On Saturday 24th November 1962, Solihull’s new parish hall was officially opened by Sir Martin Lindsay MP and dedicated by the Bishop of Birmingham, Dr J. L. Wilson. The new hall, named the Oliver Bird Hall, was built on land in Church Hill Road.
The building replaced a “highly inconvenient Victorian school” – the old Mill Lane Boys’ School – which the parish used for social activities. Meanwhile, the parish’s administrative work was carried out in the out-buildings of the previous Victorian rectory and in the rector’s study. Newspaper reports from the time describe the new site for the hall as “church, school, rectory and hall together in one place, making an island.” (Solihull News, 24th February 1962).
Design and construction
The hall was designed by architect Ian Devon Fairlie Picken (1914-2015) from the London firm of Laurence King & Partners. The building was located “on a pleasant site to the south of the church” and was “carefully positioned so as not to interfere with the view of the church as one approaches it from the south.” (Solihull News, 3rd February 1962).
Construction by Messrs. Bragg Bros. – under the site supervision of Denys Hinton and Associates, a Leamington firm of architects – began in October 1961.
During the clearance of the site, the builders came upon some of the extensive foundations of the old rectory, including a “stable yard, cobbled as Solihull High Street once was, the stones topped with tiles.”
The foundation of the new £30,000 building was laid on Saturday 17th February 1962 by Mrs Oliver Bird. The Birmingham Weekly Mercury of the following day reports that a copy of the current parish magazine was placed in a sealed bottle between two of the walls of the new building.
A 4ft 6in sculpture of the Holy Family by distinguished sculptor and borough resident William Bloye (1890-1975) was placed over the proscenium. The cement and resin sculpture was the gift of an anonymous donor.
Solihull’s M. P., Sir Martin Lindsay, officially opened the Oliver Bird Hall on Saturday 24th November 1962, and took the opportunity to announce that the church authorities had been given permission by the Ministry of Education to go ahead with a £32,000 scheme to modernise the St Alphege church school.
The Rector, Rev. Harry Hartley, who commented that the new church hall “might seem to many people to be rather luxurious,” said at the opening:
We have called this hall the Oliver Bird Hall to show our gratitude and appreciation to both Capt. and Mrs Oliver Bird for their generosity to the church, the school and the parishBirmingham Daily Post, Monday 26th November 1962
This building was not the first “Oliver Bird Hall” in the Midlands. Captain Oliver Bird was Chairman of Birmingham Family Planning Association, and a lecture hall at the organisation’s HQ in Edgbaston, which was opened in April 1956, was also known as “Oliver Bird Hall.”
The same name was also given to a concert hall at the Birmingham & Warwickshire Y.W.C.A. building in Stone Road, off Bristol Road, Edgbaston, which was officially opened in November 1959. Captain Bird gave the sum of £10,000 to the project.
Captain Oliver Bird
Oliver Bird MC JP (1880-1963) was the third of the seven children of Alfred Frederick Bird (1849-1922) and Eleanor Frances Bird (née Evans) (1852-1943). He was born on 15th February 1880.
Oliver Bird married Gwendoline Heaton Upton (daughter of William Albert Upton of Berry Hall) at St Alphege Church, Solihull on 14 Jul 1909 and the couple set up home at Wood Lawn, Hampton Lane, Solihull. They lived there until Captain Oliver Bird bought “The Chase”, Smiths Lane, Bentley Heath following the death of owner Samuel Boddington in 1937.
The Chase had previously been known as Widney Farm until renamed by Samuel Boddington, who turned it from a farm into a domestic setting. Captain & Mrs Bird remained at The Chase until their respective deaths. The house was advertised for sale by Mrs Bird’s executors in 1970 and purchased by A. J. Stait. It was sold to Mr & Mrs W. S. Jordan in January 1976 and the family owned the property for 40 years until it was sold and the site redeveloped as 10 homes, including the main building being divided into two dwellings.
Captain Oliver Bird joined the family firm – Bird’s Custard – and was a Director and Secretary of the company 1900-1946.
During the First World War, he was a Captain in the Welsh Guards. During the Second World War he was Head Warden ARP No 8 Solihull Group. He was also President of the Solihull & District British Legion.
He was appointed as a Justice of the Peace in 1938 and served at Solihull Magistrates Court for 17 years until he retired as a magistrate on 15th February 1955. He also served as High Sheriff of Warwickshire 1943/44.
A notable philanthropist, he suffered from osteoarthritis for 30 years and gave £450,000 in 1948 to the Nuffield Foundation to be held in trust for the promotion of research into the prevention and cure of rheumatism. He donated to Solihull the Horse and His Master statue, which had stood in the grounds of the family home at Tudor Grange, and he also gave to the new Solihull Borough the ceremonial Mace, which is still in use today as a symbol of Royal authority.
Captain Oliver Bird died on 13th April 1963, aged 83, and is buried at Robin Hood Cemetery, together with his wife, Gwendoline (1887-1969).
A leaking roof
In November 1972, an appeal was launched by Solihull Parish to raise £1,500 to repair the roof of Oliver Bird Hall, which had begun to leak a few weeks previously. Experts discovered that the copper roof was cracked and rotten. Father Raymond Wilkinson, Rector of Solihull at the time, told the Solihull News that the parish was unable to claim compensation as “the builders have gone our of existence.”
Temporary repairs were effected whilst the money was raised, with the Birmingham Evening Mail of 9th May 1973 noting that “the church was pressing for compensation from the architects who designed the hall.”
A refurbishment of the Oliver Bird Hall was carried out in 2010, involving an extension to an existing meeting room, a new store, external play deck and alterations & refurbishment of the existing toilets.
Three new windows were added to the north and east elevations in 2005. In 2020, planning permission was given for the insertion of a new window in the west elevation of the building facing Church Hill Road.
In 2021, a planning application was submitted for the redevelopment of a parcel of land at the rear of Oliver Bird Hall and land at the neighbouring Rectory, which would have seen the construction of 54 apartments for older people. Solihull Council refused planning permission on 9th December 2021 on the grounds of a lack of affordable housing on the site, and the effect on designated and non-designated heritage assets.
An appeal by owners, Lifestory Group, was dismissed by The Planning Inspectorate in July 2022, following a Public Inquiry in May 2022.
If you have any further information about the Oliver Bird Hall, please let us know.
Library Specialist: Heritage & Local Studies
© Solihull Council, 2022.
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