16 June 2012

Bennett's Hill House and Gardens



Top of Newhall Street, looking towards St. Philip's and Bennett's Hill House.
Probably by Samuel Lines Senior.



















The sketch above is recorded in the archive as being made in 1828, though it may possibly be earlier that decade as the house on the far right was most likely taken down when Bennett's Hill was cut in the early 1820s. The three storey house just to the left is Bennett's Hill House, and the land that the road 'Bennett's Hill' was built on (as well as Waterloo Street) was attached to this house. The house was built in 1698 by the wealthy iron merchant, John Pemberton, with a lease for the land of 120 years, but it was his son, Thomas, that added the fashionable gardens to the house in the early 1730s. He initially added a walled garden and then planted long walks lined with trees (see map). A visitor to the house in 1755 described the gardens:
‘[They] consist of two parts, a handsome flower-garden about half an acre, square and walled in; neatly laid out, and as neatly kept. On the left hand stands a convenient summer-house, opposite to which is a gate opening to a long grass-walk, having a row of fan elms on each side, with borders of various kinds of plants and flowering shrubs; this walk parts the fruit and kitchen garden; at the end is another walk on the left hand, with rows of tall fir-trees, etc. The house stands on the highest ground of the town, over which the garden commands a good view of the country on that side for some miles.’*


Part of T. Underwood's copy of the 1731 south-west prospect of Birmingham
Bennett's Hill House is under the star, and the hill infront is Bennett's Hill




During this period the fashion for public walks and promenards expanded. Walks were sociable environments, a place for 'refined' people to meet similar friends and acquaintances, and a place to meet prospective spouses. St. Philip's church, which can be seen to the right of Bennett's Hill House in the image above, had a public walk attached to its grounds throughout the middle of the eighteenth century. The gardens and walks at Bennett's Hill House although private, show the 'walk' as a popular leisure pursuit of the wealthier classes of the time, and Pemberton's personal gardens asserted his personal wealth and pre-eminence within the town. They would have been enjoyed by the Pemberton's and their wealthy friends and acquaintances.

About 15 years after the 1731 prospect was drawn, Thomas Pemberton must have felt that the rural ambience of his gardens was under threat by the growing town, as he added terms to the family's 120 year lease that the land could not be built on the the term of the lease. This meant that as the town grew up all around, Bennett's Hill became marooned from the rest of the countryside, and a green enclave in the bustle of Birmingham. Ann street which passed it leading to St. Philip's became known as Mount Pleasant, probably because it was such a pleasant walk from St. Philip's down to the newly developed middle-class areas of the town.  From 1794 to 1817 a hay market was held on the hill, and in 1805 a site at the bottom corner was negotiated for the building of Christ Church, a church with free pews for the poor. In 1818 the 120 year lease expired and the land could then be built on, and two new streets, Bennett's Hill and Waterloo Street were laid out across what had been the Pemberton gardens. The house itself remained until 1849.


Bennett's Hill House, shortly before demolition.

 NOTES
* References on request
Images courtesy of Birmingham Library and Archive Services

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