IN May of this year the 'Friends of Haden Hill Estate' successfully reached an anniversary milestone celebrating 21 years, a tremendous achievement for the Borough of Sandwell's very first 'Friends' group, and joining in the celebrations is Jackie Kendall who has provided us with a 'Friends' potted history.
"It was in September 1989 that Haden Hill House opened its doors to the public once again, the first time for many years. A great many were eager to see the interior of this once neglected building, and they were not at all disappointed on the open day.
"On that historic day the House was packed and the skill and high standard of workmanship employed in the restoration was roundly applauded. Sandwell Council were delighted with the response, yet it wasn't until May the following year (1990) that the building was officially declared open. Since then the House has been host to a variety of events, ensuring its continuation as a popular attraction.
"However, it was the talks about the history of the Haden family that had proved of equal if not more interest. They were hugely popular and were presented by Meryl Cockin who, together with her mother, had formed the Haden Hall Preservation Society which was so instrumental in saving Haden Hall from demolition. These history talks were fully booked almost as soon as they were announced, being both informative and educational, and delivered with great flair and panache.
"It wasn't long before a core of people began to turn up at every meeting enthralled by these fascinating stories, and inevitably these strangers with a common interest became friends. Under the aegis of Meryl and the House management the group began to organise a number of fund-raising events, and slowly but surely the idea of a 'Friends' group began to materialise. A public meeting, described as 'An exciting venture for Sandwell', took place in January 1993 at the leisure centre in Old Hill to gauge the level of interest, and unsurprisingly about 80 people attended.
"Lord Peter Archer chaired the meeting and talks were given by representatives from Sandwell Council, including the Works Department Training Scheme and Manpower Services, who had been instrumental in ensuring the exceptional high standard of work that had taken place at the house.
"A video was shown, with background music from the 'Elizabethan Serenade' adding an evocative atmosphere to proceedings, with images of the extensive fire damage of the late 1970s followed by those of the fully restored Haden Hill House making the restoration work look even more remarkable.
"A discussion then took place on how the estate could be best used for education, social and cultural purposes, and it was immediately clear that heritage was close to the hearts of many local people who were willing to play a role in the future preservation and development of the Haden Hill Estate. It was agreed a 'Friends' group should be created, the first in Sandwell, specifically supporting and promoting Haden Hill House, Haden Hall and Corngreaves Hall. Needless to say many agreed to join the 'Friends' group on the night. (Corngreaves Hall is no longer included in the 'Friends' itinerary and has now been converted for residential use).
"As the 'Friends' group is now celebrating 21 years, it perhaps goes without saying that the project was initially well thought out and has been continually well supported. Membership has grown and the popularity of the House has gone from strength to strength. With the aide of a £2.1 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the park grounds have been restored and the completion of the restoration of Haden Hall has further raised the profile of this beautiful spot, atop Haden Hill.
"While the 'Friends' now have their own web-site, their objective has never wavered from supporting the Haden Hill Estate in every way. As a 'Friend' I would like to think that more landmark celebrations will be held in the future, and support for these wonderful buildings, located in an idyllic park so often called the jewel in the Sandwell crown, will carry on and their continued preservation will benefit generations to come."