Most old pictures on this page from The
Geoff Thompson Archive
Dowell's Retreat, Bordesley
One of the things I enjoy most about developing this website is the
research related to each picture. And nothing can beat the
feeling I get when I work out the location of an unidentified
picture. Often this process leads me on a voyage of historical
discovery and this page illustrates that more than any other!
Amongst Geoff's slides was the photo below. I could tell this
wasn't your average back-to-back due to the arched window to the
left. But where was it taken...?
When I looked through Geoff's collection of prints, I came across a
group of four showing pictures of windows that were labeled 'The
Retreat, Warner St,
27/5/66'. It was clear that this provided the clue to the old
lady's home, and looking through the windows, you could make out rows
of houses with the same arches.
|Window matching cottage interior
|View of cottages
Thanks to the internet, it was easy to find more information.
'The Retreat' was originally known as 'Dowell's Retreat' and was a
group of almshouses created by James Dowell. This
says, "The cottages were set about in a courtyard, with a
house at the end for the Superintendant, with a chapel above it.
The chapel was decorated with painted glass, depicting English
Cathedrals and old Birmingham buildings. Above each cottage door
was an ogee-shaped cast iron panel depicting alternatively symbols of
'Fath' and 'Hope' - 'Charity' was represented by the almshouses
It seems Dowell's Retreat was founded in the late 1820s and endowed by
a deed of 1831. It consisted of 20 cottages that were intended
for women aged between 55 and 70 from Bordesley and Deritend.
When I was lucky enough to borrow the Steve
in 2014, I was delighted to find some superb colour
slides that captured The Retreat wonderfully!
Full view of the cottages and chapel, c. 1966
The cast iron panels depicting faith
and hope, c. 1966
The windows of the chapel were fascinating, and many of the paintings
the glass had survived when the pictures, above, were taken in 1966,
although I have found no evidence of them featuring Birmingham
buildings. Some of the most interesting ones can be seen below.
|I guess it's not surprising
that churches and cathedrals featured heavily on the window. Here
is Carlisle Cathedral. But this doesn't look quite right compared
modern photo so maybe there is some mistake here..?
|Next up is Hereford
Cathedral, possibly pictured before the
western tower fell.
|Finally for the cathedrals, Salisbury.
|The text says, "Tewksbury
Ch." but this is clearly Tewkesbury
|First of the churches proper
is Barton Under Needwood. I believe it shows St.
|This picture of the Dutch
Church, London, gives us our first
clue to the artist's inspiration. See below...
|Finchley Church. To me,
this looks like it shows St
Mary's, Church End.
|The text for this one was a
bit hard to read but it says St.
Martin's Ch., Westminster, more commonly known as St.
|As well as all the religious
buildings there were quite a few more general pictures, although this
view of Coventy does highlight the two towers of the old St. Michael's
Cathedral and Holy
|Now this is an interesting
one. Croyland Bridge is what it says, but Croyland is now known
as Crowland and is
in Lincolnshire. Amazingly, the bridge survives, but is now on
dry land! It is known as Trinity
House can still be found in Windsor Great Park.
|No caption for this one but
it is clearly Warwick
Just a couple more, this time double pane pictures.
|A nice pair of views of Westminster Abbey.
|And finally, one of my
favourites, a panorama of Tetbury in Gloucestershire. I suspect
the church on the hill in St Mary's.
The inspiration for many of these paintings seems to have been
contemporary etchings of the period. Compare the painting showing
Great Malvern Church with an 1814 etching by George Shepherd held by
and Albert Museum
The fact that this etching, and a similar one of Dutch Church, London,
both came from 'The
Beauties of England and Wales
' suggests that the artist had a copy
of this book!
Of course, being based in Birmingham meant that these historic
properties were inevitably demolished sometime after 1966, despite Pevsner
as, "Enchanting, and completely unexpected".
Unlike other cities, Birmingham didn't seem to care about losing
history if it stood in the way of progress! Just have a look at
these almshouses that survive close to the centre of Worcester:-
Berkeley's Hospital, Worcester, June
An archaeological dig of the site of Dowell's Retreat was undertaken in
2006 and the
makes for interesting reading.