"Erdington (Aston Union) Cottage Homes / The Gardens, Fentham Road, Erdington"
1900 - 1984 (c.)
ASTON UNION COTTAGE HOMES
1900 - 1912
The idea behind the cottage homes was to take children out of the workhouse – the main provision for destitute people, be they adults or children.
Birmingham was divided into three Unions each of which was responsible for the poor people within its boundaries. In response to the need for provision specifically for children, Birmingham Union opened Marston Green Cottage Homes in 1880. Seven years later, King’s Norton Union opened Shenley Fields Cottage Homes. In 1900, it was the turn of Aston Union to open cottage homes. The Aston Union Cottage Homes were built next door to the workhouse (now Highcroft) on Fentham Road in Erdington. The ‘Aston Union Cottage Homes’ sign can still be seen high up on the Lodge building.
The cottage homes were intended to accommodate children who were orphaned or whose families were destitute.
Initially, there were 16 homes - 14 were designed to house 24 children, two for 16 children. Additionally, the cul-de-sac type development included a small hospital, a porter’s lodge, school, workshops and swimming baths.
All the day-to-day needs of the children were met within the gates of the Aston Union Cottage Homes.
In the early years of the cottage homes, the regime was strict. Children were in single sex homes, boys’ houses on the right and girls’ houses on the left and children were placed in terms of their age, not with their siblings. Younger children were in houses nearer the Lodge, older ones in houses nearer the infirmary. Children wore a uniform and had austere haircuts, as one former resident remembers:
"The only thing I hated was when the barber, one Mr Paget, came every four weeks. He only ever used hand clippers and we all got pudding basin haircuts. We all looked awful when he had finished." [Bob Mackenzie as featured in Birmingham Historian issue 15].
Visitors, including the parents and other family members of the children, were restricted. In 1912, at Marston Green Cottage Homes, for example, visiting days were set at the third Wednesday of each of the months of January, April, July and October. That is just 4 visits a year. A similar regime was operated in all the cottage homes.
The Cottage Homes were run by a Superintendent and Matron, often a married couple, such as Mr and Mrs Bryan appointed in 1914. They lived in the Superintendent’s House, the large building on the left of the clock tower, which also incorporated the offices and the stores.
Each cottage home was run by a foster mother, often an unmarried woman, or occasionally by a married couple, the husband taking on the role of ‘industrial trainer’. Foster mothers were aided by assistant foster mothers and a relief foster mother who took over from foster mothers when they were ill or on leave.
Industrial trainers taught children skills useful for their future jobs – needlework, baking, tailoring, carpentry, shoe-mending etc. The trainers and the children also undertook these tasks for the cottage homes. One of the industrial trainers in the 1920s was Mr Grainger who was responsible for the cottage homes bands in both Erdington and Shenley Fields.
ERDINGTON COTTAGE HOMES
1912 - 1966
From 1912, the three Poor Law Unions covering Birmingham - Kings Norton, Aston and Birmingham - merged into one - under the name Birmingham Union. The Aston Union Cottage Homes became known as the Erdington Cottage Homes.
The 1940s saw a relaxation of the regime and the isolated existence of the cottage homes. Older children went out to local schools, local children came to the cottage homes nursery school. In 1949, symbolic of this change, the homes were given names instead of numbers.
Home 1 – Sunnyside
Home 2 – Paxhall
Home 3 – Rosedale
Home 4 – The Haven
Home 5 – Braemar
Home 6 – Fairlawn
Home 7 – Birkdale
Home 8 - Glenedyth
Home 9 – Appledore
Home 10 – Ravenshurst
Home 11 – Trelawn
Home 12 – Windyridge
Home 13 – Derrydown
Home 14 - Beeechcroft
Home 15 - Littledene
Home 16 – Springfield
Home 17 – Ferndown
Pro – South View
Lodge – Orchardside
Times when visits from parents could take place were increased, in 1949, to three times each month. The 1940s also saw a shift from foster mothers in each home to house-parents – most usually a married couple.
The other significant change that took place in the 1940s was that half of the homes started to take in both boys and girls. Homes 1, 3, 5, 7, 11 and 13 (on the right hand side of the drive) remained for boys only but the others were mixed.
1966 - 1984
In the mid-1960s, the City Council agreed to the replacement of the Cottage Homes with smaller children's homes. Springfield was closed in 1964 in readiness for the replacement programme. However, restrictions on capital expenditure meant that the replacement could not take place in the 1960s. Instead, the retirement of Mr and Mrs Wilkes as Superintendent and Matron in 1966, was an opportunity to make some significant changes in the homes.
Rather than being a single unit overseen by a Superintendent and a Matron, each home became an independent children’s home. Each children’s home had its own houseparents who now took on the responsibility for getting their own supplies (food, clothes etc.), arranging their home’s holidays, medical treatment for the children, repair and maintenance as well as taking in placements directly. Rather than being known as the Cottage Homes, it became known as ‘the Gardens’ and the individual homes were known by their given names.
In the 1970s and 1980s, there continued to be concerns that the homes on the Gardens did not have the flexibility and facilities needed. While numbers of children in each cottage had been reduced, the homes were still large buildings in need of modernisation.
Councillor Arrowsmith (member of residential services sub-committee 1975) said that there appeared to be an undercurrent of dissatisfaction at the Gardens, Erdington. He felt that there was a lack of activity for the children outside school hours, and with over 200 children on the campus some arrangements in this respect ought to be made. In addition he considered that there were insufficient men employed in the homes and he felt that the children need a ‘father figure’.
In 1982, Social Services decided to close all the homes in both the Gardens (and also the former cottage homes on Shenley Fields Drive). By 1984, all the children’s homes on The Gardens had closed or had been moved elsewhere.
However, Featherstone Primary School, built as part of the Cottage Homes in 1950, is still used as a local school.
After a period of time in which the houses were boarded up and empty, the buildings of the Gardens had a new lease of life in the 2000s and the road has been redeveloped as private housing. While much building work has taken place behind and around the Gardens, the original buildings are still very much in evidence and the frontages look very similar to how they appeared during their 80+ years as children’s homes.
Several of the buildings now sport names of the children’s homes which preceded them, as do some of the new roads serving the houses built on the former playing fields. The naming of the buildings, however, and the roads, does not necessarily reflect the names of the specific children’s homes. For example, the building that was once Birkdale is now called Ferndown Court and Rosedale Avenue runs alongside it.
THE CLOCK TOWER
The Clock Tower has very much been the symbol of Erdington Cottage Homes. It was part of the original building, gifted to the project in 1900 by WJ Adams, Chairman of the building committee. In 1996 the clock tower was burned down by vandals. Fortunately, it was rebuilt in 1998. Local craftsmen created a replica using photographs and the burnt remains of the original.
The individual homes
Each of the cottage homes on the Gardens is featured individually within this site.
Image: Aerial view of the Cottage Homes in the 1950s. Reproduced here courtesy of Peter Higginbotham (workhouses.org).
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