Over its 500 year history this building has had several names and two locations. Selly Manor is a confusing name as it was never the manor house for the area; the name was given when the house was moved to its current site. This house was built as a yeoman’s house, a class below gentry.
The earliest records for the house date from 1476. At that time it was called Smythes Tenement and was on William Jenette’s estate. He was lord of the sub manor of Selly, a landed estate that had its own court to collect fines. William Jenette rented Smythes Tenement to a local farmer, John Othe’field (John of the field).
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The owners of Smythes Tenement prospered, and made extensive renovations in the 17th century to make the house more comfortable to live in and to reflect their wealth. However, the house was later inherited and sold to a succession of absentee landlords who viewed the house as an investment, and its status fell. The house became unfashionable, and its status fell further in 1795 when the house was sold separately to the land that went with it .
The condition of Smythes Tenement continued to decline. By 1853 it had been split into three cottages and was known as The Rookery. The census records show that by 1861, there were 21 people living in what must have been overcrowded conditions.
In 1907, The Rookery was in poor condition and was put up for sale by auction. It was bought by George Cadbury, who was a chocolate manufacturer, philanthropist, creator of Bournville village and teacher of adult education.
George Cadbury bought The Rookery to be a museum. In a letter to his son, Laurence he wrote:
‘These old buildings are educational and especially needed for a new town like Birmingham; a vast majority of people never think of bygone times.’
Contemporary accounts state that the area where The Rookery stood was ‘unlovely’. To give the building a better future, George Cadbury had the building carefully taken down and moved to its current site. Work began in 1909, and was finally completed in 1916. By the time the work was complete, The Rookery had a new name – Selly Manor. It opened as a museum the following year.