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Reading between the lines - a new look at old maps of Aston

Peter Walker

gone but not forgotten
Part 1 - Introduction
Many of us are fascinated by old maps. The more you look at them they tell you about places and how they developed. They can tell you more than any written words or even pictures can, but it's not always the whole truth, and sometimes it's not the truth at all. Early surveying was not very accurate, and draughtsmen sometimes took liberties. To get a proper picture of how things really were, it is worth looking at these old maps in some depth.
The following notes were drafted some while ago, but I don't think I ever posted them before, so here goes, with a fourth map I found the other day in Joseph McKenna's superb book "Birmingham -- the Building of a City", published by Tempus in 2005.


The 1758 survey by John Tomlinson
The Local Studies Department of the Birmingham Central Library has a superb map originally drawn in 1758 of the Aston Manor in the County of Warwick. In those days, the Parish of Aston was a vast area extending from Lozells in the west to Castle Bromwich in the east, Erdington in the North, and Bordesley and Highgate in the south. The part of the parish north and west of Hockley Brook (also known as Aston Brook) formed the Manor of Aston, of which Sir Lister Holte was lord at that time, the last notable member of the Holte family, long before the estate was broken up in 1815.
At that time, the estate was almost entirely rural in character. Each field was numbered and named, and the gross and cultivated areas are given below. The main geographical feature was Hockley Brook, which marked the boundary between Aston and Birmingham, although the Holte family owned some property south of the river too. A smaller stream, presumably man-made, left the Brook near the bridge at Hockley, and followed the contours more closely, and at a slightly higher level) to provide a constant supply of water to Furnace Pool (and Aston Mill, off the map).
Apart from the cluster of buildings around the furnace, the only houses to be seen on the map were Edward's house on the site of Six Ways, Lozells House and a small group near the Brook at Hockley. The corner later occupied by the Villa Cross pub had a name which appears to be Gallow Hills, but there seems to be no building there.
The only important road was the Birmingham - Wolverhampton turnpike, dating back to 1727, and this was the only bridge over the brook until 1792 was on the Lichfield Road, which did not become a turnpike until 1807; Lozells Lane is marked as the road from Wolverhampton to Aston: Aston High Street and Birchfield Road would have led to the tiny settlement at Perry Bar and Perry Hall. The main route from Birmingham to Walsall was still via Hockley Brook and Hamstead - the 'new' Walsall Road bridge over the Tame north of Perry Barr was not opened until the road was turnpiked in 1831. Chain Walk and Furnace Lane (off Guildford Street) are shown on the map, as is a direct approach to the future Aston High Street, which exactly follows a later property boundary line. From there to the Brook, the road is also shown as Walker Lane. It is difficult to interpret exactly how the brook was crossed from the map, but it was certainly a ford and not a bridge at that time. On the other side of the brook in the Parish of Birmingham were Summer Lane and a new road, which was later called Asylum Road, and most of this land belonged to the Holte descendants.
In the west, Hunters Road ran up the hill from Hockley Brook, and then continued along the manor boundary to Villa Cross, where it connected with the future Heathfield Road leading to Perry Barr. Also shown is a track long since disappeared from Villa Cross to Handsworth Church, Incidentally, it is interesting to see that the Wolverhampton main road ran up what became Claremont road rather than the later Soho Hill, which was laid out by Telford when he improved the Holyhead turnpike in the 1820s.
In order to relate the map to later development, and also familiarise myself with the contents, I traced all the features using QuarkXpress software, and then superimposed the result on the Victorian large-scale Ordnance Survey maps of the area. The result is Map 1 below, which shows that few of the old field lines relate to later property boundaries, with the exception of the eastern boundaries of Middle Moor and Long Moor, between what were later Anglesey Street and Burbury Street. Another exception is the old curving boundary road between Hunters Road and Villa Cross, which was later replaced by the straight road named Barker Street, while the old manor boundary remained as a property boundary.

peter_map1.jpg
 
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Peter Walker

gone but not forgotten
Part 2
The 1833 survey by Fowler

By 1833, the manor of Aston had been sold off, and was administered for a Trust by a firm of lawyers in Warwick, who were very slow to encourage development. Aston Hall and the surrounding parkland were leased to James Watt junior. Aston New Town on the extreme right of the map was just being built, and a number of dwellings already fronted on to Lozells Lane. The bulk of the new development at that time was taking place in 'Aston Villa', in the extreme west of the Manor, where the first new roads had been built - Wills Street, Brougham Street and Villa Street. The old furnace had become a paper mill, and a few more buildings were erected near to it. It also seems that the line of the main brook was straightened.
Map 2 below is Fowler's survey of 1833, superimposed on later Ordnance Survey maps, which show that the earlier methods of surveying were still none too accurate, but it is possible to identify some later property lines - I have suggested where there may be some surveying inaccuracies in red.
A major omission of this map is Furnace Lane, which was there before and after the map was drawn, and remained as a relic of the past even in our lifetime. A part of the other access road from Aston High Street is shown but in the wrong place, and as already mentioned, the line shown on the earlier map fitted exactly with later property boundaries
Altogether, the map seems rather distorted in this area, and the line of the Brook through the later Crocodile Works does not fit the later map. Certainly the location of the Furnace Pool is different.


peter_map2.jpg
 
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Peter Walker

gone but not forgotten
Part 3
A Comparison
In order to compare the two tracings, I superimposed them, with the result shown in Map 3. In many places they did not fit, because of inaccuracies in the surveying. This is nothing unusual: indeed the introduction to the Cassini series of old Ordnance Survey maps warns that they may not always coincide with later OS maps. I could have distorted one of the maps to fit the other, but no-one could rely on the result for accuracy or truth.

peter_map3.jpg
 
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Peter Walker

gone but not forgotten
Part 4
A post-script
Map 4 below is taken from McKenna's recent book, which describes how Abraham Bracebridge inherited Aston Hall and Park (which covered almost all the Manor of Aston), but had to sell it because of poor investments and business failure in 1818. They were snapped up by Greenway, Greaves and Whitehead, bankers of Warwick. The Hall and the adjacent parts of the Park were leased to James Watt, Junior, then head of the Boulton & Watt works at Soho, Smethwick.
Development of the rest of the land was slow to start, but the bankers' patience was later to be rewarded, at the cost of sub-standard living conditions for the growing industrial population of an expanding Birmingham. E & C Robins were appointed to survey the Park Estate in 1851, and lay it out in building plots. Park Road was cut by June 1852, and Victoria Road was laid out by June 1853.
Map 45 below is dated 1854 and it shows the line of Alma Street, Inkerman Street and New Street, together with development south of the 'wavy line' which formed a property boundary, probably based on the earlier line of the mill race. The line shown as borough boundary is the natural course of Hockley Brook, which remains today, albeit with many diversions along its way.
From the tiny print, it appears that the building lots along Inkerman St had just been sold off to the individuals named.
It also shows in some detail the outline of the old Aston Furnace building.
I hope these observations asre of interest.
Peter

peter_map4.jpg
 
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ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
Thank you for that, Peter. The result of a lot of effort and an invaluable resource. Presumably such useful material goes onto the main site and doesn't get buried?

Chris
 
W

Wendy

Guest
A wonderful piece Peter, I have learned a lot. Thank you for the hard work!
 
R

Rod

Guest
As someone with a huge map fetish I agree wholeheartedly with your statement regarding what we can learn from looking at old maps. I'm always on the lookout for reprints of older maps and the Cassini maps are brilliant. I think this latest article by you is brilliant Peter thank you so much for posting it, I'm sure it will inspire a great many people from all areas of Birmingham who are researching for whatever reason.

I wish I had your abilities Peter I have tried many times to do overlay work with my maps to position places and put buildings into context with their surroundings from earlier or later periods. Fantastic effort, many many thanks
 

Peter Walker

gone but not forgotten
Thanks for your kind remarks. I find this sort of thing really exciting to do, but it does take some time. Looking again at map 3, I think I could have got a closer match by sliding the Tomlinson a little to the right - I think I used the Six Ways crossing and the Villa Cross junction with Heathfield Road as the two reference points to locate the two maps and to establish a common scale.
The sad thing, as I have told some people already, is that I lost the live files with these maps on (together with a few other maps I had drawn) when I ruined my old hard disc by mistake. All I have left now is a handful of prints I ran off at various stages of producing the maps, from which I have made the attached jpegs. These are deliberately kept to low-definition, but they are still quite large files. Originally I scanned them to a higher definition, and will probably send copies of these direct to Rod who knows how big he can make the files without crippling the system.
On another point, I should have looked at fig 1 a little longer, as I think it solves the mystery of the 'wavy line' marking the property boundaries north of the Crocodile works. It almost exactly follows the north and west edges of New Meadow on the 1758 map, parallel to which ran a track from Aston Furnace to Walmer Lane (or Aston High St as we know it today). The two extremities of this track must have been lower than the middle part, so the track must have have climbed a bit on the way - it could never have been a water-course.
Peter
 

Rupert

master brummie
I have not given up on the second pool at Aston Furnace yet. I intend to have another shot at this. We have from another site that "the furnace buildings were still there in 1860 but by 1890 the furnace and it's "two" pools were gone'. What did it mean by two pools? Anyway I think that water could have been channelled to the lower pool site that I mentioned. The water would not have come from the wheel tailrace but from the widened leat pool which we know was there. This would have been further up the hill. Looking at the photographs of Furnace lane (demolition) it can be seen that the flow would have been down hill from the upstream furnace pool to my proposed lower pool. I wonder actually if this 'maybe' downstream pool was not meant to be the proper location of the furnace pool with the furnace closer to the major road. Where it was built originally was in the middle of a field with no road leading to it (Porchester did not exist at the time). Was Furnace Lane constructed to go to the furnace or did it exist before the furnace was built. And the lane around my proposed pond was above a ridge, which may have been excavated with the spoil forming the spoil bank on one map. I propose that this may have been the intended original pool.
How do you construct a water powered installation. I would have thought that the leat to the site would have to be dug first to be sure that water could be delivered. Then the building and mechanical works would be built. But I do not know. Perhaps the phantom pool was the original destination and some of the spoil was used for banking along the leat run. Maybe there became an urgency to go to press or manpower became short in supply because of a war or plague or whatever. So they cut their losses and widened the leat and built the mill where they had got to. The lane around what had become the excavated ridge would have maybe been used to tip ashes into the abandoned pool excavation.
Later perhaps the excavation was scraped out and used as a pool. Possibly as storage for the lower Aston Brook mill. The now dissappeared Inkerman Street is said here to have been built on ashes; fleas are mentioned to have been a problem in those houses. The lower furnace pool could have also been used by the furnace wheel though. The water would have had to flow backwards; this does not mean uphill since both pools would have been at the same level. It would have acted like a battery and refilled itself overnight.
Will study the elevations more closely
 

Peter Walker

gone but not forgotten
That's an interesting map, John. It looks as if the railway goods station opposite Curzon St passenger station has been pencilled on or added later, as does the extension of Park Lane from Potter's Hill towards Aston Cross.
Who was the sorveyor? I imagine he was really concerned with Birmingham, and that the bit of Aston was added for the sake of completeness, and that part may not be quite so thoroughly surveyed. Still very interesting, though.
Thank you John
Peter
 

Alan Tucker

master brummie
Aston development of

Part 4
A post-script
Map 4 below is taken from McKenna's recent book, which describes how Abraham Bracebridge inherited Aston Hall and Park (which covered almost all the Manor of Aston), but had to sell it because of poor investments and business failure in 1818. They were snapped up by Greenway, Greaves and Whitehead, bankers of Warwick. The Hall and the adjacent parts of the Park were leased to James Watt, Junior, then head of the Boulton & Watt works at Soho, Smethwick.
Development of the rest of the land was slow to start, but the bankers' patience was later to be rewarded, at the cost of sub-standard living conditions for the growing industrial population of an expanding Birmingham. E & C Robins were appointed to survey the Park Estate in 1851, and lay it out in building plots. Park Road was cut by June 1852, and Victoria Road was laid out by June 1853.
Map 45 below is dated 1854 and it shows the line of Alma Street, Inkerman Street and New Street, together with development south of the 'wavy line' which formed a property boundary, probably based on the earlier line of the mill race. The line shown as borough boundary is the natural course of Hockley Brook, which remains today, albeit with many diversions along its way.
From the tiny print, it appears that the building lots along Inkerman St had just been sold off to the individuals named.
It also shows in some detail the outline of the old Aston Furnace building.
I hope these observations asre of interest.
Peter
A good source on the street development of Aston in this period is a booklet which came out years ago and was written by Jennifer Tann the expert on the Boulton and Watt collection in the Reference Library
 

gingerjon

master brummie
Reading between the lines

The high elevation was Lozells road hadrdly any drop in elevation between Six Ways and Soho Road it dropped steeply away at Furnace lane to Summer Lane and High Street down to the Barton Arms, New Street and Inkerman Street dropped down to what we know as Newtown Row.
Webster Street which appears to be an old run of the Aston Brook climbed from Talford Street to the Retreat (Wilkinson Street) would have had to return to Phillip Street a slightly lower elevation. the Brook ran below street level in our time was it lowered when the culvert was built or was it all ready lower the street level, it would appear that there was a natural elevation from the onset of building the Aston Furnace.
just remembering the run of the Inner Circle 8 bus route it climbed from Aston Cross it's highest point being Gerrard Street before dropping down to Hocklely Brook
 

Astoness

TRUE BRUMMIE MODERATOR
Staff member
would any of our members happen to have saved the maps peter posted between post 1 and 4 on this thread..if so could you please re post them...as a lot of you know this forum was hacked in 2011 and we lost all of our images...many thanks

lyn
 

brummielink

knowlegable brummie
When maps are located....
I have only read the text writeup.
No images of maps or links to maps were available to me in this thread.
 

Astoness

TRUE BRUMMIE MODERATOR
Staff member
When maps are located....
I have only read the text writeup.
No images of maps or links to maps were available to me in this thread.

hello bummielink...if you read my post 16 i have explained why we can no longer view certain images...this is why i have ask if anyone saved the maps at the original time of posting if they could repost them again for us ...hope this explains things

lyn
 

Radiorails

master brummie
The thread is twelve years old and the issues related by Astoness do apply to many old threads here on BHF. Some have been updated with lost photos and maps, but not all.
 
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