Highbury’s history can be traced back to the Bronze Age with evidence of Bronze Age Burnt Mounds by the stream. Read more about them here: Bronze Age Mounds and here Burnt Mounds

There is evidence of mediaeval ridge and furrow in ten different places at Highbury. Click these links to view maps of their locations ridge and furrow1 and ridge and furrow2

For more information on the Ridge and Furrow written by ex city of Birmingham archaeologist, Mike Hodder please click here ridge and furrow3

For information about field boundaries and lynchets at Highbury click here: Field boundaries

Other aspects of the history of Highbury

Local historian, Gail Pittaway, has a number of articles you can read here:

An interesting article about Austen Chamberlain and the Bull written by  Maureen Perrie can be found here: Austen and the Bull. Thank you Maureen.  Maureen was also the guest speaker at our 2018 AGM talking about “The Chamberlains, the expansion of Kings Heath, and the landscaping of Highbury” a summary can be found here.

There are some interesting memories from former local resident Philippa Robinson which can be found here: Phillipa Robinson

The Highbury Estate

The Highbury estate was the rus in urbe estate of the Chamberlains from 1879 to 1914, when the idea of bringing the countryside into the town was popular among wealthy families. It was named after the London suburb where Joseph Chamberlain grew up. The latter came to Birmingham in 1854 to join a family manufacturing business, and this brought him enough wealth to retire and enter politics in 1874.

Highbury Hall was built in the ‘Venetian Gothic’ style, and the grounds – 25 acres on a south facing slope – were landscaped by Edward Milner, whom Joseph had employed at his previous Edgbaston home.

At that time the main entrance was from the western boundary in Shutlock Lane, next to the lodge cottage, to allow for a carriage drive to the Hall. One side of this was planted with the rhododendrons which are still there, partly to screen Yew Tree Road from view.

At the south-facing front of the Hall was a lawn with clipped holly and box along a semicircular path that also featured beds of shrubs and annual plantings.

Further out was a wide gravel path around the estate boundary, including rustic bridges across to the two islands in the lake. Existing field boundaries were removed to create thirteen acres of parkland. Trees were retained, additional stands were planted, including the beech copse north of the lake.

By 1903 the grounds extended to over 100 acres, some leased from Richard Cadbury (who had built Uffculme in 1891 next door to Highbury). In 1903 Charles Curtis describes the features of the estate, including iron railings, borders planted with bulbs, annuals and herbaceous plants on either side of the circuit path. There was extensive tree planting to mask the sight of the growing Kings Heath.

The gardens followed the fashion of the times, thus, in 1890 there was a new rose garden, in the ‘Elizabethan’ style, with beds edged with box, and enclosed by yew hedging, at the end of the kitchen garden. In 1901 a ‘Dutch’ garden had beds wholly of bulbs, with terracotta tile edging and paths, and surrounded by a holly hedge. Next in 1902 came the ‘Italian’ garden- this and the rock garden below it are the only visible sites of Chamberlain’s formal gardens. This had a pergola for climbing roses, and an attractive brick balustrade. A photograph taken in 1904 shows the steps between the rock and Italian gardens (see the leaflet called Highbury, A Brief History & Guide). The latter had ornate iron gates from Siena, and a fountain and a small pool at its centre, and was enclosed by the beech hedge (which still exists, unlike the pergola). In 1904 a formal tea garden was added to the front of the Hall, while the shrubbery near the lodge had additional plantings, including magnolia and bamboo, newly introduced from the east.

However it was hothouses for which Highbury was best known. There were 25 by 1903, 12 containing orchids. These had a central corridor, with electric lighting installed in 1889.

The idea that food should be fresh meant that estates grew as much of their own produce as possible. This was Austen Chamberlain’s interest, and the farm produced fruit, vegetables, with dairy cows, pigs, poultry and sheep. By 1904 a new lodge was needed to house the farm bailiff. Furthermore, Chamberlain’s three oldest daughters lived at Highbury and took a lively interest in the farm; if one sister was away, the others took care to report farm events by letter. The ‘farmery’ was on the eastern border, where it was judged unsightly so a thatched dairy was built to hide it. The dairy verandah was also used for having tea and coffee with visitors.

The spectacular gardens were suitable for entertaining the many house parties held during Joseph’s political career. But garden parties were also given to Birmingham society, and used for larger events, such as the Moseley Flower Show and the Kings Heath horse show.

There were 20 gardeners, 5 for the hothouses alone, with Edward Cooper, affectionately remembered by the family, as head gardener, until he retired and the Kew–trained John Deacon took over.

Joseph left politics after a stroke in 1906, and died in 1914. His son Neville continued Joseph’s passion for orchids at his house Westbourne in Edgbaston.

The family left the house and it became an auxiliary military hospital. Most of the grounds became a public park in 1930.

If you have memories of the Park since then, or know someone who has, please send us your stories, so we can build up an extensive description of Highbury Park. (PAC)

More about the park

(sources: BCC Parks page, Birmingham Civic Society)

The public park consists of land from three estates; The Chamberlains at Highbury, the Cadburys at Uffculme and the Henburys. Details of how the park came into being can be found in the leaflet “Historic Landscapes of Highbury Park”. Please click here to read it. historic landscapes

The north-western part of the park and the house and grounds behind were the property of Joseph Chamberlain MP, and, at the turn of the last century, included formal gardens and a circular walk around the estate. This area was given to the City for ‘the benefit of the people of Birmingham’ in 1932. Currently the conference and banqueting centre based at Highbury Hall, and the Social Services premises at Chamberlain House are fenced off from the main part of the park.

The north-eastern part of the park, including the allotments, belonged to the Cadbury family. This property was given to the City in 1916. The Uffculme house and garden is not now part of the park. The pasture land and the Henbury’s garden area now forms the allotments and the park’s entrance from Alcester Road. The Southern part of the park had also been owned by the Cadbury’s. This 42 acre parcel was bought at public auction in 1923 by the Birmingham Civic Society and gifted to the city in the same year. For many years this area was leased to the Chamberlains who used it to graze animals from their hobby farm.

A drawing displayed in Uffculme created by a convalescent soldier in 1917 Soldier’s park sketch

Uffculme House

Click here to read about and see old photographs of Uffculme House.

A drawing displayed in Uffculme created by a convalescent soldier in 1917 Soldier’s park sketch

The Henburys

The Henbury’s dated 1801 – 1895 was a substantially sized house on a 45 acre estate. It was
owned and occupied by Charles Ratheram and comprised a house, carriage drive, orchard,
pools and several fields of arable, pasture and meadow land. It was also lived in for a time
by Joseph Purden a Birmingham Metal Maufacturer and later by the Lyndon family, who
built an obelisk to mark the burial of their favourite racehorse. The house was demolished in
most part in 1895 and the grounds of The Henbury’s became a public park in 1922. The
remaining part of the house was used as a refreshment room and was known locally as the
Bonkoms. The obelisk remained within the park until as late as 1957. (Gail Pittaway, Highbury Park: The History Within, 2019)

The following information about The Henburys was provided by Andy Bishop of Kings Heath Local History group.

These are pictures of The Henburys c1933.

There is further information from a newspaper about the auction of the Henburys in 1826 Auction 1826
Photographs of the Henburys Estate showing the wall that still remains Henbury 1993

Thank you again to Andy Bishop, for sending us these two photos taken at The Henburys (date unknown).

Below are maps from 1884 showing the Henburys

Below are census data relevant to Henburys








  • Jo

    Am I mistaken or did I do a training course for a postal and telegraph officer for the post office in 1957 in that wonderful building.

  • Alwyn Burberry

    My great grandfather H A Burberry was an orchid grower for Joseph and published “The amateur orchid cultivators’ handbook” in 1894. I have copies of the first and second editions. In them some adverts showing Highbury and a couple of photographs of some of the orchid show houses. I can reproduce them if of interest.
    Alwyn Burberry

  • David

    That makes sense, and I’m not sure why it is written as Shutlock Lane. It might be that Phillada Ballard’s history has a different telling, so that’s worth checking. Otherwise, we’d need a map or some other record of what the road names were at the time.

  • Jan Miller

    In the 3rd paragraph of History, you suggest that the main entrance was from Shutlock Lane next to the Lodge Cottage. Was there a lodge in Shutlock Lane, as the existing lodge is in Moor Green Lane and the next sentence makes more sense if it were Moor Green Lane. A drive from the entrance in Shutlock Lane would have been very long and twisty.

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