History of Acocks Green
Acocks Green is one of Birmingham's most important and historic suburbs. The name refers to the Acock family who built a large house in the area. The present centre is at a roundabout where the Warwick Road meets Shirley and Westley Roads, and locals call this 'The Green'. The name thus conjures up an image of a village developing over the centuries in an organic way. The actual history of the area is not that straightforward.
The first settlement in the area was a little further north, around an open field system at Tenchlee or Tenelea (ten clearings). This medieval settlement has completely disappeared, but some of the private enterprise farms and estates which grew up in the area survived into modern times, even if only in name sometimes. Huyon Hall and Broom Hall were moated sites. The Fox family bought the farm belonging to the atte Holies in the fifteenth century, and the name Fox Hollies resulted from that association. The Acock family acquired Notings Land, an estate out near today's city boundary. The earliest known reference to Acocks Green is in the Yardley Parish Register of 1604. In 1626 Acocks Green House and other estates were given by Richard Acock to his son as a wedding gift.
This 17th century reference to Acocks Green is therefore not to today's 'Green' but to an area about a quarter of a mile further out on the Warwick Road.
Near this house were two inns: the Spread Eagle and the Dolphin. Stage coaches stopped at the Dolphin, and in 1725 the Warwick Road was turnpiked and a tollgate placed across the road there. In the last years of the eighteenth century the Birmingham to Warwick Canal was cut across the area, and wharves opened at Stockfield Road and Yardley Road. Tiles, brick, sand and gravel were exported, and coal and Welsh slate were imported. With increased prosperity came the rebuilding of farms and the construction of large residences, but it was a later period which saw the transformation of Acocks Green from a rural backwater into a bustling suburb.
The Birmingham to Oxford railway opened with a station at Acocks Green in 1852. Wealthy businessmen could now leave the dirty and unhealthy town of Birmingham for a pleasant life in the country after work, or in retirement. At this time there were three hamlets along the Warwick Road, all now completely swallowed up in the larger Acocks Green. These were Flint Green, Acocks Green, and between them Westley Brook, the location of today's centre. The building of mansions, churches and other manifestations of social life near to the station pulled the centre of activity to Westley Brook away from the Dolphin. In a few short decades an astonishing wealth of social and cultural activities developed, making Acocks Green a rival even to a suburb such as Edgbaston.
This middle class quality of life was not to last for long after Yardley, of which Acocks Green was a part, was absorbed into Birmingham in 1911. Trams came to Broad Road from 1916, and to the Green from 1922. The city was desperate for land for housing, and in a few years from the mid-1920s half of Acocks Green was built on with municipal housing. Not only was much of the rural landscape obliterated, but a social upheaval resulted, with many newcomers sensing that they were not welcome, and many existing residents moving out elsewhere. Acocks Green acquired the name of Snobs Green or Snobs Paradise for some! However, the increase in population brought an increase in commerce, and Acocks Green grew into a major shopping district with over two hundred shops. Churches were extended, they built meeting rooms and halls, and their activities mushroomed. The centre of Acocks Green was remodelled in 1932, and a large island incorporating the tram terminus was created. After the trams finished, the island was grassed over, and this now sixty-six year old island became the 'Green', to fuel local people's sense of continued village life within the city.
Since the war, this sense of belonging to a strong local community has been gradually eroded, particularly as the shopping facilities have declined. Even as late as the 1960s, many people identified with small very local shopping areas, where they could get most of their purchases. The huge increase in traffic has made walking round local shops much less pleasant, and people have come to prefer other ways of buying things. Some aspects of local social life have also declined, for example life centred on the churches. Even some of the pubs have gone, and a number of large houses, sports grounds and green spaces have been replaced by higher density housing. One might think that a mature suburb such has Acocks Green has undergone most of the change it can. This is far from the truth. The evidence around us is that change is continuing at a surprising rate. If we were to come back not far into the new Millennium, we might well find that a lot of what we take for granted now will have disappeared.
The Library acts as the focus for local history activity in Acocks Green. The History Society meets in the Library once a month, and has its own archive of local history materials. The Library has a collection of photographs, maps, and newscuttings as well as a selection of books about Birmingham and the surrounding area.
The Library Service and Tempus Publishing have jointly published a book about Acocks Green, compiled by Michael Byrne, which contains over 220 old photographs of Acocks Green. It costs £9.99 and is available from bookshops, the Library Service or direct from Tempus (01453 883300).
If you have an enquiry about the history of Acocks Green, please use the 'Contact Us' button at the top of this page or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org The Library is seeking to expand its collection of local history materials: if you can help with information, or especially if you have any old photographs the Community Librarian would be very pleased to hear from you.
At the bottom of this screen is a box where you can tell us about your memories of living in Acocks Green. At the moment we are especially interested in your wartime memories.
Please tell us if we can add them to our web site.
As a boy during world war 2 I lived at 91 Station Road. Across the road at the junction of Station Road & Westfield Road stood a corrugated iron church (I think it was R. C.). During a bombing raid an unexploded bomb landed at the side of the church in Station Road. It was declared by bomb disposal engineers to be 'safe' and we were able to go and stand by the bomb crater and look at the fins of the bomb protruding from the ground. I was lying in bed on Good Friday morning when there was a tremendous explosion half an hour before the Good Friday service at the church. When we ran out to see what had happened - the church was no longer there - only a much larger crater and broken windows and damaged roofs all around.
Acocks Green History Society
Acocks Green by Michael Byrne
Acocks Green Library