William Dargue A History of BIRMINGHAM Places & Placenames from A to Y
The Newhall Estate, Newhall Hill, City Centre
B3 - Grid reference SP061873
The Colmore family were French by origin and had made their fortune in Birmingham dealing in cloth. The Colmore family home was a large, probably timber-framed house near the present site of Moor Street Station.
As a result of monastic estates being made available by Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries, in 1560 William Colmore was able to buy the Conyngre, the 'rabbit warren' of St Thomas's Priory which lay on the north side of the town between Sand Pits and Snowhill, Colmore Row and the 'Priory' Brook beyond Lionel Street.
Rabbits had been introduced from the Mediterranean region in early Norman times and were farmed commercially on a wide scale by the 13th century. Bred for food and for fur they were an expensive luxury. These ancestors of the naturalised British rabbit had to be nurtured carefully in our colder climate. They could be contained by ditches and banks topped with an impenetrable shrub such as gorse. The light sandy soil of the Birmingham ridge was ideal.
In the early years of the 17th century William Colmore's son, William the Younger built a large Jacobean mansion called New Hall set at the top of this large estate. Newhall Street was originally an avenue lined with elm trees leading to the house which stood below Great Charles Street.
Gradually the estate around the hall was encroached on by the expanding and industrialising town, but because of legal restrictions on the estate the Colmores, now long gone to Middlesex, were unable to sell their land for development.
In 1746 Ann Colmore was able to have sponsored a private act of Parliament to solve the problem and the land was sold as plots.
Development of the Newhall or Colmore estate was rapid, especially nearest the town. Most of Colmore Row was built up within five years, and the rest of the estate during the next 25 years. New Hall itself, after a spell as one of Matthew Boulton's warehouses, was demolished in 1787.
Strangely, the hill on which New Hall stands, part of the Birmingham ridge, is not Newhall Hill. That hill rises up from Summer Row and Sandpits to the ridge on where stands the Jewellery Quarter and part of Hockley. Newhall Hill is now recalled a streetname.
In the early 19th century Newhall Hill was the site of extensive sandpits; the sand was used for building work as well as for moulds in metal foundries. At the foot of the hill was the Whitmore Arm c1810 which left the Birmingham & Fazeley canal at Newhall Street, and it was from here that many tonnes of sand were transported.
William Whitmore also owned a foundry alongside the new arm and was involved in building the Stratford Canal. Presumably he also sent his cast-iron fittings by this route.
Newhall Hill is most famous as the site of very large public meetings called by the Birmingham Political Union to campaign for parliament to pass a Reform Act which would draw more people into the democratic process. The current system of parliamentary democracy was rooted in a semi-feudal society, in time when the majority of people lived in the countryside and few people were literate.
By the 1800s literacy had spread considerably and almost half the population lived in towns and cities which had no parliamentary representation. The political unions demanded household suffrage and secret ballots, salaries for MPs, the abolition of the property qualification for MPs and triennial elections.
The most famous meeting was that of 7th May 1832 which was attended by 200 000 people.
William Dargue 26.03.2009/ 07.04.2009
For 19th-century Ordnance Survey maps of Birmingham go to British History Online.