B30 - Grid reference SP055796
la Ford: first record 1250
Lifford stands close to the ford across the River Rea. As the red clay on the east side of Birmingham became slimy and slippery in wet weather, a place where the river ran over a firmer bed would have been a draw for local people and for longer-distance travellers for thousands of years. This ford where Lifford Lane now bridges the river is likely to be pre-Roman, but it was was certainly in use 2000 years ago on the route of Icknield Street. This was a Roman road which left the Fosse Way at Bourton-on-the-Water, passed via the Roman town of Alcester and on through Stirchley whose Anglo-Saxon name actually means '(Roman) road clearing'. It then follows the Pershore Road to Bournville Lane, after which its route to Metchley fort in Edgbaston is uncertain.
However, although Adam de la Ford is recorded as living near here in 1275, the name Lifford probably has no connection with the river ford or with Adam.
Lifford Hall is a Grade II Listed building which was erected in 1604 on the site of an earlier medieval building. In 1781 it was the home of James Hewitt of Coventry, who became Lord Chancellor of Ireland. He took Viscount Lifford as his title apparently named from Lifford near Londonderry, Whether this was a coincidence or was deliberately done with reference to the ford is open to conjecture. On Lifford's death the hall was bought by John Dobbs, the engineer of the adjacent Worcester & Birmingham Canal.
Above left: Lifford Hall: the right-hand block was originally the miller's house, the central (since altered) and left-hand blocks housed the mill wheels.
Below left: the folly to left of the building.
The hall is built of red brick with stone dressings but is now stuccoed. It has 18th-century gothick embattled stone walls and an octagonal watchtower folly. There are 18th- and 19th-century additions. The building was renovated in the 1950s and new office blocks were added in the early 1990s.
Archaeological excavations on the front lawn of the hall in advance of building work revealed evidence of Lifford Mill, a post-medieval watermill which stood here on the River Rea until the early 19th century. The remains were unearthed of a water tunnel leaving the mill and of the tail race to the river.
Documentary evidence shows that there was an earlier medieval mill downstream nearer to the reservoir (which was not there at that time) dating from the 14th century.
Take a look. Lifford Reservoir was built by the Worcester & Birmingham Canal company in 1815 in order to compensate the mill for water lost to the canal. This lake is a surprise and worth a detour to visit. Nearby Sherbourne Mill on Lifford Lane was a paper mill from c1835 until 1965 producing amongst other things gun wadding. The mill pool and millrace survive, as does the building which used to house the Patrick Collection Motor Museum.
Well worth a visit. There are some interesting features on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal here. Alongside Kings Norton playing fields is Kings Norton Junction with the Stratford Canal, and opposite is Junction House. Built in 1796 this was the first office of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal Company and doubled as a toll house. Twenty-three years in the making, the canal finally reached Worcester in 1815. In the same year the completed Stratford-upon-Avon Canal was also opened; this had taken fifteen years to cut.
Just off Lifford Lane is the Lifford Guillotine Lock, an unusual stop lock designed to stop water flowing from one canal to the other. There was a 15cm difference in water levels between the two waterways which continued until the canals were nationalised in 1948. Water was an expensive commodity for canal companies and its supply was jealously guarded by this brick-lined lock.
A guillotine gate here is operated by a hand-winched counterweighted chain mechanism within a tall cast-iron framework. The present gates are probably 19th-century replacements, but all other parts are original and the lock has the status of a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The Lifford Swing Bridge close by is also an unusual survival.
After crossing the River Rea and the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway, the B&G from New Street via Moseley passes through the site of Lifford Station which closed over half a century ago. This station, on the east side of Lifford Lane, opened with the line in 1840.
The other line through Lifford, the Birmingham West Suburban Railway, the BSWR had been promoted by an independent company in collaboration with the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and closely follows that canal from the B&G at Lifford via Edgbaston to Granville Street and into Birmingham New Street. One year before the line opened in 1876 it was bought by the Midland Railway who closed the B&G Lifford Station and opened the BWSR Lifford Station west of Lifford Lane.
In 1885 the Midland Railway built loops between the two lines to create a circular route between Lifford and New Street. The BWSR Lifford Station was closed and the B&G Lifford Station reopened. This circular commuter route ran until 1940. The original BWSR line had followed the canal to join the B&G Railway at Queens Drive, a track later known as the Canal Branch which closed in 1962.
The present route laid in 1892 was called the Stirchley Street & Bournville to Kings Norton Deviation Line, now the Lifford Curve, and meets the B&G at Lifford West Junction near Rowheath Road. When the BWSR was made double-track in 1885 it became the Midland Railway's mainline route from Bristol and Gloucester, the B&G being used only for local services and freight. It is now used only for freight and diverted traffic.
The immediate area around Lifford Lane may be described as Lifford, but the name is used as a location and is not in general use as a district name.
William Dargue 03.04.09/ 02.08.2010
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For 19th-century Ordnance Survey maps of Birmingham go to British History Online.
Map below reproduced from Andrew Rowbottom’s website of Old Ordnance Survey maps Popular Edition, Birmingham 1921.
Click the map to link to that website.