Calthorpe Estate History

Calthorpe Estate History

The Calthorpe Estate stretches through Edgbaston and into Harborne and Quinton. Careful stewardship has ensured that it retains the charm of earlier days when architects designed large houses in tree lined roads, horses were stabled in coach houses and large landscaped gardens lay alongside fields and orchards.

Today the area has adapted to contemporary life and boasts a healthy mixture of old and new – with modern houses and apartments often standing side by side with large Victorian and Georgian properties. This unique “garden suburb”, only a few minutes from the centre, is an enormous asset to the City of Birmingham, but its character could easily be lost without the interest and support of the residents.

The Calthorpe Estate – A Short History

by Nigel Thompson – former Calthorpe Resident and formerly the Calthorpe Estate’s Agent (February 2012)

Edgbaston was first mentioned in the Domesday Book where it was given a value of 30 shillings. At that time, it was a small hamlet centred on the sites of what are now Edgbaston Hall and the Old Church. For 300 years, the manor had been owned by the Middlemore family, from whose descendant Thomas Belasyse, 3rd Viscount Fauconberg, it was bought for £20,400 on 20th July 1717 by Sir Richard Gough (1659-1727), the younger son of John Gough of Wolverhampton, a wool merchant who had become minor gentry in the mid-17th century.

During his career, Sir Richard had successfully traded in the Mediterranean and the Levant, before making a number of highly profitable voyages to the Far East. He became a director of the East India Company and on his return was knighted, before settling in Chelsea in 1715 when he bought eight acres in the Gray’s Inn Road area. He later acquired interests in Bramber, Sussex which he represented in Parliament as a Whig until his death in 1727.

Immediately upon buying Edgbaston, Sir Richard set about building the current Edgbaston Hall on the site of the earlier manor house which had infamously been used as the garrison of Civil War Colonel ‘Tinker’ Fox and 30 Parliamentarian troops,who controlled the surrounding area. At the end of the war, the population of Birmingham came out and destroyed the house; such was their hatred for Fox and his men.

Sir Richard was succeeded in 1727 by his eldest son, Sir Henry Gough (1709-1774).By that time, the building of Edgbaston Hall had been completed and the Estate had grown in size from 1700 to almost 2000 acres as a result of some shrewd land purchases. Sir Henry employed Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown to landscape the park around the house.

Sir Henry also represented Bramber as a Whig and was created a baronet by George II. His first wife died in 1740 without having any children, and in July 1742 he married Barbara Calthorpe – the Calthorpe connection! At the time, Barbara would have been considered a very attractive prospect, having a middle-aged and unmarried brother, Sir Henry Calthorpe; it was likely that she would eventually inherit the family fortune of around 2,000 acres in Cockthorpe, Norfolk; a large house at Ampton in Suffolk, and another house and estate at Elvetham in Hampshire. Despite the fact that Sir Henry and Barbara both actually predeceased her brother, the Calthorpe fortune and estate passed on his later death to their son, the second Sir Henry Gough (1748-1798) who, in 1788, took the name Gough-Calthorpe.

The second Sir Henry was something of a political animal and seems to have petitioned the younger Pitt for a peerage, which he was eventually given in June 1796, when he became Baron Calthorpe of Calthorpe, some two years before he died. Notably however, he moved to Elvetham in Hampshire in 1783, and the family never returned to Edgbaston, although they had the good sense to employ a series of very shrewd and talented agents over the next 200 years, who oversaw the major development of the Estate. Significantly, the first building lease on the Estate was granted in 1786.

Edgbaston Hall was leased to Dr William Withering (1741-1799) who achieved a lasting place in history with the identification, from foxgloves grown in the Park (see comment at * below), of digitalis; a drug which is still used to this day in the treatment of cardiac disease. He was also the Chief Physician at the then newly established General Hospital in Birmingham for thirteen years, and personal physician to Matthew Boulton, a member of the Lunar Society of which Withering became a member in 1766.

It was the second Sir Henry who managed to have clauses included in the legislation permitting the construction of the Worcester Canal, but forbidding the construction of factories, warehouses or stopping points where the canal passed through his land at Edgbaston. This, of course, avoided the establishment of any industry, warehouses and wharves etc on the Estate, which was later to prove crucial in helping to preserve its tranquil and unsullied nature. This was a masterstroke, given what happened subsequently to other areas equally close to the centre of the city of Birmingham as the 19th century progressed and it became a major industrial centre.

The first major period of development on the Estate took place between 1807 and 1851 and was overseen largely by the 3rd Lord Calthorpe, George (1787-1851). He expanded the Estate even further by buying additional land, so that by 1819 it extended to nearly 2,500 acres. The ability to control such a vast area was to prove of pivotal importance in later years as development proceeded in accordance with the master plan drawn up by the Third Baron and his then agent, John Harris.But physical characteristics and socio-economic factors were also important elements in the success of the Estate. The soil was of good quality and well drained. It was well wooded and lay at a relatively high altitude of between 300 and 600 feet. Most crucially however, it was located to the south and south-west of the City, which meant that ‘with the prevailing south westerly wind’ Edgbaston did not suffer pollution from the smoke and fumes of the expanding industries in Birmingham.

*In response to Mr Roy Sinclair, who has been researching Withering, and questioned this claim, Professor William Littler has commented as follows:
“Withering carried out his original work on the foxglove / digitalis in the years 1775 – 1785 before he took up residence at Edgbaston Hall in 1786. However, he continued to practise medicine and prescribe digitalis from the Hall. His Biographer, K.D.Wilkinson wrote in 1940 (British Heart Journal) that Withering maintained “a botanical garden“ at the Hall and local tradition has long held that he cultivated the foxglove there for medicinal purposes. Foxgloves still grow abundantly in the Park (now Edgbaston Golf Club) which I believe are the direct descendants of Withering’s plants. So, yes – Withering did use foxgloves from the Estate – but, no, not in his original discovery.”

Between 1810 and 1842, some 340 building leases were granted and the population increased six fold to 6,600 an extraordinary level of expansion by any standards.However, more was to come during the following 35 years; the number of leases shot up to nearly 1,100 and the population had risen to 22,700 in 1880 under the successive stewardship of the Fourth Baron (Frederick Gough-Calthorpe: 1851- 1868) and the Fifth Baron (Frederick William Henry Gough Calthorpe: 1868- 1892). Close control was kept by the Estate over the size of building plots and the quality of the architecture, and most of the roads on the Estate were also laid out by the Estate during this period in order to facilitate the development that took place. Many of the Roads are named after members of the family or their estates.

Notwithstanding the popular conception of an ever expanding and successful Victorian empire,the economy suffered boom and bust in the same way then that it seems to have done in more recent times, for example Wellington Road took nearly 40 years to be developed, and after this period of dramatic expansion, there followed an extended period of what we would call stagnation, which lasted up to the end of the First World War. In 1890, 1,100 acres of the Estate were still used for agriculture, and during this period, development was far more limited and much of it was of a more speculative and artisan nature compared with the large mansions on individual plots which had characterised so much of the development during the first building boom.

The reasons for this lull in the development of the Estate are many and complex,and include not only the general economic climate and cycles of the times, but also the growth of the suburbs beyond Edgbaston, such as Moseley, Harborne and Selly Oak, which was facilitated by the expansion of the railway and tram systems. These provided easy and relatively cheap access to the City, and enabled the more affluent to start the practice of what we now call ‘commuting’.

The Sixth Baron Augustus Cholmondeley Gough-Calthorpe, who died in 1910 (and is alleged to have bequeathed the not inconsiderable sum of £15,000 to a mysterious lady in Paris!), left four daughters, the oldest of whom, Rachel, took the family estates, whilst the title passed to Lieutenant-General the Honourable Somerset Gough Calthorpe of Perry Hall. (Perry Hall and its land were later to be sold off and developed during the interwar period to form much of what we now know as Perry Barr.) Rachel was married to Fitzroy Lloyd Anstruther, whose family home was Hintlesham Hall (made famous more recently by one of the earlier celebrity chefs and wartime member of the American OSS, Robert Carrier), and they added Anstruther to their name in November 1910, thus becoming the Anstruther- Gough-Calthorpe family, as their descendants are still now known .

At that time, the Estate was in a relatively poor condition, and the First World Wardid little to alleviate those problems. It was not until the early 1930s that the second major period of development took place on the Estate – principally in the western areas around what is now Fitzroy Avenue and Hamilton Avenue. This was relatively small-scale activity compared with the major expansion of the mid-19th century, but even this was curtailed abruptly by the advent of the Second World War.

In the immediate post-war period, there was very little building activity with the imposition of building licences until the mid-1950s. The introduction of the modern town planning system in 1948 required all local authorities to formulate plans for their area, and Birmingham was no exception. The Estate, however,decided to formulate its own plan, given that it was then largely Victorian in nature and was suffering from not only the physical obsolescence of many of the earlier houses, but also significant amounts of war damage in the eastern sector particularly caused by German bombers following the twin ‘line features’of the Worcester Canal and adjoining railway in identifying Birmingham city centre. (Given that areas such as Wheeleys Road (which suffered considerable bomb damage) were less than a mile from the City centre, a bomb aimer sitting at 15,000 feet had only to make the slightest error to hit the houses of Edgbaston rather than the businesses and factories of the City centre). In addition, many of the houses on the Estate had been designed for an era of cheap coal and an abundance of servants, and as such were less socially or economically viable in the post war period.

These problems were further compounded by the fact that, as a result of enemy bombing of the City centre, large numbers of businesses had moved out from their damaged premises in that area to the relatively spacious properties in the north-eastern part of the Estate around Five Ways. It was estimated that, by the end of the War, there were some 3,000 non-conforming business users who had infiltrated the Estate.

Perhaps most worryingly of all, however, as a designated inner city area, Edgbaston was expected under the new planning regime to have a population density of between 80 and 120 people to the acre, whereas, in reality, it had 5 people to the acre! This therefore led to a very real fear that large areas of the Estate might be compulsory purchased for redevelopment by the local authority.

It was therefore decided to instruct a local architect, John Madin, to prepare an overall plan for the future of the Estate. The Madin Plan was eventually published in 1958 and envisaged the development of four distinct sectors within the estate – three of them residential, and the fourth, commercial.

The residential sectors were to incorporate a variety of houses and flats with the intention of raising the density on the Estate to 30 persons to the acre by the year 2000. In order to achieve this, it would have been possible to clear large areas and build traditional suburban houses (along the Perry Barr or Hall Green models) at a density of 8 to 10 units per acre. This would, however have meant the wholesale demolition of significant tracts of the Estate, and in order to preserve its characteristics: major landscape features, the mature trees and streetscape, it was decided to consider future development on an individual site basis. This meant that a mix of high and low density development could be undertaken, using high and low rise flats, townhouses and traditional low-density housing, tailored to the particular nature of the site under consideration.

The three residential sectors were to comprise the eastern area centred on what is now Templefield Square, which would provide a focal point with shops and a public house. (For a variety of now unclear reasons, Warwick Crest on the corner of Arthur Road and Carpenter Road was eventually built in place of the public house intended for that site!) The corresponding western area would be centred on what is now Chad Square, where the requisite public house already existed in the form of the pre Calthorpe White Swan or Three Naves End (as it had been known historically following its original conversion from three labourers cottages). The third residential sector was to be the extreme western limb of the Estate encompassing the then still agricultural area of Beech Lanes, which was subsequently developed to form the estate lying between Hamilton Avenue and Fitzroy Avenue, linked by Sir Richard’s Drive.

The designated commercial area was to comprise some 90 acres on the north eastern edge of the Estate around the area of Five Ways, where the infiltration of nonconforming business users during the War had been at its most stark. This was to be developed as a commercial centre, (and now contains circa 3,000,000 ft. of offices in both purpose-built accommodation and former family houses converted to office use).

The principles of the Madin Plan were followed for a number of years, but of necessity had to be modified, and in many areas curtailed, following the passing of the Leasehold Reform Act in 1967, which granted certain long leaseholders the right to buy the freehold of their homes. Subsequent legislation extended that right to enfranchise (as it is known) to virtually all house owners, as well as lessees of flats who were granted the right to enfranchise collectively, or otherwise to extend their leases on an individual basis. These measures made the assembly of significant areas of land for redevelopment at the end of leases difficult for the Calthorpe Estate to achieve. As a consequence, whilst it has been possible for the Estate to continue the regeneration and development of the commercial sector of the since that time, there has been little residential development of any significance since the mid 1980s until now. The new Highfield Gardens development between Harborne Road and the Hagley Road on the site of Victorian Market gardens and glasshouses will bring quality new houses to the Estate.

In 1978,the Edgbaston Conservation Area was designated and has been extended significantly since that time to include more than half of the total area of the Estate – making it what is believed to be the largest single Conservation Area in the country, as well as larger than all of the other Conservation Areas in Birmingham put together. The heritage value of the Estate has been recognised by the fact that approximately one third of all the Listed Buildings in the City of Birmingham are situated on the Estate.

Currently,the Estate extends to approximately 1,500 acres which, to put it in a contextwhich a wider audience would understand, is around seven times the size of the Grosvenor Estate in central London. It is still primarily residential in nature, of the widest range, from the most modest to the most lavish, and of both public and private sector origins. Over 25% of the entire area of the Estate remains devoted to open space, including playing fields, sports clubs,and other recreational uses. Historically, the Calthorpe Estate has generously given land for Calthorpe Park and (part of) Cannon Hill Park, as well as Warwickshire County Cricket Club and Birmingham University. There are some 17 schools and colleges on the Estate, as well as a number of medical facilities,churches, hotels and shops. The other major area of importance however is the business area, which although only representing some 6% of the area of the Estate is now of enormous commercial significance to both Edgbaston and the City.

As the First Lord Calthorpe, Henry Gough Calthorpe had hoped and intended, there is still no industry on the Calthorpe Estate and that, coupled with nearly 300 years of single family ownership and careful estate management, has probably been the secret of its success as an attractive place to live and work; which will hopefully continue for a long time into the future.