Saturday, 15 April 2017

Back in Birmingham II

Domesticity dominated the second half of our day in Birmingham.
Just down the road from the Barber is Winterbourne House, also owned by the University.  This as an Arts and Crafts House dating from 1903 built by the local architect Joseph Lancaster Ball (1852-1929) for the Nettlefold family - Birmingham manufacturers and Unitarians. It too is very good.  Bequeathed to the University in 1944 the garden which is vast, with formal and informal sections, subsequently became the University Botanic Garden, and the house a museum and conference venue. In the outbuildings are a gallery, second hand bookshop and press.  The garden shelter looks as though it was influenced by the Elizabethan bell cage at East Bergholt. A gate in the garden fence lead to a most miraculous place: a great lake with views across to Edgebaston Golf Club.  Lucky golfers.  Hard to image we were in the midst of the vast West Midlands conurbation.

Mid afternoon and we were on Hurst St heading for the Gay Village when we suddenly came across a group of Georgian Houses, their good proportions deeply striking in what is, it has to be said, a street of very vulgar buildings.  It took us a few seconds to work out that this was the 'Back-to-Backs' owned by the National Trust.  Back-to-Back housing was a feature of working class housing in the great cities of Industrial Revolution England.  Most now have been replaced.  While in cities such as Leeds they formed uniform terraces, in Birmingham they formed courts, with the houses divided along their spine walls to form two dwellings only one room deep looking out either inwards on to the court or outwards on to the street but sharing common sanitary provision in the court.  As now conserved the 'exterior' houses have been turned into holiday lets, while the 'interior' ones have been furnished as they would at various stages of their occupation, based on information gleaned from contemporary sources such as the Census.  Fascinating they are too.  Squalid they are not, though cramped and unsanitary, for they were occupied by skilled artisans.  The kitchen/parlours actually had a lot of charm, far removed from the rather self-concious life at Winterbourne.  The bedrooms at the top of the each house were, however, not places to linger.  Over time many of the houses ceased to be residential and industrial/artisanal use took over. One house is presented in this way; a tailor's shop that continued in use, I think, until the 1980s.  The owner had come from the West Indies in the 1950s/1960s and had established a successful business by a lot of hard and work and shear will power.  In all it was quite touching.  Guided tours only.
The evening was spent in the Jewellry Quarter; pre-dinner drinks at the quirky 'Ana Rocha Bar and Restaurant' on Frederick St., and dinner itself at 'The Viceroy', a rather stylish Indian restaurant on Iknield St.  The Murogh Chicken Livers were fabulous!

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