The tiny place known as Oldnall, which straddles the boundary between Cradley and Wollescote, along the ancient highway that led from Stourbridge to Halesowen via Careless Green and Two Gates, has a long and varied history.
Stone Age Occupation
Situated on a high ridge, overlooking the Upper Stour Valley, this site was occupied very early on in the history of humanity. Relatively few Mesolithic sites have been identified in England,but nearly 6000 struck pieces of flint from the Middle Stone Age (between 8000 and 6000 years ago) have been found here. It is likely that this was a summer camp, established by a group of no more than 30 nomadic hunter-gatherers, who followed the seasonal migration of elk, deer and cattle from the lowlands to upland summer pastures.
They were descendants of the Old Stone Age people who lived before the final Ice Age. As they sat under the cover of their temporary hide shelters, or around the camp fire relating their exploits and adventures, they chipped away at flint cores to detach flakes and skilfully turn them into the tools that we can see today. Arrowheads from the later Neolithic and Bronze Ages have also been found here, as well as a pottery shard from the Iron Age.
350 pottery shards and other small finds, including a dolphin brooch and a glass phial, dating from the first four centuries AD, suggest that there was a Romano-British farmstead at Oldnall.
The lane in the Picture 1 (right) formed the ancient boundary between Cradley and Oldswinford. It was a thoroughfare between Deon's Bank Ford, an important crossing place where the Saltbrook flows into the Stour at the present Ye Olde Saltbrook Inn public house (formerly the Dewfall Inn), and Cuda's Dene, where Foxcote Pond is situated. The name Dunn's Bank is still in use.
The boundary is defined in a Royal Charter c 952. It refers to 'the Tile Well'. One of the fields has long been known as the Well Leasowe. There was a well associated with Oldnall Farm and a local folk tale tells the story of a ghost of someone who fell down it. There is easy access to clay here and it would appear that tiles were made at Oldnall in Saxon times.
The Cradley entry in the Domesday Survey says that there were 4 'villani' (tenant farmers) living in Cradley in 1086, along with 11 men of lower status, 'bordarii'. It is probable that one of these villani lived in a dwelling at Oldnall, as there was certainly a significant farm here in the 13th century.
13th Century Holdenhale
The footpath crossing the present fields was the original King's Highway through Oldnall, see Picture 2 (left). It skirted a deer park that was enclosed by the Lord of the Manor, Roger de Somery (c1208-1273). A wooded area still remains where the park was situated.
A Lay Subsidy Roll of 1275 shows that John of Holdenhale was one of the wealthiest people living in Cradley at that time, having moveable goods worth at least £5. It also lists Walter and Thomas of Holdenhale. A Halesowen Court Roll mentions Richard of Oldehale, who was fined 12d for his involvement in a fight with Walter Archer.
It could be that the place name derived from the Middle English 'halle' which was an important house or hall.
From the 14th century to the present, a large number of deeds and documents have been preserved which provide a wealth of information about the lands at Oldnall, the 2 farms there and their occupants. Picture 3 (left) shows a 14th century charter whereby John Wheler de Oldenhale granted land in Oldnall to Thomas Hexstone, chaplain. Early farmers included the Lydyate family, followed by the Darby family, who lived there throughout Tudor times. The will of William Darby of Oldnall, who died in 1523, indicates that he was a man of some standing. He requested that his body be buried in the courtyard of Halesowen Abbey. The yeoman Roger Darby, who died in 1588, supplemented his income by nailmaking. At this time, before the introduction of the slitting mill, nailmaking was a skilled trade with a high status. Each of Roger's five children was bequeathed £120 in his will. His two sons were university educated.
The field known as Shop Close took its name from the workshop erected here, equipped with a small forge to heat the rod before it was worked.
The farm remained in the hands of the Darbys until 1612 when Oldnall House and its neighbouring building came into the ownership of Thomas Jurden, gentleman, a merchant adventurer and citizen of London. It was later taken over by the local Hill family, who were wealthy scythemakers.
Oldswinford Hospital Land
In 1669 the Oldnall estate was sold to Thomas Foley of Great Witley. His father, Richard, lived at Stourbridge and had introduced the slitting mill from the continent into the Midlands earlier in the century. After hearing a sermon by Richard Baxter, a Kidderminster Dissenting Minister, on The Right Use of Wealth, Thomas was moved to found a Hospital, or free school, at Oldswinford that was endowed by his estate. The Oldnall lands, along with others, were purchased to provide for the teaching and apprenticeship of 60 poor local boys. The fields are still in the hands of the feofees, or trustees, of Oldswinford Hospital School.
J B Fisher, a coal and clay master of Amblecote, was working the Hayes Colliery, just below Oldnall, when he decided to extend his operations by acquiring the lease to mineral rights under Oldnall farm in 1872. Two shafts were sunk in Shop Close. In 1880 James Holcroft, an Oldswinford iron and coal master, was granted the right to construct a tramway over part of the lands. He had begun sinking operations over the road at Foxcote and, after problems, the colliery was run in conjunction with Oldnall colliery from 1919. The narrow gauge tramway was to take the output to Oldnall to Harper and Moore's brickyard at Park Lane.
The route of the tramway can be traced between the soil mounds. The bridge carrying it under Oldnall Road has been filled in but the abutments are still visible, see Picture 4 (left). Oldnall colliery closed for 14 years from 1887 and opened again in 1901, when Mobberley and Perry formed the Oldnall Colliery Company. There were 64 underground workers and 23 surface workers. It closed in 1944 but the track of the incline, dropping 60 metres along its length to the Hayes, can still be seen just off the pathway through the fields. Here coal was lowered in tubs to the marshalling yards of the Great Western Railway.
A detailed history of the area has now been published.
Margaret Bradley, December 2007