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Stowe House

Brief history and background to the present building

Stowe House

Stowe House is now a Grade II listed building described in their listing as it was when owned by the Birmingham Hospital Board.

Origin

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 mentioned again.

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.

Nineteenth Century

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 purchasers'.

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 named.

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.

Twentieth century

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.

Today

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 preserved.

Sources

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 Office.

Listing description by English Heritage.

*Benson, Theodora. A house to remember. Country life 14 Nov 1957 pp1028-9

Clayton, H. Cathedral city: a look at Victorian Lichfield. Lichfield: the author, n d (1977?).

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