In the 1871 census the six pairs of cottages, edged red above, were known as Howdle’s Row, but by 1881 had become Howdle’s Cottages.
When were Howdle’s Cottages built?
When they were demolished in about 1967 it was said that the cottages were about 200 years old. Martin Littler, who grew up in one of them recently reminded us that it was what people said at the time, both on BrownhillsBob’s Brownhills Blog and to me in person. But why build back then?
The Ordnance Survey 1st Edition mapping (published 1834) shows a road or track going north from Watling Street at about the same point as the Lane, but heading roughly north north east towards Lambs Lodge, curving and contouring along the east side of the valley avoiding the valley floor, which I recall flooding annually in the early 1960s. Today there is still a Lambs Lodge Farm in the same place. There is no road or track shown that would have served a straight line of cottages running slightly west of north (even allowing for migration of magnetic north).
The Yates Map of 1798, though essentially diagrammatic and not cartographically precise, shows the area as part of Cannock Chase and apparently undeveloped. Lambs Lodge was served by a lane from the north ending at Crane Brook, with no continuation to Watling Street, but this may not mean it did not exist. All of the land between the Crane Brook and Watling Street east of the Rising Sun is shown as heath. To the north of the Crane Brook and east of the road to Lamb’s Lodge many familiar place names appear. This fits the pattern of inclosures: by 1834 Hammerwich had 850 acres of enclosed land, but it appears this was in the eastern or “nether” part of the village, which had mostly been enclosed by 1716. Overton was developed from the heath only in the nineteenth century .
Ogley Hay remained open until 1838 and the western part of Hammerwich (including what is now Howdles Lane) until 1856, following an Act of 1853 . Norton Canes was inclosed in 1870.
A survey of 1791-93, a map of the route of the Wyrley & Essington Canal extension between Birchills and Catshill, by engineer William Pitt, shows all of the area that is now Brownhills as “Cannock Heath”.
Yates 1775 map shows the area as heath crossed by Watling Street. Named places include Hammerwich, Norton, Lamb’s Lodge, Hogley Lodge, Cats Hall and Brown Hills (where Clayhanger is now).
A tantalising clue is provided by Jemma Howdle, who replied to BrownhillsBob’s blog: “… my great grandad supposedly sold the road when the houses was 1st being built there … ”. If true (I’ve no reason to doubt this, but it would still be good to find some documentary evidence) it would scotch the rumour that the old cottages were about 200 years old when demolished in 1967. This notion makes no sense as in the mid-1700s the area was mainly open heath as far as the eye could see with no farming, coal mining or other gainful employment that would lead to demand for houses in that location. I will return to this theory later.
The oldest comprehensive mapping showing details of buildings in the Ordnance Survey published 1883 (above). If it is assumed that all of the houses shown were there in 1881 the number of households should match the number of houses.
The sequence in the census records (with number of households) is: Eames Cottages (5), Lancashire Cottages (3), H Twist Cottages (4), Howdles Cottages (2), Saunders Building (3), Lukes Cottages (2), Howdles Cottages (14), Hardwicks Building (1), Orgills Building (1). Total 35. Next record is Watling Street.
The 14 (12 + 2) Howdles Cottages were on the east side. At the northern end of the 12 was the surviving pair of cottages, now one dwelling. The southern end was where number 25A is today.
In the 1960s the last house before Watling Street, on the east side of the lane was occupied by Beddows. This was a substantial house that could match the 1883 map. On the opposite side was a less salubrious building, which I think may have been known as Boundary Cottage at one time. In my childhood this was a small holding occupied by Levi Thacker. Given the records being close to Watling Street, these could have been Hardwicks and Orgills.
The four H Twist Cottages match the two pairs of houses on the west side, one pair of which survives (numbers 36 and 38).
To the north of Howdles Cottages on the east side was a further pair of cottages. Howdle also owned this land (see Abstract) (1), so I suggest these were the first two Howdles Cottages. These were where number 45 is now.
After this it gets more difficult. There is nothing obvious that could match the five Eames Cottages.
Beyond Howdles Cottages, on the outside of the bend, was a single house, occupied in the 1960s by Benton.
On the inside of the bend was one pair of cottages, where number 60 is now.
The only clear threesome of dwellings was further up the lane, opposite where numbers 11 and 13 are now.
On the west side was a jumble of buildings that could have accommodated three dwellings.
The only other house was the double-fronted house where Mrs Jones lived until quite recently. This has been refurbished; number 19.
There were 23 households for Cannock Chase and Howdles Row (12). The records either side are for Watling Street and Paviors Row. I can only conclude that some dwellings were built between 1871 and 1881, when there were 12 more.
Records are in parish of Hammerwich district 20, under Cannock Chase. It is difficult to work out how many households there were in consequence of imprecise place names. This district includes Webb’s Row and Williams’s Row, which were in what is now Castle Street. At Cannock Chase there was a George Howdle, proprietor of houses.
As 1861. The location was parish or township of Norton Canes, but Brownhills is specified. The same George Howdle was present, but a farm labourer. How did he make the transition to proprietor of houses?
As 1851, but no George Howdle; he was in Darlaston. In Norton Canes parish there is nothing about Brownhills or Cannock chase on the north of Watling Street (district 5). The records for Brownhills are in district 6, described as south of Watling Street.
Records include an Elizabeth Osbourn, 40, toll collector, and indeed that was on the south side of Watling Street. They also record Edward Beck, farmer, but from other records I believe he ran the Turk’s Head, later to be the Hussey Arms.
So, are there no records because there was nothing to record? Or did they just miss what was there?
Circumstantial evidence includes Cannock Chase No.2 pit opening in 1852 and the need to house miners, Inclosure Act 1853, land for sale 1854, enclosure works from 1856, and census records.
An occupant of the remaining H Twist Cottages says his house was built in 1842 (though he was unable to find the relevant paper) and that the surviving bungalow from Howdle’s Cottages is even older. Martin Littler, who grew up in Howdle’s Cottages, said that when he looked in the roof space there was old thatch, indicating the original roof was thatched, which suggests some antiquity. He also said that his mother, Emma, said they were on the second lease of 99 years, which would indicate that the property was between 100 and 198 years old.
My own deeds are accompanied by an “Abstract” (1) which sets out a 99 year lease of land from the Marquess of Anglesey to George Howdle dated 6 April 1877. If the original lease was 99 years and expired on that date this would indicate a start date of 7 April 1778, but that might not relate to building the houses. The document refers to two plots of land amounting to 2 acres 1 rood 34 perches and 2 acres respectively or thereabouts. It refers to a plan, which is attached to the Abstract, showing these areas. Although there is a discrepancy in measurement: modern mapping gives 2.54 acres for the east side; the Abstract equates to 2.46 acres, but this is sure to be the same site – I remember the old planimeters, which were notoriously unreliable, and, anyway, older mapping was not as accurate.
My deeds are also accompanied by an indenture dated 26 April 1877, which sets out the lease of land by the Marquess to George Howdle, referring to a plan in the Abstract (above). The important section of this document is:
The key bit here is that the twelve dwelling houses (Howdle’s Cottages) had been built by the lessee: that is George Howdle who was baptised in 1798 in Yorkshire and who only arrived in the area between 1841 and 1843. The cottages could not therefore have been built before 1841. Moreover, there is no indication that George Howdle was a property owner in the 1851 census, but there is clear evidence in the 1861 census, when he was listed as “proprietor of houses”.
The indenture dated 26 April 1877 between the Marquess of Anglesey and George Howdle refers to two plots; one of 2 acres 1 rood and 34 perches (2.46 acres), which I take to be the land on which Howdle’s Cottages stood (my modern measurement is 2.54 acres). This was for Howdle to hold for 99 years from 5 April 1877. It required Howdle to “lay out” [spend] not less than £250 in repairing or building houses.
The Abstract reveals that on 12 September 1877 a Mary Southern arranged a mortgage with George Howdle for the “dwelling houses then erected thereon” for £500. At the auction of 1911 the newspaper report indicates the total paid was £534.
I infer from this that Howdles Cottages already existed by 1877, but that Howdle could build on the west side of the lane also, though he never did.
A further plan, which looks deceptively old shows land either side of the lane. On the east are the 6 pairs of cottages known as Howdles Row (though not named on the plan). No other buildings are shown, so does that mean they were later than the plan?
Information is given as to lessees of neighbouring land. To the north of Howdles Row is Matthew Luke. This narrows down the date of the plan. Matthew Luke and wife Harriet are recorded in the 1871 census at Cannock Chase, two records from Howdles Row, which fits. Wife Harriet is recorded in the 1861 census in about the right place. In 1851 they lived at Packington, Derbyshire. The date can be further narrowed down by the birthplaces of their children: Emily born about 1853 Coleorton, Leicestershire; George born about 1856 Hammerwich. The plan cannot be older than 1853.
To the south of Howdles Row is Henry Orgill, who is also recorded in the 1861 census. Birth dates add nothing.
I have still seen no evidence that Howdles Row existed before the mid-1850s.
If it is correct that George Howdle was the builder, or developer, it cannot be that the original twelve Howdle’s Cottages were anything like 200 years old in 1967. Taking into account the time of arrival of George Howdle into the area and the censuses, I must conclude that the cottages were built sometime in the 1850s, in any case by 1861. The absence of any reason to build houses there prior to the Inclosure Act of 1853 and the time lag to allow for due process leads me to believe that Howdle’s Cottages were built around the mid-1850s. For them to have thatched roofs would have been unusual for the time, but maybe they were thrown up quickly and cheaply to accommodate miners. Perhaps the requirement of the 1877 lease to Howdle included replacing the thatch with slates?
This allows that other houses could have been built earlier, for example H Twist Cottages (though a more likely date is in the 1870s), or the bungalow that is now number 45, which could easily have predated the twelve, as could the cottages on the inside of the bend.
If the first lease that George Howdle owned expired in 1877 the second lease would still have been in force, albeit owned by others, in 1967, when the bulldozers moved in.
If other evidence becomes available that contradicts my conclusion, I am willing to be persuaded otherwise, but for now it is my view, based on the information available to me, that Howdle’s Cottages could not have been 200 years old, and were built in about 1854-56.
(1) Abstract of the title of Mr John William Cresswell to freehold property situate in Howdles Lane Brownhills in the County of Stafford, 1960.