Eastbourne House in Acocks Green is under threat. Those who live in Acocks Green will probably know something about Eastbourne House. For those who do not, the building is somewhat tucked away and probably unknown … unless they happened to go to school there.
What is Eastbourne House?
Eastbourne House (111 Yardley Road, Acocks Green, next to Acocks Green Junior School) began life as Fern Bank: one of four very grand Victorian houses built on Yardley Road in the late 1850s. The other three houses were demolished in the 1950s and 1960s and the Junior School, Beeches Avenue and Langley Avenue now stand on the spaces. (One of the other houses was called The Beeches). Eastbourne House is locally listed Grade B.
We know from Acocks Green History Society that an early occupant was a successful New Street draper: see their Pioneers of Acocks Green page:
John Barker draper. He lived at Fern Bank, which became Eastbourne House School on Yardley Road after the War, and is still standing. He is described as a Mourning Draper. His business was Bach and Barker. Mourning drapers and undertakers, of 42 New Street.
This grand, ten bed-roomed house speaks to the glorious past of Acocks Green when encouraged by the new Great Western Railway line, many prosperous Victorian men moved out here from the busy City centre, and brought their families into what was then a country idyll. Times change. Eastbourne House has been a school since 1948. With a short gap from 2008-2013 it is a school again now. It retains many of its original features, including some of strong character. The layout still gives some idea of how a wealthy and successful Victorian tradesman’s family would have lived, complete with coach house attics and cellar.
The building is currently let on a lease to the locally very well-liked and popular Kimichi School which has played an enthusiastic part in the life of the local community
Yes, this is a fee-paying school but they emphasise that fees are kept as low as possible (This is not a Michael Gove scheme ‘free school’, and no state grants are received.) The main aim has been to teach music, as well as a general syllabus, to as many children, of as many different levels of ability and talent as possible. The local community has frequently been invited into the building for free concerts, and to take part in singing and playing. Free entertainment has also been provided at many local venues. The building seems to continue well, and without too much modification, in its now long-established mode as a small school with plenty of small classrooms, and some twentieth-century adaptations like school cloakrooms and sets of WCs.
What is the Problem?
Kimichi have been leasing the building for the past two years. They cannot afford to buy it. Now they must hand it back, unless they can raise £500,000 by 3rd November 2015. This is a phenomenal sum to raise, especially in a short space of time. What happens if the building is returned to the owners? Nobody knows for sure, but we do know that the building has been on sale for a very long time. It has not sold. Part of the land the building stood on though was sold some years ago and fourteen houses now stand there, after a planning proposal was passed, despite local objections. The land the building stands on represents further possible building land. A Grade B local listing is a flag to planning committees, but it presents no legal protection against demolition. (A few Birmingham people may still recall the sad case of the locally Grade B listed Island House in the city centre. Its planned demolition was vigorously opposed in 2012 to no effect. The building was demolished.)
Below are some interior pictures of Eastbourne House: a busy and active school for many decades. It is not smart, perfectly restored or in any way ‘pickled in aspic’, but a working building with a possible healthy working life of many more years to come. If you want to help keep this building standing and alive you might consider helping to crowd-fund its future by donating towards that sum of money. Otherwise, look out for future planning proposals. Be ready to object. Remember, however, that your objections may not be enough.