At the bottom of Marsh Hill, on the right we can see the wall surrounding Witton Cemetery which was opened in 1863. It covers 103 acres and the surrounding brick wall is 2 miles long – said to be the longest in the Midlands.
The cemetery contains 459 graves from World War I in plots marked by Screen Walls bearing names of service personnel buried within the cemetery. There are also 224 Commonwealth war graves from World War II. The cemetery chapel is the last remaining of three that stood on the site, the other two having been demolished in 1980. At its busiest, the cemetery would perform up to 20 burials a day. Although the cemetery was declared full in 1980 and closed to new burials, the remaining chapel has recently been renovated. One of the notable people buried at Witton is John Cadbury who died in 1889. He was the proprietor of a small chocolate business in the centre of Birmingham and it was his sons that went on to establish the well-known chocolate making factory in Bournville
As we continue down what is now Brookvale Road we dive under the M6 once more, leaving residential Erdington behind us to arrive in industrial Witton. We are now at the floor of the Tame valley and immediately after the M6 we cross the Tame Valley Canal, the last of the Birmingham canals and it was cut through here in 1842 to avoid the delays at Farmer Bridge Locks near to the town centre.
Then on the right we are alongside the River Tame as it runs alongside of the road. In 2007 300 homes here in the area around Brantley Road were flooded when the river Tame burst its banks. Since them flood defence walls have been built to protect the area. The walls have words built into them, if you’re in the area take a few minutes to walk along and see if they make sense!
The area on the other side of the River Tame to the right is known as Holford and gets its name from a ford over the Tame about half a mile away to the north. This was the site of the ICI Kynoch explosives factory where over 20 thousand people were employed during WW2.
Born near Aberdeen in 1834 George Kynoch joined Pursall and Phillips, a firm of ammunition manufacturers in Birmingham’s Gun Quarter. Following an explosion in which almost a third of the employees were killed, Kynoch at the age of 27 moved the factory to farmland in Witton. By 1836 he owned the company, calling his new factory the Lion Works. The business ultimately occupied nearly 200 acres of land here.
Kynoch became MP for Aston and Chairman of Aston Villa, he was forced out of the company when he was 54, as he was bankrupt. He died in poverty in South Africa three years later. The Company became ICI then IMI and left the site about ten years ago.