The district of Boldmere came into being around the middle of the 19th century. When St Michael’s church was consecrated in 1857, the district was described as Boldmere near Oscott, Sutton Coldfield. The modern district forms a rough triangle whose sides are the Chester Road to the west, Sutton Park to the north and the Birmingham-Sutton railway line to the east.
This had been rural land for time immemorial on the western edge of the Coldfield, a large area of heathland covering some 6000 acres. It was of poor quality and considered fit only for grazing sheep. Adjoining were the many acres of the commons of Perry and Great Barr, also lying on pebble and sandstone conglomerates and poor agricultural land.
Boldmere takes its name from a lake which lay in the Court Lane area until the 19th century. Moor was a word used by the Anglo-Saxons to describe marshy land. The first element, may derive from Bald, an Anglo-Saxon personal name meaning Bold, or ‘bald’ in the sense that is was heathland and that no trees grew here.
In 1841 just eight families were recorded at the Baldmoor Lake, a hamlet along the Chester Road. Most heads of households were agricultural labourers, though Joseph Armishaw is named as a publican, possibly of the pub which was rebuilt in the 1930s as the New Oscott Tavern. In 1884 the pub had its own brewery on site. In 2009 the pub was bought by the adjacent Hall’s Garden Centre and opened as a café known as The Garden Room.
From the second half of the 18th century wealthy landowners began to see opportunities in common land and open fields. If the majority of people who had rights over such land agreed, the land could be allocated to each in private ownership. The process was heavily weighted in favour of large landowners. Rights sometimes had to be proved by documentary evidence, something poorer people were unlikely to have; and plots had to be enclosed by fencing or hedging which poorer people could not afford.
In 1825 parliament approved an act enabling the enclosure of common lands in Sutton. Over 3500 acres were enclosed bringing a variety of blocks of land into private ownership. Maps of the period clearly show the division of the common lands and wastes into regular rectangular fields and these are still reflected in the lay-out of housing to this day. With the coming of the Birmingham-Sutton railway this was to lead inexorably to housing development.
Initially, like many rural areas on the periphery of Birmingham, a few large houses in extensive grounds were built for the seriously wealthy, usually people who had made their fortunes in the Midlands Metropolis, as Birmingham was known at the time. At Normanhurst opposite St Michael’s church in 1891, Henry Yates was an edge tool manufacturer in Birmingham; also on Boldmere Road, Francis Hawkes at Ashbourne was a hardware merchant; at Boldmere House Albert Dean was a carpet factor and cabinet maker. All are listed as employers and all had large households with servants.
Fernwood Grange was built for Birmingham jeweller, Alfred Antrobus in 1872, and was a particularly large house standing in 9 acres of grounds. Demolished before the Second World War, it stood at Fernwood Close off the Chester Road; the lodge still stands at the junction of Fernwood Road and the Chester Road. St Michael’s vicarage was not very far behind with its eight bedrooms and extensive gardens. Few of these large houses now stand, having been replaced by modern middle-class housing estates between or after the World Wars.
Arrival of the Railway
With the opening of railway stations at Wylde Green and Chester Road in 1862, the development of substantial middle-class housing proceeded rapidly. Commuters could be in central Birmingham 7 miles away in 20 minutes and return at night to their high-status suburb in the country well away from the smoke and grime of industrial town. Building continued until the 1930s when most of the available space had been taken up. Opportunities still crop up, however. In 2016 the vicarage of St Michael’s was demolished to make way for 48 retirement flats.
Boldmere Road was largely built up at its northern end by the end of the 19th century. These were smaller houses, semi-detached and short terraces. Gradually many were converted into shops. Kelly’s Directory of 1892 lists just half a dozen shops here including a post office on the corner of Highbridge Road, a grocer’s and a butcher’s shop. Few of the original buildings survive, but this is now one of the more thriving local shopping centres in Birmingham, boasting almost a hundred businesses, the majority of which are independently owned.
The Gate Inn opened some time during the second half of the 19th century, probably in a converted house. Known as the Boldmere Hotel, it was replaced by the present public house in 1939. It is now called The Harvester, one of 1700 pubs and restaurants owned by Mitchells & Butlers. At the junction with Jockey Road the Sutton Park Hotel was also built around the mid-century to take advantage of the burgeoning interest in the use of Sutton Park as a leisure facility. The hotel was rebuilt early in the 20th century. While the very high-status villas are long gone, Boldmere has retained its position as an attractive middle-class suburb.