Thursday, 18 June 2015

"One of the Most Perfect Little Paradises": Perry Pont House

Perry Pont House in 1909. In 1833 Mr. & Mrs. Osborn held a lawn party in a
tent here "to partake of a handsome cold collation [cold food]" in 
celebration of the consecration of the nearby church to St. John. A 
musical band played and fifty-four rounds of cannon fire were set off.   

In Perry Barr, at the place where the river curves sharply just before it comes upon Perry Bridge (taking traffic over the Aldridge Road), a little island of land is formed, hemmed in by the river on two sides and the road on one. It was here that wine merchant and coal dealer, William Henry Osborn, created "one of the most perfect little paradises which any man could desire", or so it was said by those surveying the new Grand Junction Railway in 1838. On the site stood Perry Pont House (a Georgian six bedroomed villa), a walled garden, several different kinds of trees, gardens, as well as meadows leading down to the, then, meandering river; it was a beautiful spot. Osborn was a keen gardener and achieved green-fingered 'fame' for growing a perfect green rose at Perry Pont, as well as the first to officially record the Elford Pippin apple (apparently, a delicious dessert fruit), and appeared in Regency botanical publications such as The Floral Cabinet.

Considering his love of the garden it seems likely that it was Osborn that turned the grounds of Perry Pont onto a wondrous park of outdoor curiosities, as in 1938 it was described that throughout the grounds were grottoes, statues and other follies, including a miniature church. The church could contain six people, and was complete with font and altar. One folly had an arched entrance and stained glass windows , with oyster shells set into the roof, another had a miniature of Cleopatra's Needle at the entrance and inside a mosaic floor made of horses teeth and animal bones; its stained glass was filled with imagery of unicorns and lions. Some follies had collapsed, but one that had survived was described in detail: 
"only a glimmer of light oozes through air holes in the rock roof. The pillar is coated with pearly coloured oyster shells, interlaced with ribs of polished black stone and coral; on the walls are more oyster shells and pieces of shiny stone. At one side there is a miniature fire-place, its mantel-shelf decorated with pearly shells. And at intervals around the walls are small niches." 
Below is the "entrance to a secret passage". 

Entrance to a secret passage at Perry Pont, 1909.
Entrance to the miniature church, 1938.
Stool found at Perry Pont in 1909, which had the inscription
that it was made from part of the root of the tree which
Charles II sheltered within in 1651 after the Battle of
Worcester. The householders seem to have had a taste
for curiosities. 

By 1938 the river was dirty and muddy; its situation as a beauty spot diminished, and the house was planned to be demolished and replaced by industry. This may have taken several decades, as the house can be seen on maps through and after the war period, but by the 1960s the site was a builders' yard.

NOTES
William Henry Osborn died on 21 December 1862, and his wife, Mary Ann, on 8 May 1869.

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