Some history on Ann Street at Birmingham in the County of Warwickshire


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The earliest mentions of taverns here are during the mid-late 18th century. In 1767 Sketchley's Trade Directory for Birmingham, the earliest listing of trades conducted in the town, both John Reeves and William Barret are recorded as a publicans at Mount Pleasant. One public-house is mentioned by name in this directory - that of the Great Goat run by Job Philips. Sketchley's directory published three years later lists Thomas Howes and John Reeves as publicans of No.6 Mount Pleasant. There is now a number included for Job Phillips [an extra L appears in his surname] and his Great Goat is recorded at No.34 Mount Pleasant. The situation is similar in Swinney's trade directory of 1774. If I had to hazard a guess - and it is only presumption - John Reeves and Thomas Howes were publicans of a forerunner to the Bell and Candlestick and the Great Goat became the Bricklayers' Arms. I imagine that, because Ann Street was developed from the western end of the thoroughfare, street numbering started there but was changed when the street was built up. As I say, this is simply a guess.

Although now forming part of Colmore Row, Ann Street was the former name of the section of road between Congreve Street and Newhall Street. Both Ann Street and Colmore Row were on the edge of the Newhall Estate belonging to the Colmore family. They owned other parts of Birmingham such as Hockley Farm, Bell Barn, Tanter Butts, Oozells and Birmingham Heath. The other end of Colmore Row also had an older name - that of Bull Lane.

Map Extract showing Newhall Lane [From William Westley's 1731 Map of Birmingham]

Ann Street is not the original name of this section of Colmore Row. The road appears on William Westley's map of 1731 as New Hall Lane, named after the family home of New Hall built by William Colmore. The above extract from Westley's map of 1731 shows what would become Ann Street as New Hall Lane. One can see the Jacobean mansion to the right of this extract with two tree-lined avenues leading to the building. The Colmore family had earlier lived in an older house close to the site of Moor Street railway station. The New Hall had long been abandoned by the family by the time Ann Colmore carved up the Newhall Estate and granted building leases. After going through the courts to wrestle the estate from her brother-in-law, she directed operations from Middlesex. The old mansion was, for some period, used as a warehouse by Matthew Boulton. The house was demolished in 1787.

Map Extract showing Bewdley Street [From Samuel Bradford's 1750 Map of Birmingham]

Samuel Bradford's plan drawn up nineteen years later in 1750 shows that the thoroughfare was known as Bewdley Street as it formed the first part of the route westward towards the river port. Named after Ann Colmore, the first mention of the thoroughfare being Ann Street appeared in 1777. It was marked as such on Thomas Hanson's plan of Birmingham in 1778 and on Sherriff's map featured in a trade directory for the town. Between the period of Bewdley Street and Ann Street the thoroughfare was also known as Mount Pleasant or Mount Place, a reference possibly to the street bordering Bennett's Hill Gardens. This name seems to overlap with that of Ann Street.

Early development of the thoroughfare had started from the junction of what became Congreve Street, the opposite side being protected for some years by a condition in the lease of Bennett's Hill House. So whilst all around was being developed the gardens remained as a green oasis, the probable reason why the street was once known as Mount Pleasant or Mount Place.

Eventually, the thoroughfare from Snow Hill to the Town Hall all became part of Colmore Row following the construction of the Council House when the north side of Ann Street was removed and a new line created to form a straight road from St. Philip's Square.

Ann Colmore was responsible for the development of the family estate after she obtained a private act of Parliament in 1746. Originating from Tournai, the Colmore family first acquired land in and around Birmingham following the dissolution of the Dale End Priory of St. Thomas of Canterbury in 1536. In the late 18th century Ann Colmore, a descendant of the Milner family, began to develop the largely rural estate so that a higher profit could be yielded from its use as industrial and housing space. Many of the surrounding streets were named or re-named after members of the Colmore family. This included Great Charles Street, named after her heir Charles Colmore. He succeeded to the estate when Ann Colmore retired to Bath on an annuity.

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The early buildings in and around Ann Street were first occupied by Birmingham's toymakers. However, the street slowly evolved into a financial and legal centre before the redevelopment of the district in the late 19th century, The name of Ann Street was lost when, following the municipalisation of Birmingham, the street was realigned as a continuation of Colmore Row and, as a result, the historic buildings on the north side of the thoroughfare were demolished.

Watercolour Painting of Ann Street by Paul Braddon [c.1868]

This watercolour painting by Paul Braddon affords a precious glimpse of life in the old days. Born in Birmingham in 1864, he presumably worked from very early photographs or sketches as he would have been too young to produce paintings of this period. Indeed, many of his paintings around the town would be in a series called "Memories of Old Birmingham." He was fairly prolific and produced a number of views of Birmingham, no doubt being bread-and-butter work for the artist. He is thought to have made pencil sketches of buildings and scenes and annotated them with great detail. It is from these that he was able to produce his watercolours. He must have started sketching at a very early age, though some of his work pre-dates his life so he was working from the sketches of others - or perhaps early engravings. The important thing, however, is that he captured the spirit and mood of old Birmingham.

In this work Paul Braddon's focus was the north side of Ann Street. The castellated building on the corner is where Ann Street met Congreve Street and once housed a rather unique shopping experience. Here the building can be seen in its latter days when it was occupied by William Bryan, a cook and confectioner. However, it was once a shoe and clothes warehouse along with an "Exhibition for the Curious Observer of Natural Phenomena." This late-18th century attraction was Allin's Cabinet of Curiosities, a typical commercial urban exhibition building in the pre-museum era. The building was later tenanted by the Suffield family, ancestors of the novelist J. R. R. Tolkien - his mother's name was Mabel Suffield. Next door to William Bryan's shop can be seen the Town Hall Tavern.

Birmingham Town Hall and Queen's College viewed from Ann Street [c.1850]

In this view of the Town Hall and Paradise Street, the building that once housed Allin's Cabinet of Curiosities can be seen on the right-hand side next to the former White Lion, a pub that changed its name during construction of Birmingham's landmark revival of Roman architecture and subsequently traded as the Town Hall Tavern.

The mid-19th century painting is the work of Samuel Lines. The original was presented by the Friends of Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery in 1937. The artist was born in 1778 at Allesley near Coventry where his mother was the mistress of a boarding school. Following his move to Birmingham, he was apprenticed to a clock dial enameller before working as a designer for Henry Clay, founder of Birmingham's paper maché trade. Supported by the sword manufacturer John Gunby, Samuel Lines was encouraged to teach drawing and established a school in Newhall Street. This was a great success and facilitated his move to Temple Row West where he would live for the rest of his life. He helped to establish an academy in Peck Lane and was a founder of the School of Art in New Street. He was elected a member of the Birmingham Society of Artists in 1842.

At the time of this painting, thought to be 1850 but almost certainly a little earlier, the castellated building on the corner of Congreve Street was being used by the druggist Samuel Wilson Suffield. Born at Coventry, his early years were spent at another Coventry - in Tolland County, Connecticut. He moved to England when his parents returned after a spell trying to forge a new life in the United States. His father, a Brummie by birth, moved the family to Evesham in the early 19th century. This was the area from which his wife Lucy Luckman originated. I just love that name given the place to which they emigrated - you could open a casino and brothel with such a moniker! One of their ten children, Samuel Wilson Suffield married Elizabeth Hillman at Kidderminster in the spring of 1830. By this time he was already operating his business on the corner of Ann Street and Congreve Street. The newly-weds did not live at these premises; Samuel commuted into work from Watery Lane Cottage at Harborne Heath close to the White Swan. His business may have suffered from the adverse publicity garnered by his concoctions made up from the drugs and chemicals he had acquired from a disreputable wholesaler. Despite sourcing drugs from another supplier, he was declared bankrupt in December 1843. In the early 1850's the couple moved to Kent Street when Samuel Suffield was appointed superintendent and his wife Elizabeth matron of the Birmingham Corporation Baths and Washhouses. Soon however the Suffield's were back in business, running a boarding house in Suffolk Street. This also went pear-shaped and Samuel Suffield was again declared an insolvent debtor in December 1858. Never one to let adversity get them down, the family moved to Regent Place, off Moseley Road, from where Samuel worked as a brewery agent. Samuel and Elizabeth made it into their seventies and were living close to the Plough and Harrow on Moseley Road where they possibly enjoyed a night out in their latter years. They may have even ventured into town because their son, also named Samuel Wilson Suffield, was licensed victualler of dining rooms in Upper Temple Street. Indeed, he was the person responsible for gaining a wine licence for the property in September 1869. This followed the dissolution of his partnership with Frederick Mosley in which he operated the Saint George's Works in Great Hampton Row where his firm manufactured lamps. The dining rooms in Upper Temple Street would later evolve into a public-house called The Bodega before being re-named The Trocadero towards the end of the 19th century.

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Corner of Ann Street and Congreve Street in Birmingham [c.1870]

This view of Ann Street was captured shortly before the properties on the north side of the thoroughfare were cleared for the construction of the Council House. A crowd is gathered outside Bryan's pastry shop, the retail premises established by the cook and confectioner in what was once Allin's Cabinet of Curiosities. The shop window has shelves of what appear to be sugar loaves. A speciality of the shop was William Bryan's celebrated veal and ham pies. Wedding Breakfasts was another fundamental part of his business and an advertisement dated June 1865 stated that 'rich bride cakes were always in stock.' Having earlier traded in Livery Street, this had been a family business for many years. William's mother had been a pastry cook and his sisters were also involved at the shop.

With the council's impending clearance of Ann Street, the Bryan family had to find new premises for their business and they re-located to New Street. The corner site close to the Town Hall was a favourable location for the shop but the fortunes of the business appear to have soared in New Street. William and his wife Eliza [née Millward] expanded their workforce and employed four men, two boys and three women who served in the shop. They also took on two waitresses and three kitchen maids.

Birmingham : Ann Street and Statue of Sir Robert Peel [c.1872]

The shops and businesses on the north side of Ann Street were boarded up by the time of this photograph. The new Council House was to be built on this site. For many years, the local authorities had wanted to clear this row of properties, along with the courts to the rear, in order to fashion a striking vista of the Town Hall from Colmore Row. These properties, erected on a slight kink in the road had obstructed the view of Birmingham's flagship building. Allowing existing tenants to remain in their properties, the council started to buy the leases of the buildings between Congreve Street and Newhall Street. This purchasing programme commenced as early as 1853 but dragged on for years. That is, until the screw manufacturer Joseph Chamberlain entered public office in 1869. Within four years he was elected Mayor and he was instrumental in the municipalisation of Birmingham. The provision of water, gas and electricity was radically improved under his leadership. His administration brought about a considerable Improvement Scheme, Corporation Street being one of the largest undertakings of the period. The long delay in building the Council House was the difficulties of funding. However, Chamberlain's overhaul of the Corporation's finances, with borrowing secured by takeovers of utilities, enabled him to forge ahead with a massive capital expenditure programme.

It would appear that the shops and businesses had only recently been boarded up when this photograph was taken. Indeed, it seems that some people are removing their possessions from the properties. There are two public-houses in this view - the Town Hall Tavern is just to the left of the first horse and cart. The Bell and Candlestick is the property being emptied. The statue to the left of the photograph is that of Sir Robert Peel. The second public statue to be placed in Birmingham, it was erected in 1855 to the memory of the statesman who, as Prime Minister, accepted the town's validity of the Charter of Incorporation in 1842. The work of the sculptor Peter Hollins, the monument was cast by Messrs. Elkington and Mason of Newhall Street. The statue was repositioned within the 'new' Victoria Square and remained there until November 1926 when a lorry driver veered into the base causing Peel to topple off. Following repairs, the statue was later moved to the safety of Calthorpe Park. Not one for staying put, Sir Robert Peel moved for a fourth time in 1963 and was positioned outside the Police Training Centre on Pershore Road. Rather bizarrely, the marble base on which he stood was left in Calthorpe Park!

Birmingham : Ann Street looking towards the Town Hall [c.1870]

This view of Ann Street dates from around 1870 and looks towards the Town Hall which can just be seen in the distance. As far as I know there are no other former public-houses to be seen in this view - the Bricklayers' Arms and the Vine Inn would have been behind the photographer as they were more towards the junction of Newhall Street. The Town Hall Tavern and Bell and Candlestick are, of course, in this view but only in the distance. Of note in this view, where the lantern is above the hand-cart, is the premises of the cabinet-maker Stephen Barber. Towards the end of 1870, this business was moved to Wellington House where the master cabinet-maker and upholsterer assured the public that he was a personal superintendent of all furniture made on the premises. He was successful in business and acquired a family home in Moseley. Following his death in 1895, he was succeeded by his son Walter who continued to trade in Colmore Row. His son, also named Walter, founded Midland Electric Manufacturing in 1908 at Conybere Street but later moved to the Stafford Works in Barford Street. By 1936, the company occupied the former Rudge-Whitworth factory in Tyseley where there was a workforce in excess of 1,000 people.

From one Barber to another - in a sense, for the next property towards the camera was the hairdressing salon of John Caswell, a man who described himself as an artist in hair! Next to where one could obtain a Victorian bouffaint was the premises of another important manufacturing firm. Messrs. Hepinstall & Lawledge. This firm was founded at Walsall in the mid-1700's by John Hepinstall. Having served his apprenticeship in Sheffield, he established his own business on the fringe of the Black Country before relocating to Ann Street in 1789. The Lawledge family's involvement with the firm commenced in 1822. Following the demolition of their premises in order to construct the Council House, the company moved to Granville Street.

Birmingham : Council House and Colmore Row [c.1888]

This is how the thoroughfare looked following road-widening and the construction of the Council House. This renaissance style structure has given me much pleasure over the years. It still captivates me each time I walk through Victoria Square. The decoration of the building is quite over the top and not without its critics. However, in constructing this building, Birmingham was making a real statement. Architects from around Great Britain were invited to submit designs for the proposed Corporation Buildings. The Estates and Buildings Committee opted for the entry from Yeoville Thomason who had offices in Bennett's Hill. He was responsible for some of Birmingham's fine edifices such as the Great Hampton Works and Singers Hill Synagogue. His designs were described as 'Anglicised Italian; preserving the broad feature of Italian palatial architecture, and adapting these, with skill and freedom, to modern requirements.' Not only was the building designed by a Birmingham-based architect, William and Thomas Barnsley, the construction contractors, were also a Brummagem firm - oh, for the days when it could all be done by local people. Amid much pomp, the foundation stone was laid by Joseph Chamberlain on June 17th 1874.

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Four public-houses stood on the site of the Council House - in addition to the Town Hall Tavern and Bell and Candlestick in Ann Street, the Johnson's Head on the corner of Congreve Street and Edmund Street was lost, along with the Dog and Duck which stood in Edmund Street. In the above photograph taken towards the end of the 1880's, two more statues had appeared next to the aforementioned memorial to Sir Robert Peel. In the foreground [bottom-right in the photograph] is the statue of Joseph Priestley, a man who had a rough time of it when living in Sparkbrook. The statue that is stood closer to the entrance of the Council House is that of John Skirrow Wright, a social reformer of Birmingham and inventor of the Postal Order. Following the death of King Edward VII, both memorials were moved to Chamberlain Place. On the far right of the photograph Christ Church is featured - a building I will look at when discussing New Street and Waterloo Street.

Related Newspaper Articles

"Conflagrations, on a greater or less scale, seem to the order the day in Birmingham. At all events they have proved the sensation feature of the last three weeks. At a quarter past nine last night, the back premises of Mr. Matthews, perfumer and fancy soap manufacturer, who carries on business No.50, Ann Street, were discovered to be on fire, and in less than a quarter of an hour the conflagration had reached such a height that it was feared it would rival that in the High Street, last week. The front premises are occupied by Mr. H. E. Pistor, commission agent, and by Mr. Matthews and are joined on one side by the Provident Society's Rooms and on the other by the offices of Messrs. Partridge and Woodward, solicitors. The damage, however, has been confined to the premises of Mr. Matthews and Mr. Pistor, and as far as the latter are concerned, we understand it is very slight. The warehouse was locked up at an early hour in the evening, and at that time all appeared to be safe. At the above-named hour, however, a quarter past nine, smoke was seen coming from behind the front premises, and information was immediately sent to the several fire offices, and also to the New Street Police Station. The fire escape arrived in very short time, and within less than ten minutes of the fire being discovered the engines belonging to the District, Birmingham, and Norwich offices were on the spot. A detachment of the police, under the command of Superintendent Leggatt, was also speedily in attendance, and very soon succeeded in clearing the street immediately in front of the building, so that the firemen suffered no obstruction in the discharge of their duties. During this brief period that elapsed, however, between the discovery of the fire and the engines arriving, the flames had made considerable progress, they having penetrated the roof of the shed, or warehouse, in which they originated, and for some time it was feared that they would extend to the adjoining premises. On the front door being broken open the place was completely filled with flames and smoke, but it was found that, as far as the front of the building was concerned, it was still untouched. The conflagration had originated in a shed, which is constructed chiefly of wood, and in which Mr. Matthews had stored a quantity of fancy soaps, perfumes, etc. As we have already stated, they had by this time penetrated the roof of this shed, and were rapidly spreading at a fearful rate, but fortunately there was only a slight breeze of wind, otherwise they might have speedily extended to the adjoining properties. The engines speedily took up their positions, Norwich going round the back of the premises, the District taking the front while the Birmingham engine was brought to bear upon the roof of the building. An abundant supply of water was obtained without any delay, and in a very short time the result of the united efforts of the several brigades apparent, the lurid glare of the flames ceasing to visible from the street Though not seen, however, the fire was by no means got under, a quantity of combustible material in the lower part of the building being still burning fiercely. With an unlimited supply of water, however, the engines being worked vigorously, the flames were almost entirely subdued by ten o'clock, and though one of the engines continued play at intervals for some time longer, the fire was by that time completely got under. Shortly before ten some alarm was created in the minds the onlookers, who observed a quantity of smoke issuing from the windows of Mr. Fisher's offices on the first floor, but all the apprehensions were soon at rest, it being ascertained that it only proceeded from the smouldering debris. Mr. Matthews resides at Aston New Town, and as he was not present during the fire, it is impossible to form any estimate of the amount of damage done to his property, or that of Mr. Pistor. We understand, however, that both the premises and stock are fully insured in the Guardian Fire Office. In addition to the roof of the shed being burnt through, the stock of soaps, perfumeries, etc., is considerably damaged, especially the latter, a large number of the bottles being cracked, and the glass melted with the heat. As may be imagined, the smoke from such a heterogeneous mass of combustibles was anything but pleasant to the olfactory nerves. In fact, the stench was almost intolerable to those who had to work inside. The arrangements were perfect throughout and too much praise cannot be given to the members of the fire brigades and the police officers for their exertions. The complaint at the fire in High Street was that there was a deficient supply of water, but on this occasion it was unlimited."
"Fire in Ann Street Last Night"
Birmingham Journal : January 24th 1863 Page 8.

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