SOLIHULL LOCAL HISTORY CIRCLE
Welcome to www.solh.org.uk
Forthcoming Visits: To be announced
REPORTS OF RECENT VISITS:
George Hook & Co. Mother-of-Pearl Factory, Pope Street, Smethwick, B66 2JP
George welcomed us in with cups of tea and coffee as we eventually found our way to his factory. He has
only a card in his window, as in his previous works location in Lozells he had problems with break ins.
He explained how his company was established by his great-great-great uncle John in 1824 in Duke Street in the Jewellery Quarter. It was taken over by his great-great grandfather George, and ever since has been run by Georges (it ‘saved on changing the sign’ he says). It is now the only mother of pearl manufacturer in England, apart from a company in Sheffield that uses
imported blanks, not shells.
In the early days the mother of pearl industry was mostly making buttons, but with a lot of competition and
low prices, larger shells coming in made it possible for John to move into the cutlery, jewellery and inlays
market as well as buttons.
Shells from the Great Barrier reef are used to make cultured pearls and are large enough in the thickest
part, or ‘knot’ to make knife handles and larger pieces. Smaller shells come from Indonesia and the Far East
and are more suitable for buttons, due to their size.
George’s workshop has numerous cutting, polishing and grinding machines, and heaps of part-cut shells that are not discards, waiting for the need for a particular piece of their shell (see photos)
He showed us how to start from a shell, cut out a blank, grind it down to the required thickness, polish it, and
put in button holes if needed. He also demonstrated heavier machinery for stamping out metal blanks for
cuff links and so on.
There is a great deal of dust produced, and George has recently discovered a market for this powder in
China and the Far East, where it is used as a complexion paste. Disposing of it before then had been a problem!
George works by himself now, making jewellery and other items, his son (also George) trained in the business but now has another job. He gives talks and has visits from various groups,
and brings samples of his work for sale.
Visit to St. Alphege March 20, 2012
Sixteen members of our society gathered at the parish church of Solihull which is dedicated to St Alphege. At the start of our visit David Patterson addressed the membership on the background history of the church and its relationship to Solihull. In the time of King Edward the Confessor Ulverlei was owned by Edwin, Earl of Mercia. On his death it was granted by William the Conqueror to Cristina, a princess of the Saxon royal family. She later became a nun and her lands were given to a Norman baron, one Ralph de Limesi. The town of Solihull was founded during the lordship of the last of the de Limesis as a market centre, a ‘planted borough’. By 1200 Solihull was fully established and Ulverlei was being referred to as Olton, the old town. The manor then passed to the Odingsells family. In 1242 a royal charter was granted for a weekly market and an annual three day fair.
The church is dedicated to St Alphege who was Archbishop of Canterbury. Alphege was killed by the Vikings in 1012. There have only been twelve churches with this dedication to St Alphege. Five are of medieval origin and all but Solihull have links to the saint. David Patterson then told us about the structure of the church and how it developed. An important rebuilding of the church started in 1277. First to be completed were the fine chancel and the chantry chapels. The rebuilding of the church continued slowly and was not completed until 1535. The stages in the building of the church were clearly demonstrated by the use of a sectional model.
After this introductory lecture we were guided around the church to look at its important features. We observed numerous grooves in the stones on the outside of the west door where archers had sharpened their arrows. Some time was spent in the important St Antony’s Chapel which was formed in 1535 at the east end of the south aisle. In the nave we noticed the lectern dated 1884 in memory of Dr. Thomas Lowe. The nave gave us much evidence to see how the rebuilding of the church had left its mark on the stonework. The roof structure was greatly admired and the work completed in 1948 to prevent movement of the arcades was explained to the party in some detail. Much time was spent in examining the delightful Chantry Chapel of St Alphege. In 1277 William de Odingsells founded the Chantry of Haliwell for the singing of masses for the souls of his ancestors. To help maintain a priest it was endowed by William with land near St Alphege’s Well. In 1483 an endowment by Thomas Greswold was added.A thoroughly enjoyable morning was completed by a walk around the church looking at the many memorials to past worthies. The excursion was a fitting part of what is an important year for the parish church of Solihull. We all felt we had been part of the 1,000th anniversary of the martyrdom of St Alphege. Our thanks go out to the Solihull Parochial Church Council and our guides David Patterson and Stan Boulter.
The Visit to new Royal Shakespeare
15 people made their way to Stratford on Monday 28th November for a guided tour of the new theatre, newly re-opened last year, after a redevelopment that took 3 years.
We had two guides to take us round both the new RSC and the Swan (which are now connected and share facilities backstage).
The new theatre, built within the shell of the old, has less seats but far better views of the stage, which is now in the centre of the new theatre, not behind a proscenium arch. Parts of the old theatre have re-appeared in different places: for example the foyer is now floored with boards from the old stage (which only dated from 1932).
We were taken to the main theatre control room for the performances: a high-tech room perched above the seats, full of electronic equipment and video monitors, presided over by the Stage Manager (‘always a woman’ as we were told). We went to the Swan Theatre, with a huge tree built over the auditorium for ‘The Heart of Robin Hood’ (the closest the RSC has come to a pantomime). Most of the acting takes place in the tree, it has leaves and branches, yet is made of steel, and has to be dismantled for other performances. We then went through the backstage areas, seeing the large numbers of costumes needed at any one time for both theatres, when performances can alternate on each stage from one night to the next. The improvements behind (and under) the stages, with hidden lifts from below have made it possible to do this faster than would have been possible before.
The Theatre now has a new tower, with viewing platform, at the corner of the building. We were able to go up the tower (by lift) after the tour. The views over Stratford and the countryside are excellent good, though it would be advisable to choose sunny weather to go up the tower (our visit was on a typical grey November day).
Madresfield Court 26th May 2011
Joy Woodall had managed to book a party of the Solihull Local History Circle to visit this stately home, just to the North of Great Malvern.
We made our various ways to the Court on a stormy and blustery day. Three parties of visitors had a briefing together, explaining the need for the security arrangements in the Court, which is a family home, and has been in the same family and its descendants from the first Court in the 12th Century.
From the outside Madresfield Court looks like a medieval brick building, with Victorian additions, but inside it is a temple to the Arts and Crafts Movement, and to the good taste of the De Bracy, Lygon and Beauchamp family over many centuries.
In the late 1700s the family inherited a share (worth £65 million in today’s terms) of the William Jennens inheritance (the legal proceedings were used by Dickens as the basis for Jarndyce and Jarndyce in ‘Bleak House’). Laurence Ince has recently given us a talk on this Inheritance.
The family used this to buy the Earldom of Beauchamp (apparently not possible these days), and extended the house both upwards and sideways as much as possible, given it is surrounded by a medieval moat.
Seeing the house from the outside cannot prepare you for seeing its interior. For room after room (and there are apparently 142 of them), there is a profusion of paintings and precious objects of all kinds: matching tortoise-shell and brass cabinets (‘Boulle’), and outstanding Arts and Crafts work from the Guild of Handicrafts in the Cotswolds. The library contains not only books from many centuries, but carved bookcase ends from the Guild as well.
The Chapel, decorated as a wedding present from the 7th Earl to his wife in 1902, is an outstanding if overwhelming example of Arts and Crafts work. It is described in ‘Brideshead Revisited’ by Evelyn Waugh, who was a frequent visitor to the house, and wrote an earlier novel there (his desk is kept in one room).
We emerged to have a brief look at the gardens after a very helpful and informative tour, before heading back to Solihull with our heads reeling from the opulence and good taste of the house interior.We have some photos of the exterior of the building, but obviously not of the interior. There is an excellent guidebook available online (http://www.elmley.org.uk/pdf/guidebook.pdf) with photos and paintings of some of the rooms.
Longdon Hall. March 11, 2011
This Hall is an imposing listed building, in the middle of the Copt Heath Golf Course (between Lady Byron Lane and the Warwick Road). The Golf Club bought the house and land in 1934 but were only able to incorporate the land into the fairways when a farm tenancy expired in 1996. The house was let to one of their employees and his wife, until first his wife and then the employee died in 2003. The Hall has therefore been empty since then, and there has been some deterioration. Since it is a Grade II listed building (from 1976), the Council then required some that the building was made weatherproof and structurally sound, with all the doors and windows barred.
The Golf Club recently decided to sell the Hall for £ 750,000.. It may seem a bargain at the price, but after looking round the impression was it would cost more than £1 million to put it right. Both the Knowle and Solihull local history groups have been interested in the preservation of the Hall for many years, but could only view it from the outside through surrounding trees and undergrowth. We had a joint visit in December 2008, but could only see very little from the outside. So on 11th March this year a group from the Solihull Local History Circle looked around the Hall, joined later by John Johnson from the Knowle Local History Society.
Langedone (the lone hill) was mentioned in the Domesday Book, and the estate had been since the 1600s in the the family of Anne Millibank Noel, the wife of Lord Byron, and the house came into her possession in the early 1800’s (hence ‘Lady Byron Lane’). She used to visit the estate regularly after the death of Lord Byron in 1824, until 1860 when the estate passed to her grandson. From the outside the Hall looks like a handsome Georgian building on one side, with an older, much altered building on the other. The Estate Agents list the Hall as dating from around 1810, but the older side is built with massive wooden beams, and looks hundreds of years earlier.
Inside is has large rooms on the Georgian side, with six bedrooms (including two reached by an old spiral staircase to the attic). The other side, facing what was the farmyard, with barns and other buildings, has external beams, along with modern windows too.
Trevor England, our expert on old buildings, thought that the older part could have been originally a mediaeval halled building. He also has looked through the county Victoria History of around 1904 which states that the moat surrounding the platform for the old Hall (or Halls), which is on the North side of the Hall and farmyard, is in fact double and not single one. We also looked round the yard, which seemed to have had a walled garden at one time. At one point the wall has a well-made hole in it, with curved bricks around, with an unknown purpose.
These notes are provisional, and not written by an expert. Trevor England is hoping to give a later talk to the Solihull Local History Circle on Longdon Hall, based on his research in the archives, and using some of the photos from our visit.
Visit to the Jewellery Quarter Museum, 10th March 2011
A party from the Solihull Local History Circle came to the museum in the morning for our guided tour.The museum was the factory of Smith and Pepper for over 80 years, and everything in it appears as it was when it was closed in 1981, when the remaining Smiths, then quite elderly and without successors decided to retire. The whole factory was later sold to Birmingham Council, who opened the museum around 10 years later.
We started our tour on the ‘office’ floor, with ledgers, old typewriters, lethal-looking wiring (now made safe) and stacks of cardboard boxes used to post the jewellery all over the country. Downstairs we were shown the massive safe from which all the precious metals (gold, silver and platinum) were taken out each day, weighed individually and put in boxes for each worker to make his daily allocation of different items. At the end of the day everything was returned in the same boxes, with completed items and unused bits of metal, and weighed again, to check on any losses. The men worked at large shared benches, each with a gas jet and apron to catch small bits of metal. Our guide showed us how they made jewellery, soldering together the bits to make what appeared to be solid pieces.There was a strict division of labour, with the men doing the skilled work, and the women doing the heavy work punching and stamping out pieces from sheet metal, and operating the polishing machines. We were shown some pieces stamped out by our guide, who explained that the work rate required was so fast that many women lost parts of their fingers to the heavy machinery.The retrieval of precious metal was done with suction pumps to every workstation and polishing machine; filtering all the water from the sinks; sweeping the floor; and even burning shoes and overalls from time to time for the dust they might contain.
The museum has a shop and tea room, and has won numerous awards, the most recent being the ‘Best Small Visitor Attraction’ in 2010.
Visit to Winterbourne House and Gardens, 20th October 2010
A group of visitors from the Local History Circle came to the House on a cold October morning. We were shown around the gardens by Phil Smith, their senior gardener, who gave us both an excellent introduction to the history of the house as well as the gardens, and also to the plants and trees in the parts of the gardens. We later went in the House, which has recently been opened with exhibitions explaining the history of the Nettlefolds, and of their community work in Birmingham in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The house and gardens were originally built in 1903 for John Nettlefold, the grandson of the founder of the Nettlefolds screw company, later part of GKN). His wife Margaret (whose uncle was Joe Chamblerlain) created the garden based on the ideas of Gertrude Jekyll, though it was more a country farm at first, with cowsheds for the cows who were let out to graze each day on a meadow. She incorporated interesting features, such as a crinkle-crankle wall, which she used to provide warm niches for plants, usually found round 18thC estates in East Anglia.
A later occupant of the house was John Nicholson, who extended the garden considerably with a water garden, and areas dedicated to trees and plants from different areas of the world. When he died in 1944 he bequeathed the house and gardens to Birmingham University (it is on the Northern edge of the campus).
The gardens then became the University Botanic Gardens; they now have specialists ‘houses’ for orchids, alpine plants and cacti, and even a chicken run. It also houses the national collection of anthemis (aromatic chamomiles) and a specialist collection of fuschias, maintained by the Birmingham Fuschia Society.
The house is in the Arts and Crafts tradition, and has undulating roof lines. Inside, the recently restored ground floor rooms is an exhibition (with unusual audio and visual displays) about the Nettlefold and the Chamberlain family, and how John Nettlefold pioneered town planning in Birmingham and also in England for decades after his death.
Visit to Stoneleigh Abbey on 13th May 2010
Fifteen members of the History Circle met at the 14th Century gatehouse to the Abbey which had been founded by Cistercian monks in the 12th Century. After Henry V111's dissolution of monasteries in 1536, it fell into disrepair. It passed to the Leigh family who started rebuilding in 1561 and they held it for almost 400 years. In 1946 Stoneleigh was one of the first stately homes to be opened to the public.
Some of the older parts of the house are 12th Century, with fine Norman doors, some very rare 12th C stained glass, and a knot garden where the original cloisters would have been.We were shown over the 1704 West Wing, starting in the 12th Century under-croft, part of the original Abbey foundations.
The Tudor West Wing has fine Leigh family paintings throughout, including one of Mary Holbech, who married into the family in 1710: an ancestor of one of our party who fittingly played a few notes on the chapel organ. The plaster ceilings are also very fine, having been restored after a fire in 1960.
In 1806 the direct Leigh line died out, so the Reverend Thomas Leigh came over from Gloucestershire to secure his inheritance, along with relatives including his cousin Jane Austen. She lived there for a number of years and used descriptions of the Abbey in several of her novels.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert stayed for 3 days in 1858, and one of the rooms contains her original bed (complete with swan-down trimmed bedspread), chandelier and furniture. There is even her bathroom in the basement, with a toilet labelled ‘Please Refrain from Sitting on Her Majesty’s Throne’.
After the tour we were able to have some tea and look at the gardens on the banks of the Avon designed in part by Humphrey Repton in the early 19th century.
To Top ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Visit to St Mary’s Warwick, Thursday 11th March 2010.
Eighteen members of the Circle arrived at the Church in the morning for our tour. The Great Fire of 1694 meant that the Church is in two parts: the chancel, Chapter House and Beauchamp Chapel from the 14th centuries (and crypt from Norman times); and the newer part, rebuilt after the fire. During the Fire the nave with its wooden roof was burnt, but fortunately not the chancel, as it had a stone roof
Problems with the new tower meant that a replacement had to be built over the road, with an arch underneath for the traffic, though fortunately no cars are allowed through the arch these days.
Our group split into two, so we had different guides for the various parts of the church. We first were shown the Royal Warwickshire Regiment chapel, a reminder of the long association between the Fusiliers and Warwick.
The Beauchamp Chapel is regarded as one of the masterpieces of mediaeval architecture in this country, and the guide’s history of the Beauchamps, from Warwick the Kingmaker to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (Elizabeth’s favourite) helped us understand the story of the family over the centuries.
The tomb of Thomas Beauchamp and his wife in the choir, from the early 15thC was to me as memorable as the tombs in the Chapel, with two bears and other small figures surrounding the carved figures.
We finished our tour in the Chapter House, which is almost filled by the large (and ugly) sepulchre of Sir Fulke Greville (his body is below, in the Fulke vault in the crypt). He has been floated as a possible author for the Shakespearian plays, and recently there have been scientific investigations aimed at discovering if there is anything inside the monument that might throw light on the controversy. Our guide pointed out that such a discovery could bring crowds flocking into the Church, though he thought such an outcome unlikely.