Some history on Allison Street at Digbeth in Birmingham in the County of Warwickshire


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One of the earliest references I have seen for Allison Street is a sale notice dated 1813 which also refers to the thoroughfare as Crooked Lane. It is described as running out of Digbeth into Bordesley Street. An early resident was John Andrews, a joiner and cabinet-maker. His property fronted Allison Street and behind, typical of the period, were two other houses. These were occupied by Benjamin Nokes and John Burrows. Allison Street was only being developed at this stage and advertisements for building plots and land started to appear in this recently laid-out street forming a grid plan with the likes of Coventry Street. I assume that whatever kink the road had that gave it the name Crooked Lane had been ironed out during this development.

Although Allison Street would later be occupied by factories, the street was earlier packed with housing, much of which was of poor build quality. Allison Street, like many other thoroughfares, had some squalid back-to-back housing within courts. One example of these can be seen below.

Birmingham : Back-to-Back Housing in 2 Court Allison Street at Digbeth [1905]

Dating from 1905, this photograph shows Court 2 at Allison Street. Older census returns seem to indicate that this formed part of a complex called Smithfield Buildings. The high wall at the rear of this court was part of a large warehouse that fronted Meriden Street. In the 19th century this building was occupied by Ash and Lacy, zinc and copper merchants and manufacturers. This firm had a factory in Gibb Street. Employing more than 200 people, the company would grow as metal perforators, sheet metal workers, galvanisers, metal stockholders. Anybody thinking that metal theft is a fairly recent phenomenon would be interested to hear of the continual attempts to rob this warehouse. For example, in April 1865 the premises were broken into and eighteen ingots of copper, one ingot of tin, bar lead, kettles, and other property was stolen. According to a report, the premise were left secured in the usual manner at the end of the working week. However, when the men turned up for work on the Monday morning it was found that an inner door had been prised open, and the property stolen. The robbery was remarkable from the fact that against the inner side of the door which had been prised open, there were placed heavy casks of zinc weighing some two-and-a-half tons to hinder such a break-in. This, of course, inferred that somebody was concealed on the premises during the Saturday when they were locked up. This was the third robbery that had taken place on these premises within four months. Dealing in metal was clearly a risky business during the Victorian period.

Returning to Court 2 in Allison Street, it is interesting to note that an article published in 1903 [two years before this photograph] discussed the reduction of public-houses in this locality and mentioned the "heart-rending record of poverty, crime, dilapidation, over-crowding and immorality to which the people of Digbeth were subjected." It was reported that "the horrible conditions under which the people live force them into the public-houses for these were the only places where they can purchase a temporary antidote for the ghastly misery of their lives." I have looked at the 1901 census to see who lived in 2 Court at the start of the 20th century, some of whom may have remained in the properties seen above when the photographer rolled up four years later. At No.1 was Gas Engine Fitter Samuel Dovey and his wife Sarah. Living at No.2 was the wood turner Joseph Kenning and his wife Charlotte. The brass-caster William Livingstone occupied No.3 along with his wife Ellen who toiled as a cardboard box maker. James Gannon was next door to the Livingstone's. He worked as a nickel polisher. They had family of eight living in very cramped conditions. At No.6 was the brick maker Frederick Wood and his wife Maria. They had four children but still managed to find room for two lodgers. Next to them, living on the fringe of the Italian quarter, were the brothers Peter and Vincenzo, together with Adolf Marchetti. At No.8 was the fender polisher William Kemp who lived with his wife Mary and four children. Then there was John and Nellie Clark, a couple both working hard in factories. The butcher Charles Martin lived at No.10. These were some of the many people living in Court 2. This section of the eastern side of Allison Street would later be cleared for the development of the police station and other industrial buildings.

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Birmingham : Housing in 3 Court Allison Street at Digbeth [1905]

Birmingham : Woman and Children in 3 Court Allison Street at Digbeth [1905]

Birmingham : Lorry Loading in Allison Street at Digbeth [1971]

Birmingham : Victorian Urinal under Railway Viaduct in Allison Street at Digbeth [1940]

Birmingham : Interior of Victorian Urinal under Railway Viaduct in Allison Street at Digbeth [1940]

Birmingham : Corder and Turley's Umbrellas Works in Allison Street at Digbeth [2008]

Birmingham : Manager's Office of Corder and Turley's Umbrellas Works in Allison Street at Digbeth [2008]

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Birmingham : Warehouse Café in Allison Street at Digbeth [2008]

Birmingham : Rain Head in Allison Street at Digbeth [2008]

Ansell's - The Better Beer

Mitchells's and Butler's Nourishing Stout Beer Label

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Birmingham : Poster for Minor Theatre on Allison Street at Deritend [1837]

Related Newspaper Articles

"On Sunday evening one of those drunken quarrels, which, unfortunately, are only too common and frequent in Allison Street and streets of character in the town, had a fatal termination. As is usual, the parties concerned in the fight had been drinking, and if not drunk were considerably affected by "fourpenny." The deceased man, Thomas Rouen, was 42 years of age, a married man, with three children, a bricklayer's labourer by trade, and lived at 1 Court, 4 House, Coventry Street. The man charged with "killing and slaying" him is named Michael Moran. He is twenty-four years of age, also a bricklayer's labourer by trade, and lived at 7 Court, Allison Street. According to the statements of several neighbours, the deceased man was the aggressor, and provoked Moran to strike him. During the afternoon, Rouen was in the house of a friend in the court where Moran lived. There had been no quarrel between the parties; but in a fit of drunken bravado, Rouen shouted out that he would fight any man in the court. This statement he repeated several times in the afternoon, and about half-past six he went out to fetch some beer. On his way back to the house of his friend, he stopped at the house where Moran lived, and challenged him to fight. Moran refused, and Rouen then taunted him with being coward. Moran still took no notice, and declined to come out, and Rouen went challenging and taunting him. At length he exasperated Moran to such degree that he went outside the house into the court. The men then rushed one another, and Moran struck Rouen on the side of the head, and Rouen fell to the ground. Moran said he would not strike him when down, and he raised him up, and placed him on his feet. Rouen, half drunk and half insensible, from the effects of the blow, at once fell heavily to the ground, striking the back of his head on the stone kerbing. As he did not rise or speak, or show any signs of life, a neighbour fetched Police-Constable Roe [50], who was on duty in the neighbourhood, and the officer caused Mr. Gibbs, surgeon, to be sent for. Upon his arrival, he found that life was extinct, and the body was removed to the deceased's house. The officer went into Moran's house, and found him lying on the bed in his clothes, either asleep or feigning to be so. Moran denied that he struck the man, or that he was the person that the deceased challenged. He said he belonged to Wolverhampton, had only been a short time in Birmingham, worked at some building near the New Street Station, and was half a mile away from home when the deceased was struck. Moran was taken into custody, and lodged in the lock-up."
"A Man Killed in Allison Street"
Birmingham Journal : July 18th 1868 Page 7

"At the Warwickshire Spring Assizes before Mr. Serjeant O'Brien, Michael Moran surrendered to his recognisances on an indictment charging him with feloniously killing Thomas Rouen, at Birmingham, on the 12th of July. Mr. Buszard prosecuted, and Mr. Stubbins defended the prisoner. On the above-mentioned day the deceased and the prisoner had a few unpleasant words in a court in Allison Street, in which the prisoner lived. The deceased appeared to have been the aggressor. Deceased said he did not care for any man who had said anything of him. Prisoner replied that he had never said anything about him. Thereupon deceased said, "Come out and I will fight it out." Prisoner several times said, "I will not fight you on a Sunday." Deceased then called him a "bloody coward," and challenged him several times. Prisoner then struck him on the right ear, and he fell heavily on the ground, saying, "Moran, that will do." He died in few minutes. The jury found the prisoner guilty, but strongly recommended him to mercy on account of the provocation he had received. The prosecution joined in this recommendation. The learned Serjeant strongly admonished the prisoner, and sentenced him to three calendar months' imprisonment."
"Manslaughter at Birmingham"
Birmingham Daily Gazette : March 2nd 1869 Page 4

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