Lightwoods House is situated at the south end of Smethwick, near to the boundary with Harborne. In the late 18th century, the area was still woodland, the remains of which can still be seen around the Park, and from which the House and Park take their name. Little is known of the ownership of Lightwoods, but it is likely to have formed part of ancient lands belonging to Halesowen Abbey.
The boundary of Lightwoods crossed two counties: Staffordshire and Shropshire. Until 1900, the Three Shires Oak – a meeting point of Shropshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire – stood less than a mile away (now the junction of Abbey and Thimblemill Roads).
No building occupied the area until after 1778, when Jonathan Grundy II inherited a large sum of money from his father and bought 14 acres of the woodland. At the time, Jonathan and his brother Thomas were trading in Birmingham as maltsters. They were members of the Chamber of Manufacturers and Commerce and Thomas was High Bailiff in 1779. The House named Lightwoods was completed in 1791, though a brick to the right of the front porch is inscribed, along with Jonathan’s name, with June 19th 1780.
The House has a plain Georgian facade with some stone dressing and a central entrance. Originally, detached wings housed the kitchens and stables. The House enjoyed impressive views over open countryside and a pool adjacent to the Birmingham-Kidderminster turnpike (known as Beech Lane). A small herd of deer was also purchased to roam the Park.
Jonathan Grundy had two children – his son died aged 26 while his daughter never married. Jonathan himself died in 1803. His widow, Hannah, and daughter continued to live at Lightwoods until their deaths in 1815 and 1829 respectively. The family are all buried at Smethwick Old Church. Lightwoods and the surrounding land passed to Jonathan’s niece, Thomas’s daughter. She was married to Henry Goodrich Willett – when he died, his nephew occupied the House for a few months and, after his death in 1858, both Lightwoods House and the surrounding land were leased to George Caleb Adkins, wealthy owner of a soap and red lead factory at Merry Hill, Smethwick.
Late 19th century
In 1865, Willetts’ trustees auctioned off the estate and Adkins became the new owner of Lightwoods. He was married with 4 children and began to enlarge the estate by buying neighbouring farmland. By 1874, he owned a considerable area, bordered by Three Shires Oak Road, Beech Lane (Hagley Road) and Love Lane (Wigorn Road).
It seems likely that Adkins planned to sell off the estate for housing. A church built in advance would have helped as a focal point and as a means of raising the land value. John Tilley of Edgbaston, who owned a leather works in Dudley, put up £3,000 to build St. Mary’s Church. However, George Caleb Adkins died after a short illness in 1887 and did not see the church completed.
John Tilley’s son, Henry, became the first vicar of St. Mary’s and, on August 6 1894, married George Caleb Adkins’ daughter, Julia. It was a large celebration and Bearwood’s first society wedding. Notable guests included the Rt. Hon. Joseph Chamberlain, George Dixon, MP for Edgbaston, and Sir George and Lady Reid of Warley Abbey. John Tilley had nearby Sherwood House built for the newlyweds.
Anne Adkins, George’s wife, lived at Lightwoods along with her son and 4 daughters until her death in 1902, after which the family departed and Lightwoods went up for sale again. George had stipulated in his will that his estate be used for housing, with Lightwoods House and its immediate environs being used for the same purpose upon Anne’s death.
As the Lightwoods Estate was sold off, Bearwood became a huge building site. One of the first plans, submitted in 1890 by Edward Airey, was for 26 houses at the top of what is now Bearwood Road, between Adkins Lane and Anderson Road. They were regarded as being upmarket on account of having 3 storeys. Airey would go on to build more houses on Poplar Road as Bearwood developed into what we recognise today.
Lightwoods Park and Shakespeare Garden
The Park as we know it today was the product of John Weatherhead, founder of Bearwood Early Morning Adult School. Weatherhead felt that the land could be used as a public park and, in 1901, with most of the Estate already sold off, he formed a committee and recruited leading industrialist Alexander Macomb Chance to chair the syndicate and attempt to save the land from development.
Events moved swiftly as donations poured in from citizens of the local area. Contributions ranged from 2d to £1,500. Over £11,000 was raised to purchase Lightwoods House and its immediate surrounds – a remarkable achievement in a just a few months.
Correspondence took place with Birmingham City Council relating to plans for the park formulated by AC Chance. In November 1902, the Lightwoods was estate was gifted to the City of Birmingham.
The official opening of Lightwoods Park took place in June 1903, with plans already in place to extend beyond Galton Road (now known as the Extension).
Frank Jones had been appointed in January 1903 as the first Park Keeper at Lightwoods. The House was to be refurbished as a refreshment area with a new kitchen, complete with hot and cold running water and new toilet facilities. Outdoors, a rustic bridge was planned to connect with the pool and pathways, and 48 seats set around the Park.
Even after the opening, donations continued to flow, allowing further enhancements to the Park. The most notable was the erection of a bandstand that had been donated by Mr Rowland Mason, owner of a saddlers from Birmingham. The bandstand had been made by Lion Foundry Co in Glasgow at a cost of more than £300. The base and steps were prepared ready for it to be delivered along with another bandstand for Handsworth Park. The bandstand at Lightwoods is octagonal in shape and formed of cast iron sides and a sheet iron roof. It was first used for a concert on Whit Monday 1903 by John Weatherhead and his St. Mary’s Bearwood band.
Improvements to the Park continued and the City Council decided to transform the walled kitchen garden to become the Shakespeare Garden, using a booklet listing plants and shrubs mentioned in Shakespeare’s works, composed by Mr George Johnson . Featuring box hedges, a herb garden, fish pond, sundial and seating, the Garden was officially opened on July 22 1915.
During the First World War, many large houses were commandeered for use as Voluntary Aid Detachment Nursing Homes for the rehabilitation of wounded soldiers, and Lightwoods was no exception as it was the largest house in the area. Part of the House previously used for refreshments was converted into accommodation for up to 62 servicemen. At the opening in March 1916, Major Samuel Nock Thompson, Vice-President of Smethwick Red Cross, remarked that ‘it would be impossible to have a more ideal site.’ At the same time, a large section of nearby Warley Park was given over to food production. When wounded soldiers had regained sufficient strength, they helped to tend the crops. During the course of the conflict, more than 1,300 soldiers recuperated at Lightwoods.
The hospital closed in 1919 and the refreshment area, in what is now the Tearoom, was reinstated. It sold lemonade, tea, ice creams and Lyons cakes. The House was also used as a library and a Sons of Rest.
Park facilities continued to expand with the building of an aviary. Octagonal in shape, it housed budgerigars, parrots and cockatoos. A bowling green lay at the front of the House with a club house at the side. A separate ladies’ bowling green was situated beyond the bandstand. The Park Keeper would have maintained these greens with his staff and they were used for events and matches with other clubs well into the 20th century.
The House was Grade II listed in 1949 on account of its architectural and historical interest (the Bandstand was also Grade II listed, in 1987).
The Park remained well-used but the increase in car ownership allowed greater access to the countryside and coast. From the 1970s, park usage began to wane and many, including Lightwoods, fell into decline.
There was a general lack of maintenance, the cafe closed and, in 1971, the House was leased to J Hardmans and Co, stained glass manufacturers, as a workshop and office space.
In 1991, Challenge Anneka built a skatepark on the former site of the pool and the children’s area was improved. However, the overall decline sadly continued.
J Hardmans departed in 2008 with the House in very poor repair and subject to vandalism and theft. In 2010, ownership was transferred to Sandwell Council. Soon after, the new owners submitted a grant bid to Heritage Lottery’s Parks for the People programme in order to restore the House and Park. The significance of the location as a green oasis, a remainder of rural Smethwick, was recognised and the successful bid led to the House and Park that you see today. The House opened in summer 2017, having undergone a major renovation and including community/function rooms, a tearoom, nursery and office space. The Shakespeare Garden has been restored to its former glory, while a replica rustic bridge and aviary (minus the real birds!) are in the Park, along with an improved play area.