Aston Hall

Aston Hall is a municipally owned Jacobean-style mansion in Aston, Birmingham, England. Washington Irving used it as the model for Bracebridge Hall in his stories in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon .

Construction commenced in April 1618 and Sir Thomas Holte moved into the hall in 1631. Construction was completed in April 1635. It was designed by John Thorpe. It is Grade I listed. 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. The house was built for Sir Thomas Holte and remained in the 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 then 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. It was also visited by Washington Irving, who wrote about it as Bracebridge Hall, taking the name from Abraham Bracebridge, husband of the last member of the Holte family to live there. Irving's The Sketch Book stories depicted harmonious warm-hearted English Christmas festivities he experienced while staying in Aston Hall, that had largely been abandoned. An Aston Hall Christmas Eve custom the owners afforded the servants of the house appeared in The Gentleman's Magazine in 1795, which wrote, "the servants have full liberty to drink, dance, sing, and go to bed when they please." 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 choose 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, by William Bloye, 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. As of January 2011, Birmingham City Council are working on the restoration the statue, whose head is missing. They have appealed for old photographs, to assist in its reconstruction .

Current status
Aston Hall is now a community museum 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. Every two years the house hosts a night-time Christmas celebration called "Aston Hall by Candlelight", in which actors help bring the period setting alive with mock 17th-century festivities, and the house is lit up by 500 candles. Visible from the House less than 200 yards to the North is Aston Villa Football club stadium. The easternmost part of the grounds made way for the A38(M) motorway, also known as the Aston Expressway. This opened in 1972 and gave the city centre a direct link with the M6 motorway.


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