Happy Valley, Yardley Wood (with information and photographs kindly provided by Barrie Geens)

 

 

Happy Valley is one of those phenomena which seem so unlikely in the history of Birmingham that the phrase "You couldn't make it up" seems highly appropriate. Here was a leisure area on a canal lasting half a century in various forms, for which there is so much affection that the name Happy Valley continues to be applied to a festival in Yardley Wood, even if that takes place some distance away from the original site. All sorts of things took place there, including outdoor dancing, concerts and camping. There was also a faiground, and rowing a boat round the corner onto the straight section of canal leading to High Bridge at School Road took you into a deep, secluded canal cutting - a veritable valley 'clothed in Nature's fullest generosity'. We need to remember that this was a country area until the mid-1920s. People used to have holiday chalets out here and nearby in Hall Green, some converted from wagons.

 

There is a series of postcards dating from about 1912 to perhaps the mid-1920s which portray this extraordinary venue in great and fascinating detail. However, activity took place earlier and later than this period. In the 1901 directory, Walter Rawbone and William Walker are listed as pleasure boat proprietors under 'Yardley Wood'. This continued until 1911. In 1912, John Taylor has taken the place of William Walker, and from 1913 to 1917 there appear to be no entries. However, postcards sent in 1912 and 1914 already show W. Lea at Happy Valley, and the 1916 O.S. map shows the buildings that can be seen on the postcards. The 1918 directory has Pleasure Grounds (W. Lea, proprietor). In 1925 the entry has changed to Pleasure Grounds (Happy Valley Boating Co. Ltd.), and by 1934 there is no entry. However Barrie Geens found a report of a music licence application in the Moseley and King's Heath Journal. This had been submitted by the fairground for an Easter Fair from 18th to 23rd April 1935. An objection had been made by a man who said that the noise was so bad on such occasions that his three children could not sleep. The licence was granted but the magistrate warned that future licences were subject to the problems not recurring. Further west on the canal, in 1933, and until the 1945 listing, Fred Bird was hiring out boats from Limekiln Lane, near to the Alcester Road. The Society has photographs of boat hire from a cottage west of the Yardley Wood Road canal bridge, donated by the family who lived there. They said they were in business from the cottage until 1949/50.

 

From 1906 people could travel to the tram terminus at the King's Head at Alcester Lane's End, Kings Heath (known locally as The Knob!), and walk out to the Horseshoe at Millpool Hill and then along the canal towpath to Happy Valley. The number 13 bus went to Bromwall Road Billesley from 1923 and to Haunch Lane from 1927. The aptly named Valley pub opened there in January 1927. After the rural watersplash at the Chinn Brook was removed and replaced by a bridge and Yardley Wood Road was improved, buses went on as far as Glastonbury Road. This was in the summer of 1929.

 

There is lively discussion about exactly where Happy Valley was. Some say that it was between the Chinn Brook and the canal, some say it was on the canal banks. Some say it was only west of the bridge, and some say it was only south and west of the bridge, where the bus garage is. It is certainly safer from the map evidence to say that over the fifty years it was on the north bank, and certainly on the southern bank east of the road. There were boats tied up on the bank by where the bus garage was built, but none of the main series of photographs convincingly demonstrates that there were buildings on the bus garage site. However, two personal testimonies do refer to a fairground between the Chinn Brook and the canal. A helter skelter, swingboats and other attractions are also mentioned in one piece, referring to 1926. Such a fairground is therefore likely to have been on more level ground north of the canal, and one of the memories refers to getting ginger beer from Mrs Andrews, whose cottage was by the Chinn Brook. The later directories from 1925 also refer to boat hire being on the west side of the road. Perhaps on the bus garage site as well as by the Dyers?

 

What certainly happened to the site on the north bank east of the road is that council houses were built there by 1927. So the Happy Valley owners would have had to have moved from there. When this happened is not so easy to determine, since the City had owned the site since 1919, but a postcard from the Barrie Geens collection suggests after 1924. South of the canal and east of the road houses did not come until the mid-1930s. The City bought the bus garage site in 1937, and the garage opened the year after. The houses on the west side north of the canal are c. 1950.

 

The postcards below can be compared with the map, and it can be seen that the refreshment rooms and boathouse are on the 1916 map on the north bank of the canal and east of Yardley Wood Road. Other buildings visible on cards are on the south side. The ground falls away to the right on the second card, showing the bridge, which indicates that the photograph was taken from the east side of the road. Furthermore, the sharp curve in the canal visible on several cards is on the east side, not the west side of Yardley Wood Road. The lie of the land, which rises on the bank which has no towpath, confirms this. 

 

The best place to find postcards of Kings Heath, the Maypole and Happy Valley is in Barrie Geens' two books called 'From Kings Heath to the country', which are sadly very difficult to find. Number one is out of print, but number two can be obtained from the publisher, the Kidderminster Railway Museum.

 

A.C. Daws' memories of Happy Valley, Weekly Mail, 1984

 

"From the Valley pub on the Yardley Wood Road, which in those days was a lane, on the right-hand side of the road, there were fields and allotments, the brook that goes under the road now used to be a ford with a footbridge, on the left-hand side there were hedges where we used to pick blackberries. Before you came to the canal, there was a fairground on the right-hand side, on the left there was a boat-house and refreshment rooms. The bridge was very small, only enough room for one horse and cart. Over the bridge where the bus garage is now, was a farm, also a row of conker trees. By the boathouse there was room enough on the grass where they used to give the children rides on a shire horse (all free). The fishing was very good in those days. The Happy Valley was a happy valley where people could go and sit on the grass, hire a boat or canoe, or walk along the towpath to the tunnel and back. If you took a bottle of cold tea and a halfpenny or two farthings you were made for the day. With my two farthings I used to buy a jaw for one farthing, which used to be a sort of toffee wrapped up, and I would still have enough money left to buy a double apple on a stick, or a bag of stickjaw toffee with coconut."

 

There is a photograph of wounded Anzac soldiers at the refreshment rooms, in 1917. Other images associated with this one reveal that a soldier, Frederick Staunton Nelson, was a patient at Highbury, which was a military hospital at the time. (Thanks to Mary Harding for this reference)

 

 

O.S. 25 inch, 1916 (extract). Birmingham Libraries
O.S. 25 inch, 1916 (extract). Birmingham Libraries
O.S. 25 inch, 1937 (extract). Birmingham Libraries
O.S. 25 inch, 1937 (extract). Birmingham Libraries
The steps lead up to Yardley Wood Road, or Stoney Lane. Barrie Geens discovered this was known as the People's Empire Club, and that boxing matches were held there. (Barrie Geens collection)
The steps lead up to Yardley Wood Road, or Stoney Lane. Barrie Geens discovered this was known as the People's Empire Club, and that boxing matches were held there. (Barrie Geens collection)
Refreshment rooms close to the road. Downhill is to the right (Barrie Geens collection)
Refreshment rooms close to the road. Downhill is to the right (Barrie Geens collection)
The footbridges and the little rill are on the 1916 map. See also the postcards above and below.
The footbridges and the little rill are on the 1916 map. See also the postcards above and below.
Looking the other way over the rill (Barrie Geens collection)
Looking the other way over the rill (Barrie Geens collection)
Other cards show more buildings on the southern bank. The ground rises on the far side, which can only be on the east side, where the canal goes round a piece of higher ground and then cuts into it going south towards School Road.
Other cards show more buildings on the southern bank. The ground rises on the far side, which can only be on the east side, where the canal goes round a piece of higher ground and then cuts into it going south towards School Road.
Crowds wait at the curve. The south side of the canal also has buildings (Barrie Geens collection)
Crowds wait at the curve. The south side of the canal also has buildings (Barrie Geens collection)
The pleasure boat the "Valley Lass" by the boathouse. Note how much development there is on the south bank. (Barrie Geens collection)
The pleasure boat the "Valley Lass" by the boathouse. Note how much development there is on the south bank. (Barrie Geens collection)
Gardens at Happy Valley. Happy Valley's Arcadia offers 'first class entertainment'. (Barrie Geens collection)
Gardens at Happy Valley. Happy Valley's Arcadia offers 'first class entertainment'. (Barrie Geens collection)
Open-air dancing at Happy Valley (Barrie Geens collection)
Open-air dancing at Happy Valley (Barrie Geens collection)
Crowds at Happy Valley (Barrie Geens collection)
Crowds at Happy Valley (Barrie Geens collection)
This former railway wagon has found a new purpose as a holiday chalet at Happy Valley. (Barrie Geens collection)
This former railway wagon has found a new purpose as a holiday chalet at Happy Valley. (Barrie Geens collection)
Municipal housing has appeared in the once rural Chinn Brook valley as crowds walk along the towpath to Happy Valley. This view probably dates from 1924/5. (Barrie Geens collection)
Municipal housing has appeared in the once rural Chinn Brook valley as crowds walk along the towpath to Happy Valley. This view probably dates from 1924/5. (Barrie Geens collection)
William and Mary Dyer's cottage west of Yardley Wood Road. The boathouse is beyond the cottage. (Sheila Atherton)
William and Mary Dyer's cottage west of Yardley Wood Road. The boathouse is beyond the cottage. (Sheila Atherton)
The Dyer's cottage. The family hired out boats until 1949/50. (Sheila Atherton)
The Dyer's cottage. The family hired out boats until 1949/50. (Sheila Atherton)
A delightful view of the cottage and boats for hire
A delightful view of the cottage and boats for hire
The canal bridge from the east
The canal bridge from the east
Rowing boats in the 'valley' of the canal cutting north of School Road
Rowing boats in the 'valley' of the canal cutting north of School Road
Cottages on Yardley Wood Road north of the Chinn Brook ford
Cottages on Yardley Wood Road north of the Chinn Brook ford
Chinn Brook ford and holiday chalets
Chinn Brook ford and holiday chalets
The Valley pub
The Valley pub
The peaceful lane walk from the Knob to the Horseshoe can be seen
The peaceful lane walk from the Knob to the Horseshoe can be seen