Tuesday, 24 April 2012

History on show

This is a picture of the Severns building on Castle Road, opposite the entrance to Nottingham Castle. It is owned by the City Council and is for sale. I will tell you more about it in my next post. I think it fair to say that it has been neglected for a while…

…as this close up of the grass growing in the gutter shows.  I had this lovely old house in my mind as I went around the Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, just south-west of  Birmingham, with Susan and our grandson Curtis last Saturday. It was a wonderful day out, albeit that it ended with us being towed home to Nottingham by an AA van after we broke down on Icknield Street (an old Roman road) somewhere between Redditch and Wythall.

Anyway, let me get back to Avoncroft and what we saw there. What I want to share with you is just some of the pics that I took.

Where our visit began and ended — in the Shrewsbury Co-op Tearoom. Originally a Tudor merchant's house it became an inn called The String of Horses in 1786 and a co-op shop in 1912, before being dismantled and re-erected at Avoncroft in the 1970s. We had a lovely bacon sandwich with a Worcester pork sausage on the side and I had a lovely lardy cake when we arrived with an excellent cup of filtered coffee.

One of the historic buildings on the site is a nailshop from Bromsgrove, part of which is occupied by a working blacksmith. If only pictures could have smells and emit heat. This reminded me of growing up and my grandfather's workshop at the back of the house where we lived in Wembley.

There was a modern open barn like building at the museum where various things were stored.  One section was devoted to the types of brick 'bonds' used in building. The stretcher bond is usually seen in the simplest of structures and walls…

…whereas English bond is usually used in buildings…

…as is Flemish bond. I could name them, but not describe them. In truth I would still be hard pressed to do that, so I'll just let the pics talk for themselves.

This is the fantastic 'king post' roof of the 'Cock Pit' which began life as just that in Bridgnorth, Shropshire, in the 18th century. Later it became a theatre and then a coach house, before coming to Avoncroft in 1973.

This sink is described as a 'Combined housemaid's sink & slop hopper' (see pic below) and is in one corner of the Cock Pit. A reminder of a servant's lot in pre-flush toilet days, although my grandparents continued to have a 'potty' in their bedroom until the day my grandfather died in 1976, even though there was a flush toilet less than twelve foot away.

I could not look at this without thinking about the thousands who die each year because they have no sanitation.

Curtis has kindly agreed to let me show him testing some related exhibits. The19th century Ledbury (Herefordshire) Magistrates' cell block has three cell, all are quite spacious and had their own flushing loos.

This loo (or 'earth closet' to give it its proper name) came with the Toll House (see pic below) and located in its own little hut away from the house. Notice the newspaper squares, which  we actually used when we were children. I grew up with a flushing loo attached to the side of the house with limed walls. Even the smell was the same. We had tiles on the floor just like these in the pic, which were simply placed on compacted soil.

This early 18th century earth closet from the garden of Townsend House, near Leominster, was an altogether grander affair. Going to the loo then was obviously a much more social affair. I had country relatives in Great Chesterford (Essex) with a outhouse and wooden box which contained a galvanised bucket and if I wanted a wee, I was told to go and do it on the beans — which I did!  The waste was poured from the bucket into a tank, which a council lorry came and emptied every week. I remember staying there when the council were putting in a communal cesspit for the row of country council houses my aunt and uncle lived in, so that the lorry only had to come every month instead.

Sometimes the simplest of buildings are the most delightful, as with this 18th century stable from Wychbold, Worcestershire. The building to the right is a 18th century wagon shed from Hanbury in the same county.

This sign appears above the entrance to the Little Malvern Toll House which was built in 1822 and given to Avoncroft in 1985. Turnpikes were a 19th century attempt to build private roads which ultimately failed for a raft of reasons, but across England toll houses like this one have survived, usually by becoming ordinary houses.

Toll houses have attracted quite a bit of attention in recent years and it is easy to see why.

The toll house keeper lived in this little house with his family and conditions can best be described as 'snug'. I took this pic without a flash and it is probably only as bright as this because the door was open. There is also a back ground floor room and two bedrooms on the 1st floor. A romantic could live in the house, but a practical person would find it difficult. It would make a great weekend 'cottage' in the countryside or, even better, by the sea.

I first fell in love with this 16th century cruck-frame barn in 1974 — the year it was re-erected at Avoncroft. It came from a farm near Leominster in Herefordshire.

1974 was also the year I became Chair of the then Midland Area Museums Service which had its office at Avoncroft. I was a young Birmingham city councillor at the time and for the next four years I went to Avoncroft every few months. Much of what I saw then at this wonderful museum I cannot remember, but this I do.

This small building was the Counting House at Bromsgrove Cattle market from 1853 until 1978, when the market closed and the building moved to Avoncroft.

This 16th century merchant's house from Bromsgrove is another building I remember from my visits in the 1970s. It was the first building to be re-erected at Avoncroft in 1967. It has since been joined by twenty-four other historic buildings. Today, people spend good money having 21st century versions built with all mod cons and it is easy to see why. It really does look a picture…

…but the socialist and historian in me loves this humble post-war 1940s prefab from Birmingham so much more for lots of reasons. It was (and remains) a statement. A statement of intent by the greatest government Britain has ever had. In those dark years of rationing and austerity after 1945, the Labour Government under the leadership of Clement Attlee, found the vision and energy to tackle a housing crisis on an epic scale and to take the Tories along with them.

My Uncle Smiler and Auntie Wean lived in a prefab in Kingsbury, Middlesex, a bus ride away from Wembley, where I grew up. I used to go there on my own on the bus to stay and play with my cousins, Fiona and Derek. The prefab backed onto open fields and the Welsh Harp, a large lake, and had electric light and heating, a fridge and was light and airy. It had two bedrooms, a decent sized kitchen and a large living room. By today's standards it was big.

Prefabs were intended as short-term housing intended to last ten years or so whilst more permanent homes were built. And although the Kingsbury prefabs went in the late 1960s, others have survived to this very day and are lovingly cared for by passionate owners.

In 2012 we desperately need politicians and leadership to solve a housing crisis we should, as a nation, be ashamed of. In short we need a 21st century prefab program which takes on the private landlords who have thrived and grown in number since the days of Thatcher.

This house does not appear in any of Avoncroft's blurb because it is a staff house, but doesn't it look picturesque?

My final pic is of a tin Anglican 'mission church' from Bringsty Common in Herefordshire, which dates from 1891 and came to Avoncroft, complete with interior pews and organ. These were probably better known as 'tin tabernacles' and could, until quite recently, be seen everywhere' including Lenton, where I live.

Finally, from the top of Avoncroft's post-house windmill, its weather vane.

The are other museums which have since followed in the footsteps of Avoncroft and are better known — Beamish in County Durham and the Black Country Museum in Dudley to name just two. None are as intimate as Avoncroft, which takes you in and slows you down.

All in all, a perfect day with Curtis, Susan and I remember for ever, even though I suspect that the day will become parked in some deep recess of his mind only to be  re-called on a future visit, perhaps many years from now.

From the national news: West Bromich Albion beat Liverpool 1–0 at Liverpool and one Black Country girl goes to bed happy.


Anonymous said...

I said nothing of the sort about not believeing that you used newspaper as toilet roll

Robert said...

Sorry Curtis. I'll delete the reference, but leave your comment in. I should have worn my hearing aid! — Grandad.