Jane Pudsey was a very wealthy widow in 1680 when she married the 40-year-old architect William Wilson. Wilson had been accustomed to earn his living from commissions for his work as a sculptor and stonemason, and is said to have spent time in London with Sir Christopher Wren, helping to rebuild the city after the devastating Great Fire of 1666. This experience entitled him to call himself an architect.
Wilson’s marriage to Jane Pudsey caused quite a stir, not only because of the difference in social status between the well-born lady and the lowly craftsman, but also because of the difference in their income - she was said to be worth £800 a year while his annual income was £3. Jane was able to raise William’s social standing through her influence at Court, securing him a Knighthood in 1682, and so Sir William took his place among the local gentry.
To impress the county society, Sir William set about building a show house in the Palladian style, which had been introduced into England by Inigo Jones forty years earlier. The rules of the new architecture decreed that the volume of the house should be a cube and a third of a cube; it was lavishly ornamented with pilasters crowned with Corinthian capitals and topped by ornamental urns; it had a balustrade, a cornice, and an imposing portico. The windows were symmetrically arranged, it had circular windows (a feature favoured by Sir Christopher Wren) at the back, and the centrepiece above the frontage was a classical arched panel. As if this was not enough to impress the provincial gentry, William Wilson surrounded the building with a moat crossed by a drawbridge. What a wonder!
Still standing in Lichfield Road, and now part of the College campus, Moat House has been toned down over time. The decorative urns have all gone, the moat and drawbridge went in 1860, sash windows replaced the original mullion-and-transom windows at the front in 1760, a later extension destroyed the symmetry and changed the dimensions, and a bow window was built on at the back. But its renovation in 2000 preserved many of the original features, and should ensure its future as one of the wonders of Sutton Coldfield.