The cruck construction can be clearly seen in this picture

Handsworth "Old Town Hall"

This is the popular name for the building at the corner of College Road (formerly Grove Lane) and Slack Lane, which was erected about 1460 and is of moderate size and a fine example of CRUCK construction, the beams still being in good order,

The development of timber-framed buildings is very closely associated with our history from the days when the Romans built their fine wooden villas here, and these timber-framed buildings have been part of the English and Welsh scene since early Saxon times.

This name may have derived its name from two Anglo-Saxon words TUN, meaning a wall or barricade, and HEALL, meaning a roofed building.

Even so, it has served the area for generations until the 19th century as the 'headquarters' for the law, being the Constable's, or Court House, and the venue for travelling Assize Courts,

It was used by Staffordshire, in which it was situated until 1911 for such local administration purposes as would have arisen in what was then a sparsely populated country district. In reality, it was the residence and office of the Overseer of the Parish, who was a very much more important person than he would be considered today.

The building originally had a large barn adjacent, known as Cromwell's Barn, which was demolished in 1932, which name derives from the tradition that Oliver Cromwell made the Hall his headquarters, while in pursuit of King Charles in the Midlands. This is quite likely as the King in October 1642 and April 1643 held a "Kind of Court" at Kingstanding near Barr Common.

There used to be in the Gable end of this barn, a stone with the inscription "HB. Repaired 1794". At this time Mary Browne lived in one of the Cottages and sold mulberries to the villagers.

There were also tenements, nearby, the whole known as Salters Yard, (or Slaters Yard),

Of the four separate buildings standing in the enclosure at the beginning of the 18th century, only the largest and main building, or Hall, remains today, and this is divided into two houses, the largest of which is now being redecorated and furnished by the Handsworth Historical Society for a local museum, and where many pictures, photographs and books will be available in due course.

There is no better description of the building itself as that of Mr. Bernard A. Porter, FRIBA, who says in his notes for the Birmingham Architectural Association Survey in 1932:

"This building is one of the very best early examples of the rare "CRUCKS" method of timber frame construction to be found in this country.
The writer had never read a description of a better one, nor has he seen one quite so good in drawings, or photographs, or by personal observation.
The curved oak timbers, forming the crucks, have never been cut to shape, the bend being perfectly natural, as the grain clearly shows, and the grain at the base is practically upright. The natural bend for so large a timber must be considered as very great, especially when it is remembered that the trunks of oak trees grow almost vertical.
The whole structure is known to have been originally one house - or Hall - and was erected about AD.1460.
Much of the brickwork along the two sides is of more modern repair work, especially on the north side, which was the main front. The original brick filling was put in about 1625, when the structure is known to have undergone repairs, and the chimney against the east gable added.
The building is completely timber framed in every way, and walls and such like served no other purpose than as a filling to keep out the wind and the rain, or to screen one apartment from another.
It would appear to have always been a twostoried building, Massive oak beams, eight, nine and eleven inches square, with moulded angles, span from timber frame to timber frame, and support the exposed and chamferred joists of the upper floor, and the ridge piece is of special interest as it is formed of an eightinch oak beam turned at an angle and lodged in a shallow notch at the meeting of the crucks which serve the purpose of principal rafters".

Naturally, it is not possible to give complete details of occupants during the years, but it is known that it was occupied as a Constable's House, by several generations of a family named Browne from 1520 onwards (Thomas Browne by his Will dated April 30th 1709 bequeathed to his son Harry and his heirs that messuage known as the Town Hall Handsworth), and by James Underhill from 1805, who was additionally Overseer of the Parish.

An Indenture dated March 22nd and 23rd 1805 related to this building whereby Charles Blackham, presumably on behalf of the Browne family, for a money consideration, sold to James and Thomas Underhill, all the said premises described as 5 Tenements etc., occupied by Edward Hipkiss, William Brigham, Thomas Slater and James Underhill, also a piece of land, the House Croft, I acre 2 roods 21 perch to hold unto, and to the only proper use of the said James and Thomas Underhill,

It was later put in trust for William Houghton, a draper, of Birmingham, and on June Ist 1805 the said William Houghton sold the land and Town Hall of Handsworth to Thomas Slater, a gunlockmaker of Handsworth, who held the property till his decease when it was sold by Auction on May 5th 1851, and passed into the hands of Anthony Wilson,

James Underhill was followed by Jeremiah Needham, who besides being Constable and Overseer of the Parish, was also Coroner's Officer, Recruiting Officer and Workhouse Master. He collected Rents, Tithes, etc., and farmed a lot of the land around.

He is said to have always travelled on horseback and was popularly known to local inhabitants as "Squire Needham". It is related of Needham that one day near Villa Cross he met Squire Gough of Perry Hall, who in course of conversation offered him a piece of waste land approximately 10 acres on part of which the Post Office now stands. Needham declined the offer, as he considered it was not worth while accepting, the rent being only 7 shillings per acre. Even-so he was obviously a keen and efficient constable, who took care to list the Overseers expenses and recorded in his minute book from July 10th 1807 till July lst 1819.

A press cutting of years ago read as follows:


Of all the days within the year perhaps the most important was that on which Needham set out dressed in the full regalia of his office with halberd at the head of drum and fife band to recruit the parish for the local Militia.

The halberd which he used on great occasions bore the following inscription: "Handsworth Parish, 1622.J.H., 1729" It was about 7 ft. in length, the head of the weapon being of iron with tongues of iron all round the stick or pole, with a hatchet and a sharp piece of iron at the top of the instrument.

In reference to his recruiting duties the following charges appear:

MARCH 8th 1808

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For the constable and headboroughs'
Loss of time in going round the parish, one day,


Paid for the drum and fife to get men for the local Militia


Paid for ribbonds,


MARCH 10th 1808

For going to Lichfield to swear in the local Militia


It would seem that the publicans in those days received a good deal of attention at the hands of the police, for on September 15, 1817, Needham charges 8s. "for summoning eight publicans for their licenses".

In those "good old days" as the entries show, it was customary for the magistrates to dispense justice in various licensed houses in the district. Of these hostelries the building fabric of the New Inns, Holyhead Road still exists, but as multiple dwellings not as an inn, but the Lamp Tavern, opposite the parish church of St. Mary and the Scott Arms at Great Barr, have been demolished - the latter having been replaced by a modern building on an adjacent site.

Needham's book contains charges for attendance on such occasions. Judging from some of the items relating to the burial of paupers, the lines "Rattle his bones over the stones; he's only a pauper whom nobody owns', could hardly apply to a pauper's burial in those days.

For instance, such entries as these occur:

JANUARY 26, 1811

Caretaking and maintaining of Elizabeth Linch seven days, in a dying state,


Paid for coffin,


Paid for shroud,


Paid for bread and cheese,


For ale,


For fees,


Paid six men for carrying Elizabeth Linch,


For my attendance and trouble,



Other interesting entries are:

MAY 17, 1817

For going to fetch doctor to a man that had cut his throat and taking him to hospital in my cart,


JANUARY 21, 1819

For taking James Fulford to Stafford Asylum, quite mad,


Needham's accounts were vouched at the monthly meetings of the Overseers and churchwardens, and they bear the signatures of many old residents of the parish.

In 1820, he was succeeded as Constable by Joe Chillingworth, who previously lived at the Corner of Grove Lane and Union Row, and who was reputed to be one of the party who besieged and arrested William Booth, the renowned Perry Barr forger, whose speciality was �notes. Booth is said to have had the experience of being TRIED twice, HUNG twice and BURIED twice.

The last Parish Constable was named Corbet, a farmer who occupied old farm buildings in Queens Head Road.

Later owners and occupants included Thomas Underhill, Thomas Slater, Henry Wilson, Henry Joseph Wilson, and the building was finally sold to the Birmingham City Council by the Wilson family in 1938.

The Friends of Handsworth Old Town Hall

To help support the use of the Old Town Hall a group named "The Friends of Handsworth Old Town Hall" was formed, and in conjuction with the Handsworth Historical Society organises Open Weekends, Coffee Mornings and Exhibitions.

The proceeds of the Coffee Mornings help with the upkeep of the property.

Please see the Calendar of Events for dates of the above activities

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