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The Nail Makers

Albert CraneWherever enclosure took place, agriculture became more efficient, and less labour was required. Farmers of the bigger holdings prospered, but many cottagers and smallholders were forced off the land. Some of the unemployed turned to nail-making, the staple trade of the neighbouring towns of Halesowen and Bromsgrove. They built their cottages and workshops on waste land by the side of the road and on the steep bank above the brook at Dayhouse Bank. That ordinary labour were entering the trade in too-large numbers is suggested by repeated attempts by the master nail makers to exclude those not properly apprenticed.

Coal was mined in Halesowen or could be brought in on the River Severn and by 1628, a mill in Stourbridge was slitting iron into square rods for the nailers. The real money was made by the wholesalers like Humphrey Hill of Cradley, mentioned in the 1625 Quarter Sessions as "a driver into the country with nails". A prosperous farmer like George Harris of Hunnington, who described himself as a nailer in his will of 1633, had the wealth to organise the trade. Robert Brettell of Romsley, nailer, was also a man of property, but the first things mentioned in his will of 1682 are his shop tools and bellows, which he divided between his sons William and Robert.

Another local trade was that of making scythes. John Melley of Farley had 22 sheep and a cow when he died in 1605, but he described himself as a scythemaker. He probably lived at what we now call Farley Cottage and used Sling Pool to turn his grindstones. He left his biggest anvil in the "over shop" to his son John, a smaller anvil to his son William, and his other tools to be divided between them.

Turnpike Roads

Despite Bishop Lyttelton's suggestion that the great road from Bromsgrove to Dudley once bypassed Halesowen, we must conclude that the existing road pattern is ancient. Before the Norman Conquest, the lord of the manor of Halesowen owned a saltpan in Droitwich and a house in Worcester. The natural connecting route would be a road along the the ridge on which all the medieval farmsteads of Hunnington are situated. This route is referred to in a deed of 1493 when Agnes, widow of Richard Underhill, gave to her son Thomas "a croft of land situate under Romsley Hill with all its appurtenances between the land of Robert Reynolds on the one part and the road leading from Halesowen to Bromsgrove on the other part".

Improvements in roads in the 18th century made it more practical for villages like Hunnington and Romsley to take a fuller part in the trade of the Black Country. The old road which ran from Bromsgrove, through Halesowen to Dudley was turnpiked in 1727. A committee of trustees made up of local gentry and tradesmen was empowered to charge tolls and apply the proceeds to the improvement of the road surface. The gradients of Gorsty Hill, Furnace Hill and Romsley Hill were reduced by diversions authorised by a further Act of Parliament in 1773. The main road through Romsley and Hunnington continued to be repaired by the turnpike trustees until the last Act of Parliament for the Bromsgrove to Dudley road expired in 1876.

Population

It is difficult to estimate the population of Hunnington and Romsley before the national censuses were held. We can make some estimate, however, from the 1672 list of those who paid a tax of 2s. for each fireplace in their home.

The return for Romsley includes only 38 householders. This would give a population of about 200, to which we should add perhaps another 100 for families too poor to pay anything. Only Thomas Lloyd of Farley Farm, and Daniel Grove of Ell Wood Gate paid for three hearths each. Six others paid for two hearths, and the remainder claimed to have only one. Hunnington's hearth tax payers numbered 17, giving a population of about 110, if we add the same proportion for poor families which are not listed. William Lea at The Grange had five hearths, as did William Smith of The Breach. George Harris jun. had four; Richard Harris jun. had three and 6 others had two each. No less than eight of the Hunnington residents were named Harris.

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Romsley Sanatorium

romsley sanitorium2

The William Cook Memorial Hospital - Romsley Sanatorium (or the 'Sanny' as it was known to the locals) - stood at Winwood Heath until its closure in the early 1980s.

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