Work and Study in Archives & Heritage – Part 2: History of a Suburban Victorian Villa

Front elevation of a Victorian suburban villa

1878 Kings Norton Building Plan [BCK/MC/3/1 321]. Front elevation of a Victorian suburban villa.

Birmingham Archives & Heritage holds many types of resources that can be used to research the history of buildings whether they be residential or industrial. One of the required Etudes in my Post-graduate Diploma in Genealogical Studies was a House Study. As a contrast to the Area Study I’d done on Thomas Street which was cleared in the Improvement Scheme of the 1880’s, I turned my attention to a typical Victorian semi-detached villa in the leafy suburb of Moseley. I looked at the history not only of the villa on Greenhill Road, but also of the land on which it stands from 1770 until 1911, the year that Moseley was subsumed into the Birmingham municipal borough. The following are some extracts from the study.

Land, bricks and mortar

The earliest plan of Moseley dated c.1770 shows the field pattern within Moseley before the enclosure of common lands, together with local tracks, and this includes the three roads which form the current junction of Greenhill Road and Cotton Lane with School Road. [Bickley Aperture Card 383067] This junction is on top of “Green Hill” and would have commanded clear views across into the Rea and Cole valleys on either side.

The tithe map for Kings Norton Parish (Moseley Yield) of 1840 shows the road layout and field boundaries in more detail, together with the newly dug cutting for the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway. [Walker, John (1840). Tithe Map of the Parish of Kings Norton, Worcestershire. Part 5. Moseley Yield.] The accompanying apportionment gives details of the landowner and occupier of the field where the house would later be built together with the amount of tithe payable.

A detailed sales plan of Greenhill House and its’ surrounding land which were sold in 1858 survives and provides some names of local landowners including Mr Valentine, Miss Thrupp and Mr Blayney [MS3069/13/2/134]. Charlotte and Anna Thrupp had been the founders in 1823 of Green Hill Boys School.

The early rate books for Kings Norton provide further information on changing land ownership for this area during the middle of the 19th century. Poor rate assessments for some years from 1841 onward survive and are currently being digitised.

First real evidence of a change of ownership of the land on which the house stands is with the sale of The Greenhill Freehold Building Estate, on 25th April 1871 by Messrs. Ludlow and Daniell by order of the Midland Land Corporation. The surviving plan, together with newspaper advertisements, provides a thorough description of the estate. It was divided into 29 lots of differing sizes from 0.25 to 2 acres per plot, all providing space for pairs of semi-detached villa residences or “one good detached house with garden”. [Bickley Map 383245]

Plan. (1871)  Greenhill Building Estate, Moseley.  Birmingham: Moody Brothers, Printers. Ref: Map 383245 Bickley.

Plan. (1871) Greenhill Building Estate, Moseley. Birmingham: Moody Brothers, Printers. Ref: Map 383245 Bickley.

The buyer for the plot was most likely James Marigold, solicitor with the firm Beale, Marigold and Beale, and sometime President of the Birmingham Law Society, as he is listed in the Sanitary Rate Books for 1873, 1875 and 1876 Kings Norton as owner of the land. [BCK/MB/6/13/2-4] The present house was not however built until 1879-1880. The docket holding the surviving Building Plan (No. 321) shows that it was submitted for approval on 3rd December 1878 and approved 2 days later. The building was complete and approved for occupation on June 4th 1880. Thomas Steed is named on the docket as owner, architect and builder[Kings Norton Urban District Council. (1878) Building Plan No. 321]. This is likely to be Master Builder Thomas Steed who in 1862 was based in Weaman Street, Birmingham, [Marriage Announcement.1862. Birmingham Journal. 12 April 1862. STEED, Thomas and GRIFFITHS, Barbara. p.5] and had moved to nearby Slaney Street by 1865. [Birth Announcement. (1865) Birmingham Gazette. 9 December 1865. STEED [son].]

The Building plan shows front and side elevations together with plans of the ground and first floors and details of the attic and cellar. The building was a typical Victorian Gothic-style pair of symmetrical semi-detached Villas constructed of red brick with a slate-tile roof.

 The human element

There is no evidence that Mr Steed, the builder, actually lived in the house. Census data from 1881 onwards show a succession of occupiers of both sides of the Villa and rate books and further sales catalogues provide evidence of several changes of ownership. The two semi-detached houses were generally rented until well into the 20th Century. My full study includes details of all of the families that lived in the Villa gleaned from a number of genealogical sources in addition to census records including parish records, monumental inscriptions, newspaper announcements and obituaries.

The study went up to the period when Moseley ceased to be an independent village and became part of Birmingham under the Greater Birmingham Plan of 1911. The 40 years from the sale of the Greenhill Freehold Building Estate in 1871 had seen a period of rapid building and the residents of Greenhill Road witnessed the change from living in a virtual hamlet between Moseley and Kings Heath to living in a continuously built-up suburb – and more was yet to come in the building boom of the late 1920’s-30’s.

Liz Palmer

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One response to “Work and Study in Archives & Heritage – Part 2: History of a Suburban Victorian Villa

  1. niky rathbone

    How intertesting. Could we have the number on Greenhill Road?

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