Getting back to the research trip in October and November…
On Friday, October 30, Alice and I set out from Shropshire on the part of our journey that would follow Jane and Charles’s travels. Used to California highways, I had set what proved to be an unrealistically ambitious schedule for us.
I had been sad to learn that Jane Lane’s home, Bentley Hall, near Walsall in Staffordshire, was no longer standing, but the helpful staff at Moseley Hall gave us directions to find a cairn that had been erected on the site, saying that it was opposite the Lane Arms pub.
When we got to the Bentley area, we were confused. The Lane Arms was unfortunately burned down, and though we looked for 20 or 30 minutes, we didn’t see a cairn, either across Wolverhampton Road or Queen Elizabeth Road. On the site where I thought the hall must have stood, just off the northeast corner of Wolverhampton Road and Queen Elizabeth Road, there was nothing but what looked like the beginning of a construction project. How depressing! Not only was Bentley Hall gone, but its remnants were going to be buried forever! It was also dispiriting to find that Bentley is now a somewhat grim corner of the outskirts of Birmingham.
Having come all the way from California to research the book, I didn’t want to give up without another try. We’d had good luck so far on the trip just asking local people to help us find places we were looking for, so we popped into the local Costcutter to ask if anyone knew anything about Bentley Hall. We were in luck! A lady told us that Pauline Gibson, who lived just down the street, knew everything about the area. So we intrepidly found the house and knocked on the door. No one home! A helpful neighbor promised to give Pauline my note, but didn’t know anything about Bentley Hall.
Now what to do? We didn’t know when Pauline might be back and we had a lot of ground to cover that day. Maybe the cairn had been pulled down or we were looking in the wrong place. But on a whim, I decided to make use of modern technology – my iPhone! I Googled “Bentley Hall Staffordshire,” and was amazed and pleased to find an article by Michael Shaw and Danny McAree about the rediscovery of the ruins of Bentley Hall only a few months earlier! We were in the right place, or pretty close. It was very exciting to realize that we were standing on or near the spot where Bentley Hall had been, where Charles II had arrived in the dead of night and set off with Jane Lane on their great adventure.
Pauline was kind enough to call me later in the day. Unfortunately by that point we were near Packington Hall in Warwickshire, where Jane lived later, when she married Sir Clement Fisher, and couldn’t go back to Bentley. But at least we knew we had been close.
Since then, I’ve found further information about the site on line. Apparently the cairn was there, we just didn’t go quite north enough of Wolverhampton Road.
I’ve also been delighted to discover historical maps online that give a pretty good idea of what the Bentley area must have looked like in 1651. It’s very interesting to see that the present day Wolverhampton Road still follows exactly the path it did then, and that the present Bentley Mill Lane is in fact where a little road ran from Bentley Hall, which was about a quarter mile north of the Wolverhampton Road, down to the mill.
Shaw and McAree’s article can be found at:
Another article about Bentley Hall, “The Secrets of the Stone,” can be found at:
The 1805 ordnance map of the Bentley area, and other historical maps, can be seen at: