Mirberry Mews and Birch House
The development of Mirberry Mews took place twenty years ago yet this particular corner of Lenton is one of the least known spots in the whole area. It occupies land between Church Street and Sherwin Road, to the rear of the Albert Ball Memorial Homes and Jasmine Cottage. This anonymity is largely the result of its situation. From Church Street all that can be seen are a few rooftops peeping above the tall brick wall, which serves as a boundary. There is an entrance into the development from Church Street but this is kept locked and is only for residentsí use. The main way in lies across on Sherwin Road but, set back from the road and positioned as it is between two sets of communal garages, can easily be missed. Unless visiting someone there, most people would have little reason to go in. This is rather a shame as inside a veritable garden of delights awaits you.
The developers of the site, Spinrock Ltd, designed their new development as three rows of townhouses set out in a formation that permitted the retention of some of the mature trees from the established garden, inherited when Spinrock bought the site in 1970. Each property was allocated a small portion of this central area and the individual plots have melded into an attractive mosaic of garden designs, as is evident in our photograph. Among the mature trees that Spinrock decided to keep were a large walnut, an acacia and an ancient and rather rare mulberry. Their plans for the site precluded the retention of a second mulberry; nevertheless, the remaining specimen (actually to be found in one of the back gardens) was sufficient to inspire the choice of name for the new development as 'Mirberry' is an old variant of 'Mulberry'.
The site Spinrock had acquired was that of Birch House. This was purchased from the estate of Leonard Mitson who had died in 1968. It was not the house so much as the land that had attracted Spinrock. Birch House had been included on the City's supplementary list as a building worthy of grade II listing but this status had yet to be formally conferred, at the time of Spinrock's planning application. Despite the building's apparent merit the City Council decided in February 1970 to approve Spinrock's plans and the demolition men moved in soon afterwards. One small part of Birch House was, however, retained. This was the stable block, which is now No.5, Mirberry Mews.
William Fyfe writing in 1855 described Birch House as 'a huge quaint old house' while J.T. Godfrey in his History of the Parish and Priory of Lenton (1884) called it 'a large square brick house'. Godfrey further stated it had been built by the late Mr William Surplice. This particular gent died at the age of 60 in 1830; the implication therefore would be that the house was at earliest late eighteenth century, but this doesn't really square with Fyfe's reference to it as an old house in the mid-1850s. Possibly we may have got hold of the wrong Mr William Surplice. Alternatively the mistake might lie with Godfrey. Either way the odds would seem to favour the idea that Birch House was built somewhat earlier in the eighteenth century than the 1790s.
If William Surplice did live at Birch House we only have Godfrey's word for it; neither his will nor the notice of his death in the local papers mention the name or location of his residence. The earliest occupant of Birch House, so far positively identified, is George Bradley, a lace thread manufacturer, who was definitely there in 1838. We also know that he and his wife, Mary, were only renting the property and that five years earlier they were residing at 'The Poplars' a house by the canal bridge. Mr Bradley died in 1854 aged 80. We cannot pinpoint who occupied Birch House immediately after the Bradleys. The 1871 Census gives the occupants as John and Clara Tucker and the town directories show that they were living there from the early 1860s onwards. The Tuckers, however, don't appear to be there at the time of the 1861 census. In fact it is not at all clear which set of residents on 'Birch Lane' was supposed to be living at Birch House. It may possibly have been Joseph Shaw, a lace maker and his wife, Grace. If so then there is little more we can tell you about them; which is certainly not the case with Mr John Tucker.
Richard Grant Tucker had come to Lenton from Middlesex in 1835 and established a starch factory in the Spring Close area. His son, John, undoubtedly began by working in the family business but later moved on to become the Tucker in 'Gill & Tucker', starch manufacturers of Sandiacre. The censuses continued to identify John Tucker as a 'starch manufacturer' until 1881 when he is simply described as a 'gentleman' and both Clara, his wife, and Hannah Tucker, his sister who was now living with them at Birch House as ladies.
Perhaps the Sandiacre concern had been sold for a handsome profit or more likely his wife came into money. Certainly when she died in 1909 Clara Tucker left a personal estate worth over £20,000. With no business worries to concern him John Tucker would have turned his mind to other matters. The one we wish to discuss is snoring.
Someone in Birch House, it seems, was snoring; snoring so loud that it kept others awake. Was it Mr Tucker himself, his wife or one of the other people in the house? We don't know, but we do know that John Tucker came up with a solution to the problem. His answer was the simple device illustrated in our drawing. This was a belt that could be strapped around the head on retiring and which would prevent the wearer opening their mouth while asleep. Mr Tucker must have been pretty satisfied with the success of his anti-snoring device because in 1885 he registered the design with the Patent Office. This fact came to light when Sarah Levitt included a drawing of the device in Victorians Unbuttoned published by Unwin Hyman in 1986. Her book charts the changes in Victorian clothing through an examination of registered designs and Mr Tucker's device is included along with a nose warmer, a galvanic hat and inflatable rubber boots as examples of more eccentric submissions. We have discovered nothing to suggest that Mr Tucker ever put his device into commercial production or even allowed others to do it for him. Registering the design was probably as far as he went. And so he missed the golden opportunity to put Lenton on the world map as 'the home of the anti-snoring device'!
Birch House was to remain the home of John Tucker until his death in 1916 at the age of 89. His unmarried sister, Hannah then stayed there until her own death in 1936 at the age of 97. Birch House had been one of 19 properties put in trust by Albert Ball in 1921 so that the income from them could be used to maintain the Memorial Homes. (*) The question therefore arises as to when Albert Ball purchased Birch House. One suggestion would be that it was following the death of John Tucker in 1916. Alternatively the house might have been part of the Farmer Estate that Albert Ball bought in the 1890s and for some reason he had decided to hang on to it. If so then John Tucker was merely the tenant of Birch House and sister Hannah simply continued the tenancy after her brother's death.
After Miss Tucker the tenants of Birch House were Professor Bennet-Clark and his family. There is much more to be learnt about the Bennet-Clarks in the next article. All that needs to be said here is that they left Birch House in the summer of 1945 only a few months before Albert Ball's own death in March 1946 while on holiday in Bournemouth. It is not entirely clear whether it was before or after Albert Ball's death that Leonard Mitson, the final occupant of Birch House, bought the property. Whichever it was, Mr Mitson and his chocolate factory were to remain part of the Lenton scene for twenty odd years, after which Spinrock and their demolition men appeared and put an end to Birch House. If the property had managed to survive a little longer, given the greater reverence now generally displayed towards our heritage, Birch House might be with us still. Instead all we have are memories and of course this article!
(*) The other eighteen consisted of the set of properties known as Chain Row on Church Street running from Jasmine Cottage up to Midland Avenue plus Knight's Yard, the terrace of properties that lead off from Chain Row up to Birch House itself. With the exception of Jasmine Cottage and the property at the Midland Avenue end they were all declared unfit for human habitation in the 1930s and pulled down by the City Council.