B13 - Grid reference SP098818
One hundred years ago the hamlet of Sarehole lay in leafy countryside on Wake Green Road near its junction with Green Lane. Set among the fields was handful of houses along a winding lane close to the ford across the meandering River Rea. Close by stood the old watermill still grinding corn in the age-old way.
Although only five miles from the great manufacturing city, Sarehole lay in a different world, a little-changing rural world which impressed itself on the imagination of the young John Tolkien. Sarehole was later to make its appearance in Tolkien's classic work as Hobbiton, the village in the Shire where lived Bilbo Baggins the hobbit.
The second element of this placename derives from holm, the Old English word for a 'flood meadow'. The origin of the first element is unknown but may be a personal name.
From the Middle Ages stood Sarehole Hall, near the junction of Wake Green Road and Willersley Road. It was the centre of a farming estate and the property of Maxstoke Priory. Houses were built on the farmland between the two world wars, but the old house survived until 1957 when it was demolished and a bungalow was built on the site. Near Coleside Avenue on the west bank of the River Cole by Four Arches Bridge was the medieval timber-framed farmhouse of Little Sarehole. This survived until the 1930s by which time it had fallen into ruins and was demolished.
Well worth a visit - Sarehole Mill. This restored working watermill is a rare survivor of Birmingham's many mills. Documented in 1542, the mill may be of medieval origin as there was already a pool here at that time. The mill was owned from the early 18th century by the Eaves family of Sarehole Hall. However, bankrupted by rebuilding both this mill in 1721 and also Greet Mill, Richard Eaves sold out to John Taylor, the Birmingham button magnate and banker. In 1759 both mill and farm were tenanted by Matthew Boulton's father and, after his father's death, used for two years by Boulton himself for button-making and metal rolling prior to his move to Soho.
Originally powered by Coldbath Brook, a long leat was cut in 1768 from the Cole below Brook Lane when the mill was rebuilt with two wheels, one for corn-grinding, the other for grinding metal. About 1850 the forge at the mill was made into a cottage, a barn was added and a steam engine installed for extra power; the landmark chimney dates from this time. However, the mill could not compete with the metal factories in the town centre and elsewhere and it reverted to grinding corn until 1919.
The mill and the water meadow were then bought by a solicitor, A H Foster of The Chalet in Green Road. It was he who left them to the City to be kept in perpetuity as an open space for the benefit of the public. Although Foster died in 1928, his will stipulated that the bequest was not to be made until the death of the last tenant George Andrews whose family had held the tenancy for a hundred and one years.
After Andrews' death in 1959 the increasingly vandalised mill gradually fell into dereliction and the City decided to demolish it. This prompted a long campaign by local people to restore the building. This was done and Sarehole Mill was opened to the public as a City Museum in 1969. The mill was restored to working order complete with the supplementary steam engine which had been installed in 1858. A visit to this Grade II Listed building is well worth while, especially if corn is being ground.
Well worth a look - Moseley Bog.
Off Yardley Wood Road a supplementary pool was dug for Sarehole Mill at the time of the mill's rebuilding in 1768. Known as Dell Pool, later the Old Pool, it was fed by Coldbath Brook. By the 1890s the dam was in danger of collapse and the central sluice was broken to drain the pool. It is unclear why the overgrown bed became known as Moseley Bog as the location is some miles from Moseley. When the site was threatened with building development in the 1980s, local pressure again encouraged the City to buy the land as a public amenity. The bog was designated a local nature reserve c1985 and is worthy of an afternoon stroll.
No.264 Wake Green Road was the childhood home of J R R Tolkien where he spent his happiest days - it is a private house. The setting of Tolkien's stories is rooted in this area. The village of Sarehole with its mill was the model for the village of Hobbiton in the Shire; Moseley Bog is the Old Forest where Tom Bombadil lived, and, close to the heart of industrial Birmingham in Ladywood, Perrott's Folly and the Waterworks tower are the Two Towers in The Lord of the Rings. Frodo's faithful friend, Sam Gamgee took his name from a well-known Birmingham surgeon Dr Joseph Sampson Gamgee who invented a cotton wool known as Gamgee tissue.
Well worth a walk.
It is possible to capture something of Tolkien's Sarehole with a stroll along the Millstream Way. The Cole Valley South is a linear public open space along the River Cole from the Coventry Road to Yardley Wood. This dates from the commitment of in 1909 of Yardley District Council to maintain the Cole valley as a rural corridor and not to allow it suffer the fate of the River Rea in Birmingham where it had disappeared in a culvert hemmed in behind factories. After Yardley had voted to amalgamate with Birmingham in 1911, the plan became part of the South Birmingham Development Scheme.
The first section of the walkway opened in 1923 at Trittiford; the Sarehole stretch was not opened until 1969. Greet Mill Meadows from Green Lane to the Stratford Road had been given by Charles Hougham in 1913 but not opened until c1970. The whole route was not complete until after 1990.
The section from Brook Lane to Cole Bank Road has been named the John Morris Jones Way to commemorate the late headmaster who was instrumental in popularising the study of Birmingham's historical geography.
The Cole Valley South project includes Moseley Bog and is continous with with Project Kingfisher, which starts at the Coventry Road and completes the route along the River Cole through Birmingham from Shirley to Chelmsley Wood. It is a noteworthy achievement.
William Dargue 11.03.2009/ 25.08.2012
For 19th-century Ordnance Survey maps of Birmingham go to British History Online.