On 7th September, I presented the above PowerPoint presentation to the Trusts and Charities Committee of Birmingham City Council. The objective of my presentation was to update the Committee on work that I have been doing recently to restore the former ornate gardens of Highbury Hall. I have been doing this work in both my roles as Cabinet member for Leisure, Sport and Culture, and as Chair of the Heritage Strategic Planning Committee.
In my role as Cabinet member for Leisure, Sport and Culture, I have responsibility for the day-to-day maintenance of the parts of the Highbury Trust land that the public have access to as part of the much bigger Highbury Park.
As Chair of the Heritage Strategic Planning Committee, this Committee has responsibility for prioritises where the restoration of the Highbury Hall and Gardens sit within the much wider Council Heritage Strategy.
The Heritage Strategic Planning Committee was set up in 2006, with the aim of making sure that all parts of the Council were working together when submitting bids for heritage projects either to outside bodies or internally within the Council.
The Committee contains a wide range of Council Officers, including the following representatives:
- Cllr Peter Douglas Osborn, as Chair of Planning
- Cllr John Alden, as Chair of Trusts and Charities Committee
- A representative from the Birmingham Victorian Society
- A representative from the Birmingham Heritage Forum
- A representative from English Heritage
With regards to Highbury Hall and its gardens, the restoration of both Hall and gardens is in the top 10 heritage priority projects for Birmingham City Council.
Coming to the slides.
If you go to slide 2 of 46, you will see highlighted in green, Highbury Park
Slide 3 of 46, shows the section of Highbury Park that is in the Highbury Trust. Notice that about half of the Highbury Trust land is not accessible to the public. This contains Highbury Hall and the 1940 Chamberlain House. Chamberlain House was built as a military hospital.
The Highbury Trust land is the original complete estate of Highbury Hall.
If you go to slide 4 of 46, this zooms into the Highbury Trust land, which were the original Highbury Hall estate from 1879 to 1932.
In 1932, the Highbury Trust land was bequeathed to the City Council, which in turn began the process of accumulating further land to the south to create what we now know as Highbury Park.
Before we move onto the next slide, I need to explain the importance of Highbury Hall and its gardens. Highbury Hall was built for Joseph Chamberlain MP. Joseph Chamberlain was one of the most influential politicians in Birmingham and Britain in the late 19th century. Indeed, he is described by many, as the founder of modern Birmingham.
Two of his sons, both born and raised in Highbury Hall, had successful careers as politicians. Neville Chamberlain would go on to become Prime Minister from 1937 to 1940. Whilst Austen Chamberlain would receive a Nobel Peace Prize in 1925.
I don’t wish to go into further detail here on the lives of these three great men, suffice to say that a quick Google on any of their names will bring up numerous websites about their lives.
Slide 5 of 46, shows the original ponds of the Highbury Hall gardens that still exist.
Slide 6 of 46, shows the original buildings of the Highbury Hall estate that still exist. Notice that you have a Farm Bailiffs House on the eastern boundary of the estate. This contained the farmer who maintained the dairy farm that existed to its immediate south. We will see photos of the remains of that dairy farm in later slides.
Slide 7 of 46, shows the first of two phases of planting that Joseph Chamberlain did on his estate. Much of this planting still exists, although since the Council stopped maintaining these gardens in the early 1970s, much of this planting is now overgrown. Also, remember that the gardens contained a mixture of formal landscapes AND rural landscapes that would reflect the nearby Warwickshire countryside.
Slide 8 of 46, shows the second of two phases of planting by Joseph Chamberlain. Notice the addition of the more formal Italian, Dutch and Rock gardens.
Slide 9 of 46, shows the awful planting schemes of the early 1990s that destroyed many historic landscapes. By the early 1990s, the Council had given up on maintaining this park and had decided it would be converted into a low maintenance forest. Totally unsuitable trees, such as the Australian section, were planted, which completely destroyed the heritage and character of these gardens.
Any restoration of these gardens, will have to deal with the thorny issue of what to do with the 1990s planting – should it stay or should it go?
Slide 10 of 46 is the Highbury Trust now.
In the following slides, I want to show what physical features still exist from the original Highbury Hall gardens.
Slides 11 and 12 of 46 show the location and photograph of the Angry Wall.
The Angry Wall, sometimes known as either the Hate Wall or Crucible Wall, has considerable folklore attached to it. The folklore is worth repeating. How much of it true is unknown, since little historical research on the origins of this wall exists.
The folklore behind the Angry Wall is that it was constructed by Joseph Chamberlain to annoy his next door neighbour Richard Cadbury in Uffculme Hall….and Cadbury chocolate fame. At the time Joseph Chamberlain was leader of the Birmingham Conservative Unionists, whilst Richard Cadbury was leader of the Birmingham Liberal Party. It would be comparable in the modern day to having Cllr Mike Whitby and Cllr Sir Albert Bore living next door to each other.
Joseph Chamberlain was well known for his support of military campaigns, whilst Richard Cadbury was a pacifist. So as to annoy his pacifist neighbour, Joseph Chamberlain constructed this wall using concrete moulds of artillery shells. Every morning, when Richard Cadbury had his morning tea, he would see this 18 foot high, 30 yard long wall of artillery shells.
I am sure that some basic research, may completely demolish this folklore. However, you cannot escape the unusual construction of this wall, which does consist of individual concrete moulds that look exactly like artillery shells that you would insert in modern cannons.
If you look at the photo in slide 12 of 46, you can see to the right of the Angry Wall, a track. This track runs from Queensbridge Road, to the side of the Farm Baliff House and down to the long demolished Dairy Farm.
Which leads us neatly onto slides 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 of 46. These slides show the fantastic work that the Friends of Highbury Park have been recently doing in excavating the floors of the former Dairy Farm. The Dairy Farm was used from 1932 until the mid-1980s as a storehouse for the Council’s Parks department. Sadly in the mid-1980s a fire completed destroyed these farm buildings and they were demolished. All the bricks from the demolition were left on site and the entire area covered in a thin layer of soil.
The Friends of Highbury Park have been excavating this site; piling up the bricks. It would be wonderful, if at a later date, we could re-construct some of these Farm buildings using these original bricks.
Slides 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 and 23 of 46 show the Viewing Platform. It was from this platform that Joseph Chamberlain could stand and view all of his ornate gardens, down to the main lake and across to the Henbury farm estate.
As slides 21, 22 and 23 show this historic feature completely demolished in mid-August by a group of parents urging on their teenage sons to push over the stone work and smash it to pieces with other rocks.
Both David Papadopolus of the Friends of Highbury Park and myself went down with two wheel barrels and salvaged as many of the stones as possible and hid them elsewhere in the park. I’m now trying to find the money to restore this Viewing Platform.
Slides 24,25 and 26 show the location of the Sun Dial and its remains. The brick base is still there, with a self seeding sycamore growing were the sun dial once was.
Slides 27 and 28 show the Italian Gardens. Notice in the original photo of the gardens, the pergola. This was demolished in the year 2000.
Slides 29 and 30 shows the Rock Garden. Notice the terracotta balustrade that runs up the steps and along the boundary with the Italian Garden. This balustrade has been slowly demolished by vandalism over the last 20 years and only a small section now survives. As part of the restoration of the Italian Gardens, we would recreate this terracotta balustrade.
Slide 31 is self explanatory – “What Next?”
Slide 32 and 33 of 46 shows that the intention is to restore the Highbury Hall Gardens by 2014. This would coincide with the 100th anniversary of the death of Joseph Chamberlain.
Slides 34, 35, 36 and 37 show that one avenue of funding for their restoration is the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). However, three reports are required for the HLF. These are:
· A Historic Landscape Survey. This was done in 2009 and funded by some Section 106 monies. This report looked at the entire Highbury Park; explained its history; showed what original features and landscapes still exist and the importance of them from a national context.
A restoration plan – this would show what’s needed to be restored, including planting schemes. It would also calculate how much the restoration would cost
A 10 year management plan – what the restored gardens would require over 10 years and how much it would cost.
Slides 38, 39 and 40 show that representatives from the Heritage Lottery Fund were shown around the gardens in November 2010.
In July 2011, I managed to secure £25k from Corporate Finance to fund the preparation of the Restoration plan, the 10 year management and the HLF bid.
The HLF have already asked us to submit the restoration of the Italian Gardens in November 2011. We already have designs and costs for this bid.
Slides 41 and 42 of 46 shows that I am presently bidding for £20k from Corporate Finance to restore the Viewing Platform this autumn. Also, our intention is to submit the HLF bid for the restoration of these gardens in 2012.
Slides 43, 44 and 45 of 46 show that we have been talking to the National Trust, who have expressed an interest in being involved in the restoration of these gardens. We will be showing representatives of the National Trust around these gardens in late September.