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Smethwick shown within the West Midlands
|OS grid reference|
|Metropolitan county||West Midlands|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Postcode district||B66 - B68|
|EU Parliament||West Midlands|
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Smethwick shown within the West Midlands
|OS grid reference|
|Metropolitan county||West Midlands|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Postcode district||B66 - B68|
|EU Parliament||West Midlands|
Smethwick (// SMETH-ick) - formerly a county borough in the county of Staffordshire - is now a town in the Sandwell Metropolitan Borough, in the West Midlands of England. Situated near the edge of the metropolitan borough, it borders the city of Birmingham to the east.
It was suggested that the name Smethwick meant "smiths' place of work", but a more recent interpretation has suggested the name means "The settlement on the smooth land". Smethwick was recorded in the Domesday book as Smedeuuich. Until the end of the 18th century it was an outlying hamlet of the south Staffordshire village of Harborne. Harborne became part of the county borough of Birmingham and thus transferred from Staffordshire to Warwickshire in 1891, leaving Smethwick in the County of Staffordshire.
The oldest building in Smethwick is The Old Church which stands on the corner of Church Road and The Uplands. This was consecrated in 1732 as a Chapel of Ease in the parish of St Peter, Harborne. The building was originally known as "Parkes' Chapel" in honour of Mistress Dorothy Parkes who bequeathed the money for the church and also for a local school. The chapel was later known as "The Old Chapel", and public house next to it is still called this. In the church there are several fine memorials, including one to Dorothy Parkes.
The Grade I listed Galton Bridge spans the New Line canal and railway. When built in 1829 by Telford, it was the longest single-span bridge in the world. Its name commemorates Samuel Galton, a local landowner and industrialist. It is identical to Telford's bridge at Holt Fleet over the River Severn built in 1828 and opened in 1830.
Matthew Boulton and James Watt opened their Soho Foundry in the North of Smethwick (not to be confused with the Soho Manufactory in nearby Soho) in the late 18th century. In 1802, William Murdoch illuminated the foundry with gas lighting of his own invention. The foundry was later home to weighing scale makers W & T Avery Ltd..
Other former industry included railway rolling stock manufacture, at the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company factory; screws and other fastenings from Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds (GKN), engines from Tangye, tubing from Evered's, steel pen nibs from British Pens and various products from Chance Brothers' glassworks, including lighthouse lenses and the glazing for the Crystal Palace (the London works, in North Smethwick, manufactured its metalwork). Phillips Cycles, once one of the largest bicycle manufacturers in the world was based in Bridge Street, Smethwick. Nearby, in Downing Street, is the famous bicycle saddle maker, Brooks Saddles. The important metalworking factory of Henry Hope & Sons Ltd was based at Halford's Lane where the company manufactured steel window systems, roof glazing, gearings and metalwork.
Council housing began in Smethwick after 1920 on land previously belonging to the Downing family, whose family home became Holly Lodge High School for Girls in 1922. The mass council house building of the 1920s and 1930s also involved Smethwick's boundaries being extended into part of neighbouring Oldbury in 1928.
The Ruskin Pottery Studio, named in honour of the artist John Ruskin, was in Oldbury Road. Many English churches have stained glass windows made by Hardman Studios in Lightwoods House, or, before that, by the Camm family.
After the Second World War, Smethwick attracted a large number of immigrants from Commonwealth countries, the largest ethnic group being Sikhs from the Punjab in India. The ethnic minority communities were initially very unpopular with the white British population of Smethwick, prompting the election of Conservative Party Member of Parliament (MP) Peter Griffiths at the 1964 general election. In the election, the Labour Party MP was unseated following a campaign slogan "If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour" allegedly being used by supporters of the winning candidate. This came two years after race riots had hit the town in 1962 and was set against a background of factory closures and a growing waiting list for local council accommodation.
In 1961 the Sikh community purchased the Congregational Church on the High Street in Smethwick. Soon after, this was converted into a Gurdwara (Sikh Temple). The Guru Nanak Gurdwara Smethwick is said to be the oldest and now the largest Gurdwara in Europe.
In the 1960s, a large council estate in the west of Smethwick was built. It was officially known as the West Smethwick Estate, but as all of the homes were concrete blocks the estate was known locally as the "concrete jungle". The estate quickly became unpopular and was redeveloped in the early 1990s with modern low-rise housing and renamed Galton Village. Another housing estate called the Windmill Lane Estate, located near Cape Hill, met a similar fate.
There is a collection of red brick turn-of-20th century terrace, 1930s semi-detached, newly built modern housing, and a number of high rise blocks of flats. Other estates and areas include Black Patch, Cape Hill, Uplands, Albion Estate, Bearwood, Londonderry and Rood End.
Rolfe Street public baths were among the first public swimming baths in the country when opened north of the town centre in 1888. The baths remained open for nearly a century before closing. In the late 1980s, the Black Country Museum expressed interest in transferring the building to its site in Dudley and so the transfer of the building began in 1989. It was finally opened to visitors at the museum in 1999, housing the museum's exhibition gallery and archive resource centre.
Originally a hamlet within the parish of Harborne, Staffordshire, Smethwick was made into an urban district in 1894, and later incorporated as a municipal borough in 1899, and county borough in 1907. In 1966, Smethwick was merged with the boroughs of Oldbury and Rowley Regis to form the new County Borough of Warley, and was transferred into the county of Worcestershire. This in turn was merged with West Bromwich in 1974 to form the Sandwell Metropolitan Borough, which was incorporated into the new West Midlands county.
In 1888, there had been plans for Smethwick to be incorporated into the city of Birmingham, but the urban district council voted against these plans by a single vote.
The town has often enjoyed a somewhat turbulent political history. Smethwick was created as a separate parliamentary constituency in 1918, having previously been part of the Handsworth constituency. At that year's general election, Christabel Pankhurst, standing as a Women's Party candidate, narrowly failed to become Britain's first woman MP, being defeated by Labour by 775 votes in a straight fight.
Labour held the seat until 1931, from 1926 the MP being Sir Oswald Mosley, future founder of the British Union of Fascists. Mosley resigned the Labour whip in March 1931 but continued to represent the constituency until it was taken by the Conservatives at that year's general election.
Labour won in the UK general election, 1945 on 26 July. However, the victorious MP, Alfred Dobbs, was killed in a car crash the very next day. He is the shortest-serving Member of Parliament (MP) in British history, if one discounts a few cases of people being elected posthumously. In the resulting by-election, Patrick Gordon Walker won for Labour.
In the 1964 general election, Gordon Walker, who was Shadow Foreign Secretary, was defeated in controversial circumstances in the constituency by Conservative candidate Peter Griffiths; Labour's victory at the general election would inevitably have seen him appointed as Foreign Secretary for the government of Harold Wilson.
Smethwick had been a focus of immigration from the Commonwealth in the economic and industrial growth of the years following World War II and Griffiths ran a campaign critical of the government's policy. There were rumours that his supporters had covertly circulated the slogan "If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Liberal or Labour." Hardly had the heat of the election subsided when, on 12 February 1965, United States black activist Malcolm X visited the region just nine days before his assassination. He fuelled further controversy when he told the press:
I have come here because I am disturbed by reports that coloured people in Smethwick are being treated badly. I have heard they are being treated as the Jews under Hitler. I would not wait for the fascist element in Smethwick to erect gas ovens.
Malcolm X's visit to Smethwick had been organised by a BBC News journalist with a view to X having a debate with Peter Griffiths outside the Smethwick council house. Griffiths declined at late notice and so an interview with X was conducted on the streets of Smethwick. This was to be X's last TV interview before his assassination nine days later. It was never aired.
Labour candidate, actor Andrew Faulds, defeated Griffiths in the 1966 general election and remained as an MP until his retirement at the 1997 general election, 23 years after Smethwick became part of the Warley East constitiuency. Peter Griffiths subsequently moved away from the area and served as a Conservative MP for Portsmouth North for many years.
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The route of the canal, passing through the valley of the Hockley Brook, the boundary with Handsworth on the north side of Smethwick, resulted in most of the heavy industry being located there. The railway was opened in 1852.
Until the end of the 18th century, Smethwick was largely rural, with farming as the main industry. A water mill named Briddismylne is recorded in 1499 as belonging to Halesowen Abbey, thought to be on the more recent Thimblemill site. In 1659, a mill in the Hockley Brook is recorded as belonging to a Mr. Lane. The mill which led to the street name "Windmill Lane" was built on land bought in 1803 by William Croxall, a miller. The last part of the windmill building was demolished in 1949.
The Soho Foundry, opened in 1796 by James Watt and Matthew Boulton, trading as Boulton, Watt & Sons, was built to produce complete steam engines to Watt's designs. Waste dumped from the foundry gave rise to the name Black Patch for the field to the east. The Soho Foundry is now the headquarters of the Avery Company.
One of Smethwick's significant industrial enterprises of the 19th century was the Fox, Henderson Company, formerly Brannah, Fox and Co., which built the steel structure for the Crystal Palace in 1851. At its peak this employed about 2,000 people at The London Works. The bankruptcy and closure of the firm in 1856 had a devastating effect on the local economy. The site of the London Works was later acquired by Chamberlain and Nettlefold, and in 2014 is being cleared to build a new hospital, amalgamating the Sandwell General Hospital at West Bromwich with the City Hospital, Dudley Road.
Richard Tangye was a notable builder of steam engines in the late 19th century. His designs, in a characteristic green colour, have a distinctive elegance of form. He demolished Smethwick Hall, on the border with Handsworth, and built his factory, the Cornwall Works, on the site.
Mitchells & Butlers opened a brewery on Cape Hill in 1879. It was a local landmark in Smethwick and provided employment in the town for 123 years. However, following a decline in sales and revenue, American owners Coors closed the brewery on 6 December 2002. It was demolished two years later and a 650-home private housing estate was developed on its site.
Teale & Yates Ltd (Inc.28/11/1962) - the fish, game & poultry shop, also selling fruit and vegetables - was on the High Street for many years during the 1960-70s providing good quality fresh food for many local people. The shop was owned by Arthur Teale and his wife Joan, with their eldest son joining the family business in the early '70s.
See also: BCN Main Line
Smethwick has a long association with canals, which were the town’s first major transport links from a time before decent roads and of course railways. The Birmingham Canal Navigation Old and New Main Line Canals run through the industrial areas and right past the High Street, running parallel to the Stour Valley Railway Line: all three end up in Wolverhampton. James Brindley was the engineer charged with building the canal, a man who gives his name to the busy district in the centre of Birmingham near the International Convention Centre, National Indoor Arena and Broad Street.
The old main line was completed though Smethwick by 1769. It required 12 locks to climb over the hill though the town; Brindley had found the earth too soft to dig a cutting though at the time. Water was supplied by two steam engines. One of them was located on the Engine Arm which led to the Smethwick Engine on Rabone Lane and the other was near Spon Lane. Smethwick New Pumping Station next to Brasshouse Lane was added later in 1892. Because of the locks, the canal through Smethwick became a bottleneck and Thomas Telford was commissioned in 1824 to look at alternatives.
The new main line through Smethwick was completed by 1829 and completely bypassed all 6 remaining locks of the summit with a deep cutting. The Engine Arm and Stewarts Aqueducts were built to carry their respective canals over the new mainline. The cutting was built through the land of the local businessman Samuel Galton and thus this cutting created the Galton Valley and Galton Bridge was named in his honour. The bridge was the longest single-span iron bridge in the world at the time. The canals of the new and old main line diverged at one end at Smethwick Junction near Bridge Street and rejoined at Bromford Junction near Bromford Road in Oldbury.
Today Galton Valley is a nature area and of more historical interest than commercial, and used mainly for leisure rather than transporting commercial goods.
Smethwick is served by trains on both the Birmingham to Worcester via Kidderminster Line and the Rugby-Birmingham-Stafford Line. The former links Birmingham Snow Hill station with Worcester, Stratford-upon-Avon and Leamington Spa. The Rugby-Birmingham-Stafford Line links Birmingham New Street railway station, Coventry and Wolverhampton, with onward connections. The Birmingham Railway, Carriage & Wagon Works was based in Smethwick until its closure; the company built trains for London Underground as well as railways across the world.
The station on the West Coast Main Line is called Smethwick Rolfe Street. This station serves local trains from Wolverhampton and Birmingham New Street. This station was the site of a railway goods yard, located at the High St side of the station. The road bridge leading over the railway lines was formerly crossed by a level crossing. Rolfe Street is Smethwick's oldest station dating from 1852. Soho Railway station was located on Soho St, which can be reached just off Rabone Lane. This station, of which there is nothing left, was opened in 1867 and closed in 1949.
The former Smethwick West Railway Station was replaced by a new facility opened at the same time as the Jewellery Line in 1995 called Smethwick Galton Bridge. Smethwick West was reached off two junctions diverging from the Stour Valley Line from Birmingham New Street Railway Station. The line that now runs over Summit Bridge, the large brick structure that crosses the canal alongside Thomas Telford's Galton Bridge, towards the Hawthorns station through the current Galton Bridge station was closed to passenger trains in 1972. This line re-opened as the Jewellery Line in 1995 and saw the closure of the Great Western Railway's last contribution to the railway stations of Smethwick. The station platforms still remain, as does the Booking Office, but these have been the target of vandals since closure.
Galton Bridge station serves a limited service to London, regular trains to Birmingham International Airport, Wolverhampton and further north. It also serves trains to Stourbridge, Kidderminster, Worcester, Dorridge and Stratford Upon Avon. It has regular services to all three of Birmingham central stations. The station is divided into High and Low levels; this used to be stated on departure screens at places like Birmingham Snow Hill (High Level or H.L) and Birmingham New Street (Low Level or L.L). Platforms 1 and 2 of the Jewellery Line are on the High Level situated on Summit Bridge and platforms 3 and 4 of the Stour Valley are on the low level.
To the north of Smethwick High Street on Brasshouse Lane is The Hawthorns again on the "Jewellery Line" and also on the Midland Metro, this station is located next to the West Bromwich Albion Football Club. This station has a limited service to London, as well as local trains to Stourbridge, Kidderminster, Worcester, Birmingham, Dorridge and Stratford-upon-Avon. The Midland Metro serves parts of Birmingham and Wolverhampton via West Bromwich, Wednesbury and Bilston. The original Hawthorns (Halt) railway station was located on the opposite side of Halfords Lane, and was only open from 1931 until 1968 and did not see a regular service except on Matchdays at West Bromwich Albion. It saw new life in 1995 when passenger trains returned, followed by the Midland Metro in 1999. The line from the direction of Galton Bridge was still in use after its 1972 closure as a single line to Coopers Scrap Yard in Handsworth only; this scrap yard is still in use along with its railway connection. The track bed through to Birmingham Snow Hill past Coopers Scrap Yard was lifted, and the line towards West Bromwich formed a local path that was retained when the metro was built.
The town of Smethwick has long association with buses; the famous Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company or Midland Red was based on Bearwood Road on the site of the former Safeway Supermarket. Also to be found in Bearwood is its bus station, Bearwood Bus Station is a small but well served affair and the only bus station in Smethwick. It is served by the famous number 11 Birmingham Outer Circle as well as the Hagley Road Corridor buses and of course a regular National Express Coach Service. Bearwood is an important bus hub is Smethwick, as is to a lesser extent Cape Hill both of which make up Smethwick’s major shopping area. Smethwick High Street is also well served by buses and as noted above is home to two railway stations.
Birmingham Corporation Tramways was the last to run trams through Smethwick, closing their last routes in 1939. Trams had their running through Cape Hill and then diverged to either take the route towards Dudley via the High Street or towards Bearwood, via Waterloo Road and Bearwood Road, terminating near the site of Bearwood Bus Station and Kings Head Public House. Both the current National Express West Midlands routes 82 and 87 are former tram routes and the 87 in fact uses the same number, the former 29 route is now the 82 of course. Route 34 from Birmingham to Bearwood along the Hagley Road also operated, even though it terminated next to the route via Cape Hill there was no physical link to each other. Route 34 was the first route to go in Smethwick in 1930, although there has been talk of the Midland Metro following a new route down Hagley Road to Quinton.
The Midland Metro opened in 1999, and is more of a light railway than a tramway. It follows the former Great Western Railway track bed from Birmingham Snow Hill Railway Station to the former Wolverhampton Low Level via West Bromwich until Priestfield in Wolverhampton, after that is a tramway proper and runs along the street. The metro can be caught at the Hawthorns railway station.
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