Vauxhall Gardens, Birmingham

Vauxhall Gardens in Birmingham, drawn by E.H. New from a watercolour in Birmingham Art Gallery

Vauxhall Gardens lay in an area which, at that time, was just outside Birmingham, called Duddeston. Dudda' s tun means Dudda' s homestead but it is not known who Dudda was. In 963AD a charter was granted to one Wulfget the Thane by Eadgar, King of the Angles, Nothing is known during the next 200 years.

The family seat of the prominent and wealthy Holte family was at Duddeston Hall. The name Holte is also Saxon and the family probably lived in the area before the Conquest but the earliest record is of Henry in the 13th Century. He must have been a wealthy man as his son Hugh married Maud daughter of Sir Henry de Erdington. Maud is known to have been living in the area in 1327 with her son John and his son Simon. Simon purchased the manor of Nechells. Simon's grandson John purchased the manor of Duddeston from his maternal grandfather in 1365. Two years later his mother bestowed on John, by charter, 'the fair manor of Aston' and so by 1400 the family owned at least 500 acres of land in Duddeston and Nechells as well as the area of Aston and they lived in a manor house in Duddeston. Five generations later Thomas Holte was appointed Chief Justice of Wales and also commissioner for the dissolution of religious Houses by Henry VIII. Thomas died in 1546 and an inventory of his possessions at Duddeston manor house gives an indication of his wealth. The manor house stood on the left bank of the river Rea (pronounced ray). Thomas's grandson, also Thomas was knighted in 1603 by James I. Thomas was given a baronetsy for supplying the King with a small army for the Defence of Ireland, "especially for the security of the province of Ulster". Thomas later built Aston Hall (it still stands opposite Aston Villa football ground) but the family still used Duddeston Manor. It is known that Thomas's grandson's widow Ann was living there in 1725 and presumably lived there until her death in 1738.

In 1746 an advertisement appeared in Aris' s gazette for a cock fight at Duddeston Hall. These adverts appeared regularly and the name Vauxhall appeared gradually. There is no record of the old manor house being demolished and in 1758 an advert appeared. "Duddeston Hall, commonly called Vauxhall, near Birmingham in Warwickshire, is now fitted up in a neat and commodious manner for the reception of travellers�.." It was quite common in the Georgian period for mediaeval houses to be built around and it would appear that this is what happened to Duddeston Manor. Advertisements for various functions continued to appear in Aris's Gazette. In 1751 the following appeared: "To be lett and entered upon immediately, Duddeston Hall commonly called Vaux Hall, near Birmingham, in the county of Warwickshire being a large and commodious house, with necessary out buildings, and a large bowling green. It lies within half a mile of Birmingham and greatly resorted to by the inhabitants thereof, as well as from other places, being used in the publick way, and in the summer season is a concert every other week. There is a closed cock-pit. The place is well known to most travellers�. " An old book of 1766 refers "near Birmingham there is a seat belonging to Sir Lister Holte, Bart, but now let out for a public house where there are gardens etc. with an organ and other music, in imitation of Vauxhall, by which name it goes in the neighbourhood".

There are many references to events at the gardens, with fireworks and military bands. Well known singers appeared there and balloon flights took place there. One man used to throw his dog over the side wearing a parachute! By 1837 Drake's 'Picture of Birmingham' says "Vauxhall. At the extreme east of the town, �. stand the house and grounds bearing the above appellation - once a favourite resort but now deserted as unfashionable�.. There is an air of elderly respectability about the place. Etc"

On 16th September 1850 a farewell dinner was held to mark the closing of the Gardens followed by a Ball. When the Ball ended at 6a.m. the next morning, the first blow of the axe was stuck to the trees. It seems to me a great pity that the gardens were not kept as a park among the rows of houses that were built soon afterwards.

The Holte family baronetsy died out as there were no male heirs. The estate passed to the daughter of the last baronet, Sir Charles. Her husband used the estates as security but his business failed and the estates were sold to pay his debts.

In 1783 Duddeston could boast about 80 homes, and the area was being rapidly built up. Following the 1791 Birmingham Riot, when the military had to travel from Lichfield, military barracks were erected near the Vauxhall Gardens. They consisting of handsome buildings, cavalry exercise area, parade grounds and a hospital. By 1795 a further 311 homes had been built. Soon urban sprawl from neighbouring districts linked up with the Duddeston/Vauxhall area.

The first railway to Birmingham was the Grand Junction Railway. Its Birmingham terminus was to be Curzon Street but a viaduct was still under construction so the company built a temporary terminus at Vauxhall. On July 9 1837 an experimental train of six coaches and 36 passengers made the journey from Liverpool to Birmingham Vauxhall. So Birmingham Vauxhall had a railway station a year earlier than London Vauxhall (The Nine Elms terminus of the London and Southampton Railway was opened in 1838). The Birmingham station is still standing today 165 years later.

In 1932 the barracks which covered five and a half acres were pulled down by Birmingham Corporation to provide 180 massonettes which are still there. The area suffered from a lot of bomb damage during World War 2 due to its proximity to large railway sidings, gas works and factories. The area was rebuilt again in the 1960's and a school was built on the opposite side of the road to the site of the gardens. The school was named Vauxhall Gardens but closed due to falling numbers.

With grateful thanks to Val Preece for writing this article and to Eric at the Heartlands History Society.

Interesting facts about Birmingham Vauxhall

A little bit of Scandal

On Monday 31st October 1791 a young man and woman arrived at Vauxhall Gardens. The Young man introduced himself as Captain Mouson of the Dragoons. The Young woman was, he said, his sister and she occupied separate apartments. This was later proved to be untrue. On Wednesday three men arrived, one of them a Mr Spooner of the Blue Ball Inn, Leicester. They were in pursuit of Mr Spooner's daughter and, on his arrival at Vauxhall, he demanded daughter as she was under age. The young man refused to give her up and said he would "with his life defend the possession of her".

The father and his friends returned to the town to enlist the assistance of Mr Wallis, the constable. The men returned to Vauxhall accompanied by Mr Wallis, his son and 'Bruce', 'the thief taker'. In the parlour the young man had "two brace of pistols on the table and a brace in his pockets". As Mr Wallis junior started to speak the young man fired. The shot hit Mr Wallis junior in the mouth breaking six teeth, tearing his tongue and taking a piece from his upper lip. His father and 'the thief taker' rushed into the room and the young man fired again but the pistol misfired and before a third pistol could be used, Bruce, 'the thief-taker', hit the young man over the head with his bludgeon. The young man was arrested and taken back to the town. It was reported of the young Mr Wallis that he spat out the ball, now mis-shapen and showing "a perfect impression of one of his corner teeth".

It was believed that the you man's name was Griffin who, under the assumed name of the Duke of Ormond, had obtained �200 by fraud. A description of the young man, with the story of the arrest, appeared in 'Aris's Gazette': "He is a most handsome athletic young man, about six and twenty years of age, is said to speak two or three foreign languages, and by his conversation he appears to be a man of ability; his whole demeanour is so very prepossessing and genteel, that man feel themselves interested in his fete".

It was ascertained that Griffin was anted in many places for fraud and deception and was known to have called himself Lord Massey and the Duke of Ormond. Young Mr Wallis was too ill to appear in court to give evidence, and Griffin was kept in prison whilst enquiries were made about him. The young woman was taken home to Leicester by her father.

It was discovered that the man's real name was James Molesworth Hubbard of Virginia, America. He had duped people in England, France and Ireland. He had, in fact, been sentenced to transportation in Ireland but had managed to escape. His mother, an American by birth, had "large possessions in the province of Virginia" and his father had been the King's Judge Advocate to the province of Virginia. For these reasons and his charming manor, he had been readily accepted into the society of the day on arrival in this country.

At the Spring Assizes in 1792, Wallis was still too ill to attend court and Hubbard was remanded to the Summer Assizes. When the case did eventually reach court it took the jury about four hours to find him 'not guilty'. However, as Hubbard had two further charges against him he was not released but taken to Suffolk.

On 17th December 1792 the 'Gazette' reported: On Tuesday (11th December) G. Hubbard, alias H. Griffin, the 'soi disant' Duke of Ormandy and Lord Massey, who was lately tried at Warwick for shooting Mr Wallis, was capitally convicted at the Old Baily for forging and publishing a Bill, purporting to be drawn by Earl Tankerville, for �1449 and thereby obtaining from Messrs. Green and Willerton, under the assumed name of Lord Massey, jewels and cash for the same. He did not bear his conviction with the fortitude which he before appeared to possess.

On 15th February 1793 a story appeared which told how Hubbard "sent for a Taylor who lives opposite to Newgate, to measure him for a suit of morning". The tailor made the suit which fitted well but, when he broached the subject of payment, the scoundrel replied "I know that you let out your house for sixpence a head at every hanging-bout: now as I am shortly to be hanged, and you know Mr Taylor, I am no common rascal, I would advise you to raise your price to half-a-crown. If that wont do, you may have your cloaths again, but I am determined first to be hanged in them".

On the same day appeared: Yesterday morning, soon after eight o'clock Francis Hubbard, alis Griffin, alias Lord Massy and Duke of Ormond, for forgery, and seven other malefactors, were executed opposite the Debtor's door of Newgate. Hubbard stabbed himself in the side on Tuesday morning, and is also said to have taken some poison, neither of which, however, proved effectual; he appeared very weak from loss of blood, but behaved with great fortitude and composure previous to his being executed.

And so, what had begun as a small scandal in Vauxhall Gardens, ended on the gallows at Newgate. One wonders if the girl ever thought of her lucky escape; they never did seem to sort out his Christian name!

Sir Thomas Holte (note the building in the background is not at Vauxhall Gardens but Aston Hall)
Is your dinner on time?

There is a time honoured story that, while at Duddeston Manor, Sir Thomas Holte had boasted to his companions that his cook always served meals promptly and laid a wager on it. However, unfortunately for the cook, on that particular day he was not so punctual and Sir Thomas, angry no doubt at the thought of being made to look a fool before his friends, went into the kitchen and hit the poor man over the head with a cleaver. Perhaps someone should have warned the cook how important it was. It was said by many at the time that it was because of this deed that the bloody hand was added to his crest.

What is known is that a charge was preferred by Sir Thomas against William Askerick, "that he did openly, publicly and maliciously and in the hearing of divers persons, utter with a loud voice, these false , fictitious, scandelous and approbious words in English, respecting the said Sir Thomas viz: Sir Thomas Holte took a cleaver, and hytt his cooke with the same cleever uppon the heade, and clave his heade, that one syde thereof fell uppon one of his shoulders, and the other syde on the other shoulder; and this I will veryfie to be trew". Sir Thomas lost the case, not because it was proved to be untrue, but because the court held that Askerick, in the all the alleged slander, did not swear that the cook was killed!

Sir Thomas was intelligent, well educated man but clearly had a quick temper and at times could be violent and aggressive. It is reported that he locked up one of his daughters because she would not marry the man he had chosen for her, after many years she escaped only to drown herself. He also disapproved of his second sons marriage to the Bishop of London's daughter and despite pleadings by King Charles I he never forgave the son.

With grateful thanks to Val Preece for the above articles