A Sanctuary in the City: Kings Norton
At Kings Norton, just a few miles from
the centre of Birmingham, there is ancient architecture, scenic walks and an
abundance of ever-changing wildlife
Golden leaves line the village green in front of a fine medieval church and a magnificent timberframed house. Where am I? Surely not in Birmingham! Yet Kings Norton is definitely on the south-west edge of Birmingham, just six miles from the city centre.
Kings Norton was originally a village, then small market town in Worcestershire, before becoming part of Birmingham in 1911. It is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Nortune, part of the manor of Bromsgrove. Norton means “north settlement”, as it lies north of the larger settlement of Bromsgrove.
St. Nicolas Church has two 12th-century round-headed windows in the chancel. The tiny Norman chapel was extended when the nave and north aisle were constructed in the late 13th century. A second aisle was added in the following century, followed by a tower complete with battlements and pinnacles, and an octagonal spire, believed to have been built by Henry Ulm in the late 15th century. The church contains two interesting 16th-century tombs belonging to the Grevis and Lyttleton families, also beautiful 19th-century stained glass windows.
Next to the church is the timber-framed house built by a rich wool merchant named Humphrey Rotsey. Dendrochronology has revealed that some timbers in the house date from 1492. Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I, is reputed to have spent a night in the building in 1643 during the English Civil War. While she slept, 30 companies of foot soldiers camped in the surrounding area. Within the churchyard is a smaller but equally fascinating ancient building known as the Old Grammar School. It is one of the oldest school buildings in the country, with oak roof timbers felled between 1434 and 1460. Fletcher marks can be seen inside where yeomen of the village sharpened their arrows. In 1913, during
the Suffragette campaign, the following message was left on a blackboard after the building had been broken into during the night: “Two Suffragettes have entered here, but charmed with the old-world room, have refrained from their design of destruction”.
The Tudor Merchant’s House and Old Grammar School comprise Birmingham’s largest collection of Tudor buildings and were both refurbished in 2004. Together with St. Nicolas Church the buildings form Saint Nicolas Place, which is owned and managed by Kings Norton Parish Church Council. Now a growing tourist attraction, there is a cafe and gift shop and rooms are available for hire for wedding receptions and corporate events.
From the church, a five-minute stroll along the westerly edge of the village green, then continuing to head west, leads to the easterly end of Kings Norton Nature Reserve. It contains two wetland habitats: Merecroft Pool and Wychall Reservoir, and a section of the River Rea and a cycle path. Grey herons, Canada geese, mallard, coots and moorhens can all be seen regularly. Mute swans, goosander, grebe, woodpeckers, kingfishers, foxes and muntjac deer all visit the reserve.
Overwintering teal can be seen on the reservoir from late October to February. Local nature group and registered charity, the Friends of Kings Norton Nature Reserve, organise an annual bat walk, allowing both pipistrelle and Daubenton’s bats to be seen and heard on a bat detector. They also organise a free guided monthly walk around a section of the reserve, usually on the last Saturday of each month. Tuesday Work Outs are held weekly, when an enthusiastic group of volunteers work to improve the ecology of the site.
Kings Norton is a breath of fresh air in a very busy city! Why not visit? It could change the way you see Birmingham for ever!