A Frank Discussion

I’m a big fan of place names that actually mean something, rather than the pretty but ultimately empty kind that are sometimes embraced by developers. The authors of one of my all time favourite books ‘England in Particular’ have this to say on the subject,

“Names carry resonances and secrets. Respect local names and add new ones with care. It is not good enough to call a new estate Badger’s Mead when the badgers have been destroyed.”

Recently there was a notice in the Lichfield Mercury that the name ‘Halfpenny Lane’ had been assigned to a new development off the Walsall Road (1).  If streets, buildings, etc, are to be name after local people, then I think its important to know who those people were and what contribution they’ve made to that place. The following information was very kindly provided by Colin Halfpenny, son of Frank and Mary Halfpenny.

Frank Halfpenny was born on 11th September 1897 in Goldenhill, Stoke on Trent. At the age of fourteen he was apprenticed to Marsdon and Sons, a tailor and outfitting firm in Newcastle under Lyme. Between 1916 and 1919 Frank served in the Staffordshire Yeomanry as a signaller, spending time in Egypt and Palestine.

This photograph was sent to me by Ron Myatt of the Great Wyrley Local History Society. Ron and I had a chat about it – we understand that it shows Frank Halfpenny whilst serving in WW1, but the identities of the other men are unknown. If anyone can help, Ron and I would be very grateful!

On his return, Frank was appointed manager of John Key and Sons Tailors and Outfitters  in Market Street , Lichfield and lodged with the Misses Arnold of the Coffee Shop on Church Street (opposite to the vehicle entrance to Wintertons Saleyard). He was a keen sportsman, playing football and cricket for Lichfield teams. In 1923, Frank was appointed theMidland Area Representative for D Gurteen and Sons, clothing manufacturers of Haverhill, Suffolk. On New Year’s Eve 1924 Frank married Mary Emma Tayler.  Both were lifelong Methodists holding active posts both in the Lichfield Church and on the Lichfield and Tamworth Circuit. Eleven years later, Frank purchased Mr B T Sadler`s drapery and ladies outfitting shop opposite the Johnson Statue in Market Square

At the 1935 AGM of the cricket club Sam Brown (the father of Cuthbert Brown who published several books on growing up on Beacon St) the Treasurer told the members that the club finances were very low and that a method of raising them had to be found.  Frank offered the club a cup to be played for with an annual competition, this was agreed to and the competition was started amongst local village clubs in 1936. This has been played for every year since then and is thought to be the oldest 20×20 competition in the country. He was also a member of several bowls clubs, the allotments association and the City Institute where he enjoyed a game of billiards or snooker.

In 1936 he was elected to the City Council and became Sheriff in 1938. At the same time his father in law, Councillor F M Tayler, (later to become Alderman and a Freeman of the city) started his second year as Mayor. Many people will know the photograph of Frank maintaining the tradition of the Sheriff’s Ride in 1939, accompanied by Sam Ashley who at 70 years of age had followed the ride each year from when he was 7 years old.  Sam had walked to Four Oaks and collected the horses then rode to Lichfield , round the city boundary, back to Four Oaks and walked home again. The following year, Frank presented Sam with a copy of this photo. Sam replied that the day had always been a pleasure all his life and he had always enjoyed it, noting that ‘there were not above three people alive who went round when he was a boy and he hoped to go on as long as he could’. During the War Frank was also a prominent member of the ARP and spoke all over the Midlands for the Ministry of Information on national security, instructing Home Guard units on signalling.

Frank was a member of many committees and was Chairman of the Lichfield, Tamworth and Sutton Coldfield Hospital Committee for a long time and was also elected onto Staffordshire County Council. He was a magistrate on the County Justices Bench and Mary his wife was on the City Justices Bench. In 1965/6 Frank was elected Mayor of Lichfield, and after his death on May 12th 1966 , his wife Mary took his place as Deputy Mayor for 1966/7. Mary Halfpenny he was then appointed Sheriff in 1968 (when Ena Millard was Mayor) and became Mayor in 1971.

Mrs Halfpenny is on the front row of the above photograph, fourth from left. Until writing this I have to confess that I had assumed that the lane had been named after Mr Halfpenny, but clearly Mrs Halfpenny was also an active member of the community, and so perhaps the name should commemorate both of them? The photo was very kindly sent to me by David Shaw whose father John Shaw is sitting on the second row (second from left). In a nice bit of synchronicity, John wrote wonderful local history books, one of which is about the street names in Lichfield!

Colin Halfpenny also provided this photograph taken outside Christ Church Boys Club in 1939, when the Duke of Gloucester visited. It shows Cllr Halfpenny (the Sheriff), his father-in-law Cllr Tayler (the Mayor), and the chairman of the Youth club committee (name unknown, possibly a local bank manager?) with the Duke.

Notes:
(1) I can’t think whereabouts this is and am a little reluctant to go and look as with my poor sense of direction and the labyrinthine nature of the estate I always struggle to find my way back out again! Does anyone else know?
(2) Thanks so much to Colin, David and Ron for providing the above information and photographs.
(3) Information on presentation of photo to Sam Ashley taken from Lichfield Mercury archive
Advertisements

Multi Story Huts

A while ago I wrote about the old scout hut in Leomansley, triggered by the chance discovery of an old girl guides badge in Moggs Lane (does anyone call it by that name these days I wonder? I’m going to try and resurrect it – it’s much better than calling it ‘the lane that runs past Martin Heath hall towards the football pitches’). The hut is believed to have originally been a cadet hut, from one of the first world war training camps on Cannock Chase.  There is a fantastic section on the Staffordshire Pasttrack website regarding the training camps, including a description of the huts themselves. After the war, many were sold off to towns and villages for use as village halls, workshops, and here in Lichfield, a youth club.

Colin Halfpenny sent me two photographs featuring his father, Frank Halfpenny, and other civic dignitaries welcoming the Duke of Gloucester to the hut in Leomansley in 1939. At the time it was being used at the headquarters of the Christ Church Boys Club on the Walsall Rd but was eventually taken over by the 6th Lichfield Scout Group. The hut was replaced by a new building in 2009.

Cllr Frank Halfpenny (the Sheriff of Lichfield), Alderman Tayler (the Mayor) and the Chairman of the Youth Club Committee stand on the steps of the hut with the Duke of Gloucester in 1939.

The Mayor, the Duke of Gloucester, Mrs Ballard, Mr A.N.Ballard (the Town Clerk), the Sheriff (Mr Halfpenny), the Sheriff`s Lady (Mrs Mary Halfpenny)  and the Mayoress

I have also started to read about Brindley Heath, where the abandoned huts of the military hospital were taken over by the West Cannock Colliery Company, providing homes for miners and their families until the 1950s.

Imagine the stories held within the walls of these simple wooden buildings – those of thousands of men, who called them home (possibly for some their last) as they trained for life, and in far too many cases death, in the trenches abroad.  Once peace was restored, there were new chapters in the stories of the huts themselves, with each one put to a new use amongst a different community.  As the centenary of the first world war approaches, I wonder if any of them are still around in our towns and villages, or have they all now been replaced?

With thanks to Colin Halfpenny for the photographs.

Edit: One of the huts may have been used at Snibston in Leicestershire, as a temporary residence for the Vicar whilst he waited for his new vicarage to be built. Also it appears that the memorial hall and men’s club at Glascote, Tamworth was also a former army hut.

 

A Change of Scenery

Since visiting the new Christian Fields local nature reserve last year, I’d been waiting for an opportunity to return and follow the ancient route which runs from the reserve to the village of Elmhurst.

I was eager to see was whether the dry pool/well we thought we’d found last time had filled with water. Turns out it had, but not necessarily in the way I was expecting… When I went in September it looked like this:

Now (assuming I have got the right place!) it looks like this:

The reason for the change is that site is being developed with £100,000 of funding to attract wildlife (and members of the public!) to the site. As well as the new pond and dipping platform, there will also be picnic areas, wild flower meadows and information boards.  There were lots of tadpoles swimming about in the new pool, so it looks as though efforts to improve the site’s biodiversity may be starting to pay off. You can read more information on the project here.

After watching the tadpoles, we passed two women out dog walking.One was trying to disentangle herself from a bramble that had taken a liking to her, but it seemed the feeling wasn’t mutual. “Bloody nature!”, we heard her shout as we walked past.

We continued along the wooded path leading to Fox Lane, Elmhurst.  Interestingly, up until the middle of the last century, it seems that both the path and Fox Lane were actually a continuation of Dimbles Lane.  After brushing past wild flowers and negotiating tree roots on the narrow, winding path we emerged from the green corridor into the village. I would love to know how often this path was trod by past generations, but surely none of them have ever tried to take a motor vehicle up there. Have they?

I believe that ‘new’ name for the lane relates to a retired business man, George Fox, who bought Elmhurst Hall in 1875. Fox died in London from a chill in 1894 after moving from Elmhurst to enable the Duke of Sutherland to use the house to host the Prince of Wales on his visit Lichfield for the centenary of the Staffordshire Yeomanry.

The original Elmhurst Hall was built by the Biddulph family in the late seventeenth century and replaced by an Elizabethan style house in 1804, with building materials from the original house being offered for sale. I wonder where these parts of Elmhurst Hall ended up?

Source: Wikimedia commons

Source: Wikimedia commons

The second Elmhurst Hall was demolished in 1921. Its last owner was the brewer Henry Mitchell (as in Mitchells & Butlers). There are still remains of the estate in evidence including a walled garden which dates back to at least 1740 and a lodge built in the 1870s, in the same style as the main hall, known as High Field Lodge. There was also another earlier lodge on Tewnals Lane but I haven’t been to have a look and see if that still exists.

High Field Lodge

Walled Garden

Whilst at Elmhurst Hall, Mr Fox established a mission room linked to St Chad’s Church, Lichfield to compensate for a lack of a place of worship in the village. I understand that services were taken by students from Lichfield Theological College and  Mr Fox himself.

Wild garlic & a rusty barrow outside the Mission Room

As I was walking, I couldn’t help but think of Alfred Cleveley, a butler a Elmhurst Hall in 1914 and later a recipient of the Military Medal, killed in action in May 1917, who I wrote about here. I later found that Private Joseph Hall, aged 20 and a member of the Mission Room choir also lost his life during the war. Born in Elmhurst in 1897, on the 1911 census Joseph was an errand boy. It’s a sad thought that the names of Joseph and so many like him would not appear on another census but instead on war memorials and rolls of honour. However, there did seem to be some controversy regarding where names should be included.  Whilst reading through the newspaper archive on Elmhurst, I found a letter from someone using the pseudonym ‘A Mother’, wanting to know why her son, born at Elmhurst, who died making ‘the great sacrifice’ on the battlefield aged just eighteen years old, should not be eligible to have his name enrolled on the Lichfield memorial. Apparently, she was told after making a voluntary subscription that the lad did not belong to Lichfield. ‘Then where did he belong to I should like to know?’ ends her letter.

I imagine that both Joseph Hall and the unnamed soldier went to Elmhurst School, opened in 1883 on land given by George Fox who also sat on the board as chairman. A proposal to close the school on account of low numbers was rejected by parents in the 1930s, and the school remained open until 1980 when the building was taken over by the Elmhurst and Curborough Community Association and pupils were transferred to other Lichfield primary schools, including Christ Church.

The Lichfield side of Dimbles Lane now has a very different feel to the rest of the route which shares its name, although the former landscape is reflected in the names of some of the new closes and crescents built by the local authorities after the First World War and throughout the twentieth century – Bloomfield, Greencroft, Willowtree.  The building program meant that the population of Lichfield increased significantly, and it’s a good reminder that housing estates are just as much a part of our history as the old country estates such as Elmhurst Hall. This is something that is being recognised more and more these days with some great work on our recent past going on in other places. For now, I will try and put something together so that others can follow this walk for themselves.

Start of Dimbles Lane at the Lichfield city end

Dimbles Lane as it crosses Eastern Avenue and enters Christian Fields Nature Reserve

Edit: Oh look! There’s a story here on Lichfield Live about volunteering at Christian Fields LNR on June 3rd. If you go, say hi to the tadpoles for me!

Sources:

Townships: Curborough and Elmshurst’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 229-237

Lichfield Mercury Archive

Burning Questions

Before moving on to the Trent Valley Brewery, I’ve found a little more information to share on the City Brewery, regarding what happened on the night of the fire, and in the aftermath.

The Maltings survived the fire that destroyed the majority of the City Brewery in 1916.

At a Lichfield City Council meeting in November 1916, two versions of events were heard by those present. The report by Mr Salford, Captain of the City Fire Brigade, had already been accepted by the General Purposes Committee who told the meeting that they were satisfied with the work and conduct of the brigade, and proposed that the report, which I’ve summarised below, be adopted.

At quarter past five on the morning of 25th October 1916, the police telephoned him to say that the City Brewery was on fire. On hearing the news he turned out and met Fireman Gilbert in Lombard St, who was on his way to tell the Captain and the horsemen that they were needed. His own alarm bell had not rung, as it was out of order.  On arriving at the Fire Station, some of the crew had already left with the hose cart and so, with the help of two others, he attached horses to the engine. On arriving at the Birmingham Rd, it seemed to the fire had been burning for some time. The engine was set up to work from the City Brewery basin of the canal with two lines of hoses, one of which was used inside the malt house (half of which was saved), and the other used to protect the boiler room (also saved). At some point, other crews arrived  and though they battled hard against the fire in other parts of the brewery, it was beyond saving. The Captain believed that even if the other brigades had arrived at the same time as the City Brigade, the outcome would still have been the same, as the fire had already taken too much of a hold. A third line was set up at a hydrant in the brewery yard, but as the pressure was poor it was useless when trying to tackle the blaze in the high buildings and so was used on the wooden buildings between the brewery and the railway line, which were damaged but saved.

The other brigades in attendance left in the afternoon, with the Lichfield City Brigade returning to the Fire Station at 6.30pm. The Captain then returned at 8 o’clock to check the premises and was satisfied that it was safe. However, early the next morning, he received a call to say that something was burning at the brewery. This turned out to be one of the vats on the top floor and again, the poor pressure from the hydrant hindered the operation. However,the Captain didn’t believe it worthwhile getting the steamer out and left them (the brewery employees?) the standpipe and hose.

The main fire was thought to have started in the grinding room. Only one man was on duty and the Captain considered this insufficient cover. He also felt that there should have been a means for them to telephone for help immediately, without having to call for others to telephone and lose valuable time.

Other members of the Council weren’t so quick to accept the report and questioned the delay in responding, the lack of water pressure, and the out of order fire bell. The most critical of those present at the meeting, perhaps unsurprisingly, was Alderman Thomas Andrews, the City Brewery’s Managing Director. Despite initially claiming that he didn’t want to say too much, as he felt too strongly, the account he gave of the fire called into question the effectiveness of the Brigade (at one point Mr Andrews went as far as to call them ‘absolutely useless’). To summarise Mr Andrews’ version of events:

On discovering the fire, the man at the brewery told the cashier to call the police. An initial call was made at 4.45 am but due to difficulties getting through, a second call had to be made at 5.15 am. Mr Andrews admitted that as he had not been notified of the fire until just before 6 o’clock, much of his version of events was based on what he’d heard from others, but believed that it could be substantiated.  He’d been told that the brigade arrived around quarter to or ten to six and then there were delays in getting to work as the hose burst two or three times. It had also been reported to him that at this time there was ‘absolutely no discipline or method’ amongst the fire brigade.  Mr Andrews believed that if the Captain had followed his advice and sent his men into the brewery building to fight the advancing fire (something the Captain had refused to allow), then it would have been saved. He rejected the Captain’s claims that the brigade had saved the malt house, suggesting that that the hoses had only been turned onto this building at his and another brewery employee’s suggestion. Had it not been for this and the fact that the head maltster had gone inside to fight the advancing flames (with a rope around his waist in case he was overcome by fumes), then in his opinion, the malt house would also have been lost.  

The Deputy Mayor acknowledged that Mr Andrews’ statements called for very serious consideration, but gave the brigade credit for doing everything within the means at their disposal, event though their means were absolutely inadequate! He considered half an hour to turn out reasonable, in view of the fact they were an amateur brigade but believed that the telephone call issues had lead to an unfortunate loss of time. Another of those present, Lord Charnwood, was concerned in relation to the telephone service, and  the fact that there had been a serious allegation as to a mistake of judgement by the Captain (although believed that no doubt he had done his best). He suggested that a small sub-committee should be set up to examine the facts in more detail. Some of those present suggested there should be an independent enquiry, and other expressed concern that any members of the General Purposes Committee taking part in the enquiry may be biased towards their brigade’s captain. Eventually it was decided that the committee be made up of councillors, with the findings of the report presented to the whole Council (at a later date, an independent enquiry was deemed more appropriate after all).

I have found a report from the Annual Meeting of the shareholders of the City Brewery held in December 1916. The Chair, Mr H J C Winterton, stated that, due to the difficulties in rebuilding at the present time, it was difficult to know what the future had in store. The Ministry of Munitions had expressed their desire to protect and repair the partially destroyed buildings and he hoped that if manufacturing was able to resume at an early enough date, the company’s losses would be very slight.

We of course know that what the future had in store.  The City Brewery was never rebuilt and what remained was sold to Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries in 1917. The maltings remained operational until 2005, and is in the process of being converted to apartments.

I haven’t yet been able to find anything on the outcome of the enquiry, so I am unsure as to whether or not the Captain of the City Fire Brigade was found to be negligent in his duties. However, surely true negligence and error of judgement would have been to send ill-equipped men into a burning building (even with the ‘precaution’ of a rope around the waist!). The brewery may have been lost that night, but thankfully, lives were not.