Warley, Warley Woods
B67 - Grid reference SP013860
Werwelie: first record Domesday Book 1086
Just beyond Harborne and outside the Birmingham boundary, Warley Woods were administered as a Birmingham park from 1906.
The district known by that name originally stretched northwards as far as Bristnall Fields and Londonderry. Warley appears in the Domesday Book as Werwelie. The second element of this placename is clearly Old English leah meaning 'a clearing' or 'a farm settlement in a clearing in a woodland area'.
The first element is less easy to interpret. In the 13th century the name was written as Wervelegh and Wervesley, in the 14th century as Wervelegh. This element may derive from Old English waroth meaning a (river) bank, though which river here is uncertain. Or it may derive from wafre, a word that sometimes meant 'wavering' and may be a reference to the quaking of aspen leaves.
Aspen is a deciduous tree, a fast-growing member of the willow family. Growing to a height of up to 30m, it was one of the first trees to recolonise Britain after the Ice Age. Its Latin name, populus termula, means 'trembling' referring to the fact that its toothed leaves quiver in the slightest breeze producing a sound like falling raindrops. Found commonly in damp areas, the tree grows best in open country rather than dense woodland. Poor people built their houses of aspen and its bark was used in the tanning industry. Aspen was used to make arrows in the Middle Ages.
In 1066 Warley Woods lay within the township of Warley Salop (ie. Shropshire), part of the manor of Hales, later known as Halesowen, whose Premontratensian abbey was founded in 1218 as a result of a grant from King John. During the Middle Ages the abbey was granted additional manors including that of Warley Salop and in 1291 the grange of Redhall which lay on its boundary. Warley Hall west of Harborne Road, Warley is recorded in 1563 and its successor, Warley Hall Farm stood here until early 20th-century housing developments. Evidence of ridge and furrow can be still discerned in Warley Park. Halesowen Abbey ceased to exist in 1538 at the dissolution of the monasteries and Warley was sold off.
In 1792 the Birmingham Quaker gun-maker Samuel Galton II of Barr Hall in Great Barr bought the Warley estate to build a new home. The grounds were designed by landscape architect Humphry Repton and the house built in gothick style by the Scottish architect, Robert Lugar. It was known either as Warley Hall or Warley Abbey.
The Galtons had gone by 1841 and the house passed through the hands of various owners. About 1902 the house and much of the estate was bought by a building contractor, William Henry Jones as a speculative venture. Before and after World War I streets north of the hall were laid out and houses built. Bearwood was also encroaching from the east.
The philanthropic efforts of Alexander Chance of Chance Glassworks fame had resulted in 1902 in saving Lightwoods Park from the developers and its gift to Birmingham City Council. He now co-ordinated a campaign with local people to raise enough money to buy Warley Woods by public subscription. Although beyond the City boundary, the park was given to Birmingham City Council in 1906 and dubbed by Chance 'The People's Park'.
Before World War II this was a major Birmingham park set out with elaborate flower beds and supplying plants and flowers form its walled garden nurseries to various City Council sites. The glasshouses were demolished in 1996.
The park had become badly neglected by the late 20th century and in 1997 a community trust was set up to restore the site. Some 40ha in area, the park is now Grade II Listed on the English Heritage Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.
Part of the park had been let to Edgbaston Golf Club in 1896. Their lease was not renewed in 1906 and the club moved to Ridgacre in Harborne and later to their present site at Edgbaston Hall. In 1921 the City Council reinstated the golf course as a municipal venture using the Abbey as the clubhouse. The building was demolished in 1957.
Warley Park photographed by David Davies and downloaded from Flickr under Creative Commons Licence Attribution 2.0 Generic. See Acknowledgements.
William Dargue 27.02.09/ 31.07.2010
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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.