William Dargue - A History of Birmingham Places & Placenames . . .  from A to Y

Hockley

B18 - Grid reference SP061878

First record 1529

Court in Hampton Street near St George's Church (demolished). The front houses have been demolished. Photograph taken in 1963 by Phyllis Nicklin - See Acknowledgements,  Keith Berry.
Court in Hampton Street near St George's Church (demolished). The front houses have been demolished. Photograph taken in 1963 by Phyllis Nicklin - See Acknowledgements, Keith Berry.

The district of Hockley lies north of the City Centre straddling Icknield Street on its west side and stretching as far as Newtown Row on its eastern side. The district reaches north as far as Winson Green and was formerly part of Birmingham Heath.

The Jewellery Quarter is that part of Hockley nearest the City and lies bewteen Icknield Street and Great Hampton Street/ Constitution Row.


The location of the original settlement of Hockley is unknown, although a moated site was still visible in the 18th century prior to building at Warstone Lane/ Vyse Street. This is likely to have been Sir Thomas de Birmingham's 'castle' which was recorded c1390 as being at 'Warstone near the Sandpits. (See Warstone.) This may have been the development of an existing site, in which case it could date back to Anglo-Saxon times, or it may not. Alternatively the settlement of Hockley may originally have lain around Hockley Hill.

 

The name is certainly medieval, and may derive from Hocca's leah, 'Hocca's clearing'. The placename element, leah is interesting here. Leahs, 'clearings' are usually found in eastern districts of Birmingham where the heavy clay soil is given naturally to dense oak forest. Here, incoming settlers had to find existing cleared land on which to farm, or to painstakingly create their own. However, the underlying geology on the Hockley side of Birmingham is sand and pebbles, which is not given to dense tree cover. It is not obvious why Hocca's settlement was described as a clearing? It is also suggested that the name derives not from Hocca's leah, but from Hocca's lowe, the latter element meaning 'hill' or mound', which seems to better fit the topography of Hockley.


However, there are five other places called Hockley in Warwickshire alone, so it is also possible that the name was import by a landowner of a later period.


The Wednesbury Turnpike was set up in 1727 and created largely as a new through-road from Birmingham via existing village tracks. It left Birmingham from Bull Street and Snow Hill via Constitution Hill, Great Hampton Street and descended Hockley Hill to the crossing of Hockley Brook before ascending Soho Hill to what is now Soho Road/ Holyhead Road. At the bottom of Constitution Hill and at Villa Road were tollgates and keepers' cottages which operated until the road was disturnpiked in 1870. In 1801 the road was improved as part of the London-Holyhead Mail Road. Thomas Telford raised the level of the road across the valley of Hockley Brook where Hockley Flyover now stands and reduced the height and gradient of Soho Hill.


The urban expansion from the town towards Hockley began with the development the Colmore family's New Hall estate. The hall stood at the present junction of Newhall Street with Great Charles Street Queensway and was surrounded by an extensive park.

 

St Paul's, the Jewellers' Church
St Paul's, the Jewellers' Church

Well worth a visit - St Paul's Church

 
The Colmore family gave a hectare of land and £1000 towards the building costs for St Paul's Church. Built from 1777 this is one of Birmingham's few surviving neo-classical designs and is said to be a scaled-down version of St Martin-in-the-Fields in London's Trafalgar Square. The aim was to stimulate demand for this high-class housing development on the rural edge of the crowded town.


At this time most of the pews at St Martin's and St Philip's were let. It was extremely difficult for newcomers, however wealthy, to rent a pew. The alternative was to sit in the few free pews at the back reserved for the poor. A new housing estate with a church whose pews could be purchased was a great incentive to prospective purchasers and gave impetus to sale of plots. St Paul's is now known for its proximity to the Jewellery Quarter as 'The Jewellers' Church'. For fifty years St Paul's was a highly fashionable church in the midst of an expensive property development. 

 

Photographs below of late 18th-century houses in St Paul's Square by Elliott Brown on flickr reuasable under Creative Commons licence Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0). See Acknowledgements.


As Birmingham's population boomed and industry thrived, the area around St Paul's church became industrialised with poor overcrowded housing. The status of the area continued to decline and the fabric of the church building with it. After being damaged by German bombs during the Second World War there was every prospect that the church might close. However, the life of the parish was revitalised by a vision of the church as the centre of Birmingham's industrial community. The building itself was extensively restored 1985-1994 and is now a Grade I Listed building at the centre of St Paul's Conservation Area, now consolidated as the Jewellery Quarter Conservation Area. 

 

Hockley Abbey in 1868. Image reproduced with the kind permission of Dr Ian Cawood, Newman College Local History website. See Acknowledgements.
Hockley Abbey in 1868. Image reproduced with the kind permission of Dr Ian Cawood, Newman College Local History website. See Acknowledgements.

Hockley Abbey

 

Now further glance your eye beyond the town,

Where purple Heaths appear, or dusky brown,

Close by yon Lake’s pellucid stream, behold

A Gothic Pile, which seems some cent’ries old,

Vulcanic Fancy there display’d her taste,

And rear’d the fabric on the barren waste;

The Forge materials for the work provides,

Rude cinders clothe the front - compose the sides.

Where bogs and brakes, and marshy fens were seen,

We now behold a turf-enamel’d green;

It’s hoary sage, withdrawn from toil and care,

Both ease and solitude possesses there;

The moss-clad turrets, ivy-clasp’d, o’er grown,

Look as if Peace had mark’d the spot her own.


James Bissett 1800

A Poetic Survey round Birmingham

 

In 1798 Birmingham Heath was enclosed and divided among local landowners. The following year Richard Ford leased some 15 acres (c7ha) of land and began building Hockley Abbey close to Hockley Brook not far from Hockley Pool. The site is now off Whitmore Street.

 

Richard Ford had made a fortune by inventing an innovative thimble-making process. Thimbles were to be found in every house, vital for the making and repairing clothes. The first mechanised production of metal thimbles in this country had been carried out at the end of the 17th century by a Dutchman, who set up a thimble mill in London producing some two million thimbles annually which were cast in moulds.

 

In 1769 Richard Ford patented a process in Birmingham known as deep-drawing where the thimble is formed from a metal disc being repeatedly forced between dies and then annealed by heat. This needed less skilled labour, was much faster and more precise and used less metal than the Dutch method.

 

Ford became concerned about the behaviour of his workers who, when laid off through lack of work drank away their money in the alehouse to the detriment of their families. He saved some 15 shillings a week for a considerable time, and when trade was slack, he used it to pay his workers to collect slag by horse and cart from Aston Furnaces to build him a house. It may be that the use of this strange material gave him the idea to have the house built in a Gothick ruined style. With no justification he called the building "Hockley Abbey" and had the date 1473 made in pebbles on the front. Ford had ivy trained over the house which soon became overgrown.

 

The house and land were rented by one Hubert Gallon in 1816 at a cost of £100 a year. By 1830 industrialist and politician George Frederick Muntz was living here. At that time he had a metal factory near St Paul’s Square in Birmingham.

 

By 1871 the ‘Abbey’ had been demolished. Cheap housing and industry had encroached on the rural retreat and John Rabone set up his factory on the site, known as Hockley Abbey Works, making tools, precision rules and later spirit levels, thermometers and barometers. The company remained in the family’s hands until 1963 when it merged with Chesterman’s of Sheffield. It was taken over by Stanley Tools in 1990 and the factory in Whitmore Street closed c2008. 

Image of Hockley Abbey Works from John Rabone & Sons catalogue 1878 on the WK Fine Tools Internet Magazine website. See Acknowledgements.
Image of Hockley Abbey Works from John Rabone & Sons catalogue 1878 on the WK Fine Tools Internet Magazine website. See Acknowledgements.

 

In 1834 most of Hockley was still a rural area on the western fringe of Birmingham, urban only as far west as Summer Hill Road and as far north as Warstone Lane. However, by 1850 it had been built up from the town centre as far as Hockley Brook, which was the boundary with Aston. And by 1881 the Aston side of the brook was also completely urban with Hockley itself completely built up with working-class housing and industry and encircled by similar urban districts.

 

The hill on which much of Hockley stands is made up of soft sandstone. It was possible to quarry it by spade and was discovered by local foundries to be ideal for use as a moulding material. There was a large quarry in George Street on the southern side of the hill conveniently close to the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal. And on the north-western slopes were more sandpits. Their extent can still be seen as a great gouge in the hillside where the General and Church of England cemeteries were laid out in 1836 and 1848 respectively. See Key Hill.

 

 

In 1834 most of Hockley was still a rural area on the western fringe of Birmingham, urban only as far west as Summer Hill Road and as far north as Warstone Lane. However, by 1850 it had been built up from the town centre as far as Hockley Brook, which was the boundary with Aston. And by 1881 the Aston side of the brook was also completely urban with Hockley itself completely built up with working-class housing and industry and encircled by similar urban districts.

 

The hill on which much of Hockley stands is made up of soft sandstone. It was possible to quarry it by spade and was discovered by local foundries to be ideal for use as a moulding material. There was a large quarry in George Street on the southern side of the hill conveniently close to the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal. And on the north-western slopes were more sandpits. Their extent can still be seen as a great gouge in the hillside where the General and Church of England cemeteries were laid out in 1836 and 1848 respectively. See Key Hill.

 

Take a look at the General Cemetery.


Opened in 1836 by the Birmingham General Cemetery Company at Key Hill, at that time on the edge of the built-up area of the town, this was Birmingham's first public cemetery and was designed to cater for people who did not want an Anglican burial. Among the non-conformist Birmingham notables buried here are Joseph Chamberlain and George Dawson. The mortuary chapel, which resembled a small classical temple in the Greek Doric order, was demolished in 1966. The gates, gate piers and railings in Icknield Street are statutorily listed as Grade II. The cemetery, which was taken over by the City in 1952, is Grade II Listed in the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Historic Interest and forms part of Key Hill Conservation Area.

 


Take a look at the Church of England Cemetery.


Nearby, off Warstone Lane, is the Church of England Cemetery which was opened twelve years later by the Birmingham Church of England Cemetery Company on a former sandpit site. The catacombs were designed by James Hamilton as was the cemetery lodge, now a Grade II Listed building and currently in use as offices. St Michael & All Angels, also designed by Hamilton, was consecrated in 1848 and stood directly between the catacombs and Vyse Street. However, it closed as a church a few years later reopening in 1869 as the cemetery chapel. The building was badly damaged by bombs during World War 2 and was demolished in 1953.


The City took over the cemetery 1952 and the former Key Hill Methodist chapel was then used as a non-denominational cemetery chapel. The cemetery was closed for burials in 1982. An unusual occupant is the famous Birmingham printer, John Baskerville who had requested to be buried with no religious ceremony in his own back garden, now the site of Baskerville House in Centenary Square. His remains were transferred from there to the catacombs of Christ Church at the top of New Street and reburied here after Christ Church was demolished in 1898. 

 

Mount Zion Chapel
Mount Zion Chapel

 

Take a look at the Ramgharia Gurdwara.


On Graham Street opposite Vittoria Street is a chapel which reflects some of Birmingham's social and ethnic changes. Built with seats for 1000 people, it is neo-classical in style with a pedimented porch and round-arched windows and was built in 1844 as Highbury Chapel, soon becoming St Andrew's Scotch Presbyterian Church. It became an Independent Chapel, Mount Zion Baptist Chapel, and a Methodist New Connexion chapel by 1879. In 1930 it was Birmingham's first Elim Pentecostal Tabernacle until that church moved to a new building on the corner of Newhall Hill in 1970. From that date it became a Sikh temple, the Ramgharia Gurdwara. The new Elim Tabernacle building now also belongs to the gurdwara. 

St George's Church (demolished) from Beilby, Knott & Beilby 1830 An Historical and Descriptive Sketch of Birmingham, a work now in the public domain.
St George's Church (demolished) from Beilby, Knott & Beilby 1830 An Historical and Descriptive Sketch of Birmingham, a work now in the public domain.

Consecrated in 1822, the architect of St George's Church was the Birmingham-based Thomas Rickman. This was a most important building, the first in Birmingham of a wave of government-funded churches known as Commissioners' churches; the growth of the urban population in the nineteenth century led to steady decline in church attendance and many believed to a decline in morals and increasing lawlessness.

 

Most importantly this was one of the first real attempts anywhere in England at reviving gothic church architecture. To later purists it suffered from having galleries and its columns were thin, but it was built in stone in accurate decorated gothic style. It had innovative cast iron tracery in the windows. When it was built, there were so few houses near Great Hampton Row and Tower Street, that the church was nicknamed ‘St' George's in the Fields.' The building was enlarged in 1884. It was demolished in 1960 as part of the wholesale redevelopment of the area.


The churchyard was used for burials as soon as the church opened; it was closed in 1873 and laid out as a garden in 1912. The churchyard gates and Thomas Rickman's tomb still stand and are Grade II Listed. Rickman was laid to rest here in the grounds of what his friends believed to be his best work. His monument is a pointed canopied arch designed by his architectural partner R C Hussey 1845 in sandstone, which has worn badly. The site is now part of St George's Park. 

 

 

Below: St George's churchyard and the Rickman monument


Remains of Hockley Station in the 1980s - photograph by Michael Westley
Remains of Hockley Station in the 1980s - photograph by Michael Westley

The Birmingham, Wolverhampton & Dudley Railway line of 1854 became the Great Western's line from Birmingham Snow Hill to Wolverhampton Low Level Station. By 1968 this was last line running from Snow Hill; it closed in 1972. In 1995 the line was reopened from a rebuilt Snow Hill to carry the Midland Metro trams. The line runs to St Paul's Metro Station built in 1999 in Livery Street, 125m through Hockley No.1 Tunnel under Livery Street and Northwood Street, after Kenyon Street bridge it enters Hockley No.2 Tunnel running 148m under Hall Street, Branston Street, Spencer Street, Northampton Street and Vyse Street to the Jewellery Quarter Station which opened in 1995. Crossing Icknield Street on a steel viaduct it passes the site of Hockley Station which had opened with the railway in 1854 and which closed with Snow Hill Station in 1972.

 

Photograph: Platforms and former Hockley station at Icknield Street looking east towards Key Hill Cemetery and Vyse Street. The tunnel in the distance is at the site of Jewellery Quarter station on the reincarnated Stourbridge to Snow Hill passenger service. Text and photograph by Michael Westley taken in the 1980s and posted on Geograph SP0588 and reusable under Creative Commons licence Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0). See Acknowledgements.

Hockley Port
Hockley Port

Opposite Hockley Station was Hockley Goods Station. This ran the length of Pitsford Street and had a branch line to the rail-canal interchange at Hockley Port on the Birmingham Canal Navigations between Brookfield Road and Lodge Road. Hockley Port is now home to residential canal boats. The canal and railway buildings are now industrial units. 


On 20 May 1872 the first horse-tram line in the Midlands was opened by Birmingham & District Tramways. The line ran from the Birmingham boundary at Hockley Brook (Hockley Flyover) along the Soho Road/ Holyhead Road through Handsworth to West Bromwich. Twelve crimson and cream open-topped double-decked horse-drawn cars ran on single-track lines. In 1888 the route was converted to an underground cable traction system because of the steep climb up Hockley Hill; the depot was at Whitmore Street, off Hockley Hill. By 1906 all Birmingham lines were electrified with overhead cables. Most of the system was closed down soon after World War 2; the tram station is now a disused bus depot.

Bridge Street West in 1968, a street of terraces, tunnel-backs and back-to-back houses.

 

Much of the western side of Hockley was demolished in the 1960s; there were long terraces and courts of back-to-backs, many in poor condition. The district was rebuilt again for housing. Much has subsequently been rebuilt in recent years with a large part of the eastern side of Hockley zoned for industry. 

 

 

Image left: Bridge Street West in 1968, 'All Rights Reserved', from the BirminghamLives website reused here with the kind permission of Professor Carl Chinn. See Acknowledgements.

William Dargue 27.03.09/ 03.08.2010

 

  

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For 19th-century Ordnance Survey maps of Birmingham go to British History Online.

See http://www.british-history.ac.uk/mapsheet.aspx?compid=55193&sheetid=10089&zm=2&x=550&y=0&ox=4675&oy=216 

and http://www.british-history.ac.uk/mapsheet.aspx?compid=55193&sheetid=10087&ox=4350&oy=2900&zm=2&czm=2&x=542&y=246