The Nailer's Cottage - Update

By Bernard J Taylor

Nailers Cottage
The Nailer’s Cottage circa 2000

A wonderful piece of architecture has recently been exposed right here in Quinton. The affectionately named “Old Nailers Cottage” changed hands again last year. The new owners were very concerned about the damp and cold feeling of the building and decided to have the rendering to the outside of the building removed. Well to say that this was an historian’s delight was no minor statement.

May 2007 - House with scaffolding
Taken 19 May 2007

The intrigue that has been revealed is quite amazing. The workmen have revealed that the lower stone part may be 16th century and the brickwork 17th century. They have also stated that certain features seem to be quite false. In the next few paragraphs I will try to explain the intrigue that has been uncovered.

House showing period construction
Below line C16 and added brickwork C17

Initially it was believed that Quinton had one Grade II listed building, this is not the case. Quinton has two because both the Cottage and the Outhouse are listed separately. The Birmingham City Council Monument Report lists as follows:-

SMR Number 03701-MBM 1336 – Quinton The Cottage and described as Apparently C18 but probably C17 in origin and certainly altered. Timber framed; rendered brick; stone tile roof. Two storeys; 2 bays. Ground floor with 2 and 2 light windows. First floor with 3 light windows. All windows with stone mullions and surrounds. Brick dentil frieze. To the left a single storey extension with door and a 2 light mullioned window to the hall. Inside, the hall has panelling said to come from Witley Court; it includes some perhaps of theC17 and some of the C19 and incorporates the initials H H E M N E and the date 1888 and a shield of arms with the motto ”Honor virtutis Praemium".

In a modern extension at the back, the 3 C18 windows with intersecting Y-tracery in iron said to come from the Quinton Tollhouse SMR Number 03701-MBM 1337 – Quinton Outhouse and described as outhouse in the garden at the rear of No. 497 (The Cottage). Probably C18 and called the “nail house”. Timber framed and with a bay window 2 lights wide with mullion and leaded lights. Also, a stained glass window of ‘Brangaene’ a lady bearing a box of nails circa 1880.

Outhouse or workshop
Was this the outhouse or nailer’s workshop?

As far back as 1988 ‘The Birmingham Historian’ revealed the following :

The Cottage, 497 Ridgacre Road, Quinton (Halesowen Parish) SO 993847

The building was formerly known as “The Old Nail House of Quinton’. It consists of a two bay, two-storey brick unit parallel to Ridgacre Road, with a single storey brick extension of one bay to the west on the corner of High Street. This lower range continued the line of the front wall but was not as deep as the main unit. On the north there are modern single storey extensions. At the time of the property’s sale in 1976 it was claimed that the original “Old Nail House” still existed in the garden as a detached brick building. However, on examination this was found to be a comparatively modern structure with an insubstantial fireplace and a flat roof. It is far more likely that the nail shop is represented by the single storey western range which is now used as a reception hail and has internal dimensions of 10’ 4” x 10’ 6”. Its roof is not celled and has exposed heavy purlins set in the gable walls, rafters and a ridge. A modern fireplace between this area and the present sitting room on the east appears to be on the site of the original hearth. Its chimney still rises against the western end of the two-storey range, which has its own domestic hearth of generous proportions against the eastern gable. The walls are unusually thick due to internal stone cladding of recent date.

Before the modern extensions on the north were added and the piercing on the original end wall of (he cottage there was no direct internal access from the two storey range into the westernmost bay, a fact which reinforces the interpretation of the latter area as an ancillary building rather than part of the living quarters. The brickwork of both cottage and workshop is rendered so that the chronological relationship between the two sections is not clear. In the Ridgacre Township Tithe Apportionment of 1844 the occupiers are given as Thomas Smith, the landowner, and David Smith. Unfortunately it has not been possible to trace either of these names in the 1841 or 1851 census returns. However, the district supported many nailmakers until the end of the century. Kelly’s Directory of Birmingham of 1890 noted that

The Quinton is chiefly an agricultural district, but a number of the inhabitants are engaged in nailmaking.

By 1900 that description had been modified to some of the inhabitants are engaged in hand nail making.

Following on from the article in the Historian I recently discovered a copy of a newspaper article in the records of the late Horace Wilson. Horace wrote on the article Jill Trevor, whom I would imagine is responsible for the following:-

Nailers today are figures of the past, but in the summer of 1741, when historian William Hutton made his first journey from the Black Country into the city of Birmingham, they were the centres of a thriving trade.

“In the many small blacksmith’s houses I passed I was amazed to see women, stripped of their upper garments, wielding hammers with all the grace of their sex,” observes Mr. Hutton in his 18th century “History of Birmingham”. He adds, sadly, that the beauties of their faces were rather eclipsed by the smut of the anvil.

"There was no ring of the hammer and no fumes of burning metal when, this bright morning. 222 years after Mr. Hutton, I passed an old nail house en route from Halesowen to Birmingham."

"The shed lay behind a smooth white wall on the corner of High Street, Quinton. It clung determinedly to the skirts of a double-roofed cottage. Inside, the roof beams were blackened by years of smoke but the old fireplace, which once heated the metal stood empty. The woman in the picture was not a big brawny nailer with a hammer in her hand and a 2d. pint pot of beer by her side, but an elegant figure in flowing robes set in a stained glass window. Her name is Brangaene the handmaiden of Wagner’s opera ‘Tristan and Isolde', who exchanged her mistress’s death potion for a love philtre. As the sunrays strike the old narrow window, the figure of Brangaene glows with purpose. The precious casket she carries is heavily studded with nails. This is small compensation for the strange absence of nails in the shed and the old cottage, which was once the shop.” said the owner, Mrs Ivy Chapman. "With stone walls, floors and Gothic arches to replace some of the doorways, we have little need for nails”.

Even the bedrooms in the 500 year-old cottage have, stone floors. "These present no difficulty, provided that one remembers not to take a carpet right to the edge of the room or put a piece of furniture flush against a wall,” said Mrs. Chapman.

There are many reminders of the past. The oak panelling in the hallway came from Witley Court in Worcestershire. (See photo on next page)

The Gothic windows in the dining room from the old Quinton Tollhouse, which defy modern methods of cleaning. Upstairs the pegged oak beams (photo below) are as they were when the cottage was built. (Apparently not to be the case)

The final blow to nailmaking traditions came when a new wing was added to the cottage. No floorboards for the kitchen. Quarry tiles were used instead.

In 2004 I interviewed John Round who had lived, with his family, in the cottage. Below is a photo of John’s father standing outside the cottage in the 1930s, after that is John’s memory of the inside of the building.

John Round's father outside the cottage
John Round's father outside the cottage

“It was a hard life though, Shepherds in the High Street bought the cottage in 1947 for £ 400 and we bought a house up Lightwoods Hill. Mr Shepherd then sold that on to Arnold Parkes for £500 the day after, so he made 25% profit in a day. Arnold put the windows out of the tollhouse in there. Mom was happy with £400; she’d never seen that sort of money.

Inside the cottage was a dining room, the two out houses or brewhouses, where mum would do her washing in the big copper, where we used to light the fire underneath, every Monday morning. The other outhouse, this side, with the gas stove in there. Inside another room with the old grate, with a frying pan hanging over it. The stairs were stone; eventually mom had them covered with wood. The stairs have moved now, not in the same place. A solid big room, with a little room next to it, a little passage along, then into the front room, which was in the High Street. The front room was very rarely used. The door that exists now was there but never used, there was another door on the right in Ridgacre Lane, now blocked off. People used to shelter under the yew when it rained, the one that has been chopped down.

There were beams upstairs, they say it is solid floors but I am sure it was timber. But the walls are all false inside, it is all plastered, nothing like it was inside. The walls were about 2’ 6” thick. Next door to us always wanted to buy 4’ to 5’ of the garden but. The two lots each side were built on, where the porch is was just waste ground in High Street. Two big rooms upstairs with a door in the middle. Mom had the one big room divided for the girls and boys; if you were cold you’d put another coat on the bed. It was only a lane then, no houses, just a bank and fields up to the old churchyard.

A couple of cottages, where the Guests were, the laundry. Down to the bottom of High Street, there was a brick wall with a hedge in front; they’ve widened it now. Straight opposite were four cottages joined together. Alf Horton had the one on the right, he used to keep pigeons and grow white and red michaelmas daisies, which he sold. Where the snicket is now called “The Green”, there was two or three cottages there, occupied by the Baggotts and the Whyles. The three houses are still there to the left of the park entrance; Fred Clay had the house built on. To the left of the cottage was the New Inns and at the back of there were two other cottages. Where there is a small piece of land now was a small cottage, the lane ran down. Highfield Lane, Heber Rose had the farm there, I used to take his horses into Blackheath to be shoed”.

The intention of the history society has always been to uphold and fulfil the ‘objects’ of its constitution, as stated below :-

“To advance the education of the public in the history of Quinton, in particular by the provision of meetings, lectures, exhibitions and other such educational events. Also to further the interest in the history of Quinton by means of research projects, collecting, preserving information and artefacts for sharing with the community at large”

We will keep a close and watchful eye on proceedings and will try to log any further information that is made available to us. The society’s conservation officer certainly couldn’t be in a better position.

A lot of people are very interested in proceedings including Mike Hodder (Birmingham Planning Archaeologist) and Peter Leather, who I believe has made contact with the owners of the cottage attempting to get their permission to do a feature for the newspapers.

As they say “Watch this Space!”

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