Hay Making Time

Birmingham Evening Mail (England), April 1, 2000 | Go to article overview

Hay Making Time


IN old English a 'gehaeg' meant a woodland enclosure. Over time, the 'ge' part of the word was dropped and haeg developed into hay or hey.

The name is a prominent one locally. Before 1327, a Robert de la Hay was living on the site which would become Hay Hall, Tyseley whilst across the River Cole in Bordesley, between 1367-70 there was mention of Haybarns - meaning the woodland enclosure with barns.

Victor Skipp suggests that the farm of the Hays emerged with others in Yardley during the twelfth or early thirteenth centuries when agricultural land was expanded in the parish.

It was a tough task making clearings as did Bill in Billesley, cutting down trees on slopes as at Swanshurst, or throwing up banks and cutting ditches to mark out your land as did the Hays. Still, the family prospered and by the mid-1300s they were noted as selling property in Birmingham.

The last of the male Hays died early in the next century, and in 1423 the estate came into the ownership of Thomas Est through his marriage to Marion del Hay.

Governor

He was a noteworthy person - a governor of Kenilworth Castle, a gentleman of the bedchamber to Henry V and Henry V1, and a distinguished soldier in the wars against the French.

Indeed, he fought at the Battle of Agincourt. It is likely that part of the present Hay Hall was the work of Thomas, and his descendants lived here for almost three hundred years.

One of them, another Thomas, was involved in a legal case in 1637 when 'It was affirmed that at a certain meeting at Yardley, I the sayd Thomas Est should use some disgraceful words agaynst ye Coate of Arms of ye sayd Charles Dod (of Lea Hall) which to my remembrance I used not, but if I did, I, then sayd Thomas Est, am heartily sorry for so doing.'

When Edward Este died a bachelor in 1703, Hay Hall and its lands passed through various owners. The estate itself was sold in 1763.

It consisted of nearly 200 acres bordering the 'very grood trout stream' of the River Cole, and also had a mill. This had been recorded first in 1495 when it was spelled as Hayemill.

Over time, this mill of the Hays, gave its name to that part of the family property which lay closest to the Coventry Road. Now one of Birmingham's oldest buildings, Hay Hall itself came to be seen as standing in Tyseley. By 1820, Hay Mill was in use as a blade mill, although it was advertised as suitable for corn milling or paper milling. Between 1836-40 it was occupied by William Deakin, and soon afterwards it came into the ownership of James Horsfall.

He was a steel, iron and musical wire drawer who also had premises in Oxford Street, Birmingham. James was a remarkable Brummie manufacturer.

Piano makers were demanding a very hard steel wire which would come up to pitch quickly and would remain in tune without variation for longer. Their wish was catered for by James Horsfall.

He devoted himself to the problem and achieved his aim through a process totally different to any previously employed. He hardened his wire by heating it red hot and then plunged it into water. If necessary, the outside of the war was softened by passing it through a bath of melted lead.

The innovation was a breakthrough not only for piano wire but also for enabling the use of steel wire in new fields such ropes. Charles Lean was an expert on wire drawing and he explained that Horsfall's wire was light, hard and extremely tenacious.

Soon it was used for rope in collieries and for ship's rigging. By the 1850s, Horsfall was in partnership with the Websters who had made steel wire at Penn in Sutton Coldfield, and in 1863 the firm stepped into the breech when the Atlantic cable connecting Britain and the United States went dead.

Whilst Wright's Ropes produced the cable itself, Webster and Horsfall manufactured the homogeneous metal which was required. Made in Brum, this cable did not fail. …

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