Solihull - facing the future with confidence

09:48 08 March 2012

Solihull - a town with its heart in the past, is grappling with the challenges of the 21st Century

Solihull has always been known for being posh. These days, its also known for being a great place to shop. Although Birmingham Englands number one retail destination outside Londons West End is just up the road, many Midlanders eschew the city for the smaller, but perfectly-formed Solihull.

With the award-winning Touchwood centre and the only John Lewis for miles, the town has become an upmarket shopping mecca.

But, this year at least, Solihull will be the focus of pilgrimages of a more spiritual kind: St Alpheges parish church, which sits anciently and elegantly on the fringe of the modern shopping precinct, is busy planning a series of celebrations to mark the millennium of the martyrdom of St Alphege, who was captured by Viking raiders in 1011 and killed by them in Greenwich on April 19 the following year after refusing to be ransomed.

No one is sure why the red sandstone church, with its distinctive 168ft spire, came to be named after this particular saint, but its parishioners are proud to be associated with a man regarded as a martyr for social justice and reconciliation.

Stephen Linstead, a reader at the church who is heading up the millennium celebrations, says there will be national as well as local events, as there are about eight churches in Britain dedicated to St Alphege.

Among the local celebrations will be a parish festival Eucharist on April 22, at which the Bishop will preside, to dedicate a new icon of St Alphege made by Aidan Hart.

There will also be a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral on June 9: a large contingent is going from here and probably from other churches too.

The parish church, founded in 1220, is a reminder that Solihull has been around an awfully long time.

Its motto is Urbs in Rure, which means town in the country a phrase that isnt quite as appropriate as when it was founded.

There is much that is still quaint and semi-rural about Solihull the town is dotted with historic architecture, including timber-framed Tudor houses and shops, such as East in High Street; nearly three-quarters of the borough is defined as Green Belt and it is surrounded by picturesque and quintessentially English countryside but it has been unable to resist the demands of modern-day living.

The explosion of retail outlets is one example; the encroachment of housing development another. And, of course, being where it is, there is one of the UKs busiest international airports and the world-famous NEC now on its doorstep, not to mention the M42 humming on the periphery. Now the Government is forging ahead with HS2, in little more than a decades time, the countryside will be further eroded by the high-speed train link between London and Birmingham that will cut a swathe through 13km of Solihull an issue that, unsurprisingly, is proving divisive among Silhillians.

Joy Woodall, a member of Solihull Local History Circle and well-known author, has lived here since the 1950s and seen it change quite dramatically.

Theres been quite a change in the past ten years, since Touchwood opened, she observes. And John Lewis brings a lot of people into the town people who may never have visited before. Before that, we didnt have many shops. The change started in the Sixties, when Mell Square was developed.

Despite the changes, there is continuity. The now-pedestrianised High Street is the same width as in medieval times.

That Solihull has become a 21st-century shopping haven also resonates with its history: for nearly 300 years, it was a successful market town.

With the coming of the railway in the mid 19th-century, Solihull started to attract wealthy industrialists from Birmingham who wanted to live in gentler, more rural climes. One of the few remaining such residences is the old part of The St Johns Hotel on Warwick Road.

When Solihull became a metropolitan borough in 1974, the housing development got going and the population doubled overnight.

Solihulls population is now about 200,000 and continuing housing development suggests it will only keep rising.

I came here in 1956 and I think, inevitably, there had to be change, says Joy, whose books include Solihull and its Villages. But we lost a lot of the sites from medieval times there has been a loss of green space.

Theres been an awful lot of pressure from central government; because of the motorways, they thought we could do more in the way of development.

She continues: There has been a lot of building in Balsall Common development is just eating into it. Solihull is still a very nice place to live; there are very nice properties and the local council keeps it very well, but I think people wish the building would stop.

Solihulls Liberal Democrat MP, Lorely Burt, echoes Joys sentiments. Its a big concern, she says.

Her fight, five years ago, to protect parkland from development was dubbed Lorelys Law in Parliament. She has also worked to hard to curb back gardens being sold off for housing.

People care very much about where they live, she says. Another issue is that its very expensive to buy property in Solihull. Theres a big housing shortage that needs addressing. Developers are buying back gardens but not building affordable homes.

Indeed, Solihulls posh tag isnt likely to be rescinded any time soon. Last year, Alderbrook Road was named as the most expensive street in the Midlands with an average house price of 850,000. In fact, four out of the ten priciest residential streets in the region were in Solihull.

No wonder, then, that it is home to various celebrities, including the comedian Jasper Carrott. Other famous names were born here; among them, Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond, ex-rugby union international Martin Johnson and former British tennis number one Jeremy Bates.

What people love about Solihull is that its a great place to come and shop, says Lorely. We also have beautiful parks. You get a great sense, when you talk to people on their doorsteps, that its residents are very proud to live here. Its a relatively safe place to live crime is the lowest its been for ten years it has great schools, low unemployment and its very green. I wouldnt want to live anywhere else.


Shop with us at Great British Life

More from Out & About

Shipston-on-Stour ©  John Clift, Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Tracy Spiers goes in search of the unusual and eclectic, and is delighted by what she discovers in freewheeling Shipston-on-Stour

Read more
Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The equine condition laminitis is common and frustrating to treat, says Debbie Graham.Veterinary surgeon Jess Hill offers advice on how to spot the symptoms, and what course of action to choose for your pony.

Read more
Wednesday, December 2, 2015

For 46 weeks of the year, Cotswold veterinary surgeon Tim Brazil’s patients are the sports and pleasure horses of this area and beyond. But for the remaining six it is the working equines of developing countries, like India and Egypt, that demand his attention. Debbie Graham spoke to him about his work.

Read more
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Think honey-coloured cottages, cosy pubs, tiny tearooms and narrow streets...

Cotswold villages are some of the most beautiful in Britain – think honey-coloured cottages, cosy pubs, tiny tearooms and narrow streets. We pick ten of the prettiest Cotswolds villages to explore.

Read more
Monday, October 12, 2015
Livestock on display at the show

Moreton Country show proved to be ever popular this year, with 350 trade stands, and locally-produced food and attractions, which included animal breeds, exhibitors and agricultural vehicles. Pigs, which appeared in some episodes of the hit television drama Downton Abbey, were big crowd pullers, as were the IMPS motorcycle team and show jumping stars who thrilled crowds in the grand arena.

Read more
Wednesday, October 7, 2015
Joe Henson with some Rare Breed Gloucester Old Spot Piglets at his family farm, Bemborough Farm

The farming world has lost one of its heroes, Joe Henson, MBE, who has died after a short illness, at the age of 82

Read more
Friday, September 25, 2015
Get involved with the Rugby World Cup in the Cotswolds

For those who were unable to get tickets for the Rugby World Cup this year, fear not as there are still plenty of places to get in on the sporting atmosphere right here in the Cotswolds. Whether you’re a front row rugby fan or an in and out spectator, we pick 8 of the top watering-holes to meet all of your World Cup needs this year.

Read more
Thursday, August 27, 2015
Charotte Dujardin to headline in the Main Arena at Your Horse Live

Your Horse Live is a fun and fabulous day out for friends and family

Read more
Thursday, August 27, 2015
Alex James and Jamie Oliver at The Big Feastival

The Westons’ Cider Teepee will be taking centre stage at The Big Feastival this weekend (August 28 to 30), ensuring there will be cider galore for foodies and music lovers alike.

Read more
Monday, August 24, 2015
The Granary, National Garden Scheme

The Granary, an enchanting secret garden alongside the Oxford Canal is opening to the public this August Bank Holiday

Read more
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
Cotswold Wildlife Park's photo competition

If you’ve been to Cotswold Wildlife Park or are planning to go, then pictures of your day out at the Park could net you an eye-to-eye experience with giraffes!

Read more
Thursday, August 6, 2015
Lower Slaughter, a typical Cotswold village / Photo credit: Justine Kibler

Experience the beauty of rolling English countryside, quaint limestone villages, stunning stately homes and imposing castles by visiting the Cotswolds. But there’s more to do than just relax in this beautiful region of south England.

Read more
Tuesday, July 7, 2015
A parade of elephants make their way across the dirt road at Amakhala Game Reserve | Photo credit: Joe Meredith

Joe Meredith swapped the hills of the Cotswolds for the savannahs of South Africa’s Eastern Cape, discovering some of what makes the country such an exciting place to be

Read more
Tuesday, July 7, 2015
Looking out over Cheltenham and beyond

Having had two brilliant days walking in May, the 1st of June was grey and windy as we started our walk from Cleeve Common to Dowdeswell. I took my two geriatric spaniels as I thought it would be warm enough weather and not too strenuous. Not a good idea...

Read more

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

A+ Education

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad
subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Warwickshire's trusted business finder

Job Search in the Cotswolds

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search