History of the Neighborhood

Northfield, or as it was once known “Nordfeld” (a clearing in the north forest of Feckenham, from its mention in the Domesday Book), is probably one of the oldest villages within the present boundary of The City of Birmingham. Throughout its history, together with its neighbour Weoley, it has remained a quiet and peaceful backwater of rural England, nothing very exciting ever happened here, no battle was fought; but it has been totally transformed in the past 100 years.

In late Saxon times the area was in the charge of Alwode (or Alwolde), a name commemorated in present day Weoley Castle. In 1066 the Lord of the Manor was William Fitz Anscuff with a Manor House in Weoley Castle and parklands that reached across to present day Bristol Road South. That road, despite being a “Kings Highway”, was kept in a shocking manner with broken bridges and a flooded road. The life of the humble people in those days was no fun living as they did in mud huts with an opening for light that had to be closed in winter, no chimneys and a rotten sheepskin for coverlet. As the corn and wheat grew less and less they had a long fast through the winter, living on salt meat and fish, scurvy and leprosy abounded and the weather became literally a matter of life and death. In summer they farmed strips of land, each having some good and some bad strips. The “Black Death” in 1349 came and went, taking its toll and in 1386 the house of the Lord of the Manor was sold by the Botetort family to the Jervoys family, both also commemorated in Weoley Castle road names of today.

The 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th centuries passed by with little real change, with no poverty or prosperity of note and in the census of 1851 Northfield Parish was described as 6 miles by 4 miles (north to south) comprising 6,000 acres, with 4,000 under cultivation, timber or parkland, in effect a rural backwater. It was divided into 4 “Yields” for purposes of tax gathering or tithes; these were Bartley, Shendley, Selly and Hayes with Middleton. The Shendley Yield had 106 houses, 576 people and 23 farms and appears to have been a sparsely populated area of great fertility. Allen’s Cross Farm was one of the farms. In 1893 you could walk from Bristol Road through fields passing over Merrits Brook, abounding in trout and the haunt of kingfisher and eventually reach Frankley Church without once walking along a road, truly rural.

In the late 19th century there was some infiltration of the metal trades with nail makers cottages providing a backyard industry. The nail makers having to tramp 6 miles to Halesowen to get metal bars and earned 6d for every 28lb they made. The nail makers finally dwindled as the villa dwellers arrived and in 1923 Northfield was incorporated into Birmingham as an urbanized suburb. Further building work up to the Second World War and especially since, has seen the built up area which today houses 75,000 inhabitants compared with the 2,460 in 1851 and 250 at the time of the Domesday Book. The residents are better educated, richer in health and money, but are they happier or living with purpose. Rather than be lost as yet another large chunk of the City, perhaps we need some local “soul”, perhaps in that way the Association has had a part to play and it is hoped an even bigger part in the future.