Hay Hall, by K.H. Sprayson, c. 1978
Within the heart of industrial Tyseley there stands what is probably the second oldest inhabited building in Birmingham - this is Hay Hall situated within the factory premises of TI Reynolds Ltd., in Redfern Road.
Now a listed building of antiquity, it was only by chance that Hay Hall survived the industrialisation of the area beginning just after the first World War, for it was then that TI Reynolds (formerly Reynolds Tube Company, and then known as the Patent Butted Tube Co. Ltd.,) purchased some 12 acres of what remained of the original Hay Hall manor estates for building their new factory.
Up to about 1850 the estate covered a large area bounded by the main Birmingham to Coventry Road in the north, the Warwick Road to the south, the River Cole and what is now Wharfdale Road. The public roads which now cross this area such as Kings Road and Redfern Road were once the private roads to the manor house itself.
The original house is thought to have been built between the years 1275 and 1300 most likely by Robert de la Hay who is known to have been living there before the year 1327.
There has been a lot of conjecture as to whether any of this original building is still preserved within the present structure. It is more likely that the original building was completely demolished and the present Hall built in its place.
However some of the original materials could well have been used in the new building.
The de la Hay family continued to occupy the original Hay Hall until 1423 when Marion de la Hay, a great, great grand-daughter of the previously mentioned Robert married Thomas Est who at the time of his marriage was described as being of Kenilworth.
Among the appointments he held was that of Governor of Kenilworth Castle as well as being Yeoman of the Crown to King Henry V and VI.
It would appear that as a result of this marriage Hay Hall was rebuilt as previously mentioned.
It is certain that Marian and Thomas were living there by 1426 for in a history of Birmingham by William Hutton written in 1781 he mentions, when describing Witton Hall, that in 1426 Thomas Est of Hay Hall in Yardley was the owner.
The new house was built to an ‘H’ shaped plan and was of half-timbered construction, the original porch now at the rear of the building still shows evidence of this pattern.
The open hall at the centre of the house had massive arch braced roof trusses whilst at each end were two storey cross wings each extending to the rear by one of their three bays.
The open hall had a central hearth with louvres in the roof to let out the smoke. The walls were constructed with oak baulks 9 inches x 7inches at about 20 inch centres, the timber framing being held together by 1 inch diameter pegs; the filling in the walls was of wattle and daub the remains of which can still be found in the roof area.
The pool at the back of the house, which was only filled in during the 1930s was probably the remains of a moat which at one time surrounded the original house, although it is highly improbable that this existed in 1424 when Thomas Est built the present structure.
Towards the end of the 15th century it would appear that the structure was endangered by the rotting of some of the timbers, to obviate this danger the oak framing was encased by a brick wall 18 inches wide making an overall wall thickness of 24 inches.
In this re-building hand made bricks about 10 inches x 2⅛ inches x 4¼ inches called “slops” were used, these may have been imported from Flanders.
The roof principals rested on only 6 inches of brick work, the old main uprights being used as corbels.
In the north east wing the blue diapered brick work of the Tudor period was probably added at the same time.
The Great Hall roof was still supported by the original principals, the massive oak trusses of these probably owe their preservation in part to the smoke crust formed during the days when the open hearth still existed in the centre of the floor.
With the replacement of the wattle and daub by brickwork, stone windows, a fine example of the early Tudor period, were installed. These were originally devoid of glass but were barred and shuttered, the bars still remaining are excellent examples of the blacksmiths work of the period.
In this “Tudor” end of the house was found a small stained glass window bearing the initials A and E found in the design of a tassel cord; this was probably put in to commemorate the marriage of Anne Gibbons and Edward Est in about the year 1538. It is perhaps worth noting that the tassel cord binding of these two initials is identical in design to the tassel cord which bind the letters W and S on the signet ring of William Shakespeare who lived about the same period as Anne and Edward.
This stained glass is now in a separate exhibition case showing relics of the Hall.
Also on exhibition are the remains of a cat and a bird; these were found in a square cavity about 9 inches deep surrounded by heavy oak between the outside wall and the lath and plaster inside wall. They were found facing each other, the cat with gaping jaws and extended claws. As there was no possible means by which the creatures could have gained entry, the plaster and wall being undamaged, it is to be assumed that they were placed there intentionally. Many such animals have been found in old buildings and have been the subject of a certain amount of research. Apart from accidental enclosure, two possible theories have been advanced - one that the cats were placed in the buildings as foundation sacrifices and two that they were intended as vermin scares. With regards to foundation sacrifices, these have been known to progress from human sacrifice in the very earliest of times, to the placing of pennies and other objects under foundation stones in our present day.
Farmers still use effigies of man, in the form of scarecrows, so why not ‘dried’ cats to deter rats, mice, starlings, and other unwanted creatures.
From the evidence available it would appear that this latter explanation is possibly the more correct, in all probability dating from the time that that portion of the house was built.
The most common theory that remains, such as these had something to do with witchcraft cannot be over-ruled entirely, for their use of scarecrows must inevitably have been based on superstition for the builders to have entombed them in the situations in which these cats were invariably found.
Examples from other buildings show similarly positioned cats with rats or mice instead of the starling as in Hay Hall.
Historical interest in any ancient house usually centres around the families who have from time to time lived in it and Hay Hall can truly be said to have housed its full measure of interesting people.
The house and neighbouring district of Hay Mills undoubtedly derived their name from a family by the name of de la Hay; Frowde’s Worcestershire place-names quotes as follows:
“Hay Mills, Hay Hall in Yardley on the River Cole - 1327 Robt. in the Hay....”
The name Hay is derived from the Anglo Saxon ‘hege’ meaning an enclosed space.
Three further generations of the de la Hay family continued to occupy Hay Hall until Marion, the last of the immediate line, married Thomas Est in 1423.
On Thomas’s death in 1462 the house passed to his son, also named Thomas. The Est family lived in the house for 300 years and it seems to have been a family very varied in outlook and character.
They were great benefactors to the church of Yardley where some of their memorials can still be seen.
One of the most ancient monuments remaining in this church is an incised slab which was removed from the south chapel during some repairs undertaken some years ago. It is now placed within the altar-rails, leaning against the south wall of the chancel.
One authority on Yardley Church describes it as follows:
“In the south aisle, on a white stone, a man and his wife on his right hand, praying with this inscription:- ‘Hic jacet corpora Thomas Est: et Mariane uxoris ejus, qui . . . . post festum Sanctae Trinitatis anno Dom. 1462, quorum animabus propitietur Deus.’”
The same author also mentions as being in the south aisle “a stone inlaid with brass, the figures of a man and his wife with this inscription:- “Here lieth Mr. Henry Est, Esq., and Margery his wife, the which died the 13 day of April anno Dom. 1504, on whose soules God have mercy.'' This slab is not now visible - possibly it may still remain concealed by the pews, but the brass is most likely gone.
Another monument that has since disappeared but is known to have existed was one inlaid with brass with the figures of Gulielmus Delahay and Margery his wife who died in 1409.
From this it can be gathered that before the Ests, the de la Hays were also church benefactors.
On the east walk there is another memorial to the Est family in the shape of a brass plate - this was to Edmund Est, with the date 1625.
Although the Est family had many of the virtues of their day, it must be told that they also had some faults. Several members of the family found themselves on the wrong side of the law. In 1563 Henry Est surrendered to the “Flete” (London’s famous prison) and was granted pardon of outlawry passed on him for debt.
In 1610 Edward Est was brought up at the Worcester Quarter Sessions for assault on an ale house keeper in Yardley.
In 1631 the same gentleman was brought up once again, together with his son Thomas, on a charge of causing a riot, and five years later the son was again charged at Worcester Quarter Sessions with assault.
In 1637 ''certayne differences fell out” between Charles Dod and Thomas Est on account of Est’s “disgracefull words against ye Coate of Armes of ye sayd Charles Dod.” Peace was restored by James Archer the Vicar of Yardley.
On the other hand, another son, also named Edward, managed to secure for himself a place on the other side of the law by becoming a Barrister of the Inner Temple in London but died in 1625 when only 27.
In a recess in the north aisle is a monument to Edward Est, who died in 1703. This is a simple oval tablet bearing the inscription with the usual entablature and surroundings of the Georgian period. The bust on top is sculptured in low relief and is about a foot high.
Edward Est was born in 1633 and through an accident lost his sight when a small boy. He acquired a complete and thorough knowledge of the Old and New Testaments, which was no mean feat for a man living three hundred years ago and who was blind from childhood. He died a bachelor in his seventieth year. His life is recounted on a mural slab.
The inscription is now very faint but reads:
“In his childhood, being deprived of the sense of seeing, he made that happy use of so severe a calamity as not to admit those vanities in to his mind and actions which he was thereby disabled from beholding with his eyes. And therefore, he wisely turned his thoughts from beholding the concerns and enjoyments of this life (which he was little acquainted with) to study and contemplate the joys of a better, and spent his time in profitable meditations, pius ejaculations, affectionate soliloquies, singing of Psalms, and other holy Exercises of Christian devotion, whereby he turned both his head and tongue to be qualified for an admission as a member of the heavenly quire of saints and angels, amongst them to sing those seraphic alleluias which he no doubt now bears a happy part in; in order to all which, by getting by heart and treasuring up these, alle the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, besides several other godly and useful books of divinity to the increase of his Christian knowledge and the raising and influencing his devout affections. He died a bachelor in the 70th yeare of his age, 1703: and though he left no issue behind him, yet he was not in that respect wanting either to his own or the next generation, being the fruitful parent of many and those very remarkable virtues both in himself and in others, all which he endeavoured as far as he had opportunity to propagate and cherish by the influence of his wholesome exhortations, undiminished piety and general good example.”
Of all the existing records of Hay Hall without a doubt the most interesting is the will of Barbara Est dated 1606. The original is now in the Hereford and Worcester Record Office.
Apart from the will which names all the family beneficiaries there is attached an inventory of his estate dated the 15th of November, 1610, the time of his death. This not only lists the contents of the Hall and the estate, but also the location of the various articles. This lists the contents of Hay Hall in their individual rooms. The rooms equate well with the plan of central hall, parlour and inner parlour to one side, and at the screens end of the Hall, a Buttery and kitchen. Over this are chambers including the Hall itself, previously open to the roof.
We get a vivid impression of the rooms and how they were being used.
The fact that most of the rooms were equipped with beds of one form or another enables us to deduce that Barnabye had quite a large family living with him.
The list also includes in the parlour musical instruments for family entertainment; there are also included horses and cattle, pigs and poultry, rye: barley, oats and hay in the barns; there is dairy equipment such as cheese presses; farming equipment, three ploughs, three harrows, tumbrel wheels, a tumbrel being a kind of horse-cart: the sum total of Barnabye's estate being 145 pounds, seventeen shillings and twopence.
After Edward’s death a number of families appeared to have lived in the Hall for relatively short periods and it changed hands frequently. Very little is recorded of these subsequent owners but a short reference “Buildings in Yardley” by J. Morris Jones recalls that in 1791 during the Priestley riots Hay Hall was saved by its owner T. Smith on payment to the rioters.
It is also on record that from about 1843 to 1852 Hay Hall was rented by Abraham and George Dixon of Cherkley Court: Leatherhead; at some time in this period Hay Hall was also converted into two residences. Of all the many occupants of the Hall over the last 180 years the one about whom most was written was a certain Dr. Gilby who was living at Hay Hall in the early 1800s.
It is to him that the building of the substantial Georgian addition, which now forms the front of the house, is attributed.
This north west frontage, originally the back of the house, is thought to have been built around the 1790s. It filled in this aspect of the ‘H’ plan and provided the addition of an extra four large rooms. The ground floor pair are separated by a hall leading from the Georgian front door, whilst on the first floor similar sized rooms were divided by a bathroom correspondingly above the hall
These additions were accomplished with very little alteration to the original house, apart from the filling in of the north west windows.
From a letter published in Aris’s Birmingham Gazette in June 1810 it would appear that the Hall was badly damaged by fire for in the letter Dr. Gilby seeks to publicly express his great thanks to his neighbours for the prompt and ready assistance they gave in stopping the progress of a fire which threatened the complete destruction of the whole of his house. He goes on to mention the courage and intrepidity of some in getting the heated tiles off the roof in order that water might reach the burning timbers, and refers to the extreme labour and perseverance of others in carrying the heavy buckets and pails to the top of the house.
Dr. Gilby also did not omit his thanks to Mr. Simms, the organist of St. Philips (now the Cathedral church of Birmingham) who happened to be staying in his house at the time.
It is doubtful if this fire was as severe as one would be led to believe by the tone of Dr. Gilby's letter, as a considerable number of the roof timbers in the house today are considerably older than 1810, and no obvious evidence remains of the fire.
Dr. Gilby did not stay on at Hay Hall long after this fire. He appears to have let the house from time to time to tenants, such as the Dixons in the l840s, who would appear to be the last of such tenants for the property was sold in 1852 to James Deykin.
A few years later James Deykin created a Trust under which the income from the property was to benefit his daughter and her children and their heirs, and finally in 1917 the Deykin Trust sold the property and land to the Patent Butted Tube Company Limited for factory development.
At the time of purchase by Reynolds the Hall was in a rather bad state of repair but rooms in the Georgian frontage which were still habitable were used for company offices. Other rooms including the cellars were used for storage, whilst the bakehouse in the south west wing housed a workshop to produce tools by a secret process for tube manipulation. The only keys to this were held by the toolmaker, sworn to secrecy, and Mr. Alfred Reynolds the Managing Director.
The last resident at the Hall was a Mrs. Shelley who lived in the north east wing working as cook and housekeeper, until the late 1930s.
Major restoration work was carried out in 1946 when the whole roof area was renovated. While some roof timbers were replaced, most were treated and refurbished. It was in the course of this work that most of the “relics”, such as the cat, were found. After 1946 most of the rooms within the hall were restored and decorated for use as Company offices.
One or the main trusses bricked in since the early 1800s was exposed and preserved in 1972. Work is still being carried out such as major pointing and renovating externally being undertaken during 1977/78.
The cat, the bird (a starling), and the stained glass are mentioned in the text. Other items, starting at the top left and going down and across are:
Iron chain, probably 17th century; Walnut pegs; Hand-made draw iron, 17th century; Daub which was moistened and worked in between the wattle sticks to form the walls; Shaped wood, oak; Wattle sticks of hazel-nut, c. 1600; Iron crescent-shaped knife, 15th century; Iron bracket, used for fixing kitchen dresser to wall, 17th century; Glass bottle, c. 1700; Glass, 17th century; Hand-made iron nails, probably 16th century; Glass, 17th century.