Known to many Brummies as Little Russia, because it is so high up and so catches the winds sweeping from the Russian steppes and across the flat lands of northern Europe and eastern England, Quinton is one of the most puzzling of all our city's place names. Does it owe its emergence to Roman legionaries who once tilted at a cross beam on an upright pole locally? And is it from this the sport of quintain that the district gains its name? This was the explanation put forward by T.R. Nash in 1781 in History and Antiquities of Worcestershire. He based his belief on another conjecture, that a Roman military road passed through Warley and was a branch of the greater Icknield Street (Ryknield Street). Anthony N. Rosser, an expert on Quinton, points out that a site on Ridgeacre Road West may have been suitable for the Roman sport and that it was in line with the Roman fort at Metchley in Edgbaston. Another origin for the name Quinton was proposed by TW. Bunting. He felt that it derives from the Latin words Quintana Via - meaning a road which crossed a Roman camp. A third suggestion ascribes the name to the Latin word 'quintana', signifying a market of a camp formed on a 'quintos'.
It is difficult to find hard evidence to sustain these assertions. There is no indication of a Roman military road running near to Quinton. Indeed, the only Roman road at all which through Birmingham was Icknield Street, also known as Ryknield Street. This came from Alcester, went through King's Norton and crossed the Rea at Lifford, struck along the Pershore Road at Stirchley, headed across Edgbaston and by the camp at Metchley, followed the line of Monument Road and Icknield Street, hit Great Hampton Street, went on to Wellhead Lane and then crossed the Tame at Holford, and eventually passed through Streetly.
The absence of a military road to Quinton weakens the case for a Latin origin for the name. It is made more unlikely by the fact that Roman legionaries were only in the Birmingham area for a short time. Around 48 AD a Roman camp was erected at Metchley as one of the bases for the legionaries as they pushed westwards in the conquest of Britain. A decade later it is likely that the camp was abandoned, coming back into use about 75 A.D. Half a century afterwards, the troops moved out for the last time. Unlike in Alcester and Wall, a civilian settlement had not grown up around the camp and although some Roman coins have been found elsewhere in greater Birmingham there is little to suggest a significant Roman presence. It is almost inconceivable, then, to feel that stories of Roman soldiers could have been passed on by the few local Celts for 600 years and then handed on to the invading Angles so that they would name Quinton after a Latin word.
In these circumstances it seems better to adopt the suggestion of a local historian called W.E. Hardwick. He stated that Quinton was derived from the Old English words 'cwene' meaning woman, and 'tun' indicating a farmstead. There is also the possibility that 'Quin' arises from the Old English word 'cwen', denoting queen. Yet given that there is no evidence of a queen holding land locally it seems best to explain Quinton as meaning the settlement of a woman. To make matters even more complicated, the district was also known as Ridgeacre. Thus, it was recorded Quenton in the Assize Rolls of 1221 and Rugacre in a document from 1271. Interestingly and according to Anthony N. Rosser, within living memory older Quintonians pronounced Ridgeacre as Rugacre. There is no doubt that Ridgeacre is made up of two Old English words 'hrycg', signifying a ridge, and 'aecer', meaning a plot of cultivated land. Lastly, it should be pointed out that like Cotteridge, the name of Quinton was usually preceded by 'The'. Accordingly, in 1774 Ambrose Foley of the Quyntain in the parish of Halesowen and John Foley signed a bond in favour of Robert Moore of Birmingham.
With a ridge which is 731 ft above sea level, Quinton is the highest built-up area in modern Birmingham - and is only 6ft lower than Barr Beacon. It is also on the water shed of England. To the west, streams and rivers drain towards the Bristol Channel, whilst to the east they head towards the North Sea. Its own southern boundary with Northfield was provided by the Bourn Brook, whilst its northern limit with Warley was the Hagley Road. From the early fourteenth century, Quinton was owned by Halesowen Abbey and was part of the parish of that town. But
Mucklow Hill presented a definite natural boundary with Halesowen and for centuries Quinton was isolated. Through it came Charles II, in disguise and in flight after his defeat at The Battle of Worcester in 1651; and in 1781 John Wesley preached there. But few major events shook the rural ways of Quinton and its remoteness was emphasised by the name of World's End, which applied to the locality about the present Gorsy Road.
According to the King's Norton Map of 1894, just to the west of Christchurch on the Hagley Road West, there was a small settlement focused on High Street and Bissell Street. This was named as Quinton, whilst the great expanse of rural land to the cast came under the heading of Ridgeacre. This included Red Hall Farm by today's Quinborne Library; Windmill Farm halfway along the modern Ridgeacre Lane; Ridgeacre Farm by the junction of the present Quinton Road West and Ridgeacre Lane; Four Dwellings Farm, the site of which is now occupied by Four Dwellings School; and the wonderfully-named Mopbeggar Farm (Moor End Farm) near to today's Moat Meadow.
Despite its distance from Birmingham city centre, the folk of Quinton were drawn to their more distant and bigger neighbour because of close ties through work and the provision of services. In 1909, the ratepayers voted to join the city and Quinton was included within Birmingham's first town planning scheme. Unlike east Birmingham, Quinton was not to experience a mixed development of houses and industrial premises. It would only be a residential district because it was upwind of the favoured middle-class suburb of Edgbaston and councillors did not want the smells and smokes of manufacturing drifting downwind over the area where many of them lived.
During the inter-war years, there was widespread building of both private and council houses in the district. The city concentrated its development in three areas: 366 homes were erected on the Tennal Hall Estate, between Quinton Lane and Tennal Lane and on the borders with Harborne; to the south a further 525 homes were built; and to the west 848 dwellings were constructed. After 1945, the corporation continued to be active on its Quinton Estate and within twelve years had constructed another 737 houses. Importantly, on the land which had been Four Dwellings Farm and Mop Beggar Farm, ancient field names are preserved in roads such as Middle Leasow and Rickyard Piece.
Today Quinton is an integral part of modem Birmingham and the West Midlands conurbation, but its history has not been forgotten for it is pushed forward powerfully and successfully by the Quinton Local History Society. Determined not only to have meetings with speakers, the Society has been responsible for many important projects locally - not least the erection in the Quinbourne Centre of a war memorial to the men of Bourne College who lost their lives during the First World War, and now this timely and much-needed publication. I remember Bourne College well, after it became Quinton Hall - for my Grandad Perry had severe multiple sclerosis and spent a number of years living there. I am honoured to be the patron of such a dynamic and significant local history society and to dedicate this foreword to my Grandad.
Professor Carl Chinn, MBE