Brief history and background to the present building
Stowe House is now a Grade II listed building described in their
listing as it was when owned by the Birmingham Hospital Board.
Netherstowe from 1180 to 1467 was known to have a mill, a
'messuage' or house and land described as an estate occupied by the
Poun family, later known as Pownes. Three houses were built,
possibly on this estate land or nearby, in the 1750s. They were
built by Elizabeth Aston, daughter of Sir Thomas Aston of Runcorn,
Cheshire. She lived in the house called Stowe Hill, now known as
Stowe Hill House. Stowe House was to the south-west of this and
initially was occupied by Thomas Hinton, perpetual curate of St
Chads church. The third house was empty in 1777 and is never
Thomas died in 1757 and by 1770 Stowe House was occupied by
Thomas Day for two years before Elizabeth's sister Jane moved in
after the death of her husband, Francis Gastrell, vicar of Frodsham,
Cheshire (near Runcorn). Samuel Johnson was a friend of both sisters
and mentions her living in 'the lower house'. Elizabeth died in 1785
leaving the house to Jane Gastrell. The next year, the sister living
at Stowe Hill also died and both were owned by Jane who continued to
live in Stowe House. When she also died in 1791 the two houses were
sold, in 1792.
The house itself would appear to have changed little over the
centuries. The brick has a white-painted dressing. The west-facing
main front has five bays with a central pedimented entrance. The
original floor plan has altered considerably over the centuries.
John Walker Wilson bought the house but by 1793, had sold it on
to Fairfax Moresby. Although he moved in at some point, he moved out
shortly and a tenant lived there in 1801. It was again sold. This
time to Richard Gresley who moved in. He came from Kenilworth. It
was next sold to a William Gresley, assistant curate at St Chads in
1830. He moved in and was still there in 1843 but by 1848 Richard
Greene, the Lichfield banker owned the house, living there with his
family. It is said he collected rare books and bred exotic fowl. He
was involved with many Lichfield organisations, the family having
lived in the city since 1742. When his bank collapsed in 1855 the
house was again sold. It would appear that against liabilities of
£180,000 all his assets including the house, the farm attached and
£30,000 owed to him, only came to £121,000.
The house is described in the sale document as comprising dining
and drawing rooms, library, study, six good-sized bedrooms, eight
smaller rooms, two water closets, servant's hall, housekeeper's
room, bakehouse, brewhouse, laundry, dairy, farm buildings and loose
boxes, a five stalled stable, double and single coach houses and
other convenient offices, conservatory, fowl houses with hot water
apparatus. They were well supplied with excellent water. The lawn
was well planted with shrubs. There was a flower garden and a
kitchen garden with two forcing houses and bricked hot bed. This all
sounds very much like the typical Victorian house and garden. Over
23 acres of lands attached were held on long leases from the Vicars
Choral of the Cathedral. A plan was mentioned. The furniture and
fittings, books and fowls were all sold over 12 days. Viewing was
'by card only' and a catalogue was available from Mr Lomax,
bookseller, Bird Street, at 1s. which 'would be returned to the
In 1856, the new owner was Charles Holland MD. He called it St
Chad's House although on his death, when sold again, it reverted to
Stowe House. The new owner moved in from Stoke on Trent was not
During this century a large drawing room was built onto the
south-east corner of the house. Projecting south it has a canted bay
and small walled terrace to the front, originally the base of a
conservatory (See Country life picture). Miss Benson adds that the
Jacobean staircase with ribbon inlay was imported in the 19th
century from another house demolished after a fire.
Stability was short-lived and in 1902, Nelly Thorpe, widowed
daughter of A J Mundella, the Liberal politician bought the house.
Her daughter and son-in-law arrived shortly after. He, G R Benson,
was a politician and became mayor of Lichfield in 1910-1, as well as
serving on the County Council and becoming chairman of the
Staffordshire quarter sessions. He was a pillar of the Johnson
Society and was created Baron Charnwood in 1911. Their son was still
living there in 1937. The names Benson and Charnwood are
commemorated in local street names.
A ballroom on the north-east was added beforethe Second Wrold
War, however it was later divided into bedrooms. A billiard and
games room was made in the light basement which had originally been
kitchens.* It is thought that much of the elaborate decoration in
the older rooms dates from before the Great War. The stables were
well occupied in the early part of the century and a coach kept.
At the beginning of the Second World War the house was taken over
by the army. This occupation must have been short-lived as from
1940-4 Belmont School was evacuated to Stowe House from Hassocks,
Sussex. We know a little of this from a former pupil who contacted
ISM in 1997/8. He remembered the school although aged six in 1941
when he arrived. The present Board room was the senior class room
while Reception was the Headmaster's study. The Conference room was
both a classroom and assembly room with connecting doors to the
study. Possibly it also included part of what is now a corridor. The
room on the left at the end of the hallway was the third classroom
(possibly the present dining room) and steps led up to a 'long room
at the rear' which was the dining room. This must have meant the old
ballroom later to be demolished or changed into kitchens and
bedrooms, or possibly the wing now devoted to Membership and IAEA
offices in 1997-8.
Returning upstairs, by the back stairs, there were dormitories.
The headmaster and his wife lived in the front rooms. Matron lived
in the room 'on the corner' - not easy to work out given the major
changes here. However the basement can be recognised - the large
room at the right being used for games and recreation and the small
rooms to the left as stores, but the back stairs up are now bricked
up. It must have been a sight watching the Sunday walk around Stowe
Pool to the Cathedral and exercise on rainy days in single file
around the Pool.
The house was left empty in 1944 until the City Council bought it
in 1945 with 14 acres. Nothing happened until they then sold the
house to the County Council in 1948 but retained the land. The house
was turned into a nurse's home for the Victoria and St Michael's
hospitals in 1951. When the conversion into a nurse's home was
accomplished the service wing to the north was demolished and new
kitchens were built. Finally in 1969 Birmingham Hospital Board
purchased the House and turned it into a Management Training Centre.
Thus it was entirely appropriate that ISM should purchase it in 1997
as headquarters for the Institute for Supervision and Management. It
had been empty for a number of years.
The Listing document for the House describes in very shortened
form the Georgian style symmetrical house with 19th and 20th century
additions. These date from the early part of the century and 1950.
The architectural description is detailed but many of the additions
do not merge well with the building. They are however almost
invisible from the front. Also at the back is a garage, or stable,
block and a cottage block facing across what may once have been the
stable yard. The boundary of the grounds now comes quite close to
these. The conservatory shown to the right of the building in a
photo taken before 1940 has become a terrace.
The interior is richly decorated in the oldest part of the
building. The open well stair has twisted column balusters and
newel, returning on itself to give a small balcony and access to the
front rooms. To the back all rooms are at different levels and steps
abound. The moulded cornices in the hall, boardroom, dining room and
upstairs in the Office are rich foliate decorations and well
The above has mainly been taken from the Victoria County
History for Staffordshire, Lichfield volume which incorporates
virtually all the materials available in the Lichfield Record
Listing description by English Heritage.
*Benson, Theodora. A house to remember. Country life 14 Nov 1957
Clayton, H. Cathedral city: a look at Victorian Lichfield.
Lichfield: the author, n d (1977?).