Thursday 20 March 2014

(116) Alston of Elmdon Hall

Alston of Elmdon Hall
James Alston (d. 1828) came to Birmingham from North Berwick, and took over the chemical manufacturing business of Samuel Garbett when the latter became bankrupt in 1783. He also had interests in buckle-making (for which he took out a patent) and in the helmet and hat industry. His son, another James Alston, and grandson, William Charles Alston (1796-1872) inherited the chemical works in Steelhouse Lane and the latter left a large fortune of £180,000 at his death. In the 1840s he married and bought Elmdon Hall, a few miles outside the city, where he could live the life of a country gentleman while still being close enough to the city to visit the business regularly.

Elmdon passed to his elder son, another William Charles Alston (1842-1917), who lived at the house with his brother, James Fetherston Alston (1844-97). Both men remained unmarried, and when William Charles Alston died in 1917 the estate passed to his eldest sister, Elizabeth Louisa Roberts-West (1846-1929), wife of James Roberts-West (d. 1918) of Alscot Park (Warks). In recognition of her inheritance, Louisa added her maiden name to her married name, and her descendants have been Alston-Roberts-Wests ever since. By 1920, however, Elmdon was beginning to be encroached on by the growing suburbs of Birmingham, and she sold most of the estate, keeping only the Hall and part of the park, which were sold in 1930 by her executors.

Elmdon Hall, Warwickshire

Elmdon Hall, showing the side elevation.
A seven bay square, two-and-a-half storey house built c.1785-95 as the replacement for an earlier manor house of 1547.  It is said to have been begun for Abraham Spooner (d. 1788) and completed for his son Isaac, although the relatively severe neo-classicism and Abraham's great age at the time of his death makes me wonder whether Isaac was not the moving spirit throughout. The architect is not recorded, and although I speculated in an article in 1988 that it could be a late work by the Gloucestershire architect, Anthony Keck, I now think this is improbable, on both stylistic and geographical grounds.  The Spooners came from Birmingham (where Abraham Spooner built Rookery House, Erdington, in 1727) and they are much more likely to have chosen a local designer than Keck, whose practice was largely confined to Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire and south Wales.

Elmdon Hall: entrance front. Image: Matthew Beckett
The entrance front had a large plain pediment, supported by four plain giant pilasters with rather small Ionic capitals resting on the double plat-band above the ground floor, which is thus treated as a formal basement.  As a result the facade succeeds in expressing a temple front with the greatest economy, and while the economy would be typical of Keck, the subtlety of this design is not. The front door has a simple stone canopy supported by a pair of Tuscan columns. The south front has a central curved bow, which gives this aspect of the house a strong resemblance to Keck's Middle Hill at Broadway (Worcs).

As a square of seven bays, Elmdon Hall was a surprisingly large house and included a drawing room, three reception rooms, fifteen bedrooms, four dressing rooms and wardrobe rooms, and a splendid library which looked out over the parkland towards the lake. 
The few illustrations which survive of the interior suggest the strict neo-classicism of the exterior continued inside.  

The convenience of the house to Birmingham was what recommended it to the Spooners in the 18th century, but as the city gradually expanded its proximity became an increasing threat, and had it survived it would now be blighted by the proximity of Birmingham Airport.  Louise Alston-Roberts-West, who inherited the house from her brother in 1917, already lived in a large Warwickshire country house at Alscot Park, and although her husband died in 1918 and she moved out to make room for her son she went not to Elmdon but to Ryde in the Isle of Wight. She sold much of the 2,000 acre estate in 1920 and although she retained the house and immediate parkland until her death, it was sold by her executors to a Mr Waters who felled much of the parkland timber and returned the park to agricultural use. During the Second World War the house was acquired by the local council for use by the Home Guard, but after 1945 it was largely abandoned and left empty. In this period, unless someone moved in quickly and started repairing the damage and performing maintenance the houses soon started to deteriorate. And so it was with Elmdon Hall; the roof leaked following the theft of the lead, water cascaded down the main hall, eventually rotting the staircase which subsequently collapsed. The house became largely the playground of local children who accelerated the decline until it was a shell; the deterioration became so severe that it became prohibitively expensive to restore in the circumstances of the time, and the house was finally demolished in 1956. Today, a car park marks the site, with what remains of the parkland now a public park in which the fine old trees, lakes and estate buildings merely hint at the grand estate it once was. 

Descent: John Butler (fl. 1547)...sold c.1570 to Mayne... sold 1760 to Abraham Spooner (c.1690-1788); to son, Isaac Spooner (1736-1816/7); to son, Abraham Spooner Lillingston (d. 1834); sold 1840 to William Charles Alston (1796-1872); to son, William Charles Alston (1842-1917); to sister, Elizabeth Louise Alston-Roberts-West (1846-1929) who sold the estate; house sold 1930 to Mr. Waters, who sold 1944 to Solihull Urban District Council, which demolished the house in 1956.

Alston family of Elmdon Hall

Alston, William Charles (1796-1872), of Elmdon Hall.  Son of James Alston of Winson Green, Birmingham, chemist and refiner, and his wife Anne Holt of Woodhouses (Shropshire), born 22 March 1796.  Chemist and refiner; Guardian of the Birmingham Assay Office. JP for Warwickshire; High Sheriff of Warwickshire, 1854. He was a friend of Matthew Robinson Boulton of Soho House, Birmingham, and a trustee of his marriage settlement. He married, 8 December 1841, Elizabeth Anne (d. 1891), daughter of Col. Fetherston of Packwood House (Warks), and had issue:

(1) William Charles Alston (1842-1917) (q.v.);
(2) James Fetherston Alston (1844-97) of Elmdon Hall, born 19 October 1844; educated at Rugby and Trinity College, Cambridge (admitted 1864; BA 1868; MA 1871); died 14 May 1897; administration of goods granted 23 July 1897 (estate £15,368)
(3) Elizabeth Louisa Alston (1846-1929) (q.v.);
(4) Frances Emily Alston (1848-1923), baptised 10 December 1848; married, 29 December 1870, Capt. Edmund Charles Cradock-Hartopp and had issue four sons and one daughter; died 1 November 1923; will proved 22 February 1924 (estate £7,867);
(5) Mary Anne Alston (1849-1927) of Newbold Beeches, Leamington (Warks), baptised 5 September 1849; married, 11 September 1890, William Mynors Smythe (d. 1917), solicitor, of Birmingham; died 14 May 1927; will proved 12 August 1927 (estate £68,415);
(6) Georgina Holt Alston (1851-52), baptised 10 December 1851; died in infancy and was buried at Elmdon, 15 February 1852.
He bought Elmdon Hall in 1840.
He died at Buxton (Derbys), 18 August 1872; his will was proved 9 October 1862 (estate under £180,000). His widow died 14 November 1891; her will was proved 1 March 1892 (estate £3,053).

Alston, William Charles (1842-1917), of Elmdon Hall.  Elder son of William Charles Alston (1796-1872) and his wife Elizabeth Anne, daughter of Col. Fetherston of Packwood House (Warks), born 2 November 1842. Educated at Rugby School, Trinity College, Cambridge (admitted 1861; BA 1865; MA 1871) and Inner Temple (admitted 1864). JP and DL for Warwickshire; High Sheriff of Warwickshire, 1884. He was unmarried and without issue.
He inherited Elmdon Hall from his father in 1872.  At his death, the estate passed to his elder sister, Louisa.
He died 27 June 1917 and his will was proved 23 October 1917 (estate £82,874).

Alston-Roberts-West (née Alston), Elizabeth Louisa (1846-1929), of Elmdon Hall.  Eldest daughter of William Charles Alston (1796-1872) and his wife Elizabeth Anne, daughter of Col. Fetherston of Packwood House (Warks), born 1846. She married, 18 November 1869, James Roberts-West (d. 1918) of Alscot Park (Warks) and had issue:
(1) James Beaumont Alston-Roberts-West (1871-1942); married, 20 November 1894, Annette Guilford (1863-1912); died without issue, 14 February 1942; administration granted 24 October 1942 (estate £30,299);
(2) Capt. Henry Charles John Alston-Roberts-West (1873-1931); Capt. in the Army; married, December 1899, Olive Molineux Montgomerie and had issue two sons and one daughter; died 1 November 1931; will proved 22 March 1931 (estate £2,676);
(3) Capt. Reginald Montague Alston-Roberts-West (1875-1944), born 14 June 1875; Captain in Royal Navy; married, 25 November 1913, Mildred Evelyn Nora Cradock-Hartopp and had issue one son and two daughters; died, 14 December 1944; will proved 5 March 1945 (estate £4,682);
(4) Algernon Charles Philip Alston-Roberts-West (1878-1933), baptised 8 May 1878; married, 1919, Eveline Church (d. 1922), daughter of George Nicholas Marcy of Chelmarsh Hall (Shropshire); died without issue, 20 April 1933; will proved 23 August 1933 (estate £2,429).
She inherited Elmdon Hall from her brother in 1917, but sold much of the estate in 1920. The Hall was sold after her death.
She died 8 June 1929. Her will was proved 11 October and 14 November 1929 (estate £111,731)


Burke's Landed Gentry, 1898, i, p. 18; Fox-Davies, Armorial Families, 1929, p. 34; 

Location of archives

No significant archive is known to survive. The papers of the Alston-Roberts-West family do not appear to contain any relevant material.

Coat of arms

Azure, ten estoiles, four, three, two and one or, on a chief argent, a crescent reversed gules between two boars' heads erased sable.


  1. I am a relation and have photographs taken in 1888 of Elmdon Hall.

    G.H. Alston-Roberts-West

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I should be most interested to see the photographs you mention, if you are willing to share them. If you use the contact form in the right-hand sidebar to send me a quick message I will have your email address and will send you mine so you can send me copies of the images. Sorry this is a bit convoluted but I don't want to put my email address into the public domain! Nick Kingsley

    3. Dear Nicky Kingsley
      I was interested in your information about Elmdom as my great grandmother lived there, she was Louisa.
      Thanks for giving the family tree there are several facts that I did not know.
      My grandfather was Reginald Alston- Roberts West - hence the connection.
      I also have some old photos like my brother taken by her of Elmdon.
      Are there interiors photos of the house which I do not have?
      I have got your book which also mentiondd some of the other family houses that they used to own for example Christopher Wren’s house Wroxall Abbey from whom we are also descended.
      Have you got any information about Oliver Cromwell and yes you guessed - it we are descended!
      I had a French grandmother but cannot find information about her any recommendations to how I can search.
      She was born in Nates the family name was Chevalier.
      I would be interested in your comments
      Mr P Alston- Roberts West

    4. Dear Mr Alston-Roberts-West,
      There are several questions here and it is difficult to answer some of them quickly. I should be very interested to see the photographs of Elmdon which you and your brother have, so perhaps you could contact me again using the contact form in the side bar so that I can reply privately and send you my email address. The only interior picture of the house I know of is held by Historic England in the archive at Swindon but can be seen online here:|55|58|59. It is possible that Solihull Library has others.

      I am not sure which of my books you are referring to, but I have not yet researched the Chevalier or Cromwell families (or indeed the Wests!) as I am working alphabetically: they are all treats in store.

      Nick Kingsley

  2. Hi There!
    Sorry for the delay I have been busy going into the attic looking through old documents and this is what I have found so far.
    There is more and some letters.
    I have the album of more photos when I can locate them I will scan them.
    Regards Phillip

    1. I am afraid you can't attach images or documents to comments. If you send me a message using the contact form in the side bar to the right I'll reply with my email address. Sorry this is convoluted. Nick Kingsley

    2. after reading your comments to Nick kingsley i wonder if you could help me out with a project. i was born within the parish of elmdon and spent my early years playing in the grounds of elmdon hall, now elmdon park. i have a keen interest in the history of the elmdon estate,in particular the pump and its housing which was situated in the wooded area below the hall known as the engine grove. i have several news paper articles referring to the pump dating from 1910 thru to late 1960s.It has been describe as a wonderous machine close to perpetual motion as can be. also as a boultod and watt beam engine design,in a news paper cutting it states it was designed by a lady of the hall and made by the local blacksmith, In yet a further cutting it states as well as pumping water it also turned an early turbine which charged up the leyden jars in the basement of the hall which in turn supplied the electricity for an early form of lighting in the hall. i myself remember seeing a ramjet pump in the engine grove in the late 50s early 60s. having studied the remains of the pump house, it appears to have several phases to it and i wonder if it was altered as each type of pump was fitted, iam hoping to get a local archaeology group to do a proper investigation in to the site once the pandemic has abated but would be grateful for any info you might have in your family paper work regarding the pump and pump house. I know a plumber from birmingham came to see the pump in 1910 i assume to do some work on it, ihope you might have some work schedule or payment invoices still in your family archives

      J T ADAMS

  3. during your research into the alston family of elmdon warks did you come across any mention of a ingenious machine located in the grounds for pumping water and charging leyden jars at the same time. there are several newspaper cutting 1910 thru to late 1960s that mention this machine. i have located the pump house on the estate but the subterranean part of the pump house has been back filled hopefully burying the machine

    1. I am afraid I did not. Phillip Alston-Roberts-West (see comments above) might perhaps know more.

    2. do you have an e/mail address for mr west

    3. I'm afraid not. But if you reply to his comment he should get a notification.


      J T ADAMS

  4. Hello I’m researching Barbara Wilberforce nee Spooner and wonder if you are able to provide with any information or photographs relating Elmdon Hall or to Elmdon church please?

    1. A Google search will provide quite a lot of historic images of both the house and the church, as well as modern images of the church.


Please leave a comment if you have any additional information or corrections to offer, or if you are able to help with additional images of the people or buildings in this post.