Published on May 13th, 2014 | by Gaelle Finley



Friends of Black Patch Park was founded in 2003 when there was concern over the  possibility of Sandwell Council ‘developing’ the park out of existence. The campaign group achieved its goal when Sandwell Council told them that there would be no development.

They held a few fund-raising events in the park but have been restricted by the lack of a physical base to operate from. This will soon begin to change as they are about to enter negotiations regarding taking over the community centre building which was built in the park in the 1980’s and has been vandalised.

If they are successful, they plan to refurbish it, with changing rooms and toilets. They can then begin to facilitate visiting teams for a football league, as well as inviting local schoolchildren for activities in the park. They already have the involvement of Oasis Academy [formerly Foundry School], and will be renewing connections with the other schools which are within easy walking distance. The building will also function as a location for meetings, a performance and an exhibition space.

Everyone who visits the building will become aware of several facts pertaining to the history of the Black Patch, which consists of the area bounded by Perrott Street, Woodburn Road and Foundry Lane. Opposite the Soho Foundry Tavern, the only building currently in use on Black Patch, is Avery Weigh-Tronix. Avery are famous the world over for making weighing machines of all shapes and sizes. They even have their own museum on that site. But, as the front of the building tells us, this is also the home of Soho Foundry, which still stands to this day. From the late 1700’s, Matthew Boulton cast the parts and built steam engines here with the help and assistance of William Murdock and James Watt. Ronald Collins, Chairperson of the Friends of Black Patch, tells us: “It is probably right and proper to say that this is the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. We have all been influenced by this. Without it there would have been no trains, planes, cars, mass production of almost anything you can think of”.

In addition, Ron tells us: “There is something even more famous and which has had, possibly, just as much influence on most of us”. Before becoming a park in 1911, courtesy of Birmingham City Council, the Black Patch had been a home to Romany gypsies for most of the 19th century. Related to these people was Hannah Hill, who was Charlie Chaplin’s mother. It is believed that she had her son here. This was widely reported in 2011, in several newspapers and on the radio.

When asked about this ‘rumour’ in July 2013, Charlie Chaplin’s eldest surviving son Michael diplomatically said that nothing had been proven. Ron adds: “The Secret Service and the C.I.A. never found a birth certificate”. Since then however, on his own website, Michael has begun his own documentary film acknowledging his father’s Romany roots. He has also written to the Friends of Black Patch Park to say that he would be honoured to be a patron of the group. In Ron’s view, this certainly indicates that Michael Chaplin believes his father was born there.

This year marks 125 years since Charlie Chaplin’s birth and 100 years since his first film. To celebrate this, the Friends of Black Patch Park are holding a public ‘Picnic in the Park’ on Saturday 12th July (details to follow).

On Sunday 13th July, Ted Rudge, who has been responsible for gathering Romanies at the site for several years, will be unveiling a new memorial at Soho Foundry Tavern.

There will also be a football tournament in the park on both days.
Friends and families are warmly invited to participate in all events.

With thanks to Ron Collins

Photos: Ian Woodcock, Susanna Bearfoot


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