Road had all been cut. The last three were named after members of the Adderley family. Eastwards, houses were obvious on part of Highfield Road, whilst Couchman Road and Bridge Road were apparent in that part of Saltley which became associated with Alum Rock.

By 1858 Joseph Wright had set up a school on Saltley High Street for the children of his carriage workers. It probably continued until the opening on Alum Rock Road of St Saviour's Church School in 1870. As the population increased, Highfield Road Board School was opened by the Aston School Board in 1878 along with Arden Road Board School on the corner of Adderley Road which in 1888 saw an annexe being built on St Saviours Road. Both schools are much altered but retain their original buildings.

At the beginning of the 20th century the area of Saltley bordering with Alum Rock had a burgeoning population. Provision had to be made to cater for the education of large numbers of children. In 1901, Alum Rock Road Council School was opened on the corner of Anthony Road with accommodation for 1100 pupils. They were organised in smaller classes of fifty pupils rather than the usual sixty.

In 1891, Saltley, including Washwood Heath, became part of Birmingham, and this speeded up the urbanisation of the district. It was included in the council’s East Birmingham Scheme under the Housing and Town Planning Act of 1909. Approved four years later this project covered 1,443 acres in Saltley, Washwood Heath, Ward End, Little Bromwich and Small Heath. Of that total, 51 acres were set aside for allotments but the rest of the land was to be laid out for factories and working-class housing, at a density of between twelve to eighteen dwellings per acre.

By 1915, as a result of a growth in the local population, Alum Rock Road Council School had become the most over-crowded school in Birmingham, and Nansen Road School was quickly built to cater for the extra numbers. In 1940 during World War 2 the school was hit by a German bomb. The school was overcrowded again by 1953, and extra rooms were provided across the road in St Mary & St John's church hall. In 1954 the school was renamed Anthony Road County Primary School, and Shaw Hill Primary School c1965. Although altered and modernised in the late 20th century, most of the original building remains visible.

Today Saltley’s street pattern remains as it was in 1914 and it is seen by many people as ending at Bowyer Road and Anthony Road, where Alum Rock begins. At the outbreak of the First World War, apart from Adderley Park, the open land of Saltley had disappeared and it had become mostly a better-off working-class area packed with people and important factories. In addition to Wright’s old works which now belonged to the Metropolitan Company, railway carriages were also made from 1853 until 1908 at the Britannia Works of Brown Marshall in Arden Road. Production was then moved to the Metropolitan Works nearby in Saltley. The Arden Road site itself was taken over by the Wolsley Motor Company and from the late 1920s it became the Adderley Park works of the Morris Commercial.

For all the importance of this factory it was railways with which Saltley was most bonded. Saltley Station was opened in 1854 and gained a prominent place in railway history and folklore, as it also boasted goods facilities, extensive workshops, and a connection to the gas works in Nechells Place. It closed in 1968.

Interestingly the canals came to Saltley after the railways and not before them. A wharf on the Birmingham & Warwick Junction Canal was opened in 1844. It prospered through the carrying of coal to the gas holders and of bricks from the clay pits and brick yards around Garrison Lane. Then there was the famed Saltley Dock of the canal carriers Fellows, Morton and Clayton. The company had come into being in 1889 and took over William Clayton's dock down the Garrison Locks at Saltley. He is remembered in Clayton Road. Saltley Docks became the principal boatbuilding dock for the company. Before 1896, all the boats were wooden, but production then switched to steamers made of a composite of iron sides and elm bottoms.

Today, the railways carriage works have been closed down, the Morris Commercial is no more, the brick yards have been worked out, Saltley Dock has gone, and the ‘Gate’ pub is no more. For all that, none can take away from the people of Saltley a pride in making their district one of the greatest manufacturing centres in the history of England.

Reproduced with the kind permission of Dr Carl Chinn. Extract from "Streets of Brum, Volume 5"