William Dargue A History of BIRMINGHAM Places & Placenames from A to Y
Lea, Lea Hall, Lea Village
B33 - Grid reference SP150871
Lea: first record 1275
After the end of the last Ice Age ten thousand years ago the clay lands east of Birmingham grew thick with forests of oak and ash with underbrush of holly, briar and bramble.
This was part of the medieval Forest of Arden much of which was impenetrable to early people, but on patches of glacial drift were natural clearings where the tree cover was not so dense. For farming people the soil proved to be easier to work than the surrounding heavy clay.
For settlements on such sites the Anglo-Saxons used the word leah meaning '(forest) clearing' or perhaps more accurately, 'clearing in a forest area'. When plotted on a map this common placename element is found to occur predominantly in the forested areas east of Birmingham. To the west the name is much less common as the geology there led to sparser tree cover.
Lea, lee, leigh or -ley as a placename element, whether in first or last position, is common all across the country, but it is always found in areas of former woodland and forest.
First documented in 1275, this place called Lea was probably a Saxon daughter settlement of Yardley, a subsidiary farming settlement on glacial drift, soil that was easier to work than the surrounding heavy clay with its oak forest.
During the Middle Ages Lea Hall was a sub-manor of Yardley with its own manor house. Lea Hall was built within a moated site on the north side of the railway close to Lea Hall station. Elyas de la Lee is recorded here in 1275. The hall is evidenced by 19th-century fieldnames, Pool Field and Moat Leasow. Lea Hall was rebuilt as a large timber-framed house during the reign of Elizabeth I probably by the Dod family. It was either refaced or rebuilt shortly before 1767 when it was described as 'a large modern house'.
The hall was demolished when the station was built in 1937 on the Birmingham to Coventry line at the time the municipal housing estate was being built.
A 19th-century fieldname near the Lea Hall is recorded as Windmill Piece. The location is on the high ground near the junction of Holbeach Road and the Meadway, but there is no evidence of a mill by that date.
The Lea, not to be confused with Lea Hall, was later known as Bloomers Farm. It was probably built as a medieval assart at a time of expanding population c1300. It stood on the corner of Lea Hall Road and Garretts Green Lane. Another assart was Cowford Hall at the junction of Lea Hall Road and Church Road whose farm buildings were demolished around 1933 to make way for Lea Hall council house estate. The farm's name derives from the fact that it stood at the crossing of Church Lane over Yardley Brook (now culverted) which runs from Yardley church to the River Cole below Glebe Farm. Though only a small stream, on clay this would have been a slippery and unpleasant ford whatever the weather. Does the name perhaps suggest that it was suitable only for cattle?
The medieval village of Lea stretched from the road now called Lea Village down to the junction of Gressell Lane and Lea Ford Road where the River Cole was crossed to Shard End.
Lea Fields lay roughly between East Meadway and Kitts Green Road, Longefield is documented in 1356 lying east of Lea Village, Honehull documented in 1335 lying west of the same road, and Atmunchull west of that in the Crossfield Road area. Bloomfields lay east of Lea Ford Road. In 1402 Lea Hall Road was called Somerlone ie. Summer Lane, with Somerlone Mdw ie. Summer Lane Meadow recorded in 1444 east of Cole Hall Lane, north of Kitts Green Road. A small stream ran down to the River Cole here; presumably the land here was too waterlogged in winter and only usable for summer grazing.
The names Lea Village and Lea Hall came into use for the surrounding district with the building of Lea Hall council estate from 1933. The railway station was named Lea Hall when it opened in 1939, some 100 years after first train ran on the London & Birmingham Railway. The station was extensively refurbished in 1998, and as part of attempts to diminish vandalism, the local community were involved with artists Eric Klein Velderman and Tim Tolkien to produce artwork based on a 'shoot the moon theme'.
The estate west of the railway is Lea Hall; the shopping centre, Lea Village is at the junction of Kitts Green Road and the street called Lea Village. Housing on this east side of the railway was part of Kitts Green estate.
See Kitts Green.
William Dargue 02.04.2009/ 31.07.2010
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.