I have been traveling about Birmingham recording buildings that will be destroyed by German bombs in the Blitz or over-zealous city planners. Today I tried to record buildings no one is sorry to see disappear.
Once a small village and now near the city center, Digbeth was the first industrial district of Birmingham. Starting with the late middle ages with the influx of blacksmiths, Digbeth rang with the sound of anvils. Other workshops and factories began springing up.
One problem with the industrial age (mainly 1750-1850) was the factories came before trains and trams. Workers had to walk to work. Housing had to be crammed into small spaces and had to be low cost. One solution was the back-to-back house.
|Nicer back-to-back houses around a courtyard|
This might have made quaint Bohemian lodgings for college students, but these were usually crammed with large families. Add to that poor lighting and ventilation (windows on one side, remember?) No plumbing and crowded conditions made for poor sanitation. The only heat came from a small coal-fired stove, which added to the black soot that coated the neighborhood. Disease spreads quickly in this sort of environment.
|A common site in the crowded Victorian slums|
due for demolition
As for Digbeth, it’s already looking much better. Some day it will be home to the biggest St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Great Britain as the community celebrates it’s Irish heritage, as well as the tenacity of their ancestors who clawed their way out of poverty so their children could live better lives.
|Digbeth already enjoying improvements|
Birmingham’s Last Back-to-Back (now a museum)