In the Minutes of the Calthorpe Estate, we find glimpses of the daily lives of individuals. John Thorneycroft rented Metchley Farm - a considerable parcel of land (267 acres) boundaried by Pritchetts Road to the east and Bristol Road to the south. It was a large household; the census of 1901 records 24 people at the address including John’s own family, six servants and a gravel pit worker and market gardener both with their own families.
‘Progress’ began to encroach upon Thorneycroft’s land as early as 1871 - The Harborne Railway was pressing for possession of land for the construction of the railway through Edgbaston and Lord Calthorpe wrote to Thorneycroft advising him to arrange with the railway company for compensation of crops.1 Confirmation of the grant of the land was given the following month. Already, the farm was giving up land to enable the railway to traverse Edgbaston on its way into the town centre.
Thirty years later, the provision of clean water for Birmingham from the Elan Valley had consequences for Metchley Farm. A letter from Arthur Davies, Lord Calthorpe’s land agent states that the corporation 'will pay John Thornicroft [sic] £50 for surface damage in respect of their spoil […] This £50 is of course extra to the ordinary compensation which Thornicroft will get for the pipe track from the Corporation'.2
Meanwhile, a much more radical encroachment upon Metchley Farm was well underway. In June 1900, Lord Calthorpe’s agent began to explore possible sites for the new University of Birmingham, including John Thorneycroft’s Metchley Farm:
'The college buildings here would help to shut off the view of Bournbrook from the other part of the Estate and access could be obtained by the Bristol Rd trams'.3
By 21 July, the Metchley Farm site had been officially adopted and formal plans were being drawn up.4
From Arthur Davies’ correspondence we get a picture of what the site was like before it was transformed. The university requested possession of the land by 29 September 'so that they can get on with tree planting and preparation of site in the autumn. The land is all in wheat at present so that this allows of the crop being cleared in time […] I don’t think there will be much, if any, compensation to pay to John Thornicroft for the 25 acres, as he had potatoes on the land last year and wheat this. If there is anything to pay, the University will pay it'.5
It is assumed that since Thorneycroft will have cleared his harvest by 29 September, he will maximise his income from the land for the rental period already paid for. This seemed to be going according to plan:
'I have arranged with Thornicroft to give possession on the 29th inst by which date he will have all the crops harvested. He is very late with his work but is having splendid weather'.6
However, Thorneycroft was not happy with the arrangements, and asked for compensation for ‘unharvested manures etc.’ which Davies states will be a matter for the university to settle.7
1 Calthorpe Estate Minutes, 15 June 1871 2 Calthorpe Estate Books, 29 August 1901 3 Calthorpe Estate Books, 12 June 1900 4 Calthorpe Estate Books, 21 July 1900 5 Calthorpe Estate Books, July 1900 6 Calthorpe Estate Books, 6 September 1900 7 Calthorpe Estate Books, 2 October 1900
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