Some history of Digbeth
Digbeth is the thoroughfare that runs down the hill from the Bull Ring to the River Rea. And that's it. And even that description is an extension of its original course which was from Upper Mill Lane to Deritend Bridge. The hill section up to the Bull Ring, or the former place of Corn Cheaping, was once known as Cock Street or Well Street. You can see this for yourself on the section of William Westley's Plan of Birmingham published in 1731 [below]. The name Digbeth has since been applied to an area rather than simply the street but it is such a geographically loose term hardly anybody knows where it starts and finishes. If you look back at Birmingham's history it is much easier to define. Once the name was applied to the former Cock Street, Digbeth started at the corner of Park Street where the old Cock Inn stood [later known as the George Inn], and continued down to the bridge. With 19th century development around the river crossing, the road finished at Milk Street. On the opposite side of the road, Digbeth commenced at Rea Street and back up the hill to Saint Martin's Lane. The street numbering was the other way around and started at the corner of Saint Martin's Lane and ended in the mid-70's at Rea Street. Street numbering has been fairly consistent down the years and, from the river, rose up to the mid-140's at Park Street. Consequently, for those looking for their ancestors, it is one of the easiest of Birmingham's streets to navigate within historical records.
In terms of communications Icknield Street or Ryknild Street is the ancient road of Birmingham but the importance of Digbeth cannot be understated. Once Birmingham became an important place there were a number of key arterial routes in and out of the town providing links to Worcester and Lichfield. Digbeth was the main route to Warwick and Coventry and beyond to Oxford and London. Indeed, when one looks at Digbeth in a wider context it is easy to see how the road was part of a route through the centre of Birmingham. As can be seen on the map the road rose up to Corn Cheaping and continued through High Town [High Street], along Bull Street and on to Snow Hill and out towards Wolverhampton, Shrewsbury and Holyhead. Moreover, a number of roads converged at Bordesley because the bridge at Deritend was the main crossing of the river. One can therefore imagine the volume of traffic that passed along Digbeth - little wonder that in 1761 it was described as 'very dangerous to travel through, on horseback or otherwise.'
Long before a bridge was constructed at Deritend, a ford acted as the river crossing. Some claim that it was in the 7th century that Berma's tribe settled here on the banks of the Rea, the attraction being the area's plentiful water supply. In addition to the river, there were many natural springs here. The Anglo-Saxons sensibly opted for the higher ground on the Kueper sandstone ridge above the soggy Rea valley and this is where Saint Martin's Church and the Manor House were constructed by the Normans. However, it was the natural water supply that would dictate where any industry could be undertaken. Consequently, the settlers started to dig out channels to divert the river's flow to form mill races and a defence moat for the Manor House. Birmingham's early history is sketchy at best but it is thought that much of this earthwork undertaking followed the Domesday survey of 1086 in which Birmingham was famously valued at just £1. Aston, on the other hand, was a much more valuable manor and it should be noted that the River Rea acted as a boundary between the two. The manor of Aston extended to Deritend bridge until relatively recent times.
Despite the romantic notions by William Hutton, Birmingham's earliest historian, Digbeth, or Dybeth, is not a term fashioned from Duck's Bath but more likely derived from the ditches excavated to divert the river. In Middle English the term ditch is from the Old Norse dik, whilst Baeth stems from an Anglo-Saxon term for a bath. Combining the two seems to make some sort of sense! Anyway, conjecture aside, some of the ditches can be seen on William Westley's plan of 1731 which also shows Lloyd's Slitting Mill. Originally built to grind corn, the mill is thought to have been constructed around 1549 by William Askerick or Askerye, third husband of Mrs. Edward Birmingham. He was granted a lease of all the "ryvers, strames and wattercourses with the Holme Park" on condition that he erected "a Corne Mylne, containing in length one baye and a half, upon the land of the Uttercourt." The Uttercourt or 'Outer Court' being the open space between the moat and Digbeth. When later operated by Robert Porter, the mill produced sword blades for the Parliamentary forces during the English Civil War. However, this led to its destruction by Prince Rupert's forces when they attacked the town in 1643 [see below]. It was rebuilt and became known as Townsend's Mill after the tenant John Townsend. It had reverted to a corn mill but was converted to mixed use by the Farmer family and was known as Farmer's Slitting Mill. Charles Lloyd was the occupier by 1731 and it later passed to Sampson Lloyd II, a descendent of a Quaker family from Leominster whose son would later co-found the famous Lloyd's Bank in Birmingham.
There was another mill that was powered by the outflow of the moat surrounding the manor house. Once known as the Malt Mill, the name suggests a relationship between the mill and the production of ale. Owned by the de Birmingham family, the mill was leased to individuals such as Edward Lyttleton during the early 16th century. The mill was called the Moat Blade Mill by the early 18th century when Judd Harding was the leaseholder. The building was probably demolished in the early 19th century when the moat was infilled and Smithfield Market was constructed.
The bridge at Deritend was not constructed until the mid-1500's and even this was probably a footbridge leaving horses and waggons to negotiate the ford. However, there may have been a second bridge that was maintained by the Guild of the Holy Cross. The growth of Digbeth, like the burgeoning Birmingham, was relatively steady up until the middle of the 16th century by which time it had established itself as a centre of metal manufacturing. Digbeth became a centre of arms production and the smiths here tempered some 15,000 sword blades for Cromwell's forces during the English Civil War but refused to sell to the King when he attempted to purchase them. The town was made to pay for its Roundhead allegiance in 1643 when Prince Rupert was sent to punish the disloyal Birmingham blade smiths and restore Royalist authority. He approached the town from the Stratford Road and entered Deritend and Digbeth where his troops met stiff resistance. Street fighting ensued and Digbeth's industrialists fought on the thresholds of their homes and factories. Fourteen townspeople and 30 Cavaliers were killed. Eighty houses were burned and much property destroyed. Prince Rupert of The Rhine can be seen seated at the table in the painting [below] by Charles Landseer in which he is in discussion with King Charles I prior to the Battle of Edge Hill, one year prior to his sacking of Birmingham.
The mill played an influential role in the late development of the area around Digbeth. A bridge was built in the late 18th century and later repaired with funds raised from the turnpike along Digbeth and Deritend. This, along with the infilling of the streams [mills by this period were operated by steam power] facilitated the development of streets leading off the ribbon development of Digbeth. Originally called Bridge Lane, and later Long Bridge Street, Rea Street, along with other thoroughfares saw substantial development in the late 18th century. There were a great number of public houses in the locality, some of great antiquity as Digbeth was a bustling centre of commerce for centuries before the industrial revolution. Each of these will be examined on their unique web pages. Here I will discuss a few of the buildings that have helped to shape the character of Digbeth over the years.
Digbeth Police Station stands on the eastern corner of Allison Street and, in my humble opinion, is a magnificent building. Bizarrely, well the last time I checked, this is not a listed building! The police station was designed by Henry Edward Stilgoe in 1911 in a vaguely Italianate baroque style. Henry Stilgoe was the City Engineer and Surveyor of Birmingham from 1906 to 1919. They should have hung on to his services. However, he later took up the post of Chief Engineer of the Metropolitan Water Board. Born at Adderbury, near Banbury, in March 1867, he was educated at Christ's College in Finchley and received his engineering training at the Crystal Palace School of Engineering. Between 1887 to 1893 he was assistant to the Surveyor of the Lewisham District Board of Works. He came to Birmingham from Dover, where he had been Borough Engineer and Surveyor and Water Engineer. Henry Stilgoe was responsible for the preparation of large town planning schemes in Birmingham, along with arterial road planning and design. He retired at the end of 1933 one year after he was made C.B.E. He was also a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.
The construction of the police station meant the removal of the existing buildings on a plot measuring 1,188 yards fronting both Digbeth and Allison Street. This clearance included the loss of two public houses - The Rose and the Beehive Tavern. The scheme was approved by the Council on January 5th 1909 because the Public Office in Moor Street was deemed beyond economic repair. Indeed, the latter had been condemned as dilapidated by the Inspector of the Constabulary. The old Public Office was acquired by the Great Western Railway and Moor Street Station was erected on the site and opened in 1909. With an original budget of £20,000, the police station's specifications included accommodation for an inspector and 49 men. A commemorative stone can be found near the entrance and informs the visitor that it was laid by Councillor A. D. Brooks, Chairman of the Watch Committee on May 29th 1911. Henry Stilgoe is credited on the stone, along with the building firm of T. Elvins and Sons. This firm left a board on the frontage of the police station for some time afterwards as 'free' advertising. You can see this in the photograph above. The police moved into the building on July 1st 1911.
One of the earliest news stories I have encountered for Digbeth Police Station concerned a suicide in one of the cells in October 1915. 33 year-old masseur Harry Watson of Smallbrook Street, stayed at the Empire Hotel, Smallbrook Street and left one Saturday night, stating he would return later. The man was intoxicated. Police Constable Treadwell said he saw Watson, who was very drunk, in Hurst Street. He refused to give his name, but said he was a deserter from the Royal Army Medical Corps. He was arrested and taken to Digbeth Police Station. It was stated by Police Constable Hollis, who was in charge of the station on that evening, that Watson was in an advanced state of drunkenness and very violent. He was placed in a cell at 10.20 p.m., and twenty minutes later he was found sitting near the radiator with his neck-tie tied around his neck and attached to one of the bars of the radiator. He was dead. The jury at the subsequent inquest returned a verdict "Suicide," and expressed the opinion that the deceased was of unsound mind at the time.
This photograph of Digbeth's Civic Hall and Institute shows a glimpse of both the Big Bull's Head on the extreme right and the Old Bull's Head to the left. Designed by Arthur Harrison and erected between 1906-7, the building still stands but much has changed, particularly the shopping facilities on the ground floor. In this view from March 1960 one can see the neat and tidy shop frontages of Boots, a BSA Cycle outlet, Digbeth Electrical and, at No.77, a shop operated by I. W. Bassovitch. Digbeth Institute has served many different uses over the years. The building was opened in January 1908 by Dr. John Henry Jowett, pastor of Carr's Lane Congregational Church. Collecting money from his congregation and friends, his vision was to combine three small missions within one building. Sunday School was an important function within the building which quickly served as a training, educational and social facility. It was one of the first places in Birmingham to show films. In the inter-war years there was a cinema for children, known as the "penny crush," where for a penny the local youngsters could watch comedies, westerns and educational short films. In 1944 Wallace Lawler founded the Public Opinion Action Association, a forum which met weekly at the Digbeth Institute.
This photograph taken during the Second World War also features the Digbeth Civic Hall and Institute - notice however that the frontage of the adjacent Old Bull's Head is missing and the space in-filled by advertising hoardings as the pub had been hit by an incendiary bomb during the war. At the outbreak of the conflict, a public air raid shelter was created in the old basement playroom of the Civic Hall and Institute. There was no intention of closing the building but work on the shelter had to be suspended whilst the windows were darkened with black paint. Children had been evacuated from the locality to such an extent that when the Sunday School was opened on the first Sunday in war time, seven children appeared instead of the usual three hundred.
Two of the most successful helpers at the Institute during the war were an Austrian refugee and his wife. She taught needlework whilst her husband held a French class for boys and girls, with around thirty-five students attending. He had taught languages at Vienna University before the couple fled their country. They reported that their work at the Institute had helped their loneliness in Birmingham. Indeed, their lives revolved around the Institute.
Less charitable work was undertaken by two Birmingham youths who stole clothes from Digbeth Institute that had been donated for people who had suffered in bombing raids. The clothing had been sent by the Lady Mayoress' Fund for distribution among bombed-out persons. The youths, Michael White, aged 17, who said he slept in shelters, and John Edward Gannon, aged 18, of Fieldhouse Road, Yardley, who had been volunteer fire watchers at the institute, pleaded guilty. They were each fined £3 or 21 days' imprisonment on the understanding that they pay back the value of the goods not recovered. A man named Tony Mancini was charged with receiving £20 worth of clothing, and was sentenced to three months' hard labour. Mancini also admitted having been an absentee from the Army for six months. He was committed to await an escort.
This busy view of the locality shows the junction of Digbeth and Rea Street during the inter-war years. The photographer was probably leaning out of a window of the warehouse on the corner of Milk Street. There would seemingly be little waiting at bus and tram stops during this period as the public transport vehicles are queuing up to get in and out of Birmingham. Amid the busy traffic a cyclist is braving a right-hand turn into Rea Street. The shop standing prominent on the north-western corner of this junction is the S.P.Q.R. Warehouse where one could buy carpets, rugs, mats and floor cloths. However, it was linoleum for which the shop was noted. The large emporium was run by Alfred George Homer. Note the shop on the opposite corner of Rea Street. This retail shop can be seen in more detail in a post-war image below ...
This photograph shows the effects of war on Birmingham, along with other clearances for the improvement of the area. Modern buildings can be seen in the distance. This corner block almost stands in isolation and it wouldn't be too long before these buildings were cleared for road-widening. The business of Samuel Ridgway was known for steel tubular furniture though the shop front suggests its primary role was retailing lamps and electrical accessories. The shop was located at No.73 and was the last property on this side of Digbeth. To the right of the photograph one can see an entrance for Wood's Garage in Rea Street. This firm moved to a new service station on the corner of Station Street and Dudley Street.
Once again featuring the Civic Hall and Institute, this earlier view of Digbeth shows shops that stood on the opposite side of the road plus a tantalising glimpse of the Horse and Groom to the left of the photograph. St. John's Church at Deritend can be seen in the distance. The first shop on the right was at No.62 Digbeth and occupied by Sonia Ladies' Gowns and Mantle. According to a sign in the shop window bridal gowns were a speciality of this store. The shop next door probably offered a complementary service in that it had recently been occupied by the hatter Morris Rose. However, the shop display here suggests that the business had moved or folded. The next shop along was Bolton's shoe shop in a retail space formerly occupied by the butcher Walter Sims. Bolton's here have an extensive range of shoes on display in the windows and dozens hung outside. In the mid-19th century this property was a beer house.
At the coach station, Digbeth has retained its historic tradition of being at the heart of Birmingham's road transport network. The building may be modern but the site has a fascinating history. It is partly on the site of the aforementioned corn and slitting mill thought to have been constructed around 1549 by William Askerick. However, the majority of the coach station occupies the sites of two important tan yards of Digbeth. A conjectural map for 1553 based on a contemporary survey shows the tan yards of the Colmore and Elesmore families. The latter had rights to a water course which was employed in the washing of skins before drying on the edge of Mill Meadows, later known as Porter's Meadows. The aeration would have taken place roughly on the future site of the Anchor Inn.
The earliest known date for a tanner to be in business at Digbeth is 1483 but this trade was almost certainly conducted in earlier times. Evidence of Birmingham's pioneering trades was poorly documented and little has survived. At one time the tanning industry was probably more important that the metal trades in Birmingham, though it should be remembered that there was some symbiosis as saddling craftsmen sourced their materials from the tanners and the smiths manufactured the tackle for harnesses. By the mid-16th century it is thought that a dozen tan yards were in operation - one can only imagine the stench amid the hammering of the forges. Some of the famous family names associated with Birmingham started to amass their fortunes in the tanning trade : the Colmore family combined tanning with the cloth trade, the Sheldon family are known to have been involved in tanning as was the Smalbroke family.
In the late 19th century the site later used by the coach station was largely occupied by the weighing apparatus manufactory of W & T Avery. This firm was established in Digbeth around 1730 by James Ford. The firm passed to William Barton, followed by Thomas Beach and, later, Joseph Balden. He was the husband of Mary Avery and, following his death in 1813, the business was taken over by William and Thomas Avery. The company prospered in the 19th century and grew rapidly. The Mill Lane works was one of three factories operated by the company. However, with the continued growth of the firm, coupled with the increased production of heavy scales and weighbridges, the company moved production from Digbeth to the Soho Works at Smethwick in the late 1890's.
When Thomas Avery died in 1894 he left a fortune to his nephews, along with donations to charities and public institutions in Birmingham. In his obituary it was stated that "all who knew him will recall his burly figure, his firm step, his cheerful voice and his hearty laughter." He served on the Council for many years and was elected twice as mayor.
The old manufactory was largely destroyed by a fire in 1912 and much of the land lay waste for many years. The site was acquired by the Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company Limited in 1929 and a garage was built and expanded over the years. In the photograph above you can see the entrance fronting Mill Street with the offices in the attractive Spencer House near the corner with Digbeth.
The garage was converted into a bus station in 1958. In April 1997 it formed part of the National Express network. Ten years later a temporary station was established in Oxford Street whilst a new terminus was constructed fronting Digbeth. The last passenger to leave the station on the final service was Jon Heenan. The Oldbury resident, who worked at Winson Green Prison, was travelling to London to attend a course.
The new station was officially opened on December 18th, 2009 by Fabio Capello who was then the manager of England's football team.
The photographer of the Midland Red bus garage in 1929 would have been stood somewhere below where you can see a large advertisement for Surf washing powder in this photograph taken in February 1954. This view of Digbeth looking towards the city centre was taken by Phyllis Nicklin when she worked as a staff tutor in Geography at the extra-mural department at the University of Birmingham. This is one of a fantastic collection of images she captured during the post-war years and forms a priceless legacy for Birmingham. How I wish that I wandered the Black Country during the 1970's before much of the old buildings were swept away!
The buildings in the foreground were on borrowed time and they would soon be removed in another phase of regeneration and road-widening. The shop on the corner of Digbeth and Mill Street was occupied by the sack manufacturer William Broadbent and Sons, a business established in 1900. William Broadbent was born in Leeds in 1886 and came to Birmingham in the Edwardian period. He and his Birmingham-born wife Maud were married in 1909. The couple were in business at this address by 1911. They employed Harry Austin as an assistant. During the mid-Victorian period this shop was occupied by the currier and leather dealer John Still.
Heading up towards Saint Martin's and the Bull Ring, this photograph was also taken by Phyllis Nicklin, this time in the early 1960's. This will be a familiar view to many Brummies, though for my generation we miss the view of the Rotunda. Construction on this building did not commence until 1961 and slowly crept up on the skyline until it was completed four years later.
There is very little of old Digbeth in this image. The left-hand side of the road is almost all relatively new development at the time of the photograph. The first building on the left was occupied by Prestcold, named because the employees on the first floor had to endure a shift working with the windows wide open! Actually, the firm that once had offices in in Temple Street were large scale manufacturers of commercial and domestic refrigeration equipment with premises in Theale, Fareham and Glasgow. Prior to the Second World War, when the company traded as Refrigeration [Birmingham] Limited, the firm was based at Wellington Road. In the 1960's the business was a subsidiary of British Leyland Motor Corporation.
The next building is that of Francis Nicholls Limited, the wholesale fruit business that originated in Wolverley. Indeed, this building with a column of porthole windows was named Wolverley House. It was designed by Bertram Baxter & Partners and constructed in 1955-6. Francis Nicholls of Brookfield, Wolverley, was a very successful horticultural and vegetable merchant. He was the youngest son of John Nicholls, of Bury Hall, Wolverley, although the family moved to that village from Kinver in the early 19th century. Francis Nicholls, in addition to his Birmingham business, had large commercial interests with the Channel Islands, frequently visiting Jersey in connection with his commercial developments. He was regarded as a man with progressive views and ambitions. He died on New Year's Day in 1914.
On the right-hand side of the road is the former coldstore erected in 1899 to the rather functional designs of Ernest Chawner Bewlay. Regarded as one of the most gifted architects of his generation, Ernest Bewlay painted for pleasure in his leisure hours, and whilst there is therefore a certain emphasis on architectural composition in his landscapes, his works are held in some esteem.
I am including a photograph of the former Makepeace Emporium and adjoining shop simply because they are among the very few remaining historic buildings in this section of Digbeth. The aforementioned coldstore by Ernest Bewlay can be seen to the right. The building commissioned by George Makepeace is rather grand for a business that dealt in used clothing. I particularly like the first floor lunette. Of course, the ground floor is now quite hideous but try to keep your eyes looking upwards and it is a fine building to enjoy. It was built in 1913 to the designs of James Patchett of Ombersley. The building occupies the site of two former shops that in 1890 were occupied by the jeweller John Green, along with a fancy leather seller Edward Mason. George Makepeace had formerly occupied a building slightly up the hill. The Coventry-born wardrobe dealer lived there with his wife Sarah. Their son Francis also worked in the family business.
To the left is a much older building and thought to have retained some timber elements. Restored in 1947, the frontage dates from the 18th century and features a good pedimented window on the first floor. In the late 19th century this building was the premises of the umbrella stick maker William Nutting who established the business in 1814. In the Edwardian period the business was continued by Frederick Nutting who commuted into town from his home in Moseley.
On the extreme left you can just get a glimpse of a building designed by Samuel Nathaniel Cooke in 1936. This has some nice understated art-deco elements. This architect was responsible for many fine inter-war buildings in Birmingham, particularly around the business sector of Bennett's Hill and Colmore Row. However, he is best remembered for his designs for the Hall of Memory at Centenary Square and also the Old Rep in Station Street, a theatre he designed for director Barry Jackson.
Aston Brook through Aston Manor
Birmingham City Council
Birmingham History Forum
Birmingham Places and Place Names
Carl Chinn's Brummagem
Digbeth is Good
Ladywood Past and Present
Perry Barr and Beyond
Winson Green to Brookfields
Have Your Say
If you would like to share any further information on Digbeth - perhaps you drank in one of the pubs in the past? Or maybe knew a previous publican running one of the boozers? Whatever the reason it would be great to hear of your stories or gossip. Simply send a message and I'll post it here.
Related Newspaper Articles
"A big awkward-looking fellow, named John Smith, 40, described on the police-sheet as a labourer, was brought up charged with attempting
to stab several persons in Digbeth on the previous evening. The evidence went to show that about five o'clock on Friday the prisoner was in Digbeth, mad drunk, and that
he ran about with a knife in his hand, endeavouring to stab everybody who came near him, and that before he could be taken into custody, had succeeded in stabbing one man in
the face. He was remanded to Monday, in order that more evidence might be obtained."
Birmingham Daily Gazette : July 7th 1862 Page 2
"Yesterday evening, a disturbance that almost assumed the proportions of a riot took place in Digbeth. The cause is one which, unfortunately,
is only too common in some localities of the town on Sunday evenings. Two Irishmen, one named McHale and the other Callaghan, both of them bricklayers' labourers, were
turned out of a public-house, and, not being able to get more drink, took to the congenial pastime of a fight. Police Constable McCausedale, who was on duty near the
spot, interfered to preserve the peace, and the consequence was that the two infuriated brutes became animated by a common purpose, and conjointly attacked the policeman.
McCausedale was knocked down, trampled upon, kicked, and beaten, and although in a very few minutes more than a thousand people assembled, not one interfered to prevent the
man from being murdered. The first aid that arrived was the person of Police Constable M. North, who did his "little possible," but was helpless against so many.
Still no man of the many in the crowd interfered, and it was left to a little lad to run to the Bradford Street Station and give information. All the men who were in bed
were turned out, and marched down to Digbeth. where they succeeded in getting the two officers out of the clutches of their antagonists and placing the two prime movers in
the disturbance in durance vile. Shortly before this occurrence a row took place among a lot of Irish in Cheapside, and one man had his face cut with a pebble, and had to
be removed to the Queen's Hospital."
"Serious Disturbance in Digbeth"
Birmingham Daily Gazette : July 7th 1862 Page 2
"An accident of an exceedingly distressing character occurred on Monday, to a highly respectable gentleman of this town. The sufferer, Mr. G. H.
Izon, packing-case maker, of The Parade, was walking along Digbeth, about ten o'clock in the morning, when a woman fell upon him out of a window, from a height of
about forty feet The woman who was the unwitting cause of the accident is named Perkins. She is married, and had been charring for Mr. Cocking, a fruiterer, 32, Digbeth.
About the hour named she was sitting on the window-sill of the third story, cleaning window panes. She had been engaged in this operation for some time, and was about
finishing her work, when she became giddy. The window was up the time, and not drawn down upon the knees as servants usually do when cleaning windows. The moment the woman
became giddy she lost all consciousness, and fell backwards into the street. Below her was a projecting window, and below that again a sign, which projected still further
over the street, but in her fall she cleared both these obstructions. Mr. Izon was walking on the very edge of the flags at the moment; the woman fell directly on his
head, and knocked him insensible to the ground. Coming in contact with the ground revived the woman, who almost instantly rose, and walked into the shop attached to the
house almost unhurt. Some men who witnessed the accident raised Mr. Izon, who was quite insensible, and was conveyed at once to the General Hospital. There it was found that
he was suffering from concussion of the brain; he remained insensible for a day or two, but is now progressing towards recovery in a satisfactory manner. Mrs. Perkins
is a little, thin woman, and beyond a slight shaking, and a bruise on her hip and knee, she does not appear to have sustained any injury, nor was she so much inconvenienced
as to prevent her from continuing her work the same morning. Her mistress speaks of her as a very sober, industrious woman; and the accident seems entirely to have
arisen from a momentary giddiness, from which she had never previously suffered, overtaking her."
"Singular and Distressing Accident"
Birmingham Journal : September 30th 1865 Page 7
"I thought I would check up on Henry G. Izon to see if he survived having a woman land on his head after she had fallen some forty foot. Incidentally, this incident occurred next door to the Three Tuns Inn. The good news is that Henry Izon lived until 1916 so it would appear that the accident did not have a serious impact on his life. At the time of this accident he and his family lived in The Parade, probably above the business premises. However, it would seem that the business was a success and he was able to move out to a residence in Valentine Road in King's Heath. The family later moved to the north of Birmingham and took up residence in Westminster Road at Handsworth Wood."
"Dr. Birt Davies, Coroner, held an inquiry yesterday afternoon, at the house of Mr. Mytton, Calthorpe Arms, Bath Row, into the circumstances
attending the death of man named George Gough, forty-three years of age, a labourer in a brickyard, living in Stafford Street, and who met with his death by being run
over by a cab in Digbeth, on Thursday evening last. The driver of the cab, John Thorpe, who resides at No. 4, Glover Street, and who was supposed to have caused the death
of the deceased, was present in the custody of Inspector Percy. Mr. Francis, solicitor, appeared to watch the proceedings on behalf of the man Thorpe. It appeared from the
evidence of Police Constable James Davis that on Thursday night last, about five minutes past ten o'clock, he was walking up Digbeth, when be saw a cab, drawn by one
horse, coming down the horse road. When the horse and cab were about ten yards in front of him he saw one of the wheels of the cab go over a man in the road. The cabman
drove past him, and as he did so the officer called to him to stop, but be did not do so until he had got about seventy yards further on, when he drew up his horse. The
officer then caught hold of the horse's bridle, and took the cab back to the spot where he saw the man run over. The man seemed much hurt : he had blood upon his
head, and was bleeding from the ears. He appeared to have been drinking. Placing him in the cab that had run over him, and which was driven by the prisoner Thorpe, they
conveyed the deceased to the Queen's Hospital. At the time the cab went over the deceased, in the opinion of the officer, the horse was going at the rate of eleven or
twelve miles hour. The driver was quite sober, and appeared to have full command over the horse. The cab was nearly in the middle of the horse road at the time of its going
over the deceased. John Alfred Peacock, a cattle drover, living in Duddeston Row, was going down Digbeth just before the occurrence, when he met the deceased, who was very
tipsy. The deceased went to cross the road, to get on to the opposite side of the street. Just then there was a cab coming down the road, and he went to cross the road the
deceased was knocked down by either the horse or the shafts, and the wheel of the cab went over him. He thought the horse in the cab was going at the rate of about nine or
ten miles an hour, but at the spot where the occurrence took place there is rather a steep descent. He did not think the driver saw the deceased until he was knocked down.
Mr. Thompson, house surgeon the Queen's Hospital, stated that when the deceased was admitted into that institution he was in an insensible state, and fluid was oozing
from his left ear. The deceased never rallied, and died the following morning. Upon post-mortem examination he found that the entire base of the skull was fractured,
and from the effects of which he died. Mr. Francis, who appeared for the prisoner, then called Mr. Samuel Cornforth, of Coventry Road, who was in the cab at the time of the
occurrence, and who stated that he was of the opinion that the horse was trotting at the rate of ten miles an hour. The driver of the cab was quite sober. The Coroner summed
up the evidence, and the jury returned verdict of "Accidental death."
"Alleged Manslaughter in Digbeth"
Birmingham Daily Gazette : August 4th 1833 Page 3
"The neighbourhood of Digbeth was yesterday the scene of a shocking accident, which was attended with fatal results to Mr. Samuel Gunn, a
farmer, aged about sixty, living at Lyndon End, near Yardley. At about one o'clock a large horse attached to one of Messrs. Pickford's lorries became unmanageable
at the corner of Moor Street, and dashed off at a great rate down the Bull Ring. The driver, James Wooley, who lives at 2 Court, 8 house, Great Francis Street, made
strenuous efforts to check the frightened animal, but without avail, and it continued its career as far as the shop of Messrs. Keyte without doing any damage. It appeared
very probable that the horse would steer clear of the first vehicle it had to pass - a market-cart driven by Mr. Gunn - but, to the horror of the bystanders,
the animal suddenly swerved, and the shaft of the lorry struck the neck of Mr. Gunn's horse and ran right through it. The poor animal was knocked down and pinned to
the ground, whilst the shock of the collision was so great that Mr. Gunn was hurled from his seat and fell head-long into the middle of the horse road. He lay there
unconscious and bleeding from the mouth and nose, and, of course, claimed first attention. A cab was hailed, and Police Constable Ordidge conveyed him to the Queen's
Hospital. The shock and the injury to his head were so severe, however, that he died about an hour after his admission. As soon as Mr. Gunn had been seen to a number of
willing hands were speedily at work in lending aid to the poor horse, which by a gallant effort had actually recovered its feet, although its neck was still transfixed by
the lorry shaft, quite a foot of which protruded. The lorry horse was hacked and the shaft removed, when the terrible nature of the injury was seen. The condition of the
animal was of course hopeless, and Messrs. Wigley's men were sent for and slaughtered it where it stood. The horse attached to the lorry did not escape without injury,
for its leg was pierced by a piece of the shaft of the cart, but its injury did not prevent its being led away by its driver. A lamp column near where the accident occurred
was levelled by the lorry and smashed to pieces. The affair created a considerable sensation, and the horse road for a time bore the appearance of a shambles."
"Shocking Accident in Digbeth"
Birmingham Daily Post : April 2nd 1890 Page 5
"An outrage was perpetrated in Digbeth on Saturday night as a result of which a woman named Charlotte King lies in the Queen's Hospital
hovering between life and death. About midnight Police Constable John O'Loughlin [57A] received a complaint from a man named Kelly that his son was creating
a disturbance at his dwelling, 7 Court, 18 house, Digbeth. O'Loughlin entered the house in company with Constables Wright and Farmer, and found that the son, also
named James, had gone out. He appears to have returned, however, when the officers were about to leave, and to have threatened his father with violence in their presence.
They interposed, and it is alleged that the younger Kelly rushed from the yard, where they had all been standing, and seizing a lighted paraffin lamp which was in the house,
struck Police Constable O'Loughlin on the head with it. Falling to the ground the lamp exploded and set fire to the woman King, a neighbour living at 5 Court, 2 house,
Digbeth. The fire brigade was summoned to the spot, but there was no need for their services, as the fire was confined to King's person, and was extinguished by
Constables Wright and Farmer, with the assistance of several bystanders. The unfortunate woman was terribly burnt, however, about the head and body, and on her being
conveyed in a cab to the Queen's Hospital the house-surgeon regarded her condition as so serious that he communicated with the authorities with a view to having
her depositions taken forthwith. Superintendent Stephenson notified Dr. Leach and Mr. Barradale [magistrates' clerk], and with them proceeded to the hospital,
Kelly, who had been arrested by Constables Wright and Farmer, being also taken there. The injured woman was in such a state of collapse, however, that it was impossible
to take her depositions, and the accused was removed back to Moor Street Police Station, and charged with doing grievous bodily harm to Charlotte King, and assaulting
Police Constable O'Loughlin with the lamp. The latter officer's injuries were such as to necessitate treatment at the hospital, and he is reported as unable to
continue his duties. Throughout yesterday Charlotte King lay in a very critical condition, and very slight hopes of her recovery were held out last night."
"Serious Outrage in Digbeth"
Birmingham Daily Post : August 20th 1894 Page 8
"An enquiry was held by the city coroner [Mr. Oliver Pemberton], at the Victoria Law Courts, yesterday, regarding the death of Charlotte
King , of 5 Court, 2 House, Digbeth, who died in the Queen's Hospital, on Monday, from injuries alleged to have been caused by the throwing of a lighted
paraffin lamp by James Kelly, a tube-drawer, twenty-six years of age, of 7 Court, 8 House, Digbeth. Mr. Philip Baker appeared on behalf of the prisoner, who was
present in the custody of two officers. Rosanna King , daughter of the deceased, stated that at about half-past eleven on Saturday night she was standing at
the bottom of the entry, in Digbeth, when the prisoner's father came into the street and shouted "Murder" several times. Two police officers came upon the scene,
and went up the entry leading to No. 7 Court. She advised the deceased not to follow them, but she did so, saying that she was going to look for a younger daughter who was
up the yard. Witness followed shortly after and then saw the deceased enveloped in flames. Subsequently deceased told her at the hospital that the lamp was thrown at the
policeman. It struck him first and then fell on her, and she was immediately surrounded by flames. The deceased died in the hospital on the following Monday. Catharine
Kelly, mother of the prisoner, stated that he had served eight years in the army, being in India for six years. He came home about seven months ago, and since then had been
of fairly sober habits. On Saturday night, however, he was excited by drink, and after angry words had passed between him and his brother they commenced to fight. Her
husband went to call the police, and witness went away, leaving a lighted paraffin light upon the table. On returning some time after she saw a crowd in the yard, and the
deceased was enveloped in flames. The lamp had a glass reservoir, and she had put a pint of paraffin into it during the afternoon. George Roberts, a brassworker, stated than
he saw the officers bring the prisoner out of the house. Prisoner was very excited and struggled violently. He was thrown on to the ground, and his father went up and hit
him in the face. Prisoner kicked at his father, but afterwards became quiet, and was released. A few minutes after prisoner went into the house and returned with a lighted
lamp in his hand. He threw it into the yard, and it hit one of the policemen. Witness then heard the lamp smash, and saw the deceased, who was standing behind the policeman,
enveloped in flames. He took off his coat, and with assistance put out the flames. Deceased was at once taken to the hospital in a cab. In answer to a juryman, witness said
that he did not know whether the lamp was thrown at anyone in particular. By Mr. Baker : The police officer was standing about two yards from the door when the lamp was
thrown from within the house. Police Constable O'Loughlin stated that he was called by the prisoner's father, and, in company with Police Constables Farmer and
Wright, went into the court, and there saw the prisoner. He seemed very excited, and he [witness] advised him to go to bed. Prisoner went into the house, and
immediately after came to the door with a lighted lamp in his right hand, and threw it at witness. It struck him on the back of the head, making a hole through his helmet,
and inflicting a wound on his head. He then saw flames, and at first thought that he was on fire, but found that they arose from the clothing of the deceased. Witness was
still off duty, and attending the hospital. In reply to the jury, witness said he had reason to think that the lamp was deliberately aimed at him, as he was in uniform,
whilst the other officers were in plain clothes. The yard was very dark at the time. Police Constables Farmer and Wright corroborated. The Coroner, in summing up, said it
had been stated than the prisoner was excited by drink when he threw the lamp. That somewhat explained his conduct, but did not in the least excuse it. The jury returned a
verdict of "Manslaughter" against Kelly. The prisoner was taken before the magistrates earlier in the day and remanded."
"Digbeth Outrage : Verdict of Manslaughter"
Birmingham Daily Post : August 24th 1894 Page 5
"Baldwin thought Europe was a bore, and Chamberlain thought it was only a greater Birmingham."
"A motor-omnibus smashed into shop window in Digbeth about eight o'clock this morning alter first coming into collision with a horse
and cart. The latter, it seems, was crossing Digbeth from Allison Street into Upper Mill Lane, and at the same time the motor-omnibus was descending the hill on the
way to Shirley. A collision was inevitable, but both the driver of the omnibus and the horse and cart did their best on the moment to lessen the impact. The omnibus was
turned towards Upper Mill Lane, and after striking the cart it skidded, due to the slippery state of the road, and mounting the pavement, ran into the corner shop of Jack
Sewell, fruiterer and coffee house proprietor, breaking two windows and damaging a cast-iron column. There was no injury to life, but a woman, the only passenger in
the omnibus, was very much shaken, and another woman, who was looking into Mr. Sewell's window, only cleared out of danger in the nick of time. The force of the impact
shook the house, and caused some pictures in upper rooms to fall, while the contents of the shop window, including eggs and tomatoes, were all destroyed."
"A Digbeth Collision"
Evening Despatch : September 18th 1917 Page 1.
"This afternoon Henry Sewell , of 4, Upper Mill Lane, was crossing Digbeth when he slipped on a piece of banana skin and fell
immediately in front of a tram car which was proceeding from Small Heath. The driver of the car, Alfred Hill, acted with promptitude, but the boy had a marvellous escape,
being thrown on the cow catcher of the car. He escaped with bruises on the leg and back, and after he had been attended to by Police Constable Faby he was taken the General
Hospital, but it was not necessary to detain him. Later in the afternoon a tramcar was travelling down Hurst Street, when near Ladywell Walk a horse and lorry crossed the
track and the car caught the rear of the vehicle, with the result that the horse was forced over the footpath, and the shafts crashed through the shop window of S. French,
44, Hurst Street. The driver of the lorry, W. Snook, was thrown off, but was not hurt."
"Tram Accidents in Birmingham"
Birmingham Mail : February 28th 1914 Page 5.
"Courts in this country have always disliked the use of weapons of any kind. If it had been assault with fists or a chair leg he would have
agreed that the sentence was too heavy." said the Recorder [Mr. P. E. Sandlands, K.C.], dismissing at Birmingham Quarter Sessions today. The appeal of two
Indians, sentenced to one month's hard labour for unlawfully wounding leading stoker Albert Pains, Royal Navy. The two men were Abruez Miah, proprietor of the Bengal
Café, Digbeth, and his brother, Fotik Miah. Counsel for the respondent said that Pains and a companion were in the café at about 11 o'clock on the night of
21st April, and Pains overheard an American soldier say to some girls : "If you don't get any marihuana tonight it will not be my fault." Realising marihuana
was a drug sometimes contained in cigarettes, Pains said to his companion, "If I thought those soldiers would give those girls marihuana, I would swing for them."
The two Indian brothers, standing near, muttered together on hearing Pains' remark and when he, the last customer, attempted to leave the café later, they barred
his way. Fotik shut the door and stood against it. Abruez then attacked the seaman with a knife, wounding him in the face and arm. Pains cried out and the soldiers and
others went to his assistance. Witness gave evidence that while they were trying to get into the café the door suddenly opened on Pains, standing there with blood
streaming from him. A man who intervened between Pains and the two Indians was struck on the hand by Fotik with a file. Mr. Coley, for the two Miah brothers, put it to
Pains in the witness box that what happened was that he returned to the café with other men, attempted to get in, and then shouted and banged on the door, breaking
the glass. Pains denied these allegations."
"Scene in a Digbeth Café"
Birmingham Mail : July 3rd 1945 Page 1.
I am particularly intrigued by this newspaper article as it is possibly the earliest reference I have seen to an Indian Restaurant trading in Birmingham. The language of the press report is also quite revealing. Almost certainly, there was more to this story than was either reported or what was stated in court. If anybody knows about the history of Indian food in Birmingham then please post a message. Apparently, the first recorded Indian restaurant in the UK was located in Holborn and opened in 1911. Restaurants opened in other parts of the country, mainly by ex-seaman who had worked in ship's kitchens and opted to settle in Britain. Consequently, the majority of early Indian Restaurants were opened in seaports. Some have suggested that the first Indian Restaurant in Birmingham was when Abdul Aziz opened a café in 1945 on Steelhouse Lane. Initially selling basic curry and rice, this evolved into The Darjeeling.
"A savage assault was made on the police in Digbeth on Saturday night by a gang of roughs. The ring-leaders were Joseph Bostock ,
brasscaster, Little Ann Street, and his brother John Bostock , who were behaving in a disorderly manner. Police Constable Hemming and Dowell were close by at the
time, and as Joseph Bostock declined to desist they took him into custody. This was the signal for a general riot, in which the roughs joined with seeming delight. Dowell
was struggling with his prisoner and Hemming was striving to keep back his assailants when Police Sergeant Betts came on the spot. He caught hold of Joseph Bostock, and the
officer made a move towards Moseley Street, amidst a shower of stones. Presently John Bostock crept up behind Betts and struck him on the jaw with a loaded stick, and the
officer fell to the ground. The mob became more infuriated, and attacked the police with increased violence. By the time Betts had been despatched to the hospital and Dowell
had got the prisoner as far as Alcester Street, the brickends and stones were falling so thickly that Dowell dragged the man into an entry. The roughs tried to get at him,
but with the aid of four or five constables they were kept at bay. Police Constables Sperrin, Madeley, Hemming, Johnson, and Ulyett had a warm time with the rioters, who
kicked them about the legs whenever they could get near enough. Finding they could not get at Dowell the rowdies vented their rage on a confectioner's shop window. They
threw bricks and stones at it and smashed ten large panes of glass and thirteen show-cards, besides other damage to the confectionery. Other police arrived under
Superintendent Harvey, and it was thought safe for Dowell to proceed. He had hardly made his appearance when the prisoner John Bostock rushed at him and dealt him a terrific
blow on the back of the head. It nearly stunned the officer, but he pluckily kept hold of his struggling prisoner. Police Constable Bonehill was helping him, and a minute or
two later the desperate brother made another dash at the officers. Bonehill just dodged a blow, and Dowell, springing back sharply, caught hold of the ruffian. At this time
the police were being injured with stones and kicked. They fought the roughs gallantly to the very last. Had they once shown the white feather some of them would in all
likelihood have been maimed, probably for life. They made use of their staves, but in the height of the affray three or four of the constables were disarmed. One of the
roughs aimed a brick at Dowell, but luckily it missed him and caught the prisoner Joseph on the head. The men were brought up at the Police Court, yesterday, before Mr.
T. M. Colmore [Stipendiary]. Joseph Bostock, who during the last year spent something like eleven months and four days in gaol for violent assaults, was sent to
prison for four months, with hard labour. John Bostock, who is charged with breaking Betts's jaw, was remanded. The police know many of the roughs who joined in the
affair, and in the course of a day or two they will be apprehended. One of the most extraordinary features of the affair is that the riot was witnessed by about 500 people,
none of whom showed a disposition to aid the police."
"Savage Assault on the Police"
Birmingham Daily Post : January 28th 1890 Page 7.
"Edward Ruddy, resident of a court in Hurst Street, was charged with fighting in Digbeth on Saturday night and assaulting Police Sergeant
Conduit and Police Constable Smith. Ruddy was fighting with a man in Digbeth, and was requested to go home by Smith. He refused, and was then arrested, whereupon he struck
and kicked that officer, and treated Police Sergeant Conduit in a similar manner. As he had been many times in trouble for assaults, he was sent to gaol for two months,
with hard labour."
"Assault on the Police"
Birmingham Daily Post : February 25th 1890 Page 7.