Forge Dam Café

This is an excerpt from my History of Fulwood – a book in the making!

Forge Dam Café

An alternative source of amusement  and refreshment was the café established by the Maxfield family at the Old Forge which offered boating on a large lake, swings, boats and in December 1890 readers of the Telegraph learnt that there was splendid skating to be enjoyed at Forge House which was 10 minutes from the Ranmoor Bus! One would have had to sprint from the bus but fortunately there was accommodation for tea. A further advertisement in January 1891 informed readers that Illumination of the ice by torchlight was in place.

Herbert Maxfield had been a file cutter for much of his adult life but around 1886 he and his family had moved from Brightside to Forge House. In 1891 he was described as a farmer, so it is likely that Mary was running the café. Maxfield’s farming activities were located at Redmires rather than near the old Forge. In 1888 he was advertising ‘Good Pasturing’ there. In 1890 he was able to offer Grouse Shooting at Fair Thorne Farm and indeed on the census night a year later, three of the Maxfield children were at the farm.

The café was proving popular, Mrs Maxfield advertised in 1886 that ‘School parties and visitors [would be] supplied with hot water for tea’ and in yje same year Maxfield applied for a licence to sell beer. In September when the application was considered by the magistrates, amongst whom was Alderman Gainsford of Whiteley Wood Hall, he said that he estimated the value of the property was £20. This proved fatal to his application as the opposing solicitors pointed out that the minimum requirement was property valued at £30. A few days later a letter from James Wing, the solicitor acting for Maxfield, appeared in the Telegraph that stated the rateable value of the property to be £22 and so the value for licencing was £50. A year passed before the application was made again and the question of value was the main contention. The overseers had set the rateable value at just under £35 for the property but this included the dam which covered half the land. The magistrates again refused the licence. Maxfield was certainly tenacious. In 1906 and 1907 he applied for a billiard licence which was refused on both occasions.

An article in the Independent in 1933 about the Sharrow Wesleyan Church noted that the original ‘Tin Cathedral’ was sold in 1900and became the tea room at Forge Dam.

In 1915 Maxfield was accused of poisoning a hen in a field on Brookhouse Hill. The case was that two men who were working on 181 Brookhouse Hill which is at the junction with Whiteley Lane saw Maxfield drop a parcel over a wall into the field. When examined by the public analyst, the parcel was found to have a sufficient quantity of arsenic to kill 50 people. Some of the parcel’s contents were eaten by the hen belonging to Mrs Fox. Maxfield denied the charge and Mrs Fox said she had been on friendly terms with Maxfield for many years and could not offer any reason as to why he should wish act in this way. The defence solicitor pointed out that there was no motive and suggested that the parcel had been on the wall and Maxfield had flicked the parcel with his walking stick. The magistrates said it was serious case and fined him £10. This must have been felt grievously by Maxfield who had an ‘unblemished character.’

Maxfield had tried to sell the business in 1913 without success but was successful in 1917. The advertisement for the sale described a successful venture covering six acres. There was extensive catering facilities and the dam had 13 boats including a motor launch along with fishing. There were also gardens with 1500 rose trees. This sale, caused by Maxfield’s ill health was successful and he and his wife moved to Eastwood Road. His retirement was short-lived as he died a year later ‘in his 80th year’. He was buried in Fulwood graveyard

William Knight was the proprietor in 1919. The café has continued to prosper down to the present time.

John Gordon Byrne

Early Years

John Gordon Byrne, the third of four children, was born in the summer of 1920 into a family of butchers. His father Armel and his Uncle Frederick were both the sons of a master butcher. Armel had served in the first world war, joining the Royal Fleet Auxillary in 1917. Armel married Annie Boardman in 1914 at Thirwell Road Methodist Chapel in Heeley.

By 1924, The Byrne family had moved from Heeley into 100 Brookhouse Hill. one of the many new houses that were springing up in Fulwood, John attended King Edward VII school (KES) between 1932 and 1937.

He was working as an Insurance Clerk at the outbreak of war in 1939

War Service

John Byrne outside the church, possibly St Peter’s Abbeydale, where he married Beryl.

Byrne joined the RAF soon after. He was rapidly promoted through the ranks before gaining his first officer ring as a pilot officer in November 1941 and a second on eleven months later. He was a Flying Instructor, having been on numerous military operations.

At the end of 1942, Byrne was stationed at RAF Atherstone-on-Stour and flying Wellington bombers. On the 28th December he was the pilot of a Wellington with five others crew, none of them older than 26 years. The flight should have been routine and short; its purpose, recorded as an ‘Air Test (Medical)’, was to check that Byrne who had been ill was well enough to fly. There was no wireless operator on board, perhaps because the planned flight was short, Byrne would not have had the navigation support provided by wireless operator who would receive and understand transmissions by radio beacons that were used to locate the aircraft’s position.

Last Flight

Byrne and the crew left RAF Atherstone-on-Stour, which is 30 miles north west of Banbury, about 11.30 am. For reasons which will never be fully understood, the bomber hit an elm tree and crashed into a valley to the west of Bodicote, a village just south of Banbury. Just before midday a boy and his mother in Bodicote saw the aircraft flying very low from the south-east, with one engine smoking. When they got down to the crash site, they saw wreckage which was still on fire and the bodies of several airmen.

The official accident record stated that the aircraft had flown into cloud and had then crashed attempting to land in bad weather. A more recent report by a group of amateur investigators has suggested the aircraft was flying horizontally and at high speed prior to the crash. The group cited the lack of buried wreckage and the fact that the aircraft continued for around 400m after hitting the tree. It is possible that Byrne was flying low due to bad weather, in order to get his bearings. However, the aircraft was on a direct course to the air station suggesting that he already knew his location. The eye-witness saw one engine smoking but this could have been an exhaust trail caused by the aircraft travelling at full throttle. The recent report suggests one possibility was that Byrne was flying fast and low in order to demonstrate his fitness, a manoeuvre that, as an experienced pilot, he would have completed many times.


KES School magazine carried an obituary which noted that “previous to his
appointment as Flying Instructor at a station in England, he had had a successful and eventful career in the R.A.F. Having taken part in many night bombing raids on Germany and the Channel ports, he was transferred to Malta and did much good work over Italy, Sicily and North Africa. He had the honour and good fortune to represent the R.A.F. in an exchange of messages with his family in the Christmas Day broadcast of 1941. At School he was a popular member of Welbeck House and second runner in the team which won the Cross Country in 1936.”


CWGC Gravestone in Fulwood Churchyard

Byrne’s body was brought back to Fulwood and was buried on the south side of the church. The grave also received the bodies of his wife’s parents., whilst his parents are burid elsewhere in the graveyard.Byrne’s grave has a CWGC headstone which has the inscription

I Thank My God Upon Every Remembrance Of Thee

In 2012 the residents of Bodicote unveiled a memorial at the point the aircraft hit the ground. Byrne’s widow, Beryl, and brother Armel Philip attended and the local paper reported ceremony. Beryl was the daughter of Hiram and Adeline Herdman and they lived on Whirlowdale Road. Beryl recalled that she had met John when they were both 18 at a college dance when she was taken by his ”absolutely gorgeous smile.” They married in Sheffield in September 1942 just 13 weeks before he was killed. The picture of John Byrne may well have been taken outside St Peter’s Church, Abbeydale, where they were married.

Memorial to the Wellington crew at Bodicote in Oxfordshire