Following a brief Society member update by Mike Perkins on current local matters, Chairman Pat Martin introduced Lord Cobham to a packed audience of over 90 people in the Lehr Theatre at the Ruskin Centre. Lord Cobham proceeded to talk knowledgeably, enthusiastically and often with mischievous humour about the Lyttelton family and their fascinating heritage, the recovery and restoration of their family home (Hagley Hall) and the Georgian landscaped park.
The family history is indeed quite complicated and colourful with associations with many well-known aristocratic characters such as the Pitts, Fortescue and the poet Fielding who was a friend of George Lyttelton who developed the original park. The Lyttelton’s we were told had been around since the 13th century, originally based in the Evesham area but also having estates in Frankley, Arley and ultimately Hagley by 1560, though it only became their main residence in 1693 with this occupancy signalling the development of the walled garden from an over order of bricks! Like many building projects of today the original estimated cost spiralled from £12,500 to £25,000 but the property is now insured for £14 million.
There are also many connections between the Lyttelton’s wider interests and the local area with a furnace in Halesowen operated by the Foley’s under lease from Elizabeth Lyttelton, who was the last true Lyttelton by virtue of later marriage to Thomas Wescott. Currently under investigation by experts is a potential forest glass making site which may prove to be a connection to the Stourbridge Glass industry. Many of the Lyttelton’s family and their associates also spent some time in The Tower of London because of their roles in the Gun Powder Plot in 1605 or as a result of their staunch Royalist support during the Civil War. Some of course never came out in one piece moreover in several!
The ‘darker side’ the Lyttelton’s include the birth in 1707 of Thomas Smith who was the illegitimate son of Sir Thomas Lyttelton and a woman of whom details are unknown. He was raised a member of the Lyttelton family, who provided for his education and aided him in the beginnings of his illustrious career in the Royal Navy. In February 1746 he replaced John Byng as commander-in-chief on the Scottish coast, a position he stayed in until January 1747. In December 1756 he was ordered back to preside over the trial of Admiral John Byng who was accused and found guilty of failing to "do his utmost" to prevent Minorca falling to the French following the Battle of Minorca.
Lord Cobham then turned his attention to the house, park and architectural features that can be found on the estate including the obelisk built by Richard Lyttelton, the Palladian Bridge, Water Cascade, the Rotunda and the Park itself which was originally a deer park further developed by George. Lord Cobham stressed the importance of the work by English Heritage and Natural England for not only their financial support but also for their expertise, guidance and endeavour which had seen those landscape changing features being properly restored. The first phase of the restoration of the park is completed and work is now starting on phase two which leads up to the castle. The next job will be the development of a visitor’s centre due for completion in mid-2016 making it a national ‘must visit’ park for leisure and educational purposes.
Lord Cobham is clearly excited and passionate about heritage and wants to gain involvement from young people in order to ensure that history can be taken forward. His talk was well received and thoroughly enjoyed by the members of the Amblecote History Society and the large number of visitors who attended on the night. To conclude Chairman Martin presented Lord Cobham with a memento of his visit to the Society thanking him not only for his time but also for the amazing work that he had commissioned.
The next meeting of the Amblecote History Society will take place on Wednesday 11th March at 7.30pm in The Lehr Theatre at the Ruskin Centre with Keith Hodgkins talking about The Last Days of Round Oak Steelworks. For more information please visit: www.amblecotehistorysociety.org.uk
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