Monday, 27 September 2010

To err is human, but that was crass

Alfred Ebenezer and daughter? Mabel
I'm just hoping that Great Grandfather, Alfred Ebenezer Wenham, would have gone easier with me than with one of his firm's clerks if they'd made such a crass error as that (21st Sept). My brother Peter sent me an email on Saturday with this seemingly mild comment in it: "I am curious about Hillscourt House. Dad used to talk about the Old Rose and Crown as the family home. So how does Hillscourt fit in?" Well, I protested of course! I don't like to be proved wrong. "I thought he talked about it becoming a union headquarters." 

I looked through all the old family letters, and the address is merely The Lickey Hills, Rednal; presumably everyone knew the Wenhams. I looked up William Dargue, A History of Birmingham Places and Placenames: "The Rose & Crown was a coaching inn which stood near the foot of the dangerous Rose Hill descent. Probably built in Georgian times stagecoaches could change horses here ready for the steep climb up the hill. After 1880 a private house was built on the site of the inn and given the same name. The extensive grounds were landscaped with waterfalls and pools along the River Arrow and with a large numbers of trees which still survive. The building is now a hotel." 

Hmm, I thought, it fits. He might be right....

"The reference is on page 2 of Facing Hell," (his idiosyncratically entitled autobiography - copies available from me, £5 + p&p!!) Peter ripostes. 

My excuse is that most of my books are still in the garage or the loft, and I hadn't wanted to send Jane off looking when my memory was perfectly sufficient, thank you. 

"We've got three copies on the landing...," she tells me. And so here, I believe, is the definitive answer.

"Grandfather, Alfred Ebenezer Wenham, came of a large Christian family. His father, Ebenezer, lived in Highgate and was actuary to one of the big insurance companies. He produced eleven children, one of whom died in infancy, and then proceeded to die himself, leaving his remarkable wife, Mary, to bring up the children. She organised the family into a high-class school in which, with the help of the older children, she educated her own offspring and those of her neighbours. She died in 1907 at the age of 102....

"When I first knew him... my grandfather lived at The Old Rose and Crown amid the Lickey Hills in the village of Rednal on the southern fringe of Birmingham. There were the East Hill and the West Hill,  covering a hundred or so acres, with the inn converted into a very comfortable house in the middle. There was an indoor staff of four or five and plenty of room for visitors - a lovely place for our family of six to visit.

"My grandfather was unashamedly, almost ostentatiously, devout. His parents before him were Congregationalists in a day when it was quite costly to profess nonconformity, and the children grew up with minds of their own... and Alfred Ebenezer developed rather extreme Calvinistic views. He had a mission hall in the grounds of 'The Lickey'....

"Alfred Ebenezer was widowed fairly young and for years had the bitter experience of every night shutting himself in his lonely bedroom. He then invited his parlour-maid Leah to marry him. She, though most devoted to him, was quite shattered by this, not feeling she had the sort of love a wife should have. She left his service and for three years debated the matter in her heart, amidst the clamour of opposing views within her family and his. At last she felt  that she could not live without him and they entered upon a marriage which was blissfully happy to both parties. Such a marriage was hardly the  done thing in those days, so Grandfather sold 'The Lickey' to the Birmingham Corporation and bought a beautiful house near Oban on the Argyllshire coast...."
So there you have it. I hope I've set the record straight. And at least I have the consolation that one of my brothers reads this blog!


  1. interesting read. i work just up the road from the rose and crown, at hillscourt house. it became a school sometime in the late 1890s and closed in the 1970s i think. it is now owned by the NASUWT teachers union and has been converted into a hotel / conference centre. ive been trying to find out the history of the building for ages but can only find a few references to when it was a school. nice to read about the old rose and crown though. the new rose and crown pup was built in rubery in about 1830 apparently.

    1. Thanks, Dave. I'm no longer able to walk much. I'd have liked to explore the Lickey Hills, but it's always interesting to hear snippets about a former family home.