A Sanc­tu­ary in the City: Kings Nor­ton

This England - - Contents - Gil­lian Mor­rell

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!

Above: St. Ni­co­las Place. Left: Kings Nor­ton Green with views of St. Ni­co­las Church and St. Ni­co­las Place. Be­low Left: St. Ni­co­las Church and stat­ues on the fa­cade.

Two views of the Old Gram­mar School. Fur­ther In­for­ma­tion Friends of Kings Nor­ton Na­ture Re­serve: www.fknnr.org.uk Saint Ni­co­las Place, 81 The Green, Kings Nor­ton, Birm­ing­ham B38 8RU. Tel: 0121 458 1223. www.saint­ni­co­las­place.co.uk Right: Grey heron at Mer

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