William Dargue A History of BIRMINGHAM Places & Placenames from A to Y
Flaxley/ The Flaxleys
B33 - Grid reference SP134876
Flaxleye: first record 1327
This placename near Stechford in the ancient parish of Yardley means 'flax clearing', from the Old English flax leahe.
Flax is more readily grown on lighter land of glacial drift; it does not do well on clay. It is annual crop which was planted in early spring. Growing to about a metre in height, it has distinctive pale blue flowers in early summer and was harvested in July by being pulled up by the roots, before being either beaten, a very dusty process, or laid in shallow water to rot away the fleshy parts the plant in a process known as retting. The remaining fibres were cleaned and separated by beating, known as scutching, and then hung to dry. These could then be spun and woven into linen.
The 13th-century monk, Bartholomaeus Anglicus described the plant in his encyclopaedic 19-volume De Proprietatibus Rerum of 1240.
Flax groweth in even stalks, and bears yellow flowers or blue, and after cometh hops, and therein is the seed, and when the hop beginneth to wax, then the flax is drawn up and gathered all whole, and is then lined, and afterward made to knots and little bundles, and so laid in water, and lieth there long time.
And then it is taken out of the water, and laid abroad till it be dried, and twined and wend in the sun, and then bound in pretty niches and bundles. And afterward knocked, beaten, and
brayed, and carfled, rodded and gnodded, ribbed and heckled, and at the last spun. Then the thread is sod and bleached, and bucked, and oft laid to drying, wetted and washed, and sprinkled with
water until that it be white, after divers working and travail.
Flax is needful to divers uses. For thereof is made clothing to wear, and sails to sail, and nets to fish and to hunt, and thread to sew, ropes to bind, and strings to shoot, bonds to bind, lines to mete and to measure, and sheets to rest in, and sacks, bags, and purses, to put and to keep things in. And so none herb is so needful, to so many divers uses to mankind, as is the flax.
Bartholomew the Englishman De Proprietatibus Rerum Book 17 translated into English 1495 as On the Properties of Things. Note: modern English spelling used here.
Not only did the fibre of the plant provide the world's earliest clothing fabric and the wide variety of uses listed by Bartholomaeus, but the seeds were also used in cooking and medicine and to produce linseed oil, which itself had many different uses.
The playing fields to the rear of Rudyngfield Drive are a vestige of land that has never been built on, perhaps those ancient flax fields. A farm here is first documented in 1218 and William Flaxleye is listed as a tax payer in the Subsidy Rolls of 1327; William would have taken his surname from the place he lived.
The 1847 enclosure map of Yardley shows three fields here marked as The Flaxleys, which lay between the River Cole and Flaxley Road. A farm known as The Flaxleys stood at the junction of Flaxley Road and Audley Road where the shops are now. This is shown as Fir Tree Farm on the 1887 Ordnance Survey map, as The Flaxleys in 1921.
Although most of this area was developed for private housing before the Second World War, the farmhouse of Flaxley/ Fir Tree Farm still stands at the corner of Flaxley and Old Farm Road (west end near the shops). It has altered and has been divided into two 4-bedroom homes since the 1960s, comprising No.143 Flaxley Rd and No.2 Old Farm Road.
The Flaxley Road half is now a church manse for Stechford Baptist Church. Across the road on Old Farm Road the remains of foundations for farm buildings still survive in back gardens. This information gratefully received from George King, pastor of Stechford Baptist Church.
See also Stechford.
William Dargue 14.12.2008/ 31.07.2012
For 19th-century Ordnance Survey maps of Birmingham go to British History Online.
Map below reproduced from Andrew Rowbottom’s website of Old Ordnance Survey maps Popular Edition, Birmingham 1921. Click the map to link to that website.