The Lickey Hills Local History Society
About the LHLHS
Time Line - coming soon
Historic Military Activity on the Lickey Hills
The Worcestershire Yeomanry Cavalry
As a response to the perceived threat from the Revolution in France, where its King had been guillotined and there was an army of half a million men, the British Government proposed that Counties form a force of Volunteer Yeomanry Cavalry. These would help defend the country against invasion and subdue civil disorder within the country. So, in 1794, the Worcestershire Yeomanry Cavalry Regiment was formed.
The likelihood of a French invasion lessened with the signing of the Peace of Amiens in 1802 and disappeared after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo in 1815. The Volunteers were disbanded but the Yeomanry Cavalry were allowed to continue if they so agreed. The Worcestershire troops continued to serve until the large national debt and falling revenues forced the disbandment of the Yeomanry Cavalry in 1827, 33 years after its formation.
But this was not to be for long, as there was a rise in civil disorder in across the country, caused by low wages and high unemployment following the introduction of machinery into agriculture. The Regiment was resurrected in 1831, by request of the magistrates, and financed by the Earl Plymouth. He took command of 50 NCOs and men. The troops were occasionally called out to support the civil powers – for example to keep the needle makers and nailers in order. Lord Plymouth's generosity enabled the County of Worcestershire to have the strongest and best equipped regiment of Yeomanry Cavalry in the country and was recognised by a grateful King William IV in 1831.
The Regiment held exercises on the Lickey Hills, which belonged to the Earl. Guns were fired from a site at the top of Rose Hill into the side of Cofton Hill.
Following his early death the Monument was erected in his memory by the Worcestershire Regiment of Yeomanry Cavalry, with funds raised by public subscription. In the display case in the Lickey Hills Visitor Centre in Warren Lane are musket balls and 2lb and 4lb cannon balls dating from the time when the Worcestershire Yeomanry Cavalry used the Lickey Hills for their exercises.
The First World War
The Gun Proof Range
The Gun Proof Process
The Birmingham Gun Barrel Proof House was established in 1813 by Act of Parliament for the thriving Birmingham Gun Trade, to provide a testing and certification service for firearms as proof of the quality of construction. The Second World War
The Proof process tests a firearm using an overcharged cartridge, or Proof load, which is fired through the gun in an armoured testing chamber. This exposes it to pressures far beyond what it would normally experience. It is given a Proof Mark if it survives without being destroyed or damaged. Small arms were tested at the Proof House, and large guns were tested at a shooting range in Bordesley. But this was closed as the City expanded.
>The Bilberry Hill Gun Proof Range
The Great War led to a huge increase in gun and munitions manufacture. Small arms were still proofed at the Birmingham Gun Barrel Proof House, but large field guns and howitzers required much larger testing facilities.
One such site was Bilberry Hill Quarry, requisitioned by the Government, possibly because it was close to the Austin factory. The National Archives have a copy of the 1917 bye laws under the Defence of the Realm (Consolidation) Act of 1914.
Our Latest Project: The Hidden First World War Heritage of the Lickey Hills
Our Society has joined forces with the Lickey Hills Society and Birmingham City Ranger Service (who are responsible for the Lickey Hills Country Park) to find out more about the Range. We want to record the surviving structures and to see if there are traces of other buildings that have since been lost, like the bunker and stable block. We want to find out more about how they were used and by which military unit. This will not only record the buildings for the future, it will also enable us to understand the heritage on our doorstep.
The Project’s steering group has drawn up a list of aims, and have applied for a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund ‘First World War: then and now’ programme to support the future work. We have been supported by the archaeologists from Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service who have visited the site.
A key aim is that work should be done by volunteers within the community, with training offered in the various research and recording tasks needed.
People are also urged to get in touch if they have any memories or stories that have been passed down. We are also interested in any photos of the sites or other physical evidence that could help.
If anyone is interested in becoming involved or learning more about the project, please contact us.
The Surviving Structures
Three brick buildings to the west of the Visitor Centre remain from the period: the soldiers’ mess room (now the school room), the officers’ mess (the small staff room) and the disused toilet block.
Inside the old Quarry site, formerly the Bilberry Hill Gun Proof Range, three concrete structures still survive. The gun butts consist of two huge concrete structures now providing storage space for equipment. When in use they would have been filled with sand or earth to absorb the impact of the artillery shells.
The concrete ammunition store has been recently revealed. Tons of soil that had hidden it for years have gradually been dug out by volunteer groups led by the Rangers. The groups include the regular Tuesday morning ACT volunteers, and from Lloyds Bank and Lex Autolease. Other structures have been demolished decades ago.
The Second World War
The Gun Proof Range Reused
During World War 2 the Quarry was used for testing Lewis and Bren guns
Defence of Birmingham
Although there was some aerial warfare in the First World War, including a zeppelin attack on the Longbridge works in October 1917, the threat was much greater by 1939. Birmingham was the third most heavily bombed city in the country. On 13th November 1940 there was a daylight raid on the Austin Aero factory, killing several workers, but causing only minor damage to the factory buildings.
The Hills were used to site barrage balloons and anti aircraft defences. Though these sites were designed to be mobile, they have left traces on the land. In the Narborough’s Field area of the Country Park there are three linked sites – emplacements for the anti aircraft gun, the searchlight, and the listening device.
There is evidence that, after 1943, a Z battery was stationed on the Hills. This new weapon could fire a salvo of sixty rockets at enemy aircraft. The rockets were grouped together to be fired at one go.
Over the years several finds linked to these sites have been handed in to the Visitor Centre, like parts of a detonator for an artillery shell. These are in the display case in the Visitor Centre in Warren Lane, as well as some cartridge cases.