|The Lost Estate of Fisherwick|
There is much undiscovered history on our doorstep. Whilst the Staffordshire Hoard might be an outstanding example of what can lie hidden close by, other discoveries continue to emerge. So we welcomed Annamarie Stone to our Christmas meeting to tell us about the Lost Estate of Fisherwick.
Situated to the north-east of Whittington, Fisherwick is little more than a hamlet. Yet, it once was the centre of a very large estate There has been a small settlement here with an associated estate since at least the twelfth century. It has passed through many ownerships, eventually being acquired by the Skeffington family in the sixteenth century. They retained ownership for over 200 years, before disposing of the estate and Tudor brick mansion in 1761 to Lord Chichester, Earl of Donegal, later created Baron Fisherwick and Earl of Belfast. A wealthy man, with a large income from Irish estates, he employed Lancelot " Capability" Brown to create a new Palladian mansion for him between 1766 and 1779 and completely remodel the pleasure grounds of the large estate. Brown dammed the stream to create a large lake, created a walled garden, planted over 10,000 trees, built an orangery and established new lawns and shrubberies. This was work on a truly grandiose scale, comparable to Brown's extant landscapes which we value today.
However, it was only achieved at great financial cost. Even Lord Donegal's substantial wealth could not sustain this demanding project. Death came in 1799 and with it the beginning of the decline in the estate's fortunes. By now heavily mortgaged, it passed to his younger son, Lord Spencer Chichester, the older son having been disinherited. Rapidly realising that the game was up, he attempted to sell the whole estate, only for the purchaser to go bankrupt! The second sales attempt in 1808 was only achieved by sub-dividing the estate. Most was bought by R.B. Howard, Lord of Elford, with a substantial residue going to Sir Robert Peel of Drayton Bassett. The house suffered the indignity of a four day sale of contents as well as fittings. In effect, it was no more. The subdivided estates then settled down to be run as tenanted farms until, in the late nineteenth century, parts were sold to the Paget family of Elford Hall. They sold their interest to Birmingham City Council in 1935. Those of you who drive between Whittington and Elford will be aware of the mile wall, which forms one of the estate boundaries, at the end of which is the lodge which served as the Stubby Leas entrance to the drive to the mansion. The Fisherwick entrance has sadly disappeared under the West Coast Mainline widening but the surviving gate pillars were relocated to nearby Hadmore.
Anna's interest in this history comes from her family's tenancy of Woodhouse Farm. The farm contains the walled garden, a 'ha ha', the cherry orchard, the ruinous orangery, and the remains of the lake's boathouse. The walled garden, used as pasture by the 1960s is now host to a wide variety of fruit trees. Peaches, for instance, although tender, do well in its shelter. However, this is no simple restoration scheme. Annamarie and her family hope to open up their farm to visitors by creating a variety of walks linking these historic sites and sympathetically clearing dense undergrowth. A Heritage Lottery grant is hoped for. In the meantime, they are trading as the Woodhouse Farm and Garden Community Interest Company. In this way all profits are returned to the farming operation through a concept known as Community Supported Agriculture; whereby, through a contract with the local community, it receives a guaranteed share of the farm's produce in return for which the farmer has a regular income. The farm also supports community work with disadvantaged individuals. It is open for the public to visit the walled garden, as well as the small herd of rare breed cattle on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Refreshments are available and produce is for sale. The farm (WS13 8QG) is accessed from Fisherwick Wood Lane.
The alert amongst you will realise that a few extra facts have crept into this report of the meeting. This additional material has been extracted from "British History Online" which can be found at: www.british-history.ac.uk This sets out a fascinating and comprehensive history of the Fisherwick Estate.