It’s just another one of those buildings you see from the corner of your eye as you drive to work every day, or maybe it provokes a casual glance as you walk past in the street, a blurred image that registers only a modicum of interest until there's a space where it used to be, and then you notice it straight away; and how many times have we asked ourselves the question after it's too late, what was there before? It was very often a building of no consequence, perhaps a blot on the landscape that needed to be removed to improve the neighbourhood.
But sometimes the lost edifice can be of significant local historical interest that unfortunately had become redundant and was no longer needed.
That's exactly what has happened to the former Rowley Regis Municipal Borough office building on the corner of Barrs Road and Halesowen Road in Cradley Heath, an administrative hub of local government in the area for the best part of 75 years, but which on the morning of Wednesday 10th October 2012, after almost three-quarters of a century to the day that the building's foundations were laid, succumbed to a demolition machine that bore a striking resemblance to a dinosaur devouring its prey.
The history of local government in the vicinity of Rowley Regis began in 1894 when Rowley Regis Urban District Council was formed to replace the previous board of health, and its authority included the towns of Rowley Regis, Blackheath, Cradley Heath and Old Hill. On August 8th 1933 King George V granted the UDC a charter of incorporation (County Borough status) and on Charter Day (28th September) a celebration of great civic pride took place at Temple Meadow, where 4,000 school children were presented with a commemorative medallion.
Following the acquisition of borough status, plans were unveiled to build new council offices in the borough to replace the existing offices in Lawrence Lane, Old Hill, and a site on the corner of Barrs Road and Halesowen Road was selected. Work commenced in October 1937 and the building was completed in December 1938.
In 1966 the borough of Rowley Regis merged with the borough of Oldbury and Smethwick County Borough, to form Warley County Borough, and became part of Worcestershire.
Eight years later, in 1974, on the formation of the West Midlands Metropolitan County, Warley merged with West Bromwich County Borough to form Sandwell County Borough, which still exists today.
Following the demise of Rowley Regis as a borough in its own right in 1966, Warley Council and then Sandwell Council retained the offices for administrative purpose, but the building became surplus to requirements and the current demolition and site clearance will enable the building of a new fire station and allow for the expansion of the neighbouring Haden Hill Leisure Centre.
The old office building was one of very few left in the Black Country to remind us of the heyday of local government, when each council was fiercely proud of its jurisdiction and responsibilities, catering for the needs and the health of people who lived in close proximity of the central hub where decisions were made. They were the days when small was beautiful, but more importantly manageable, before legislation from central government erased the traditional boundaries and created the giant boroughs that exist today, which have remote hubs of administration and a less than intimate affection for local areas.
It was back in March that we learned of the council building's imminent demise, and without delay the Bugle cameraman was sent to record its bricks and mortar for posterity. With the Union Flag flying high on its roof to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee year, the 75 year old office block still managed to command an air of authority, even though the last office worker had long since left the building.
A flight of concrete steps led to the main entrance where the masonry had begun to flake, but above the doorway and still in perfect relief despite its colours having faded, was the Rowley Regis coat of arms; the lion across the top mounted by the helmet of a medieval knight, taken from the arms of the Somery family, lords of the manor in Rowley Regis in the 14th century; the two lions faces either side of the shield representing the lions of England and referring to the borough's ancient regal status; the human leg in the centre taken from the Haden family arms, while its ermine background comes from the arms of the Ward family, the modern earls of Dudley; the crenelated tower representing Dudley Castle, and from it issues a twin tailed lion taken from the arms of the Sutton family, the medieval lords of Dudley; and in its paws an anchor representing local industry.
The motto, which is barely legible, reads Loyal and Industrious.
The offices were built during the age of the Art Deco movement of the ‘30s and early ‘40s, and it would be remiss of us not to acknowledge the design of some of the windows, and also the lead detail on the glass which really catches the eye. It was tragic in the extreme to witness during the demolition that one of the first strikes made by the mechanical monster was to smash through the stylish Art Deco window! jworkman@ blackcountrybugle.co.uk