Tuesday, 21 September 2010


Not Alfie Elkins (Michael Caine) of the film: “What's it all about? You know what I mean.” But my very respectable accountant great-grandfather, whom I imagined meeting Cardinal Newman on Rednal Hill, Alfred Ebenezer Wenham, who I suspect was a rather different kettle of fish. 

As the Industrial Revolution gathered pace, he realised that the Midlands was the place to be and moved from South London to Birmingham in 1867, where he set up his accountancy business at 11 Cherry Street. Today it's a narrow road at right angles to Corporation Street, flanked by sky scrapers and modern office blocks. The whole area has sadly been redeveloped. Then I suspect it would have looked more like this.
By 1871 he was living in Ann Street; and clearly had set up a recognised firm and was making good money, thank you. My father told us he worked with local industrialists - and I guess that's where the bucks were. So much so that by the mid nineties he could contemplate building a substantial house in the Lickey Hills, then a beautiful rural area outside the city. Now it's a country park and golf-course on the south but built up to the north. On Rednal Hill, just round the corner from the Oratorians' retreat house, he built a country villa. (The next bit is wrong - see 27th Sept!) Hillscourt House - which now, much and rather crudely extended, is national headquarters for the NAS/UWT teachers' union and a conference centre.

It's here he was photographed in 1914/15 with his grandchildren.
I suspect that by then his first wife had died, as he subsequently and rather unconventionally married Leah, the maid, with whom he retired to Scotland, buying a rather impressive house in Oban overlooking the island of Kerrera. I believe they were very happy there. And my father and his three sisters would spend summer holidays there.

You'll have noticed, if you're observant, that among Alfred's seven (soon to be eight) grandchildren there is only one boy - sitting on his knee. He's my dad. And I'm sure the expectation was that he would enter the family business and become a partner and in the end senior partner....

However, thanks to his oldest sister (standing to Alfred's right), my father came to a personal faith in the sixth form. He went to university and duly entered the family firm and began a career in accountancy - for a year in their London office - but he knew that was not his calling. It must have been a dramatic scene when he told his father that he felt called to be ordained. Wenham and Wenhams was a successful firm. He'd be sacrificing a great deal, but there's a saying by the 20th century martyr, Jim Elliot, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." Which no doubt my father would have quoted if it had been said by then - which it wasn't. And so he became an Anglican clergyman on a stipend.

In 2008 the firm set up by Alfred Ebenezer was based in Cornwall Street in Birmingham, with offices in London, New York and Dubai, and was called Wenham Major. It was the 24th largest accountancy in the UK; it's annual fee income was £22 million. Oh Dad!!

Under its chief executive the firm had undertaken an aggressive expansion plan. On May 1, 2008, however, the firm announced that it was being investigated for financial irregularities. Less than one month later its core operations were sold to RSM Bentley Jennison. That was it.

"He is no fool...." My dad had a incredibly rich and contented life and enriched many people with something more valuable than money.  He knew God loved him and he and mother passed that love on to us and to many others. And perhaps my dear great-grandfather, Alfie, seeing what others had done to the firm he had painstakingly created asked his successors, "What's it all about?"


  1. Nice one! I didn't know the second part of the story. Thanks for sharing old chap.

  2. Now I am putting Wenham into google, and trying to figure out who your father was. John Wenham? Are the Wenham theologians related to you? I suppose so.

  3. You got it! John was the last male Wenham of the clan and had four sons.

  4. Wow! So Wenham and Wenhams still exists, but a "family business" of theologians and writers rather than accountants--and having a whole lot more fun in the process, no doubt!