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


formerly in Staffordshire - one of the Domesday manors of Birmingham

Harborne Town, Harborne Heath, Harborne Hill

B17 - Grid reference SP030844

Horeborne: first record in the Domesday Book 1086

Harborne manor was one of scattered arable farms in the Middle Ages with a small village centre around the church and manor house. Even into the 19th century this was known as Harborne Town, the latter element with its medieval meaning of a small nucleated village centre. Rural Harborne was long famous for growing gooseberries; the Gooseberry Growers' Society annual dinner was held at the Green Man throughout the 19th century up to the 1920s.

The district was also known for its healthy location:  

Harborne being situated upon very high ground, and the soil light, renders the air very salubrious; instances of longevity being very numerous, particularly one couple, James Sands and his wife, one of whom . . . lived to the age of 140, and the other to 120.

Charles Pye 1818 A Description of Modern Birmingham

The Topographical Dictionary of England of 1848 echoed the sentiment:  

This place, which, from its proximity to Birmingham and the salubrity of the air, is the occasional resort of invalids from that town.


Harborne was an Anglian settlement formerly in an arm of Staffordshire which projected westwards between Warwickshire and Worcestershire. It is located on a spur of land between the Chad Brook and Bourn Brook, its inhabitants farming the lighter soils of the Birmingham sandstone ridge.


Harborne Brook runs down from Welsh House Farm across the golf course to join the Bournbrook, the 'boundary brook' which separates it from Worcestershire. The manor is listed in the Domesday Book with Smethwick and Tipton as part of the manor of Lichfield, a holding of the Bishop of Chester.


Left: The entry for Harborne in the Domesday Book is highlighted here as one of the manors of Lichfield belonging to the Bishop of Chester. Image from the Open Domesday website.


Bourn Brook at Bottetort Road photographed by Phyllis Nicklin in 1962 via Keith Berry. (Note the photographer's shadow.)
Bourn Brook at Bottetort Road photographed by Phyllis Nicklin in 1962 via Keith Berry. (Note the photographer's shadow.)

Its name apparently originates from Old English horu burna meaning 'dirty stream'. However, there are problems in this translation. A burna was generally understood to be a 'clear stream', thus Harborne is by the 'dirty clear stream'? The first element in the name may, however, derive from the word har which originally meant 'grey' or 'grey with age', 'hoary'. It came to refer to boundary marks, especially stones (See Warstock and Warstone.) and this may be its meaning here with reference to the Bournbrook.

The ancient parish was an unusual shape akin to a figure of 8. The northern half above the Hagley Road included Smethwick and became a civil parish in its own right in 1894. When Harborne south of the Hagley Road amalgamated with Birmingham in 1891 the Smethwick half remained outside the City to become a separate county borough in 1906.

The importance of Birmingham's ancient villages was recognised in 1969 when Harborne was designated in the City's second batch of conservation areas along with Kings Norton, Northfield and Yardley.


By the end of the 18th century housing had spread away from the old village centre around the St Peter's Church and along Harborne High Street. Even so, in 1834 Harborne was still only a small string of houses at the western end of the High Street, with isolated hamlets at Camomile Green and Harts Green.

The population of Harborne increased steadily in the early 19th century but much more slowly than other suburban areas outside Birmingham's town boundary. From a thousand residents in 1800, the population rose to some 1500 by the middle of the century.


By 1850 lower-middle-class houses had been built in South Street, Bull Street and York Street, with many of the occupants working in central Birmingham. But with the opening of the Harborne Railway from Birmingham in 1874 the village expanded considerably especially north of the High Street. At this time the name was frequently spelt as Harbourn.

The district was described in 1888:


The parish itself has changed but very slowly, considering its close proximity to busy, bustling Birmingham. This apparent stagnation, however, has endeared it to us Brums not a little, on account of the many pleasant glades and sunny spots in and around it. Harborne gardeners have long been famous for growing gooseberries, the annual dinner of the Gooseberry Growers' Society having been held at the Green Man ever since 1815.


But Harborne has plucked up heart latterly, and will not much longer be "out of the running." With its little area of 1,412 acres, and only a population of 6,600, it has built itself an Institute (a miniature model of the Midland), with class rooms and reading rooms, with library and with lecture halls, to seat a thousand, at a cost of £6,500, and got Henry Irving to lay the foundation-stone, in 1879. A Masonic Hall followed in 1880, and a Fire Brigade Station soon after. It has also a local railway as well as a newspaper.         


Showell's Dictionary of Birmingham


Harborne Library - image by Elliot Brown on Flickr used under Creative Commons licence Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Harborne Library - image by Elliot Brown on Flickr used under Creative Commons licence Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)


At the beginning of the 20th century, this was still a rural village surrounded by farmland and separated from Edgbaston and Birmingham by the Chad Valley and Metchley Park. By this time the focus of the village had clearly shifted to the High Street where St John's Church was built in 1858, Harborne Methodist Church in 1868 in nearby South Street, St Mary's Roman Catholic Church in 1877 and Harborne Baptist Church c1905.


In 1889 Birmingham was granted city status. And in 1891 Harborne, Balsall Heath, Saltley, and Ward End, districts which already were effectively suburbs of the city, voted to amalgamate with the city.


The Masonic Hall of 1870 was converted into Harborne Library by Birmingham Corporation in 1892 which underwent a major refurbishment in 2006. Land was bought to build a swimming baths at Harborne in 1911, but it was not until 1923 that the baths were opened.

The Clock Tower, formerly Harborne Heath Board School
The Clock Tower, formerly Harborne Heath Board School


By 1900 the population had grown to 10,000. Wider housing development in the area began in earnest before the Second World War and was continued after the War. However, there are still large parts of the district which remain green, notably golf courses. Harborne High Street has developed as the social and shopping focus and the district has maintained itself as one of the city's most desirable suburbs.

On and around the High Street were Harborne's schools, including Harborne Heath Road Board School built in 1881 for the Harborne School Board and designed by Martin & Chamberlain in a typically Birmingham gothic style in red brick and terracotta. Its clock was made just a few doors away at the shop of William Gardner.


The building was closed as a school in the mid-1970s  to reopen as the Clock Tower, an adult education centre. It is currently under commercial retail development.


St Peter's Church
St Peter's Church

Worth a visit - St Peter's Church.

The foundation of St Peter's is probably Anglo-Saxon. It may well have been a minster church at the centre of a large land unit which included Smethwick, Handsworth, West Bromwich and the Barrs, and possibly also the large parish of Aston which stretched from Birmingham as far as Water Orton.

The lower part of the tower is the earliest surviving part of the building and dates from the 14th century. The rest of the church was rebuilt in brick with neo-classical round-headed windows in 1827 when it was praised as 'neat and commodious.'


Both nave and chancel were filled with box pews facing the pulpit, which was half-way down the south aisle, and there were galleries around three sides, a typical arrangement of the time. Fashions changed and Yeoville Thomason, who had built St John the Baptist in early English style on the High Street in 1858, was chosen to rebuild St Peter's again, this time in gothic style.

In 1867 the neo-classical brick church was transformed into a stone building in 14th-century style. As the medieval tradition was interpreted, the chancel floor was raised, the pulpit was placed north-east of the chancel arch and benches replaced the box pews. The galleries, a very ungothic device, were nonetheless retained to accommodate the expanding congregation. Shortly afterwards Thomason won the competition to design Birmingham Council House in a far from gothic style.

The present eight bells were brought here in 1962 from the Bishop Ryder Memorial Church in Gem Street (now the Aston University site) which was then being demolished. They had been cast by William Blews & Sons in 1869, the first ring of eight ever cast in the town, and recast to their present fine tuning by Taylor's of Loughborough in 1923. The original 1691 tenor bell has been retained as a chiming bell for services.


 Harborne School 


Take a look. The church school was originally founded as Harborne Endowed School sometime before 1757. In 1822 forty children were being taught here free by the schoolmaster who lived on the site; his wife taught the girls sewing and knitting. The school was rebuilt in 1837 on the present site and parts of it including the former Master's House are now Grade II Listed buildings.


Harborne House on Harborne Park Road, at one time the manor house, is a three-storey brick building built in 18th century neo-classical style for the ironmaster, Thomas Green. Standing east of the Harborne church on the other side of Old Church Road, the house built in brick with stone dressings has a central three-storeyed block flanked by pedimented side wings. The wings were altered in the early 20th century and many internal fittings have been replaced, though in keeping with the style of the house.


In 1911, following creation of the Diocese of Birmingham six years earlier, it became Bishops Croft, residence of the bishops of Birmingham. A chapel was built south-west of the house in 1923.


Harborne Hall 2005. © Copyright Aileen&Fearghal - All Rights reserved. Photograph used on this website with kind permission of Aileen & Fearghal on Flickr
Harborne Hall 2005. © Copyright Aileen&Fearghal - All Rights reserved. Photograph used on this website with kind permission of Aileen & Fearghal on Flickr


Take a look at Harborne Hall on Old Church Road which was built in the second half of the 18th century probably on the site of original medieval manor house. Thomas 'Squire' Green JP was lord of the manor of Harborne. His residence was Harborne House, now known as Bishop's Croft or Bishop's House. It was he who built Harborne Hall for his daughter Elizabeth where she lived with her husband, brassfounder George Simcox JP. After her death in 1795, Simcox remarried and continued to live at the hall. His son inherited the manor from Thomas Green's son who died without issue.

The Simcox family lived at the Hall for three generations until 1850 after which it was occupied by a succession of Birmingham businessmen and notables. Among these were Edward Dinwoody Wilmot who had interests in jewellery manufacture, Charles Hart who became captain of the 1st Volunteer Regiment in 1901 and his brother Dr. George Hart, a surgeon at the Birmingham General Hospital, Walter Chamberlain, youngest brother of Joseph, who was involved in a number of businesses including the family firm of Nettlefold & Chamberlain and W & T Avery, and Edward Nettlefold JP. Harborne Hall was used as a military hospital during World War 1 and known as the Avery Hospital as it was funded by donations by Avery employees.

After the war until 1924 the Hall was a boys' preparatory school and allegedly the best-equipped in the Midlands. In 1925 it was bought by the Sisters of La Retraite of the Sacred Heart, a French Roman Catholic order, for use as a convent. However, they subsequently left the hall which became multi-faith centre. Since 1993 it has been a training centre for the VSO, Voluntary Service Overseas.



Descent of the manor


In 1086 the Bishop of Chester was listed in the Domesday Book as tenant-in-chief holding Harborne & Smethwick as a member of the manor of Lichfield:

The Bishop [of Chester] also holds Lichfield. These members belong to this manor . . . Harborne, land for 1 ploughteam, Robert holds it; Smethwick, land for 2 ploughteams; Tipton, land for 5 ploughteams, William holds it. In the demesne are 7 ploughs and 60 villeins, and 22 bordars with 25 ploughs. There are 52 acres of meadow and a mill.

With the dissolution of the monasteries the overlordship of Harborne was granted to Sir William Paget (ie. as tenant-in-chief) as part of the manor of Longdon, Staffordshire which had been granted to him in 1546 by Henry VIII. When Paget was attainted in 1587, Harborne reverted to the Crown and was held by Queen Elizabeth I with Longdon. Although no further records are known, the overlordship is assumed to have subsequently reverted with Longdon to the Pagets.

In 1086 Harborne was held of Bishop of Chester by Robert as lord of the manor. It is not known what relationship, if any there was between the latter and Henry FitzGerold who in 1166 held Harborne and Smethwick, manors which descended together until 1710. There followed a lengthy legal dispute between his son, Warin, and Thomas de Erdington over their rival claims to the estate. However, Warin's daughter, Margaret was known to be lord until sometime before 1227 when she granted the manor to Halesowen Abbey.

In 1538 with Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries the manor was granted with that of Halesowen to Sir John Dudley, later the Duke of Northumberland. He was attainted in 1553 and the manor was then granted to his nephew Edward, Lord Dudley whose son sold it to Sir Charles Cornwallis of Harborne in 1604. His grandson, also Charles, sold it in 1661 to Thomas Foley who sold it on c1710 to George Birch. His grandson, also George, sold the manor after 1786 to Thomas Green, the wealthy nail-master and local Justice of the Peace who built the manor house, Harborne House mentioned above. His nephew, Thomas Green Simcox passed the manor to his son, the Revd T G Simcox who was lord in 1871 and was resident in the manor house. In 1908 the Marquess of Anglesey was lord of the manor.


The Grove photographed in 1962 by Phyllis Nicklin
The Grove photographed in 1962 by Phyllis Nicklin

Harborne has been home to a number of Birmingham notables, none more so than the celebrated artist, David Cox 1783-1859 who lived at Greenfield House from 1814 until his death. A major water-colourist and president of the Associated Artists in Water Colour, his work can be seen in Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. Cox, whose grave is in the churchyard, is commemorated in the church's east window.

The Grove was the home of social reformer and Birmingham's first Member of Parliament, Thomas Attwood. The Georgian stucco house was remodelled for William Kenrick in 1877 by Martin & Chamberlain in Arts & Crafts style. Kenrick presented both house and grounds to the City in the 1930s as Grove Park.


The house was demolished in 1963 although its Italianate gothic ante-chamber was preserved for re-erection at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The lodge still stands at the park entrance.



Queens Park was laid out in 1898 in celebration of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee the previous year, after which Turks Lane was renamed Queens Park Road. The 10 acre plot was bought by the Harborne Charity Fete Committee and presented to the City Council.


The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 was marked by the opening of a garden for blind people. This park was chosen because of its proximity to the Birmingham Royal Institution for the Blind college for blind and visually impaired children and adults on Court Oak Road; the college was renamed the Queen Alexandra Technical College for the Blind in 1958. The site of the garden was the grass terrace of Court Oak House adjacent to the park and owned by the City Council. The garden had raised banks so that people could enjoy the scents of flowers, plants and aromatic shrubs without stooping; a raised pool with a fountain so that people could hear the splashing water; nesting boxes to encourage birds; paths with different textures to give guidance to users; plant labels in Braille, and a metal embossed plan showing the layout of the garden. In 1977 to mark the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II the garden was restored.



Court Oak House was the residence of Tividale ironmaster Benjamin Round from before 1880. Shortly after his death, the house and its grounds were bought by the city and added to the park in 1906.


During the First world War it used as a Drill Hall by Warwickshire Brigade Company South Midland Divisional Transport & Supply Column ASC. During World War 2 Court Oak House served as the local air raid wardens' headquarters.


By the 1970s the house was falling into dereliction, but was restored and converted into flats, now owned by a Christian trust for people in need.



Image © John M licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) 



Harborne Walkway looking north along the embankment over Chad Valley. © Copyright Phil Champion reuse licensed under Creative Commons Licence: Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic. Geograph OS reference SP0385.
Harborne Walkway looking north along the embankment over Chad Valley. © Copyright Phil Champion reuse licensed under Creative Commons Licence: Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic. Geograph OS reference SP0385.

Take a walk along Harborne Walkway.


An innovative open space was created as Harborne Walkway which was opened in 1981. A two and a half mile linear park from Summerfield Park to Park Hill Road along the former Harborne Railway, it forms an important wildlife corridor for a wide variety of bird species and flora including some rare mosses.

The railway had opened in 1874 as a suburban commuter line from New Street station along the Birmingham, Wolverhampton & Stour Valley Railway branching off at Harborne Junction near Northbrook Street in Rotton Park. Before World War 2 the tardy Harborne Express was a standing joke amongst local people. The line closed to passengers in 1934 and to freight in 1963 under the extensive cuts of the chairman of British Railways, Dr Richard Beeching.

Alongside the walkway off Pereira Road is Harborne Nature Reserve, created from 3.5 hectares of disused allotments in the Chad valley. Managed by the West Midland Bird Club the reserve has been planted with a wide variety of native woodland plants, shrubs and trees to provide a variety of habitats. The western end has reverted to wetland. Some twenty butterfly species have been recorded here and over eighty species of bird including blue tit, coal tit and great tit, goldcrest, goldfinch, redpoll, siskin, tawny owl and all three native woodpeckers.



St Faith & St Laurence church


As urban Harborne began to spread westwards, a mission church was founded by St Peter's Harborne. With further house building a large new brown-brick church in romanesque style with narrow round-headed windows was built in 1937 by Philip Chatwin with generous funding by Sir Richard Hamilton Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe.


Building was interrupted by World War 2 and the chancel, sanctuary, Lady Chapel, vestries were added in 1960 by P Chatwin and his nephew, Anthony Chatwin. The style is typical of this date. This is a Locally Listed building.


The church was built with one small bell by Mears and Stainbank, but in 1975 a ring of eight bells was rescued from All Saints' Hockley on the eve of its demolition and later installed here as chiming bells. The original bell remains though no longer in use.



Above: St Faith & St Laurence. Image by Oosoom on Wikipedia and reusable under the GNU Free Documentation License. 



Harborne Heath lay at the top of Harborne Hill north-east of Harborne High Street and south of the Chad Brook. Indeed the High Street was known as Heath Street/ Heath Road until 1883 when it took its present name with urban development. This would have been open scrubland inhabited by a few poor cottagers on land that was generally described as 'waste' until after the 18th century.


See also Camomile Green, Chad Valley, Harts Green and Moor Pool, the Harborne Tenants' Estate.



Click to enlarge the images in the Harborne Gallery below.



William Dargue 19.03.2009/ 31.12.2020




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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=55137&sheetid=8347&zm=10&x=508&y=287&ox=2032&oy=1148


and http://www.british-history.ac.uk/mapsheet.aspx?compid=55192&sheetid=10079&zm=4&x=377&y=0&ox=2900&oy=216


Map below reproduced from Andrew Rowbottom’s website of Old Ordnance Survey maps Popular Edition, Birmingham 1921. See Acknowledgements. Click the map to link to that website.