Cradley's Beautiful Valley
Belle Vale by Jill Guest and Maureen Millsom
On Thursday 31 March 2011 Margaret Bradley gave an excellent illustrated talk about the history of Belle Vale to a large audience at Overend Methodist Mission.
Belle Vale is the name of a road and a district in Cradley. Its stream was home to many water mills, and later to forges and foundries that played a major role in the industrialisation of Cradley.
Two members of the audience were inspired to recall and write down their own childhood memories of Belle Vale.
After attending Margaret Bradley's talk on Belle Vale my friend Maureen Millsom and I began reminiscing about our memories of Belle Vale. We both went to Belle Vale Sunday School, and as Anniversary Sunday was always the last Sunday in April our thoughts turned to Anniversaries, with our new dresses and shoes, practicing the hymns and trying hard to remember our poems, without a piece of paper.
Sadly the Chapel is no longer there, we could both remember being taken to one of the cottages just opposite at the bottom of Shelton Lane (see 1881 map, below) we were told that services were held in the cottage before the Chapel was built, and that Sunday School scholars returned to the cottage every year to mark the anniversary.
Maureen's dad had a horse Queenie which he kept in the field at the side of the chapel. We had our Sunday school treats in the field, races and games with a bag of cakes and sandwiches and a mug of tea.
Maureen could remember being taken to the Sunday school by her Gran on a Friday night once a month for dances which were run by Mr Nolan and his housekeeper Miss Herb, who lived in the big house next to Clancy's foundry further along Belle Vale. They danced to a wind-up gramophone.
Maureen lived in one of the row of cottages (known locally as Treacle Row) just past the Chapel on the other side of the road going towards Clancy's. The front doors opened onto the road. My mom called it Teapot Row (because they could empty the teapot straight out of the front doors).
At the back the gardens went right down to the brook and over to the other side with a plank of wood to cross, vegetables were grown by everyone. On the 1881 map the brook was dammed at Belle Vale forge and the pool stretched back to behind the houses. This had gone by the 1950's.
There were about 15 cottages in the row, with a large entry in the middle, Maureen's grandfather Grove owned the ones nearest Clancy's and his sister Amy owned the others. Grandfather Grove lived in the cottage with the plaque on the wall, it said "Except the Lord build the house they labour in vain that build it, 1858". His eldest daughter lived next door, other families living there in the 1950's included: Tibbetts, Smith, Painter, Hackett, James, Willetts, Danks, Hadley, North, Harris and Grove.
The cottages survived just about 100 years the families started to move out in 1959 and were rehoused at Hasbury, many of the families still continuing to worship at the chapel.
In the 1871 census many of the men were employed at the New British Iron works at Corngreaves. Whether the cottages were built to house workers from the New British Iron works or perhaps the New Hawne Colliery we shall perhaps never know or who built them.