The Colony
The 'family knot' of Birmingham businessmen, and their grand houses on Hamstead Hill




  1. Joseph Henry and Marian Kate Wilkinson (née Bragg), and their children Ethel Marian, William Sydney and Constance Maud
  2. Arthur John and Maude Maria Rabone (née Bragge), and their son Arthur Brian


  1. George Hope and Emily Johnstone (née Wilkinson), and their children George Harry, Florence, Lilian and Stanley; later GHJ's second wife Catherine (née Ball, later Maas)
  2. Stanley and Jessie Johnstone (née Smith) and their children Lucy, Mie and Tom

Hamstead Brow

  1. Edward Madeley and Jane Adelaide Haseler (née Best), and their daughters Beatrice Maria and Jennie Millicent ('Mil')
  2. Robert C. and Mil Rodgers (née Haseler), and their son Christopher ('Crip')

Hamstead Mount

  1. John* and Anne Arrowsmith Bragg (née Best), and their son Charles Bayley
  2. Charles Bayley and Janet Bragg (née Wilkinson), and their children Hilda and Alan
  3. Heywood G. and Hilda Hadfield (née Bragg), and their sons Miles, John and Philip

* In the Bragg family numbering system, this is John Bragg 6 (or VI) (1821-1898), grandson of John Bragg V (1751-1795).


Other sources

  1. Most of the material on this page comes from various conversations and correspondence with John C. Bragg, to whom many thanks.
  2. Letters to the Birmingham Post, January 1988 and August 1996
  3. 'The pleasures of a pool' - article for Country Life, March 1962, by Miles Hadfield
  4. 'A house with a tower' - article for House and Garden, November 1967, by Miles Hadfield
  5. One Man's Garden, by Miles Hadfield, London, 1966
  6. Correspondence with Maurice David Haseler (son of Arthur C. Haseler), and Laurence and Simon, sons of Wilfred E.M. Haseler.
  7. The Haselers of Birmingham, 1750-1970, by David Binns / Michael Baker, Looks Lane Publishing, 2015
  8. 'Joys of a Midland coaching club' - article for Country Life, November 1961, by Miles Hadfield

Family trees

Johnstone family tree
Family trees of the Johnstone, Faraday, Wilkinson and Swift families

Also showing Bragg, Haseler, Rabone and Best


Colony map - inset
'The Colony' in 1902

Inset from above map, showing details of houses

Other information

Census 1891 Colony
Census return from 1891 showing the four houses of 'the Colony'

Family knot 1859
The 'Family Knot', showing the inter-relationships between various families

Made by Robert Best in 1859. Courtesy of Peter Johnstone

Hamstead Pool with boat
Alan Bragg and others boating on Hamstead Pool

Photo (probably 1900s) courtesy of Tom and John Bragg

Bragg and Hadfield familes
The Bragg and Hadfield families at Hamstead Mount

Back row: John and Philip Hadfield, Helen Bragg, Miles Hadfield, Char Bragg

Front row: Heywood and Hilda Hadfield, Charles B. Bragg, Mary and Alan Bragg

Photo (ca. 1920) courtesy of Tom and John Bragg

Handsworth Golf Club


Handsworth Golf Club in 2019

Walter Best


Walter Best at Handsworth Golf Club

'2nd team captain, 1900-1926'

Winifred Smith


Winifred Smith at Handsworth Golf Club

'Early 1900s'

Colony map
'The Colony' on Hamstead Hill

Ordnance Survey map from 1902

My great-great-grandfather George Hope Johnstone and his brother-in-law Harry Wilkinson, prominent denizens of Birmingham's civic and business communities, had handsome residences built near the leafy suburb of Handsworth where they lived. Two other houses, for the Bragg and Haseler families, completed the set of four, which, together with a shared boating lake, came to be known as 'the Colony'.i,ii The families belonged to the New Church, had similar business and leisure interests, and were bound together by a complex knot of marital linkages. See the Family Tree (left) and the 'Family Knot' diagram by Robert Best (below).

The source of much of the information here is of course John C. Bragg,i who also sent me the three magazine articles from the 1960s by Miles Hadfield, who grew up in Hamstead Mount.iii,iv,v I am also grateful to David, Laurence and Simon Haseler for information on the Haseler family;vi in addition, the book by their cousin David Binns provides a wealth of additional background.vii


The first grand house on this site, with a lake in its (presumably extensive) grounds, was built in about 1790 for Mr. Nathaniel Gooding Clark (1757-1833), a wealthy barrister. His son Richard Gooding Clark, also a barrister, sold it to Sir James Chance, a glass maker and expert in lighthouse optics.iii Clark's house is long gone, but its lake, known as Hamstead Pool, was incorporated into the designs for 'the Colony': four rich houses on Hamstead Hill were to have long gardens stretching down to the water. It seems the four were designed as a whole, by the artistically talented John Bragg (Hamstead Mount) together with architect William H. Davis.iv Built in around 1873, these long, tall Victorian buildings were set side-on in their narrow plots, thus slightly awkwardly facing each other rather than the lake. The group of buildings plus lake can be easily seen on the Ordnance Survey map of Birmingham of 1899, and in more detail on the map of 1902 shown above (inset below left). At that time Hamstead was largely farmland, and the houses, as Miles Hadfield puts it, "rose bare and cliff-like from the surrounding fields".iv Three of them featured towers, and as pieces of architecture they probably embodied the best and worst of the Victorian style - Headingley looks rather pleasant, the Mount somewhat grotesque.

The census returns of 1881 to 1911 give an insight into who lived where and when - that from 1891 is shown below left: 16 residents (plus two absent), one visitor and 12 servants.



Elmwood House (from the east), in 2019


The northernmost of the four was built for J.H. ('Harry') Wilkinson, George Hope Johnstone's brother-in-law and a partner in the drapery firm Wilkinson & Riddell. Harry's wife Marian Kate Bragg was the niece of John Bragg at Hamstead Mount. (Harry's brother Howard, whose wife Jessie was Marian's sister, lived just north of the Colony in Hamstead Lodge.) The Wilkinson family moved out to Ashfurlong Hall in the late 1890s and sold Elmwood to Arthur J. Rabone, a ruler manufacturer, whose wife Maude Mary Bragge was also a cousin of Marian Kate. Arthur and Maude died shortly before World War II, and the house was sold a few years later. In around the 1950s it was a public Elmwood is the only building of the Colony still standing: it is now Handsworth Wood Mosque, on a road called The Grange.

Headingley (from the east)

Print belonging to Laurence Johnstone


The home of the family of Birmingham jeweller George Hope Johnstone (GHJ) for 60 years, this house was named after the part of Leeds where his wife Emily (née Wilkinson) grew up. Its star feature was a music room, where concerts were given by visiting musicians, often in connection with the Birmingham Triennial Festival. Johnstone (later together with Charles B. Bragg) ran this festival, and over the decades played host to many of Europe's finest. The designs for this gracious room (see engraving, right) are dated 1886, and the architect is given as John P. Osborne (see also the page on the New Church) so it was perhaps added after the main house was built. This might explain why Headingley and Elmwood form a sort of reversed letter E on the map: Elmwood is the top bar, the Headingley music room is the bottom one, and the middle bar is perhaps the Headingley main house. In the grounds was a tennis court, where Johnstone's granddaughters Lucy and Mie found their prodigious talents. In the 1930s, GHJ's son Stanley decided to replace Headingley with another house of the same name (see photo on the page for Stanley Johnstone). The elegant house of 'New Headingley' was only in the family for about six years however: when war broke out in 1939, Stanley's son Tom and brother George Harry were the only ones left, and the house was sold.

Headingley garden, Alba
Headingley garden with Alba Pennycuick, 1930s

Hamstead Mount (l) and Hamstead Brow (r) in the background

Photo belonging to our family

Hamstead Brow

This was the home of Edward Madeley Haseler, his wife Jane Adelaide (née Best) and their descendants. Edward was a die stamper, producing a range of decorative articles such as photograph frames and match holders in silver and pewter. In the 1910s the firm diversified into aluminium cooking utensils. Other Haselers were in the jewellery business (see below). As can be seen for the map inset, Hamstead Brow was the smallest of the four houses, and is the only one for which no picture has yet come to light. But it was lived in continuously by Edward's daughter Jennie Millicent, known as 'Mil' (later 'Old Mil'), who was born there in 1874 and died there in 1961.

Hamstead Mount


Hamstead Mount (from the south-west)

House & Garden, November 1967

Hamstead Mount

The Mount was designed by and built for jeweller and artist John Bragg (1821-1898), who probably masterminded the whole Colony project.iv See below for background on this family, one of the important cogs in the machine which was fine manufacturing in Birmingham. John's wife Anne Arrowsmith Best was the sister of Jane Adelaide Haseler (née Best), who lived next door. Their son Charles Bayley Bragg, jeweller and musician, married Janet Wilkinson, and so the family knot goes on. When Janet died in 1903, her daughter Hilda and husband, solicitor Heywood G. Hadfield, came back to live in Hamstead Mount, and their son Miles Hadfield, born there in 1903, is the source of much of the information here. Miles was a gardener and gardening writer (his brother John was also an author, best known for Love on a branch line), and his entertaining article for House & Garden describes the house he lived in for nearly 60 years.iv The high Victorian style of his great-grandfather (later mixed with Art Nouveau) comes in for some criticism: (..."a wildly misunderstood eclecticism devoid of scholarship"...), as do many of the structural details. Together with his mother, Miles managed the garden at Hamstead Mount, and his book One man's garden is a reminiscence of that time woven into a guide to gardening through the months of the year.v When the house was eventually demolished in 1962, "eighty-nine years of gardening ended".

Hamstead Pool

This small lake is all that remains of Nathaniel Clark's original 1790 house. Shaped so as to give the impression of a large stretch of water, and planted with trees in the Picturesque style, Hamstead Pool, with its boating and bathing, fishing and skating, was perhaps what made the Colony special. Miles Hadfield wrote about the pool for Country Life, describing night-time skating parties in the great frosts of the 1890s, lanterns hung in the trees, sausages cooked on bonfires...iii

Hamstead Pool Alan Bragg
Alan Bragg skating on Hamstead Pool, probably 1900s

Photo courtesy of Tom and John Bragg

Hamstead Pool Alba
Hamstead Pool with Alba Pennycuick, 1930s

Photo belonging to our family

The end

By the late 1950s, Millicent ('Mil') Rodgers (née Haseler) was living in Hamstead Brow with her son Christopher and his wife Winifred; Hilda Hadfield (née Bragg) was at Hamstead Mount with Miles. Elmwood by then belonged to the Soho Hill Congregational Church, and 'New' Headingley had been sold to 'outsiders'. After Hilda and Mil died in 1959 and 1961, their houses, and Headingley, were sold to developers, and in 1963 an estate of small houses and an apartment block were built on the site. Hamstead Pool still exists (behind a block of flats called Lakeside View on a road called St Christophers) but is now smaller, more a pond than a lake. What was once a countryside idyll outside the city succumbed to the inevitable suburban sprawl.

Hamstead Pool


Hamstead Pool in 2019

In the late 1990s, Jeff (now Lord) Rooker, then MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, lived here: his photo of Hamstead Pool was entered for the (unofficial) Houses of Parliament photography competition, and is shown on the introductory page for the Johnstone family. Many thanks.

Other families

A few brief details of the other families not in the direct line of my ancestors are given below. A fascinating picture of Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter is given in the book The Haselers of Birmingham by David Binns, grandson of Bernard Haseler.vii Many members of these families are also mentioned in a book on the historian Lord Asa Briggs:1 chapter 3 part II, Victorian Capitalists and Middle-Class Formation: Reflections on Asa Briggs’ Birmingham, by Jennifer Aston and Francesca Carnevali, describes the Birmingham jewellery business in the second half of the 19th century.


This large and complex family, the descendants of John Bragg (V) (1751-1795) and Mary Perry, were an important part of Birmingham's business and cultural establishment. John senior, a buckle maker, was a member of the New Church since its inception in 1791, and after the Temple (as it was also called) had to cease operations in 1792, moved to New York with his wife and young children. The large family of one of his sons, goldsmith Thomas Perry Bragg (1790-1853), became linked with the others here, as I have tried to show in outline on the Family Tree (left). Thomas Perry Bragg's son John (VI) (1821-1898) probably designed the buildings of the Colony,iv and was the first occupant of Hamstead Mount. He formed the jewellery business T&J Bragg2,3,4 with his brother Thomas in 1844, and also found time to be a painter.

Charles Bayley Bragg, son of Colony founder John (VI), formed Charles B. Bragg & Co.5 in partnership with his brother-in-law Walter Best. (Charles and Walter had both married daughters of Harry Wilkinson.) This business was continued by Charles's son Alan (he of the skating and boating photos) until it was wound up in the 1930s.i Charles B. Bragg was also a fine singer, singing at Westminster Abbey for the coronations of Edward VII and George V in 1902 and 1911. He was involved, along with GHJ, in the running of the Birmingham Triennial Music Festival, and later became GHJ's successor as Chairman of the Midland Institute School of Music. Charles became friends with Elgar, who stayed at the Mount while rehearsing the Dream of Gerontius.ii

Other notable members of Thomas Perry Bragg's family include Jane Bragg Pitman (1825-1878), who worked on the development of shorthand with her husband Benjamin Pitman and his brother Isaac;6 and William Bragge (1823-1884), a railway engineer, cutler and antiquarian, who later established a watch-making factory in Birmingham.7 William's younger brother Robert was also a watchmaker - both had daughters who married into the Rabone family.


The descendants of jeweller John Haseler (1790-1860) and Sarah Evett Hair were linked with the other families mentioned here: of their ten children, three married Johnstones, two Bests, and two Rabones. John was the second son of William Haseler (1756-1831), who moved to Birmingham from rural Essex in about 1775.vii It seems William was a hairdresser and wig maker, later a schoolmaster;vi his eldest son William (1872-1854) was probably the first of the Haseler jewellers, joining the burgeoning trade in fine metal objects including jewellery, buttons, buckles and trinkets, known at that time as 'toys'. John, fourth son of William (snr.) also worked in this trade, living in the Jewellery Quarter and describing himself in 1833 as a 'gilt and black ornament maker'.vii All of John's sons went into jewellery and related fields. Edward M. Haseler, the first occupant of Hamstead Brow, started a business with his brother-in-law William C. Buncher making die-stamped articles in silver and pewter. These are the 'Buncher & Haseler Ltd.' of 107 Branston St., Birmingham, mentioned in Grace's Guide.8

William Hair Haseler art nouveau pendant


Art Nouveau pendant by W.H. Haseler Ltd.

Silver and enamel, ca. 1900

Photo: kind permission of Morgan Strickland Decorative Arts

William Hair Haseler, brother of Edward M., after an apprenticeship with Thomas P. Bragg,1 registered as a jeweller in 1850, aged 29. When William retired in 1888 his sons Frank and William Rabone Haseler took over the firm of W.H. Haseler Ltd., and it was under their leadership that the company moved into 'artistic' silverware, working with designers from the Birmingham School of Art. In 1899 they went into partnership with Liberty's of London to develop the 'Cymric' (for silver) and 'Tudric' (for pewter) brands, which continued until 1926.vii Many of these pieces, influenced by Art Nouveau and the Arts and Crafts movement, in particular the work of designer Archibald Knox, are to be found in museums.9,10

Most of the Haseler family were christened in the New Church, at one or other of its various buildings. John was baptised in New Hall Street just seven years after it was built, and Edward Madeley Haseler was named after the Rev. Edward Madeley of the Summer Lane Society.vii This connection continued until quite recently: David, Laurence and Simon Haseler, born soon after the war, used to attend services in the Wretham Road church.


The descendants of Joseph Best (1790-1855) and Maria Arrowsmith were, like the Haselers, intermarried with other families in this community (of their six children, two married Haselers, one a Bragg), and with members of the New Church. The family is probably typical of many at the start of the industrial revolution: Joseph's father Isaac Best was a cooper in Worcestershire; Joseph started a surgical instrument business, which was continued by his son Isaac A. and his son Howard. Isaac A.'s other son Walter, a keen golfer (see photo above left), was partner in Charles B. Bragg & Co., and married into the Wilkinson family. On the other side of the family, Joseph's brother Robert (1803-1863) was a lamp maker, and great-grandfather of June Dudley Best, who married Tom Johnstone (son of Stanley Johnstone). Joseph's sister Ann married Thomas Perry Bragg, and is thus the grandmother and great-grandmother of many of the people mentioned here.

The Best family seem to have got the family history 'bug': Robert constructed a beautiful and intriguing 'Family Knot' diagram (shown left) showing the intermarriages between some of the families mentioned here. Frank Milner Best (grandson of Walter), produced a large, minutely detailed 'Pedigree' of his and other families going back to the 18th century. This document exists in two versions, from 1950 and 1968: the original of the former is in the Bodleian Library in Oxford.


The Rabone family is another vital part of Birmingham's fine-manufacturing establishment. They are connected to the others here through the marriage of Mary Bragg (sister of Thomas Perry Bragg) to John Rabone, a ruler manufacturer (his brother Thomas made thermometers).12 The family were leading members of the New Church - all their children were baptised there - and were linked by marriage to the Haseler and Bragge families. The second owners of Elmwood were Arthur J. Rabone and his wife Maude Mary (née Bragge) (daughter of Robert Bragge and Mary Anna Faraday). Their son Arthur Brian lived there for a time, but was killed in World War I at 29.

Hamstead Coaching Club


The Hamstead Coaching Club

Watercolour by G. Bernasconi, 1877, from Country Life, November 1961

L-R: Lewis Meakin, NN, NN, Will Perkins, NN, C.B. Bragg, NN, J.H. Wilkinson, NN, NN

The Hamstead Coaching Club

Miles Hadfield (q.v.) writes of the exploits of a group of "frolicsome Victorians" calling themselves the Hamstead Coaching Club.viii These ten gentlemen, at the time five marrieds and five bachelors, went on summer coach tours through the countryside, visiting inns, singing songs and generally making merry. The coach in this case was a carriage and four horses, driven by a coachman named Gregory. The driving force of the club was Joseph H. Wilkinson, known then as the Captain (in his business he became known as the Colonel); Charles B. Bragg was responsible for the route; Will Perkins, a prominent musician,13 was on hand to accompany various comic songs (this was the age of Gilbert & Sullivan); the other Colony households were presumably well represented (one of the bearded men is surely George Hope Johnstone). The first tour was in 1877, along the Wye Valley; another tour that year took the party to Snowdonia for a week. Their antics were written up in a book which found its way into Hadfield's possession, and seem to come straight out of the Pickwick Papers.

Miles's cousin Beatrice Maud Haseler (daughter of William Sydney Wilkinson, married to Geoffrey F. Haseler) wrote to Country Life shortly after this article was published, saying she remembered being driven on the coach by her grandfather Joseph H. Wilkinson and Gregory the coachman. Beatrice's other grandfather was Edward Madeley Haseler, also a founder resident of the Colony.


For other recreations, the inhabitants of the Colony had a tennis court in the grounds of Headingley, and later the very pleasant Handsworth Golf Club (see photo left), which was founded in 1896 by (among others) Walter Best, Alan Bragg, GHJ's two daughters Lilian and Florence and their husbands (see page on George Hope Johnstone), and Arthur J. Rabone. Frank Clifford Carr (né Smith) and his sister Winifred also played at the club (see photos left and the page on the Granny Mick and her family for details of these last two), as did Esmond Rogers, son of Lydia and Hallewell Rogers (see the page on the Smith family).

Near the Colony was a field belonging to the Johnstone family: a group of schoolboys played football here, founding the Headingley Football Club in 1878, which continued until the late 1930s.ii

Another leisure activity of which the residents of the Colony partook with gusto was 'amateur dramatics': apparently (and unsurprisingly!) these six or so families constituted almost the entire membership of the Handsworth Dramatic Society.i