16 June 2012

A House for a Dandy: Portugal House

It is possibly Joseph Green who is standing outside
Portugal House here, as his furniture is being saved from the
fire that is raging next door at the theatre.

In 1778 Birmingham was surveyed and a map was drawn up of the town. Surrounding the map were a number of engravings of Birmingham’s principal buildings, the two churches were included as well as the four chapels and the meeting house, schools and the hospital were added too, plus The Hotel which housed one of the town’s most prominent assembly rooms, an event every self respecting dandy should be seen at. There was only one private property amongst the selection on the map though, and that was ‘Mr. Green’s House’, below. There were other grand houses in the town, but Joseph Green’s House was newly completed and a very fashionable example of architecture at the time.
Snippet from the 1778 map of Birmingham depicting Portugal House.
Copied for Old and New Birmingham by R. K. Dent.

Joseph Green had leased land on New Street and had plans drawn up for his grand design in 1774, the same year that the New Street Theatre opened next door, on an area that had originally been Collett's Orchard. Green was a subscriber to the theatre, and a few years later made alterations to Samuel Wyatt's designs for the new facade of the theatre, so it seems that he had a nose for fashionable design.* He was also known as Beau Green and was renowned as a bit of a dandy; his trade was as a wine merchant and he had made his fortune in Portugal wine, as well as marrying an heiress.* He was described as 'a prominent man on occasions of public celebrations', which speaks volumes, and served in the community, most notably as High Bailiff in 1778. An area nearby the house (near where Joseph had lived previously) became known as Green's Village and a street bearing that name survived till 1888 when the houses there (which had become very run down) were demolished.

Portugal House itself was grand and austere, everything that a man about town needed to show off his wealth and substance. It had three storeys with the lower two framed with pilasters and the typical smaller windows on the upper floor. The main part of the house was crowned with a pediment and decorated with swags, the whole lot topped with urns (see below). Either side of the house were single bay pavilions connected to the main building by low arcade style walls. The pavilions were perhaps used as summer houses as there were large grounds and gardens attached to the house.

Joseph went bankrupt in 1799* and Portugal House ceased to be occupied by the Green family. By 1800 William Bullock was utilising the building as a cabinet of curiosities, one of many in the town at that time.* Bullock only used the building for a year or two before moving to Liverpool. Sometime after that the house was divided into two properties, as it would have been an expensive prospect to one tenant and was lived in by several occupants.* By 1811 a distillery had been built on the land adjoining Portugal House, which was run at that time by Hicken and Dunsford, who both occupied the house (at least in 1814 and 1811 respectively).* In the mid 1820s John Mouchet Baynham, the resident surgeon at the Union Street dispensary, occupied Portugal House with Samuel Allen Wheeler running the distillery, and perhaps living in the second part of the house.* In about 1830 though, Portugal House was extended and turned into a hotel, the New Royal Hotel, opened by Mr. Wilday who had been the successful proprietor of The Hotel.

~A little artistic license has been used in this early nineteenth century illustration of Portugal House next to the Theatre Royal, as the smaller less elegant buildings that filled the space between the two properties have been excluded. The decorative detail of the house can be seen a little more clearly here. Circa 1809.~

* References on request.
Joseph Green died in 1810 at Dalbury in Derbyshire. 74, 1735, 20 May, St. Ph of Joseph

No comments:

Post a Comment