You've all seen the Custard Factory building in Digbeth. It was the Devonshire Works and it was here that Alfred Bird the inventor of egg free custard made eggless custard in Birmingham. He invented it in 1837. He soon set up a company Alfred Bird & Sons Ltd which became Bird's Custard. The Bird's had a home in Solihull called Tudor Grange (now near Solihull College).


Alfred Bird & Sons: the inventor of eggless custard

You've all seen the Custard Factory building in Digbeth. It was the Devonshire Works and it was here that Alfred Bird the inventor of egg free custard made eggless custard in Birmingham. He invented it in 1837. He soon set up a company Alfred Bird & Sons Ltd which became Bird's Custard. The Bird's had a home in Solihull called Tudor Grange (now near Solihull College).

Alfred Bird

He was born in Nympsfield, Gloucestershire in 1811 and died in 1878 in Kings Norton, Worcestershire. He was a pupil at King Edward's School, Birmingham. Alfred invented egg-free custard in 1837 at his chemist shop. It wasn't long before he set up his own company Alfred Bird & Sons Ltd to make the custard. The Custard Factory building we know today was actually built in 1902 by his son Sir Alfred Frederick Bird. The original factory (of the 19th century) no longer exists. Custard was made at the Custard Factory until 1963, when production was moved to Banbury.

Devonshire House seen in 2010 near the end of a renovation that turned the building into Zellig. It was built in 1902 and is a Grade II listed building. Red brick and terracotta with some stone dressings. There is an inscription in the middle that says 'Alfred Bird and Sons Limited', 'Devonshire Works', '1837' and '1902'. 1837 was when the first Alfred Bird invented eggless custard and 1902 when his son opened the Devonshire Works. It is on High Street Deritend, with one side down Floodgate Street. Gibb Street runs through the complex, and Heath Mill Lane is nearby.

To the top of the middle of the building from High Street Deritend is this sculpted part of the building with ships painted onto it. Sailing ships. At the time a gull was sitting on top!

A look down Gibb Street in Digbeth. A Birmingham Civic Society blue plaque for Alfred Bird is on the left. Zellig now occupy the buildings and they have continually been restoring the buildings during the Digbeth 2.0 or "Only in Digbeth" phase. Various different independent shops have occupied the retail units here. As of late 2018, 7 Sins is in the unit on the left. Building on the right used to be a bank. Now it is the Clean Kilo, previously was a hair salon, and before that a music shop. There is also a former library to the rear of the building.

There is an open gate on Floodgate Street under the Bordesley Viaduct that leads to the Custard Factory. A footbridge crosses the River Rea where you can see this view of the Custard Factory. There is a lot of graffiti street art around, this changes quite regularly.

This post is turning into more about the son of the original Alfred Bird. Also called Alfred Bird. Lets head over to Solihull where Alfred Bird Junior lived. Sir Alfred Frederick Bird was born in 1847 in Birmingham and died in 1922 (he was run over by a car in Piccadilly, London). He was also MP for Wolverhampton West. He was elected in 1910 and held the seat until his death. He took over control of his fathers company in 1878 on the death of the first Alfred Bird. He retired as chairman and managing director of the company in 1905.

There is a big manor house off Blossomfield Road in Solihull near Solihull College. It is Tudor Grange House and is a Grade II* listed building. Alfred Bird bought the property in 1901 and lived there until his death in 1922. His widow lived there until her death in 1943. It was being used as Red Cross auxiliary hospital both during and after the Second World War. Warwickshire County Council bought the house in 1946 and became a school for children with special needs until 1976 when it became part of the then Solihull Technical College (now the Solihull College and University Centre). The house was built in 1887 in the Jacobean style by Thomas Henry Mansell of Birmingham for the industrialist Alfred Lovekin. The Lovekin's lived there until Alfred Lovekin's wife died in 1900, and Alfred Bird bought it in 1901. Solihull College put the building up for sale in 2016, and their are plans to convert it into a care home (to secure it's future).

There is a gatehouse near the entrance to the Blossomfield Campus of Solihull College & University Centre. I'm not sure how old it is, but it probably dates to the late 19th century. Would assume it was once part of the Tudor Grange estate that the Bird family owned from 1901 to 1946. At the time I went past it, there was Christmas decorations in front, but were hard to see due to the brick wall, trees and the barrier on the road entrance to the college being in the way. It is a short walk from here to the Blossomfield Road entrance to Tudor Grange Park (also once part of the Bird's Tudor Grange estate).

Solihull College had a modern building built between around 2008 and 2009 turning it into a University Centre (apart from this there isn't an actual University in Solihull Borough). The Headquarters of the Solihull Chamber of Commerce is now based at the college. The car park, normally full of cars during term time was empty during the Christmas and New Year holiday period. They had one of the Big Sleuth bears outside of the college during the Summer of 2017. Called The Gas Street Bearsin (based on the Gas Street Basin).

A look at Tudor Grange Park in Solihull. It has pedestrian entrances via paths on Blossomfield Road, Homer Road (via a path that goes under the Chiltern Railways mainline) and Monkspath Hall Road. The park was formed after Solihull Council purchased the land from the Bird family in 1946. It was formerly farmland. The lands were formerly part of Garret's Green Farm.  Alfred Lovekin bought the farm and built Tudor Grange Hall in 1886. After his death in 1900, the hall and farmland was sold by auction to Alfred Frederick Bird (the then owner of the Bird's Custard company) in 1901. The park opened to the public in the early 1950s.

The land also included what would later become Tudor Grange School (now Tudor Grange Academy) and Alderbrook School. The Bird family gave the land to Solihull on the condition that a school was established on the site. A look at the centre of Tudor Grange Park. Solihull Council has landscaped it around 2008 with new paths, benches and lampposts. There is also a cycle track.

The lake at Tudor Grange Park. Looking towards Tudor Grange Leisure Centre, which was rebuilt in 2008. The original swimming baths in the park opened in 1965, replacing a lido in Malvern Park. There is also an athletics track, that is fenced off from the park, but is I think part of the leisure centre. You would find various geese and ducks in this pond. A stream called the Alder Brook also flows through the park, and the Chiltern Mainline railway passes the park on the east side. Solihull Station is not that far away, as is Solihull Town Centre.

The grounds of Tudor Grange Hall also contained a number of statues which were sold at auction following the death of Mrs Bird (the late wife of the late Alfred Frederick Bird) in 1944. 'The Horse Tamer Group" which was made in 1874 by Joseph Boehm was bought and donated to Solihull Council by Captain Oliver Bird in 1944. The statue was moved to Malvern Park in 1953 where it still stands and is known as 'The Prancing Horse' and is Grade II listed. This view of the statue in early 2010, when the bronze was looking quite green.

In early 2012 metal thieves vandalised the statue and cut off the feet. It was later restored later in 2012, and Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council has security marked the statue in an effort to protect it from future vandalism. After I read about the 2012 vandalism, I returned to Malvern Park in late 2012 to see the statue fully restored. The bronze was looking more black by then.

A winter wonderland scene in Malvern Park during the snow of December 2017. Looked very Christmasy back then. There has been no snow at Christmas 2018, and we haven't had snow since the Beast from the East during March 2018 (which meant we were more likely to have a White Easter than a White Christmas). Mr Horace Brueton had bought the land in 1916 including Malvern Hall. Warwickshire County Council bought Malvern Park from him in 1926, and he gave his remaining land to Solihull in 1944, in the same year that Captain Oliver Bird donated the statue to Solihull.

For more on Malvern Hall see my post on the Manor Houses of the Metropolitan Borough of Solihull.

Photos taken by Elliott Brown.