Wolverhampton's Listed Buildings

The White House

Lower Green, Tettenhall

The house was Grade: II Listed on 3rd February, 1977. It was not inspected internally. The inspector thought that the house dates from around 1820, but this might not so, as the following article explains.

I must thank Steve Morgan for the excellent article that follows. Steve owned the house for nearly twenty years and made a lot of improvements to the property. His article not only gives a wonderful insight into the house itself, but also into the recent history of the surrounding area.

I am unsure of the actual date of construction. I think it might have been around 1760. There were several anomalies in its layout and I think the back part of the main house pre dates the front and certainly the back wing is a much older building. The front section may well have been grafted on at some point as the style of windows are arched unlike the dining room, and kitchen windows which are conventional rectangles. With the render removed there was a distinct disconnect between the front and back, although the bricks looked very similar.

We purchased the house and moved in on 10th January, 1986 . It was very tired and run down having last been extensively 'modernised' and updated by the previous owners in the early 1970s. The house was very cheap (£59,000) mainly because of the lack of a rear garden, just a small yard and a wooden garage, plus the estate agents had wrongly described the property as a detached house with three bedrooms, having completely overlooked the corridor leading to a fourth bedroom.

These are my observations I made during my tenure there.

As I was much younger then, I embarked on a complete renovation which first involved removing the rendering from the front and side elevation. This revealed much decorative brickwork that had been covered up by the render, probably within about 50 years of the house being built, due to the fact that the bricks used to construct the house were very badly fired and very soft. They must have eroded very quickly.

Generally the construction of the house was to a very poor standard, the worst being the walls which had an outer skin of soft brick with a rubble interior in most places. It was always difficult to attach anything to the walls as you inevitably hit fresh air or a large granite boulder. There was no damp proof course either, but a large amount of bitumen water proofing had been applied in the worst places. Also roofing felt and plasterboard in other odd sites to disguise the problems. 

The White House and its surroundings. From an old postcard.

Due to the steeply sloping site, the rear part of the right hand side of the house must have started to move downhill shortly after construction finished, this resulted in the dinning room on that side of the house being at least one foot longer in the rear corner. Again this was all covered up by the later render. The cellar under that part of the house and the main part of the cellar under what is now the lounge were divided at this point, or maybe from the start, and the access to what must have been accessible from what is now the driveway, was blocked up and the house shored-up to prevent its total collapse. This was done by backfilling the ground and this is now the driveway to the garage on the right hand side.

The flat roofed extension on the left hand side was added around 1905-10, plus a corridor was created linking the stairway in the main hall to a much older building at the rear, which is now partly on land owned by the Green house. This was a bakery, and the old bread oven is still there located behind a false wall in what is now the utility room. The building was subdivided by blocking off a doorway and other openings, and one part is now belonging to the Green house and the remainder forming the back wing of the White House.

This extension was built up to the curved retaining wall which was the boundary of the garden for the Green house. The window at the top of the stairs in our main hall was removed and relocated downstairs in what is now the pantry. The cellar access was moved further down into the kitchen and the corridor created linking the main house to the bakery on the first floor, the corridor was provided with light from a skylight. The cellar steps are still a little tricky as they were never modified so they curve in a spiral up to the old doorway at the top into the kitchen which is now blocked off. At this time brick plinths were constructed in the cellar for storage, and the cellar under the dinning room completely walled off and abandoned. The wooden door that now leads to the cellar was re-located from the bakery and had a huge wooden lock and key, still operable dating from the 15th or16th century. It was still in place when I left.

At some stage the two front bedrooms were one big room, and the access from the lounge to the dining room was blocked off. It is interesting to see that the original doors have mouldings on the sides intended to be seen by guests, and the non-public areas were plain without the mouldings on the panels. 

During the 19th century the houses on the Green had communal gardens. I did look once at the deeds from the Green house and there were detailed maps of the whole area showing that during the later part of the 19th century, the Green House, the White House and the terraced houses lower down all shared the gardens. Interestingly there was a shared well, which is still located under a slab near to what is now the back door of the White house. The previous owners to me removed the pump, also where the garage is now was a privy. The pub had a much older building behind for stabling and that was the full extent of its ground. That building I think must have dated from the same era as the bakery incorporated into the White House, and probably dated back to the 16th century, as when it was demolished in the 1990s you could see it was originally part timber framed. I think also the 'House by the Church' also came under this shared arrangement, and I think the owner of all of the property except for the pub was the church, as there was a reference on the deeds to the Diocese in Stafford and also the Georgian house at the bottom of Church Hill. I do stand to be corrected on all the above apart from the part about the gardens.

The house and the nearby pub. From an old postcard.

I had one very old photograph taken from a position looking at what is now the Lich gate of the Church. It shows a row of houses situated on what is now the churchyard and pedestrian lane leading down to Lower Street. The person who gave it to me was very old and it had come from his Grandfather who told him that there were two pubs located in the row of buildings, but they were all purchased by the church and demolished to extend the graveyard.

In the early part of the 20th century the house was owned by Joseph Legge (the Willenhall lock manufacturer). By this time all of the properties had been sold on the Green into private hands and the gardens sub-divided and apportioned to each house. The garden for the White House was accessed through a gate in the right hand corner of the yard (where the garage now stands) and is the land now located behind the pub. The Green House had a garden extending in an L shape behind the White House. Joseph Legge sold the house in 1928 for £1,200 to Butler's Brewery. They embarked on a modernisation program removing the majority of the original features. So briquette fireplaces and an art nouveau one in the dining room, and all of the folding internal window box shutters were removed, apart from the dinning room, boxing-in the Coalport iron staircase rails, and deal panelling, to cover up some of the damp spots in the hall. The house was sold in 1930 for £800 to the Tack family minus the garden, and was then just left with a small yard. Butlers imposed a covenant on the new owners which is still in existence, prohibiting the keeping of pigs and fowl, and the sale of intoxicating liquor and beer.

The Tack family were very involved at St. Michael and All Angels Church. I had a picture of the last Miss Tack taken around 1965, sitting in the doorway of the White house surrounded by flowers on the day of her retirement from St. Michael’s School. During the 1920s, and up until his retirement, my grandfather delivered the post from the Lower Street Post office to the area including the White house. He lived in Hargreave Street near the Monmore Green stadium, and he used to cycle to work everyday. There is an interesting article my cousin wrote about his romance and subsequent marriage, and how it was possible to post a letter in Tettenhall to his fiancé on a Thursday night, and for her to get the message by first post in Willenhall the next morning, so they could arrange to meet at the weekend.

The renovations in the 2 year ownership of Butler’s brewery were extensive, and it was at this time that the pub was also extensively renovated and finished in a Tudor style. The current dining room was given an art deco grate and the blocked-up cellar under this room was used to deposit all of the rubble from the work, as evidenced by empty Players Navy cut cigarette packets thrown down there by the workers. I think at this time mains drainage was connected, and when we built the garage in the early 1990s we uncovered a large depository of rubbish buried where the privy must have been. It included lots of crockery, glasses and the bell system installed to summon the servants. I think also some renovation was done at the Green house at this time as it had a number of briquette Tudor style fireplaces in the 1980s. A wooden garage was constructed at this time and the front garden wall rebuilt to accommodate a driveway leading to it, and the Cyprus trees planted along the boundary with the pub. The gate leading to the garden behind the pub was locked permanently and just the small yard remained.

In the Lounge a huge Tudor style briquette fireplace was constructed, advanced for its time as it featured the 'Baxi' type under floor ventilation, drawing air from the cellar, and a smaller version without this feature in the 1905 extension. A bathroom was installed in the back upstairs bedroom reached by the corridor, and I think at this time the large front bedroom was subdivided and a small tiled grate installed in the right hand section. Also possibly one was installed in the other two bedrooms in the main house, as the original large front room on this floor was served by two flues. Also there was evidence of a cast iron stove having been located in the hallway at the base of the stairs, and this was also removed. Parquet flooring was installed in the hall, and most period features were ripped out. Other major work included replacing the dining room floor due to a bad infestation of woodworm. The work was not done too well and the woodworm returned resulting in the collapse of the fire hearth, shortly after I bought the house.

The only other major work during the time the Tack family lived there as far as I can tell was the conversion of the main cellar under the lounge into a makeshift air raid shelter, presumably at the start of the War in 1939.

The coal chute located at the front of the house leading to the cellar was opened up, and brick steps constructed down to the cellar floor. These bricks are stamped, and were made by the Baggeridge brick company in Gospel End, Sedgley. Timber props and shoring were installed to support the under floor beams in case the house was hit, and collapsed onto the cellar. Totally inadequate by the way, but probably better than nothing. Not sure if this was designed to be a publicly accessible shelter, or just for the owners.

The last Miss Tack I think, died in the late 1960s and the house was sold to a Husband and wife with two children. I cannot remember their name, it was something to do with birds, maybe 'Finch'. This was the next major transformation. The house must have been in really poor shape. The roof is a double pitch with a large lead lined centre valley gutter. On the front elevation there was a parapet wall with the gutter hidden behind it. You can see this on earlier photographs. As the house at this point was not listed, and the entire front section of the roof was in a very poor shape, caused by debris building up behind the parapet wall and allowing extensive dry and wet rot too take hold. The roof was reconstructed with new timbers and the parapet wall taken down, and a conventional gutter installed.

Another view of The White House and its surroundings. From an old postcard.

The second section of the roof although in poor condition was not renovated in any way. During my time there we insulated under the tiles, but the old original timbers were still in place shored up by tree branches.

Gas fired central heating was installed throughout, and many 1970s improvements done, including boarding over the panelled doors, vinyl tiles in the kitchen, and removal of the kitchen range to allow the installation of the boiler. The bakery part of the back wing was boarded over, and a dental lab installed for the manufacture of prosthetic dentures which had its own entrance via a side gate by the wooden garage. Redundant dentures and a number of Burco boilers were discarded in the main cellar, and remained there until I bought the house. A bit spooky as they were all sat there grinning at you when you entered the cellar. A connecting door was also constructed between the two front bedrooms at this time. The bathroom was relocated into the left-hand rear bedroom, and just a toilet remained in the back wing in a small room. The remaining part being used as a bedroom.

This back wing also houses the ghost, it is female dressed in a grey servants dress, long and with a white collar. We used the bedroom in the back wing for guests initially, and several reported seeing the figure in the night standing motionless beside the bed. I later installed a shower room and re-located the toilet over a new brick built porch connecting the ground floor kitchen door to the utility room, which replaced a wooden construction that was in poor shape. Both my daughters used the bedroom for a number of years and never saw anything, so I had sort of dismissed the whole idea until we had a visit from the daughter of the previous owners. Unprompted she discreetly asked if we had ever seen the ghost in the back bedroom, and gave a description the same as had been reported by our guests using the room. The last sighting was around 2003 when some Swedish friends stayed, and one slept in that room. He was very confused the next day and thought that we had been playing a joke on him. He had woken in the night and seen the figure, and thought it was one of the family in fancy dress. When he spoke to the figure it disappeared through the connecting wall into the part of the back wing, now in the garden of the Green house.

The current larger section of garden was purchased by me in 1987 from the Green House and added 30ft. by 100 ft. to the yard which now finishes at the wall on the alleyway by the churchyard. The left-hand retaining wall was also built at this time from reclaimed bricks. The wooden garage was also demolished and the current brick one constructed.

The flat roof on the 1905 extension was a constant source of leaks, and finally we removed all of the many layers of roofing felt and had a large fibreglass moulded roof installed, which cured the problem. The roof has to deal with all of the run-off from the centre valley gutter, so must be in first class order.

Internally I installed a period Coalport cast-iron fire surround in the lounge, and in the dinning room removed the Art Deco fireplace, and opened up the flue, which was huge and big enough to stand-up in. A period wooden surround was installed.

The briquette fireplace in the 1905 extension was removed, and the ornate Victorian over mantle that is probably still there, was removed from the Green House dining room, and installed. The owners of the Green House at that time (1987) did not like Victoriana apparently.

The main cellar was cleared and converted into a wine store and workshop. The walls were sealed but when we attempted to seal the floor it resulted in some of the floor heaving-up due to the hydrostatic pressure, as the cellar floor on the left hand side of the house is about 3m below ground level. To keep the cellar dry a dehumidifier was installed.

Bit by bit we re-instated some of the period features, and it was a constant battle to keep the house standing. The last major work was the re-construction of the left and right-hand parapet walls, which were constructed of rubble and rendered over with slabs put on top. Basically the house is a complete money pit, but I really did enjoy living there as it had unlimited charm, and was in a fantastic location.

My then wife never liked the house and was determined that once the children had grown up and left home we would sell-up and move to a smaller modern house. Finally things came to an impasse in 2004 over property I had purchased in Poland in 2003/4 and we agreed to part and go our separate ways.

Sadly this resulted in the eventual sale of the White House. I moved permanently to Poland in 2005 and ran a renovation business restoring an apartment block and numerous apartments for a couple of years. I then purchased a ruined 18th century manor house, and my second wife and I are slowly restoring it. It is a great place to live, and this time in a village setting with plenty of land. I still remember the White house with fond memories, and it was a great privilege to have had the chance to live there.