THE BELLE VUE STORY

by Joe Hunt

It is amazing how, in spite of building restrictions, quite familiar landscapes can change suddenly. Take, for instance, the summit of Mucklow Hill, Hales Owen, which has been a feature for more than 200 years.

High up on a prominent skyline the house (built before 1700) first flew into history books when it was a target for the Priestley Rioters in 1791. A troop of dragoons from Nottingham reached Birmingham and searching Mucklow Hill on Monday, July 18th, were only persuaded to spare the house from fire by being presented with the contents of the wine cellar.

Over the intervening years there had been many additions and alterations to the house but the portico remained largely unchanged and the front, eastern elevation of the original three storey, five bay Georgian house remained.

The original portico was replaced with a 20th century stone porch but the windows were in the same position and were the same size. The building still conveyed the history of those centuries, which sadly the Mucklow's replacement buildings will never be able to do.

We even have Lord Cobham's ancestor, Thomas Lord Lyttleton connected with the building and he may even have lived there. An article in the MEB house magazine has:

"The earliest history that can be easily established is in 1774. In that year Thomas Lord Lyttleton leased and conveyed the property to Edward Green, when the Lyttletons moved to nearby Hagley Hall from Frankley."

In Edward Green's will in 1789, he directed that 52 shillings should be paid yearly from the rents of his property to buy 12-penny loaves weekly. These were distributed every Sunday to the 12 poorest people in the area. Every owner of the property from then onwards paid the yearly due until 1973. then, with the agreement of the Hales Owen churchwardens and Charity Commission, MEB made a final payment of 62.60 bringing to an end the tradition of almost two centuries.

For most of the 19th century, Belle Vue was connected with the Male family. For a number of years they had been acquiring land in the region of the house, prior to purchasing the property from Green's heirs around 1797. By the 1850s, the house boasted the ownership of a number of cottages nearby, 25 acres of land and a pew in Hales Owen Church. At this time the house enjoyed the order of a middle class Victorian family and had a grand sweeping staircase leading to nine bedrooms.

Again, the history records: " In 1907 the property was sold to local industrialist, Walter Somers, for 6,740. His forge at the foot of Mucklow Hill was flourishing and Mr Somers had the foresight to install electricity at the house in 1910 oil lamps had been used previously. Overhead lines from a GEC generator at the Somers' works supplied current for the house. At weekends, when the works shut down, the lights were kept on by chloride storage batteries. This system remained until the 1920's when it was superseded by public supply.

After Walter Somers died, Frank Somers (local historian and Managing Director of W. Somers Ltd) lived there with his family from about 1913. They sold it to Stewart and Lloyds, another local industrial firm.

By 1930, "The east front main doorway was embellished by a classical stone porch. The old five bay frontage was extended on both sides with stone faced bats with pediments in a 'Buckingham Palace' style."

It was in the 1930s that the bowling green pavilion was constructed, although the kitchen areas to the rear and two side extensions were added much later.

The building survived World War Two despite heavy bombing by German Luftwaffe in the area. On one occasion a German bomber was seen circling overhead with its bomb doors open. A bomb was dropped but fell into a field near the toffee factory at Hunnington, some two miles away.

Around 1930 the house became the head office of the Shropshire, Worcestershire and Staffordshire Electric Power Company, and of British Electric Tramways and had a controlling interest in the Midland Red Bus Company.

It was from here that the electricity supply for a huge slice of the Midlands was controlled as were all the electric tramways of the Black Country.

April 1, 1948 was a turning point in the history of the site, when MEB came into existence and the north wing was added to the building. Extensive changes had been made since with the south wing added in 1982. Another major change was made following the devastating fire in June 1989, which destroyed the garage and workshops, which had been completely rebuilt.

Alas, Mucklow Hill top is now converted into a vast office complex and tenanted by many well known companies whose staff can, from their windows, look out on a beautiful landscape which on a fine day has glimpses of the Welsh borders.

QLHS - B J Taylor

My thanks go to Joe Hunt, president of Romsley and Hunnington History Society, for his permission to use an article written by him for "The Chapman's Pannier", which also included passages from an article in the MEB Journal called 'Switch'.

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