Selly Oak

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This article is about the suburban district of Selly Oak. For the Selly Oak local authority electoral ward, see Selly Oak (ward). For the Selly Oak Parliamentary constituency, see Birmingham Selly Oak (UK Parliament constituency).
Selly Oak
Selly Oak High Street.jpg
View of Selly Oak High Street (A38 Bristol Road) looking south towards Northfield
Selly Oak is located in West Midlands county
Selly Oak
Selly Oak
 Selly Oak shown within the West Midlands
OS grid reference SP041823
Metropolitan borough Birmingham
Metropolitan county West Midlands
Region West Midlands
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Postcode district B29
Dialling code 0121
Police West Midlands
Fire West Midlands
Ambulance West Midlands
EU Parliament West Midlands
UK Parliament Birmingham Selly Oak
List of places
West Midlands

Coordinates: 52°26′19″N 1°56′28″W / 52.43866°N 1.94111°W / 52.43866; -1.94111

Selly Oak is a residential suburban district in south-west Birmingham, England. The suburb is bordered by Bournbrook and Selly Park to the north-east, Edgbaston and Harborne to the north, Weoley Castle and Weoley Hill to the west, and Bournville to the south. The Worcester and Birmingham Canal and the Birmingham Cross-City Railway Line run along the northern boundary of the area.


District sign for the Selly Oak area, on the (Bristol Road (A38)), facing north-bound traffic
Oil painting of 'The Old Selly-Oak Tree' by W. Stone (1897)

Selly Oak was formerly known as Escelie.[1] The name Selly is derived from variants of "scelf-lei" or shelf-meadow,[1] that is pasture land on a shelf or terrace of land, probably the glacial deposits formed after the creation and later dispersal of Lake Harrison during the Quaternary period.

The Oak element of the name Selly Oak comes from a prominent Oak tree that formerly stood at the crossroads of the Bristol Road and Oak Tree Lane/Harborne Lane. The original spot is still commemorated by an old Victorian street sign above one of the shops on the north-side of Oak Tree Lane, which declares it to be "Oak Tree Place" and has the date of 1880.[2]

The 'Oak'[edit]

Brass plaque that reads "Butt of Old Oak Tree from which the name of Selly Oak was derived.

The Oak that stood here was finally felled in May 1909 amid fears about its safety, due to damage to its roots caused by the building of the nearby houses. The tree was cut-up and the stump removed to Selly Oak Park, where it remains to this day, bearing a brass plaque that reads "Butt of Old Oak Tree from which the name of Selly Oak was derived. Removed from Oak Tree Lane, Selly Oak 1909".[3] By 2011 the stump had become quite rotten and the brass plaque was no longer secure. It was removed by the Friends of Selly Oak Park and replaced with a replica plaque. The original was retained by the Friends for conservation. The remains of the stump were left in the park.

The earliest attestations for the name 'Selly Oak' date from 1746, and come from the manorial court rolls for the Manor of Northfield and Weoley, of which the district of Selly was a part.[4] The stump of the old oak in Selly Oak Park was examined using dendrochronology, and the results gave a date of 1710-1720 for when the tree began growing.[5] It is therefore thought that the tree became a landmark following the turnpiking of the road from Bromsgrove to Birmingham (now the Bristol Road), which began in 1727.[6]

An older name for the same crossroads, where the road from King's Norton to Harborne (now represented by Oak Tree/Harborne Lanes) met the Bromsgrove to Birmingham road (now the Bristol Road), appears to have been Selly Cross; at least this is what it was called during the 16th century when it was recorded as Selley Crosse in 1549 and Selley Cross in 1506.[7]

Felling the Selly Oak, 1909

The supposed tradition that the original oak was associated with a witch named Sarah or Sally is without foundation,[8] and is likely to have arisen as a means of explaining what may have been a variant and local pronunciation of the name as 'Sally' Oak.[9] Indeed the name is actually recorded as Sally Oak on a canal map produced by John Snape in 1789.[10]

In March 1985, a 'new' Selly Oak was planted by local councillors on the north side of Bristol Road on the small triangle of land between Harborne Lane and the Sainsbury's site, following road improvements to the junction.[11] A second 'new' Selly Oak was planted in October 2000 at Bentella's Corner on the south side of Bristol Road, on the opposite side of Oak Tree Lane to the original site.[12] In addition, there may also have been a third planting of yet another 'new' Selly Oak, next to the extension to Sainsbury's car park, after the demolition of The Great Oak pub in 1993.[citation needed] All of these Oaks are still[when?] growing.


The suburb is in the Selly Oak local authority electoral ward, along with the districts of Bournbrook, Selly Park, Ten Acres and a small part of Stirchley. It also comes under the Selly Oak local council constituency, which is managed by its own district committee, and comprises both the Selly Oak ward as well as the wards of Billesley, Bournville and Brandwood.


Population and services[edit]

The 2001 Population Census recorded that 25,792 people were living in Selly Oak with a population density of 4,236 people per km² compared with 3,649 people per km² for Birmingham. It had a below-average percentage of ethnic minorities with only 15.9% of the population consisting of ethnic minorities compared with 29.6% for Birmingham in general. Due to the proximity of the University of Birmingham there are a large number of students in the area.


Schools include Bournville School and St Mary's CofE Primary School.

A number of colleges, mainly theological, collectively called the Selly Oak Colleges are now part of the University of Birmingham.


Main article: Selly Oak Hospital

Selly Oak Hospital has now closed for NHS patients to become an armed forces rehabilitation centre, with all NHS services consolidated to the new Queen Elizabeth hospital, part of the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust. It used to occupy the premises of the former Kings Norton Union Workhouse although the infirmary buildings have not been used as wards for many years, but as offices and consulting rooms. Currently, part of the old hospital is used as the main treatment centre for military casualties from Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as hosting the main prosthetic limb production and fitment centre in the West Midlands.

The redevelopment of the area also involves the local hospitals Selly Oak Hospital and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital which together form the University Hospital Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust. Construction work has started on Birmingham Super Hospital on the current Queen Elizabeth Hospital site, and is due to be partially completed in 2010 and fully open by June 2012. On completion, it is anticipated that Selly Oak Hospital will close as an NHS hospital.

Public transport[edit]

Both Selly Oak and Bournbrook are served by Selly Oak railway station on the Cross-City Line, providing services to the Birmingham New Street, Lichfield Trent Valley and Redditch stations. It was originally built as part of the Birmingham West Suburban Railway, who agreed a land rental deal with the Worcester and Birmingham Canal to allow construction. It opened in 1876 as a single track line, running from Birmingham New Street to Stirchley Street. Bought out by the Midland Railway to allow their trains to pass through Birmingham without turning having used the Camp Hill Line, they extended the tracks south to a junction south with the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway at Kings Norton, and double-tracked the entire line length. The line was slightly realigned in the early 1930s, and the stub of the old alignment is still visible next to the current bridge over the Bristol Road.

The former Bristol Road tram route and its depots were replaced by buses in 1952.[13] The original tram sheds were demolished in about 2005 for flats, whilst Selly Oak bus garage was closed in 1986 and converted into a self-storage depot in about 1990.[13]

Public facilities[edit]

The area is well served by all kinds of public facilities. These include:- Selly Oak Library which hosts the Selly Oak Library Local History Group. One of the people accused of and incorrectly imprisoned for the Carl Bridgewater murder was arrested in the now demolished Dog and Partridge public house. At one time there were several more public houses than at present, such as the Dog and Partridge, and the Oak. There was a cinema, the Oak, which every Saturday morning was home to the ABC minors children's cinema club. The cinema stood on the current site that is Sainsbury's.

There is one main cemetery in Selly Oak, Lodge Hill Cemetery, opened 1895, and run by Birmingham council since 1911. Its main entrance is on Weoley Park Road, at its junction with Gibbins Road and Shenley Fields Road.


St. Mary's Church, Selly Oak

George Richards Elkington put up most of the money to build St Mary's Church on Bristol Road in 1861, built by the Birmingham architect Edward Holmes. There are several Elkington Burials in the Churchyard, including George Richards Elkington and his wife Mary Austen Elkington., and Brass Plates to Commemorate them within the name of the church. These rather amusingly show the couple with Victorian fairstyles and a mixture of Victorian and medieval clothing.


There were a few local factories such as Elliotts and the Birmingham Battery and Metal Company. The first transatlantic cable was made in Selly Oak.

Edward Monks boat building yard was in Selly Oak at the junction of the Dudley Canal and the Worcester and Birmingham Canal.


The BBC Drama Village is situated in Selly Oak, together with the Mill Health Centre where the BBC's daytime soap Doctors is filmed.


Selly Oak itself was blighted for a large part of the 20th century by a road-widening scheme for the Bristol Road (A38). In the latter half of that century, many historic buildings were demolished around the Bristol Road at the heart of old Selly Oak. However, plans for significant regeneration of the area were confirmed in 2005. A new 1.5 km stretch of road was opened in August 2011 to alleviate the heavily congested Bristol Road through both Selly Oak and nearby Bournbrook, with improvements to public transport and other facilities in the district. The scheme includes a new canal aqueduct to carry the Worcester and Birmingham Canal and a new railway bridge on the Cross-City Line, and allowance has been made for the reopening of a small part of the Selly Oak to Lapal and Halesowen canal (Dudley No. 2 Canal) to enhance the area and provide a focal point. This scheme is paving the way for the University of Birmingham accommodation scheme, with the second phase (demolition) starting in March 2013. Compulsory evictions are set to start in January 2013.

Notable buildings[edit]

See also[edit]

  • Bournbrook – a neighbouring area to Selly Oak, with which it is often conflated.


  1. ^ a b Maxam, Andrew (2004) Selly Oak & Weoley Castle on Old Picture Postcards: Reflections of a Bygone Age, (Yesterday's Warwickshire Series; No. 20); Introduction ISBN 1-900138-82-4)
  2. ^ Maxam, Andrew (2004) Selly Oak & Weoley Castle on Old Picture Postcards: Reflections of a Bygone Age, (Yesterday's Warwickshire Series; No. 20); caption 25 ISBN 1-900138-82-4)
  3. ^ Dowling, Geoff; Giles, Brian; and Hayfield, Colin (1987) Selly Oak Past and Present: a Photographic Survey of a Birmingham Suburb. Department of Geography, University of Birmingham; p. 2
  4. ^ Baker, Anne; Butler, Joanne; and Southworth, Pat (2002) 'How Did The Oak Get Into Selly', in: Birmingham Historian, Issue 23, October 2002, p. 7 Birmingham & District Local History Association ISSN 0953-0909
  5. ^ Leather, Peter, 'Old Oak Gives Up Secrets', Birmingham Evening Mail, 7 June 2001, p. 9
  6. ^ The Statutes at Large, of England and of Great-Britain: From Magna Carta to the Union of the Kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. VIII, p. 831 (1811)
  7. ^ Page, William and Willis-Bund, J. W. (eds) (1913) Victoria County History of The Counties of England: a History of Worcestershire, Vol. III., p. 194 Institute of Historical Research, University of London
  8. ^ Leonard, Francis W., The Story of Selly Oak Birmingham, p. 2 (St Mary's Parochial Church Council, 1933)
  9. ^ Butler, Joanne, Baker, Anne and Southworth, Pat, 'Back to roots: Dates don't support Selly witch theory', Birmingham Evening Mail, January 2001
  10. ^ Snape, John 'Plan of the Intended Navigable Canal from Birmingham to Worcester', 1789
  11. ^ 'Putting the oak in Selly Oak', Birmingham Evening Mail, 29 March 1985
  12. ^ 'From a great oak - a little sapling is set to grow', Birmingham Evening Mail, 14 October 2000
  13. ^ a b Maxam, Andrew (2004) Selly Oak & Weoley Castle on Old Picture Postcards: Reflections of a Bygone Age, (Yesterday's Warwickshire Series; No. 20); caption 19 ISBN 1-900138-82-4)


  • Dowling, Geoff, Giles, Brain and Hayfield, Colin (1987). Selly Oak Past and Present: A Photographic Survey of a Birmingham Suburb. Department of Geography, University of Birmingham. ISBN 0-7044-0912-7. 

External links[edit]