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The end of a link with the Black Country’s rural past

By john workman  |  Posted: May 20, 2010

A picture of the ruinous New Cross Farm

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KEEPING tabs on all the changes that are happening across the Black Country, in particular the old buildings that are being lost and the new developments taking their place, is a difficult task, but one we would find even harder if it wasn’t for the diligence, concern and interest shown by Bugle readers.

We are therefore very grateful to John Sheffield from Portobello, Willenhall, for advising us of the recent departure from the region’s landscape of New Cross Farm, Wednesfield, which was once the home of the calligrapher Daisy Alcock.

John told us of his interest in the building: “The historic New Cross farm house, sited opposite New Cross Hospital, between Wednesfield and Heath Town, has always fascinated me, even though I knew nothing about its history or the life and times of its last occupant, the brilliant calligrapher Daisy Alcock, until I read two interesting articles in the Bugle several years ago.

Over the years I have watched the building gradually fall into disrepair until fairly recently parts of it literally began to collapse. Well the inevitable has happened and I’m sorry to report that the farm house has now been demolished and the site cleared, and in the second week of April just a few outbuildings were left. In the original Bugle story about New Cross Farm back in March 2003, it was suggested that the elaborate railings that run along the front of the site had been designed by Daisy Alcock herself.

But I have since read that they may be much older and could have originally come from Stanmore Hall near Bridgnorth. But whichever is the case, surely they are too unique to lose.” Describing the demise of a Black Country building which links the region’s agricultural past with the onset of urbanisation, is sad indeed, but it’s even more so when dealing with New Cross farm because of its connections with one of the most talented calligrapher this country has ever produced and one the Black Country can be justly proud of. John’s correspondence made us dig deep into our archives to reproduce extracts from the original story from seven years ago, and at the same time this has enabled us to reiterate what a stunning and creative calligrapher Daisy Alcock was. We have also taken the opportunity to look closer at the New Cross area and its land use going back 170 years.

There is evidence of a building where the farm house used to stand on a map that was surveyed in 1834, showing it sandwiched in between the main road to Wolverhampton at New Cross, and the Wyrley and Essington Canal. And on a map of the area surveyed between 1882 and 1885, executed by The Midland Electric Corporation, the building is clearly marked on a site also occupied by New Cross Villa. Whether the buildings were one and the same isn’t clear, but the wide open spaces surrounding the property suggest that much of the land was still being used for both arable and livestock farming. In White’s Staffordshire Directory for 1834 there are twenty farmers listed in an area which included Wednesfield at its centre and other villages in the vicinity, but there is no specific reference to New Cross. Fifty years later the majority of the remaining farmland lay to the north of New Cross, with railway cuttings and colliery fields predominating in the south.

Daisy Alcock was born in 1903 and grew up surrounded by a rural environment.

She never forgot being brought up on the farm and during her career adapted a song book to portray her father’s farmyard in Wednesfield, Staffs: “Up was I on my father’s farm, on a May day morning early. Feeding of my father’s fowl, on a May day morning early.” She sketched a picture showing herself with a tray of feed and chickens pecking at her feet. Daisy attended Wolverhampton Girls Grammar School and began to follow in her father’s footsteps with a flair for creativity, for as well as being a farmer, dad Ralph Alcock was also a master carpenter who could design as well as build fine furniture.

Her future as a teacher and calligrapher lay in London where she attended a college in Hammersmith, and throughout her time as a student she matured into a fine artist of lettering.

Between 1928 and 1950 she was a specialist lecturer in her field, but also worked tirelessly on commissioned work from her studio in Kensington.

The greatest honour bestowed upon her came during WWII when she was entrusted with the unique distinction of designing and inscribing in letters of gold leaf a Roll of Honour containing the names of the 1,500 Allied airmen who had lost their lives during the Battle of Britain.

Daisy died on Friday May 3rd, 1996, and is buried with her parents in the churchyard at Holy Trinity, Heath Town. Sadly her home for the last few decades of her life, her dad’s farm at New Cross, has also now been consigned to history.

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