The Hinckes Family

The Wood House, built between 1833 and 1836, appears to have occupied part of the building plot of the earlier house, which might suggest that some of the older structure was incorporated into the newer one, most likely the cellars only but this is not evident from available plans. The age and appearance of the earlier house are not known but its outline and some garden detail can be seen on the Tettenhall Wood Common enclosure survey of 1809 (see below).

Site Plan. The area of the rectangle is approximately 90 acres.

It was this earlier house that was purchased by Peter Titchbourne Hinckes, at some time before his death in1781 (he also owned Bushbury Hall and was a member of the well-known Wolverhampton family of that name). On his death he bequeathed the house and land to his nephew Peter Tichbourne Hinckes 1753-1822 who in turn left it to his nephew and namesake Peter Tichbourne Hinckes son of the Rev’d. Josiah Hinckes

Tragically his nephew died only eight days after his uncle and followed him into the same grave at Bushbury church: the estate then automatically passed to the nephew’s father Josiah Hinckes, brother of the legator. It was at this point it must have become evident that the house would eventually pass to the older of Josiah’s two daughters, Theodosia Hinckes. Hereto Theodosia, a spinster, would have expected to lead a very quiet life, probably caring for her parents in their old age and eventually retiring to a small property, possibly in Surrey where her father had his parish: but now her prospects were considerably enhanced and she obviously intended to make the most of them.

Following her father’s death in 1830 and subsequently her mother’s in 1832, Theodosia began to realise the plans that she must have been formulating prior to their deaths, and she may have been responsible for some of the land acquisitions mentioned above. It begins to become evident that Theodosia was a cultured lady with some artistic talent; informed architectural appreciation; considerable determination and obviously substantial funds. First she demolished the old house and then with the additional land, assembled her new estate.

Entrance Front: photograph: early 20th.Century?

Her proposals give the impression that she intended to create a small model, self-sufficient country estate on the edge of Tettenhall village complete with the usual country estate components, including a small home farm; walled gardens; greenhouses; estate lodge; tree belts; rides etc. It is difficult for us at this distance in time from the event, to realise how innovatory this would have been in the Tettenhall area.

Theodosia was also a moderately accomplished amateur water colourist who, with her sister Rebecca, ten years her junior, spent considerable time painting watercolours of local churches that are now in the Lichfield Cathedral Library. These confirm her interest in and appreciation of mediaeval Gothic architecture and in turn the Gothic Revival style. Gothic Revival of course was not a new style, having first appeared about eighty years before Theodosia thought about building her house, but it had only recently undergone a significant renaissance and rationalisation as a result of the work of the architect Thomas Rickman. Rickman had unlocked the secrets of the development of mediaeval Gothic architecture and his subsequent book, ‘An Attempt To Discriminate The Styles Of Architecture In England From The Conquest To The Reformation’ published in 1817, proved to be a very popular publication and became the ‘Architect’s Bible’ for the rest of the nineteenth century, going through seven editions.

Any architect not owning a copy of Rickman’s book, ran the risk of his buildings looking untutored in the eyes of informed architectural practitioners and critics. It was also popular with the educated public so it is quite possible that Theodosia owned a copy. When she decided to build her new house it would have been natural for her to opt for Gothic Revival, rather than the also recently introduced ‘Italianate’ and ‘Greek Revival’ Styles used by Colonel Thorneycroft twenty years later when building his house, Tettenhall Towers, on the other side of Wood Road. She wanted the best architect available, who would work in this new refined gothic and make it as authentic as possible, so it is no surprise that she approached Thomas Rickman himself - she was not going to use any second best practitioner. By this time Rickman had one of the busiest practices in the country and had moved his main office from Liverpool to Birmingham, so he was ideally placed to act for her. She began talking to him in 1832, the year of her mother’s death and commenced building the following year.

Rear and side elevations: early 20th.Century photograph.

Having identified and named four consecutive style developments within the historical progress of Gothic architecture, Rickman generally favoured his third one – ‘English Decorated: 1250-1400’ - that he used for most of his Gothic Revival buildings: so it would have been consistent for him to use this style for Theodosia’s new house. Not only a new style but an asymmetrical design to boot: ‘symmetry’ had held sway for the previous 350 years but ‘asymmetry’, probably seen as somewhat quirky, had slowly become acceptable as being suitable for the new gothic fashion, following its introduction in the 1750’s. Without doubt Theodosia was going to build a showpiece unlike anything else that had been erected in the immediate West Midlands area up to that date. Her house would be the first of the range of large new houses that would eventually define Tettenhall as the area of choice for the wealthiest industrialists in the region; not that Theodosia would have wished to be known as an industrialist: the 1851 census return describes her as a ‘Landed Proprietor’. Theodosia’s relatives had been resident in Tettenhall for some years before the later ‘new comers’ began to arrive on this elevated sandstone escarpment to avoid the smoke their factories were creating in and around Wolverhampton, to the east.

The new house was built between 1833 -36 and about this time Thomas Rickman was also involved in many other projects including the New Court of St. John’s College, Cambridge with its famous ‘Bridge of Sighs’ (whose window tracery resembled some of that at Tettenhall); repairs to Canterbury; Blackburn and Worcester Cathedrals and numerous churches and houses from the south of England up to Scotland. He had tremendous capacity for work, including travelling widely to supervise the work on site, but he also relied quite heavily on his partner Henry Hutchinson. Hutchinson caught tuberculosis and died in November 1831 placing additional strain on Rickman: consequently after a few years his robust health also began to fade. Matters came to a head whilst he was building Tettenhall Wood House and he began to suffer several seizures and falls during his travels, which led to problems when the cost of the house escalated well beyond its budget price. Up to this point Rickman had earned a reputation for keeping his buildings well within budget, aided by his early financial expertise. Theodosia blamed him for the cost overrun and refused to pay him, even taking a legal option on his home in Birmingham, which he was, forced to sell to meet his financial obligations, when he retired through ill health in 1838. He died three years later in 1841: a sad end for a man who had done so much for the quality of early 19th.century architecture and for the enlightenment of his architectural colleagues.

Thomas Rickman’s diaries in the RIBA Library provide some tantalising entries relating to Tettenhall Wood House. On the 24th.January 1833 he ‘sent off the estimate of cost to Miss Hinckes which I fear will frighten her’. On the 20th.February he meets Theodosia hoping to finalise the plans. On the 23rd.February he mentions that he has made many designs for Miss Hinckes and on the 4th.March he does more sketches for her: she appears to be making many alterations to the plans, but on the 29th.March she decides not to alter the drawings again. It is notable that at many of their meetings Rebecca Hinckes and her husband are also present.

Rickman refers to visiting a brickyard in Wolverhampton on 2nd.April 1833 but the bricks for the house may have been fired on site, a quite common procedure at the time if suitable clay deposits were present (see Vestiges of the Estate).

Ground Floor Plan.

The stonework with which the whole building was faced was something of a mystery: the external walls used a hard fine grained sandstone from an unknown source, but the carved stonework for the window and door frames and other details, used a fine grained oolitic limestone that would be easier to carve than the sandstone. It is most likely that it came from the quarries at Bath and would have been conveyed by water, the only practical method until the advent of the railways: in this instance it would almost certainly have been via the Avon and Severn rivers and then the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal to Newbridge, Tettenhall. Carrying building stone for long distances by water was an ancient and tested practice but it is likely the stone was carved near the quarry at Bath. On the 14th May 1833 Rickman records ‘some good stone is come’ but he doesn’t say from where. It is recorded that he also used Bath stone for one of his houses in Ireland.

The diaries also refer to the possible re-use of materials from the house that was being demolished, mainly timber. On the 2nd January 1834 he records making a greenhouse design for Tettenhall. Unfortunately the diaries stop in April 1834 when Rickman has a catastrophic attack of liver disease so we have virtually nothing written about the later construction of the house or the nature of the problems that arose.

Besides the house itself Theodosia had two more architectural ‘treats’ to beguile us. The first was her lodge in Wood Road and the second was her grand staircase window.

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