Friends of Kings Norton Nature Reserve

   FKNNR is registered as a charity (number 1122293).

 

 

                Archaeology and early Land Management
                of  Kings Norton Local Nature Reserve

 

The meadows that today form the land around Merecroft Pool were once part of two large granges belonging to the  medieval estate of Bordesley Abbey. During this period the land was known as 'Kingsack Farm' and was cultivated as “closes”. It is now thought the ridge and furrows visible on land adjoining the pool are unlikely to have been the result of medieval open-field cultivation, but more probably the result of 19th century ploughing.



Watermills

Records show that a watermill stood on the Wychall Reservoir site from as early as 1638.  Remains of later mill structures are still visible along the eastern boundary of the reservoir site. These remains are listed as site no 03201 on the Birmingham Sites and Monuments Record.  By the early 19th Century a rolling mill stood on the site, powered by water drawn through a mill-race. The mill-race ran from Popes Lane, where water was taken from the river via a sluice, along the northern boundary of the reservoir and into the mill complex. This complex stood on what is today the south western corner of Catesby Business Park. The mill stream then continued along the northern edge of the Wychall Meadows towards Westhill Road, following the line of the drainage ditch which runs along the northern boundary. The mill site was later occupied by the Burmans factory, making gearboxes for motor vehicles. 


 

Prior to the Enclosures period of the 18th Century the area surrounding our current Nature Reserve was low-lying wet meadow, which would have been used as grazing land for livestock. In 1774 an Enclosure Award was granted to  land which today includes the meadows that surround Merecroft. 

The first records of specific ownership of Merecroft appear in 1844, when the Tithe Map and associated Appointment Documents were issued. These documents name Mr Robert Edward Eden Mynors as the owner of an area known as 'Long Meadow', including what is today called Merecoft. The land was managed and farmed by Mr John Phillips at New House Farm, on which the houses of Kingshill Drive now stand. Some old outbuildings remain, used for the horses which graze the meadows.  

By 1884 the old 'Recreation Ground' beside Wychall Lane  was managed as farmland with fields marked out by hedgerows. During the 1960s this area passed into the ownership of Birmingham City Council and has been managed as Public Open Space ever since.  


Wychall Reservoir was originally constructed as a canal compensation reservoir by the Worcester Canal Company in the early 19th century. At this time the reservoir covered 6.72 hectares. The aim was to continue to provide water power for the  surviving mills on the river Rea, before steam power was introduced to drive the machinery.


By 1884 the build-up of sediment and the process of secondary succession (growth of reeds and rough grass followed by willow woodland) had resulted in the lost of approx. 1 hectare of surface area. By 1904 another hectare had been lost and a further hectare lost by 1936. 

Birmingham City Council took ownership of the reservoir site during the early 1960s and managed the site as a Public Open Space. The surface area of the reservoir currently covers just 10% of its original size. This loss reflects a decreasing use of the canal network for transportation as well as the deliberate piercing of the dam by British Waterways.

It is now managed by the Environment Agency merely as a flood defence facility, the earth dam being increased in height, and storm water is retained for short periods only. No dredging is envisaged,  though efforts are ongoing to increase the area of open water for wildlife, by reed cutting and the use of barriers of natural material.


The Peafields in 1884 comprised two fields  to the west of Popes Lane, belonging to Wychall Farm. This farm was on the site now occupied by St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic High School. By 1904 the northern half had become a nursery while the southern half remained as farmland. Birmingham City Council took ownership of the site in 1964, at which time the northern half was converted into public allotments. These allotments remained in use until the 1980s when the land was transferred to the Parks Department and managed as a Public Open Space.  

 



Merecroft Pool was created in about 1900 and is retained by an earth dam; it seems to have been a pleasure and boating lake, as can be seen from the photo. In the original image it is possible to make out the St. Nicolas church tower  through the trees above the boat. On the skyline to the left, St Agnes Church, Cotteridge is also faintly seen, which dates the photo. The pool was once used by the City to re-stock fish for its other lakes. But fishing is no longer permitted here! The lake is also home to a colony of freshwater Swan Mussels, and provides a habitat for waterfowl and Daubenton's bats.