War & Elford Hall – Updated

 I went to Birmingham archives today, to hopefully see some records that would reveal more about the now demolished Elford Hall, on the Tamworth/Lichfield border.

Why did I have to go into Birmingham to see the records of somewhere in Staffordshire? Well, the Elford Estate has been under the ownership of Birmingham City Council since 29th September 1936. It was given by Mr Francis Howard Paget for the ‘healthy recreation of the inhabitants of the City of Birmingham’. Mr Paget took the decision to donate his Staffordshire estate to a public body, after he witnessed his friend being blinded by a grenade in the trenches of WWI.

Council House, Birmingham.

The records I looked at today were the minutes of the Elford Hall committee meetings held at the Council House between July 1936 and June 1945. I may be wrong, but I get the impression that the committee which included the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, weren’t quite sure how to make best use of this generous gift, especially the Hall. There is talk of  the Municipal Officers Guild taking over house & gardens as a rest home for members of staff, or if not them the NUT. Whilst such decisions were being made, the Estate Agent’s report of December 1937 tells how the Hall was ‘being kept aired as far as possible. Some bedding & soft furnishinings stored.’ He also suggests that pensioners from the estate should be recruited as park keepers to look after the grounds, with the assistance of a woman from Fisherwick.

Elford Hall’s history had already been changed by one war and then a second, different conflict also left its mark. On 21st May 1937, almost 4,000 Basque children seeking refuge from the Spanish Civil war arrived in Britain. Some were eventually sent to Elford.  There are only a few mentions of this in the minutes – in the meeting notes dated 12th June 1939, the committee was reminded that since their last meeting, arrangements had been made, after consultation with Mr Paget to accommodate number of Spanish children at Elford Hall. Also, in December 1938, when an application for the hall to be used to house young German male refugees (who after agricultural training would be sent to Palestine) was rejected on the grounds it was fully occupied by Spanish children. However, it seems that by the time the committee went to visit in June 1939, the Hall was once again vacant. It was recorded that the Hall had sustained a considerable amount of damage.

Other subsequent applications for use (German/Czechoslovakian refugees and as a children’s hostel) were deemed unsuitable. On 17th July 1939, another suggestion – a convalescent home – was put forward. I imagine such discussions were interrupted by the declaration of war less than two months later. The only other reference I could find to the Estate during the period the records covered (June 1936 to June 1945) was in July 1940, when an allegation of trespass and damage to trees & fences by soldiers manning a searchlight at Elford was made. The Hall was demolished in 1964 but as I mentioned in my The Garden of Elford post, the walled garden and some of the associated buildings are in the process of being restored.

There wasn’t as much information on the Basque refugees as I had hoped. There is however some uncatalogued material held at the library which may add to the story and which I will seek out in the not too distant future.

Edit:

Whilst having a look at Mr Paget’s family tree, I found out that his daughter, Elizabeth Beatrice Rochfort-Boyd had been a prisoner of war at Camp Holmes in the Philipines. In September 1943 she wrote to her father, as can be seen here. Elizabeth was born in January 1913, making her around 30 years old at the time of her imprisonement. The Camp was liberated in February 1945.

Mr Francis Howard Paget died on 9 April 1945 aged 58 at his home in Kent.

Edit 2:

For context, I found a news report dated 28th April 1937 from The Guardian archive regarding the bombing of Guernica, which can be read here.

Also a 10 minute report from the Witness program on the BBC World Service, in which Snr. Hermino Martinez talks about his evacuation can be listened to here. This doesn’t directly relate to Elford but gives some idea of the experience of the Basque evacuees.

Also of interest is an article in The Black Country Bugle about the Basque children who stayed at Aldridge Lodge in Walsall. You can read it here.

Edit 3: A report in the Lichfield Mercury edition of August 13th 1937 describes a meeting of Elford Parish Council. The refugees were due to arrive at Elford in mid-August and the meeting records the concerns of the Council about the effect that housing the refugees in the Hall may have on the village.

Sources:

Elford Hall Sub-Committee Minutes 1936 to 1945

www.elfordhallgarden.org.uk/history

http://www.basquechildren.org

Drayton Manor

A few years ago, on a visit to Tamworth Castle, I discovered that Drayton Manor had been the home of former Prime Minister and founder of the modern police force, Sir Robert Peel. The story of Peel and his achievements and that of his descendants, who frittered away the estate until pretty much only the ivy-covered bell tower remained now holds far more appeal for me than any theme park but it wasn’t always that way…….

Pretty much all that remains of Peel’s Manor

Growing up in the West Midlands, Drayton Manor featured quite a lot in my childhood.  From a little girl, to going with my friends as a teenager on the Drayton Manor bus I have lots of memories of the place, but not all of them are happy…… I remember being aged 5, and really hating the Jungle Cruise, crying on my teacher’s lap after a hippo reared its ugly plastic head out of the water. Ten years later I was crying again, this time in my friend’s lap on the Skyflier, with people’s shoes and coins flying past me. It was probably themepark karma though as up until that point a group of friends and I had continuously shouted ‘Where are we?’ ‘Drayton Manor Park and Zooooo!’, as a homage to the TV advert of the time featuring Tommy Boyd (Wacaday?). We, and I suspect we alone, thought we were hilarious.   Everyone probably thought that the sound of me bawling my eyes out was preferable.

Buffalo Coaster 

I seem to recall spending a good proportion of the early years at Drayton Manor on the car park. We’d get about 5 ride tickets each (which equated to not much more than a go on the snake train) and when they were gone and we’d had a wander around the zoo, my Mum, to our disgust, would pop into the plant nursery, and then we’d have to spend the rest of the day making our own fun. Don’t be mistaken, if this sounds like one of those ‘ah, when I were a lass’ happy nostalgia trips, it’s not. I wanted more tickets and more goes on rides, not a game of swingball. Actually, what I really wanted was a wristband.

Not a family heirloom but a recent acquisition

Incidentally, Drayton Manor is said to be haunted by a gentleman said to be ‘Sir Bobby’, who according to a Drayton Manor press release can be seen standing looking woefully into the distance. Last time I went I did see a man in a top hat and old fashioned clothing walking about, but it was the Fat Controller from Thomas Land.

Maelstrom. Too scary for me, but not my little sister

 

The Lost Estate of Fisherwick

I’m really enjoying taking part in Pastorm, a new collaborative history experiment created by Mark of Tamworth Time Hikes. Here’s a link to the site, which explains exactly what Pastorm is and what it hopes to achieve.

Horseshoe carved into Fisherwick Hall gate pier

My contributions so far have focused on the Fisherwick Estate, which  was purchased by Arthur Chichester, 5th Earl of Donegall (later to become the first Marquess of Donegall), in 1761.  With the involvement of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, he remodelled the grounds and replaced the ‘fine old timbered and gabled’1  hall from the 16th century with an extravagant new mansion which left some visitors ‘at a loss whether most to admire the beauty of its proportion, or the elegance of its embellishments’2.

After the death of the Marquess, the estate passed to his second son, Lord Spencer Chichester.  From what I understand, Chichester could not afford to keep the estate and in 1808 it was put up for sale. Furniture, artwork and even some of the building itself were auctioned off. One of the items sold was a virginal belonging to Queen Elizabeth I3 and the portico of the house itself was eventually found a new home, at The George Hotel in Walsall (now also demolished)4.

The Hall was demolished by its new owner, Richard Howard, in around 1814 and what was left of the estate was split up. Today, the remnants are scattered across Fisherwick and they’re being documented over on Pastorm, where there are photographs and some more information. There’s the Walled Garden & Orangerybridges, a pair of gate piers covered in carvings, and the stables, a ha-ha and part of the estate’s wall boundary.  It’s a bit like doing a treasure hunt! On the subject of treasure, take a look here at the gold ring with a mermaid seal that someone found in one of the fields around Fisherwick.

There is still a whole lot more to discover about Fisherwick, from the Iron Age right up until the present day. If anyone has anything to contribute on this or wants to take part in the Pastorm project in a different way, here’s how to get involved.

 Sources:

  1. The Natural History of the County of Stafford by Robert Garner
  2. A Companion to the Leasowes, Hagley and, Enville with a sketch of Fisherwick
  3. The New Monthly Magazine, Vol 4 1815
  4. History of the Borough & Foreign of Walsall by E L Glew

Townships: Fisherwick with Tamhorn’, A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14: Lichfield (1990), pp. 237-252.

The Historic Gardens of England: Staffordshire by Timothy Mowl and Dianne Barre