Archives for category: History

Planning for the Future: 1948 – Reflections on What Happened and Why is a paper written for the Black Countryman, the quarterly magazine of the Black Country Society.

*George Morran (right) has been reflecting on the Conurbation Report published in 1948 (Vol.51, No.1, 2017. His account is summarised below and published in full here.

The work on conurbation was supported financially and in kind by the Barrow Cadbury Trust, whose chair, Paul Cadbury, acted as Secretary. Conurbation was non-governmental and purely advisory.

It was produced by a group led by Dr. Raymond Priestley Vice Chancellor of Birmingham University, supported by a steering committee and advisory groups including businessmen, academics and local authority officials from across the West Midlands Region including the shires, Birmingham and the Black Country.

Thousands of new houses were built in the 50s and 60s. In the inner areas a large proportion of the new housing was built by the local district and borough councils for rent. They had the basic amenities which the older housing lacked. In the 60s a high proportion of this new-build was high rise especially around older town centres. The newer housing in the outer areas of the Black Country was in the main built by private developers at lower densities for sale with a greater emphasis on the visual appearance and environment. New single storey industrial estates appeared replacing older multi storey workshops. New industries anticipated by Conurbation did not materialise

1947: central government controls were introduced over new manufacturing development in the Black Country and other prosperous regions – repealed in 1984

They were intended to steer new development to the less well-developed areas. They discouraged new investment and modernisation of the existing industrial infrastructure and the replacement of obsolescent buildings; they hindered enterprise and strangled new ideas in red tape. The profitability of many companies was undermined leading to closures and takeovers.

David Smith – Something Will Turn Up: Britain’s Economy, Past, Present and Future (cover below)

During the 1950s and 60s the flight of residents, businesses, wealth and influence to the fringes and beyond from the inner areas continued. The owners of businesses who had previously lived locally no longer did so.

Conurbation had proposed that the railways be expanded but they were run down and lines closed. The proposed M6 and M5 motorways were well on the way to being built but little was done to improve regional and local roads. Much development along main roads had been blighted by the existence of improvement lines which would never be implemented.

By 1971 80% of the derelict land in the Black Country and most of the open space that existed in 1948 had been developed for housing and industry; the canals which were to have anchored much of the open space were closed, abandoned or left to decay, open to vandalism and abuse. Much of the traditional heavy industries had gone or were soon to close.

The so-called slums in and around the old townships had been cleared and replaced by new housing. Many historic cottages and other housing which were structurally sound or could have been upgraded were demolished because of their lack of modern amenities.

1948: The West Midlands Plan

The West Midlands Plan was produced by a team of town planners and academics led by Sir Patrick Abercrombie, Professor of Town and Country Planning at University College, London University. The political and business elites were directly or indirectly involved; residents were not. There was very little if any public involvement – and an absence of any regional or local civic forums and pressure groups to challenge the established way of doing business and to offer any alternatives. Although it related to the whole of the West Midlands conurbation, it focused on the Black Country which the Plan identified as having the most challenges. Central to its proposals for the Black Country were the maintenance and further intensification of industry in the inner areas; the location of new housing in the peripheral areas and beyond, outside a statutory Green Belt including towns and villages in South Staffordshire and North Worcestershire.

1955: the Birmingham and West Midlands Overspill Committee

In 1955 the shire and urban local authorities set up the Birmingham and West Midlands Overspill Committee to produce, deliver and keep up-to-date an agreed regional plan to manage overspill from the urban to shire areas consistent with approved Development Plans with formal agreements for overspill to particular locations within and beyond the Green Belt. The agreements focused on new housing to be allocated for occupation by families moving from the Black Country and Birmingham. The Shire Counties also argued for the relocation of industry from the conurbation to balance the increase in population in the shires. Pressure for the peripheral development of the urban areas onto Green Belt land continued into the 1960s

1965: The Government set up a West Midlands Regional Planning Council

The Regional Council was supported by a Regional Board of Civil Servants and representatives of central and local government and business to make recommendations to Government on the economic and physical development of the whole West Midlands Region including the shire and conurbation areas. It identified substantial economic and population growth that needed to be accommodated in the region and proposed that New Towns should be developed based on Redditch and Dawley and that New Town Commissions be established responsible to the Government for bringing forward and delivering detailed plans. The Government accepted these recommendations.

1962: report issued by the Royal Commission on Local Government in England

It made proposals for the future of local government in the West Midlands Region abolishing the system of boroughs, county and district authorities and replacing it with five all-purpose county boroughs. This new system came into force on the first April 1966. The Royal Commission and the government thought that the new arrangement would strengthen the Black Country’s ability to respond to the challenges it faced. Less importance was attached to the local community identity or the social and economic links which existed between the Black Country and the adjoining areas of Staffordshire and Worcestershire.

1966: a further Royal Commission was established to make recommendations on the future of local government across the West Midlands

It reported in 1969, proposing that a directly elected provincial council be established for the whole of the West Midlands Region to deal with strategic planning. In the Black Country the Commission proposed four all-purpose local authorities responsible for all planning matters together with responsibility for major services in particular education, and social services. The Commission also proposed that local community councils be established but district councils consistently blocked local campaigns for powers and representation to be made more local and took little or no action to encourage their establishment.

The Black Country Society responded to the Royal Commission

In its 1971 pamphlet it proposed that local government in the Black Country and the wider West Midlands region be built on directly elected community or town councils responsible for local services and providing a voice for local communities. It accepted that some public services needed to be provided across a larger area and proposed the establishment of a directly elected West Midlands Region body – a strong political voice which could engage with Westminster and Whitehall.

1974: The establishment of a West Midlands Metropolitan County Authority

In 1973 the Conservative Government agreed a new round of reorganisation which led in April 1974 to the establishment of a West Midlands Metropolitan County Authority stretching from Wolverhampton to Coventry and including seven all purpose District Councils for Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton.

In the last 50 years many new challenges and opportunities have come along which have shaped what has happened to the Black Country more recently and its future prospects. That is another story.

*George Morran: BCS Member 1968 to Present and Committee member 1968-76. Formerly Director the West Midlands Regional Forum of Local Authorities and Assistant Chief Executive, Dudley MBC.







The photography of Janet Mendelsohn
Presented in association with Flatpack Film Festival
10 March – 28 April 2018

In the late 1960s American filmmaker and photographer Janet Mendelsohn spent several months documenting the everyday life of Balsall Heath, as part of her studies at the University of Birmingham. These images are a vivid record of the community at a time of rapid change, and many of the streets depicted were demolished soon afterwards. The exhibition visually explores a social housing crisis, poverty, migration and the experience of childhood in the area.

Building on a brief pop-up exhibition in summer 2015, Ort Gallery now present a selection of these amazing images in the neighbourhood where they were taken. The exhibition will be supported by a resource room exploring some of the stories behind the pictures, and a programme of events and screenings culminating in the 12th Flatpack Film Festival.

To accompany the exhibition we will run a series of events such as group discussions, film screenings, a ghost walk and more! Find all info here and join the Facebook event to be kept up to date!

This exhibition is made possible with strategic investment by the Arts Council England and support from Arts & Science Festival. Special thanks to the Cadbury Research Library.

Ort Gallery
500-504 Moseley Road
Balsall Heath
B12 9AH

Open Tuesday to Saturday 12-5pm





‘The Labour party would have found an ally in Attwood’

Dr Geoffrey Ingham, Financial Times (Letters):

“The early 19th century member of parliament, proto-Keynesian and pro-industry Birmingham banker Thomas Attwood must be cheering from his grave at the Labour party’s proposal to move most of the Bank of England to Birmingham “to shake up more than three centuries of association between the Old Lady and the City of London”.

“In the 1820s, Attwood railed against the City and the Bank in parliament and print: “Half the circulation of the kingdom is determined in stagnant masses into what is called the money market, in order to gorge the moneyed interest.” Rather, he advocated that “the use of credit should be expanded until the demand for labour, in all the great departments of industry, becomes permanently greater than its supply”.

“The prime minister, Lord Melbourne, summarily dismissed his impudence: “Birmingham is not England.”

“If Labour’s fantasy is to be pursued perhaps they might also look at the part played by the Treasury in the fate of the Wilson-Brown industrial strategy in the 1960s. Attwood was again prescient:

“The Bank of England is a grand political engine . . . by means of which the Treasury may pinch and grind the country as they please.”

“In Yes, Prime Minister, the PM Jim Hacker sent shivers through Sir Humphrey Appleby with his plan to relocate the Treasury “somewhere up North”. Needless to say, Sir Humphrey prevailed.”

In an email message Geoffrey Ingham said that he came across Thomas Attwood when he was writing his book Capitalism Divided? (1984) on the deleterious effects of the City and its close links with the Bank and Treasury, on the British economy. He added that Attwood has been very much overlooked in academic economics and history and that he broadly agrees with Attwood’s aims.









‘Visitor Information Centre’ is a name that kept the writer away for many months anticipating only leaflets and the usual memorabilia made in China.

What a delight to find that most of the offerings are skilfully handcrafted treasures made by Friends of the Carillon, local artists recording Bournville village scenes and working in wood, glass metal and wool. Some items are ‘bought in’ but selected with great care. There are also books and recordings of the carillon; DVDs for sale include a Christmas selection and the Summer Concert featuring Frank Steijns and the carillon, transmitted live from Maastricht.

To exhibit and sell their work the Friends of the Carillon agree to serve for two hours each week in the centre and donate a percentage of the sale price to the Carillon. A minimum of 20% of all proceeds goes to supporting carillon activities and promotion.

The Carillon Visitor Centre is open Monday to Saturday 10am to 4.30pm (except for the month of January). It makes a vital contribution to the maintenance of the nearby carillon.

Formerly known as the Rest House, the building was designed by the architect who also drew plans for workers’ housing and two Bournville schools, William Alexander Harvey. He aimed to design a building that “would be in entire harmony with its surroundings”, basing it on a seventeenth-century Yarn Market hall at Dunster in Somerset.

George and Elizabeth Cadbury celebrated their silver wedding anniversary in April 1913 and the Rest House was built to commemorate the occasion.

It was commissioned by the employees of Cadbury Brothers Ltd at Bournville and in all parts of the world as “A lasting memorial of esteem and affection as an expression of gratitude for the unceasing interest in their welfare and in admiration of manifold services to the world at large”.

Above, crowds gathered for the opening of the building designed to be used as a place of rest “providing kind shelter and seating”. More photographs and information here.

The Rest House was closed for many years but protected from vandalism and abuse. It was brought back into use by Bournville Village Trust and the vision and sheer hard work of its manager, Joy Workman, who is married to Trevor, the Bournville Carilloneur  (left).

In November 1997 the building was re-opened by Robin Cadbury as the Carillon Visitor Centre and used as a focal point for the carillon – another valued legacy from the founder of Bournville.

The Carillon Visitor Centre is also the place where tours start to Bournville carillon (left). The carillon, a rare and unusual musical instrument, has been in use since the 15th century and looks like an organ. Carillons have a minimum of 23 bells and played from a ‘baton’ keyboard.

The instrument and the carillon art are most commonly found in Belgium, Holland, France but are a rarity in the UK. Read more on the website and see the photos taken by Amanda Slater.

The tours take place on Saturdays at 12 noon and 3pm. Visits are free of charge but donations are invited in support of the “Friends of Bournville Carillon”, a self-financing Charitable Trust. Booking is advised as numbers on each tour are strictly limited: 07986 552770, email, or book at The Visitor Centre.







Bournville Village Trust has agreed to acquire and manage some of the 138 homes at the Manor House site, which is being developed by Crest Nicholson. Work on the site will also include plans to rebuild Northfield Manor House, off Bristol Road South, which was demolished after being severely damaged in an arson attack three years ago.

Northfield Manor House was the residence of the Trust’s founder George, and his wife Elizabeth, until her death in 1951. In 1953 it became a hall of residence for the university, but has been empty since 2007 as the University decided it was too expensive to upgrade.

It is not legally listed with English Heritage, but has an informal grade A status on Birmingham City Council’s local advisory list of historic buildings. The English Heritage website (no general access) records that a farm house, part of the Manor of Northfield belonging to the Jervoise family, was recorded as being on the site circa 1750. In 1809 the estate was purchased by Daniel Ledsam, a London merchant. It is believed that he made alterations to the house and was responsible for the current main building.

This picture came from coverage on this site in 2014.

Local historian Dr Carl Chinn urged the university to stop the demolition of the fire-damaged building and consult local people through community groups and their elected representatives over the future of this building. He advocated restoration of the building, in partnership with the community.

The University’s vice-principal, Professor Adam Tickell, said that the planning application had been revived and now included provision for the rebuilding of the manor house, despite the demolition of most of the structure.

The Manor House is to be rebuilt in the original style with Georgian and Arts & Crafts facades and the decorative details of the exterior of the building in stone and brickwork, render and timber. The form and proportions of the 18th century manor will be retained but the interior will be divided into apartments.






People passing the illuminated Bournville factory buildings late at night will have noted its 24-hour operation – evidence of a thriving enterprise.

The factory buildings in 1932: unchanged exterior

The FT’s John Murray Brown (paywall) reports from Bournville that Mondelez has completed a two-year modernisation programme, investing £75m in the chocolate maker’s flagship factory: “Shiny new production equipment has been installed at the “factory in a garden” built by Quaker George Cadbury in 1879 alongside houses for its workers who had relocated from Birmingham’s industrial belt.

Under the agreement, 1,300 workers at Bournville and two other Cadbury factories in the UK will receive a pay rise of 3.2% in 2017-18, and an increase in line with inflation in 2018-19. Joe Clarke of Unite says this is considerably higher than other recent settlements in the food and drinks industry, which have been about 2.4%.

Mr Clarke highlighted the chocolate maker’s “strong ethical traditions: “Cadbury has a long history of good industrial relations. We’ve got records which go back to the tea break agreement of 1922.” Cadbury established works councils, with management and employee representative meeting to discuss company plans, back in the 1930s. It was also one of the first companies to offer sick pay and pension rights for women.

The improvement in industrial relations at Cadbury came after controversy when the company was bought by Kraft Foods of the US in 2010. The Takeover Panel, the custodian of UK rules on mergers and acquisitions, after reneging on a promise not to shut Cadbury’s Somerdale plant at Keynsham near Bristol but it was made clear that the original decision had been made by Cadbury in 2007.

There have been 200 voluntary redundancies at Bournville under the modernisation programme, bringing the manufacturing workforce down to about 800. The four new production lines have led to ‘dramatic’ productivity improvements closing the gap with Mondelez’ German plant. In an embedded video, David Bailey, professor of industrial strategy at Aston University business school, said, “We hadn’t seen significant investment at Bournville for a long time. It was pretty dilapidated. Old plant and equipment. The focus on productivity is the only way any company manufacturing in a relatively high-cost economy can survive in the long run”.

The changes at Bournville mean manufacturing is assured “for a generation not just for the short term”, according to Glenn Caton, president of Mondelez’s northern Europe operations.  





Birmingham and West Midlands Group


A day school at the Birmingham & Midlands Institute, Margaret St, Birmingham B3 3BU 

Saturday 18th November 10.15 am-4.15 pm, registration from 9.45                                 

Speakers will not only focus on architectural design but more importantly on who lived in the Victorian buildings and the motivation of those who built them.

The day will start with a presentation by Jo-Ann Curtis, History Curator for Birmingham Museums Trust, on the clearance of 19th century working class housing in Birmingham as part of Joseph Chamberlain’s Improvement Scheme through the photographs of James Burgoyne.

Michael Harrison, lecturer and writer on Bournville, will outline the philosophy of the Cadbury brothers in building the Bournville estate.  Living conditions there will be compared with those in the back-to-back dwellings.

Barbara Nomikos from the Moor Pool Heritage Trust will look at the later Moor Pool Estate and J.S. Nettlefold’s motivation in setting it up as a co-operative partnership tenant society.

Finally Janet Lillywhite will contrast the earlier housing with the middle class area of Anchorage Road, just to the north of the Sutton Coldfield town centre, which is an example of speculative development of ‘villa residences’ built between 1870 and 1914.

The cost of £35 will include tea/ coffee and a buffet lunch, also with tea/coffee. Queries/bookings to Helene Pursey on 0121 449 5186 or

Please return the booking form to her BEFORE Saturday 11th November at 54 Prospect Rd Moseley Birmingham B13 9TD.






Thursday 14th September, 5.30 for 6pm start.

UNISON Regional Office, 24 Livery Street, B32PA (next to the Old Contemptibles and opposite Snow Hill Station)

Lucy Seymour-Smith writes:

In times of austerity, services, organisations and communities are being starved of the funds needed to survive and grow.

We cannot regenerate or communities by relying on large organisations who can, and do relocate according to their own financially driven agenda.

Instead we need a new approach to regeneration framed around co-operative values of self-help, participation, social responsibility and democratic accountability that is led by organisations that have a genuine long-term stake in our communities.

In celebration of the Co-op Party centenary this event is an absolute must for all those interested in transforming the West Midlands region by reorganising local economies and supporting communities to help themselves.

First outing at the 2017 Durham Miners’ Gala

Panel speakers include:

Liam Byrne MP

Claire Campbell, UNISON Head of Local Government

Anna Birley, Coop party policy officer and Labour/Coop Party Cabinet Member in Lambeth

 *Spaces limited so sign up quickly*

nibbles and networking






Steve Beauchampé recalls the Cadbury Barn, a little known but once much-loved Birmingham building destroyed by fire last week.

There is some ambiguity surrounding the origins of the Cadbury Barn, burnt down in a suspected arson attack last week. Whilst the Birmingham Conservation Trust website states that it was erected in 1894 in the grounds of George Cadbury’s home at Northfield Manor House, set in Manor (formerly New House) Farm, the Bournville Works Magazine suggests otherwise (as does an 1893 Ordnance Survey map), indicating that the Barn, the work of company architect Alexander Harvey, was originally sited in Laurel Grove, where it was known as the Girls’ Gymnasium, and was relocated and re-assembled at Manor Farm in 1903 (a not uncommon practice, stands at both St Andrews and The Hawthorns were similarly relocated from their respective clubs’ earlier grounds around this time).

A wooden structure with a metal framework held in places by chains, and seating up to 700, the Barn became the focus of regular summer parties for Cadbury employees, their families and perhaps most famously poor children from throughout Birmingham and the Black Country. Speaking of these often joyous gatherings George Cadbury remarked: There could never be too many and they could never be too noisy. Children – up to fifty at a time – would be invited to swim in the nearby fish pond, girls before tea, boys after. The Barn was also used by Sunday School groups, the Mothers Union and members of Men’s and Women’s Adult Schools, as well as Scout Jamborees and Brownie Revels, with as many as 25,000 people using the facility each year. During the Second World War the Friends Ambulance Unit used the Barn as a training camp.

The Barn’s unusual rusticated timber detailing was a style seemingly specific to Cadbury’s with similar decoration also found on an original exposed section of the Cadbury Club (formerly the Girl’s Pavilion) on Bournville Lane. Its floor was tiled in red and grey terracotta with a single entrance at the rear (facing the main road) and a wider entrance and wide windows overlooking the park.

Following the death in 1951 of George’s wife, Dame Elizabeth Cadbury, the family donated Manor Farm and its buildings to the city of Birmingham with the Barn continuing to be used by park visitors and other groups.

In recent years the Barn had served as a storage facility for the Parks Department but had become semi-derelict and partially boarded up.

In 2014 Birmingham Conservation Trust, in conjunction with Bournville Village Trust and the Friends of Manor Farm Park, began drawing up plans for a restoration of the Barn as part of plans for a multi-use community space including a cafe and involving several adjacent buildings. Sadly, following the fire which destroyed the Barn on the night of July 31st, should those plans come to fruition, it will not be part of them. 


Steve Beauchampé

August 7th 2017




Learn more about renowned botanist world traveller Ernest Wilson, trained at Edgbaston Botanical Gardens, next Monday evening, at at Earlswood Village Hall, Valley Rd, Earlswood, Solihull B94 6BZ

Ann Turner will give a lively account of her extensive research into the life of plant collector Ernest Wilson, who lived in Shirley and was educated at Birmingham Municipal Technical School (now Aston University).

Her search began when she wondered Dove Tree Court retirement apartments in Shirley got its name.  Ernest Wilson who was sent to China to track down the rare Dove Tree, sometimes known as the Handkerchief Tree (below).

It took two years for Wilson to find one, and that was hanging over a cliff edge. When he was returning to England, with his specimens his boat was wrecked, but he managed to save this precious plant.

Finding that no-one she knew locally had heard of this remarkable man, she and her husband Malcolm embarked on a ‘wonderful journey’, completed only a couple of weeks ago after travelling to London and finding the house where Ernest Wilson lived with his family, while he was working at Kew Gardens.

A wide range of contacts made included contacts with the Arnold Arboretum in Boston USA (where all his records are kept), and Mount Royal cemetery, Montreal Canada (where he and his wife are buried).