Guest post courtesy of Leigh Walker
What does Northfield mean to you?
I’ll tell you what it means to me; home. It is somewhat of a contradiction, however; I actually live in Bromsgrove. You may ask then why I see Northfield as my home? Well, I was born and bred there, my family still live there (in the house where I grew up), and most importantly I ‘feel’ for the place. I feel for the town that was; I feel for what it’s becoming. However it seems to be less of a home these days and more of a collection of buildings along the main road; the so-called ‘technology corridor’ – who lives in a ‘corridor’?
I’m clearly exaggerating to make a point and I’m sure that there are many happy Northfield……ians (don’t you just hate when they do that) who love the town. However, my point is this, and it is only a personal opinion; why do we continue to take the heart out of our towns by removing the buildings that give us that sense of home. I understand that its ultimately people that count, however I cannot help but feel that it’s our built heritage that gives us that feeling of belonging. When was the last time you gave somebody directions? Did you say “……..turn right by that new place at the corner of that road by the traffic lights…….”, or did you say “……….turn right where the Travellers Rest used to be and it’s down by the old Woolies….”? May be that’s just for people who remember the “old days” or may be it’s for people who remember a more homely Northfield.
When you think of Northfield you may think of the Grosvenor Shopping Centre, The Black Horse, the new bypass, you may even get a bit nostalgic and think back to the old Bell pub or the animal pound by The Stone. However, many of you may not automatically think of the Manor House situated at the back of Manor Farm Park. I didn’t!! If it hadn’t have been for an email from a friend of mine, I wouldn’t have even known it was there. But there it is.
Currently it’s the subject of a ‘campaign’, and heading that campaign is Mike Vale. Mike was responsible for a BBC local news website article on the very subject just recently. Apparently he had contacted Birmingham City Council to ask what the future was for the house. There was no real answer as the place didn’t have a postcode (what?). It currently stands empty and unloved. According to Mike, the house was occupied by none other than George Cadbury himself. He lived there from 1894 until he passed away in 1922. Its significance based on this association is tangible; who hasn’t heard of Cadbury’s chocolate?
I therefore started to create a picture in my mind of a building with a story to tell; a building with a heart that’s synonymous with Northfield itself. It’s a beautiful building and, although now surrounded by “add-ons” in the form of the former halls of residence for students, it has that Victorian feel. It has that intricate detail always to be associated with Victorian architecture, it almost has a Tudor feel to it as well – all wooden framed and organic, very English. According to sources it was new in 1820 (just pre-dating the Victorian era).
However, these are not the most important factors. For me what this building represents comes back full circle to my original thoughts. This was somebody’s home!! This building gave Northfield that association with the Cadbury family; it was their home. Anyone who shares an interest in local history will know what the Cadbury’s did for the local area; they were pioneers in workers’ rights, they gave to the city schools, decent housing and something I hold quite dear, the Lickey Hills.
According to the excellent website created by Mike Vale the building was used by the university before being sold off in 2007. Since then it has remained derelict. One can only imagine what fate has in store for the place; let’s hope it’s not consigned to “apartment” hell like so many of our other beautiful buildings. I for one will be following the plight of Northfield Manor with interest; let’s hope the calls for its listing see fruition, and let’s hope that in this time of financial uncertainty, we don’t do the obvious and sell it off to a property developer who will no doubt commit the very serious offence of ‘architectural vandalism’ or even worse total destruction.
My final thoughts are thus; having volunteered for organisations such as Avoncroft Museum and the National Trust property Croome Court in Worcestershire, (interpreting the buildings in an historical context), can it be that there is such an interpretation theme closer to ‘home’? Is this a place that people can be proud of? Can we not celebrate the fact that this beautiful house may have a future based on its past. Can I then say to people when they ask for directions “……..you turn right by the old Orthopaedic Hospital and it’s just down by Northfield Manor…………..you know, where George Cadbury used to live……………”?
By Leigh Walker 30/11/10
More information can be found via:
Bill Dargue’s History of Birmingham Places and Placenames: Northfield