Study Group for the Preservation of Buildings of Interest
Report on a visit to Beacon Place

The Buildings Study Group visited Beacon Place on April 22nd, 1962 and it is likely that this report was presented to a General Meeting of what was then The Lichfield Society the following month.
  1. Historical

    Comparatively little is to be learned of the history of this property. The City Librarian produced a copy of "Mansions and County Seats of Staffordshire and Warwickshire", pub. Lichfield Mercury, undated but presumably 1890-1900, and this gives a few particulars.

    It records the property as being in the possession of George and Anne Hands early in the 19th century. Subsequently it passed to Dean Woodhouse from 1820 until his death in 1833. His daughter married Prebendary Robinson, whose two daughters dying young were immortalised by Chantrey as "The Sleeping Children". After Preb'y Robinson's death his widow, Ellen Jane, married Richard Hinckley in whose family the property remained until 1880. It was then acquired by the Seckham family who held it until the first World War, when it was taken over by the War Department in whose care it remained until four years ago. We understand that the buildings are now threatened with demolition.

  2. Descriptive

    It appears that until the present century the demesne of Beacon Place included what is now Beacon Park and beyond to Walsall Road and Sandford Street; 100 acres of parkland and 10 acres of garden. The setting of the house is reputed to have been laid out by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown. If this is correct it implies that an earlier house existed on the site as Brown died in 1783 and the present house is unmistakably of the Regency or early 19th century period.

    The article we have consulted states that the house was re-built in the Hinckley's time by the famous architect Sidney Smirke (1799-1877). We are of the opinion that this could hardly have entailed extensive re-building but rather some modernisation. In any case the Regency character of the buildings has not suffered. It is possible that Messrs Hinckley & Birch, solicitors, could supplement these notes from their records.

    The main building is of two storeys with partial basement and comprises a central block, about 55 ft x 50 ft, of lofty and spacious rooms with a monumental staircase and two symmetrical pavilions or wings, about 45 ft x 40 ft, with rooms of lesser size and height. The walls are of brick covered externally with painted stucco, the roofs are slated.

    There is a complement of contemporary stables and sundry later buildings in various states of dilapidation. A three-bedroom house and a block of two flats have been erected in the garden since the last war, one flat only being occupied.

    The main building is a good example of the work produced about the beginning of the 19th century of which the Wyatts, Holland and Nash were the leading exponents. The exterior is graced by Ionic pilasters and delicate mouldings. Internally there are some fine door-cases, ceilings and friezes, all highly enriched, and a remarkable staircase with contemporary cast iron balustrade and mahogany handrail.

  3. State of Repair

    We were surprised to find the building in a very fair state of preservation in spite of many years of neglect. We were glad to note that it had escaped vandalism and that the decorative features were almost intact. We noted certain damage to ceilings and falls of plaster due to a neglected roof outlet; also some outbreaks, fortunately localised, of fungoid attack. We consider that any defects can be remedied at an expense which, at present, would not be excessive.

  4. Suggestions

    We note that the building is scheduled under Section 30 of the Planning Act of 1947 as a building of historical or architectural interest.

    We are of the opinion that the building proper should be re-couped and could be retained and rehabilitated if at all possible to find a valid use for it. If it is to escape the vandalism of the house-breaker it is incumbent on this study group to propose suitable uses for it.

    The virtually separate pavilions or side blocks would lend themselves to conversion for residential purposes as a quite business-like proposition.

    The rooms of the central block are of such size and height that they are quite unsuitable for domestic purposes and it is here that our suggestions are required.

    We note that at the meeting of the study group on 5th January 1962 various suggestions were made for using the site of Beacon Place after pre-supposing its demolition. There seems no reason to assume that the building could not be converted at reasonable cost to serve as a Community Centre or Regional Theatre Centre as then suggested.

    Other suggestions made by our members were:

    a. An Art Gallery and Museum in place of the existing one;
    b. A Library and Joint Records Office;
    c. A Council recreation and Banqueting suite;
    d. A Centre for Further Education incorporating the Art School;
    e. Refreshment Rooms in connection with Beacon Park.

    We should like the Study Group to consider the possibilities of combining some of these uses in order to make the conversion and rehabilitation a remunerative proposition. Any re-use implies measures of sympathetic modernisation and the installation of heating and other services.

    It is interesting to note that a number of private concerns are now taking over buildings of this type, e.g. Little Aston Hall, for purposes similar to those suggested above and that Birmingham City Council have recently agreed to spend 10,000 per year for the next ten years on a Youth Arts Centre.

    The Lichfield Society
    Buildings Study Group
    May, 1962

Postscript: The Society continued to campaign for the retention of this property for several years but, sadly, Beacon Place was demolished and the site was re-developed for housing in 1967.