Netherton, West Midlands
View of St. Andrews Church, Netherton, with nearby Merry Hill Centre in the foreground
|Population||15,017 (2011 Ward. Netherton,Woodside and St Andrews)|
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
Netherton is a town of the Metropolitan Borough of Dudley, 1.5 miles (2 km) south of Dudley town centre in the West Midlands of England, but historically in Worcestershire. In the Black Country, Netherton is bordered by nature reserves to the east and west, and an industrial area and the Dudley Southern By-Pass to the north.
Netherton means "lower farm" in Old English (the corresponding upper farm may have been the original settlement in present-day Dudley). For most of its history, Netherton was a small village centred around the point where a brook crossed the Baptist End Road, near the boundary of Pensnett Chase, a partially wooded common. Netherton is mentioned in legal records dating from 1420 and the first mention of a Netherton nailor, an occupation that became very important locally in later years, is dated 1559. The village is called 'Nederton' in the earliest available documents. The village was included in the Manor of Dudley, which was a Lordship of the Barons of Dudley who once owned a manor house in Netherton. This property is mentioned in documents dating from the 15th–17th centuries.
In the 17th century, a Baptist Congregation (the Messiah Baptist Church) started meeting in Netherton. The church book for this congregation lists the names of those baptised from the year 1654. Netherton is shown in Joseph Browne's 1682 map of Staffordshire, although like its larger neighbour Dudley, it lay in a small enclave of Worcestershire completely surrounded by Staffordshire. In 1684, King Charles II of England granted a charter to Netherton allowing the village to hold an annual market fair. The fair was held in Netherton's market place in the last week of October until 1848. Although records of local government in the early years of Netherton are rather scarce, records exist of the procedures of the Court Leet of the barons of Dudley from the year 1701. Two juries were sworn in: one to deal with the town of Dudley and one to oversee the 'foreign' which is the name given to areas of the manor outside of Dudley town. Netherton was part of the foreign. In 1729 the court ordered the construction of a pair of stocks at Netherton to 'punish such as the Law directs'.
Following the Enclosure Acts of the late 18th century, allowing building in Pensnett Chase, the present town centre took shape further up the hill than its original site. Netherton expanded rapidly in the industrial age and the thick seams of coal underlying the region were extensively mined. Blast furnaces were constructed in Netherton for iron making and the area became home to many industries including chain and anchor making, nail making, brick making, enamelling, and the construction of boilers.
In 1874, Dr. Ballard, sent by the Local Government Board to inspect the sanitary conditions of the Borough of Dudley, described Netherton as: 'a village of such size it almost deserves to be termed a town'.
In the mid-19th century, the area was notorious for its bad sanitary conditions. In 1852 an inquiry into the sewerage, drainage and supply of water was carried out, reporting to the General Board of Health. Its conclusions were very damning for Netherton. A typical comment was: 'Old Netherton Town, Mr. Thomas Woodall's buildings.- Drainage very horrible, with privies and piggeries as usual, and no pavement. Procure water from a horse-pit nearly half a mile, and it has to be carried up hill, mostly by girls, in little pails of about three gallons, on their heads. This was a bad place for cholera'.
In 1844, Netherton became an ecclesiastical parish. It was made an Electoral ward of the Municipal Borough of Dudley in 1865, thereafter following the same pattern of local government reorganisations as the town of Dudley itself.
The 20th century saw the gradual decline of mining and the heavily polluting industries such as iron-making. At the same time, Dudley Council sought to redevelop areas of Netherton for housing either by demolishing existing older housing (as occurred in areas adjacent to the Halesowen Road in the town centre) and rebuilding or by reclaiming abandoned industrial areas (for example in the Dudley Wood and Saltwells area to the south of the town). Other former industrial sites were transformed into parkland (Netherton Park) or nature reserves (e.g. Bumble Hole).
Some of the first council houses in the Dudley borough were constructed around Netherton Park in the early 1920s, around the same time as the Yew Tree Hills area, to rehouse families from older and dilapidated houses around Dudley and Netherton.
Netherton's parish church, St Andrew's, consecrated in 1830, is situated on Netherton Hill at the highest point in Netherton. It was originally just a chapel-at-ease to St Thomas's of Dudley, only becoming Netherton's parish church in 1844. The church is surrounded by the gravestones of many of the former residents of the area. The churchyard also contains the mass unmarked graves of the victims of cholera that struck Dudley in 1831 and 1832. Netherton's most notable public building is probably the Victorian era Netherton Arts Centre at the top of Northfield Road. A fire station and a number of police houses were constructed at the same time on an adjacent site. These buildings are being transformed for commercial and community use.
Another local landmark is a pub on the A459 Dudley-Halesowen Road called the Old Swan. The current building dates from the 1860s but there has been a pub on the site since at least 1835. It has been known as Ma Pardoe's since the interwar years, as its long-term landlady was Doris Clare Pardoe (born 1899) who owned it until her death in 1984, when she was 85 years old. Such was its fame among the lovers of real ale, that when the pub came up for sale in 1985, a company was set up by CAMRA to purchase and run the pub. Although this company was short-lived, the pub and brewery survived and it is now one of only a handful of pubs in the West Midlands that still brews beer on its own premises. As well as for its beer, the pub is also known for its decor including a ceiling decorated with vitreous enamelled iron plates. The pub has been designated a Grade II listed building.
Schools and education
The first school in Netherton was a Church of England establishment built in 1836 at the corner of Halesowen Road and Church Road, providing education for children aged 5 to 11 years. The school was rebuilt in 1907 following problems with subsidence and remained in use until December 1988, by which time it was an 8–12 middle school and merged with a nearby 5–8 first school to form a new primary school. The old school building is still in existence and currently it is a furniture store.
The town has a postwar comprehensive school, Hillcrest School and Community College, which was one of the worst secondary schools in the West Midlands during the 1990s but improved dramatically following the arrival of head teacher Maureen Brennan. She became Dame Maureen Brennan DBE in 2005 for her outstanding efforts which saw Hillcrest School become one of the most successful schools in the borough just five years after an OFSTED report had slammed its weak management and placed it in special measures. In 2002, it was mentioned in parliament for its substantial turn-around. The new head teacher is now April Garrat. Other schools in Netherton include Netherton CE Primary School on Highbridge Road, Northfield Road Primary School on Northfield Road and Netherbrook Primary School on Chester Road.
In 2010, Hillcrest achieved its best results yet – 55% of the GCSE students left the school with 5 or more grades at C or above, placing it 10th out of 21 secondary schools in the borough.
Netherton is also home to Saltwells Education Development Centre, the Dudley EDC which was Saltwells Secondary School until 1986.
Parks and recreation
Saltwells Nature Reserve stands on the Netherton – Brierley Hill border, next to Netherton Reservoir. It takes its name from Saltwells Wood, now just part of the reserve, named for its saline springs where people came to bathe in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Doulton's Claypit, a Geological Site of Special Scientific Interest, lies within the reserve.
Netherton Park is located near the town centre and was laid out in about 1900 on an area that had once been colliery waste. Another old industrial area that has been reclaimed for public recreation is the Bumble Hole Local Nature Reserve. This region lies to the east of the town adjacent to the boundary with the Metropolitan Borough of Sandwell. The Dudley No. 2 canal runs through the reserve and is the site for an annual narrowboat festival. A canalside visitor centre provides information on the reserve and on the adjacent Warrens Hall Local Nature Reserve, which is in Sandwell. A rare Timber Gallows crane, a Scheduled Ancient Monument, stood in the reserve but is currently (2008) undergoing restoration.
Netherton Reservoir stands approximately one mile to the south-west of the town centre, and is a popular resort for speedboat enthusiasts as well as scuba divers. Dudley Water Ski Club meet regularly at the reservoir.
The majority of Netherton's shops lie along or just off the A459 Halesowen Road. Most of the shops in the centre of Netherton are fairly small including a bakery and a butchers shop. There are also three convenience stores in the town centre: a Costcutter, a Nisa and a Premier. There are two medium-sized supermarkets to the south of the town centre (an Aldi and a Lidl). A post office and a Lloyds Bank also lie on the Halesowen Road. The most unusual shop in Netherton is probably one selling Western (i.e. cowboy) outfits.
Netherton's former triangular-shaped marketplace was situated in the fork of the junction of the Halesowen Road and Northfield Road. Old photographs show it to be still in use at the beginning of the 20th century. The area is now a small public garden on which has been positioned a full sized replica of an anchor of the RMS Titanic (the original anchors for the ship were manufactured locally).
There are no proper restaurants in Netherton but there are cafés, fish and chip shops, Chinese take-aways and an Indian take-away.
There are a number of pubs in Netherton although far fewer now than in former days. The Old Swan (Ma Pardoe's) has already been mentioned above in notable buildings. Not far away from the Old Swan, at the junction of Cinder Bank and Swan Street, is the Hope Tavern. At the other end of Swan Street one can find the White Swan pub, also known as Turners. Other pubs near the centre of Netherton include the Bulls Head, Ella's Bar, Netherton Sports and Social Club (also known as the Liberal) and the Crown Inn. At Windmill End stands the Wheatsheaf. Inside Saltwells Woods one can find the Saltwells Inn and a short distance from the woods along Saltwells Road are the Bunch of Bluebells pub and the Woodman. Darby End has two pubs: the Gate Hangs Well and the Red Lion. On Yew Tree Hill one can find the Yew Tree Inn. In the Bowling Green area one can find the Cottage Spring pub and in Dudley Wood there is the Victoria Inn. One unusual pub in Netherton was the Little Dry Dock in Windmill End, which, before closure, had a bar made from a canal barge. It has now been converted into flats.
Netherton is well supplied with hairdressers and barbers, there being several such shops along the main shopping street.
Netherton Health Centre, a clinic, is situated on the Halesowen Road. The Savoy Centre (named after Netherton's demolished cinema which used to occupy the site), which lies next to the Arts Centre on Northfield Road, provides training, adult education and conference facilities. The Savoy Centre also houses Netherton Library, a facility run by the local authority.
There is a small Police Station on Church Road.
Age UK, a charity that helps elderly people, has a prominent office and drop-in centre in the former pub, The Junction Inn, on the corner of Cradley Road and the Halesowen Road. Netherton's Conservatives have their club house (including a bowling green) on Halton Street. Netherton Sports & Social Club can be found in St. Thomas Street.
Churches and chapels
Netherton contains a number of churches and chapels. The most prominent, St Andrew's, an Anglican church, was consecrated and opened by the Lord Bishop Folliott on 16 July 1830. The foundation stone of the church had been laid by Dr. Booker, the Vicar of Dudley, on 30 November 1827. The other Church of England churches in Netherton are St Peter's, Darby End and St John the Evangelist, Dudley Wood.
Perhaps more characteristic of Netherton are the nonconformist chapels of which there are several. In St Andrews Street, near the town centre, can be found the Ebenezer Baptist Church. In St Giles Street, the former Sweet Turf Baptist chapel has had its frontage altered and is now named the Champions Church. More evidence for Baptist activity in Netherton can be found on Cinder Bank where the burial ground for the Messiah Baptist church can be found (the church itself has been demolished). The Methodists have a church, The Trinity Methodist Church, on Church Road and another one, the Cole Street Methodist Church at Darby End. A former Methodist chapel, the Noah's Ark on Cradley road is presently (2008) being converted into apartments. On Chapel Street in the Primrose Hill locality one can find the Primrose Hill Community Church (Previously Primrose Hill Congregational Church). The People's Mission have a chapel on Swan Street. The Champions Church have built a new church (opened January 2010) just off Cinder Bank near the junction with Simms Lane. In 1868 a Sunday School Union was arranged between several of the churches in Netherton and a hymn composed to commemorate the event was sung on Netherton market place. The hymn mentions some of the above chapels. Part of it went:
May Sweet Turf join with Cinder Bank,
And Ebenezer join the rank;
And may St. John's and Primrose Hill,
With Noah's Ark their stations fill.
And may Church Road, and Darby Hand,
All join in one harmonious band;
To spread the triumph of our King,
Who did for all salvation bring.
With the exception of the occasional canal boat, transport in Netherton today is exclusively by road. The major road link for the town is the A459 running from Dudley to Halesowen. This route was once a turnpike road, the Netherton toll gate being situated near to the junction with Swan Street.
The Dudley No. 2 Canal runs through Netherton, linking the Dudley No. 1 canal at Parkhead Junction with the south entrance of the Netherton Tunnel. When first constructed in 1798 it ran as far as Selly Oak where it connected with the Worcester and Birmingham Canal.
Netherton has had no rail service since the 1960s when the line, sometimes called the Bumble Hole Line, which linked the town with Dudley and Old Hill was taken out of service. The line had stops at Baptist End, Windmill End and Darby End. A small branch line from Baptist End led to Withymoor Goods Station, which was near where the Dudley No. 2 canal crosses the Halesowen Road.
There were once many industrial and mineral rail lines running through the Netherton area but these have been long closed. For example, the steel firm Grazebrook's had a line running from their factory on Pear Tree Lane to an interchange on the Great Western Railway mainline near the former Blowers Green railway station to the south of Dudley. A branch of the Earl of Dudley's extensive private railway network, which is usually known as the Pensnett Railway, ran through the Saltwells locality.
To the north of the town centre lies the locality of Baptist End. This area is thought to encompass the site of medieval Netherton. It's not known for sure how the area got this name although there have been Baptists meeting in the general locality since 1654
The town centre encompasses the main shopping street where Cinder Bank meets the Halesowen Road and the residential area on the roads leading up Netherton Hill from the shops.
Other localities in Netherton include Darby End which, according to local legend, was named after the nailmakers from Derbyshire who settled there but is more likely to have taken its name from the Darby family, who were prominent in the early days of the settlement. This area, which has a few shops of its own, is to the south east of the town centre. In the 19th century this area was also commonly referred to as 'Darby Hand'. Nearby, and bordering the Bumble Hole Local Nature Reserve is Windmill End.
Primrose Hill, despite its name, is an industrial area immediately to the south of the town centre.
Dudley Wood and Bowling Green are two residential areas at the south end of the town. The now demolished Dudley Wood Stadium, sited in the former locality, hosted the Cradley Heathens speedway team until the mid-1990s.
The Lodge Farm Estate lies near Saltwells woods. It is named after the farm which was here before the housing estate was built. In medieval times, the lodge was where the forester (a person responsible for managing the hunting within a wood) lived and it is likely that this is the ultimate origin of the name of this locality, which is sited in what once was Pensnett Chase.
Finally, Mushroom Green is a former industrial hamlet to the south west of the town. It is now a Conservation Area.
Sited as it was on top of what was later called the South Staffordshire coal field with its numerous coal seams interspersed with layers of iron ore, fire clay and brick clay, Netherton was probably always destined to become an area dominated by industry.
Mining in the Netherton area has taken place since at least the 14th century. According to the Rent Rolls of Lord Dudley and Ward, the income from coal mining on Knowle Hill (the former name for Netherton Hill) formed a large fraction of the total income of the Dudley Estate in 1701. In the 19th century, mining in the Netherton area was particularly extensive. Some of the collieries were: the Baptist End, Dudley Wood, Netherton, Netherton Old, Saltwell and Yew Tree Hill. Coal mining was still being carried out in the 1970s when coal was removed from Netherton Hill by the open cast method.
Nailmaking in Netherton has been recorded since the 16th century. Netherton became one of the centres in the Black Country of the hand-made nail trade which reached its peak around 1830. As the hand-made nail trade went into decline, mainly due to the availability of cheaper machine-made nails, wages for nailmakers were decreased leading to industrial unrest such as the events known as the 'Blackcountry Nailer's Riots' of 1842, and the Nailmakers' Strike of 1852. The last type of nail to be made by hand were those used to shoe horses. The Midland Counties Express reported in 1904: 'a few horse-nailers at Netherton and about a dozen female workers at Cawney Hill are the only remaining representatives of the nail trade'. Some nail-makers in the area turned to chain-making. A working chainshop is preserved in the Mushroom Green locality of Netherton.
Chain and anchor making
Once located in Netherton, was a firm of chainmakers called N. Hingley & Sons, which was famous for making the anchors for the ocean liner RMS Titanic . Noah Hingley, who founded the firm, started making chain cable for ships in nearby Cradley in the year 1820. The company N. Hingley & Sons was set up in 1837 and anchor manufacture commenced in 1848. The Netherton works were set up in 1852 on the banks of the Dudley No. 2 canal. The main anchor for the Titanic weighed fifteen and a half tons and, on completion, was hauled from the factory to the rail head at Dudley Port by 20 Shire horses. Hingleys also produced anchors for the Lusitania and a number of other ocean liners. A replica of the anchor now stands on the old marketplace. Hingleys' success in international markets and their use of the Netherton name for their trademarked wrought iron products (e.g. Netherton Crown Special Best Best Iron) caused the name of Netherton to be known more widely both in the UK and overseas. A sculpture of an anchor stands at the junction of Castleton Street and Halesowen Road commemorating the local anchor and chain industry and the anchor motif can be found in a number of places around Netherton (e.g. on the metal park benches in Netherton Park). Immediately adjacent to the works of N. Hingley & Sons on the Dudley No. 2 canal was Lloyds Proving House where chain was subjected to a variety of tests to show it was of suitable quality.
Brewing was a major industry in 19th-century Netherton. Some of the large scale brewers were: William Hotchkiss at Castle Street, William Smith at Simms Lane, John Rollinson of St Andrew's Street, and Samuel Bagley at Cole Street. The largest brewery belonged to Thomas Plant and was known as the Netherton Steam Brewery. Plant's malthouse was on Raybould's Fold and the brewery in St John's Street. The only brewing today in Netherton takes place at the Old Swan pub (Ma Pardoe's). However, two of the remaining Black Country brewers, Holdens and Bathams, have Netherton links. Edwin Alfred Holden and Lucy Blanche Holden, founders of the Holdens brewing concern, had their first pub in Netherton, whilst Daniel Batham, son of Daniel and Charlotte Batham who had started the family beer production, brewed at the King William in Cole Street, Netherton before moving the brewery to its present location at the Vine on the Delph.
One of the earliest manufacturing firms established in Netherton was Samuel Lewis & Co Ltd which was set up in 1750. Other notable firms were: H. & T. Danks, which made boilers; John Barnsley and Co., specialists in cranes and hoists; and Grazebrook's, which had furnaces for iron-making. The latter firm was established at Netherton in 1800 by Michael Grazebrook.
Although not of the scale of previous times, industrial firms can still be found in Netherton; for example, in the Washington Centre between the Halesowen Road and Cradley Road or in the Blackbrook Business Park, Narrowboat Way, the latter of which was developed in the 1980s as part of the Dudley Enterprise Zone that stretched beyond Netherton's borders into Brierley Hill and covered the land which became the Merry Hill Shopping Centre.
Netherton was the birthplace of spring-jumping champion Joe Darby, born at Windmill End in 1861. Not only was he a superb athlete but a showman as well, appearing before King Edward VII in Covent Garden, London. In 1887 he defeated W.G Hamlington, then the World Champion spring-jumper. A statue showing the athlete in a crouched position, about to leap, stands on the junction of the Halesowen Road and Church Road. Some of his more famous exploits are written on plaques on the plinth of the statue. Another notable resident of Netherton was England footballer Joe Smith (1890–1956). He was born in Darby End and played for local teams until he signed for West Bromwich Albion in 1910. He put in 470 appearances for Albion, was a member of the 1920 side that won the First Division and was capped two times for England. Other Netherton-born footballers include Tom Grosvenor (1908–1972) who played for Birmingham City and was capped 3 times for England and Billy Wooldridge (1878–1945) who played for Wolverhampton Wanderers and represented the English Football League in two games against the Irish League.
Sammy 'Pigiron' Whitehouse was a strongman from Darby End, who worked unloading canal boats and in a foundry in the earlier part of the 20th century. He became well known locally for his feats of strength. His nickname 'Pigiron' was earned in 1921 when he won a 4-mile race from Dudley Top church through Netherton following the Halesowen Road carrying a hundredweight (112 lb) of pigiron.
Theophillus Dunn, also from Darby End, was a notable 19th-century character, known locally as the 'Dudley Devil'. He was an astrologer and claimed magical healing abilities, charging a shilling for a charm to cure toothache. He also claimed to be able locate stolen property by using charms. In one story, he is said to have prophesied that a certain Mr Hickman would die by being crushed by coal. As Hickman was not a miner he doubted the prophecy – but later was run over by a coal waggon and killed. Dunn later prophesied the downfall of William Perry (the boxer known as the 'Tipton Slasher') at the hands of Tom Sayers. The prophecy was given in the form of a rhyme with the final line: "Tom Little will mek it come true." (Tom Sayers was considerably smaller than Perry).
Folklore, legends and customs of Netherton
Like many villages in former times, Netherton had a local celebration known as a Wakes. In Netherton it was held on the last Sunday in October. On May Day there were festivities connected with the 'Clubs' which met at the various pubs in the village. The 'Clubs', such as the 'Odd Fellows', 'Free Gardeners', 'The Druids', and 'Foresters' put on their regalia and paraded around the village. The met at noon for a special service at the Church before heading to their own taverns for dinner.
Cockfighting took place in Netherton at a number of cock-pits: at Yew Tree Hills, Northfield Road  and at Bumble Hole. Mark Fletcher describes the court proceedings resulting from the arrest of people suspected of being involved in cockfighting in 1885. The cock-pit was stated to be at the rear of the 'Malt Shovel', Bumble Hole.
There are a number of stories and legends regarding the Baptist church in the locality. It is widely believed that original site of the Messiah Baptist Church was near the junction of Baptist End Road with Swan Street (where the White Swan pub is today) and that Oliver Cromwell passed by on one of his campaigns According to some sources, the church itself was destroyed during riots in 1715 and a new church was built on the nearby Cinder Bank. It has also been stated that at Baptist End, the church adherents were baptised in a local canal, taking advantage of the warm water flowing into the canal from the local industry.
In Victorian times, a legendary terrifying character known as 'Spring-heeled Jack' was reportedly spotted at a number of locations. The creature was often described as having blazing eyes and had the ability to leap great distances. Joe Darby, the spring jumper from Netherton supposedly started a local 'Spring-heeled Jack' scare when he was seen practising leaping over a local canal at night time, using a miner's lighted helmet to see his way.
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