|History of Muntz Park
Selly Oak, Birmingham
|Muntz Park is in Selly Oak, Birmingham and is situated between Umberslade and Gristhorpe Roads, overlooked by houses on three sides. On the fourth side is Raddlebarn Primary School.
Mr Frederick Ernest Muntz gave 3 acres of land to the district council on 20th May 1905 to be used as a park. Later in 1907 and 1909 the council brought a total of 2 acres of land from this original donor to make the park 5 acres. Before this the area had been farm land.
Mr F E Muntz was born on 14th June 1845. He grew up and later inherited Umberslade Hall in Tanworth in Arden. This is where Umberslade Road got its name from. The Muntz family still live in the area, at Umberslade children's farm.
Following is the information displayed in the park on a historical interpretation panel.
Where did the name ‘Muntz Park’ come from?
The Muntz family was a prominent Birmingham and Warwickshire family. Originally from Lithuania, they moved to Germany and also held land in France. Philippe Frederic Muntz settled in Birmingham after the French Revolution, where he invested in a small commercial business which became Muntz Purden.
The member of the Muntz Family after whom the park is named if Frederick Ernest Muntz, but it is his grandfather, George Frederic, who is more widely known. He invented the yellow metal, Muntz metal, an alloy of copper and zinc which was successfully used to sheathe the wooden hulls of ships, protecting them from worm damage. In 1840 he became one of Birmingham’s first Members of Parliament. He campaigned for the greater safety of ships at sea, and was also responsible for putting up the necessary capital to introduce the perforation of postage stamps.
His son, also George Frederick, (but with a ‘K’) bought Umberslade Hall near Tanworth in Arden, previously rented by his father. He had built, at his own expense, Umberslade Baptist Church, near Hockley Heath, where he is now buried.
Frederick Ernest Muntz succeeded to the Muntz estates in 1898. He was barrister at law from Cambridge, and like his father a JP and Deputy Lieutenant of Warwickshire. He was Managing Director of Horsley Iron Company, most notable for making the majority of the Midlands’ canal bridges. He tried his hand, unsuccessfully, at politics. He embellished the enlarged Umberslade Hall and its grounds and established a breeding stud of Shire horses. He died in November 1922 and was buried in Tanworth in Arden churchyard.
When did it become a park?
The land on which ‘Muntz Park’ lies was once part of Selly Farm which stood at the corner of Warwards Lane and St Stephen’s Road, owned by the Muntz family since the early 19th century but farmed by successive generations of the Worwood family.
However, from the third quarter of the nineteenth century, such areas of farmland, so close to the ever expanding Birmingham were being bought up for new housing. In 1904 approval was given for the construction of two new roads on Mr Muntz’ land, leading off Raddlebarn Road—the future Umberslade and Gristhorpe Roads. (Cherington and Rissington were added after 1911). Housing soon followed the creation of these new roads.
Very soon after, on 20th May 1905 Frederick Ernest Muntz gave three acres of land to the district council to be used as a park. In 1907 and 1909 the council bought a further two acres from him, adjacent to their new school, Raddlebarn School, to make the five acres of park.
The park was used from its earliest days for music, dancing and games. In recognition of its use by local people, the Civic Society in 1923 gave a grant of £300 to re-landscape the park extensively. An amphitheatre of sorts was created with a paved central area for dancing, known and ‘The Dell’, a raised paved platform, provision for erecting a maypole and a further dais for use as a bandstand. Footpaths and rustic seats were added and the whole area was planted with trees and shrubs to create ‘a charming sylvan setting’.
The park has been used over the years for open air concerts and dances. The Bournbrook Entertainment Committee organised dances every Monday and Wednesday evening during the summer. Entrance cost 4d if you wanted to dance and 2d if you preferred to ‘kick your heels and watch coyly from the edge’. It was not unusual for 400 or 500 people to turn up.
Various other events were staged, Sunday night concerts, Police Band, Wards male voice choir, Raddlebarn Men's Choir. It became a focal point in the community. Raddlebarn Lane School used it as an open air theatre.
A large number of adults used to stand round the railings at the top and watch the concerts without paying. So in later years shrubs were planted to obscure the view from the top.
Childhood memories from the mid 1920’s: “The Park Keeper Mr Finch, he was a terror to us lads. He was a keen gardener, he had roses and climbing roses over bowers, geraniums and spring flowers all over the place. Goodness help you if your ball went on a bed!”
“We used to stand and count the bats as they came out of the two beech trees and then we knew that it was time to go home.”
During World War II there was a communal air raid shelter built under the park (near where the Children’s Playground is today). This shelter could accommodate several dozen people.
Why is there a big hollow in the Park?
The hollow is the remains of a marl pit. Marl pits were common features in the 19th century (and earlier). Marl is a clay deposit particularly rich in calcium carbonate, formed, in this area, from glacial drift deposits. These clay sub soils were dug from deep pits by local farmers and added to light soils in a process known as marling. This increased the cohesion of the soils and in the days before chemical fertilisers, manure and marl were the most used means of improving the fertility of the soil.
Over the years the park, although always popular for dog walking, football and other games, deteriorated and the dell became overgrown. In January 2005, as part of the Centenary Celebrations of Raddlebarn School and in recognition of the Park’s own centenary, the Friends of Muntz Park was formed with the aim to improve the Park for a wide range of users and to make it a more attractive, welcoming and safe place for everyone.
Written, research and contributions by: Joanna Randle, Joanne Butler, John Pettinger, James Hyland, The Muntz Family, The Birmingham Civic Society.
Muntz Park Today
The Birmingham Civic Society gave £300 to be spent on re-developing the dell in 1923.
The Society was founded in 1918 and had as one of its founding principles "the public acquisition of land for the provision of open spaces for recreation purposes and also for parks, parkways, squares and gardens".
It bought a number of Birmingham parks and gifted them to the city, as well as paying for and designing new planting schemes and recreation facilities. It purchased Daffodil Park (10 acres) and Kings Norton Playing Fields (25.5 acres) in 1920, followed by the Henburys (part of Highbury Park) in 1923. Subsequent to that a number of parks were designed and paid for by the Society, which included work at Aston Hall, Handsworth Park, Yardley Park, Chamberlain Gardens, Ladywood, Perry Hall Playing Fields and numerous others.
Today open spaces, parks and cemeteries come under the remit of the Planning Committee of the Civic Society, and they are seeking to renew the historical link with Birmingham's rich heritage of park provisions. (Click images to enlarge them)
Just a few roads away from our park is the River Rea and in March 2005 the River Rea Heritage Trail was launched. The River Rea Heritage trail complements the existing cycle route along the River Rea valley. There are a number of information boards and signs pointing out historical sites along the River Rea, for the local community and schools to use.
In April 2006 they had a 'Rea Day' at Hazelwell Recreation Ground with rubber duck races and guided walks.