William Dargue A History of BIRMINGHAM Places & Placenames from A to Y
B21 - Grid reference SP058897
Until 1790 this was an open field. When the parliamentary act was passed to enclose Handsworth Heath James Watt was the first to buy a plot on which to build a new house. Heathfield Hall was a large neo-classical style house faced in stucco with various outbuildings designed by Samuel Wyatt.
By 1794 Watt had acquired a further 20 hectares roughly between North Drive and West Drive, now on the boundary of Lozells and Handsworth, which he laid out and planted as a park. In 1818 Charles Pye described the park of Watt's 'elegant mansion in A Description of Modern Birmingham:
A few years back, the adjacent ground was a wild and dreary waste, but it now exhibits all the beauty and luxuriance that art assisted by taste can give it.
Woods and groves appear to have started up at command, and it may now vie with any seat in the neighbourhood, for rural elegance and picturesque beauty.
In the south-west garret of the hall was a workshop where Watt worked constantly on new inventions almost until the day of his death in 1819. The house passed to his son, James Jnr, and no-one entered the workshop during his lifetime. On his death in 1848 the house was inherited by his great-nephew James Gibson Watt and let to Thomas Pemberton, brassfounder of Livery Street. His son, Thomas Edgar Pemberton, was brought up there and became a writer, theatre/art critic and connoisseur. One of his plays was called 'Freezing your Mother-in-law'.
At some time during his tenancy Gibson Watt re-opened James Watt's workshop. By this time parts of the park were being sold for housing development. In 1876 engineer, George Tangye leased Heathfield and lived there until his death in 1920.
The house was demolished in 1924 but its owner, Major J M Gibson Watt, a direct descendant of James Watt, presented the workshop to the nation. The contents were moved to the London Science Museum where a replica of the workshop was built. The garret workshop remains on display at the Science Museum.
The Heathfield housing estate was built on the site c1927.
William Dargue 23.03.2009/ 02.08.2010
For 19th-century Ordnance Survey maps of Birmingham go to British History Online.
Map below reproduced from Andrew Rowbottom’s website of Old Ordnance Survey maps Popular Edition, Birmingham 1921. Click the map to link to that website.