The BIRCH family originates from the 1800s in Wolverhampton, England. It is here that the family have connections with the Council and it is believed Mitchell and Butlers Brewery.
Annie Evans nee Birch's home address at the time of her marriage to Arthur senior was 17 Herbert Street, a small road off the side of the main road out across Cannock chase towards Stafford. This too is only a short walk away from the city centre and from St John's Street where Arthur was living and St Peter's church where the marriage took place. St Johns Church was consecrated in 1760 with many of its 1250 seats being fee paying box pews.
Annie's father Harry, was recorded on the marriage certificate as being a painter although he was also believed to have been an Alderman in Wolverhampton as this photograph of him as a very distinguished gentleman indicates. Relatives, perhaps sisters Polly and Alice, living nearby at Whitmore Reans during the early part of the 20th century had connections through work or friendship, with the family of the Manders paint company and Arthur Evans junior recalls knowing and playing with the children of the Manders family when he was young. Whitmore Reans earns its name from an earlier landowner who lived in Whitmore Hall. This was surrounded by Reans or swampy land. Known earlier as New Hampton, it became an attractive area of Wolverhampton for better class housing on the opposite side of town to the direction of the prevailing wind. Dirt and grime generated in the Black Country would be blown away to the East.
Manders have gone down in the fame of Wolverhampton with the current Manders centre bearing the family name. In a pioneering effort, the Manders company in 1889 was one of the first companies to offer its employees a full weeks paid holiday. One of the Manders sons with whom Arthur played is believed to have gone on to become a mayor in London.
Both the Evans family and the Birch family lived for several generations in or around the centre of Wolverhampton. According to tradition, Wolverhampton was the settlement founded by Wulfhere, King of Mercia in 657AD. He called his home, Wulfhere High Town. Later, in 994 Wulfruna, sister of King Edgar dedicated a monastery to St Mary, later to be known as the church of St Peter. Her name lives on in several ways within the town. In those days it was a small settlement surrounded by bleak marshland. Other local towns were being established like Bilsataena (Bilston) and Seeges League (Sedgely). By 1750 Wolverhampton housed almost 7500 people. It was a small hamlet and coming down from the north travellers would have arrived at Tup street. (Tup meaning a ram). It was here that an Evans family lived since early parish records report a Thomas Evans from Tup Street, son of John being baptised at St Peter's church on 29 December 1705. John must have lived near the houses of John Molineux (later to become the headquarters of the Wolverhampton Wonderers football team) and Peter Giffard. Interestingly one of the houses was built by a Thomas Birch (a relative I wonder?) for almost £60.
The first official census of 1801 recorded the population of Wolverhampton at over 12,000 people. Improvements were required to overcome the dark squalor so commissioners improved the lighting and sanitation. However, cholera was to take its toll of hundreds of people with St George's churchyard becoming their burial ground.
It was not until the Industrial revolution started in the 19th century that Wolverhampton and the surrounding land rapidly developed into a prosperous city. The well established centre was filled with fine terraced shops including milliners, tailors and food stores. The grand civic buildings soon became encrusted with the black grime of industrialisation.
Annie attended the Wolverhampton Girls school which was founded in 1515. In 1875 it moved to the south of Wolverhampton and was expanded in 1897 although this may have been after Annie left. She must have been fortunate to have gained a good education since in the nineteenth century all elementary education was provided by church built schools. It was only in the middle to late nineteenth century that schooling became available to the larger population. In 1870 however education of children became free and compulsory. Not until 1902 did the state start to build its own schools relying until then on church institutions.
Typical school classroom
Arthur junior would perhaps have attended school in Heath Town where he was born although he remembers that his primary school was at the top of Penn Lane and later became the Grammar School. In those days, discipline was strict and schools were cold dark places where acoustics may have caused difficulty for the children to hear their teacher. Arthur was not an academic, he preferred the outdoor life and found a great enjoyment in playing Rugby.
Recounting memories from his schooldays, Arthur junior recalls his mum
meeting him from school and putting him on a train bound for Wolverhampton, perhaps only a
few stops away. There his Grandfather, Harry Birch, met him in a horse drawn Landau coach.
He would often try to sit up the front on the raised bench alongside the driver, a
foretaste of a future lifelong love of driving. His Grandfather on the other hand, a
serious and strong-minded gentleman would order him to sit obediently inside the carriage.
Travelling on to his council meetings, Harry would give Arthur 6d pocket money advising
him to save 3d whilst spending the other 3d. Advice not always taken as Arthur would
usually spend it all. Back at Harrys home, number 17 Herbert Street, Arthur
remembers walking down to the bottom of a long garden where he could watch the Mitchell
and Butlers shirehorses grazing in a nearby field.
At one time he enrolled in the Dunlop scouts, as this photograph of him in his youth shows. It was a few years before he was to work at the factory.
Arthur junior as a scout
Sadly the houses in Herbert Street are long gone with a council centre for mobility now occupying the road. There are no signs remaining of what the house was like or if it was the coaching house which Arthur also recalls although is was most likely a back-to-back home. An ordnance survey map of 1902 does show a Brewery at the bottom of the gardens to the houses of Herbert Street. Nearby there is the Molineux Grounds where Wolverhampton's football team, the Wanderers or Wolves play. Arthur remembers being taken there as a child to watch the team. Entrance to the grounds would have cost him around 6d but he would have had to stand on the terraces.
Originally Molineux House, built for Benjamin Molineux a local ironmaster, in 1750, was located in fine grounds. To the north of the house, the pleasure gardens were used for entertainment like balloon ascents, cycling and later soccer. Finally the lake in the centre of the park was drained and the football pitch was laid. The stadium celebrated its opening on 2nd September 1902 with a match against another local team, Aston Villa. This friendly match ended in a 1-1 draw and set the scene for many local derbys in the future.
A search of trade directories at about the time of Arthur's birth records several small shops along the Cannock road including a butchers at 129, a hairdressers at 131, a lock smith at 147 and a greengrocers at 167.
It is possible that Annie's father's father, Mr Birch, was the Deputy Mayor of Wolverhampton and may have run the coaching inn although to date no substantiating evidence has been found.
Back in 1835 Charles Pelham Villiers was elected Mayor of Wolverhampton and by 1898 he died at the age of 96 as the longest serving MP ever clocking up just over 63 years in his seat.
William or John Birch? (Photo on the base of an ashtray)
Arthur remembers his mother taking him to stay at a coaching inn, possibly in Penn, after his father died. The marriage certificate of Harry and Ellen Birch, formerly Ellen James shows his Father to be a William Birch of 79 Darlington Street in the centre of Wolverhampton. The 1881 census shows him at the age of 48 as a House Painter, Journeyman (a person trained and skilled in the art, no longer an apprentice). He married his wife Ann, nee Freeman on 4th June 1851. It is know that a few generations before along the Birch family line there was a strong connection with Mitchell and Butlers. A photograph on an ashtray from the Butler's brewery shows a distinguished gentleman believed to be Mr Birch, the great grandfather of Arthur, could it be William or his father John. Recent evidence has been provided by Steven Orr that Annie's grandfather William Birch was the son of John and Mary (nee Adderley) who were married at St Mary's in Brewood 24th April 1830.
Members of the family would have been in Wolverhampton in 1866 when Queen Victoria visited the town. It was in the Market square, now called Queen Square that she unveiled a statue of her late husband. The square became a fashionable area to visit full of cafes and tea rooms. Trams from around the local areas would converge upon this centre. Despite the attentions of dignitaries over the years Wolverhampton remains known as a town, not a city, much to the annoyance of its residents. (NEWS Flash 2001 ~ Wolverhampton has just been granted the status of City).
Just North West of the Town centre (City centre?), West Park was opened on Whit Monday 1881. Covering 50 acres it rapidly became the centre of interest for town's folk in the 1890s. The week long floral fetes would attract some 80,000 people. Art and Industrial exhibitions were held and fishing in the pond. Various features were added including a band stand, donated by MP Charles Villiers, a clock tower and a fountain.
William's son Harry, then 22 was a Tinman, journeyman. Darlington Street is now all shops with 79 an estate agents, formerly a bank. But it is right in the civic heart of Wolverhampton so there may have been some connection between the Birchs and the city council. On the opposite corner of the road to 79 Darlington Street stands a Methodist Church with a plaque commemorating its construction in 1899 by Arthur Marshall. It is an imposing building built in early Georgian style having a large dome and two turrets, an unusual design for a Methodist Church. Perhaps Harry Birch witnessed the church being constructed.
Some 80 years on a visit was made to the site of Arthur's birthplace, 141 Cannock Road but the small row of shops which do remain only cover the numbers 157 to 161. Where 141 would have been there is a short lay by. A short way up the road there is a public house called the Wagon and Horses which could find its origins in the original coaching house mentioned by Arthur. Over the road from the site is the Mitchell and Butlers Springfield brewery.
Arthur had several aunts and uncles. Nell Birch married Tom Summerfield. Another Uncle, called Albert Birch who was believed by Arthur to have been killed in World War 1 aged 20, although a search of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records show that it was the brother Harry Birch of 17.5 Herbert Street, Wolverhampton, son of Harry & Ellen Birch who died in 1914 aged 29. He was recorded as Private 8342 Harry Birch, 1st Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment, who died on Monday 26th October 1914 at First Battle of Ypres in Belgium. A plaque on panel 35 and 37 of the Menin Gate remembers him. His Aunty Sarah married another Harold, Harold Sambrook and they had 3 children, Geoff and Raymond, who was a squadron leader in the second world war and Madge. Finally there was aunt May who with her husband ran a pub in Cannock. Mays husband had been a miner in a local colliery but silicosis forced an early retirement. He and his wife took the pub nearby where his mining colleagues would come and drink. Later in his life, Arthur and his wife Gladys were to try working in Mays pub but Arthur did not get on well enough to consider making a career in that direction. Investigations in the small village of Essington a single pub, the Minerva, was found. The name rang a bell with Arthur when told indicating that this may have been the house run by May and her husband.
Little research has been carried out yet on the BIRCH line.