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The courtyard, with a new modern porch entrance.

The authentically designed Elizabethan knot garden at the rear of the building.

Knowle Library (Chester House)

Knowle Library, known by many as Chester House, was originally a small farm and is the oldest building in High Street.  The south end, nearest the church, dates from about 1400, the north end from about 1500.  The lovely timber-framing was hidden behind rendering until the early 1900s.  Two fields at the rear (now occupied by the car park and part of Crabmill Close) were traditionally part of the property.  Both wings stretched back from the road, although the rear part of the south wing has completely gone and very little of the original remains of its equivalent on the north.  The east wing  (at the rear, parallel to High Street) dates from the 16th century and has survived more or less intact.  The north and south wings were joined together about 1600 to create one house with a central hall; the join is marked by a difference in floor level between the hall and the south wing. The rear part of the south wing may have been demolished at the same time, creating the courtyard we know today.  The present porch was added during the 1970s restoration.

The two wings could have been the homes of craftsmen or those of similar status.  The ground floors may have been uses as shops or workshops, with drop down counters and living accommodation on the first floor.   In 1801 Chester House was purchased by the Kimbell family, who ran a small dairy farm until they sold it in 1913.  It became a carrier's business until about 1920, when the house was bought by Mr. Albert Pickering, who changed to antiques in the 1930s. This how many people remember Chester House.  Mr. Pickering’s intriguing collection of goods outside the shop were a great source of curiosity for children, for whom Mr. Pickering did not have much time: he usually rushed out of the shop in a great rage as soon as he saw them.  In fairness, adult customers have quite different recollections.

The Pickerings sold Chester House to Solihull Council in 1970, by which time it was beginning to collapse.  Many people remember it propped up in the early 1970s to prevent its toppling into the road.  The back became very overgrown.  It was beautifully restored and converted to the public library in 1975.  It won a Civic Trust award and is a showpiece for visiting councillors from all over the country.  A modern porch entrance in an attractive courtyard was added behind the frontage, and an authentically designed Elizabethan knot garden planted at the rear.  The name 'Chester House' first appears in 1881, but its origins remain a mystery.

Chester House, c. 1910, with the rendering still in place.

As an antiques shop.

Propped up to prevent its collapsing into High Street in the 1970s.

In 1978, beautifully restored as the public library.