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History of Himley Hall

Himley Hall was a moated manor house, which stood next to the medieval church and village. For over four centuries it served as a home to the Lords of Dudley and their knights. Occupants during this period included Dud Dudley, whose seventeenth century experiments in smelting iron ore with coal were carried out nearby. In 1645, King Charles I encamped in the grounds on his way to defeat at the Battle of Naseby during the English Civil War.

During the seventeenth century the Ward family inherited the title Lords of Dudley through the marriage of Humble Ward to the heiress to the Dudley estates, Frances Sutton, in 1628. Humble Ward was the son of the jeweller and goldsmith to the court of King Charles I. Following damage to Dudley Castle during the Civil War, Himley Hall became the principal family home.


In 1740, John Ward became the 6th Lord Ward and inherited the Himley Estates. At the same time he was elected as an MP and his new high status position called for a more impressive home. The old manor house was demolished and a replacement built in the classical Palladian style. On its completion it was immediately extended and additional wings were added.


Changing the landscape

A medieval Lord of the Manor expected his people to live and work nearby, but by the eighteenth century the aristocracy preferred a wide area of parkland around their stately homes. Himley village was relocated, completed when the church was re-erected on its present site in 1764.


In 1774 John Ward died and was succeeded by his son John. He brought in Lancelot 'Capability' Brown to re-design the parkland. This included the creation of the great lake, a new carriage approach to the Hall from the Dudley Road, and the planting of scattered clumps of trees throughout the estate. Archaeological evidence suggests that Henry Holland, Capability's son-in-law and an accomplished architect, also came to Himley and made further additions and alterations to the house at this time.


The Poor Man's Friend

John died without an heir in 1788, and so his title passed on to his brother, William Ward, who became 3rd Viscount. Some said he had a likeness for 'port and fiddling', but he was known locally as the 'Poor man's friend' as he supported several local charities. A great music lover, he installed an organ at Himley by John Avery, a skilled organ builder who had worked on the organs at Westminster Abbey and Winchester Cathedral. He was also a patron of the Birmingham Music Festival.

More Changes

In 1823 John William Ward became 4th Viscount Dudley and Ward. A skilful politician, and later Foreign Secretary, he was eventually created 1st Earl of Dudley. To reflect his growing status and wealth he brought in the famous London architect William Atkinson, and the Hall we see today is mainly the result of his work. Atkinson was renowned for a special cement rendering, 'Atkinson's cement', with which he covered the external walls of the Hall. Already known for his eccentricity, John's mental state deteriorated. He died in 1833 in a sanitarium near London without an heir. His land then passed to another branch of the family, and the title 'Earl' became extinct.


 In 1860, the title 'Earl of Dudley' was recreated and given to the eleventh Lord Ward, who by 1838, had purchased Witley Court in Worcestershire, which became the principal family home. Himley became the home of Lord Ward's mother, Dowager Lady Ward, and his sister the Hon. Rachel Ward.


Royal Himley

In 1920, Witley Court was sold. The second Earl had no desire to live in Himley himself so he transferred control to his son, Viscount Ednam, who succeeded his father as Earl of Dudley in 1932. In 1919 the Viscount married the wealthy heiress Lady Rosemary Leveson-Gower and Himley Hall once again became the ancestral home. Viscount Ednam was a close friend of the royal family, in particular the Prince of Wales.


Himley became a regular weekend retreat for royal visitors. During this period the Hall was brought up to contemporary standards, with the addition of a terrace around the Hall, a tennis court and a nine-hole golf course. Modern amenities were introduced to the Hall including plumbing, central heating, a cinema and a swimming pool. It was now an up-to-date, luxurious home, so fashionable in fact that in 1934 the Duke and Duchess of Kent spent the first two weeks of their honeymoon at Himley.


The newspapers of the day covered the event fully. Further amenities were added for the royal visit, with the Earl adapting the cinema to take 'talkies', along with extensive redecorating which included a Chinese room, with lacquered furniture and hand-painted Chinese wallpaper, which cost £400. The Royals also made use of the indoor swimming pool, which was equipped with a water chute and cocktail bar!


During the Second World War the Earl removed most of the family belongings from the South wing, which was handed over to be used as a Red Cross hospital.


After the war the estate was sold to the National Coal Board for £45,000 for use as a regional headquarters. It was during this conversion of the Hall that a fire broke out in, and gutted, the South wing. This part of the house was rebuilt but, unfortunately, not according to its former appearance.

Public Property

The decline in the coal mining industry in the area led to the Hall being once more put on the market. In 1966 it was purchased jointly by Dudley and Wolverhampton District Councils. The park was opened as a public leisure area. In 1988 Dudley bought Wolverhampton's share, gaining outright ownership.


Present & Future

In 1992 Dudley Council began work on a phased program of restoration through financial support from the European Regional Development Fund. Eight rooms within the historic core of the Hall were restored to their former glory.


Himley Hall & Park then returned to its rightful place as a major venue for the Borough of Dudley and its potential as a multi-use centre is emerging. In 2008 the refurbishment of the ground floor of the North Wing of the Hall was completed and the rooms which once housed the Earl of Dudley's swimming pool and cinema have been transformed into an elegant Art-Deco style banqueting suite and lounge bar.


Exhibitions Showcase


Pots, paintings and costumes are just a few of the items which are regularly part of Himley Hall's season of exhibitions. Throughout the spring and summer months Himley Hall is open to the public and visitors may not only view the refurbished rooms but also enjoy a wide range of high quality arts and crafts exhibitions.


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