A photograph brought to our attention by George Sawyer of Kingswinford has prompted a bit of detective work here at Bugle House. The image, quite faded and most likely dating from the late nineteenth century, measures only about three and a half inches across and is mounted on a stout piece of card, as such things often were in those times.
The photographer, Archer Clarke of Stourbridge, very helpfully left the name and location of the residence clearly emblazoned across the bottom - Ashwood House, Kingswinford, Staffordshire. It looks a fine building indeed, with its three floors and impressive circular section offering views and allowing in light from almost every direction, over on the right hand side. The whole edifice appears to have been painted white, creating a very striking edifice. But where exactly was Ashwood House, we wondered?
County Directories from various dates mention a house of that name and give interesting snippets of information. Kellys of 1900 for instance tells us that it was at that time the home of one James F.G. Pietersen, who sounds as if he may have been of Dutch or South African descent. There is also an illuminating description of the house and grounds which suggests that this would have been one of the most beaufitul spots in the whole of the parish:
Ashwood House, the residence of James F.G. Pietersen esq. is a large mansion close upon the borders of Worcestershire; the gardens and grounds, about 40 acres in extent, are well planted with shrubs and ornamental timber and are extremely picturesque.
But the house wasnt merely Mr Pietersens home, for another entry in the commercial section of the Kingswinford entry reads as follows: Pietersen, James F.G., LRCP. Lond., MRCS Eng., FSS. private asylum, Ashwood House.
This would suggest that the house was probably an asylum at the time of the pictures publication, but it had been built, it seems, as a private residence, and a good deal earlier. Whites Staffordshire Directory of 1834 offers up the following entry: ... a pleasant eminence called Summer Hill, where there are several good modern houses; and at a short distance is Ashwood, an excellent house erected by Lord Dudley, and formerly occupied by Sir Joseph Scott.
It also adds that one Edward Dixon Esq. was resident at Ashwood House in 1834. With the clues offered above, we knew roughly where to look on those old maps which cover the area - all too many of them stop just short of the spot in question, but thankfully we found two which stretch to that neck of the woods. An 1877 Ordnance Survey map shows that there was indeed an Ashwood House (not to be confused with the nearby Ashwoodfield House or Ashwood Lodge) just yards to the north-west of Summer Hill, in a place which is now the site of several residential roads, just off the Swindon Road. Our guess is that Ashwood House would have stood roughly where Thanet Close and Kayne Close are now.
Another map, we reckon from some decades earlier still, shows the house, though most of the name is cut off, and gives some idea of the picturesque acres surrounding it as mentioned in the 1900 directory. There was a large pool in the grounds, and an oval expanse, surrounded by trees, which looks like it would have made a perfect cricket pitch. Perhaps Lord Dudley planned it that way, just in case he ever tired of playing at Himley!
The only - possible - trace of Ashwood House still remaining today is the long, red brick wall which runs along Swindon Road for some distance, which may or may not have once bounded the grounds. Can anyone tell us anything more about Ashwood House, the asylum, and when it was removed from the landscape?