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Lost identities at the old frontier

By john workman  |  Posted: April 07, 2013

Celebrating the Sunbeam motorcar.

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Some old sores run deep in the Black Country, especially when it comes to boundary changes and loss of identity, and Matt Mills from Ettingshall Park has a few words to say about this tetchy subject as he makes a stand at the old frontier: "Following the local government boundary alterations in 1966 and again in 1974, the face of the Black Country was changed forever. Towns and districts were affected, some more than others, and sadly in some cases a municipal borough or urban district was pulled apart by the new heavy weight districts of Dudley, Walsall, Sandwell, and Wolverhampton. Probably the worst casualty in this carve up was Coseley Urban District, but its neighbour Sedgley also suffered. In the decades following these major changes certain areas have suffered a loss of identity, including Lanesfield, Ettingshall Park and Parkfields in the former Coseley U.D. and Goldthorn Park that used to be part of the old Sedgley U.D.

“Whereas the separate local identities of other towns and districts have on the whole been maintained by three of the big four boroughs, Wolverhampton has tended to somewhat lag behind in this respect. Although it is true that the attitude towards Bilston from a Wolverhampton point of view has softened in recent years, the same cannot be said of parts of Coseley and Sedgley. For example, a generation of people in the last thirty years have grown up believing that Lanesfield has always been part of Wolverhampton. I wonder if anyone has ever noticed the plaque on a twostorey block of flats in Hackford Road in Lanesfield that states it is the site of the 4,000th dwelling built by Coseley U.D.C? “One of the most worrying signs of loss of identity can be witnessed on the south side of the road, half way along Goldthorn Hill, which was the old local government frontier between Sedgley and Wolverhampton. A few years ago an apartment block was built and a decorative fence placed in front of it that can be clearly seen from the road. The metal fence illustrates a few local industries of the past, but those who commissioned the artwork have included specific locations from Sedgley Manor, Wolverhampton and Bradley, three obviously different and contrasting areas. My obvious dismay is in the confusion this could render to the younger generation.

“One of the metal frieze sculptures within the fence features a scene from Parkfield Colliery which was located in the Sedgley village of Ettingshall (not to be confused with Ettingshall New Village in Bilston) and later in the northern part of the Coseley U.D. when the huge Sedgley parish was divided into two urban districts. Another frieze shows a scene from the Sunbeam Motor Works in Blakenhall, Wolverhampton, while a third displays locks which were one of best known products to come out of Wolverhampton.

The ironwork also includes lines from a well know Black Country poem ‘When Satan stood on Brierley Hill’, but Bradley Moor has replaced Brierley Hill.

“However attractive this metal artwork might appear to the passer-by, it contains too many errors. A local coal mine depicted was never in Wolverhampton until the boundary changes of 1966. I wonder if the artwork has unwittingly grouped all the areas together as Wolverhampton? Did the designer believe the area on the south side of Goldthorn Hill is simply Wolverhampton and has never been any different? And was a reference to Bradley made because it was one of the first places nearest to Goldthorn Hill where Black Country industries operated on a huge scale? In my opinion, this artwork, as attractive as it is, has helped to confuse rather than to inform.

“There is more evidence to confirm the loss of local identity a little further down Goldthorn Hill, where a blue plaque attached to a house between Elizabeth Avenue and Coton Road reads, "This is the birthplace of actress Gwen Berryman, who was well known for her role as Doris in the BBC's long running radio series, The Archers."

 The plaque refers to the Wolverhampton Civic Society, but makes no mention of Sedgley or the Black Country Society, and despite Wolverhampton being next door, so to speak, Gwen Berryman was very definitely born in Sedgley and therefore Sedgley deserves a mention.

“It is very sad how identity and heritage can be so quickly lost by local government boundary changes, especially when two large urban districts with hundreds of years of history between them are carved up and thrown to the wolves. I therefore believe it is crucial that important historical journals like the Black Country Bugle keep alive the old traditions and bear witness to the identity of towns and place names which are gradually being lost through the sieve of progress and change.”

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