On 13th July 1969, the first new homes in “the Village of the Seventies” at Cheswick Green were offered for sale by the Greaves Organisation, who built some 550 homes in the village as part of its initial development. The developer had purchased land from around 100 individual owners to enable the redevelopment of a site where around 60 per cent of the existing dwellings, mostly erected since the 1920s, had been deemed unfit for habitation.
Solihull was granted County Borough status in 1964 and underwent some boundary changes, losing parts of the previous municipal borough/urban district to neighbouring authorities. Hockley Heath, The Mount, Dickens Heath and Tidbury Green became part of Stratford-upon-Avon Rural District Council from 1st April 1964.
When councillors from Stratford rural district toured the Mount they professed themselves “shocked at the deplorable conditions” and accused Solihull Council of turning a blind eye to the situation for more than 30 years. (Birmingham Daily Post, 30th May 1964). There were apparently 94 timber dwellings on what was referred to as a “shanty town” with 63 occupied properties. More than 60 per cent of the homes were deemed to be unfit for habitation.
Solihull Council had consistently refused planning applications for properties on The Mount, meaning that owners had been unable to make improvements to their homes. Stratford Council also seems to have continued this policy, with the intention of facilitating the redevelopment of the whole site as one unit, rather than allowing piecemeal development.
The site consisted of trees, tall bushes and thick vegetation, through which ran a few unmade roads and rough tracks which became waterlogged in rain. Scattered around the site were single-storey dwellings, smallholdings and market gardens. The homes did have electricity but otherwise were served by wells and cesspits. The estate had no pavements, mains water, gas, street lighting or sewerage.
The description of The Mount as a “shanty town” upset residents who said they looked after their gardens and tried to live a blameless life, being honest and paying their bills. They had tried to improve their housing conditions but any planning applications to Solihull or Stratford Councils had been rejected.
Local councillor for Hockley Heath, Alan J. W. Rozelaar (1921-2018), described the residents as “proud, independent people, who wanted to help themselves” (Birmingham Daily Post, 7th May 1969) and said that they had had a “raw deal” in being refused permission to improve their homes.
The rough tracks across the site had names such as Appian Way, Brooklands Walk and Pleasaunce Walk. However, the Birmingham Daily Post of 13th December 1965 described the dwellings, most of which were said to be constructed from temporary materials, as destroying any illusion the road names may create. One dwelling in Brooklands Walk was described as being two long-immobile caravans joined together to form a home. Others had old chalets as the nucleus of the property. Some were constructed from wood, whilst others were of asbestos or brick. Few were built with professional help.
The Mount Residents’ Association was formed in 1964 to oppose any moves for compulsory purchase, as it was feared that Stratford Council was intending to approve such an order. By February 1965, the association had 81 members, accounting for some 80 per cent of householders on the Mount. Although a private developer had expressed interest in the estate, most of the residents said that they would prefer to co-operate with the Council and obtain permission to redevelop their own land.
In December 1965, Stratford Council approved the placing of a Clearance Order on the Mount estate and decided to carry out a survey of the site and its ownerships. The Housing and Public Health Committee said that the diversity of shape and size of the plots meant that it was impossible for individual owners to redevelop their own homes satisfactorily and that the redevelopment of whole site under the supervision of a single agency was the only acceptable solution.
A newly-elected local councillor for the district, Alan Rozelaar, stated that residents were not in favour of compulsory purchase and that most wanted to co-operate with the council and obtain permission to start building proper houses. Ninety per cent of residents reported that they were willing and able to pay their share of the costs of providing the necessary services. Councillor Rozelaar said:
To my mind it is utterly immoral to take away a man’s land by compulsory buying and then have the cheek to offer to lease it back to him. The only fair way of dealing with the matter is to appoint some kind of sub-committee involving all the interested parties – Warwickshire County Council, Stratford Rural Council, the Parish Council and residents of The Mount.Birmingham Daily Post, 17th October 1964
In the end, rather than a compulsory purchase order being imposed, or residents being permitted to develop their own land on a piecemeal basis, a compromise solution was found. This would see residents agreeing to sell their land to a single developer so that the estate could be redeveloped as one unit. This was described as meaning that owners obtained the market price for their land and the “indignity” of compulsory purchase could be avoided.
In December 1966, the Mount Residents’ Association informed Stratford-upon-Avon Rural District Council that they were in negotiations with a developer and that a planning application would be submitted in due course for the site to be redeveloped. It was agreed that a housing association would be given the chance to buy from the developer a piece of land on which houses could be erected for about 12 tenants in straitened circumstances who were unable to rehouse themselves.
In March 1967, it was announced that Stratford Rural Council had given its support to plans by Birmingham property developing firm, David Charles, to redevelop the Mount Estate, Monkspath into a £3m self-contained village. The village would be known as Cheswick Green, which was the name of the site at the time of the Domesday survey. The company intended to develop the estate into a 600-house village, with its own shops, schools, public houses and open spaces. Residents of the existing estate would be given the opportunity of buying the new houses.
There were some issues with six residents initially being unwilling to sell their homes and another five property owners not being able to be traced. There were also difficulties as regards rights of way crossing the land and a potential issue of flooding as a result of a stream running across part of the site. Eventually, all of the owners were traced, although it took two years to find them all.
As a result of the legal difficulties, the David Charles group, which had the option to buy the land until December 1967, called in the Land Commission. This organisation had been established in April 1967 to acquire and dispose of building land for planned developments, preventing piecemeal development . David Charles wanted the Land Commission to buy up the land carrying rights of way and free it from restrictions before then reselling the land to David Charles to redevelop.
However, Mr Dennis Preece, of Shirley estate agent Collins Son and Harvey, acting on behalf of the Mount residents, said that the residents favoured the land being sold to the Greaves Organisation of West Bromwich, rather than being sold to the Land Commission and then resold to David Charles. It was felt that the sale to Greaves would offer a better outcome for residents both in terms of financial considerations and addressing human and personal problems such as rehousing. At a meeting of the residents’ association on 28th January 1968, a decision was taken to recommend that members accept the offer from Greaves, apparently amounting to almost £1m.
Some landowners still refused to sell so, in May 1969, it was announced that the Land Commission had published a compulsory purchase order for 7.5 acres of land at Cheswick Green which was needed to complete a 60-acre development of the Mount Estate. This was the first time in the Land Commission’s 25-month existence that it had used its powers of compulsory purchase.
The Mount Residents’ Association held its final general meeting in 1969 and was wound up once the legal and tax issues had been settled.
The Sports Argus Saturday 12 July 1969 carried an announcement of the first new homes at Cheswick Green being for sale from the following day. The new development was planned as a complete community, “not just another housing development in a remote area miles from everywhere”:
Never has a new community offered so much this close to Birmingham. Planned as a brand new village, complete with its own shopping centre, village green, open spaces and children’s playing fields, pub and community hall, Cheswick Green will become one of the most favoured environments anywhere within the West Midlands.
Investment values of these homes will be substantial and demand for the first available homes will be heavy.
Come early to avoid disappointment. Reservations will be taken on a first come first served basis.
Only £25 needed to reserve the plot of your choice.
The homes on offer included
- Arden three-bedroom townhouses and Henley four-bedroom townhouses, all with garage, from £4,345
- The Haselor three-bedroom detached house with garage, launderette, 25ft living room, from £6,495
- The Avon three-bedroom semi-detached house with side garage, from £4,945
- Three only individual detached residences with four bedrooms, two-car garage and central heating. Choice plots, approached by private drive. From £7,450.
A deposit of £25 secured the plot, and buyers were encouraged with the offer of 95 per cent mortgages. The first inhabitants were expected to be able to move into their new homes in late autumn 1969.
By June 1970, adverts for new homes at Cheswick Green described the area as “fast becoming the most fashionable development in South Birmingham” with residents enjoying the benefits of rural surrounding only a few minutes from the wonderful Shirley shopping centre.
Work on the first footings was underway by early August 1969 and architects, Lane, Lister & Associates were described as having taken great care in landscape planning to keep as many as possible of the mature trees and open green spaces which exist. Paths were also made from the existing roads.
The Greaves Organisation, based in West Bromwich, ceased trading in December 1976 after it couldn’t pay pressing creditors or secure further borrowing from banks.
Save The Mount campaign
The Mount at Cheswick Green was a scheduled ancient monument, which survived the original redevelopment by the Greaves Organisation. However, the earth work was earmarked for bulldozing
In 1973, residents of Cheswick Green began a campaign to save The Mount from being flattened for more housing. The action committee obtained an old air-raid siren, reportedly with the intention of sounding it should the bulldozers move in.
The Greaves Organisation Ltd, which had outline planning permission to demolish the medieval moated site and build some 200 homes, said that the 11-foot water-filled moat at the site was a danger. Provided that the water table was not too high for development, Greaves wanted to demolish The Mount on safety grounds before submitting a detailed planning application for redevelopment.
It seems that the outline planning permission had been granted on the assumption that the fort and adjoining manor house site had been fully explored. However, the only archaeological report on The Mount dated from 1953 and, owing to limitations of time and resources, a comprehensive study was not undertaken. The report recommended that The Mount should be de-scheduled only after a comprehensive investigation had taken place.
Mr Percy Grieve, M.P. for Solihull, asked the Department of Environment to reconsider the outline planning permission but, in July 1973, planning minister, Baroness Young, said that there did not appear to be any grounds for revoking the permission. The Birmingham Daily Post 19th July 1973 included a statement from the department to the effect that there was no money to excavate the site properly and it was not considered sufficiently important to preserve.
With demolition work scheduled to begin on 30th July 1973, the Greaves Organisation also offered to pay £500 and allow archaeologists one month to explore the site before demolition.
Bulldozers moved onto the site on Monday 6th August 1973, making a gash in the ramparts as they filled in the 6ft-deep moat, which was described as a safety hazard to children as it contained stagnant water and mud. The developer insisted that the gash was accidental, after a bulldozer became bogged down in mud.
On 31st August 1973 the Ministry of the Environment issued an order that stopped any demolition of the mound for two months, whilst archaeologist Steven Taylor was examining the site.
The Birmingham Daily Post of 10th October 1973 announced that although the archaeologists’ report was still awaited, it was understood that the conclusion was reached that The Mount was not worth saving. A copy of the Summary Report by Steven J. Taylor of the 1973 excavations is included in the “Save The Mount” volume at the Core Library, mentioned below.
The author concluded that The Mount was a mediaeval construction without any internal buildings within the embankment. He stated that the earthwork was fortified for mediaeval warfare but the construction was for unknown purposes, which may have changed before the project was completed, hence the lack of habitation. By the later mediaeval period the site was used on occasions for charcoal-burning activities but there was no indication of any regular occupation.
Bulldozers commenced the demolition of the site on Tuesday 9th October 1973. Articles in local newspapers indicated that members of Solihull Archaeological Group had been given permission to observe the work and rescue any pieces brought to light.
Earlswood Village Museum has some of the objects from the archaeological dig carried out at the Mount.
A section of the earthwork remains off Chatsworth Close, Cheswick Green and is owned and maintained by Cheswick Green Parish Council.
Cheswick Green: the Village of the Seventies by John W. Pettinger, 2019
A young person’s guide to The Mount: a history of the Cheswick Green Mount by Peter Tonks, 2015
The Mount: an archaeological report on the earthwork at Cheswick Green in Solihull by Peter Tonks, 2001
Excavations at the Mount, Cheswick Green, Shirley’ by T. L. Jones, in Birmingham Archaeological Society Transactions for 1953. Vol.71 pp.80-95 (1955) – available for reference at The Core Library, Solihull
Save The Mount – unpublished volume of copies of documents and articles relating the campaign in 1973
Last Days of The Mount Estate at Cheswick Green (YouTube video)
© Solihull Council, 2021.
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