Nettlefold - Moor Pool History

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John Sutton Nettlefold

John Sutton Nettlefold became a key figure in the history of public housing in Birmingham, signalling the growing emergence of local government in the town planning process. Born in London, he later moved to Birmingham, where his father forged close business links with the Chamberlain family, John eventually marrying Arthur Chamberlain’s eldest daughter Margaret. By the late nineteenth century he was making a successful career in local business, and lived in Edgbaston along with several other of his relatives. 

In 1898 he entered the Council as representative of Edgbaston and Harborne Ward, which he served until 1911. His expertise lay in the field of public housing, and he was appointed Chairman of the new Housing Committee in 1901, extending slum clearance works beyond the area allocated by Chamberlain’s Improvement Committee. 

His interest in urban planning meant he also became a member of the Garden City Association, with enlightened privately-sponsored schemes such as Letchworth Garden City and Bournville Village providing an alternative to both the back-to-backs and the newer suburban terraces.

His many publications included Slum Reform and Town Planning (1906) and Practical Housing (1908). His work seems inspired by a speech delivered at the 1906 Sheffield Housing Conference by W.S. Lever, who had built a model estate for his workers near his Port Sunlight factory on the River Mersey:

It has been said that God made the country and man made the town; let us, in the development of the suburban site areas, approach nearer to the ideal of the country’.

Nettlefold, likewise, more dryly argued:
'Town Planning, together with cheap and rapid means of transit, now make it possible to combine the means of livelihood in our towns with the health-giving opportunities of the country.'

He stated that local authorities should pre-emptively plan working class suburbs, setting standards for housing density, street width, green spaces and limits of industrial development on rural land prior to boundary changes, and before transport infrastructure drove up land prices and opened the land to speculative builders. This would allow enlightened developers to build better housing more cheaply in congenial, semi-rural surroundings for Birmingham’s working-classes, as had occurred in. 

The convergence of philanthropic private interests and public planners was enshrined in the Housing and Town Planning Act, 1909, which allowed local authorities to submit Town Planning Schemes for parliamentary approval, and one of Birmingham’s first was approved for the south-western fringes of the city four years later.

In May 1911 the ‘Greater Birmingham Act’, was passed by the British parliament. The act extended the city's boundaries to include Erdington, Aston Manor, King's Norton, Northfield, Yardley, and Handsworth. Now with an area three times the size of Glasgow, and twice that of Manchester, Liverpool, or Belfast, Greater Birmingham became, in area and population, Britain’s ‘Second City’. The act was largely the achievement of the John Sutton Nettlefold whose housing schemes used undeveloped land around the city for new low density suburbs to replace inner-city slums. Soon after, newspapers began referring to Birmingham as Britain’s ‘second city’ or the ‘second city of Empire’. For Nettlefold a ‘Greater Birmingham’ was always to be a ‘better Birmingham’.

Nettlefold lived with his wife Margaret and family at Winterbourne. Winterbourne House and Garden were designed in 1903 as the family home. John Nettlefold commissioned local architect Joseph Lancaster Ball to design and build the house which was finished in 1904. The house was made of brick and tile and has an intentionally wavy roof line. Margaret Nettlefold designed the original garden herself.  The influence of designer Gertrude Jekyll can be seen in the colour themed border planting.

The Nettlefolds lived in the house with their children until Nettlefold's health meant he had to move away. In 1919, Margaret Nettlefold sold Winterbourne and moved away to be closer to her husband. The property was then bought by the Wheelock family who had 9 children. Wheelock was a local lawyer. The Wheelocks stayed at Winterbourne until 1925 when it was purchased by John Nicolson who was a successful businessman. Nicolson was a keen gardener and made several improvements to the garden at Winterbourne including expanding the rock garden and adding an alpine area. Nicolson remained at the house until his death in 1944 and Winterbourne was bequeathed to the University. The house and garden remain a part of the University of Birmingham.

The University of Birmingham has made varied use of the building since 1944 but in 2010 it was restored to its former glory as a family home (complete with William Morris design wallpapers). The garden had already undergone a period of restoration. The house and garden are now open as a visitor attraction and the garden is grade II listed.

The garden contains many plants from across the world. Highlights include an NCCPG collection of Anthemis, an orchid house, alpine garden, arid house, geographic beds and a Hazel (Corylus) tunnel. Other features of the garden include a restored wooden pergola, sunken rock garden, and a lean-to glasshouse that is notable for having been built on a slant. In 2011 a pleached lime walk was planted to reinstate one that was part of the original garden
Winterbourne House

The design of the house was intended to make the best use of available light; notable features are its large windows, white painted panelling and south facing rooms. The house contains furniture dating from the late Victorian period to the 1920s. Restored rooms include a drawing room, study, bedroom and nursery. The visitor tearoom is located where the original dining room would have been.

The house is well worth a visit. Click here to go to the website.

The following website also has numerous pictures of the rooms.

Margaret Nettlefold was the daughter of Arthur Chamberlain and Louisa Chamberlain (nee Kenrick). She was the eldes of 9 children.
Margaret was born in 1871and was amongst the first pupils to attend Edgbaston High School for Girls. After leaving high school, Margaret became a student at the Birmingham School of Art.

Margaret married John Sutton Nettlefold in 1891 at the Church of the Messiah, Old Street, Birmingham. Margaret designed the garden at Winterbourne house after its completion in 1904. She was the mother of Evelyn, Annie (Nina), John Kenrick, Beatrice, Lois and Valerie Nettlefold. Also mother of Lousia and Robert Nettlefold who died in childhood.

The following links give more information on the various families.

“Only this morning I made a little tour of inspection. First I came to a typical modern suburb. True, the houses were in accordance with modern by-laws, but they were almost one on the top of the other. Fine trees had been cut down which could not be replaced in fifty years, no playgrounds or open spaces had been provided, and the building materials were already beginning to show signs of decay, in fact, "they had done all those things which they ought not to have done, and they had left undone those things which they ought to have done." Nearby was Bournville, laid out as you all know, with trees and open spaces, and cheap as well as good cheerful houses. They can be made cheaper still if we can get power to allow narrower streets where the present minimum width of street is not required”.

John Sutton Nettlefold. Speech made to Birmingham City Council, 3rd July 1906.
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