REMINISCENCES OF WOOTTON HALL
77 YEAR OLD TOMMY O'DONNELL 1970
When Mr. J Whitehouse came to live at ‘The Priory’ at Wootton Wawen he was managing director for Mr. C. H. Hughes of the Big Wheel Works at Aston Birmingham. About the same time Mr. Hughes bought Wootton Hall, with several acres of land attached including a farm, a large lake, with well-
He had a beautiful banistered stone wall built along the whole front of the Hall grounds as far as the waterfalls which extends from the entrance to Wootton Church along the main Stratford Road.
The double falls are quite an interesting feature, not only presenting a wonderful picture with the Hall in the background, but acting as a control barrier to the stretch of water known as the Serpentine which runs directly behind the Hall grounds, meeting another control point where flood gates are in use. It was mainly used at this time to ensure a steady supply of water which was needed to drive the water wheel of the mill which was then fully working six days a week,
An overflow outlet made of stone, known as sheetings, was built directly beside the flood gates which form another long stretch of water, this passes over the other set of falls adjoining the Serpentine, passing under the bridge which crosses the Stratford Road, and eventually joining up with other water which runs into the River Alne.
Wootton Hall has quite a history attached to it. At one time it was a place of worship for the monks who lived at the Priory, and, legend says the monks went to and fro between the Hall to the Priory by an underground passage.
I know this tunnel exists because I was in it once and was glad to get out again, as it was like being in a dungeon.
The Roman Catholic School adjoins the mill, and it is there I had my schooling under a governess, a Mrs. William Budd. She was one of the best, very strict but very thorough.
At the end of the 19th century the hall was owned by the Smythe family. I can only remember Lady Smythe who used to visit the catholic school especially near Christmas.
This was a very special occasion when all the children were given presents. Boys received a pair of short trousers, some cord, some serge, and the girls got a length of dress material. These were handed to us by her Ladyship. We were all taught to bow and say “Thank you my Lady ..."
Following the Smythe family, came the Eveson family. I knew the Misses Eveson quite well as I often saw them, not only when I went to school, but also when I was attending Mass on Sundays. The Catholic church was then at the rear of the Hall adjoining the main building.
We had to pass through the courtyard of the hall to get to the church and at times it was not unusual to see the family driving about with their ponies pulling an open four wheel carriage. The Eveson familY was connected with the colliery business.
Later the hall was bought by Mr. C. Hughes, and subsequently by Mr. R. D. Guiness. Later it was taken over by Mr Smallwood and is now the property of Mr. W. H. Allan. The farm and mill were sold separate from the estate during the time Mr. Smallwood owned the property.
When Mr. Hughes took over Wootton Hall it was agreed to close the Catholic church adjoining the hall and build another church on the Alcester Road at the extreme end of the village.
During the 1914 to 1918 war Mr. Fieldhouse designed and perfected an ambulance train which was bought by the British Government. This brought in a lot of money for him.
While he lived at the Priory he bought quite a number of houses in Wootton Wawen, not altogether pleasing to those householders whom it concerned, because some of the tenants had to buy their houses from him ...
During the 1914 to 1918 war Mr. Fieldhouse’s daughter, with help, ran a hospital at Wootton Hall, and it was there she met her husband to be a Major Barnard, son of of Mr. Walker Barnard, an auctioneer of Stratford-
Mr. Fieldhouse then lived at Edystone Hall, and while there he had a beautiful mansion built at the top of Navigation Hill, on the edge of Austy Wood, and taking in Lucy Farm, which joins up with the private grounds of the mansion, now known as Austy Manor.
At the extreme edge of the Manor grounds, and Navigation Hill, facing the main Stratford Road stand four cottages which were almshouses for the poor people of Wootton Wawen. These were taken over by Mr. Fieldhouse for his work people, and four more very nice homes for the needy were erected right in the village facing the church.
Mr Fieldhouse made a lot of changes in Wootton. He found a fair amount of employment for the local people and he and his family were held in high esteem by many of the inhabitants. He was good and kind to those in need, and the schoolchildren were never forgotten at Christmas, every local child received 12 new pennies.
When he died he was buried beside his wife in a vault in Wootton Churchyard. In 1914 he became Lord of the Manor and held that office until 1928. It was then taken over by his son Ernest Francis, and later by Olive Nancy Barnard, his daughter, who at his death inherited the title of Lady Barnard, and is still Lady of the Manor.