Aston Hall is one of the last great houses to be built in the spectacular Jacobean style. Built for Sir Thomas Holte, head of a prominent Warwickshire family, and designed by John Thorpe construction began in April 1618. Holte moved into the hall in 1631 and construction was completed in the April of 1635. Located high on a hill near the river Tame, the Holtes lived here for nearly two-hundred years.
With its elaborate ceilings and friezes, magnificnt carved oak staircase and spectacular 136 foot Long Gallery, Aston Hall is one of the most impressive houses in the Midlands. The Hall's fine paintings, textiles, furniture and metalwork reflect the history of the house and the lives of the people who have lived here.
Aston Hall has bore witness to some of the great milestones of British history. Charles I spent the night here during the English Civil War. The house was severely damaged after an attack by Parliamentary troops in 1643; some of the damage is still evident. There is a hole in the staircase where a cannonball went through a window, an open door and into the banister.
Washington Irving, the American author of 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow', was a regular visitor to Aston Hall, writing 'Rip Van Winkle' during his visits and basing his book 'Bracebridge Hall' on the house, taking the name from Abraham Bracebridge, husband of the last member of the Holte family to live there. The house remained in the Holte family until 1817 when it was sold and leased by James Watt Jr, son of the world-famous industrial pioneer James Watt.
The house was purchased in 1858 by a private company (the Aston Hall and Park Company Ltd) for use as a public park and museum. After financial difficulties it was then bought by the Birmingham Corporation in 1864 becoming the first historic country house to pass into municipal ownership. For a few years from 1878 the collections of art and the Museum of Arms were moved to Aston Hall after a fire damaged the municipal Public Library and Birmingham and Midland Institute which shared a building in Paradise Street, until the building of the current Art Gallery in the Council House.
In the 1920s, the Birmingham Corporation were having financial troubles and had to chose between saving Aston Hall and the nearby Perry Hall. Aston Hall was saved and in 1927, The Birmingham Civic Society designed formal gardens which were implemented by the city with a workforce recruited from the unemployed and paid for by government grants. However, the scheme included fountains, terracing and stone urns and a statue of Pan which the Civic Society paid for itself. In 1934 the finished work was presented to the City Parks Committee and unveiled by the Vice President of The Birmingham Civic Society, Sir Gilbert Barling, Bart, CB, CBE.
Aston Hall is now a community museum of the Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery, managed by Birmingham City Council and again open to the public free of charge, following renovation in 2008/9. It boasts a series of period rooms which have furniture, paintings, textiles and metalwork from the collections of the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery.
Birmingham Museums & Art Galleries - http://www.bmag.org.uk/aston-hall
Bracebridge Hall by Washington Irving - http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/14228