Northfield Manor House – Ever Heard Of It?

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Northfield Manor House - vacant before the fire

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?

George Cadbury
Image by Tim Ellis on Flickr

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.

Woodland trail
Lickey Hills by Sas Taylor

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

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More information can be found via:

Subsequent posts on the Northfield Manor issue on B31

Mike Vale’s Northfield Manor Site

BBC News article

Bill Dargue’s History of Birmingham Places and Placenames: Northfield

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42 COMMENTS

  1. I read somewhere that the Cadburys moved to Northfield Manor from the Woodlands, after they donated in to the “Birmingham Cripples Union” – what is now the main building of the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital.

    They, of course, carried on their good works when they moved across the road, building a centre where they could look after and entertain up to 700 children from around the city during the summer months. http://www.birminghamuk.com/georgecadbury.htm

    It really would be such a shame if this building was let go.

    There doesn’t seem to be an organised campaign as such at the moment. Well done to Mike Vale for raising the issue and getting the story out there! Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to be answering his feedback on the website.

    What can we do about this? I noticed someone from Shenley Community Council commented on the website so I will try emailing him, to see if they have had any discussion and know any more.

    Thanks for this fantastic article, Leigh! :)
    Sas

  2. There is a ‘call’ for a listing. Is the aim to list locally or to get a statuory listing? If a statutory listing anyone can apply to English Heritage for this – maybe this is already in hand? At the same time, although this would clearly be best, has any one considered a local listing? Again, maybe all this is in hand, but, if not, it would, seriously, be a good idea to discuss this with the Council Conservation officers before most of them disappear in the cuts, when they warn there will be little time to handle local listings.

  3. Richard wrote to Birmingham City Council’s Planning Department to raise this issue. Their response (below) said that English Heritage declined to list the building but it is already listed by the Council as a grade A building and they would therefore seek to retain it should any plans be put forward for development.

    Northfield Constituency Planning Officer:

    “The Manor House, Northfield, is a grade A locally listed grade building and has previously been considered for listing. However English Heritage declined to list it. Notwithstanding this, as it is a locally listed building the Local Planning Authority would seek to retain this building in accordance with policy if the site came forward for development.”

  4. Thanks Julia, it appears that the building *is* already locally listed after all (thank you very much to Richard Burden MP’s office for that info!)

    It would still be interesting to find out who bought the property from Birmingham University in 2007 and what they intend to do with it. It’s sad to see it falling further into disrepair.

  5. Locally listing a building does offer some kind of protection, so this is great news. I wonder what the reasoning was behind the reluctance of English Heritage to list? It could be the alterations that have taken place around the house have reduced its architectural importance; yet it seems that there may be more to this than meets the eye. It’s great that Richard Burden wrote to the council on this matter and I commend him for that, however these type of things tend to get shrouded in mystery and it then becomes too late to step in with a decent campaign (well done the elusive Mike Vale for pre-empting this). I think I’ll try and dig out what the criteria is for listing a building.
    In the case of Parkside School in Bromsgrove (which was listed after an application by the Bromsgrove Society), the listing was mainly due to its architectural importance.
    Sas, the thanks go to B31 for offering the platform for these kind of issues to be discussed. Keep up the good work!!

  6. Does a Grade A listing allow for any pressure on the owner to maintain the building? (I don’t know much about these things!)

    From BCC website: “Grade A – These are buildings which are of statutory list quality and will be referred to the Secretary of State if they are threatened with demolition or unsympathetic alterations. We can also serve a Building Preservation Notice if the building is imminently threatened.”

    Does the current state & neglect of the building mean threaten its condition enough that a Building Preservation Notice could be used to ‘encourage’ the owner to make repairs/seek grant-aided help for maintenance?

  7. I think a good place to start with these kinds of questions might be the Conservation team, who can be reached through the Planning Office at the Council, on the normal number (303 1115) – and now, rather than after Christmas. Some photographs, if possible, might also help.

  8. As a resident of northfield of 66 years and a regular walker every week with the council walk 2000 scheme in manor park the subject of the manor is close to our group.

    some ideas for discussion.BVT? College land?Friends of the park?thou they objected to the merritts brook new pathway extending through manor park.

    the university should give the new owners idenity.if a probelm consult with Carl chinn is on the board and im sure he would be very intersted in this project.

  9. Thank you, Gerald, good points.

    I’ve been in contact with Barrie Hoverd who is chair of Shenley Community Council about the manor. They were already aware and have also been discussing it. He told me that their Head of Communities at BVT knew of the building, as she had lived in it when it was still used as halls of residence – she did not know who owns it now, so we can presume BVT didn’t buy it back?

    I’ve also had a reply from English Heritage – I emailed asking for information on when the building was assessed for statutory listing and why it was refused.

    In summary:

    The Secretary of State, after consulting English Heritage, the Government’s statutory adviser,
    decided not to list the above building. The reasons were:

    * The building lacks sufficient architectural quality, either in the portion dating from the mid-
    C19 or the 1890s.
    * All parts of the building, both the C19 parts and the later C20 follow well-established stylistic
    trends, and provide no hints of novelty.
    * The building has suffered from piecemeal adaptation, both when it was a house and since its
    change to being a university hall of residence.
    * The ownership of the building by the Cadbury family is a reflection of their success as
    opposed to the location of any breakthrough that led directly to their pre-eminence.

    It therefore was not of sufficient special architectural or historic interest to merit listing.

    English Heritage also sent me the adviser’s report which you can view as a PDF here

  10. Oh, I just saw the Land Registry Title Register for the Manor House.

    Well, that was a surprise….. the owner is still The University of Birmingham!

    hmmmmmm….

    Does this mean they gave up on selling, or have plans, or are at a loss….or have I used the wrong address?! (I used the address and postcode included in the comment with the map. Must be right? Right?!)

  11. It might be worth giving the Land Reg a quick call just to double check that they are up to date … have found, before now, that sometimes they can be slow – also have had experience of solicitors being slow to register a change of hands.

    Beyond this, I think I would try and figure out who deals with property like this at the University (preparing myself for the run around … )When you get there you might mention that you represent a website where the building is being discussed & that concerns are being expressed and then perhaps politely ask about their plans? Can’t guarantee success, of course, but have found, in such circumstances – when they realise that you are not out to make trouble: you just care about the building – individuals can be surprisingly up front and helpful.

  12. Thanks again for all your advice, Julia!

    I’ll check with the University. The rumour was that it was sold in 2007, so that’s a very long dawdle in registering the change! If it has been sold on, hopefully the University or BCC can help us identify the owner.

  13. It seems that the architect who carried out the alterations to create the Hall of Residence, when the University took over Northfield Manor House, was H. W. Hobbis. (Wickipedia has a helpful article)I thought the name rang a bell. Hobbis seems to have been quite an important Birmingham architect between around the 1920s and the 1950s. Other building of his include several pubs, churches, King Edward’s School and both the Students’Guild and St Francis Hall at Birmingham University. Kate and Drew on Flickr have a bit on his pub work: http://bit.ly/hvpcNx

  14. It is a bit of a conundrum this one! Having read the reasoning behind the reluctance to list by EH, I kinda feel that it doesn’t really make that much sense. The two main stipulations for listing seem to be architectural merit and/or an association with some sort of historical event/person. Clearly there is a case for both!! Most old buildings have been altered over time, that’s what happens; the fact that the alterations were done by H. W. Hobbis seem to indicate that even these may be significant. However I guess the way forward now is to approach the University and find out what the plan is. We could all be surprised and find out that there are plans for something special (although I wouldn’t hold your breath).
    Sas and Julia – the info you’ve collated so far is fantastic, it gives me a feeling that we could get some momentum going here.
    Leigh

    • I could not print off the English Heritage report, but it does appear that EH was completely unaware that the original house was built in 1701 for the Jervoise family. There are extensive contemporary written records in the Hampshire Record Office and the building was “written up” by Sally Jeffery for the Birmingham and Warwickshire Archaeological Society in 1985.

  15. I lived in this house for a year in 2004 whilst in my first year of university and it was the best year of my life. I think as university students we didn’t appreciate the privilege of living in such a house, and I was particularly lucky as I lived in the Old House rather than the newer extensions. It was amazing to walk down the grand stairs everyday (with photos of the Cadbury family and other famous people) and eat in the Great Hall. The grounds were brilliant too, I will always have fond memories of sitting out by the lake trying to revise for exams! If I could live anywhere again it would be here and the idea of it being knocked down is devastating.

    When we heard that it was going to close in 2007 the rumour was the the Health and Safety improvements required would have cost millions of pounds, which the university understandably wasn’t willing to shell out, and probably potential buyers aren’t willing to take on.

  16. I am glad to see that the Manor House at Northfield does, at least, have recognition locally as an important building, even if English Heritage are unaware of its actual history. The original house, large parts of which remain encased in the later remodelling, dates from 1701. It was built by the Jervoise family and is one of the earliest recorded buildings by the architect John James, who worked under Christopher Wren. Its early history, the papers relating to its construction (Hampshire Record Office) and the extent to which the original building still survives, was researched by Sally Jeffery and published in the ‘Transactions of the Birmingham and Warwickshire Archaeological Society, No. 92’ (1985).

    I did contact Mike Vale, the B&WAS, English Heritage and Sally Jeffery about the case in October last year, but have not had time to follow up my initial interest.

    If English Heritage had known that there is still a substantial early C18th house, by one of the leading architects of his time, within the existing structure, it may have viewed the case for listing very differently.

    This is not just a Northfield gem, nor even a Cadbury or Birmingham gem, it is a National gem. It should be saved.

    Philip Todd 0118 973 3379

  17. Philip that’s really interesting. Having read the extensive report by EH I guess I thought they had made the correct call. However if what your saying is true, there could be more to this building than meets the eye. I’m no architectural historian but that sounds as though it does actually fulfill some of the EH criteria for listing.
    It all seems to have gone a bit quiet after some great investigation work was done, I’m just wondering if there is a way of adding a bit of momentum to proceedings. This is why several of us have tried to contact Mike Vale with no joy. I think we all felt that he was the point of contact. Did you have any joy Philip?

  18. Philip> Thanks very much for your input. Some very interesting information!
    Do you have an email or telephone contact for B&WAS at all, as the website only gives postal addresses. If not, I’ll write to them, see what information they may have that they could share with EH.

  19. Philip> On re-reading the EH report, it seems they found no evidence of any parts of the original John James building remaining:

    The building has evidence of work from three distinct periods: the mid-C19, the 1890s and the
    mid-late C20. The earliest evidence of building is the stucco-fronted block, dating from the mid-
    C19.

    Would definitely be interesting to see the B&WAS report.

  20. The transaction by Sally Jeffery is on its way from the Museum (they were very helpful). If anybody would like a copy I can forward one on to you if you leave me an email address. I will make an interesting read.
    Leigh

  21. The Sally Jeffery report has arrived. If anybody would like a scanned copy, leave me an email address and I’ll send it to you(3.5Mb). It does make very interesting reading and unfortunately seems to tie in with the EH report. The building has been so much altered over time that very little of the original 1701 building remains. Does this mean its not worth saving? I think not!

  22. Thanks to all of you who have put comments on here. I apologise for not being in touch but family problems have kept me busy, but hopefully we can now proceed and ensure that the Manor is saved.

  23. Graham, I signed the petition recently and definitly did NOT pay for the priviledge!! Did they ask you for card details? If so I would check with your bank, this does’t seem right!!

  24. hi leigh
    i am glad you didnt have to pay. i got a pop up that wouldnt go away unless i paid. anyway I will follow up based on what you say.
    thanks
    graham

  25. SAVE Britain’s Heritage, an influential campaign charity, is featuring Northfield Manor in its forthcoming buildings at risk catalogue, which is published on 1 June. The entry will also appear on our online buildings at risk register.

    Please keep me informed about any progressions at rhiannon.tracy@savebritainsheritage.org

    I have copied and pasted the entry text below:

    The future of the Manor House – once the home of George Cadbury, founder of the chocolate empire – is uncertain. It was last used as a hall of residence by the University of Birmingham but has stood empty and neglected since 2006. It was marketed for sale and a developer holds an option to purchase the site, subject to planning which is at pre-application stage.
    The building dates from c.1750 and was originally a farmhouse. A London merchant bought the house in 1809 and remodelled it as a grand Classical house featuring canted bays and a porte cochère. George Cadbury, whose factory was nearby, purchased it in 1890 and made dramatic alterations (his architect was probably Arthur McKewan) including timber framing and a two-storey gabled porch (which replaced the porte cochère). The interior was also extensively reconfigured.
    The entrance and staircase hall of the house are of particular note: the former has polychromatic terrazzo floors and the latter, dark wood panelling to the lower walls and an open-well staircase with spiral-twist and fluted balusters and newel posts in loosely Jacobean style.
    George Cadbury’s widow lived at the Manor House until 1951 and it was left to the university in 1951, while the grounds were given to the city for use as public park.
    Any future scheme should conserve the Manor House, which is locally listed. However, this listing gives it no statutory protection. Anyone interested could contact the university’s Estates Office or King Sturge, their agent.
    Status Locally listed
    Local Authority contact Stephen King, Conservation officer, Conservation Group, Planning Department, Birmingham City Council, PO Box 28, Alpha Tower, Suffolk Street, Birmingham B1 ITU
    0121 464 7794
    Agents Tim Pearson, Properties Manager, Estates Office, University of Birmingham 0121 414 5945
    Or: Michael Brough at King Sturge on 0121 200 2898

    Many thanks and keep up the good work!

  26. PS we got most of our information from the English Heritage listing report. If there is evidence that the original building dates from c.1700 then it could be worth submitting documentary evidence of this new material to English Heritage for them to consider for listing. It may be that this new information changes whether the building is worthy of statutory listing. However, the listing report was quite clear in that the house is not of the finest architectural quality. However, that aside and whatever happens, the building should be locally listed and incorporated into a redevelopment scheme and not demolished as it is a handsome building and a local landmark. Its strong connection with the Cadbury family is important also.

  27. Rhiannon, I have emailed you seperatley with information regarding the Manor House. There is evidence in my view that the EH report isn’t 100% correct.
    It’s great news about SAVE Britains Heritage taking an interest; this is exactly what this “campaign” needs right now.
    Leigh

  28. hi, i live on new house farm drive and regularly take a stroll up there, recently though i have noticed that the manor house have some kind of security, parked outside almost all the time. who are these people? and who’s paying them!? also, it looks like diggers and some other machinery is chewing up the grounds. what is going on up there? SAVE THE MANOR!

  29. Very sad to learn of the demise of the Manor House. I was there for three years 1964-1967 and occupied E5. Many happy memories (particularly fond memories of the Manor bar where we could serve ourselves!).

  30. Hi everyone, I regularly take my kids for strolls around the derelict Manor, we love it and wish someone would restore it. If we won the Euromillions we’d buy it in a heartbeat! It’s an oasis of peace and lost in the woodland surrounding it. I find it amazing that someone has taken the time to install PIR security cameras around the properties (costing ££££££££s) and yet the buildings are sliding further into ruin. Everytime we walk around more windows are smashed or doors broken into (so much for the cameras!). For a city such as Birmingham that has so little in the way of BEAUTY I find it astounding that we disregard our historic architecture so casually. Sod English Heritage, this is BIRMINGHAM heritage! I’m sure a future Birmingham Mayor would live at the Manor House if it was restored to it’s former glory! The building are right at the heart of the Bournville Village Trust’s Shenley estate and I am deeply surprised that they – another of Cadbury’s creations – have no interest in claiming part of their heritage.
    It’s so sad, and I don’t want it to die and disappear into an apartment complex, I want it there for future generations to treasure because we as Brummies have lost so much of our architectural beauty in the last 100 years. Good luck with the campaign, we’ll help if we can!
    Best wishes
    Jay Mason-Burns & family, from Trefoil Close, about 400yards from the Manor House

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