William Dargue  A History of BIRMINGHAM Places & Placenames from A to Y

Glossary N-S




National school
National Schools were set up by the National Society for the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church throughout England and Wales, later the National Society (Church of England) for Promoting Religious Education which had been founded in 1811 by the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge SPCK initially to provide education for the poorest children. Its schools were known as National Schools and supported from 1833 by national government grants.

The aim of the National Society was for there to be a Church school in every parish. The Society offered grants to the founders of schools and funded the building or enlarging and fitting-out of schoolrooms. The purpose of the National Society's involvement in education was 'that the National Religion should be made the foundation of National Education, and should be the first and chief thing taught to the poor, according to the excellent Liturgy and Catechism provided by our Church.'


Schools which already founded by parish churches or were founded by private sponsors and run along Anglican lines could be run in union with the National Society who then furnished grants especially for building work and school materials. The National schools thus set up were the predecessors of the Voluntary Controlled and Voluntary Aided Church of England Schools that exist at the present time.

The main body of a church, almost always at the west end, built for the congregation's use and maintained by the parishioners. Until the later Middle Ages worshippers stood for services, all but the weakest who went to the wall where there were some seats. Before the Reformation the nave was separated by a wooden screen from the chancel which was the priest's part of the church.

As the only public space in the parish the nave was often used for public meetings, wedding celebrations, harvest festivals, etc. Some clergy were uneasy out the unchurchly behaviour sometimes practised on these occasions, but had little jurisdiction over what was, in effect, the village hall. This may, in part, explain the development of the chancel screen to separate the holy from the secular.

neo-classical architecture
Influenced by the Italian renaissance, 18th-century architects drew inspiration from the classical models of Ancient Greece and Rome. Older churches were restyled with round-arched windows and doors and new churches were built on an auditorium plan and sometimes with cupolas rather than towers. Few now survive in Birmingham but St Paul's, the Jewellery Quarter church, is a good example, as are the Church of the Ascension in Hall Green and St Mary & St Margaret's, Castle Bromwich.

Many houses of all sizes were built in neo-classical Georgian style from the 18th century and throughout the 19th: a large Georgian country house known as Farm was built by Sampson Lloyd II in Sampson Road, Sparkbrook. Many public and commercial buildings were built in the neo-classical style: Birmingham Town Hall is modelled on the Temple of Castor & Pollux in the Forum in Rome. The neo-classical style fell out of favour for ecclesiastical architecture during the 19th century, although its influence continued in commercial and public architecture.

neolithic The New Stone Age, c3500 BC - c2000 BC.

nucleated village
The stereotypical view of the English village is a huddle of houses around a village green, with a church and a pub and a manor house close by. In the Middle Ages the village would be surrounded by three or more open fields divided into strips. Kings Norton seems to represent an archetypal English village. However, in forested areas such as Birmingham, settlement tended to be scattered rather than nucleated. Present-day 'village' centres such as Erdington and Acocks Green are probably medieval at the earliest and many are later.




open fields, ridge and furrow
The open field system developed before the Norman Conquest probably during the 10th century. Village land was pooled, probably at the instigation of the Anglo-Saxon manorial lord, and redistributed so that everyone had a number of strips in each large field. This ensured that everyone had a share of good and bad land. Some of Birmingham's oldest settlements were centred on open-field systems.

Such systems traditionally had three great fields divided into furlong strips. These were 220 yards long (c200m) and 2 yards (c2m) wide, although the width of strips varied in different places at different times. By c1300 units had been standardised. An acre, originally used to denote the size of a field that could be ploughed by a team of oxen in a day was defined as an area 1 furlong in length by one tenth of a furlong (22 yards) wide. A standard open field was 10 acres in area.

The plough was turned on the outside of individual strips to raise the level for drainage and to delineate it from neighbouring strips. Families rented from the lord of the manor a strip or more in each field, rent being paid in labour or in kind, and later in cash. A traditional crop rotation was peas or beans one year, the next year wheat, barley, rye or oats, the third year the field was fallow ie. left to rest with grazing animals manuring the land.
Each family also shared the common meadow, the waste and the woodland and probably had a small croft (vegetable garden) by their cottage to grow crops for themselves.

Because of the large amount of forest around Birmingham there were fewer open fields than in the south of Warwickshire, for instance. However, open fields were to be found around all the old village centres, Acocks Green, Aston, Castle Bromwich, Erdington, Greet, Ward End, Witton, Yardley, for example. Some survived into the second half of the 19th century. Many open fields were near village centres and were soon built over when the villages began to develop in Victorian times.

The evidence on the ground of open fields is ridge and furrow, a surface feature only which leaves no trace after development and cannot be distinguished archaeologically. However, some examples of ridge and furrow are to be found in Birmingham parks where the land has been little disturbed. It is not always easy to estimate the age of ridge and furrow: broader ridges may be medieval, narrower ridges may be later. Furthermore, ridge and furrow at right-angles to rivers may not be evidence of medieval open fields but dug for drainage.

Medieval ridge and furrow can be seen in Old Yardley Park behind St Edburgha's Church and close to Rents Moat.

overlord See Glossary G-M lord of the manor.




A stone used underneath the wooden uprights of a timber-framed building to prevent the timber from sinking and rotting in the soil.

paper making
Paper making boomed during the 18th century as popular literacy began to increase and there was increasing demand for books, newspapers and pamphlets. The process needed large amounts of water for washing the raw material and as part of the manufacturing process and early mills were built near streams or converted from existing water mills. Simple filters were used to clear water-borne debris such leaves and silt. Water was also later used to power mechanical production processes.

The paper industry in the 17th and 18th centuries used old rags of linen or cotton as its source fibre. These were bought from rag merchants, sorted at the mill and cut into pieces about 10 cm square. The material was then boiled with wood ash to break down the fats and cellulose. After washing, stamping hammers were used for several hours to separate the fibres. A wire mesh screen was then dipped into the stone tank containing the resulting suspension of 0.5% fibre to 99.5% water. As the water drained through the mesh, the fibres formed a single sheet of wet paper. Several wet sheets were sandwiched between woollen felt and pressed to squeeze out most of the water so that the paper was dry enough to handle. The sheets were hung in a drying loft and finally packed into reams (480 sheets), wrapped and dispatched.

Paper making was a risky venture and not always very profitable. Skilled personnel were required who, in smaller mills, would have to double up to carry out the menial work. The owner himself was also likely to be at work in the mill. Business failures were frequent due to lack of skills (an employee might leave), low rainfall (insufficient water for the processes), increase in the price of raw materials, etc.

From about 1800 a continuous process was invented and paper making was increasingly concentrated in large purpose-built factories. Most of the smaller businesses went out of production and, as a result most water mills were not paper mills for long. A centre of paper manufacture in Birmingham was at Paper Mill End in Handsworth.

A term used from Roman Christian times by Christians to refer to non-Christians and non-Jews; the term heathen is also used. The Celts in Britain were Christian long before the invasion of the pagan Anglo-Saxons who were worshippers of the pantheon of Teutonic gods. A few of these Anglo-Saxon deities are remembered in placenames which may indicate late survivals of paganism: Wednesbury includes the name of Woden, chief of the Anglo-Saxon gods; Tyseley may mean Tiw's clearing - Tiw was an Anglo-Saxon war god; and Weoley may mean heathen temple clearing. Pagan burials have been excavated at Baginton near Coventry dating from c500.

In 653 Christianity came to the Midlands when Paeda son of King Penda (r.632-654) married the Christian daughter of King Oswiu (Oswy) of Northumbria. Saint Augustine who landed in Kent 597 to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity was told by Pope Gregory not to destroy pagan holy places but to build Christian churches on them. There is no known evidence that this happened anywhere in the Birmingham area and perhaps it is unlikely in that the Anglo-Saxons may have arrived here after conversion to Christianity. However, it is possible that some of our ancient parish churches are built on pagan sites; a case has been conjectured, for instance, for Castle Bromwich which stands on a prominent hill above the Tame ford on a well-used and ancient route.

palaeolithic The Old Stone Age; before c10 000 BC.

A type of axe shaped to fit into a split handle into which it would be bound with leather strips, rather than being perforated with a socket in the axe for the handle to fit into. The Handsworth palstave is among the first recorded references to prehistoric implements in Britain and is noted in Robert Plot's Natural History of Staffordshire 1686.

The right of grazing of pigs on common land, especially for acorns and beech mast.

This word, a derivative of paddock, originally referred to an enclosed piece of land, and later to land enclosed during the Middle Ages in which to keep deer for hunting. Deer parks had existed in Anglo-Saxon times but were really made viable by the introduction from Sicily c1100 of fallow deer which were more manageable than native red deer. Parks became popular after the Norman Conquest and by 1300 there were over 3000 deer parks in England, especially in wooded areas such as the Forest of Arden.

Creating a park required a costly royal licence and involved enormous labour digging ditches and building banks topped with palings. Evidence of such banks remains in Sutton Park. Rotton Park belonged to the manor of Birmingham; it had fallen into decay by the 16th century and was disparked before 1553. By the end of the Middle Ages deer parks declined but were briefly revived under Henry VIII.

Ornamental parks around country houses were created in the 18th century by landscape gardeners such as Capability Brown sometimes with deer, or cattle or sheep which were less destructive to plants than deer, but kept the grass cut short. The grounds of the new Moseley Hall were landscaped in this style by Humphrey Repton c1796.

From the middle of the 19th-century public parks were opened in or close to urban areas. Adderley Park was laid out in Saltley, well beyond the town by Lord Norton 1855 at his own expense. They were planted with trees and had formal gardens. There was often a bandstand as at Cannon Hill Park and a park-keeper's house as at Calthorpe Park.

From the 20th century the word was used of a (professional) football pitch. Locally it is used to mean a children's playground with slides and swings etc.


parochial permabulation

A perambulation was the act of walking the bounds of a parish to reaffirm its extent. The practice certainly dates from Anglo-Saxon times and its origins may be found in Roman Christianity; perambulations continued to be widespread into the 19th century and are still carried out in some parishes.


There were two purposes of the perambulation. The one, in an age when few people could read and there were few maps, was to ensure that all parishioners knew under what legal jurisdiction they were, the parish being the unit of administration. The relevant jurisdiction was that of the ecclesiastical courts. Knowledge of the limits of the parish was handed down so that matters such as liability to contribute to the repair of the church, and the right to be buried in the churchyard were not disputed. Checking the boundaries was also a way of preventing encroachment by neighbours; sometimes boundary markers would be moved, or lines obscured, and a memory of the extent of the parish was necessary to maintain integrity of borders by embedding knowledge in oral traditions.


The second purpose, at a time when involvement in agriculture was the norm for most people, was as part of a religious ceremony during which the priest blessed the land. Perambulations traditionally took place on one of the three Rogation Days before Ascension Day, the name Rogations deriving from the Latin rogare meaning ‘to ask’ which refers to the previous Sunday’s reading from the Gospel of St John, “Ask and you will receive.” Ascension Day falls 40 days after Easter and is an important time on the farm at the end of spring/ beginning of summer. 


Before the Reformation perambulations were conducted with great ceremony involving the whole community. The lord of the manor, the priest and servers with crosses, banners and bells followed by most of the parishioners walked in procession round the parish. They would stop at certain notable features on the boundary where the Gospel was read, prayers were said and the land was blessed. Gospel oaks around the country derive their name from the practice. The perambulation must have taken some time even for people used to walking: the perimeter of Yardley parish measures some 20 miles and there would have been only tracks to follow around the limits. In some places the custom degenerated into feasting and drinking and was an excuse for riotous behaviour.


After the Reformation elaborate ceremonies were abolished. However, the perambulation performed a useful function and was continued in a lesser form. The parish priest and church officials with a group of old and young members of the community would walk the boundaries of the parish, usually led, to share the knowledge of where they lay, and to pray for protection and blessings for the lands. The boys would be armed with green sticks of birch or willow with which to beat the boundary markers. Sometimes the boys themselves were whipped or bumped on the boundary-stones to make them remember. The object of taking youngsters along was to ensure that witnesses to the boundaries should survive as long as possible.


Written records of the boundaries of Yardley have been recorded since 972. An interesting example is that of 1495 when, for reasons unknown (perhaps a dispute with a neighbouring parish), a royal commission was set up. Two commissioners, Sir John Hurkston and Thomas Nevell Esq, were to verify the bounds of Yardley and perambulated the parish boundary on two successive Rogation days with twelve men of Yardley and the same number from each of the five bordering manors along the boundary. The sworn men took their oaths upon the correctness of their bounds without disagreement.


Extract of the 1495 Presentment of Yardley:

The Presentmt of xjj [12] men of Yardley xjj men of Norton xjj of Aston xjj men of Solihull xjj men of Bicknell xjj of Sheldon sworne for the veiwe of Yardley

Theise bee the true Bounds of the parishe of Yardley veiwed the xth day of May in the xth yeare of Kinge Henry the Seaventh by all the pishioners about it upon their oathes,

That is to say first betweene Yardley and Aston their wear appoynted for Aston John Arden John Brandwood Robert Massey William Holt gent, Thomas Knight Symond Vair John Able John Swyfte William Meor Thomas Brook with many other ffor Yardley Henry Est gent. Richard Smalbrook William Jefferey John Higgins William Greene John Dolphine Thomas Chethilly Thomas Lowle Richard Stoacks John Watton William ffavell Thomas Shilton Thomas ffarr Thomas Bromwty (?) Richard Acocke with other of Yardley,

Item they veiwed and concluded that the water of Cowle [River Cole] parted the said Lordshipps untill it come to the Poole taile of Hayemill And from there upp to Sparkbrook untill it come to Sparke greene and to Lowe lane upon their oathes

. . .

Item thear meetinge with them the honest and sworn men of Solihull, that is to say John Greswould Esquier John Buttler John Harwell gent. Richard Poll Thomas Parr Banden (?) Pretty John Walker Thomas Loe (?) John ffulford William Hawe Richard Shawe John Shawe with many other of Solihull And when these parishioners wear thear mett they did loveingly condescend and agree. That the said three Lordshipps should bee from that time forward entercommoners one with another as of ould custome their elders wear. That is to saye one should not Staffedrive nor in a mastyear and should not pick upp mast [ie. fallen nuts for animals to graze] in the others woods, But only with their swine and cattell to bee first commoners one with another quietly forever,

Then Norton men went their way And Yardley men and Solihull men went there veiw betweene their Lordshipps Soe they veiwed down a Gullett from the said Crosse between Solihull woods and Yardley Woods to a Laund and soe downe the midst of the Laund to Bach Mill . . .

. . .

The Kinges Comissioners wear Sr. John Hurkston Knight and Thomas Nevell Esq. to inquir the verie true meares and Bounds of the parisse of Yardley.

Some manorial tenants had rights of piscary, the right to fish certain waters in the manor.

A field - a number of street names in later 20th-century housing developments were chosen to preserve fieldnames eg. Brook Piece Walk on Castle Vale.

pinfold or pound
From medieval times every community had a pen for stray farm animals. This often disappeared after the open land was enclosed. Hockley pound, its location uncertain, was abandoned by 1805 after Birmingham Heath was enclosed in 1798. Some pounds, however, survived until Victorian times. A fine had to be paid to recover the lost animals which were held in the pound.

Aston pinfold was at Aston Cross, at the south-east corner of the junction of Park Lane, Rocky Lane and Aston Road North.

In pre-Reformation and Roman Catholic churches a piscina is a stone basin built into the wall of the chancel usually on the south side of the altar to dispose of the water used to clean the vessels used during the Mass.

A 14th-century piscina survives at St Mary's Church in Handsworth. During 19th-century restorations great efforts were made to find and reinstall medieval church objects such as this.

pollard See Glossary A-F coppicing.




In 1784 William Murdock made a working model of a self-propelled steam engine, the first in the world; it is now in Birmingham Museum. However, he was not encouraged to develop it by his employer Matthew Boulton. The first full-size steam railway locomotive was built and run by Richard Trevithick in Cornwall 1804. Short railways using horses, stationary steam engines and later, steam locomotives were used industrially especially at coal mines. But the first line to carry passengers, albeit secondary to coal, was the Stockton-Darlington Railway in 1825 which operated using a mixture of horses, stationary engines and Robert Stephenson's 'Locomotion.'

The first line to use only self-propelled steam locomotives and built chiefly for passenger traffic, was the Manchester-Liverpool line 1830 running Stephenson's famous Rocket. This was a great financial success and provoked a rush of applications to Parliament for similar projects around the country. The Grand Junction Railway (Liverpool-Birmingham) was proposed immediately after the opening of the Stockton-Darlington line but due to opposition from the canal lobby the bill was not passed until 1833 and the line not opened until 1837. This London & Birmingham Railway was also authorised by parliament in 1833 and engineered by George and Robert Stephenson. It took 20 000 men five years to build and includes 18 tunnels.

During the railway-mania of the 1830s and -40s a great many individual lines were built and by 1850 the bulk of the mainline network of England had been laid. Company amalgamations allowed more efficient through-services; the earliest important one resulting in the Midland Railway in 1844 which included the Birmingham-Derby and Birmingham-Gloucester railways. The Grand Junction (Liverpool-Birmingham) and London-Birmingham railways amalgamated 1846 to form the LNWR London & North-Western Railway.

Early lines were long-distance and intended primarily for freight, but as the 19th century progressed commuter stations and later commuter lines were built which encouraged housing and industrial development nearby.

Because of the speed of rail travel the effect on the turnpikes and the canal trade was disastrous. Turnpikes lost trade very quickly after the opening of competing rail routes and were often unable to meet their costs. Nationally, long-distance canal traffic diminished just as rapidly. However, in Birmingham successful arrangements between the Midland Railway and the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, and especially between the Birmingham Canal Navigations BCN and the LNWR brought goods locally by canal to canal-rail interchanges for longer-distance transportation.

Although many goods yards, sidings and factory branches have gone, Birmingham's extensive 19th-century railway system remains largely intact. Only the Harborne line and Halesowen branch no longer exist; the rest of the system is still very much in use. All track and signalling has been renewed over the years, local signal boxes have disappeared due to centralisation and almost all station buildings have been replaced or altered, but most of the original fabric, cuttings, embankments, viaducts and bridges, remains with little alteration.


Chronological list of Birmingham's railways

1837 The Grand Junction Railway
1838 London & Birmingham Railway
1842 Birmingham & Derby Railway
1840 Birmingham & Gloucester Railway
1852 Birmingham, Wolverhampton & Stour Valley Railway
1852 Birmingham & Oxford Railway
1854 Birmingham, Wolverhampton & Dudley Railway
1862 Sutton Coldfield Branch Line
1874 Harborne Railway
1876 Birmingham West Suburban Railway
1879 Wolverhampton & Walsall Railway to Water Orton
1882 Aston-Stechford Loop
1883 Halesowen Railway
1888 Perry Barr-Soho Loop
1907 North Warwickshire Line

A parish priest who was formerly entitled to the tithes. A vicar was originally a priest deputising for the rector and therefore not entitled to the tithes. Later a parish priest was known as a vicar if the tithes belonged to a rector or if he acted as the representative of a religious community to whom the tithes were paid, or if this was formerly the case. In general, older parishes, especially former rural ones, have rectors; later parishes especially urban ones have vicars.

The ancient church of Yardley has a rector, while St Clements Castle Bromwich which was built in the second half of the 20th century with a parish taken from that of St Mary & St Margaret's, has a vicar. Their residences are known respectively as a rectory and a vicarage.

ridge and furrow See open fields above.

Roman roads
From 43 AD when the Emperor Claudius made Britain part of the Roman Empire, the Roman army quickly conquered most of Britain. Roads were soon built to provide quick access to all parts of the country. A road was built westwards from London to Exeter and another northwards to Lincoln. By c48 AD a road had been built across the Midlands to a legionary base at Wroxeter. Along the roads wooden supply forts were built including that at Metchley. As the army moved forward from London, roads were built like a spider's web to join the Exeter road and Lincoln roads with Watling Street. The Fosse Way which linked Exeter and Lincoln is one such. Roads in the Birmingham area were part of the network of secondary roads, and either built with respect to the fort at Metchley or just passing through.

The road from Alcester A road, which left the Fosse Way at Bourton-on-the-Water, passed via Alcester and on towards Metchley fort. Known elsewhere as Ryknield Street, in Birmingham it is usually called Icknield Street. (The Hockley street of that name is a misnomer being incorrectly believed in the 18th century to be the course of the Roman road.) From Alcester its route heads towards Birmingham via Walkers Heath to follow Lifford Lane across the River Rea. Through Stirchley its route from Breedon Cross to Bournville Lane is that of the Pershore Road. However, the line of the road thereafter is not known: perhaps through Selly Park Recreation Ground near Metchley fort. Forts were usually near rather than on Roman roads.

The road to Wall Another road linked Metchley with the Roman fort at Wall near Lichfield. The road continued to Littlechester near Doncaster and to the North-East. In the past this road has been thought of as a continuation of Icknield Street and is known as such where it is visible in Sutton Park. It is, however, more likely to be a continuation of the road from Droitwich (see below). Its route through central Birmingham is unknown, but it leaves the area of Metchley fort heading towards Perry Barr, probably along Stoneleigh Road and Wellhead Lane. It certainly crossed the River Tame at Holford. The route follows Kingstanding Road through Old Oscott, along Westwood Road and into Sutton Park where it can still be seen. When Sutton Park became a deer park in the 12th century this section was no longer used; Sutton's continued use as a public park has ensured the road's preservation. The road leaves Sutton Park at Roman Road and heads north into countryside at Forge Lane, Little Aston.

The road from Droitwich An important road linked Metchley fort with the Roman camp at Dodderhill near Droitwich and ultimately with the Roman Bristol Channel port at Sea Mills, via Worcester and Gloucester. It later became known as the Upper Saltway because it was used to bring salt from Droitwich during the Middle Ages and later, although it probably performed the same function even before Roman times. This road goes on to Wall. Where it joined the road from Alcester is not known, though it may have been at Selly Park. Archaeologists have found traces of the road where it crosses the Lickey Hills at the Rose Hill Gap. Its route is thought to run parallel to the Bristol Road South through Rednal and Longbridge.

roving bridge
A roving bridge, also known as a turnover bridge or accommodation bridge, takes a canal towpath across the canal itself or over a branch canal. The bricked surface of the pathway over the bridge was usually ridged to give the towing horses a better grip on the steep incline. These were often small round-arched brick bridges as at the rear of the International Convention Centre over the remains of the Birmingham Brewery wharf of 1815.

There remain many fine cast-iron bridges, for example, Barker Bridge at Lower Loveday Street in the City Centre built by Horsley ironworks in 1842. At Old Turning Junction near the National Indoor Arena where four canals meet, a number of roving bridges give towpath access from all canal arms to all others.




Scheduled Ancient Monuments See Glossary G-M Listed Buildings.
shires See Glossary G-M local government.
Sites & Monuments Record SMR See Glossary A-F Birmingham Sites & Monuments Record BSMR.
slitting mill See Glossary G-M iron making.
Street Commissioners, Board of See Glossary G-M local government.

soil, rights of
Some manorial tenants had rights of common in the soil ie. they were entitled to dig for sand, stone, gravel etc on common land and wastes.

squatters' rights
From medieval times in the Forest of Arden there was a customary squatter's right: anyone had the right to set up home on common land if they could put up a house overnight and have smoke rising by sunrise. Traditionally they were allowed to enclose as much land as far as they could throw an axe. The squatter would still, however, owe labour service to the lord of the manor.



William Dargue 08.04.09