Blakesley Hall is not very striking when you drive past it, though it is difficult to see it when it is behind 9 foot tall hedgerows. The façade is synonymous with Tudor housing and the rickety look really does set it apart from the fake frontages of many suburban semi-detached houses.
The building is in a suburban setting amongst bungalows and semi-detached houses along a long winding road. Look out the back window of the hall and you can just catch the glimpses of three tower blocks which grace the street scape of the area of Stechford along its borders with Sheldon.
Records tell us little about the construction of the building. We just know that was built in 1590 by a prominent landowner in Yardley, when it was in Worcestershire, called Richard Smalbroke. We cannot expect any more as there was no such thing as planning laws in those days. It was also commonplace for the building to be designed as it was being built and the commissioning of an architect was barely heard of, especially for a farming family like the Smalbrokes.
The building remained s a farmer’s manor house for several centuries afterwards and not a great deal happened to the building as far as we know. In 1935, it was purchased by the Corporation and turned into a museum beginning with the renovation of the parlour. Period features were installed including furniture.
World War II proved near disastrous for the building. A bomb plunged through the ceiling damaging many of the original roof beams and smashing tiles on the roof. It continued through the first floor and crashed through the floor causing it to dislodge beams in the floor there resulting in a twisting action taking place – the result of which remains to this day. It finally landed on the ground floor and rested without explosion. It was removed and deactivated saving the house from certain total destruction if it had exploded. BM&AG still describe the event as a miracle.
The house has undergone few changes since. Of course it needed to be repaired by the bomb damage, and as mentioned earlier, some parts could not be rectified such as the wonky flooring on the first floor hall way. In 2002, the museum came into some money and they took the opportunity to sort out some maintenance problems as well as totally re-landscape the grounds, construct a car park for visitors and a visitors centre which features a gallery (which has hosted various images including old photographs of Yardley, and more recently, a timeline of the history of Blakesley Hall through photographs and engravings) and a tea room which laps over into the gardens. An adjacent barn building has also been renovated for use as an educational facility.
The money was spent wisely and the image of the building has improved substantially. The building is a fascinating relic which deserves to preserved. Amongst artefacts unveiled in the grounds and within the house itself include coins, bottle necks, 400 year old wall paintings which had remained hidden behind boards for hundreds of years and a petrified cat which now hangs on display within the house (apparently it was used to scare off evil spirits who would come to the house).
I believe that the presentation of the house is top notch in the way that there is ample space to move around the house whilst some rooms are sectioned off so that you cannot touch them. Along the way there are laminated notes to give you interesting information on the house and similar houses in general.
Architecturally, this building is a disaster. But one has to pay respects to the times when it was built and I can’t imagine anyone thinking this is ugly. I agree, some aspects such as the gables do appear to be precarious as they rest on large oak beams forming a cantilever above the ground lounge. The angles and dimensions do seem quite dangerous but think about it, this building has survived 400+ years… what does that tell you?
So as a Brummie, I would recommend this to all visitors and Brummies in general. It is amazing to think that things like this are on your doorstep. So get on down there, it’s free and enjoy the architecture, history and then finally a refreshing cup of tea in the gardens!