Kingshurst Hall and the Townshends

By the time of its demolition in 1962, the grade II-listed Kingshurst Hall, believed to have been built in the early 18th century, was in a state of disrepair. It was surrounded by tower blocks on the new Kingshurst Hall Estate, which was built by Birmingham City Council as overspill housing.

The Council had compulsorily purchased Kingshurst Hall and its surrounding farmland, together with other land in Kingshurst,  under the Birmingham (Old Chester Road, Tile Cross &c) Compulsory Purchase Order 1939, which was dated 17th February 1939.

Presumably, the Second World War delayed plans to develop the land so it wasn’t until 1952 that Birmingham City Corporation approached Meriden and Warwickshire Council with an intention to build a new housing estate – its first outside the city boundaries – to house some 10,000 of the city’s “surplus” population.

In July 1956 it was reported that the Corporation was anxious to preserve Kingshurst Hall itself, but by June 1957, the decision had been made to demolish the building. However, the city council said it would delay demolition to allow the 71-year-old occupant, Walter John Townshend, to continue living there for the rest of his life.

Walter John Townshend was born at Kingshurst Hall on 22nd December 1886 and baptised at Coleshill on 23rd January 1887. He was the second child of parents Henry Townshend, a farmer from Netherseal, and Phoebe (née Dabbs) who had married at Coleshill on 19th June 1884. The Townshends were a farming family, who are known to have farmed in the Coleshill area for around 125 years from the late 19th century.

 

The Townshends of Gilson Hall Farm, Coleshill

Although born in Netherseal, Walter’s father, Henry, was the son of a Warwickshire-born farmer, William Townshend. It seems that the family moved to Leicestershire c.1850 and returned to Warwickshire sometime between October 1880 and September 1881, when William Townshend was recorded as a farmer at Gilson Hall, Coleshill. He died there on 9th November 1885.

His will, written five days before his death, left the contents of his house and farm at Gilson, and all his tenant rights in and about the farm to his eldest son, William.

His son, William, a bachelor, continued farming at Gilson until his own death in 1904, after which the farm was taken over by his brother, John (1846-1929). John’s son, John Leslie Townshend (1891-1972)  took over the farm from his father, having been working on the farm with his father since at least 1911.

The announcement of John Leslie Townshend’s death gave his address as Grangewood, Gilson, formerly of Gilson Hall Farm. His son, David Neil Townshend (1927-2016), a great-grandson of the first of the Townshends to farm at Gilson, was still farming at Gilson Hall in 1973.

 

The Townshends of Kingshurst Hall

Whilst his father and brothers worked at Gilson Hall, Henry Townshend took up residency at nearby Kingshurst Hall Farm, apparently moving in on his wedding day in 1884. His father’s will, dated 4th November 1885, left Henry all the household goods in and about his house at Kingshurst, as well as all the farming stock and William’s tenant rights in and upon the farm at Kingshurst.

After Henry’s death in 1937, his sons George Henry Townshend (1885-1950) and Walter John Townshend (1886-1961) continued to live at the farm and work together, remaining as tenants after Birmingham City Council compulsorily purchased the farm and estate in 1939. The brothers also had a sister, Lilian Margaret Townshend (1890-1955).

Lilian was the only one of the three children to marry and she seems to have had one son, Arthur Townshend (1914-1990). By 1939, Lilian was widowed and living alone in Hurst Lane, Castle Bromwich, where she died in 1955. Her occupation in 1939 was recorded as a haulage contractor.

In September 1939, her son, Arthur, a lorry driver, was living at Kingshurst Hall Farm with his uncles, George and Walter. Shortly after this, between October-December 1939, Arthur married Ivy Blanche Aucott and, the couple set up home at Mill Cottage, Babb’s Mill, which was part of the Kingshurst Hall estate and described in the 1919 sale catalogue as having parlour, kitchen, scullery and three bedrooms. It doesn’t appear that the couple had any children and, by 1961, Arthur was working as a pig farmer.

George died in 1950, leaving his brother Walter to continue working the farm on his own. It seems that Walter’s failing health meant that he struggled to maintain the 20-roomed property and the building deteriorated. The farm lands also became overgrown.

A local [?Birmingham Mail] newspaper report from 20th June 1957 indicated that the farmhouse was in a dilapidated condition, with woodworm-infested timbers and the interior decorations being in a bad condition. The property had no gas, electricity, damp course or piped water. The only water supply was from an old pump, which Walter Townshend was pictured using. The article said that he lived alone at the hall, with only two terriers for company. It was noted that vandals were wrecking the property, with 32 window panes being smashed in one night.

In 1957 Stanley Robert Jones (1927-2017), an art teacher from Birmingham with a passion for recording vernacular architecture, made a trip to see Kingshurst Hall. He took along his Sanderson quarter-plate camera and photographed the exterior of the hall. He considered asking to photograph the interior but decided it would be too much of an intrusion for Walter Townshend. He wrote down his experience and his description of the hall for us and gave us copies of his photograph and the drawing he made. We have taken his photograph of the hall from 1957 and blended it with a modern photo of the same site (pictured at the top of the page).

An article in the Birmingham Daily Post of 20th October 1958 describes Walter Townshend’s experience of the situation at the Hall, which he said was being pulled down around him, as the new estate had encroached to within 100 yards of his front door.

The article said that local children were believed to be responsible for breaking every one of the more than 500 windows, as well as causing thousands of pounds worth of damage to brickwork at the hall and outside buildings, tearing oak doors and gates off their hinges, and wrecking farm equipment. Walter Townshend – apparently known locally as “Old Wally” – and aged 72 at the time, spoke of his anguish:

I shout and plead with the youngsters, but I am ignored. They know I cannot run after them and I can only stand and watch. I love children, but it seems the generation responsible for this are completely irresponsible and out of control. Police, the local school and the council authorities are doing all they can – but still they come

In August 1960, Walter moved out of Kingshurst Hall, where he had lived for the whole of his life. He moved to New Road, Castle Bromwich, and died there eight months later, on 7th April 1961. He was 74 years old. His funeral took place at Coleshill parish church.

The Birmingham Daily Post of Monday 11th December 1961 carried the headline:
Hall to be Demolished and went on to say that it was expected that “work will start next year on demolishing Kingshurst Hall, a 17th century moated hall, now derelict, which stands in the shadow of modern blocks of flats at Kingshurst estate, near Castle Bromwich.”

A spokesman for Birmingham Corporation Architect’s Department said that following the demolition, bricks from the building would be used to repair the old bridge across the dried up moat (pictured at the top of this page) and that the site would be landscaped to provide an attractive amenity for the flats. He explained that the building had been badly damaged by vandals and could not be put in order.

The Victoria County History gives an account of the descent of Kinghurst Hall from the de Montfort family to the Digby family, as does The History of Kingshurst (available to borrow or purchase from Kingshurst Library or The Core Library, Solihull). The Digbys owned the Hall until 1919, when it was included in a catalogue of a sale of outlying portions of the Coleshill Estate. The Core Library, Solihull has a photocopy of a few pages of the catalogue (ref.: NC-Kingshurst), including that relating to the hall.

Photocopy of the 1919 sale catalogue page relating to the sale of Kingshurst Farm.

According the the History of Kingshurst, the hall was bought from the Wingfield-Digbys by Mr A. Fifield. Further research indicates that Alfred Fifield had married Minnie Townshend of Allesley in 1902. Minnie was the daughter of Thomas Townshend of Astley, Warwickshire, elder brother of William and John who farmed at Gilson Hall, and of Henry who farmed at Kingshurst Hall. This makes Minnie the first cousin of George and Walter Townshend.

However, an obituary of Walter John Townshend in 1961 said that it was his father, Henry Townshend, who purchased the hall in July 1919 from the estate of Major F. J. B. Wingfield Digby. The article says that Henry Townshend purchased Kingshurst Hall Farm, comprising 269 acres, and Cocksparrow Farm, of 143 acres.

If you have any further information on Kingshurst Hall or the Townshend family, please let us know.

Tracey
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian

email: heritage@solihull.gov.uk

 

© Solihull Council, 2020.
You are welcome to link to this article, but if you wish to reproduce more than a short extract, please email: heritage@solihull.gov.uk

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