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Archive: Moseley's own ministry of education; Water and the war both feature in the past of Moseley School, now celebrating its 80th birthday.

Byline: Chris Upton

The series called Restoration on BBC2 has been cataloguing Britain's crumbling architectural treasures and giving you, the viewer, the chance to vote for the renovation of one of them, and -in most cases -its conversion to a new use.

What's going on here is, of course, not new. Ever since Henry VIII began the process of converting monasteries to up-market residential use we've been putting new wine into old bottles in such a fashion. There's a particularly good example along the Wake Green Road in Moseley.

Moseley School is currently celebrating its 80th anniversary, and some surprising old boys and girls such as Anton Lesser, Bev Bevan and Jasper Carrott have emerged from the woodwork to help.

The school itself is the product of some educational rebottling: from Board School in 1900 to Grammar and Secondary Modern schools in the 1950s and then to a single entity in 1974. But the story of this striking Moseley building is a longer and more unusual one than that.

The tale begins with a Birmingham builder called Charles Glover, who in 1803 married a girl from Leicestershire called Sarah Mansfield.

When Sarah moved to Spring Hill to live with her new husband she brought not only a suitcase, she brought her family too. To Spring Hill came a sister (Elizabeth), a brother (George) and the deeds to considerable tracts of land in the East Midlands. Charles Glover had married into property, not an unusual move by a Birmingham businessman. But wealth creation came a long way down this family's list of priorities, a list that was topped by God. The Glovers and the Mansfields were Congregationalists, with the same commitment toreligion, charity and social improvement that drove forward the Birmingham Quakers and the Unitarians.

By the 1820s Elizabeth and Sarah had founded almshouses in Steelhouse Lane and George had built a chapel in the same street.

That was for starters. Towards the end of his life George Mansfield embarked on a much bigger project: to found a theological college for the training of the next generation of nonconformist ministers. It was something that the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, heavily Anglican in their persuasion, were omitting to do.

The family home at Spring Hill was first made over to this purpose, but the intention was clearly to create a much more impressive and capacious institution than that.

During the 1850s over pounds 20,000 was raised by donation (including large sums from the Mansfield sisters themselves) to buy a piece of land in Moseley, and to commission a structure that reflected the high aims of the college.

Stone came from Caen in Normandy and glass from Smethwick, creating a building which to all the world looked like an Oxbridge college that had lost its sense of direction. Only the name -Spring Hill Theological College -reflected the place's humbler origins.

Spring Hill College remained in Moseley for 47 years, during which it propelled well over 100 students through an arduous four or five year course and out into the ministry in places as far apart as India, Canada and Australia.

But by the 1880s the religious atmosphere in the universities had changed markedly and -under the influence of Robert Dale -the college was persuaded to up-sticks to Oxford, where it was recreated as Mansfield College in honour of the original founders. It was not quite as grand as the original, but a bit closer to the academic action.

But what was to happen to the building in Wake Green Road? There are, after all, a limited number of alternative uses for a theological college.

It would not make a good foundry or gas works, much less a music hall or public house. In 1892, six years after the theologians moved out, it was bought by one William Ross, and faced a more radical conversion than any it had been used to in its previous life.

Spring Hill College was miraculously born again as the Pine Dell Hydropathic Establishment, and its grounds became the Moseley Botanical Gardens. This looked like a shrewd move by Mr Ross. The Victorians (and their predecessors) had fallen in love with water in a big way, and believed it could cure just about everything as long as it was wet enough.

Pine Dell offered the full range of watery cures, from damp to soaking. There were Harrogate Sulphur Baths, Droitwich Brine Baths, Turkish and Russian Baths, Electric Baths (take care with this one) and Lamp Baths.

And if all this was not enough, customers could experience hot and cold dripping sheets, carbolic acid fomentation and a vigorous rubbing with chilli paste. It was a regime even more exacting than New Testament Greek.

Out in the garden things were more relaxed. An avenue of trees ran down to greenhouses and flower beds, far enough from Pine Dell not to hear the screams of those in the electric baths. One might find tennis courts down there too, as well as an orchestra, and on occasions, garden parties, puppet shows and a cinematograph.

But sadly for the enterprising William Ross, Pine Dell was not a success. The fad for water cures was draining away, and the arrival of free parks rather pulled the rug from under those that charged.

By 1900 the whole complex had gone down the plug-hole, leaving Mr Ross and his family to live on alone in a building that was far too grand for them. The Great War was to change all that. In August 1914 Spring Hill was commandeered as barracks for the 16th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, as they prepared to go to France.

It was not particularly comfortable, but decidedly more so than what awaited them over the Channel. Once the war was over the building went though yet another change of ownership, this time being set up as a teacher training college for disabled ex-servicemen.

Only in 1923 was the sequence of transformations complete, when the building re-opened as Moseley Secondary School.

The result of all this was that Moseley inherited one of the earliest state-owned secondary schools in the city, and certainly the one with the best grounds.


Spring Hill College, so called because it had been originally founded in a road of that name near Hockley
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 20, 2003
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