Wolverhampton's Listed Buildings

Bantock House and Park: Then and Now


Alderman Bantock left the house and its grounds to the Borough, on his death, childless, in 1938. It was taken over by the military in 1939 and then opened as a museum (and branch library) in 1948.  The museum contained a good display of dolls and a very important collection of japanned and enamel ware. The fields became a park; and a pitch and putt course, a putting green and football and cricket pitches, with associated facilities, were laid out.  What was left of the gardens around the house, on which Alderman Bantock had lavished so much care, were maintained as part of the park but much of the original garden layout had been lost.

Sue Ashworth's father, Stanley Ashworth, was the Head Gardener at Bantock House from 1950 to 1954.  Stanley, and his wife Dorothy, and Sue lived in Bantock Cottages, which are at the Finchfield Road end of the entrance way to the house.  While they were there they took several snaps in the grounds.  Sue has kindly provided us with copies of these photos and Brad Pursehouse has located each one and taken a corresponding photo of the grounds now. They provide a fascinating "then and now" view of the gardens.
Sue, with her doll and pram, stands outside the front entrance to the house.
The flower beds are now gone and the fountain, which was built sometime in the early 50s, as a memorial to Alderman Bantock, has long since been moved and re-erected in a much less obstructive place.

A view towards Broad Lane from outside the Garden Room of Bantock House.
The flowers beds have now been removed and replaced with posts and catenary chains, supporting roses.  This is thought to be more in accordance with what was there in Alderman Bantock's time.

A view looking left from the view above. The sundial in the centre of the lawn has been removed.
Several trees have gone. Beyond the white railings a pond has been created. There was one there in Bantock's time.

This photo was taken on a line between the two photos above and from somewhat closer to the road.
This is the area today, where the pond has now been introduced, behind the lattice fence.

 The view from the park side, looking towards the house.  This are has changed perhaps more than any of the others.
The glasshouses have been entirely removed, the modern structures shown here being unglazed and cleverly representative of what was originally there.  The hedge to the left was removed long ago and the rest of the area has been turned into a very fine rose garden, which is what was there in Alderman Bantock's time.

And these were the men responsible for the whole thing.  Sue thinks that the gentleman in the centre, with the watch chain, is her father, Stanley Ashworth.  Sue also thinks that he designed the pitch and putt course; and laying it out was certainly one of the major tasks he undertook while he was there.

By that time Bantock House was open as a museum, containing a rather random collection of items which had been given to the Borough.  Sue remembers the suit of armour, which was known as "Old Nick".  Being a young child at the time she was petrified of it - and to this day a suit of armour brings her out in goose bumps.

The house, its outbuildings and gardens continued as a somewhat quiet backwater until the 1990s when the house, outbuildings and gardens were extensively and expensively restored, with Lottery money.

It was reopened in 1999 as a museum of Edwardian life and local history. 

The rear elevation and outbuildings seen from the gardens.

In the house the ground floor is much as it was when Bantock had finished his refurb, with an entrance hall large enough to double as a sitting room (an arrangement much beloved of Arts and Crafts architects), a dining room and a drawing room - the Garden Room.  These rooms give an excellent impression of an Edwardian gentleman's house (and contain curtains and several items of furniture donated by the Friends of Bantock House).

The upper floors are much changed in their use and contain many excellent exhibits about Wolverhampton products, such as japanned ware and locks.  Although the house no longer contained the collection of dolls (which had no connection with our local history but which are much missed by many local people)  it did contain such curiosities as Archie Andrews, who started life in Wolverhampton [children should get their grandparents to explain this].  The museum is well geared to children as well as adults, has all floors accessible to the disabled, has audio guides and interactive exhibits, study rooms and the rest, puts on lots of special events - and is now a great asset.

Tile enthusiasts will note three rooms on the ground floor. The drawing room has late 17th/early 18th century coloured Dutch delft tiles in the fireplace;  the dining room has 18th century blue and white Dutch delft tiles in the fireplace; and the entrance hall has a large inglenook in plain burgundy tiles.

Bantock House hosts many events in great variety.  One event of considerable popularity is "Back to the 40s".

It is attended by many re-enactors of the period, as well as many other local people in period dress.

The Curator and other members of her staff join in the event whilst running it. 

But the world moves on and it was felt that having the ground floor as a restored residence and the upper floor as a more traditional museum gave the house a split personality; and the house could provide a more coherent experience for visitors if the upper floor were made more compatible with the lower.  So in 2006, with a further injection of Lottery money, the largest upper room (which was somewhat underused) was restored to its original use as a Billiards Room.  But it contains many exhibits about the men of Wolverhampton (who might have used the room) which lead in to the industrial history of the city.  The room was re-opened in March 2007 at the same time as another room was re-vamped and opened up to provide a "Community Gallery".  It started with an excellent display by Bev Parker and the Marston Heritage Trust about Sunbeam vehicles; and will continue with other displays curated by local people, especially the school children involved in the "Young Curators" scheme.  It is proposed that another upper floor will, if or when the money is forthcoming, will be converted into a room about the women of Wolverhampton, and a third into a children's room.  Another space may be used to tell the story of the servants of the house, about whom many records survive, and who seem to have found the Bantocks to be excellent employers.  This is fine - but the problem is that far fewer of the wonderful Wolverhampton artefacts, especially the japanned wares, cut steel buckles and jewellery and locks, will be on display.

The Dutch Garden with, on the left, the cafe, and, on the right, the local library.

Outside the 1999 works also saw the restoration of the outbuildings.  The branch library continued in residence and until early 2002 contained a Clyno car, a feature not common in public libraries - so uncommon in fact that it now seems that the city fathers saw fit to remove it and lend it for five years to the Atwell-Wilson Motor Museum in Calne, Wiltshire.  Other outbuildings were converted into an excellent cafe which is open whenever the house is open.  It makes a very good venue whether you are visiting the house or not.  And the stable range was converted into a lecture room and other study facilities.

In August 2003 the erection of a field studies centre was completed, backing onto, and connecting with, the converted stable block.

Of this building Nick Bevan writes:

"There was an old lean-to structure where the field studies centre now is - I think at one time used as a tractor store amongst other things. The roof was crinkly tin, the walls were timber board with an odd rotten window and the internal structure comprised quite large section timbers that were obviously second hand (evidence of morticed joints). Externally there were 1 or 2 plain cast iron columns supporting a horizontal timber beam. Most of this was hidden behind the ash tree recently taken down and various fencings. From memory the building was structurally unstable.
There was always the intention to recreate this building once a use and finance could be found. It was felt that such a structure was essential in showing how the farm evolved in the past, but that it should be of secondary importance to the courtyard outbuildings. Even the development/evolution of the brick outbuildings was researched and recreated where possible by the use of different bricks and timber lintels to suit each part.
So in the design of this new building the council have:
    1. used the same plan outline and section profile
    2. used sympathetic materials which were in evidence prior to demolition
    3. retained the agricultural/utilitarian aesthetic (note how the entrance door positions are only just noticeable by the hinges)
    4. responded to reduce vandalism by use of rough timber board cladding.
The architect was Keith Hodgkins at the Council".

Much work has also been done on the gardens around the house.  Alderman Bantock was very keen on his gardens and largely redesigned them.  The recent work has been aimed at restoring them to what he would have known.  In the courtyard behind the house the Dutch Garden has been restored in accordance with Bantock's own plans.  It contributes greatly to making this courtyard one of the nicest places to be.  In 2003 work as put in hand to recreate the Rose Garden and Tennis Court  that existed in Bantock's time.  The Rose Garden has been remarkably successful in a remarkably short period of time.

Round about 2000 the city council saw fit to start selling off Bantock Cottages, which stood at the end of the entrance drive and had been used by the Bantock's staff and, after that, by the Head Gardener and other council staff.  These cottages were part of the Bantocks' gift to the city and were an important part of the whole scene of an Edwardian gentleman's residence.  The Friends of Bantock House protested vigorously but succeeded only in getting the Charity Commissioners to limit somewhat the use the Council could make of their ill gotten gains.  The cottages were auctioned off in two sales but, luckily perhaps, one purchaser bought out the other.  He restored the cottages and garden and had made a pretty good job of it - which is lucky because the Council seemed incapable of recognising that these buildings were included in the listing, so disabling themselves from ensuring that the highest standards were maintained.  This is typical of the Council's ability to blow hot and cold on heritage issues, sometimes supporting the heritage with enthusiasm and, at other times, ignoring it.