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by Chris Myers

This is a map of Streetly from 1920. Battered, yellowed, torn and now pieced together.  It has seen a bit of service, especially in its first 25 years of life and that accounts for its condition. It may be of interest to anyone who knows Streetly in the 21st century because it's a fascinating map of an earlier Streetly, on two different levels.

First, it's a useful view of how the area has developed up to 1920 with the appearance of what is termed "Streetly Village", perhaps as a direct result of the Midland Railway and its station arriving in 1879. It is a small triangle, bounded by open countryside on two sides and Sutton Park on the other. And it's a nice place to live, out of Birmingham in the fresh air and adjacent to a beautiful, natural park.

And second, the map shows us, with its mark-ups, what is preoccupying the group of Streetly men who have volunteered to defend the area in 1940 - its facilities, its homes, its people - when the threat of a probable invasion, previously unthinkable, has loomed almost overnight over the horizon, real, threatening and terrifying. By that time the small triangle which previously denoted Streetly has grown significantly and its area is now mainly defined by the Chester Road from the Parson & Clerk to the Hardwick Arms and the two entire lengths of the Hardwick and Thornhill Roads - although this map shows nothing of that.

Here is the map again, in much greater detail:

This map of an earlier Streetly and the adjacent areas is of interest in two different ways. First, it's a useful view of how Streetly and other settlements had developed by 1920; and second, it shows us what was preoccupying the group of men who had a responsibility for defending the area in 1940 with the threat of a probable invasion.

1.  THE 1920 MAP (ignoring all the later mark ups)

We can see how Streetly was essentially concentrated on "Streetly Village" and Thornhill Road, adjacent to the railway station. With regard to many of the buildings, that area probably looked then very much as it does now, in the 21st-century, if you can look past the cars and paviored driveways and modern shop fronts and all the rest. Building had stretched out, here and there, up Foley Road and into the, presumably, new roads of Featherston and Middleton. It is known that at least one of the houses shown in Featherston Road was new – finished in 1915/1916 – and the others you can see on the map were probably similar. There was development also in Middleton Road, along just the one side. A few properties in Streetly Wood. Apparently nothing in Hardwick Road until you get to one earlier development which stretches down from the Hardwick Arms crossroads. Beyond, of course, nothing. And little or nothing also along the entire stretch of the Chester Road in either direction. There is some development in Rosemary Hill Road but a long way up and therefore, at that time, barely "Streetly". Streetly was effectively a small triangle bounded by the Thornhill, Middleton/ Featherston and Hardwick roads.

I can look at this map and see how it relates to my own experience at the time when I started to become aware of the world around me in about 1939/1940. There had clearly been an explosion of building in the 1920s and 1930s, to the advantage of my own family, but it was brought to an abrupt halt by the outbreak of war. Nothing like what was to come, of course, during and after the 1950s, but extensive enough. The basic triangle grew significantly in those two decades up to 1939 and then, for the next 10/15 years, its extent was roughly defined by the Chester, Thornhill and Hardwick Roads. Quite extensive building within that area, such as that in the Chester, Manor, Featherston, Middleton and Hardwick Roads, and in Rosemary Hill Road and Little Aston Park, but still plenty of large gaps for further infilling – and of course the wide open spaces still stretching out beyond the triangle into open countryside with at that stage very little intrusion. (Of all these roads, just Featherston Road was still unmetalled by the 1940s and would remain so until the late 1950s - a reminder of how all these side roads were no doubt first created across open fields). The whole area was still relatively confined with Streetly village at its centre with its shops and the station - although by then there were also shops along the Chester Road, on the corners of Bridle Lane and Manor Road, Foley Road and Hardwick Road. The two pubs remained the Parson & Clerk and the Hardwick Arms. That was the Streetly I knew and still the only one in my mind's eye.

2. THE 1940 MARK-UPS

This map belonged to my own father who was C.O of one of the three local Home Guard platoons (originally L.D.V - "Local Defence Volunteers) which was based at Little Aston Hall Stables.

Here is the background to this bit of Streetly's history in 1940..... 
These L.D.V. platoons were formed at the very first assembling of local volunteers in the early days of June, 1940 following Anthony Eden's wireless appeal on the evening of May 14th. The prospect of invasion, previously unthinkable, had suddenly become real and threatening as Holland, Belgium and now France reeled in the face of Hitler's blitzkrieg which was approaching ever closer to the Channel coast. Here is how it came about, in my father's own words, written in 1944/45:

The initial formalities are over. Eden has broadcast
(Read the text here) and within the hour the local police have been besieged by eager enquirers for enrolment forms.

Our detailed life histories have been submitted and, presumably, vetted. A lot of organising work has been done behind the scenes by our Sub Group Commander and his Second in Command, and a preliminary meeting of would-be Local Defence Volunteers has been held in our
Parish Hall

And now on a day of early June 1940, we parade (or perhaps "gather" would be a more suitable term) at Little Aston Stables and find our names amongst a list of men who are destined to form a platoon of the L.D.V.

A roll call, more filling up of forms. The Platoon Commander is chosen after a query by the Company Commander: "Any man here with army experience and who has a car?" A few minutes later, an infantry private of the last war takes his first parade. N.C.Os. are created by similar methods. We can take no risks at this stage and all section leaders must have previous Army training.

The Platoon falls in.....

Back to the map.... Although my father seems to have owned it, it was marked up by someone other than him, in perhaps June or July, 1940 and in a rather haphazard manner, to show what was felt important in defence of the local area. The red outline shows the area of responsibility for one of the Companies in the 32nd Staffordshire (Aldridge) Battalion Home Guard, the unit formed to defend this part of South Staffordshire. It is "B" Company of that Battalion of which the three Streetly/Little Aston platoons were part, each comprising perhaps 40 or 50 men, all volunteers at that time.

I'll work clockwise around the map, clarifying the annotations, starting from the bottom near to the Parson and Clerk.

The first thing to note is the emphasis on availability of phones – few of the men had a landline at home and only those with an interest in science fiction would have conjured up the vision of a mobile phone in their battledress pocket. So we see an AA box (which contained a phone) at the bottom of the map. Also mention of an A.F.S. depot (Auxiliary Fire Service). (Where was that located, precisely, and in what suitable building?)

Going on up the Chester Road, there is, surprisingly, no mention of the road block located a few yards further up, after Queslett Road (which I clearly remember seeing from around that time in the form of a pile of rusty cars and other material on the verge, ready to be shoved across the road). Perhaps the map even predates those makeshift defensive measures. On the far corner of Bridle Lane - perhaps Puddepha's corner shop (later Slim's)  - C.B.  Mr. Puddepha
(right) was a senior NCO in No. 2 Platoon; but even though there are some military terms which can be abbreviated in this way, the most likely interpretation is  "Call Box" - in other words, a public telephone kiosk.

If we look at Foley Road (now Foley Road West) there is the designation M.G. between there and Hardwick Road. That was Streetly's own anti-aircraft battery - well, more precisely, a large machine-gun mounted on a tripod. This was manned for extended periods by one particular gentleman, no doubt with the asistance of others, but there is no record of the extent to which it was fired in anger. Images of it - and him - survive (below).

This gentleman seems to be the Company expert on the subject of machine guns, and especially the Lewis gun.

He remains unidentified and staffshomeguard would dearly like to put a name to a face. Could he be Mr Ralph of Middleton Road?

He deserves to be honoured and commemorated. Can any visitor to this page help us, please?

Not far away, across the field in Little Hardwick Road, is HQ, No. 3 Platoon which no doubt had responsibility for the anti-aircraft machine-gun. Around there, later on, a sandpit had been converted into a firing range for rifles and machine guns. (I saw it in operation one Sunday morning and was deeply impressed!). Perhaps the HQ was located in a shed there, or an adjacent house.

Nearby fields have a large cross marked on them in black. No interpretation is attempted for that - but the areas marked MIGHT coincide with the sandpit/future rifle range on the same side of the road
(seen in use, left); and, on the opposite side, with a future HG training area located, it is thought, where the O.V. sports field is now.

Continuing down the Chester Road there is a Searchlight unit located in open fields to the left (mentioned in another Streetly memoir) and then two Vulnerable Points which needed guarding - the South Staffordshire Water Company's Pumping Station (with its telephone) and the railway bridge.

Further on still, there is an RAC telephone adjacent to the Irish Harp and beyond that, probably at Mill Green Farm, the H.Q. No. 1 Platoon, hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Foden whose three sons were members. An artillery range for spigot mortar training would be created there, but not until later.

To the south-east, the H.Q. No. 2 Platoon is located in the stables at Little Aston Hall. (This Platoon was later renamed no. 5 and its creation and ensuing life was described in a wonderful 1944/45 memoir by its C.O. which can be read here).

Returning to the Hardwick crossroads, there is no mention of the defensive position/air raid shelter created there by the Home Guard in the winter of 1940/41, after this map was marked up (which suggests the latter had been superseded by something else, rather more detailed and professional, perhaps). The building of this is recorded in images, below.

The one on the left is rather later, perhaps by two or three years, and the shelter is now part of the landscape.  It is still wartime - note the blackout mask on one of the car's headlamps. The photo was taken from near Cutler's petrol pumps.

In Hardwick Road itself, the locations of the Telephone Exchange and the Police Station are noted.

And finally, in the village itself, just the railway station gets a mention, with nothing more of note marked all the way along the Thornhill Road, back to the Parson & Clerk.

In conclusion, here is another map of the area, a jokey depiction of "The Ground We Defend" by the 32nd Battalion Adjutant, Frank Timings, an urbane ex-regular officer who served in the Battalion throughout and was well-known for his artistic skills.  The latter are to be seen throughout "Home Guarding" - the 32nd Battalion commemorative record which Frank edited.

And a similarly light-hearted description of the broader area within which Streetly sits, written in 1944/45 by Lt. W. Oakley from the perspective of the local defenders and also appearing in "Home Guarding" :

JUST a slice of Staffordshire, a county which a former king - one of the James's, I believe - said was only fit for being cut up to make roads.  Little he knew about it, for our county is as varied in its scenery, history, and occupations as most, and the slice we defend is worthy of the whole.

Our history goes back to the dawn of civilisation in this country.  True, it is unwritten history, but the evidence is here for all to read who will.  Some of you have trained and sited strong points and machine-gun posts on the fern-covered slopes, which once were Knaves Castle and the Old Fort at Upper Stonnall.

Hills were just as important strategically, when slings and boulders were the weapons, as they are to-day, and for probably two thousand years or more those entrenchments have mounted guard above the Old Chester Road.

Not so certain, but equally interesting, is the tradition attaching to our most prominent landmark, the solace of all prentice mapreaders, Barr Beacon, for "this most central hill in England" so it is said, was the scene of the Druids' great midsummer festival.  Aldridge, then, must have been as important to the "parsons" of those times as York or Canterbury are to-day!   Moreover the Arch-druid liked the air of Aldridge so well that he had his "palace" here and Druid's Heath was his address.

Be that as it may, there is no doubt that the road from the Beacon, along the ridge, down Whetstone Lane towards Walsall Wood, would be one of the earliest trodden by men in our area. It would join up with the Watling Street, that ancient military highway which the Romans perfected and which our Brownhills Home Guards know so well.

They, too, will remember the old signpost which stood at the junction of the Watling Street and Old Chester Road, a relic of the "good old days" of stage coaches and highway robbery.  One of the past masters at this game was Tom King, who, again according to tradition, was born at the "Irish Harp", that snug little inn, not unknown to the 32nd Battalion, which one likes to believe has not altered a brick since Tom took to the road, and which, one fervently hopes, never will.

Tom King was by no means the only one to ply his trade on the neighbouring heaths of Barr, Pelsall, Brownhills and AldridgeAldridge Heath, lying on the old road between Birmingham and Stafford, was particularly notorious.  It is recorded that on January 30th, 1703, the Shrewsbury coach was robbed there and three attorneys later the same day, though one of them managed to retain a refresher of twenty guineas by stuffing it into the toe of an old boot he had in his bag.  Next month two drovers, returning from Newcastle Fair were robbed and killed, and two days later the High Sheriff himself, returning from Lichfield, was robbed of sixty guineas.  That sealed the gang's fate, for the Sheriff had them hunted down and strung up just to "larn 'em".

In 1746 came John Wesley, on horseback across Aldridge Heath on his way from Birmingham to Stafford.  It was raining when he left Birmingham early one morning and by the time he had reached our perilous neighbourhood, always a tough nut for the "invader" to crack, it had turned to snow.  A cheerful native told Wesley it was a thousand pounds to a penny he wouldn't reach Stafford that day, for even on a clear day he was "not sure to go right across" the common.  But Wesley was no ordinary paratroop and at following a trail he must have been real hot stuff, for he records in his diary: "However we went on and I believe did not go ten yards out of our way till we came to Stafford".  No doubt he passed his map-reading proficiency test first time.

Brownhills Common and Pelsall Common are all that is left to remind us of those spacious days, and we are very glad to have them in our slice of Staffordshire.

Of notable buildings still standing, perhaps Rushall Hall is the most interesting.  The present hall, or a large part of it dates from 1402, though the site seems to have been occupied continuously since Anglo-Saxon times and in Domesday Book the Manor of Rushall was valued at ten shillings a year.  (Aldridge was worth fifteen shillings).  Rushall Hall played a lively part in the war between Charles and Parliament.  Both sides occupied it in turn, but the Royalists seem to have held it most of the time and used it as a sort of base depot for storing plunder taken from convoys passing between London and Lancashire.  Anyway when it was finally taken for Cromwell's side by the Earl of Denbigh, ably assisted by the then 32nd Battalion (!) and their Walsall comrades in arms, in May 1644, the recovered property was valued at 10,000.  No doubt the respective Comforts Funds benefited accordingly.

And so one could go on - about the Blue Hole and Linley Caverns (from which the Romans took limestone to build their fort at Wall on the Watling Street), about Frank James, Hobshole, Little Aston Hall, Shire Oak, Catshill, Bourne Vale - but perhaps I've said enough to convince all reasonable men that we of the 32nd have cause to be proud of the ground we defend.


This family and local history page is hosted by 
(The Home Guard of Great Britain, 1940-1944)
Please see INDEX page for general acknowledgements.

Grateful acknowledgement is made to Kate Cutler, whose father, Bill Cutler, took the images showing the machine gun
and the building of the air-raid shelter shown on this page.

All other text and images are, unless otherwise stated, The Myers Family 2022

Home Guard of Great Britain website

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