Winterbourne House in the Edgbaston suburb of Birmingham is a gem of a house to visit. This family home was built in the early 20th century for John and Margaret Nettlefold in the Arts and Crafts style, bringing together their forward thinking attitudes with quality. John Nettlefold was a housing-reform pioneer in Birmingham involved in slum clearance and providing decent public housing that combined green spaces and low cost. The magnificent gardens at Winterbourne House were initially designed by Margaret Nettlefold and continue to display colour and interest all year round, with woodland walks, lawns and a walled garden.
The dedication on this memorial bench to Margaret Alice (Peggy) Beale, that sits in the grounds of Winterbourne House, tells us that it was presented by the University House Association. University House at Birmingham University was a hall of residence until the early 2000s and The University House Association was the alumni group set up to maintain contact between former students and staff and University House. University House, on Edgbaston Park Road was opened in 1908, built as a home for female students in the School of Art, School of Cookery, as well as for undergraduates and those training to be teachers and for female staff. As demand for accommodation for women grew, Winterbourne House, left to Birmingham University in 1944, was also used.
Peggy Beale was involved in the University House Association and records show she wrote (along with Isobel Jackson) concerning the plans by Birmingham University to develop University House into the Birmingham Business School. The association argued that the historic importance of the building and grounds should be acknowledged. The redevelopment went ahead.
Margaret Alice Beale was born Margaret Crosskey in 1919 to John Henry Crosskey and Evelyn Margaret Crosskey (born Nettlefold and I wonder if there is a ink with John and Margaret Nettlefold of Winterbourne House). She had three siblings and married Charles Beale, from Edgbaston, Birmingham. They had four children and she died at the age of 87 years.
Peggy Beale’s involvement in The University House Association explains why they donated the bench in her memory in 2009. The newsletter shows Isobel Jackson, the President of The University House Association, with the memorial bench to Peggy Beale in the grounds of Winterbourne House.
I didn’t find any clear connection between Peggy Beale and Birmingham University but wonder if this paragraph is a clue, ‘University House, a residence for women students at the University of Birmingham, was founded in 1904. It initially opened as a private house in Hagley Road under the wardenship of Margery Fry [prison reformer] and two other houses were subsequently acquired. However, as demand increased, the Governing Committee decided in 1906 to build a new hall of residence and University House on the University site at Edgbaston opened in 1908. Many leading industrial families and early academics at the University were involved in the establishment of the hall of residence. Mrs Alice Beale, wife of Charles Gabriel Beale, the University’s first Vice-Chancellor, was President and Chairman of the University House Committee from 1904 and she played a major role and is often referred to as “The Mother of the House”.’ Perhaps this is the family that Peggy Beale married into and she followed in the footsteps of ‘The Mother of the House.’
Isobel Jackson died in 2013 and an obituary tells us, ‘Isobel’s principal contribution was made through University House Association. Isobel lived in House during the war years and then joined the Association, of which she was Secretary for many years, becoming President in 1985, a position she held until her death. Isobel was an expert on the history of University House and took meticulous care to ensure that documents relating to the founding of House on Hagley Road in 1904 and the building of the present premises in Edgbaston Park Road in 1908 were carefully preserved and kept in the University archives. Her efforts culminated in the publication of a book covering the entire history of House until its closure as a hall of residence in 2002.’ The work she did to preserve these records ensures that these stories are not forgotten.