English Heritage has granted Birmingham Conservation Trust’s application for £14,000 to fund an architect’s appraisal of Bells Farm in Druids Heath. The appraisal, which will be match-funded by the City Council, will help to assess the state of the mid 17th-century farmhouse, and establish a long-term restoration and maintenance plan for the building.
The timber-framed farmhouse, the home of The Spearhead Trust community organisation, is Grade II*-listed, is in a state of chronic disrepair. It has been at least 30 years since any significant works have been carried out – and it is still suffering the effects of fire damage from a blaze in the 1980s. Poorly repaired windows are letting in water, there are holes in the roof and rising damp in some areas.
Birmingham City Council has set aside £300,000, some of which will pay for repairs to the roofs and windows at the front. But the Trust is particularly concerned about the rear wing, where scaffolding needs replacing and timbers, which have been left exposed to the elements, have begun to seriously deteriorate. If this area of the house is not repaired within two years the timbers will become unusable.
The architect’s appraisal will make it possible to apply to English Heritage to match Birmingham City Council’s £300,000 funding. This would enable the Trust to carry out a full restoration of the house.
Scaffolding supporting the fire-damaged timber frame
History Bell’s Farm
According to research carried out by The Spearhead Trust, a building matching the description of Bells Farm is mentioned as far back as the Doomsday Book.
It is thought to have derived its name from Hugh De Belne, who was granted land in the area by Edward I ‘for services as an excellent archer’ in or around the year 1300.
Records show that the Bells estate was paying taxes throughout the Tudor period and the oldest timbers in the house date from the period of the English Civil War. In 1666 it was recorded as having seven hearths, indicating its significant size – as most farmhouses at that time would have only had one or two.
The building was in use as a farmhouse until 1976, but was then left empty and fell prey to vandalism. In 1978 more than 1,000 local residents signed a petition to save the Bell’s Farm from demolition and the Bells Farm Community Association was formed to use the building.
In 2008 the Association was merged with the Spearhead Trust. The new charity, The Spearhead Trust at Bells Farmhouse, then entered into an agreement with Birmingham City Council to manage Bells Farm. A range of different community activities – including sports, art and crafts, playgroups, gardening and bible groups – now use the house and grounds.