Harborne - My Part of Birmingham (UK)

Harborne, the suberb of Birmingham, UK, where I live has existed as a village since before the Domesday Book.

Harborne's unique appeal lies in the fact that it still has a 'village' feel even though it is less than three miles from the centre of Birmingham.

Small enough to feel like an urban village, yet important enough to attract some of Britain's most coveted trading names into its High Street such as Marks & Spencer and Waitrose. It even boasts one of Birmingham's only three Michelin-starred restaurants, Turner's, which nestles near the Green Man end of the High Street.


Over the centuries the area at the western end of the present High Street became the centre of the village, and was known as Harborne Town. Here the roads from Smethwick, Northfield and outlying districts converged. This was probably the site of a village green, and certainly the location of old inns, the smithy, and for a short time the village lock-up where local miscreants were swiftly dealt with.

The road leaving this area eastwards towards the city followed the high ground to the top of Harborne Hill, where the cottages and tenements of Harborne Heath were found. The transformation of this road into the busy High Street did not begin until the middle of the 19th century.

To the west of Harborne Town, downhill, along the present day War Lane, and at the junction of several lanes, a cluster of cottages grew up amongst the fields and farm buildings at Harts Green.

A little further on, having climbed the hill up today's Tennal Road to where it met Turks Lane, (Queen's Park Road) was the picturesquely named hamlet of Camomile Green, one of the centres of nailmaking.


11th Century

In 1086 when the new Norman landlord tax collectors came round, it was described as fifty-two acres of meadow and a mill. The mill was on the Bourne (brook) somehwere near the site of Water Mill Close, off Reservoir Road (off Harborne Lane - near Selly Oak Park).

13th Century

It is believed that St Peter's Church was founded during the 13th century, and the land close to it would have been an early area of settlement. Later some of the larger houses in Harborne were built close by.

16th Century

Since Harborne had ceased to be church property in the 16th century it had passed through the ownership of the Dudley, Cornwallis, Foley and Birch families.

The imposing Tennal Hall, a half-timbered residence of considerable size, in Tennal Road at the rear of Queens Park was the location of a legendary visit from Queen Elizabeth I.

17th Century

Nailmakers are first recorded in Harborne in a legal document of 1600, but it had been an established occupation in these parts for many years before. Often it would be an alternative employment to agricultural labouring when the weather prevented working on the land. The whole family might be involved, helping at the small forge built to the side or rear of the cottage. Iron was supplied by the nail masters, a few of whom were among the wealthier residents of Harborne. A finished load of nails might have to be carried into Birmingham to be exchanged for the raw material to fashion the next load.

18th Century

Around 1780 Thomas Green, then Lord of the Manor, built Harborne House. Thomas Green's house still stands, and known as Bishops Croft. It is now the residence of the Bishop of Birmingham.

19th Century

The Grove, on neighbouring land to Harborne House, was the home of Birmingham M.P. Thomas Attwood from 1823. Although the house has been demolished much of the land is incorporated in Grove Park.

By the mid 19th century the development of the village was accelerating. At first housing appeared on the land to the south of Harborne Heath Road. Bull Street, South Street and York Street were built by developer Josiah Bull York in the 1850s.

Others followed, encroaching on the fields and gardens that had provided a pleasant rural outlook for the artist David Cox when he lived in Greenfield House. Harborne historically was located in the county of Staffordshire.

Increased housing and improved transport (the first omnibus service into Birmingham having commenced in the 1840s) encouraged the growth of a thriving High Street.

An 1845 directory of the county includes a description of the village:

"The chief agricultural productions are corn and potatoes, with market gardening carried on to a considerable extent, particularly for strawberries. There is a blacking manufactory and a steel mill. The labouring population are chiefly nailers, working in their own cottages."

And for some reason Harborne had a reputation for laundresses. Perhaps the proximity of wealthier Edgbaston guaranteed a demand for such work. Certainly the Census of 1851 provides plenty of evidence of both nailmakers and laundresses, and of the young age at which schooling might be abandoned to take a place at the forge. However, by this time, nailmaking on this small scale was in a decline, and would soon have disappeared completely.

The opening of the railway line in 1874 signalled the start of more development to the north of the High Street. Although the trains still passed the fields of Hill Top Farm as they left the village, the importance of agriculture to its economy was waning. Small businesses and light industry were on the increase.

Social life in the village was rich and varied. The Harborne and Edgbaston Institute was opened by Sir Henry Irving in 1878, providing a centre of culture and entertainment for the next twenty-five years.

Harborne Cricket Club was founded in 1868, and Harborne Golf Club in 1893, both are thriving today.

In 1888 The Greater Birmingham Scheme was drawn up, to include the annexation of Harborne. Harborne ratepayers voted to oppose this. Most issues of local government were the responsibility of the Local Board, and the rate levied on the residents was favourable.

The following year a further attempt was also rejected. But in 1890, after a rise in local rates, and the promise of increased policing, improved pavements and street lighting, and the provision of a free library, a resolution in favour of annexation was passed. This occurred the following year, heralding in a new phase in Harborne's development as it made ready to enter the twentieth century.

20th Century

In the early years of the twentieth century the Chad Valley Toy Company was to build a new factory close to the railway, continuing an association with Harborne that had begun years before as Johnson Brothers, and would continue until the 1960s. In 1938 Chad Valley was appointed Toymaker to her Majesty the Queen.

During the Second World War a bomb demolished old St John’s church, situated off St John’s Road, and incendiaries fell in several places, but since there were no large factories except Chad Valley, comparatively little attention was paid by the Germans to Harborne.

1981 and the disused Harborne Railway trackbed is opened as Harborne Walkway, a two and a half mile linear park from Summerfield Park to Park Hill Road. It forms an important wildlife corridor for a wide variety of bird species and flora including some rare mosses.

Alongside the walkway off Pereira Road is Harborne Nature Reserve, created from 3.5 hectares of disused allotments in the Chad valley. Managed by the West Midland Bird Club the reserve has been planted with a wide variety of native woodland plants, shrubs and trees to provide a variety of habitats. The western end has reverted to wetland.

The success of Harborne Carnival - revived in 1998 and becoming bigger and more successful every year, has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for local charities, while stamping Harborne's identity on the rest of Birmingham.

21st Century

The monthly Farmers' Markets have thrived as hundreds of good food hunters flock to the High Street for locally grown produce - I get a lot of food and particularly my plants and hanging baskets from the Farmers Market. I also have picked up a customer for my Priday Design Studio businbeess from the regular stall holders.

There is support for a plan to bring a statue of Birmingham's first MP Thomas Attwood to the High Street. The graffiti-riddled statue is currently in storage awaiting a major makeover having been removed from Highgate Park in Sparkbrook. Attwood spent many yars of his well-chronicled life in Harborne at The Grove.

Construction is underway on the new swimming pool to replace the former Lordswood Road baths. With a new pool, learner pool, fitness suites and community room. The opening ceremony is already being planned for late 2011.

And with the recent completion of Birmingham's new 'super hospital' on the Queen Elizabeth Hospital site less than a mile away, Harborne should be more in demand than ever for homes, shopping and quality places to eat.