Some history of Bordesley Street
Bordesley Street runs loosely parallel between Digbeth and Fazeley Street, starting from the town end at Park Lane and continuing to the junction of Milk Street. The thoroughfare was seemingly unloved by pioneering photographers and few historical images of Bordesley Street have come to light. It is a similar story in neighbouring streets; perhaps the photographers were too scared to venture into this area which was a tough district in Victorian times. Some of the notorious slogging gangs roamed these streets and it was no place for the faint-hearted.
The construction of the Digbeth Branch Canal and Wharf around 1790 led to the development of Bordesley Street. Surveyed in 1781, Thomas Hanson's Plan of Birmingham shows that the land was given over to market gardening, though it is possible to pick out field boundaries on which roads were laid out at the turn of the 19th century. Much of the land was part of the Bartholomew Estate and owned by Sir Thomas Sherlock Gooch. The above map extract is from an 1825 Plan of Birmingham by James Drake and is one of the first plans to show Bordesley Street as we know it today running from Park Street to Little Ann Street. Both the Warwick Canal and Digbeth Branch Canals are shown, along with the River Rea and mill pond.
Some old properties have survived at the 'top' or 'town' end of Bordesley Street, much of which formed part of the Italian quarter. In December 1962 Katyn House, the Polish Roman Catholic Centre, was opened by Alderman and Mrs. Eric E. Mole, who were deputising for the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Birmingham. At the opening ceremony they were met by two girls, one in Guide uniform, the other in national dress. Costing £30,000, the centre was built on a site bordering the southernmost part of the former Park Street Burial Ground and included a dance hall, rooms for youth organisations, offices, dining-rooms and a canteen. The building was the work of the Rev. K. Kacki, prlest-in-charge of the city's Polish Roman Catholics, along with many volunteer helpers. Speaking at the opening and blessing ceremony, Mr. J. Maslonka, chairman of the Polish Catholic Association, pointed out that the opening of the centre was an act of thanks for the millennium of Christianity in Poland.
Above the entrance of Katyn House is a superb Mother and Child sculpture, the work of Tadeusz Zielinski in 1966. The piece, in the style of Epstein, is of bronzed ciment fondu and measures over 3.5 metres. Born in Trzebina in 1907, Tadeusz Zielinski was a prisoner of war at Kozielsk II where he made a wood relief of Our Lady of Kozielsk which, following the war, was displayed at Andrzej Bobola church in Hammersmith. The artist came to the UK in 1948 and made a significant contribution to Polish art and culture. His religiously-themed sculptures can be found in many churches and public buildings throughout the UK.
Opposite Katyn House is a former garage that I was told dated from the inter-war years. If that is the case then it has a retro-styled frontage with some classical elements such as square fluted pillars topped with ball finials. Behind the three-bay frontispiece was a U-shaped workshop area with a central space covered with skylights to furnish the interior with bright light. I used an aerial view on a popular search engine to determine this and, to be honest, it looks the same layout as a 19th century map outline with possibly an infill for the central section. If this is the building from the late Victorian period than it was the premises of the wine merchants Innes, Smith & Co. This firm were still at No.1 Bordesley Street in 1940. However, 1a housed several businesses - Simpson's Garage, Premier Ticket Sign Co., also ticket writing firm James H. Laraque & Co plus the Matchless Window Cleaning Co. Incidentally, just around the corner in Park Street, stood the Duke of Cumberland public-house.
Just down from the former garage stands a row of three-storey terraced houses that, as the brickwork suggests, are not original properties of Bordesley Street but rather replacement buildings erected in 1895. There used to be a larger timber yard to the rear of these properties. Three taller houses with shop fronts stand on the corner of Allison Street [above] and, although impressive in scale, are rather austere, particularly considering that they were designed by the noted architect Jethro Anstice Cossins in the early 1880s. The president of the Birmingham Archaeological Society and Birmingham Architectural Society is remembered for some notable buildings in Birmingham.
The three-gabled brick building on the opposite corner of Allison Street dates from 1891-2 and was originally used as a pig market. A stone laid on February 16th 1892 by Joseph Horton Esq. can be seen on the Bordesley Street frontage. He was the man appointed to source a suitable site for a pig market. The main pig dealers refused a proposal to be based in Montague Street and favoured a site in Albert Street. However, land procurement proved problematic and this site was deemed a good compromise. Of course, I would not agree because the original corner building was once the White Horse. That building, and many others fronting the street and houses in courts behind were swept away to accommodate this structure designed by Owen & Ward. Although a functional building, it does feature some subtle touches such as brick pilasters and brick moulded cornices.
The construction of this market was a private enterprise by several men who monopolised the trade and were known as the Birmingham Pig Salesmen's Association. However, the Corporation continued to build a new market in Montague Street. The two buildings were being constructed at the same time. It was almost a race to complete one before the other. The Bordesley Street market opened in October 1892 and the Corporation were having none of it, bringing an action against Daniel John Foster, Joseph Doolan, Patrick Long, Joseph Gosling, John Jones and George Samworth to prevent them trading in Bordesley Street because it infringed the manorial rights and statutory rights of the Corporation who collected tolls on the sales of livestock. And so the Pig Market Dispute, as it was known, went on for ages. Essentially, there could not be two pig markets in Birmingham and sales at this site ceased in the late 1890s. In the Edwardian period the building was used as a bottling stores by Showell's Brewery Company Limited. In subsequent years it was used by the Birmingham Syphon Company Limited and J. & W. Witham & Co. Ltd, wine and spirit merchants. In later years it served as a confectionery and bakery.
Adjacent to the former pig market and standing on the corner of Meriden Street is the former Spotted Dog public-house, the oldest surviving building in Bordesley Street. The pub evolved into a nightclub and has had a number of names in recent years.
On the opposite side of the road is the much-expanded site of the Solar Works. The oldest part of the factory complex fronted New Bartholomew Street but was gradually enlarged with additional buildings that occupied much of the land between New Bartholomew Street and New Canal Street. The business can be traced back to 1750 and traded as Timothy Smith & Sons. This firm became Smith and Chamberlain and became successful in brassfounding. In 1863 Arthur Chamberlain, brother of Joseph Chamberlain later Mayor of Birmingham, built on the success of manufacturing brass chandelier and gas fittings. Forming a new company in 1883 with himself and George Hookham as directors, he steered the business into the production of electric fittings.
This extract from a plan of the Gooch Estate dates from 1875 and shows the three canal arms of the Bordesley Wharf. It was in 1784 that an Act of Parliament authorised the construction of the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal to connect the Birmingham Canal with the Coventry Canal. Built under the Birmingham Canal Act 1768 and completed in 1799 the Digbeth Branch led to the development of land on the Gooch Estate. Fazeley Street, Oxford Street and Bordesley Street were the main thoroughfares to be laid out in the late 18th century.
Featuring a single basin, Bordesley Wharf was created on land between the appropriately-named New Canal Street and Pickford Street and completed by the end of the 18th century. An additional basin was dug and completed in the early 1820s. To cope with the volume of traffic and goods, a third basin was excavated during the 1840s. The above plan also shows the long-lost housing development centred around Cotton Street. These dwellings would be demolished to make way for the enlarged Fazeley Street Rolling Mills and other buildings such as the Provincial Hide, Skin & Fat Market and the Birmingham & Midland Counties Hide, Skin, Fat & Wool Market. The basins were lined with timber and slate yards but the greatest volume of traffic was given over to coal. This is where much of the black stuff arrived to feed the steam engines and furnaces of Birmingham. The Star Works was a factory where enamelled slate and chimney pieces was manufactured.
Bordesley Wharf is where Typhoo Tea was based from the mid-1920s. Along with Bird's Custard, this is another famous local brand name which has been used by the nation over the decades. Typhoo Tea was created by the Sumners family of Birmingham who began selling the blend when one of the family claimed that it eased her indigestion.
The Typhoo story began with William Sumner who founded the company in 1820 by acquiring Prachett and Noble, an old family grocery and druggist's shop at the top of the Bull Ring. William Sumner expanded the business ten years later when he bought another shop in Coleshill's High Street. In the 1850s William gave the business to his sons, John and William but by 1863 they decided to go their separate ways. It was John's son, John, who developed the business in the late 19th century.
It was in 1903 that Typhoo Tipps was launched after John's sister, Mary, tried a tea recommended to her as a cure for indigestion. The tea used small particles compared to other large leaf teas. The brand suited Mary who urged her brother to sell the tea which he did in a packet under the Typhoo Tipps' brand. The name Typhoo was chosen as it sounded oriental and was alliterative with tea. The new tea caught on quickly. Customers discovered that, although the tea was slightly more expensive, it was more economical and was beneficial for indigestion.
The success of Typhoo Tea forced John Sumner's hand and he sold the grocery side of the business to concentrate on Typhoo Tea in 1905. After just 12 months the company was showing a profit. Sumner promoted the Typhoo brand by emphasising the fact that it was made from the edge of the leaf, thus making it pure leaf and tannin-less. Enlisting the help of doctors, Typhoo Tea was recommended as a relief to digestive problems. This did sales no end of good. By this stage the company had switched from China tea to leaves grown in Ceylon. Indeed, in 1909 Sumner visited the country to establish better relationships with the growers and blenders. From that point all tea was to be blended in Ceylon to save time on arrival in Birmingham. However, concerns over quality in the early 1930s saw the company install blending equipment at Bordesley Street where both in-house tea taster and blenders were employed.
By the end of the First World War there was a massive increase in production as the company were overwhelmed with orders from agents who had been deprived of Typhoo between 1914 and 1918. Higher volume sales meant that the company needed larger premises since its old Castle Street premises had reached capacity. The company chose a former timber mill and factory by the canal basin in Bordesley Street. The company were granted permission from Customs and Excise to operate a bonded warehouse and a lease on the site was agreed. Production was moved there in 1925 after the installation of new plant and machinery.
John Sumner was knighted two years before his death in 1934 and his son, J. R. Hugh Sumner, took over as chairman. The offices had remained at the Castle Street site but the company commissioned the architect Harry William Weedon to design a new office block next to the former timber mill. This is the left five bays of the imposing blue brick and stone structure seen today facing Oxford Street. The date of 1929 can be seen on the rainwater hoppers. The offices were moved here during the following year. The building to the east of this block and along Pickford Street dates from around 1950. The fins on the building are similar to those deployed by Harry William Weedon on some of the Odeon cinemas designed by his practice.
Tea was again rationed during the Second World War and in 1941 the Bordesley Street factory was bombed. In a gesture that would seem impossible today, Brooke Bond, a rival company, packaged special 'Emergency Blend' tea for Typhoo. In 1974 when the company was owned by Schweppes, a new tea plant was installed at Moreton on Merseyside. It is possible that nobody in Birmingham raised an eyebrow at the time but this was to signal the end of Digbeth's long association with Typhoo. Despite the company being co-owned by another Birmingham company, Cadbury's, production in Bordesley Street came to a halt in 1978 and the entire production was transferred to the Moreton site. In May 1986 Typhoo formed part of Premier Brands Limited, a division of Cadbury-Schweppes. In August 2005, Premier Brands sold Typhoo to the Apeejay Surrendra Group. Typhoo had gone a long way since the days of the Sumner family.
The collection of buildings by Harry William Weedon are impressive and it is important that they remain for no other place in the UK has such a legacy of the tea industry. However, it is a structure on the other side of Bordesley Street that I find the most aesthetically pleasing. In 2020 the building had been converted into a luxury hotel but for some years it was known as Ladbrooke House. Designed by Ernest H. Wigley in 1919, the building moves on from the structures erected before the First World War. There are elements of Arts and Crafts architecture though I accept there is little asymmetry. Still, from this one can see how things evolved into the 1920s and the Art Deco period. In my humble opinion this remains, a century later, a fine-looking building.
Have Your Say
If you would like to share any further information on Bordesley Street - 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 will post it here.
Related Newspaper Articles
"A large circle sportsmen, not only in England, but throughout the United States, will regret to hear that Frank Murphy, the well-known light-weight pugilist, died at his residence, Bordesley Street, Birmingham, yesterday [Wednesday] morning. Frank had been unwell for some time, and had a complication of ailments. His death was hastened by a cold which he caught while standing about the chilly Altcar Flats at Waterloo Coursing Meeting. He managed to keep up, however, until about a week ago, when he felt unable to rise from his bed. Frank never rallied, dying at ten minutes to four o'clock yesterday [Wednesday] morning.
"Frank Murphy, as his name indicates, was of Irish origin. He was born in Lench Street, Birmingham, in the early part of 1864. He always had
a taste for boxing. When about eighteen years of age he joined the boxing class held at Tom Palmer's, the Coopers' Arms. Moland Street, Birmingham, and there he
displayed the raw qualities of patience and gameness, to which, after being at Mr. Palmer's class for a short time, he added science of no mean order. Perhaps his
first match was with Bill James [brother of Harry James], for a purse. In this encounter he beat his opponent in the second round. Then he met Alf Howe [better
known as "Titty"] at Brighton in an engagement with the knuckles. This fight took place in 1882 or 1883, and was for a purse given by Bob Habbijam. The battle
lasted about three-quarters of an hour, when the police interfered. Murphy, however, was clearly having the best of it when this interruption took place, and he was
awarded two-thirds of the contents of the purse. His next match was with the recently deceased Jem Walder, for £20. The fight took place in a wood near the Boot
Inn at Lapworth, and was in the old style. Murphy was able to dispose of his clever opponent in 57 minutes. After this Murphy met Bill Rose [alias Horner] in the
old style, for a purse given by Arthur Cooper. On this occasion he was giving about 2 stone away, but after the contest had lasted a little over an hour Frank obtained
the victory. His next meeting was with Enoch Thomas, of Birmingham. in a six rounds glove contest at Nottingham, for a cup and a purse. Here again he was victorious. Then
he fought Jem Lane [a son of old Jem Lane, brother of "Hammer" Lane], of Birmingham, for a purse. Lane weighed nearly 140lb. while Murphy only scaled 116lb.
Two-ounce gloves were used. The fight was a good one, and Lane went down in nearly every round. After the contest had gone on about half an hour the contributors to
the purse asked that it should declared a draw. Both were severely punished. About this time, John L. Sullivan paid a visit to England, and saw Murphy spar at his great
assault at arms at Bingley Hall, and at once formed a high opinion of him, the result being that Frank was engaged to accompany Sullivan on his sparring tour throughout
the country. After suffering from a severe illness Tom Palmer issued on his behalf a challenge to any man in the world at 8st 4lb. "Hippy" Homer, Birmingham, was
the first to take the challenge, but the affair fell through. Then April, 1888, Edward Holske imported Frank to the States. Frank had only been there about three weeks
when he met Jack Williams in a glove fight, for a purse, in Boston. Murphy knocked his man out in the fifth round, and at once firmly established himself in the good opinion
of Boston ring-goers. Then he was matched with Jack Havlin, of Boston, for £1,000 dollars a-side, the New York Police Gazette Diamond-studded
Feather-weight Belt, and the Championship of World. The fight came off at New Jersey, and forty-nine rounds were contested, but the result was a draw. However,
he was matched with Havlin again. The second contest came off at Oak Island on the 27th of August, 1888. It was a great battle, though only twelve rounds were fought,
Frank gaining the verdict, being afterwards presented by Mr. Spencer Williams with a handsome gold watch. In the following January Frank met Jimmy Hogan, the clever
Philadelphian bantam, in Pennsylvania, being awarded the fight after ten rounds. Then he met Jemmy Frazer, whom Jem Carney had undertaken to beat in fifteen rounds, but
had failed to do so, some time previously. Murphy beat Frazer in nine rounds, the stake being 2,500 dollars. After this Frank travelled the country into Canada. There
he met Collins, whom he beat in thirteen rounds, the stake in this case also being 2,500 dollars. Then he was matched to fight the "Belfast Spider" for a purse
of 1,500 dollars offered by Charles E. Davies, the loser to take 250 dollars, and the winner to be declared the holder of the Richard K. Fox feather-weight champion
belt. The match was broken off, however, no fewer than three limes. In the interval the two men met in a saloon, and Murphy taunted the Spider with not wanting to fight,
whereupon the Spider struck Frank in the face. Frank beat his opponent and threw him down on the ground, and held him there until the spectators pulled him away. The
match shortly afterwards came off Kouts, Indiana, before a company of only about 120 persons. It was a record glove fight both as regards the number of rounds and the
time it lasted, no fewer than eighty rounds being fought in 5 hours 19 minutes. After this Frank was matched with Billy Murphy, of Australia, in a contest for 2,500
dollars, and the championship, but the fight did not come off. Then he met Johnny Griffin, and beat him in eighteen rounds. His last fight in America was with Warren,
in San Francisco. Forty-six rounds were fought, when the referee stopped the battle and declared it a draw. Altogether, Murphy fought twenty-one battles in
America, and was never beaten. On coming home he was matched with Fred Johnson, but it came to nothing. John Brown, of the Minerva Tavern, Bordesley Street, also
deposited £50 with us in the year 1892 for a match between Murphy and Dixon, but this also came to nothing. His last fight of all, therefore, was his fight with
Warren in San Francisco. Throughout his career Frank was always renowned for his gameness. The Americans, indeed, looked upon him as the beau ideal of a fighter in the
old school, and a few months ago Mr. Palmer, his old supporter, received an offer of a purse of £900 for a fight between Murphy and Billy Griffin. This offer Murphy
was ready to take up; but on account of his failing health was persuaded not to do so. Frank had received great kindness from many of his friends during the period
of his failing health. Mr. J. Brown obtained the best medical advice for him, and helped him in every way possible."
"Death of Frank Murphy of Birmingham"
Sporting Life : March 16th 1893 Page 4.