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The Severn Centre
|Highley shown within Shropshire|
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|EU Parliament||West Midlands|
Highley is a large village, civil parish and electoral ward in Shropshire, England, on the west bank of the River Severn and on the B4555 road. Highley has a population of approximately 3,100(2001).
Highley began as a rural farming community, including an entry in the Domesday Book, later becoming a significant area for stone quarrying which provided some of the stone for Worcester Cathedral. Coal mining began in the area in the Middle Ages but in the late 19th century the village was revolutionised by coal mining with large scale operations really beginning in 1878. A period of intense house-building also followed, giving Highley its distinctive red-brick terraced miners' houses. In the 1930s, during the mine's peak production period, the mine was extended to the neighbouring village of Alveley across the River Severn. Both an underground tunnel and a bridge (known as 'the Pit Bridge') were constructed between the two villages. Two historical bridging points exist at Bridgnorth to the North and Bewdley to the South, and whilst the bridge belonging to the former National Coal Board was deemed unsafe for general vehicular traffic there exists in Hampton Loade a private bridge used by the emergency services.
The mine closed in the late 1960s due to subsidence and waterlogging. The bridge remained open to bridleway traffic only, again due to subsidence from the steep valley sides. The mine area on the Alveley (east) side was converted into an industrial estate in the late 1960s as coal mining ceased, and then was subsequently landscaped into the Severn Valley Country Park in the late 1980s. Initially this was as an exercise to use trees to shore up the coal spoils, and later as a tourist destination which now includes public artwork and a sculpture trail, The Seam Pavement Trail.
The trail is a series of seven bronze plaques depicting Highley's past and incorporates the designs of West Midlands artist Saranjit Birdi. He included many miner's nicknames into the artwork, gleaned from archive information and research within the local community. Nicknames of the miners, such as 'Dick the Devil', 'Joyful Clappers', 'Cider Biscuit', 'Flaming Heck' and others, are incorporated into the work. Birdi calls it "a seam through time", echoing the skilfully mined coal seams being laid down and later extracted over time. One plaque, 'Plough and Lady', depicts Lady Godiva, who owned Highley Manor in the 11th Century. Birdi is also responsible for another sculpture entitled 'A Song of Steam' at Highley station.
Shortly after 2000, the bridge was declared unsafe and a new footbridge began to be constructed (completed 2006).
On a national level, Highley is most known for being the village where 17-year-old murder victim Lesley Whittle lived and from which she was abducted by Donald Neilson, the Black Panther, in 1975. Lesley, the daughter of bus firm owner George Whittle (1905–1967), was taken from her home on 13 January 1975 and found strangled on an underground ledge beneath Bathpool Park near Kidsgrove, Staffordshire, on 7 March that year. Neilson was found guilty of murdering Lesley Whittle and three other people (as well as wounding a Dudley security guard, who later died having never fully recovered from his injuries) at his trial in the summer of 1976, and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Highley also has two stops on the Severn Valley Railway at Highley Station and Country Park Halt.
The main railway stop is a substantial sand-stone Victorian railway station. The station is also home to museum of village life, housed within a vintage post office sorting carriage. Down a small flight of steps from Highley railway station is the Ship Inn Public House, and from there a public footpath leads back to the Country Park and to the Severn Way waymarked walk.
The other stop is an unmanned request halt near the bridge for the Country Park. Passengers wishing to board the train at the halt stop the train by holding out their hand, as if hailing a bus, and those wishing to alight are advised to speak to the guard of the train before it leaves the previous station.
Culture and community
Highley houses the Severn Centre, a sports and leisure complex complete with heated lido (open-air swimming pool) that also includes the local library. There is also a Country Park, the sculpture trail plus several restaurants and pubs. A Steam Heritage Centre has been proposed.
The Highley Colliery Brass Band is a local brass band which existed from the turn of the 19th Century until the closure of the colliery in 1969. It reformed in 1993 when a handful of brass band musicians met at the Bache Public House in Highley. The band adopted regular rehearsals, meeting every Wednesday and Sunday night at the Bache Arms. Member numbers grew, and under the baton of Ray Millichamp the Band began performances under the name of Highley Band. In 2000 to coincide with the new uniform, the band adopted the now familiar Pit Head Wheel emblem and renamed the band to Highley Colliery Band, to reflect the mining heritage of its home village.
The band sees itself as a social group as well as a musical organisation. The band has members of all ages, young and old. The younger members especially are encouraged to take their music grades, and endeavours to enhance every player's musical ability and enjoyment. The band performs at fetes, parks and concerts throughout the country.The band used to rehearse at the Castle Inn until it closed every Wednesday & Sunday.
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