I’ve got another post about a place I’ve visited. However, I never normally post on the same day. I like to take time to sleep on my thoughts, as it were, but this place is just too incredible to keep to myself.
Birmingham Back to Backs is a place that my dad was desperate to see and it’s taken most of my summer holiday to get a booking slot. Yet, today was the day we finally got to step back in time and visit a piece of our history.
Back to Backs centres around Court 15, the last remaining court of back to back houses. It wasn’t until 1830 that it actually became a court of backs to backs. Originally, in 1789, it was a handful of workshops. 1802 brought the start of the house building.
Today, the houses have been restored and conserved to show examples of the similar houses that were build around shared courtyards, for the rapidly increasing population of Britain’s industrial towns. You can imagine three main things: the air, the smell and the noise.
The first thing you notice is the courtyard. Naturally, this would have been quite communal area; children would be playing here. There wasn’t really any privacy or alone time; everyone was part of everyone business. In this area were the toilets and wash houses.
House 1: The 1840s
This house is a representation of the Levy family. Lawrence was a watchmaker and it is highly that he used part of the house as a workshop. The family business was carried on by his sons. Nevertheless, what this house shows us how life used to be. There were small rooms (you only had one if you were poor which the Levy’s were not) but it was a time before electricity, heat and entertainment: iPads, games etc. What I adored about this house was the stencilling on the walls.
However, this family did have a little money. They left behind and inventory of all the furniture they owned, of which a fancy bed was listed.
House 2: The 1870s
It was in this second house the homes of the Oldfields were reproduced. Birmingham was a city of many trades and Herbert Oldfield definitely lived up to that reputation as a glassworker. Both he and his son made eyes for toys and animals as well as the occasional glass eye for people. As with the first house, Herbert used part of this house too as a workshop. They also had two lodgers with them, resulting in 6 people sleeping in one room!
It is in this house where you can see what the court and back to back houses were like before the restoration. They did find huge layers of wallpaper, some of which were on display.
House 3: The 1930s
House three showed the home of the Mitchells. This family stayed here for almost a century. When they arrived there was no electricity. When they left there was. It is families like this that really experienced the changes of our own social history. Their family trade: locksmiths, something which his sons continued after his death.
It is here we see signs of wallpaper still on the walls. Wallpaper during the Victorian period was incredibly expensive; seen as flamboyant and extravangent. How it was produced meant that it was taxed. (Another hint that the previous family did have money; others were not so lucky!) Now, mass production was in place. The houses were getting slightly larger, electricity was becoming more available and living was getting slightly easier.
House 4: The 1970s
The final house showed the residence of George Sanders, a tailor originally from the Caribbean. He made a huge number of suits as well as pieces for the the Horse Guards. He was hugely successful and popular, after he spent time building up his reputation. What was amazing here was there are original items that had been left. The history really was alive.
Finally, the 1930s Sweet Shop
It’s been standing there since 1910 and it was amazing. Naturally we got some sweets to take home. Back in the 1930s all of the famous brands would have been there: Cadbury, Rowntrees. Everyone deserved a little treat!
What makes this place to special me and the reason why I’ve been writing this post since I got in the car home is because of my grandma. My grandma’s grandparents used to live in backs to backs in Birmingham. My lovely Nan was telling me all about it today, the cold, the one room, the lack of money, the best memories. “It’s true history! It’s my history.” It is this that resonates with me most. My dad also was animated when he was walking around because of this. My mum could see numerous things from her grandma’s house. There’s even items my grandma has that she uses every day now. It’s so special. We are very lucky because we have heating, space, electricity. Life is so different now. This little time capsule keeps our history alive. I absolutely loved it.
Big love all xx