Smethwick shown within the West Midlands
OS grid reference Metropolitan borough Sandwell Metropolitan county West Midlands Region West Midlands Country England Sovereign state United Kingdom Post town SMETHWICK Postcode district B66 & B67 Dialling code 0121 Police West Midlands Fire West Midlands Ambulance West Midlands EU Parliament West Midlands UK Parliament Warley List of places: UK • England • West Midlands
Smethwick ( // smedh-ick) is a town in the Metropolitan Borough of Sandwell, in the West Midlands of England. It is situated on the edge of the city of Birmingham, within the historic boundaries of Staffordshire, Worcestershire and Warwickshire.
Geography and administration
Originally the area was an Urban District and from 1894 a Municipal Borough in the county of Staffordshire. In 1907 it became a County Borough. 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 Metropolitan Borough of Sandwell, which was incorporated into the new West Midlands county.
Smethwick had always had strong economic links to Birmingham (even after its independence of county control following the creation of Smethwick County Borough in 1907), although like most areas and towns of the West Midlands has a strong sense of its own identity. The Warley County Borough was placed entirely in Worcestershire on its creation, but Smethwick has also been in Warwickshire and Staffordshire, and since 1974 has formed part of the West Midlands county. The former boundary of Staffordshire, and detached parts of Worcestershire and Shropshire could be found at the Three Shires Oak, in Bearwood.
Smethwick has previously been suggested to mean 'smiths' place of work' however 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, Birmingham. 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.
- James Brindley built the first canal, the Old Line, over the Smethwick Summit in 1769
- his summit level was lowered and improved by John Smeaton in 1790
- Thomas Telford built a parallel, more direct route, in deeper cuttings and without locks, the New Line, in 1829.
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 Holford Lane where the company manufactured steel window systems, roof glazing, gearings and metalwork.
Council housing development began in Smethwick after 1920, beginning with houses being built in the grounds of Holly Lodge, although the building itself survived the development and a school opened in its buildings in 1922, though it was later used as an orpathedic clinic.
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 which the Labour Party MP was unseated following the campaign slogan "If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour" by his supporters. This came two years after race riots had hit the town in 1962.
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. There is another housing estate called the Windmill Lane Estate, located near Cape Hill.
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.
Rofle 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.
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. 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 February 12, 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 was MP for the constituency until his retirement at the 1997 general election. (The constituency was renamed Warley East in 1974.)
Industry and commerce
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.
See also: BCN Main Line
Smethwicks has a long association with Canals, and was the town’s first major transport link from a time before decent roads and of course railways. The Birmingham Canal Navigation Old and New Mainline Canals run through the industrial areas and right past the High Street, running parallel to the Stour Valley Railway Line both of which 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 which required 13 locks to climb 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 which 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 somewhat of a bottle neck and Thomas Telford (famous for his Iron Bridge) was commissioned in 1824 to look at alternatives.
The new mainline through Smethwick was completed by 1829 and completely bypassed all 13 locks of the summit with a cutting, the Engine Arm and Stewarts Aqueducts were built to carry their respective canals over the new mainline. The cutting was build through the land of the local businessman Samuel Galton's and thus this cutting created the Galton Valley and Galton Bridge was named in his honour, Galton Bridge was the longest single span iron bridge in the world at that time. The Canals of the new and old mainline diverged at one end at Smethwick Junction near Bridge Street and re joined 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. The Galton Valley Canal Heritage Centre focuses on the civil engineering feats of the local area.
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 Wagon & Carriage Works was based in Smethwick until it's closure, the company built trains for London Underground as well railways across the world.
- Smethwick Rolfe Street – Rolfe Street (near the Hight Street)
- Smethwick Galton Bridge – Oldbury Road
- The Hawthorns – Halfords Lane
- Smethwick West CLOSED – Oldbury Road (Opposite Galton Bridge)
- Soho CLOSED – Soho Street (near Rabone Lane)
- Stour Valley Railway Line & LMS – For Rolfe Street, Soho & Galton Bridge Low Level Stations
- Jewellery Line & Great Western Railway – For Galton Bridge High Level. Smethwick West & The Hawthorns
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 railway goods yard, located at the none High St side of the station. The road bridge leading over the railway lines, once was crossed by a level crossing and 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 was opened in 1867 and closed in 1949, there is nothing left of the railway station.
The former Smethwick West Railway Station was replaced by a new facility opened at the same time as the Jewellery Line 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 know runs over Summit Bridge, the large brick structure that crosses the canal along side Thomas Telford's Galton Bridge, towards the Hawthorns station through the current Galton Bridge station was closed to passenger trains in 1972. This line obviously re opened as the Jewellery Line in 1995 and saw the closure the Great Western Railway's last contribution to the railway stations of Smethwick. The station platforms still remain, as dose 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. Not to mention 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). Platform's 1 and 2 of the Jewellery Line are on the High Level situated on Summit Bridge and of course 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 serves 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 no 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 it's 1972 closure as a single line to Coopers Scrap Yard in Handsworth only, this scrap yard is still in use to this day 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.
Buses & Trams
- Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company (BMMO or Midland Red)
- Birmingham Corporation Tramways
- National Express West Midlands
- West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive
- Midland Metro
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 there last routes in 1939. Trams had their running through Cape Hill and then diverging 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 at caught at the Hawthorns railway station.
- Galton Village
- West Smethwick
- Windmill Lane
- The Uplands
- Black Patch
- High Street Smethwick
- Cape Hill
Places of worship
- The Old Church, The Uplands
- Guru Nanak Gurdwara Smethwick, High Street www.gngsmethwick.com
- Church Of God Of Prophecy, Regent Street
- St Gregorys Roman Catholic Church, Three Shires Oak Road
- Raglan Road Christian Church, Raglan Road – www.rrcchurch.co.uk
- West Smethwick Congregational Church, Mallin Street
- St Matthew With St Chad C Of E Church, St Matthews Road
- St Hildas, Abbey Road
- Holy Trinity Church, South Road & High Street
- The Apostolic Church, Broomfield
- Warley Woods Methodist Church, Abbey Road
- St Philips Roman Catholic Church, Messenger Road
- Smethwick Baptist Church, Regent Street
- Smethwick Elim Pentecostal Church, Woodland Drive
- Rounds Green Methodist Church, Abbey Road
- Bearwood Baptist Church, Bearwood Road
- The Akril Memorial Church, The Uplands
- Gurdwara Nanaksar, Waterloo Road
- St Marks Church of England, Hales Lane
- Gurdwara Baba Sang, High Street, Smethwick
- Victoria Park – High Street & Windmill Lane Estate
- Smethwick Hall Park – Stoney Lane, Uplands
- West Smethwick Park – Holy Lane & West Park Road, West Smethwick
- Harry Mitchell Park – Parks Street & Coopers Lane, Uplands
- Black Patch Park, Foundry Lane, Soho
- Lightwoods Park, Hagley Road & Lightwoods Hill, Bearwood
- Warley Park, Abbey Road & Lightwoods Hill, Bearwood
- Holly Lodge High School, Holly Lane, West Smethwick
- Shireland Collegiate Academy, Waterloo Road, Cape Hill
- Abbey Junior and Infants (Two sites), Abbey Road, Bearwood
- Galton Valley Primary school
- Annie Lennard Infant School, The Oval, Thimblemill
- Bearwood Primary School, Bearwood Road, Bearwood
- Cape Hill Primary School, Cape Hill
- Crocketts Primary School, Coopers Lane, Cape Hill
- Devonshire Primary School, Auckland Road, Uplands
- George Betts Primary School, Wood End Avenue
- Ruskin House Pupil Ref. Unit, Holly Lane, West Smethwick
- Shireland Hall Infant and Junior School, Edith Road, Cape Hill
- St Gregory's Roman Catholic Primary School, Park Road
- St Mathews Church of England School, Windmill Lane
- St Phillips Catholic Primary, Messenger Road
- Uplands Manor Primary School, Addenbrooke Road, Uplands
- Victoria Park Primary School, Ballot Street
- Smethwick College (Part of Sandwell Colleges), Crocketts Lane
- Abbey, The (Abbey Road, Bearwood)
- Barleycorn, The (Bearwood Road, Bearwood)
- Bear Tavern, The (Bearwood Road, Bearwood)
- Blue Gates Hotel (100 High Street)
- Cock and Magpies, The (Hagley Road West, Bearwood)
- Dog, The (8 Hagley Road West, Bearwood)
- Dudley Arms (Cape Hill)
- Falcon, The (361 Messenger Road, Windmill Lane Estate)
- George, The (102 Grove Lane, Windmill Lane Estate)
- Goose on Cape Hill (39 Cape Hill)
- Hollybush, The (The Uplands)
- Hussar, The (Windmill Precinct, Windmill Lane Estate)
- Ivy Bush, The (218 St. Pauls Road, West Smethwick)
- London Works Tavern (London Street, Soho)
- Moilliett Arms (49 Cranford Street, Windmill Lane Estate)
- New Navigation (Lewisham Road, Soho)
- New Talbot, The (457 Hagley Road, Bearwood)
- Night Inn (53 Great Arthur Street, High Street)
- Old Chapel Inn (2 The Uplands)
- Old Corner House, The (Soho Street, Soho)
- Old Talbot (144 High Street)
- Pheasant, The (273 Abbey Road, Bearwood)
- Puffing Billy, The (Raglan Road, Cape Hill)
- Queens Head, The (Londonderry Lane, Londonderry)
- Red Cow (296 High Street)
- Robin, The (Suffrage Street, Windmill Lane Estate)
- Sampson Lloyd (24-26 Cape Hill)
- Shireland, The (Shireland Road, Cape Hill)
- Soho Foundry Tavern (Foundry Lane, Soho)
- The Old Comrades Club (50 Oldbury Road, Smethwick)
- Thimblemill, The (174 Thimblemill Road, Bearwood)
- Waggon & Horses (83 Lewisham Road, Soho)
- Waterloo Hotel (Shireland Road, Cape Hill)
- Sydney Barnes, England fast bowler, was born in Smethwick
- Ann George, actress
- Liza Goddard, actress
- Matt Hayes, TV angler, was born in Smethwick
- Lee Hughes, footballer
- Jamelia, singer
- Oswald Rayner, Secret Intelligence Service agent during World War I and possible assassin of Rasputin
- Frank Skinner, comedian
- Herbert Lewis Turner, footballer
- Julie Walters, actress
- Richard Swinburne, philosopher, was born in Smethwick
- Philip Lynott, lead singer/bassist with Irish rock band Thin Lizzy was actually born in Smethwick
- Black Patch Park
- The Black Country
- Sandwell Council
- Smethwick Local History Society
- Smethwick: Economic history, A History of the County of Staffordshire: Volume XVII: Offlow hundred (part) (1976), pp.107-18
Ceremonial county of West Midlands Metropolitan districts Major settlements
- Brierley Hill
- Cradley Heath
- Rowley Regis
- Sutton Coldfield
- West Bromwich
See also: West Midlands
Rivers Canals Topics
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