18.5.12

From Peasant to Pleasant

Friday, 1 July 1881 - Solihull, Warwickshire, England

Downtown Solihull
On my way to Birmingham, I decided to stop off and visit Solihull for a couple of days. Solihull was, and still is, a market town for all the surrounding farms, some of which are quite large. This village was on the road to Birmingham, so became a coach stop in the old days. Even though the railway now goes through the town, Solihull is not an industrial center like neighboring Birmingham or Coventry. And while it’s very charming, it is ignored by tourists who flock to the spas of Leamington, the castle at Warwick or the birthplace of Shakespeare in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Solihull has been ignored.

That is all changing. The railway connecting Solihull to Birmingham is bringing a new “industry”--family homes. Successful businessmen yearn for the country and dream of living on an estate. Now they can buy of those manor houses, live in it and commute to work in the crowded old city--best of both worlds. Just beyond the village are streets lined with Victorian terraces, for those who can’t quite afford an estate, but still want the charm of the country. Right now Solihull has grown to over 3,741. In twenty years it will be 7,500.

New housing in the early 20th century
Commuting is an invention of the second half of the 19th century, but it will really take off in the 20th. As the local estates are split up into plots, more people will come pouring out of Birmingham. Soon the working class will join the middle class in their escape. By the 1960s Solihull will have over 100,000 people. Many of the old Manor houses will be turned into schools, hotels and other things.

A good example of this phenomena is Hillfield Hall, just one mile south of the railway. The estate dates back to the late 12th century, the manor house having been built in 1576. It apparently had a moat around it at one time. By 1660 the estate consisted of five farms on 455 acres. Although it passed from family to family over time as waning fortunes forced owners to sell, it was a successful farm. Then the trains came.

Hillfield Hall
In 1852 the railway was built right through Hillfield Hall’s property, making farming it difficult. Since 1871 has been lived in by a George Beard, a businessman more interested in making pins and needles than farming. He has a staff of six servants as he lives the good life

The property will be sold to others until only 7 acres will remain by 1964. The manor house will then become a night club, and then a restaurant. All the other manor houses in the surrounding countryside will have similar stories to tell. Where once serfs plowed fields, people will tend their flower gardens. Perhaps not as glamorous as a Medieval manor, but much more pleasant for the descendants of those peasants.

We English do love to garden

More on the History of Solihull

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