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The History of Northfield

St. Laurence Church and Great Stone Inn, 1941

Today Northfield is an outer suburb of Birmingham, but its origin was in a Saxon settlement in North Worcestershire, which in 1086 became part of the lands of William Fitz-Ansculf, a Norman knight. The 'old' village of Northfield (Nordfeld) was described in the Domesday Book as having a priest as well as seven villeins, sixteen borders, six cottars, who shared enough land for thirteen ploughs, two serfs and a bondswoman (a slave). This entry tells us that there was a church in Northfield before the Norman Church of St Laurence was built. The church, which has been enlarged over the centuries, was built of stone probably quarried from nearby Quarry Lane, and was the focal point of the 'old village'. Today it is the central building in a conservation area. The conservation area also includes the Great Stone Inn, originally a mediaeval 'Hall' house, the village Pound (or pinfold) where in ancient times stray animals were tethered, and a number of cottages.
The stone on the corner was later moved into the Pound.

Until the 19th century, Northfield, a poorer parish than neighbouring Kings Norton, was a rural farming community. There was a nail making industry in cottages next to the Church, and a number of mills on the banks of the River Rea, where locally grown corn was ground. Northfield was also on the main routes from Birmingham to Worcester and Redditch and in 1762 the route we now know as the Bristol Road became a turnpike road. The 'Bell and Bluebell Inn' at the junction of Bell Lane and Bell Holloway was a coaching station for travellers until a new 'Bell Inn' was built on the Bristol Road in 1803.

It was the building of the Birmingham to Gloucester railway line through Northfield and the opening of a station on Church Hill in 1870 that led to the changes in the area. The railway brought visitors and industry from the centre of Birmingham out to the rural areas. At the turn of the century visitors to Northfield could visit the local skating rink on West Heath Road next to the bridge over the river Rea, and perhaps stay at the Temperance Hotel on the corner of Station Road. Unfortunately the skating rink was used during the First World War as a munitions factory and following an accident the rink was destroyed by fire.

In 1879 the Cadbury brothers moved their business to Bournville just two miles from Northfield and established a garden village between Bournville and Northfield to house their workers. This village was well planned with wide tree-lined roads, parks, and a variety of other amenities. Herbert Austin founded his Austin Works in Northfield in 1905. This is now the Longbridge car plant, part of the Rover Group. F. Paul Impey and Oliver Morland established the Kalamazoo Works in 1908. These factories attracted workers from the centre of the city and of course started the movement from the city to the suburbs. These industrialists were influential and active in the area and many buildings, parks and other amenities are the result of their generosity.

Northfield changed rapidly during the 20th century, large areas of housing were built in the 1930s, and housing estates were developed at Ley Hill, West Heath, Bunbury Road and Vineyard Road in the 1960s. The Northfield of today is a very busy place, but the area around the church has been a conservation area for over twenty years and reminds us of earlier times.

St Laurence Church tower has been renovated and a new ground floor ringing chamber created at the foot of the tower. The bells were dismantled while this work was done, but have now been re-hung with an addition of two new bells making a peal of ten. These bells were 'blessed' on November 20th 1999 and rang in the 21st century.

The Library Service and Tempus Publishing have jointly published a book about Northfield, compiled by Pauline Caswell, which contains over 200 old photographs of the area. Its ISBN is 0752406795, it costs £9.99 and is available from bookshops, the Library Service or direct from Tempus (01453 883300).

Northfield Library itself has a large collection of photographs and maps, as well as many books about Birmingham and the surrounding area. 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.

Northfield Library
Northfield by Pauline Caswell