On a fresh and bright autumn day, is there a better way to spend the morning than to begin to explore the hidden gems around Handsworth? Legacy WM is just beginning a new and exciting phase of the Heritage Trail project with help from Historic England and Heritage Lottery Fund. This will involve engaging and training new volunteers, gaining new insights and hearing new stories as we extend our knowledge of the area with 'Enriching the List' events, making Handsworth rich history available to more people through age mapping, and last but not least, developing the outstanding Heritage Trail which celebrates the incredible Handsworth area.
Part of the project is building on our own knowledge of the area, and that's all the excuse that was needed to do a bit of exploring. Stepping out into the wonderful garden at Soho House on a crisp October morning is a reminder of how great it is to be based here in such lovely surroundings. One of the extended new Heritage Tours will focus on Soho, Matthew Boulton and the Lunar Society, and all the tours for the Heritage Trail start from here.
Although very little remains of the extensive Soho Estate that used to surround Matthew Boulton's home, what does remain was carefully planned and planted by Phillada Ballard in the 1990s. The garden is a fabulous and unexpected little oasis just off the busy Soho Road. As well as some wonderful and unexpected planting which produce colour throughout the year, there is also the quirky recreation of Matthew Boulton's Hermitage. This small, circular building was originally built further away from the main house, and it was where Boulton would go to spend some time alone, away from the hustle and bustle of Soho House and Soho Manufactory; an 18th century version of a man cave perhaps? When the Hermitage was recreated in the 1990s, the reduced garden area means that the new version sat much closer to the house than the original, but it is believed to be the only thatched building in Birmingham - unless you know differently?
More recent projects have seen Legacy WM work with a community group to develop an under used space at the rear of the house to develop a Peace Garden, and this area now greets visitors as they enter the gates at Soho.
There are many more hidden gems to explore and research around the area as we begin the project. Let us know your favourite part of Handsworth; why is it special to you, and what stories are connected with it? The new trails will be exploring the more recent heritage of Handsworth, and your voice counts!