Villa residences, large houses for newly-rich manufacturers and industrialists, were being built in Sutton Coldfield from the 1840s onwards. Birmingham Road and Chester Road were favoured sites - some of the villas are still there - and in 1872 one of the largest was built, Fernwood Grange, with eight and a half acres of grounds, for a retired Birmingham jeweller, Alfred Antrobus. It occupied a site on the corner of Chester Road and Antrobus Road, and the entrance lodge can still be seen on Chester Road.
Antrobus was interested in horticulture, pursuing this hobby at Fernwood Grange, with its extensive grounds and large greenhouses. When he died in 1907 the estate was put up for auction, and the auctioneer’s catalogue said “The garden, upon which the late Mr. Antrobus has, during the last 35 years, made a lavish and well-considered outlay, is unique. It contains perfect specimens of an endless variety of choice trees, shrubs and ferns, and an enormous collection of rare herbaceous and other plants”. His son Roland Antrobus, who lived at the Driffold, shared his father’s interest in plants.
The new owner of Fernwood Grange was Edward Beston, a rich bookmaker. He enlarged the house with a new wing containing a ballroom, a cinema and a music room and increasing the number of bedrooms to twenty; the grounds, where a dozen peacocks roamed, were also extended. The Bestons were socialites, and Fernwood Grange saw an endless round of social engagements - performers at the Birmingham theatres and music halls were often invited to parties there, where they danced the night away.
The Bestons left Fernwood Grange in 1927, the house was demolished in the 1930s and the land developed for housing. Some householders in the area are lucky enough to have an exotic tree or shrub in their garden courtesy of Alfred Antrobus - perhaps a 100-year-old tulip tree!