Saturday, 20 November 2010

Going Back-to-Back

On Tuesday Jill and myself caught a train from Kings Norton station into Birmingham New Street.  I had booked us a guided tour of the last remaining Birmingham back-to-back houses, now in the care of the National Trust.  What I imagined I was going to see was something like 'Coronation Street' style housing where yards backed onto other yards; not so..
NT. photo of birmingham B2Bs
Court fifteen, as it was known, is the last of hundreds and hundreds of similar groups of back to backs.  This court of eleven dwellings and 4/5 shops was built in 1831to house the expanding working class population of Birmingham.  The Industrial revolution was in full swing and workers were migrating in to towns from the countryside where land enclosure was undermining there traditional way of life and new mills and factories were hungry for manpower.  Landowners built cheap housing to accomodate this influx of humanity.   The back-to-backs were divided 'vertically' if you can imagine that.  The front had a door leading into a kitchen/parlour and from this room there was stairway to the first floor bedroom and in turn, a stairway from the first floor bedrom to the second floor bedroom.  The back of the house mirrored that of the front, with no access between the two halves; they were two seperate and distinct dwellings!  So, 1831, no sanitation, no fresh water supply, no gas, electricity.
This is the condition of the properties when the National Trust acquired them in 2004.  They had been condemned in the 1950's but were still occupied in the following decade.
This is a bedroom of the 1870's.  There are two double beds in the room, one occupied by six boys and the other by the lodgers, a man and woman.  The privacy is provided by a curtain hung between the beds.

 The National Trust have researched the people who lived in the court and from census returns they have attempted to recreate the furnishings and lives of the tenants.  The first home is that of a Mr Levy and his wife, three sons and a daughter.  The sons shared a bedroom and the daughter shared with her parents.  The house is dressed as it would have been in 1840. The range above is of limited value for cooking so this is a family that probably brought in their food from the numerous bake houses around abouts..
 The alleyway on the right was the only means of access to the street for those houses in the courtyard and also the only means of access for the fronts to get to the lavatories/privvies and wash house in the courtyard.
 The Levy boys shared this room.
 Dwelling two, a parlour/kitchen of the 1870's with a better range.
 Mr Levy's workbench by the window.  He was a watch/clock maker.
 The third home is set in the 1930's.  Now there is electricty and a cold water tap in the house.  Cooking is still on the range.
The communal copper/boiler in the wash house.  This is situated in the rear yard and households had a rota for using the facilities.
The Levy family dining table set for a sabbath meal.

My pictures and poor narrative fails to do justice to this fascinating museum; it makes a refreshing change from Stately Homes!


Amanda said...

Absolutely fascinating Lesley. Another one that is really interesting is the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham. The owners of the jewellery factory just locked up the door of their premises one day and it is a time capsule to another era.

Go visit while you are hanging around Birmingham!


Nb Caxton said...

Hi Amanda
Thank you for that, I will go and find the Jewellery Quarter tomorrow morning. We plan to stay in Birmingham for a week and then explore some of the BCN over the next two or three weeks.

Captain Ahab said...

The Back to Backs are fascinating - I hope you had an informative guide.

Nb Caxton said...

Hi Andy
The guide was very good though he did tend to emphasise how dire life was - a thoroughly enjoyable visit.