Some history on Alum Rock Road from Saltley to Ward End in Birmingham in the County of Warwickshire


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The land around Alum Rock Road was mostly rural in the 19th century and consisted of a few farmsteads where hardy souls would eek out a living on the soil of variable quality. The road itself is ancient and was documented in the mid-15th century, though it is almost certainly of greater antiquity. Due to the topography and terrain, the roads were liable to flooding and this made travel difficult. Hutton wrote in 1781 that at Saltley 'every flood annoys the traveller,' so the area benefited greatly by the new turnpike across the heath established in the 1760s. People would pay their pennies to use the road when passing the Gate Inn. Hutton wanted a causeway to be built to raise the road above the areas which flooded the worst and, despite a fee being required to pass along the road, criticised the turnpike trust for lack of investment on infrastructure.

Alum Rock Road started to appear in trade directories in the late Victorian era, the listings gradually increasing until an explosion of development during the inter-years. The open fields suddenly became housing estates and Alum Rock Road was subsequently lined with buildings to serve the growing local population. Churches, shops, cinemas and public-houses and a whole lot more were erected at quite a rate following the end of the First World War.

In the latter half of the 20th century there was a considerable shift in the socioethnic composition of the area and, whilst Alum Rock Road remained a vibrant shopping experience, there was little demand for the large inter-war public-houses and cinemas that required high patronage to be profitable. Many have closed, some buildings serving new roles, but others lost to redevelopment. Not that the loss of famous taverns can be completely blamed on socio-demographics - the baby boomers that grew up next to familiar landmarks had already found other ways to spend their leisure time and the big public-houses gradually became redundant monoliths.

I have a few old photographs of Alum Rock Road so I will feature them here in a very loose order starting from Saltley and along to Ward End.

Birmingham : Draper's Shop of Frank Funnell at No.13 Alum Rock Road at Saltley [c.1911]

Although listed as a draper's shop in trade directories, it would appear that Frank Funnell also traded in rugs and carpets at No.13 Alum Rock Road. In the early Edwardian period Thomas Jenkins operated a bakery from these premises. By the reign of King George V Frank and Lilian Funnell had moved into the shop. He was still in business here at the start of the Second World War. At the time of this photograph he was a tenant to Holder's Brewery Ltd. as the company held these premises, along with No.11 next door, an off-licence kept by Alfred Baker.

Birmingham : Rowcliffe's Tobacconist's Shop at No.134 Alum Rock Road at Saltley [c.1928]

I have historic photographs of the other cinemas along Alum Rock Road but not one of The Rock which was located on the northern side of the thoroughfare close to Saint Saviour's National Schools. By the time of this photograph, the screening of films had ceased and people came to hear the numbers called out by the bingo compère. Featuring a number of art deco elements, the building, owned by the Regalia Cinema Company [Birmingham] Ltd., opened to the public in 1934. The locals of Alum Rock and Saltley were treated, or subjected, to Gracie Fields in the comedy "This Week of Grace," a film released during the previous year. Mind you, the final film to be screened here was arguably worse as the projector beamed out the ancient "Phantom from 10,000 Leagues" to an audience who were probably wondering why they had bought a ticket. It could have been a deliberate ploy to clear the auditorium early so they could run the hoover around and put the padlock on the building.

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Birmingham : Rowcliffe's Tobacconist's Shop at No.134 Alum Rock Road at Saltley [c.1928]

Here we can see Gladys Rowcliffe stood on the door of her premises at No.134 Alum Rock Road. She had followed in her father's shoes by taking on the tobacconist's shop. Her parents, Edward and Rosina Rowcliffe were trading at 127 St. Margaret's Road at Ward End in the early 1920s. They had moved to this shop by 1927. The family were originally from Bristol but moved north to Birmingham at the end of the Edwardian period. Gladys Rowcliffe married the bus driver William Weales in July 1929 so this photograph possibly dates from the previous year. She and her husband would later live in Wash Lane not far from Blakesley Hall. The shop was next door to the Methodist Church which was still standing in the 21st century. When Gladys Rowcliffe was trading here the shop to the left was run by the provisions dealer Emily Roberts. By 1932 No.134 was being run by the confectioner William Billington.

Birmingham : Junction of Alum Rock Road and Highfield Road with Tram [c.1908] [c.1905]

Featuring Tram No.208 trundling between Alum Rock and Martineau Street, this view shows the junction of Highfield Road. The shop on the corner of the latter is Highfield Stores where grocery and provisions were sold. However, the premises were also licensed and the shop fascia shows that Ansell's Ales were on sale here. Indeed, the premises were owned by the Aston brewery. Listed under Highfield Road in the Edwardian years, the shop was rented by George and Agnes Pritchett. George was a Brummie but Agnes hailed from Dorset. The couple were married at Tamworth in 1899. Margaret Hine, sister of Agnes, worked as an assistant in the grocery shop and off-licence.

The building on the corner of Gowan Road has sadly lost its turret and tower but is still standing in the 21st century. In this Edwardian photograph the premises was occupied by another grocer, John George Jester, who was listed as a provision dealer in trade directories. He had graduated from working as a grocer's assistant at Bordesley High Street. He married Beatrice Clark in 1899 and the couple kept this store throughout the Edwardian period. Looking at the window, it would seem that the couple followed the principle of "Pile 'em High." In later years they would run a sub-post office at Hodge Hill Common.

Birmingham : Sansom's the Stationer, Printer and Bookbinder on the corner of Alum Rock Road and College Road [c.1905]

This shop was on the south side of Alum Rock Road, on the eastern corner of College Road. The premises formed part of a small parade of shops along College Road and dated from 1902. The building survived into the 21st century. Although this shop partly fronted Alum Rock Road it was actually numbered No.2 College Road. A directory published in 1904 shows that the premises were occupied by the grocer William Brown. However, it was a stationer's shop by 1908. Here the name of Sansom can be seen on the window. The 1908 directory lists Arthur S. Heathcote at the shop. He is also listed in 1912 and 1915. It would seem therefore that Sansom's occupied the building for a very short period as the photograph appears to be an Edwardian image. Looking in the window display, the shop sold picture postcards, the sort that now command high prices if they show scenes like this! Checking rate books Arthur Heathcote was here in 1905 so perhaps this image was captured in the previous year. Arthur Heathcote was originally from Marylebone in London. He lived on these premises with his wife Marion. The couple had two daughters, Alice and Doris, detailed in the 1911 census.

Ansell's - The Better Beer

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Birmingham : Shops just off Alum Rock Road at College Road [c.1911]

Well, I may as well show the other shops just off Alum Rock Road in College Road. Next door to the stationer's shop at No.4 College Road was the tobacconist John Arnold. That is possibly him stood outside the shop with his hands on his hips. He originated from Bradford in Yorkshire but his wife Harriet hailed from Peterborough. To the right of the image is No.6 College Road and here it was occupied by the hairdresser Frederick Harry Price. He and his wife Beatrice were both born in Birmingham. Trade directories indicate that the couple were not here until the end of the Edwardian period which sort of puts a spanner in the works of the last theory about the year of the image. Was it a case of Arthur Heathcote running the stationer's shop but with some sort of involvement of Sansum's? In 1904 No.6 was occupied by Clarke Bros., the drapers. Four years later, a directory lists the ironmonger Ernest J. Pardoe at the premises.

Birmingham : Pupils and Teachers at the Council School on Alum Rock Road [c.1908]

In more recent times the old Council School has been known as Shaw Hill Primary School. Erected in 1901, the building is on the corner of Anthony Road. Here a class of children are grouped for a photograph with some of the teachers. The row of villas on the opposite side of Alum Rock Road have also survived into the 21st century. Although there was accommodation for 1,100 pupils, the rapid growth of the population in the Alum Rock area resulted in this school being overcrowded in no time. During the Edwardian period two local Sunday School buildings on George Arthur Road and Alum Rock Road were utilised until a new school was opened in 1908 at Leigh Road at Washwood Heath.

Birmingham : Grand Cinema on Alum Rock Road [c.1922]

Erected on the corner of Langton Road, this cinema was fancifully named the Grand Cinema, though the building was rather functional with no imposing decorative façade. Opened in March 1914, it was an independent operation of the Saltley Grand Picture House Co. Ltd. This photograph probably dates from around 1922-3 as there is a poster for the silent comedy film "A Master of Craft" as a forthcoming attraction. The small orchestra that played in this house had less than a decade before being made redundant as the 'talkies" arrived. The manager of the picture house at the time of this photograph was H. Wright. By the time of the soundtrack films this role was filled by Frank Cozens, a resident of Eastbourne Avenue at Ward End who would later become the Chairman of the Birmingham branch of the Cinematograph Exhibitors Association. After entertaining the people of the Alum Rock area for 45 years, the Grand Cinema closed in August 1959. Much of the building survived into the 21st century and was being used by a number of retail outlets.

Birmingham : Barnett's Greengrocery Store at 450 Alum Rock Road [c.1914]

A very impressive display of fruit and vegetables are on display at Barnett's Greengrocery Store at No.450 Alum Rock Road. These premises still stand on north side of Alum Rock Road, on the eastern corner of Foxton Road. A shoe shop occupied the site in 2021. I am amazed at the number of bananas on display inside the shop - more than I would expect to see in the modern age! Note that the cash register is sited outside too, suggesting that most trade was conducted on the pavement rather than in the shop - well, in fair weather at least. A couple of crates are stamped T. Barnett and, indeed, this shop was operated by Thomas Barnett by the outbreak of World War One. He and his wife Lydia had previously lived at their other premises at 3 Bolton Road in Small Heath. I think they may have operated both shops for a period. The couple can be seen here with their three young children Henry, Sidney and Violet. Thomas's widowed mother traded as a coal dealer in the Edwardian period. Born in Warwick, Thomas Barnett had started his working life in the iron trade whilst living with his parents at Ladywood. He married Lydia Edkins at Aston in January 1895. The couple returned to their Bolton Road premises in later years. By 1932 this shop was being run by another greengrocer named Harold Williams. By the end of the 1930s the couple flogging fruit and vegetables to the locals was George and Martha Harris.

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Birmingham : The Capitol Café at 764 Alum Rock Road [c.1925]

This view is at towards the Ward End section of Alum Rock Road. The parade of shops was erected in the early 1920s judging by trade directories. The stimulation for the shopping facilities was the Capital Cinema - hence the name of the café to the right of this photograph. Katherine Arrowsmith ran this business throughout the 1930s. Listed as a confectioner, she evidently sold hot drinks at this emporium where patrons could also buy fags to create those blue clouds of smoke in the rays of the cinema projector. The premises to the left was a similar business where confectionery could be bought at the milk bar. Between the two shops was the hairdresser Edgar Roll. He occupied the premises that became a bakery in the 1930s.

Birmingham : The Capitol Cinema at Alum Rock Road [c.1925]

It looks as though some sort of coal delivery is taking place with the horse and cart parked up next to the railway bridge. Apparently, passing trains would cause some distraction for those trying to watch a film at The Capitol Cinema. This building was opened in April 1925 but enlarged a few years later. At the time of this photograph the cinema was screening "The White Man," a 1924 silent movie in which Clark Gable made his film debut. The cinema was divided into a 3-screen complex in 1979 with smaller auditoriums seating a couple of hundred patrons. The cinema closed its doors in 1996, the building subsequently converted into the Jamia Masjid Haroonia and Islamic Teaching Centre.

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