Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Originally the area was an Urban District and from 1894 a Municipal Borough in the county of Staffordshire. In 1907 it became a County Borough, independent of county control, although remaining in Staffordshire for police purposes. In 1966, Smethwick was merged with the boroughs of Oldbury and Rowley Regis to form the new County Borough of Warley. This in turn was merged with West Bromwich in 1974 to form the metropolitan borough of Sandwell, in the West Midlands county.
Smethwick is served by trains on both the "Stour Valley" (former LMS) and (former) and GWR lines from Birmingham New Street railway station and Birmingham Snow Hill station, respectively serving Wolverhampton and Worcester, with onward connections. The station on the Stour Valley line is called Smethwick Rolfe Street. The former Smethwick West Station was replaced by a new facility, called Smethwick Galton Bridge, in the 1990s.
From the 18th century, three generations of canal were built through Smethwick, carrying coal and goods between the nearby Black Country and Birmingham.
- James Brindley built the first in 1769
- his design was improved upon by John Smeaton in 1790
- Thomas Telford built a more direct, route, in deeper cutings and without locks, in 1829.
Matthew Boulton and James Watt opened their Soho Foundry in the North of Smethwick in the late 18th century. In 1792, William Murdoch's cottage there was the first domestic residence in the world to have artificial lighting. The foundry was later home to weighing scale makers W & T Avery . (It should not be confused with the nearby Soho Manufactory, arguably the world's oldest factory, founded earlier by Boulton and of which no trace now remains.)
The world's oldest working engine, made by Boulton and Watt, the Smethwick Engine originally stood near Bridge Street, Smethwick. It is now at at Millennium Point, the new science museum in Birmingham.
Other former industry included railway rolling stock manufacture, at the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company factory; screws and other fastenings from Guest Keen and Nettlefolds, engines from Tangye, tubing from Evered's, steel pen nibs from British Pens and various products from Chances Glassworks, including lighthouse lenses and the glazing for the Crystal Palace. The London works, in North Smethwick, has, interestingly, manufactured the metalwork for the Crystal Palace.
The Ruskin Pottery Studio, named in honour of the artist John Ruskin, was in Oldbury Road. Many English churches have stained glass windows made at Hardman Studios in Lightwoods House , or, before that, by the Camm family.
Former Prime Minster John Major's parents married at Holy Trinity Church, Smethwick there while they were on tour with a music hall variety act. Actor Julie Walters and comedian Frank Skinner are both from Smethwick.
In the 1960's, a large council estate in the west of Smethwick was built. It had no official name, but as all of the homes were concrete blocks of flats the estate was known locally as the 'concrete jungle'. The estate quickly became unpopular and was redeveloped in the early 1990's with modern low-rise housing.
Labour won the Smethwick constituency in the UK general election, 1945 on 26 July. However, the victorious MP, Alfred Dobbs, was killed in a car accident the very next day. He is the shortest-serving Member of Parliament in British history, if one discounts a few cases of people being elected posthumously. In the ensuing by-election, Patrick Gordon Walker won for Labour.In the UK general election, 1964, Gordon Walker, who was Shadow Foreign Secretary, was defeated in controversial circumstances in the constituency by Conservative candidate Peter Griffiths. Smethwick had been a focus of immigration from the Commonwealth in the economic and industrial growth of the years following World War II and Griffiths ran a campaign critical of the government's policy. There were rumours that his supporters had covertly circulated the slogan If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Liberal or Labour. Hardly had the heat of the election subsided when, on February 12, 1965, US black activist Malcolm X visited the region just nine days before his assassination. He fueled further controversy when he told the press:
I have come here because I am disturbed by reports that coloured [sic] people in Smethwick are being treated badly. I have heard they are being treated as the Jews under Hitler. I would not wait for the fascist element in Smethwick to erect gas ovens.
Labour candidate, actor Andrew Faulds, defeated Griffiths in the UK general election, 1966 and was MP for the constituency until his retirement in 1997. (The constituency was renamed Warley East in 1974.)
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