The Friends of Homer Hill is a group of local residents dedicated to improving the facilities and usage of Homer Hill Park, Cradley's largest park. Their activities include fund-raising, organising events, and working with Dudley Council.
Cradley Park wins Big Lottery grant for new children's playground
The Friends of Homer Hill Park in Cradley are celebrating after securing a £10,000 grant for a new children's playground from the Big Lottery Fund's Awards for All programme which aims to enable others to make real improvements to communities and the lives of people most in need.
Val Bloomer, secretary of Friends of Homer Hill Park, said: "Young children visiting Homer Hill Park will soon be able to enjoy playing on new equipment suitable for their age. A new two bay swing for infants and toddlers as well as older children, plus a new fun 'flip flop' seesaw. Young children will at last have their own play area."
The new playground will be built on the site of the bowling greens which were locked and not used in recent years. The Friends have campaigned for several years for it to be opened up for general use. Work has now been completed. The group continues to campaign for the addition of a spring mobile and two play panels, relocated from elsewhere in the borough.
History of Homer Hill Recreation Ground
Local records show that from medieval times the area now known as Homer Hill was owned by the Homer family, the earliest reference being Johanne de Hanmor in 1275. The family's name is believed to have arisen from its occupation as blacksmiths and makers of helmets.
Benjamin Hodgetts, a well-known local chainmaker who died in 1926, was deputed to buy land at Homer Hill for recreation while chairman of Cradley Parish Council. It is thought that he lent the money to the council for this purpose. The strip of land purchased lay adjacent to Homer Hill Road.
According to Cradley's historical records, land 'across the Sladpiece' (Slade Road), which was later used as a tip for Homer Hill's pits, had provided charity money for the poor until the 19th Century. The beneficiary responsible for this sum of money was Mr Benjamin Pargeter of Stourbridge, who had paid regularly ("but not without application for it") one pound a year to the overseer of the poor from the 3 acres piece called at that time the Nine Lands.
The present Homer Hill Park was mined for coal, and includes the site of the old Cradley Colliery where coal and fireclay were mined between 1864 and 1917. A tramway originally ran down the slope to form a link with the Great Western Railway mineral line, beginning close to the shafts, kilns and chimney. The area was eventually landscaped and became part of the 'Recreational Ground'.
A bandstand (initially without a roof) was unveiled in 1928 as part of Cradley's war memorial and in 1932 Halesowen Council's Baths and Recreation Grounds sub-committee recommended the purchase of one set of swings (four seats), one 'ocean-wave' (a roundabout which could also be swung up high and would then crash down very quickly) and one thirty foot slide, costing a total of £100.
In 1939, not long before the outbreak of World War II, it was decided that a decontamination and cleansing depot was needed in Cradley and that it should be located at Homer Hill. The call for tenders was listed under 'air raid precautions'. There were obviously fears that gas might be used. The building erected for this purpose, at a cost of £657, was later used as football changing rooms and is now the depot for council staff.
In addition a large underground air raid shelter, with zigzagging ventilation ducts, was built that ran parallel to Homer Hill Road from the area of the present children's playground down to Slade Road. Other air raid shelters were located closer to the new school at the top of the park. There was also a very large, shallow water tank which was designed to provide water for fire fighting at the school should the water supply also be affected. This was used in later years as a paddling pool but was filled in because of pollution fears.
Homer Hill Secondary Modern School opened in autumn 1939 and some time after that work began on bulldozing the waste banks left by mining operations. This awkward task was eventually completed by using Sherman tanks with their turrets removed.
Ex-pupils of the school remember walking the 'jungle path' back home. This was a rough track used as a shortcut that ran from the school over the ash banks towards Barrack Lane. Local children even had the opportunity to see a circus that was set up in the park in the late 1940's/early 1950's.
In the late 1950's the original swings, slide and the ocean-wave were still in use. Further swings with safely enclosed seats for very young children had been added to the equipment but the bandstand had gone.
The park was often used by the pupils of Cradley Church of England School. Classes from the Junior School used to cross the road with a teacher to play rounders, their own playground being rather limited for space.
After the end of World War II the formal flower gardens bordering Slade Road were laid out. Local residents remember how beautiful these used to be. The 'Rec' was tended full time in those days by two workmen, and there was also a park-keeper. It was very pleasant to sit on the benches in the garden, admire the view and enjoy a picnic.
For decades adults and children alike enjoyed the simple pleasures of going to the park, for many people in Cradley there wasn't much money around, and it was free!
At weekends large groups of children would go to the 'Rec', often with one adult to supervise them. They would stop to feed the goats which were tethered in the old church yard opposite, and then cross the narrow road into the 'Rec' itself.
When children were older they were allowed to go to the park by themselves but warned to watch the clock on Cradley Library in Colley Lane, clearly visible from the higher ground, and to be home on time. They were also told to stay away from the air raid shelters at the top of the park that were still there many years after the end of the war. Amongst favourite pastimes were football, cricket and tennis on the courts at the rear of the park; these have now been made over to basketball. At one time there were even toilets until they had to be removed.
Not far away from Slade Road and opposite the Church School playground was the Sons of Rest club for elderly men (usually former servicemen). Funds were raised in the early 1950s to cover the cost of the building as a war memorial. There was a kitchen for making tea and preparing refreshments, which were no doubt very welcome after members had finished playing bowls on their own green. The building was burnt down several years ago and all that remains to mark its existence is a large flat area and a few drain covers. The bowling green (laid in 1951) remained and was very well tended behind locked gates but sadly unused; it was decommissioned in 2011.
The Park Today
Two Gates Football Club, founded in 1888 when the Ragged Sunday School in Two Gates formed a children's team to compete against other churches, has played at Homer Hill Park since 1953. The park is regularly used by dog walkers and well organised sports teams, with children and adults making their way there more often in the summer months to enjoy what it has to offer by way of some very good modern play equipment on a safe surface, green space, and views from its slightly elevated position of both surrounding and distant hills, including the Long Mynd.
In 2008 the Friends of Homer Hill Park held 'Promoting Health through Football' at the Park. This celebrated the 120th anniversary of Two Gates FC with a game against Halesowen Town FC. Baggies (West Bromwich Albion FC) legendary striker Bob Taylor rolled back the years as he donned his favourite number 9 shirt and ran out for Two Gates against Halesowen in front of a crowd of 400 people. The match ended in a 4-0 victory for Halesowen.
Thanks to the generosity of local businesses and co-operation of the community several thousands of pounds were raised to cover the costs of the event and to improve park facilities. Free comprehensive health screening took place on the day and a F-A-S-T stroke awareness initiative, which had its origins in the event, was spread across the Black Country via the Black Country Cardiac Network and provided free football strips bearing the Face Arms Speech Time message. Women's and children's teams in particular benefited and later on other sports were similarly sponsored. The idea which had its roots in Homer Hill Park received nation-wide recognition as an outstanding example of what volunteers working in the community could achieve.
A small 'natural resources' play area was added in December 2009 from some of the funds raised by the event. This joined new play equipment the group had already secured £38,000 for, through the Play Pathfinder scheme. In June 2011 a further £10,000, from an Awards for All grant which the group had successfully applied for, was earmarked for play facilities for young children, to be sited on the former bowling green.