Solihull was the only former Rural District Council to become a Metropolitan Borough Council in its own right under the 1972 Local Government Act, which came into effect on 1st April 1974. A little more than 40 years before, workers were taking up the cobbles in Solihull’s High Street – a graphic illustration of the incredibly rapid growth of the Borough. The population had more than doubled in 7 years, from just over 25,000 in 1932 to 52,610 by 1939.

Taking up the cobblestones from the High Street in the 1930s.
Taking up the cobblestones from the High Street in the 1930s.

By 1974, Solihull was described as “the quickest growing town in Britain” and the then Minister of Housing and Local Government, Sir Keith Joseph, commented that:

Above all, Solihull is remarkable in its unparallelled rise in status and population over the past 30 or so years. It can claim to be unique in having such a success story

Original proposals for the reorganisation of local government in the 1970s (The Times, 17 Feb 1971, p.4) suggested that the new Metropolitan Borough covering the Solihull area (given the working title “District 15f”) would include Solihull County Borough, parts of four Birmingham wards, part of Meriden Rural District and part of Stratford-on-Avon Rural District. By the time the proposals got to Parliament in November 1971, the Birmingham wards were no longer part of the proposed District 15f, leaving just Solihull County Borough, about one-third of Meriden Rural District and the parish of Hockley Heath from Stratford-on-Avon Rural District.

Representatives of the 10 Meriden parishes were not keen on the name of the new Metropolitan Borough being ‘Solihull’, which was the preference of Solihull County Borough councillors. The representatives from the 10 affected Meriden parishes (Balsall, Barston, Berkswell, Bickenhill, Castle Bromwich, Chelmsley Wood, Fordbridge, Hampton-in-Arden, Kingshurst and Meriden) selected ‘Hemlingford’ as their preferred name, having also considered Arden, Bickenhill, Blythe Valley, and Elmdon.

The choice of Hemlingford wasn’t universally popular – the Marston Green writer of a letter to the Castle Bromwich, Chelmsley Wood and Castle Vale News on 17th November 1971 described the choice as open to mispellings and said it would be “the bane of stammerers and stutterers everywhere”. As Solihull and Meriden councils couldn’t agree, it was left to the Department of the Environment to arbitrate. Despite the department’s own official circular advising that merged authorities should take a new name rather than continuing with the name of one of the previous councils, the Department of the Environment ruled in favour of ‘Solihull’ as the new name.

The new Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council officially came into existence on 1st April 1974. Maybe we should declare 1st April every year to be Hemlingford Day…?

Heritage and Local Studies Librarian

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