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A Brief History of Halesowen

The manor and town of Hales had belonged to an Anglo-Saxon thegn called Olwine but after the Norman Conquest it was given to Roger Earl of Shrewsbury. It was Roger who annexed it to the County of Shropshire. It passed from Robert to his two sons; Hugh who died in 1098 and Robert de Belesme who lost it to the Crown in 1102. Henry II gave it to his sister who had married David son of Owen Prince of Wales in 1174. She restored it to Richard I although her son Owen still had claims on it. It was not until the 1270’s that Owen’s Christian name became tied in with the estate name – Hales wen. King John granted Hales Owen to Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester in 1214 for endowing a religious house and in the following year confirmed it to the Premonstratensian canons that took possession in 1217.

The town was divided into two sections: the older of the two was the area north of the Lacoonstone Brook and this is Anglo-Saxon in origin. St John the Baptist Church may have owed its origins to an early Minster. South of the Lacoonstone was a large triangular market place this was owned and probably founded by the abbey. The Abbot obtained a licence to hold a market on Wednesdays in 1220 and a fair lasting two days at the Virgil and Feast of St Denis, October 8th and 9th. In 1223 the date was altered to the feast of St. Kenelm (13th December).

Throughout the 13th and 14th centuries there were regular disputes between the abbot and his tenants regarding the services which he felt they owed. The abbot petitioned the king in 1278 stating that the men of Hales Owen claimed to be of Ancient Demesne and refusing his customs and services. The result was a writ of Quio Warranto; in answer the abbot produced King John’s Charter and established his claim. The disputes continued till 1327 when the abbot commuted the services to a fixed rent.

The weaving of cloth was a local 13th century industry and weavers Osbert and Hernald are mentioned in Henry III reign (1216 – 1272) as owning land. Dyers are frequently mentioned in Edward I reign (1272 – 1307). Fulling went on as Thomas the Skinner wilfully drowned himself in the Walkenmullenpol’ – Walkers Mill Pool. (A walker laid out the cloth to dry). Mining was also done as coal was recorded as being found in the township of Hill in Edward I reign and the Lord granted a mining lease at ‘La Combes’ to Henry le Knyth and Henry da la Hulle in 1307. Great quantities of medieval scoriae have been found which shows that iron smelting went on in the neighbourhood and have either been worked again or used for road metal. In 1304 Nicholas de Yrenmongere witnessed a Halesowen deed.

The abbot had the town of Hales created into a borough in 1270. The first dated evidence of such is in 1277. The abbot also had two mills worth 20s a year in 1291 and the new mill of Hales is mentioned in 1293. This may have been the Cornbow Mill. The Grange, to the south of the town, was probably the Great Grange recorded in the Manor Court Rolls in the 1270’s. These were collection points for agricultural products. A grant in 1344 to the abbot and convent of a weekly market on Mondays and a fair for four days at the Feast of St. Barnabas (11 June) may have superseded the previous market day and fair. But the Black Death arrived in 1348 and the town was decimated over 40% of the population succumbed to the disease.

The churchwardens book records a payment of 3d made ‘to the ringers when the prince came to Hales’ in 1490. This was probably Prince Arthur who died a few years later. In 1535 the abbot and convent received revenue of £133. 18s 7¼d. The conventional buildings were demolished shortly after the Dissolution and from the churchwardens accounts for 1539 it appears that the parish authorities took part in the spoliation. A cross was removed to the Cornbow market. (It now stands in St. Johns Churchyard). After the Dissolution the abbey was granted to John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland for a rent of £28 1s. 3d.

Sir John granted the mansion of the abbey to his servant George Tuckey. After his execution in 1553 his widow Joan held it till her death in 1554. It was then held in trust to her children. Sir Ambrose Dudley, the eldest, had the house and land valued at £100 and with his middle brother, Sir Henry Dudley, gave up his share to the younger brother Sir Robert Dudley who settled it upon his wife, Amy Robsart. Amy conveyed the manor to Thomas Blount and George Tuckey who sold it to John Lyttleton. The rent was reduced to £20 in 1611. The rent of £20 was paid to the Crown until 1650 when it was sold by order of Parliament. On the restoration it was restored to the king and settled on Queen Katherine in 1663. An Act of Parliament alienated the rent and an ancestor of Sir Mathew Deeker purchased it. Lord Lyttelton finally purchased it in the 19th century.

In 1672 there were besides those mills belonging to the lord, three mills belonging to Henry Haden, who had inherited two from his father. It seems to have been the duty of the Lyttelton’s to repair the bridges at Malt Mill and Cornbow. In 1668 the bridges were in such bad repair that the constable prosecuted Sir Henry Littleton for refusing to store them.

The market and fair appear to have fallen into disuse until Muriel Lyttelton; lady of the manor revived them, in 1608. In 1609 she obtained a confirmation of Edward III’s grant of 1344 and the Monday market day continued till the middle of the 19th century. In 1868 the market day was Saturday and the St. Barnabas Day Fair survived in the Whitsun Fair for horses, cattle, sheep and cheese. A pleasure fair has been held on Easter Monday since the early 19th century and a statue fair for hiring servants in October.

Nailmaking was the main post medieval industry and many of the mills were in use for slitting and iron production. During the Civil War Halesowen supplied shot to the garrison of Dudley Castle at £14 a ton. William Shenstone, 1713 – 1763, at the nearby Leasowes complained that nailers surrounded him. The coal in Coombes Wood was again dug for. Muriel Lyttleton, brought an action in 1617 against Thomas and John Low for sinking coal pits in a field called ‘Cole Pytt Leasowe’, near Coombes Wood, from which they made 40s a week for two or three weeks. A further unsuccessful attempt to work the mines in Coombes Wood occurred in the 18th century.

By this date the borough boundaries were a matter of tradition, being marked by crosses at the limits of the town. The chief officer of the town or borough was the High Bailiff and the borough had its own constable as distinct to the manor. They were elected at the St. Barnabas Day Fair. It is probable that they were accompanied by the Low Bailiff, Victual Taster, two Overseers of Swine, two Searchers and Sealers of Leather, all elected at the Lords Court. Those who had served as High Bailiff were afterwards created Aldermen. In 1822 those roles were elected at the Court Leet and were continued to be appointed till 1868 until they were abolished. The town was then governed by a Rural District Council of ten members and became an Urban District Council in 1925 and a Municipal Borough in 1935. The Halesowen branch of the Great Western Railway opened in 1878 and the Halesowen and Northfield Railway worked by the Great Western and Midland had a station in Halesowen.

John Hemmingway 2001