Category Archives: Birchills

Bloxwich and Walsall election results


It was a quiet start to the day for the Little Bloxwich polling station at Holy Ascension Church
It was a quiet start to the day for the Little Bloxwich polling station at Holy Ascension Church

After a busy day and night for candidates and Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council staff, the results are now in for this year’s round of local government elections.

Council control

With a low voter turnout overall, and despite being the party with the largest number of elected Councillors, Labour have still not managed to achieve a majority across the Borough. However, Walsall’s Labour Leader Cllr Sean Coughlan has reportedly stated that the party will be meeting the two Liberal Democrat councillors this morning to discuss joining forces to run the council. We are awaiting an official announcement on this.

Whoever takes control will still have to implement massive cuts forced on them by the Conservative governments ‘austerity’ policies, although it is expected that Labour will have a differerent take on what public services and other areas will be cut, where and how.

Victims of changes

There was dramatic change in Blakenall Ward this time around, with ‘independent’ incumbent Pete Smith being knocked out by Labour’s Matt Ward with a majority of 257.  Meanwhile in Bloxwich West, the Conservatives gained a surprise seat, with Brad Allen defeating Labour’s Patti Lane by just 109 votes.

Over in Birchills-Leamore and Bloxwich East, the song remained with same with Tina Jukes and Julie Fitzpatrick holding fast for the Labour Party with 1736 and 1168 votes respectively, the Tory candidates being beaten soundly by Labour majorities of 1229 and 690.

Polling Station banner

The detailed results for the Bloxwich and district wards are as follows:

Candidate Party Votes received
Ali Shaz The Conservative Party Candidate  507
Jukes Tina Joan Labour Party  1736**H

** Elected
H or G: Hold or Gain

Candidate Party Votes received
Derry Hilda The Conservative Party Candidate  228
Smith Pete  811
Ward Matt Labour Party Candidate  1068**G

** Elected
H or G: Hold or Gain

Bloxwich East
Candidate Party Votes received
Fitzpatrick Julie Labour Party  1168**H
Statham Mark Andrew The Conservative Party Candidate  682
Timmins Gary UK Independence Party (UKIP)  478

** Elected
H or G: Hold or Gain

Bloxwich West
Candidate Party Votes received
Allen Brad  The Conservative Party Candidate  1434**G
Lane Patti Labour Party  1325

** Elected
H or G: Hold or Gain

Borough results

Election results for the whole of Walsall Metropolitan Borough can be found via the following link:


Results figures are provided here courtesy of Walsall Council

Cleaning up on the Birchills cut!

The former Birchills Canal Museum, 1990
The former Birchills Canal Museum, 1990

A stretch of canal that passes through Birchills, which is part of the old Bloxwich parish and boasts some of the most stunning views in Walsall, received a makeover on 25 June 2015 as part of Walsall Council’s Big Spring Clean voluntary scheme.

Council staff joined partners from Agenda 21, Ghausia Mosque, year six pupils from Birchills Church of England Primary School and the Canal and River Trust to take part in a canalside clean-up as part of the six week borough-wide initiative.

The old Boatman's Rest mission building (later Canal Museum)
The old Boatman’s Rest mission building (later Canal Museum)

The site incorporates the Grade II listed former Boatman’s Rest building and historic lock-keeper’s cottage, built c1900.  The Boatman’s Rest was one of three in the West Midland canals operated by the Incorporated Seamen and Boatman’s Friend Society (founded 1846). The other two have since been demolished.  The society was established to support the lives of men and women working on the waterways.

In more recent years, the building was used as the Birchills Canal Museum, but closed in 2003 after funding was cut. The canal alongside has become a valuable sanctuary for plants and local wildlife.

Birchills Canal Junction, Walsall (pic by Oosoom, c/o Wikipedia)
Birchills Canal Junction, Walsall (pic by Oosoom, c/o Wikipedia)

The clean-up was initiated as part of a broader aim to restore pride in a canal network that once transformed the lives of local residents.

The young people involved in the clean-up were excited to participate in this year’s Big Spring Clean campaign which helped them contribute some essential activity to help improve their local community.

Bashir Ahmed MBE, from the Canal and River Trust, said: “The students had a great day out on the canal and have really helped tidy up this local stretch of the waterway.

“We have some great assets within Walsall which are under utilised, the canals being one of them, so it’s great to see people coming together to encourage use of a beautiful location.”

From Birchills to Bletchley Park: Harry Hinsley

Birchills to Bletchley Park

The old Bloxidge Tallygraph website began as a primarily local history magazine, only later evolving an emphasis on community news.  With this, the first of a new series of local history articles, its successor The Bloxwich Telegraph returns to that focus.

And it seems timely, with the 100th birthday of Dr Alan Turing, mathematician and father of computing, so much in the news world-wide, to begin with the tale of one of Turing’s colleagues – a man from Birchills whose work also helped shorten World War II through his work at Bletchley Park, and who deserves to be better known, particularly in his home town.

Some Walsall people have changed world history.  One such was Francis ‘Harry’ Hinsley, born 26 November 1918, an ordinary working class lad whose analytical mind, talent and expertise were to help speed the winning of the Second World War.

A typical coal waggon of the early 1900s
A typical coal waggon of the early 1900s

Harry’s father, Thomas Harry Hinsley, was a waggoner, employed by the coal department at the Walsall Co-op.  His mother Emma Hinsley (nee Adey) was a school caretaker, and they lived in Birchills, then in the parish of Bloxwich, Walsall.

Reception class, Wolverhampton Rd School, c1920 (Walsall Local History Centre)
Reception class, Wolverhampton Rd School, c1920 (Walsall Local History Centre)

Young Harry was educated at Wolverhampton Road Board School and later at Queen Mary’s Grammar School, Walsall, on a scholarship.  A bright, quiet and studious boy according to friends, his academic bent and hard work resulted in his winning a further scholarship in 1937, to study history at St. John’s College, Cambridge.

St John's College, Cambridge, late 1910s
St John’s College, Cambridge, late 1910s

Two years later, he was awarded a First in Part I of the Historical Tripos. Then, with Part II coming up and another First within his grasp, his life changed forever – and his historical studies were temporarily set aside.

Harry Hinsley
Harry Hinsley

One day, in the winter of 1939-40, Harry Hinsley was asked to see Martin Charlesworth, the Fellow of St John’s who, working with F. E. Adcock at King’s College, was running Cambridge recruiting for the Government Code and Cipher School.

Alastair Denniston
Alastair Denniston

Harry was subsequently summoned to an interview with Alastair Denniston, head of the GC&CS, and despite his slight, bespectacled aspect must have made a considerable impression.  Denniston immediately saw his potential and recruited him to serve in Bletchley Park’s Naval Section in Hut 4 (which is now a cafe as part of the Bletchley Park museum).

Bletchley Park today
Bletchley Park today
Hut 4, now a cafe, Bletchley Park
Hut 4, now a cafe, Bletchley Park

There, Hinsley studied the external characteristics of intercepted German messages, a process known as traffic analysis.  From call signs, frequencies, times of interception etc, he deduced detailed information about the structure of the German Navy’s communications networks, and their navy itself. His powers as an interpreter of decrypts were also unrivalled and were based on an ability to sense something unusual from the tiniest clues.

Harry was frequently in contact with Naval Intelligence.  But at first the Admiralty’s Operation Intelligence Centre paid little attention to the Bletchley codebreakers – a serious mistake.  At the beginning of April 1940, the OIC ignored Hinsley’s radio traffic report of an unusual build-up of German naval activity in the Baltic, and as a result Britain was caught unawares by the German occupation of Norway.

HMS Glorious shortly after conversion to aircraft carrier in March 1930
HMS Glorious shortly after conversion to aircraft carrier in March 1930

Two months later he reported that a number of German warships were about to break out of the Baltic. Again he was ignored, leading to the sinking of our aircraft carrier HMS Glorious.

His warnings were covered up, but after this more attention was paid to Bletchley Park, despite continuing suspicions of profession jealousy and obstruction from some naval intelligence officers.

Schlachtschiff Bismarck, 1940
Schlachtschiff Bismarck, 1940

Radio traffic from the Baltic in May 1940 indicated that the mighty German battleship Bismarck (one of the two largest ever built by German) was about to leave, and Bletchley Park’s insistence that the Bismarck was heading for a safe French port was once again ignored.

Hinsley would not let the matter lie, and repeatedly telephoned the OIC after Bismarck’s fateful engagement with HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales, but it was not until 25 May that this conclusion was accepted.  Just minutes after his last call, Hut 6 deciphered a message from the Luftwaffe Chief of Staff who was concerned for a relative on the Bismarck.

The response from this revealed that the ship was heading for Brest, France and with this information the Royal Navy closed in and sank the Bismarck on 26 May.

German Enigma machine in use on a Nazi U-boat
German Enigma machine in use on a Nazi U-boat

Many German military radio transmissions were encoded using the famous ‘Enigma’ machines, electro-mechanical devices combining a keyboard system and ‘key’ wheels with codebooks, making it extremely difficult to break.

But it was Harry Hinsley who, at the end of April 1941, identified the Enigma system’s fatal flaw.  The same codebooks used on German U-Boats were also aboard their unprotected trawlers. These trawlers, transmitting weather reports to the Germans, also received naval Enigma messages. Hinsley helped initiate a programme of seizing Enigma machines and keys from German weather ships, significantly aiding Bletchley Park’s breaking of German Naval Enigma.

Harry Hinsley (left), Sir Edward Travis and Brigadier Titman in Washington DC, USA, November 1945 (National Archives)
Harry Hinsley (left), Sir Edward Travis and Brigadier Titman in Washington DC, USA, November 1945 (National Archives)

Towards the end of the war, Hinsley, then a key aide to Bletchley Park chief Edward Travis, was part of a committee arguing for a single post-war intelligence agency combining both signals and human intelligence. Eventually, though, the opposite happened, with GC&CS becoming GCHQ, still in operation today.

In 1946 Harry married Hilary Brett-Smith, whom he had met at Bletchley Park and in whose company he returned to St John’s College Cambridge where he had been elected a Fellow two years before.  That same year he was awarded the OBE.

Harry Hinsley at his desk in Cambridge
Harry Hinsley at his desk in Cambridge

Dapper and small of stature, Harry Hinsley often had his leg pulled for the distinctiveness of his pronunciation (the Walsall accent, a variant on Black Country dialect, is famous in some quarters!) but proved an exceptional teacher, and in 1969 he was appointed professor of the history of international relations.

Hinsley edited the official history of British Intelligence in WWII, and argued that Enigma decryption had speeded Allied victory by one to four years.  President of St. John’s College 1975-79, and from 1981 Master, from that year to 1983 he became Vice-Chancellor of the University.  He was knighted in 1985, when his wife also became Lady Hinsley as a result.

Harry Hinsley late in life
Harry Hinsley late in life

Sir Francis Harry Hinsley OBE died at Cambridge on 16 February 1998. His was one of the most remarkable minds to come out of the borough of Walsall – and change the world. Not bad for a coalman’s son from Birchills.

Stuart Williams

Further research on Harry Hinsley is ongoing and this article will be extended in future. Watch this space!

Meanwhile, why not support the wonderful museum at Bletchley Park with a visit, as well as the National Museum of Computing there?

Two face no further action over Birchills deaths

Derrick Vassell and Clare Sly
Victims Derrick Vassell and Clare Sly

TWO people arrested in connection with the deaths of a man and a woman in Birchills, Walsall will face no further action by police.

An investigation was launched after 39-year-old Clare Sly and 43-year-old Derrick Vassell were found dead at a house on Laneside Gardens at 1.37am on Friday 8 June.

A forensic post mortem revealed both died as a result of gunshot wounds to the chest.

Police immediately arrested a 23-year-old man and a 22-year-old woman who were later released on bail. Their bail has now been cancelled and they face no charges following the deaths.

A file is now being prepared for the coroner and an inquest will be opened in due course.

Police name man and woman in Birchills gun deaths

Derrick Vassell and Clare Sly

Detectives investigating the deaths of a man and a woman in Birchills, Walsall have formally named them as Clare Sly aged 39 and Derrick Vassell aged 43.

DI Michaela Kerr from Force CID said: “Following extensive investigations and the results of a post mortem, we can confirm the death of Derrick is being treated as murder.

“We continue to investigate the exact circumstances of how Clare came to sustain her fatal gunshot injury.

“Enquiries are very much ongoing but one line of enquiry is that Clare took her own life.”

Derrick’s family gave the following tribute: “Derrick was a much loved member of the family who will be deeply missed.”

Clare’s mother Eileen also paid tribute to her daughter by saying: “Clare was a loving mother to her three sons and was widely respected and popular with everyone that knew her.”

An extensive investigation was launched after police were called to a house on Laneside Gardens, Birchills at 1.37am on Friday 8 June, after ambulance crews were called to two people with serious gunshot injuries.

A forensic post mortem revealed both victims died as a result of gunshot wounds to the chest. Derek suffered two gunshot injuries, while Clare suffered one gunshot injury.

Whilst Walsall Police await further specialist test results, the 23 year old man and a 22 year old woman who were arrested in connection with the deaths remain on police bail.

Two shot dead in Birchills – appeal

Laneside Gardens (courtesy Google Earth)
Laneside Gardens (courtesy Google Earth)

Police have sealed off an area in Walsall this morning, following the death of a man and woman at a house in the Birchills area in the early hours.

Officers were called to the house, on Laneside Gardens, at 1.37am today after ambulance crews attended a property, where two people were found with serious gunshot injuries.

Despite the best efforts of medical staff, both the man and woman died at the scene.

Officers immediately cordoned off the property and the cul-de-sac as an investigation was launched into the circumstances of the deaths.

After making immediate enquiries a 23-year-old man and a 22-year-old woman were arrested nearby in connection with the incident. They have been taken to a police station for questioning this morning.

Detective Inspector Michaela Kerr, from the Force Criminal Investigation Department, said:

“Both the man and woman sustained gunshot injuries and they received emergency treatment at the scene, however they could not be saved and died a short time later.

“We are treating their deaths as suspicious and two people were arrested nearby in connection with the incident. They are in custody this morning and will be questioned by detectives.”

Local officers will be joined by detectives in the area today to assist with enquiries and speak to people in the community who may have information, or concerns, regarding events overnight.

The road remains closed whilst forensic searches are conducted.

Police appeal for anyone with information to speak to Force CID at Bloxwich Police Station by dialling 101, or speak to Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Going to the Polls in Bloxwich, Blakenall and Birchills-Leamore


Election Question

One week today sees what may be the deciding round in the current close fight for overall control of Walsall Council, as a third of Councillors across the borough go to the polls to test both the popularity or otherwise of their parties and the appreciation or not of local people for the work they do, both on their own ‘patch’ and in the Council Chamber.

The current composition of Walsall Council is shown on Wikipedia via this link.  As you can see, after the 2011 elections the Conservative Party currently holds 28 seats, down from 33 in 2010; last year Labour leapt from 18 seats to 26; and distant runners-up the Liberal Democrats lost 1 seat, knocking them back from 6 to just 5, with 1 ‘other’ making up the numbers in Lichfield Street. 

The Poll will take place on Thursday, 3 May between 7am – 10pm, and apart from national politics and traditional allegiances which always have an effect, some of the biggest issues in local voters’ minds are bound to be controversial Council cuts and Councillors’ allowances, not to mention the state of the local economy, jobs, potholes – and parking!

Personalities are also going to be a factor in some quarters, as well as surprise changes of allegiance; for example former long-serving Bloxwich East Conservative Les Beeley is  turning out as an Independent this time, while new Tory on the block Peter Hyruk is being parachuted in to compete against him and the resurgent Labour vote in the Grand Duchy, including popular Bloxwich East  incumbent Julie Fitzpatrick. 

Mr Beeley had previously been defeated in May 2011 by Shaun Fitzpatrick of Walsall Labour, and in a double-whammy later that year Mrs Fitzpatrick stormed ahead to win for Labour in the by-election which followed the death of long-serving Tory Bill Tweddle.

The big question is, can an apparently revitalised Walsall Labour Party take more seats from both the Tories and the few remaining Liberal Democrats, gaining overall control of the Council House, or will the Conservatives bounce back? 

The margin is a narrow one, and much will depend on who can motivate their voters best, as turnout in such local elections is notoriously poor.  The Bloxwich Telegraph will watch with interest, and report back on the results, fresh from the fray!

For Polling Stations and various other details including Candidates and their addresses borough-wide, see the pdf DOWNLOAD on Walsall Council’s website via this link

If you do not already know your Polling Station, then do check this list, as some of them have been changed from the last election, notably in Bloxwich East where voting has been moved from Lower Farm Primary School to Holy Ascension Church this time around.

A brief list of candidates in our own area, by Ward:


Bob Ball                                         British National Party

Leandra Gebrakedan                  Green Party

Matthew Conway Griffin               Liberal Democrat

Tina Joan Jukes                            Labour Party

Chris Newey                                  English Democrats

Chad Louis Pitt                             Conservative Party


Hilda Derry                                     Conservative Party

Ian Charles Robertson                  Labour and Co-operative Party

Pete Smith                                     No party indicated


Steve Baggott                                No party indicated

Les Beeley                                     Independent

Julie Fitzpatrick                              Labour Party

Peter John Hyruk                           Conservative Party


Christine Cockayne                       Liberal Democrats

Abi Pitt                                            Conservative Party

Mick Ross                                       No party indicated

Fred Westley                                  Labour Party

Forgotten Birchills author remembered

John Petty about 1956

A Birchills author little-known in his own home but appreciated nationally has now been remembered once again in death.

John Petty, who was born in Walsall in 1919 and lived in Kent Street for many years, wrote the influential 1950s novel ‘Five Fags A Day: The Last Year of a Scrap Picker,’ but received no recognition in Walsall during his life, which he resented so much that on the dust cover of his autobiography ‘The Face’ he claimed that he came from The Potteries.

Walsall Council has however now joined forces with Walsall Housing Group to set that right by mounting a commemorative blue plaque on the wall of 40 Kent Street, where he lived.

A previous plaque went missing for more than a decade, but a new plaque was created after noted local historian Jack Haddock and others raised the issue and campaigned for its return.  They have now been praised for their role.

John Petty's plaque restored.
John Petty’s plaque restored.

Councillor Anthony Harris, Walsall Council cabinet member for leisure and culture, said: “John’s is quite a sad story. He was a talented writer who was encouraged by a teacher but had a very tough life. He joined the Army, deserted and spent time in prison and made a living for a while picking over scrap heaps.

“A blue plaque to commemorate him was put on his old Kent Street home but taken down in the 1990s for building work. Our Local History Centre became interested in seeing the plaque put back up and WHG have played their part in this as they own the property.”

Petty left Walsall in 1967 after receiving an Arts Council bursary which allowed him to purchase a cottage in Ironbridge, but even then he was out of luck as his new home was condemned within months of his arrival, though the local council eventually provided him with a little cottage in Dawley.

He became a well-known personality and wrote a number of books and newspaper articles before his death, aged 54, in 1973, including ‘The Face’ as well as ‘A Flame In My Heart’ and ‘The Last Refuge.’

John Petty's Books at Walsall Local History Centre.
John Petty’s Books at Walsall Local History Centre.

John Petty is best known for ‘Five Fags A day’ which paints a bleak picture of the Black Country in the late 1940s and received critical acclaim when it was published in 1956.  Many of his books are available for reference in nearby Walsall Local History Centre’s local studies library in Essex Street.

It is to be hoped that now his plaque has been replaced John Petty will at last  assume his rightful place as one of Walsall’s most influential authors.

Four men charged following Birchills homophobic assault

Bloxwich Police Station
Bloxwich Police Station

Three men have been charged following an incident at a Walsall bar in November 2011 during which a 20-year-old man was assaulted.

The men aged 27, 18 and 24 were charged with common assault on yesterday (1 February) bailed to appear at Walsall Magistrates Court on Monday 13 February.

A fourth man, aged 17, has also been charged with public order offences.

Police are still interested in speaking to a fifth man in connection with the incident. He is described as a white male, with short brown hair, of slim build and was wearing a distinctive union jack long sleeved jumper.

The incident happened on Saturday 26 November at around 2.30am at the Lion Bar on Birchills Street, Walsall.

Homophobic comments were made to the 20 year-old male victim who was also punched several times and kicked as he lay on the ground.

PC Richard Jackson, from Bloxwich police station, said: “We would like to thank the local community for coming forward with vital information.

“We are still interested in speaking to a fifth man who may be able to help us with our investigations.

“We are determined to complete our investigations and would urge anyone who can help with any further information to call me by dialling 101 or by contacting us anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”

Anyone who has any information about the assault should call PC Richard Jackson from the Leamore neighbourhood team on the new non-emergency police telephone number 101 or the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.