The Washerwoman

Thursday 4 July 2013

The Birmingham Back to Backs

It has been a while since I have had time to update the blog, Life has been the usual whirlwind with very little free time to think about blogging.
This week I had time to draw breathe and take some time out. On Tuesday we visited this fascinating National Trust 19th century courtyard of back to back houses and shops in the centre of Birmingham.

The perfect treat for somebody like me who loves nosing around houses! Sadly the sweet shop was closed when we were there, so just had to press our noses against the glass to see inside. The shop has been restored to how it was in the 1940s.

To the right of the sweet shop there is an arched entrance into the communal courtyard. In some parts of the country this tunnel-like entrance would be known as a ginnel, the guide gave us several regional examples which broke the ice between the group.

You do need to book a tour of the back to backs as there are tiny rooms and very steep stairs to navigate. Sadly I was unable to take any photographs inside the houses, but there was access to the (very basic) outside facilities!

At one stage in the 19th century as many as 100 people would have lived in these houses and shared the three outside toilets.

Across the yard from this house was the wash house, equipped with an impressive mangle and other essentials for washday.....

There was even a washing line with original 19th and early 20th century washing.

Below are two views of the interiors (scanned from the postcards)

 The kitchen and living space in the 1870s house

 Table laid for the Sabbath in the 1840s house. Most of the rooms were wallpapered and there was an additional exhibition of wallpapers showing how the conservators had discovered over 140 different examples when the houses were restored by The National Trust. In each house, candles, coal fires and gas lamps burned and gave great atmosphere to the rooms. Clothing was strewn over beds, giving the illusion of occupation. My eagle-eyes did, however spot a gentleman's shirt with a 1940s CC41 label in the 1930s house.

The houses facing into the courtyard have been sympathetically restored with great attention to detail. This is the only remaining example of this type of housing left in the country. At one time huge areas of Industrial cities would have been covered with similar homes.

The last building in the tour is the shop that belonged to George Saunders. He was a tailor and the shop remained open until the 1970s. When it closed, he left much of his stock and belongings which are now on display.

 The top floor store room in the shop of George Saunders. The wallpaper had been a 1950s cowboy themed paper, but sadly very little remained so it has been re-papered with a familiar high street design!

I really enjoyed the tour and would thoroughly recommend the back to backs.


KC'sCourt! said...

Thank you for the virtual trip. I think I will have to seek out that National Trust property
Julie xxxxxx

Shortbread and Ginger said...

That looks fabulous! I love places which have been taken back to their former glory like this.
Liz @ Shortbread & Ginger

ALISON said...

Thanks for the info. I come from Birmingham and have been living in Italy for the past 24 years. I shall have to book to visit this place ,I think my Mom and Aunts would also be interested.....ciao Alison

BusyLizzie said...

Thank you Julie, it is well worth a visit if you are in the Midlands. Liz x

nilly said...

fantastic, we must try and see these - though, in fact, there are still back-to-backs in Leeds and Bradford, but not, of course in "original condition".

Angela Richardson said...

I have seen this on TV and would love to visit.
I grew up in Sheffield, Yorkshire in the 1950's and remember an aunt who lived with her family in similar houses.
It looked pretty much as these houses do. I remember the loo being outside and being frightened to go so waited until we went home. It was hard living and in my life time too.

Josie-Mary said...

Great tour, thanks for sharing :) x

Cestina said...

Oh what fun! Must try and get there....

BusyLizzie said...

Thank you Angela, I also had family who lived in similar houses in the 1960s. Although by then, the loo was inside the house!

Fi said...

Loved this post and photos Lizzie, really interesting. I'd never heard of this place before so definitely one for the to do list. Thanks for sharing.

Vintage Jane said...

What an interesting tour. I have memories of my great aunt living in a similar street in Newcastle. The houses are still there now but have been modernised beyond recognition. M x

the vanilla squirrel said...

Hello liz! I've been trying to find your email but failed miserably so thought I'd contact you here!?! Thank you for your lovely comments on my blog- your home event sounds fabulous but I'm sadly not going to be able to make it tomorrow :-( - do please think of me for next time as I'd love to come! Hope you have the most wonderful day ...... I'm aiming to drag my unsuspecting family to pound bury next week - hope to see you there? Thanks again love emmax

Unknown said...

Ha thats so funny about the replacement wall paper.

Oh this looks so wonderful. Craigs family are from Worcester and we are always looking for day trips when we are up that way.This will deifnitely be added to the list.
I bet there were some shop display gems in Georges place!

I hope yesterday was a great success and I'll see you Thursday. xx