No 19 Church Hill – Who Lived There?

This article originally appeared in Belbroughton Parish Magazine in December 2012.

19 Church Hill (Waifs House) © D. Roberts

Belbroughton has many attractive buildings of different ages and a variety of different architectural styles. 

It is interesting to reflect on the thousands of inhabitants who have lived in the village over the centuries and to wonder what life was like here in days gone by. The census returns, instigated early in the 19th century, identify properties and name the families living in them – the age, occupation, and birthplace of those listed. In some cases research can shed more light on the occupants and so enable us to build a more detailed picture. Such is the case of 19 CHURCH HILL.

This large house occupies an imposing position facing the north side of the church and is listed as late 18th century, with later alterations. But what do we know about the people who lived there?

The earliest record to date is in an indenture of 1838 recording the sale of the property by Francis Rufford Esq, a local Banker, to Mr Jonathan Lord Hobbes for £600. Jonathan Lord Hobbes was a medical practitioner and on completion of his purchase he established a practice in the house, becoming a much respected member of the community. The 1861 census lists Dr Hobbes, then aged 51, his wife Mary Ann, also 51, and eight offspring: Mary Ann 21, Jonathan Lord 18 (student), Charles 16, Eleanor 14, Robert 12, Thomas 10, William 9, Kate 7, all (‘scholars’). Also living in the house were a governess, a housemaid and a general servant.

In 1836 Dr Hobbes applied for the position of surgeon to the Bromsgrove Union Workhouse which had been set up to conform with the revised Poor Laws of 1834.  It was necessary for the governing body to provide medical care for the inmates. An interesting letter recently discovered by members of the History Society researching the Union, and published in a recent edition of the Parish News, revealed fierce opposition to his application from two fellow medics. This opposition was evidently overruled.  Dr Hobbes was duly appointed and held the position until his death.

The family apparently enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle. An inventory taken after the Doctor’s death and a sale notice advertising the property describe the living accommodation: ‘Entrance Hall-Breakfast, Dining and Drawing rooms, Kitchen – Pantry- Scullery, 7 Bedrooms, with Dressing rooms and Servants’ rooms’.  There were also a Surgery and Waiting Room and ‘extensive underground Wine and Beer cellars’.  Outside boasted : ‘Stabling for two horses – Coach House – etc, a large and productive Garden, planted with choice Fruit Trees now in full bearing’.  Dr Hobbes kept three cows and a horse to pull a phaeton and a gig.

Dr Hobbes died in February 1862. The Bromsgrove Messenger reported his death and paid tribute:

It is with deep regret we have to announce the death of Jonathan L Hobbes Esq MD, which took place on Wednesday last, 19th February. Dr Hobbes who has been surgeon for the Belbroughton district since the formation of the Union in 1836 caught the fever from a pauper patient at Holy Cross, about three weeks since.

His death will be deeply felt not only by the rich and poor of his own parish, but by a large circle of the neighbouring inhabitants, especially the poor to whom he was always kind and considerate. Dr Hobbes leaves a wife and nine children to lament their sad loss.

The house was sold in 1863.  Mrs Hobbes moved to Hall Rd, Handsworth, but retained the adjoining plot with a cottage until 1868. This is where Nos. 11 and 15 Church Hill now stand.

And so another chapter in the house’s history began and one that was to bring complete change!