Express & Star

Hidden history of West Bromwich's Manor House has story to tell

Generations still know it as a pub and restaurant but the Manor House has a much richer history to tell.

It's 10 years since Sandwell Council took on the Manor House - one of the most important surviving medieval timber framed buildings in the Midlands.

Ten years ago Sandwell Museums took over the guardianship of the 13th century treasure in West Bromwich and began turning it into a heritage visitor attraction.

Built by wealthy merchant Richard de Marnham in the 1270s, it's regarded as one of the most important surviving medieval timber framed buildings in the Midlands.

It was originally the home of the Lords of the Manor and served as the centre of administration and a law court.

The house later became a residence for a succession of wealthy London-based merchants and lawyers but increasing industrial development in the area saw it gradually converted into tenements,housing up to eight families.

The Manor House grounds pictured in July 1963

By the 1940s the hall was one of the last slum clearances in West Bromwich only to be saved from demolition by West Bromwich Corporation who bought it in 1949.

It was restored and converted into a public house in the early 1960s giving the Manor House a new role until its closure and return to Sandwell Council in 2009.

"One comment staff hear a lot is "it's shame it's not still a pub" and the truth is if people had drunk here more, it would probably still be a pub," says Frank Caldwell, Sandwell Council's museums arts and tourism manager.

"But it's important to remember that this building had another life. So many pubs were built as pubs and it's a struggle to find another role for them.

"This building had another life before it was pub. Obviously no one remembers it as a manor house and anyone younger than me, I was born in 1961, would only remember it as a pub.

"But there is a history here and a lot of people don't realise that," he adds.

Alex Dibble in the grand hall

Over the past decade a lot of time has been spent researching the families that once called the Manor House home and museum staff are planning to share more of their stories over the coming year to help bring the building's history to life.

This will be done through new 'talking heads' 4D exhibits and a recreation of a 1930s dining room from the time it was a tenement block.

The Bromwich estates were inherited through Sarah and Margaret d’Offini from their father. Sarah married Walter de Everiis, later written as Devereux, usually referred to as Walter de Bodenham in about 1252.

Sarah will be depicted in one of the 'talking heads' speaking about her live on the estate while her husband, who died at the Battle of Evesham in 1265, was away fighting.

"When the Lord of the Manor was away in London or fighting in France, who was running the hall and estate? It would have been the women," says Frank.

Inside the Manor House when it was a pub in 2005

The other 'talking head' will be Lettice Shilton, wife of Richard Shilton, who owned the hall in the 1600s and was lawyer to Charles I.

Staff are also going back to calling the building by one of it's original names.

"The house originally would have been known as a number of names like The Hall, The Old Hall and also Bromwich Hall. It only received the name the Manor House when it became a pub, so we are starting to re-introduce the name Bromwich Hall now as we think it is important that the real history is not forgotten," explains museum services officer Abbey Butler.

In the future the team, which welcomes around 15,000 visitors every year, also hopes to uncover more of the features of its past that have lay hidden for decades.

These include a unique priest's house and a 15th century parlour which they believe are underneath the modern fixtures and fittings in an area formerly used as the pub's stores, boiler room and toilets.

It's 10 years since Sandwell Council took on the Manor House - one of the most important surviving medieval timber framed buildings in the Midlands

Archaeologists have also examined the former pub manager’s house in the grounds and believe it started life as a medieval bakery - one of only a few left in the country.

The team also plans to expand the museum's events programme and guided tours which Abbey says continue to be very popular.

"It really is a community space and we do have a lot of repeat visitors. People come for a cup of tea and a chat or they bring their grandchildren to a craft activity," she adds.

The museum is keen to encourage new visitors, who may not have realised the historical significance of the site, to see what the museum has to offer

"Our staff are very passionate about our buildings. Everybody who works here loves the site and we want other people to love it just as much as we do it," says Abbey.

"It's about sharing history in an entertaining way," adds Frank. "I learn from books but a lot of people need to see and touch things and that's what we offer here. It's hands on history. You can put on a helmet, see the arrows that were fired, go into the kitchen and handle the bronze cauldron.

"And there aren't many places where you can have a cup of coffee and a piece of a cake in a 13th century building," he says.