To get things started, beginning the theme and idea of showcasing suburban areas of interest, I ventured out for a 10 minute walk up my local main road, Turves Green. There’s a place up here, hardly anyone knows it’s there, I expect not many more people know what it is (or was). Hidden behind a power substation, down a little cul-de-sac, at the base of a tower block, are the remains of a moat.
This moat once upon a time actually had water in it – the last time I was there (at least 5 years ago) there was some water (and even a token shopping trolley) in it. Today, I was actually really upset to see the state it is in!! The moat has always been overgrown, but now it actually looks so silted, it’s trying to be a meadow or something. It doesn’t surprise me that it has come to be this way – this part of Birmingham isn't exactly on the receiving end of council funding very often and I don’t think there have ever been volunteers or rangers for this site. Anyway, I digress.
The part of the moat that held water has a fence around it, but if you walk between the bungalows and the tower block, on either side of the raised path section, the dips in the ground are actually sections of dry moat which are grassed over. The sides of the dry moats are brilliant for sliding down when we have enough snow! Yes I’m speaking from experience…
So why is there a moat, hidden away from view in Northfield? Well, there used to be a manor house here! And it turns out that this site is a quite important site of archaeology in Birmingham. Who’d a thunked it. You can download a rather outdated pdf from Birmingham.gov here.
Hawkesley House is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, though there isn’t really much to look at. It was a settlement site from the 11th Century, and the moat added in the 13th. This website has a picture of the moat with water in! This is a very old photo – the flats have had a makeover in recent years and are now white. When I was at school, we came to this site as an afternoon trip, and it’s where I first learnt the basis of geophysics and how it can be used to see subsurface features. People probably don’t associate Northfield with history, or anything remotely manor-house-esque, but here it is, right on many peoples doorsteps!
If I'm entirely honest, there isn't much to see here, but it's the sense of history you get from walking around the site, especially if you've read up on it. You can begin to imagine where the house was; what this area looked like when it was countryside; what the moat was like when it was all full of water; what life was really like. In a way, it's quite humbling.
So how does one get to this area?
From Birmingham City Centre/Cotteridge/Stirchley – take the 47 towards Cofton Hackett and sit on it for a good 40 minutes. Ask the driver to set you down at Albert Bradbeer School on Turves Green. To get to the moat, you will need to cross onto the side that has the substation, and walk down Munslow Grove.
You can also take the train, on the Cross City Line, from Birmingham New Street to Longbridge. Take a left when you leave the station and walk straight up Longbridge Lane. Turn left at the mini roundabout and walk down to Munslow Grove (~175 yards).
If you are driving, aim for Munslow Grove, B31.
Please be aware – this is a residential area and many of the residents are elderly. Parking is limited and there are no facilities such as toilets here. Also, chavs.
All pics in this post were taken by me today, May 30th. Feel free to nick 'em. Click for bigger.