The Winterbourne house, built in 1903-04, was commissioned by John and Margaret Nettlefold. The Arts and Crafts inspired villa, with examples of local craftsmanship throughout, was built with many modern features such as hot water points and gas fires. Winterbourne was also the first house in Birmingham to have electricity built into the designs! Both John and Margaret had big input into the house when it was built and Margaret also put a lot of effort into planning the beautiful Arts and Crafts inspired garden.
The exhibitions in the house focus on the Nettlefold family but also look at the local history and the importance of Winterbourne and its occupants within the wider community. The Winterbourne team is currently working on expanding the exhibition on Edwardian hobbies that is displayed in the house. They are in the early stage of planning the exhibition and researching new material, primarily letters, diaries and photographs of the Nettlefold family. To me its been an exciting time to join the Winterbourne team as I got to be part of the project, working on an exhibition proposal of how to display and disposition the exhibition.
I have spent a lot of my time at Winterbourne in the archives going through letters, photo albums and diaries of the Nettlefold family. The Nettlefolds were keen travellers and loved the out doors. Letters and diary notes describe holidays in Italy and France and cycling trips around the countryside and local villages. The Nettlefold family also had a great interest in the arts and several notes describe John and Margaret’s visits to the theatre and art exhibitions. Margaret’s diaries give detailed information on family activities and pastimes but also convey attitudes toward class and society in the Edwardian era. It’s been a great experience working on the project and I have learned a lot about the processes of exhibition planning. Unfortunately I won’t be in Birmingham for the exhibition opening to see the final result, but I guess that’s just a great excuse for me to come back and visit!
Winterbourne and its first occupants are fascinating in many ways but I found John Nettlefold and his passion for social reform and social housing particularly interesting. John was a British industrialist and earned his fortune manufacturing screws, bolts and nuts. He was initially part of GKN (Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds) but would later move on to becoming Birmingham’s most notable town planner and social reformer. Inspired by the Garden City Movement and Cadbury’s Bournville Estate John built the Moor Pool Estate in Harborne, Birmingham. In contrast to the horrible conditions of the Back-to-back houses the Moor Pool Estate offered low density housing, green and open spaces and community facilities. John is most notably renowned for his pioneering work as the chair of the first housing committee in Birmingham and his contribution to the improvement of public housing for the working classes. I think Winterbourne and the Nettlefold family has given me a great introduction to the Edwardian era and the local history of Birmingham and I am very interested to learn more about John and his work!