In the early years of the seventeenth century, Robert Stamford of Perry Hall and Edward Leigh of Rushall Hall became Justices of the Peace, and heard many cases ranging from thefts, land disputes, wage settlements, arranging the upkeep of illegitimate children, and the punishment of their parents. In one case, the father, John Sabin, was ordered to sit in the stocks at Walsall for three hours on a Sunday afternoon. The mother, Alice Godwin, was ordered to do the same after her churching ceremony. In another case, the father, Robert Hopkis was punished by being publically whipped in Wolverhampton market place, followed by making a payment of eight pence a week to the mother for four years.

In the Civil War, Edward Stamford, lord of the manor of Great Barr and Aldridge fought on the king’s side, and was captured by the Roundheads in 1644 and held at Eccleshall Castle. His estates were confiscated, and his wife pleaded that she was destitute to the Staffordshire County Committee, who agreed to let her remain at Perry Hall, and receive one fifth of the income from the estate, providing that she paid the weekly contribution for the maintenance of the Parliamentarian troops in the county, which everyone was expected to pay. The estate was administered on behalf of the committee by Mr. Erpe of Stonnall, and Thomas Jorden of Perry Barr.

Aldridge High Street around 1911. From an old postcard.

Difficult Times

In the seventeenth century the use of common land was strictly controlled by the manorial court. Anyone caught disobeying the many rules could expect a hefty fine. In 1685 rams were not allowed loose on the common after the 15th September, fern could not be cut or burnt before the 24th June, and peat or turf could not be cut before the 8th May. Any peat or turf that was cut had to be for the use of people living within the manor. Corn fields had to be properly fenced. A fine was imposed for any gaps. The cutting of gorse growing in ditches or on banks was forbidden. This was used to form the base of haystacks because mice were unable to crawl through it, into the stack.

The nature of the common changed due to the burning of fern, which encouraged the growth of grass and improved the land for the grazing of sheep. This practice was unpopular with the hunting fraternity because it reduced the area on which they could hunt and shoot. In 1769 Aris’s Birmingham Gazette carried an advert offering a reward of no less than five guineas for information leading to the conviction of anyone starting a fire on the common.

In 1795 the local wealthy landowners got together and introduced a Private Bill to parliament for the enclosure of the common land, which they intended to use for sheep farming. The Bill was quickly passed, so quickly that the poor commoners had no time to object, and no provision was made for them. In reality there was little they could do because they could not afford the legal fees that would be necessary to oppose the bill.

Those receiving land had to completely enclose it with ditches and hedges before 5th April, 1800. If the work had not been completed by then, a neighbour could complete the enclosure, and claim the cost of the work. In Aldridge itself, 344 acres were enclosed between seventy eight claimants, twenty seven of whom had less than one acre. The Rector, who received five and a half acres was excused the cost of fencing his land.

They were desperate times for the poor. Houses owned by Aldridge parish had to be sold to make ends meet. Many poor people ended-up in Shenstone Workhouse.

The wealthier families who benefitted from the enclosures did little to help the poor. Mrs Foley, and Mrs Whitby received 632 acres, Sir Joseph Scott received 192 acres, and Ann Scott received 114 acres. In 1795, the year of the enclosure act, the levy book records that Mrs Scott paid £11 to the poor rates, whereas Sir Joseph Scott, Mrs Whitby, and Mrs Foley paid nothing, presumably because their land and property was leased, so their tenants had to pay instead.

Some people could not afford to pay the poor rates. In September 1818 six Aldridge men appeared before the Justices of the Peace at Wednesbury for none payment of the rates. The sums owed ranged from 5 shillings, owed by Sam Parkes, to £4.12s.9d. owed by William Simkins. Anyone wishing to move into the parish was only allowed to do so if they could pay their way, and would not become a liability. Members of the armed forces and their families could claim expenses from parishes they travelled through, during a journey. In December 1824 eleven soldier’s wives and their eighty one children claimed relief to enable them to reach Tamworth, which cost the parish £2.1s.4d. Children of servicemen could also claim their parent’s relief.

There were many illegitimate children in the country who had to be looked after by their local parish. This led to a large financial burden on some parishes. In Aldridge, anyone unmarried and pregnant would be taken to a local justice by the church wardens and questioned in an attempt to discover the name of the father. Everything would then be done to force the couple to marry, or to see that the father paid all of the expenses. The parish had to arrange for all such children to be looked after until they reached the age of seven, when they were sent as parish apprentices. They were sent to a family and had to serve their master in return for accommodation, food, clothing, and instruction in their master’s craft. Females remained as apprentices until they reached the age of 21, or got married. Men remained as apprentices until they reached the age of 24. In 1777 this age was reduced to 21.

The Fountain in High Street. From an old postcard.

The Hoo, the Scott Families, and Great Barr Hall

In the early eighteenth century John Hoo was Lord of the Manor of Great Barr, and also Lord of the Manor of Wednesbury. Little is known about him, but he appears to have been a caring man who took great interest in the affairs of the parish. He died in 1740 at the old manor house in Wednesbury, and was succeeded by his son John, who died nine years later. He was followed by his brother Thomas who lived at Old Hall Farm, Old Hall Lane, Great Barr, close to Barr Beacon School. The half-timbered building still exists. It was the local manor house, owned by the Scott family from the middle of the sixteenth century, until the eighteenth century when Joseph Scott rebuilt the ‘Netherhouse’, turning it into Great Barr Hall.

Thomas, a confirmed bachelor, was devoted to fox hunting. It was said that he once intended to marry, but his bride to be took a dislike to his hounds, which were kennelled at Old Hall Farm. As a result, the marriage never happened, and Thomas stated that ‘No woman is worth fifty hounds!’ He lived in some style on his estate, barred women from there, other than his neighbour, Mrs Galton, who he described as ‘The only reasonable woman in the world’. He also allowed her daughter Ann to visit him. She had been allowed to roam over his estate since she was a child.

In 1772 he became the High Sheriff of Staffordshire, and like his father was involved in parish affairs. He held the unpaid office of Surveyor of Roads, and ran many of the charities that were associated with the church to help the local poor. He owned much of Great Barr, many properties in Wednesbury, and a profitable coalmine at Bradley. He died in 1791 and is buried at St. Mary’s Church in Aldridge.

His estate was handed-down to two distant female relatives, both having an equal share. They were his second cousin, Mary Whitby, and her cousin Elizabeth Maria Foley Hodgetts, who became joint Ladies of the Manor until the end of the eighteenth century. In 1777 Sir Joseph Scott married Margaret Whitby, the only daughter of Mary Whitby, and her late husband Edward. He received a dowry of £2,000 which he spent on renovating his home, the ‘Netherhouse’, later known as Great Barr Hall.

The Scott family came to the area in the middle of the seventeenth century when Richard Scott acquired the "Netherhouse" in Great Barr. The 1666 Hearth Tax Return confirms that this was one of the larger buildings in the area, as it had five hearths.

Part of Yates' 1798 map of Staffordshire.

Sir Joseph Scott spent money on his estate with reckless abandon, resulting in many debts which he couldn’t pay. In order to raise money he was forced to let the hall and parkland, and leased the property to Samuel Galton, the wealthy banker, gun maker, and member of the Lunar Society, who lived at Duddeston. The Galton family moved into the hall in the mid 1780s, and with the money received, Sir Joseph went off on the Grand Tour of Europe. During Galton's tenancy, the Hall became one of the meeting places for the Lunar Society.

Sir Joseph’s financial problems were resolved in 1795, when, on the death of his mother-in-law Mary Whitby, he acquired her fortune and estates. He became captain of the Walsall Volunteer Association, founded in 1798 during the war with France. When the association was disbanded in 1802, he received for his efforts, a silver cup worth 50 guineas. A large sum of money at the time. In 1799 he served as High Sheriff of Staffordshire, and was elected Member of Parliament for Worcester between 1802 and 1806. On 30th April 1806 he was created 1st Baronet Scott of Great Barr.

Sir Joseph Scott and the Charity Commissioners

Sir Joseph Scott was heavily criticised by the Charity Commissioners in their report of 1825. He had exchanged the land he received when the common was enclosed, for land that had been left to the parish, to be used for the upkeep of the parish clerk. Because this land contained timber worth £112, the Commissioners asked for compensation. The land had also suffered due to the negligence of Sir Joseph’s tenants.

He declined to pay, and pointed out that he had spent £1,750 on the chapel, which didn’t go down very well with the Commissioners. They stated that the money had been spent on none-essential work including a spire and six bells, an organ, stained glass windows, battlements, a porch, alter cloths, and cushions etc. The essential work consisting of building maintenance and new pews could only be carried out by borrowing £523 from John Fellowes, a chapel warden. Some of the clerk’s land had to leased to pay-off £220 of the loan.

Sir John was also criticised for the none-payment of a dole on Shustock Meadows which he owned. He also took £30 rent from the schoolmistress for her house, even though it was not clear if he actually owned it.

Sir Joseph and Margaret had three children, Edward Dolman, William, and Mary. On Sir Joseph’s death in 1828 he was succeeded by his eldest son, Edward Dolman Scott, who became 2nd Baronet Scott of Great Barr. The Scott family continued to improve Great Barr Hall. Between 1800 and 1830 extensions were built, and a clock tower was added between 1830 and 1848. In 1863 a chapel designed by Sir Gilbert Scott was added to the building, and actually used as a billiards and trophy room. Further extensions were added in the 1890s by the last family occupant, Lady Bateman-Scott who died in 1909.

After the death of Lady Bateman-Scott, the hall was sold for £28,000 at auction, in October 1911, to West Bromwich Poor Law Guardians for use as a hospital. Walsall Poor Law Guardians soon joined the project in an attempt to alleviate overcrowding in existing poor law establishments.

April 1914 saw the completion of the first new building on the site, the Derby Home, a wooden structure designed to house TB patients. It later became an annexe to the children’s home, and was finally used for staff accommodation. A building for people with severe mental problems, known as Great Barr Park Colony, opened at the end of the First World War, and Sanders Home, offering accommodation for children under five years of age opened in April 1926.

By 1938 more buildings had been added for the accommodation of boys and men which became known as the ‘Male Side’. The older building, now purely for the accommodation of women, became known as the ‘Female Side’.

In 1948 at the start of the National Health Service, the whole site became known as St Margaret's Hospital. It formally closed in March 1997, but a small number of high-dependency patients remained there until 2004. Sadly the hall has since been derelict, and is falling into a sad state of disrepair. Its future is now uncertain.

Aldridge schoolchildren celebrating Empire Day in 1906. From an old postcard.

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