Guest Blogger: The Original Aston Villa

Villa Cross Plan

Plan of lands at Villa Cross, 1818 [DV 689/458128]

One of the Tuesday Lunchtime Local History talks earlier this year was on the history of Aston Villa Football Club. At the end of the talk the question was raised as to the precise location of the villa which gave its name first to a district in Aston, and then to the Wesleyan Chapel whose members formed the football club. It was suggested that there was a map in existence which gave this information.

This was a challenge which I could not resist, despite being a supporter of the opposition. In the event the map proved relatively easy to find, simply by working my way through the various early 19th century maps of Aston to be found in Birmingham Archives & Heritage.

J.E. & C. Robins map of 1820 (above), clearly shows Aston Villa at the junction of the roads to Bristnall’s End and to Aston, known today as Villa Cross. It also shows that Aston Villa was actually in Handsworth!

The Villa Cross Inn, Handsworth

Villa Cross Inn [WK/H5/133]

The Handsworth rate book for April 1837 and the Handsworth Tithe Apportionment  of 1843 both confirm that at those dates Aston Villa was owned, although not occupied, by Richard Blood, a factor from Birmingham.  The occupant in 1837 was Charles Perry, whose daughters, Elizabeth and Emma were, according to Pigot’s Directory of Birmingham 1833, running the Aston Villa (Boarding) School based there. They had taken this over some time around 1832 from a John Skally who had moved his own school there from Caroline Street in July 1825. By 1849 however the house had become the Villa Cross Inn, which the rate books for 1866 show as still being owned by the Blood family.

Showell’s Dictionary of Birmingham (1883) and a report in the Handsworth Herald dated 21st June 1907 both confirm that the Villa Cross Inn was originally known as Aston Villa School. An early photograph of the Inn suggests that this could indeed have started out as an early 19th century villa type house suitable for a boarding school and so could well have been the original Aston Villa.

Don Abbott


5 responses to “Guest Blogger: The Original Aston Villa

  1. My father was a member of the Church at/by what is known as Villa Cross, around 1929/30. The story goes that the Football Club played and trained at a place called the Gillie (or Jilly) Fields a bit further down Heathfield Road towards Aston, before they started at Trinity Road (Villa Park). When they finished playing they always came back to get changed at the Church and had to cross the road at the Villa Cross. The Church team was an amateur team and what is now Aston Villa FC separated from the Church to play professionally. The Church team were still playing in the 1930’s although I have no further records from my father. Interested to hear if you have any more details of this time.

    • We do have records of Aston Villa Methodist Church (which I think is the one you mean) ref MC 34 and you are most welcome to come in and look at the catalogues. The collection includes registers, minute books etc although I could see nothing particularly relating to football I’m afraid. It would definitely mean a trip here to see if you can dig out more information.

  2. Interestingly, a copy of the map (above) showing the original Aston Vila was in the archives room at Villa Park when I arrived there in 2007 and was there when I left (2010). The club (strictly speaking) was already aware, therefore.

  3. I should also add that Peter Lupson in his book “Thank God for Football” reveals that he did research into the Aston Villa Methodist Church in preparation for his section on Aston Villa. Peter and I have cooperated in a number of matters of this kind, re: Aston Villa.

  4. Pingback: Birmingham's closed pubs: Memories of city's many vanished boozers | Birmingham news

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