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

Gravelley Hill

B24 - Grid reference SP103910

This is a self-explanatory topographical name which explains the reason for this part of the route of the ancient road to Lichfield. Gravelly glacial drift made for easier travel than the claylands which are common across much of east Birmingham. The River Tame ford on the Lichfield Road at Salford Bridge also took advantage of the glacial drift and made for a good crossing away from the muddy swamps that filled the valleys of Birmingham's rivers and streams.

Gravel was extracted here commercially. The 1889 Ordnance Survey map shows a gravel pits at the junction of Slade Road and Hillaries Road, at the top end of Powick Road and on the north side of Salford Reservoir.

On his visit to Birmingham in 1538 John Leland described the soil conditions here:


From Sharford to Southeton [Sutton] is a 4. miles by sandy grownde, betar wooyd than fertile of whete. For the common corne there is some rye, barley, and ots [oats].

This name is likely to be medieval or older and probably referred to this section of the Lichfield road rather than to the hill in general. It now refers to an area north of Salford Bridge and was used of the developing urban district from 1862 after the opening of Gravelly Hill Station on the new Sutton Coldfield Branch Line. A good number of handsome Victorian houses still stand along Gravelly Hill and adjoining roads. Although many of the larger ones have been replaced by smaller modern houses in recent years, the Victorian garden walls along the street often remain.



Birmingham's only caves were to be found in the sandstone cliffs at the foot of Copeley Hill which rises west of Slade Road. The cliffs were made by the action of the River Tame wearing its way through the soft sandstone of Birmingham ridge. Known as the Dwarf Holes from at least 1490, these natural caves had been artificially enlarged for purposes now unknown. They were subsequently lost until they were rediscovered during sewerage work in 1900 when they were blocked up for safety. During the Second World War the caves were reopened for use as air-raid shelters. However, they no longer exist having been destroyed during the building of Spaghetti Junction on the M6 motorway in 1973.


See Dwarfholes and also Salford and Spaghetti Junction.



Click to enlarge the images below.


William Dargue 05.03.2009/ 02.08.2010


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For 19th-century Ordnance Survey maps of Birmingham go to British History Online.

See http://www.british-history.ac.uk/mapsheet.aspx?compid=55193&sheetid=10085&zm=2&x=406&y=39&ox=3123&oy=300


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.