Some history of Clark Street
This thoroughfare connected Reservoir Road to Icknield Port Road at the junction opposite Freeth Street. The superb photograph [below] by Phyllis Nicklin was taken in 1968 and shows Clark Street from the junction of Icknield Port Road with the Glassblowers' Arms on the right-hand corner. Absolutely nothing remains of the buildings in this image and Clark Street has been transformed by modern housing and bungalows. Here, however, one can see a street with character. By the way, Phyllis Nicklin was stood in the middle of the road and the Freeth Arms would have been on her immediate left. Note the cobbled road beneath the thin layer of tarmac. It is likely that every road in the locality would have been cobbled at one time. The licensee of the Glassblowers' Arms when this photograph was taken was Frank Palmer. However, he would not be there for much longer as the Mitchell's and Butler's-operated pub was closed during the following year.
Clark Street rises steadily uphill from Icknield Port Road. The prominent building towards the top of the street was part of Osler Street Schools. The schools occupied a plot between Clark Street and Osler Street. The infants school fronted Osler Street whilst the building seen here fronting Clark Street was for girls and boys juniors. Just out of shot on the left-hand side of this photograph was a corner shop. Larger than the average local shop, it had windows fronting both Icknield Port Road and Clark Street with a double-door entrance on the corner. This was originally the Icknield Port Bakery and Provision Warehouse owned by the baker and provision dealer John Bayliss. The property had three cellars and a bakery to the rear with large ovens, a piggeries, outbuildings and a stable.
Clark Street was seemingly laid out in the 1850s as the open area between Brookfields and Rotton Park was developed. In the map extract taken from Archibald Fullarton's Map of Birmingham one can see how the street looked in 1866. Building development in both Clark Street and Osler Street thoroughfares was typically piecemeal as plots were sold and built upon. The key landmarks on the 1866 map are the canal reservoir and the inland waterways constructed by James Brindley and Thomas Telford. The latter was the engineer responsible for Rotton Park Reservoir, constructed between 1824-9 to supply water to the improved Birmingham Canal. The Telford cut is the straight line waterway marked on the upper right-hand corner of this map extract. The earlier James Brindley canal that followed the contours of the land can be seen meandering under Icknield Port Road. Known as the Icknield Port Loop, this waterway has survived.
Some of the early residents of Clark Street earned their living on the canal; boat builder and wharfinger was a common occupation to be found in the locality. Conditions for the early inhabitants of Clark Street were 'challenging' as a proper sewer was not installed until the summer of 1865. However, in the following year work started on paving and cobblestones - much to the chagrin of the residents of Freeth Street who were continuing to endure mud and filth. They looked across Icknield Port Road into Clark Street with envy and wrote to the local newspapers urging the local authorities to "confer a very great boon by looking with an eye of pity upon the poor residents of Freeth Street."
Building development in Clark Street continued throughout the 1860s. Five houses including a shop situated close to Reservoir Road and known as Greenwich Place were offered for sale at auction in 1868. The sale included twelve houses to the rear from which the annual rent was estimated at £156.8s.0d.
Despite the envy of residents of Freeth Street, conditions in Clark Street were still regarded as poor in 1872 when a Mr. Carter presented a memorial to the Public Works Committee from the inhabitants of the street "praying for the repair of that street, which was in a 'dangerous and filthy' condition." Two years later another resident wrote that nothing had been done towards cleansing Clark Street for eight months. He described the place "as a slough, with channels of mud ten or twelve inches deep." One could ask if the unpleasant surroundings contributed to the death of Mrs Emma Fray who lived in Avenue Place within Clark Street. She had been in ill health during the 1870's and was described as "very much depressed in spirits." Unable to cope, she tried to commit suicide on Christmas Eve in 1873 by taking an overdose of laudanum but was stopped by her children. On the following Friday she left the house and was not found until the following day when her body was discovered near the Icknield Street Bridge. At the subsequent Coroner's Court held at the nearby Station Inn, the jury returned a verdict of "suicide in a state of insanity."
At this time some of the street's residents were unruly. A labourer named George James, along with his brother Thomas, a serving solider, were arrested and charged for a brutal assault on Police Constable Simmonds who was patrolling Icknield Port Road. It was reported that they "forced the officer to the ground with great force, wrenched his staff from him, beat him about the head, and kicked him on the body." Simmonds was taken to Ladywood Police Station where he suffered a fit and was taken to the Queen's Hospital in an "insensible condition." George James became known as "The Terror of Icknield Port Road" and was feared in the locality. His attacks on people were not confined to men. He was jailed in 1875 when violently assaulting Eliza Poole, a married woman of Clark Street. He hit her when she was stood on the doorstep and then followed her into the house and twice punched her in the face.
In terms of education, there was a considerable boost in 1874 when the tender of Messrs. Parnell and Sons, of Rugby, for the "erection and completion of the schools in Osler Street and Clark Street, at a cost of £9,139, was accepted." Designed by Messrs. Martin and Chamberlain, the building work by Parnell's was completed quickly and the buildings were opened for public inspection in November 1875. The school fronted both Osler Street and Clark Street. At the latter was a building of two storeys for boys and girls, and on the Osler Street side was an infants' school. Spacious playgrounds were laid out between the two buildings. In the main building the boys were taught on the ground floor and the girls on the upper storey. Designed to accommodate 1,000 children, the final cost was £12,090.0s.d. as the land was purchased for £1,445.17.s.0d. The fees to attend the school were set at 3d. a week for boys and girls and 1d. per week for infants. Attendances were initially low but the buildings also served a role for public meetings, political gatherings and also where meals for the poor folk of Ladywood were served.
Life in Clark Street, like many other thoroughfares in working-class Ladywood, was a typical mix of poor conditions, low pay, drunkenness and domestic strife. One of the worst cases was reported in 1881 when William Fletcher, of a back-to-back property behind No.19 Clark Street, was charged with beating his wife to death with a chair.
One of the most bizarre deaths in Clark Street was that of Frederick Moseley of No.4 Court. In 1884 he was carrying a lump of coal to make a bonfire for Guy Fawkes night when he fell upon it and ruptured one of his kidneys. He was taken to Queen's Hospital but his condition worsened following an infection and he died ten days later.
Drink was to blame in the case of Thomas Etheridge, a brass-caster of Clark Street who attempted to commit suicide by jumping into the Birmingham Canal during 1883. Two local bobbies were patrolling nearby and they managed to pull him out of the water and took him to the Moor Street lock-up. He told the police that he had been drinking heavily in consequence of family troubles. Henry Hart, a brass-dipper of Victoria Terrace in Clark Street, also appeared in the dock after being drunk and disorderly whilst threatening to jump into the canal.
Taken from the corner of Fern Villas, this photograph shows the junction of Clark Street and Reservoir Road with an off-licence on the corner. The houses shown here are in Reservoir Road - Clark Street is to the left of the shop operated by Mitchell's and Butler's. The premises served principally as a grocery shop with the addition of beer sales. Eventually however, the corner building's role changed to that of an off-licence. At the turn of the 20th century the grocery shop was run by Miss Pamela Haycock along with her sister Emma. Originally from Harborne, Pamela Haycock had taken over the licence in August 1894. The shop had previously been kept by their brother Joshua but he seems to have handed over to his sisters and found work elsewhere. By 1913 Mrs. Katherine Bourne was listed as a beer retailer at this address. Mitchell's and Butler's obtained a wine licence for the shop in March 1939 when Rose Robotham was running the place.
This map extract is taken from Archibald Fullarton's Map of Birmingham published in 1866. As can be seen, building development in Clark Street was typically piecemeal as plots were sold and built upon. Note the line of the Icknield Port Loop that passed close to Clark Street. This was part of the old canal designed by James Brindley and has survived into the 21st century. Thomas Telford was the engineer responsible for Rotton Park Reservoir, constructed between 1824-9 to supply water to the improved Birmingham Canal which follows a straight line rather than the contours.
Have Your Say
If you would like to share any further information on Clark 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 Birmingham chiropodist, 41 year-old William Bird, had just pulled the tenth customer's corn in Boulogne market place when a gendarme
tapped his arm and took him away to 12 days' gaol, without trial, for extracting corns without a licence. That was last summer. Back home at Clark Street, Ladywood,
yesterday, Mr. Bird learned that a French court had fined him 24.800 francs [about £25] in his absence, and sentenced him to a further eight days in gaol.
Ceylon-born Mr. Bird - he came to Britain when he was 11 - threw up his hands and said : "I am going straight to the French Consulate in Birmingham in
the morning and ask them how can I pay £25 when the French have confiscated the tools I use to earn money?" At the court in Boulogne yesterday the prosecution
said that Mr. Bird set up a stall in July with a large notice : "I extract corns painlessly on the spot. I will give 30,000 francs to any dissatisfied client."
It was also alleged that he tried to sell patent "anti-cold" medicine of his own making and was arrested for breaking customs regulations with the medicines.
Mr. Bird, Army chiropodist veteran of both world wars, who has displayed his bottles and showcase of extracted corns each week in the Rag Market for 30 years under the
professional name of Silva Bird, told the Birmingham Gazette : "I did have permission to practise - it was the last full day of my French holiday and I got
written permission from the Boulogne Civic Council to pull corns in the market place. I was doing a roaring trade when the policeman came up. He took no notice of the
permit and made me go with him to the magistrate's offices. Then he told the Clerk about me pulling corns, and the Clerk looked horrified as if I had done a crime -
and cried out : "Oh! Mon Dieu, but you will get it for this." Mr. Bird added that : "they put in jail for 12 days. I didn't see a soul. Then they
told me I had to go home. But they would not let me have my tools - the tools I used in the British Army in the First World War and the last war. They have held them
since last July. How can I work without tools? I am destitute."
"He Pulled Corns in the Market"
Birmingham Daily Gazette : November 15th 1951 Page 1
"A 45 year-old Ladywood man, charged at Walsall yesterday with breaking into a house, told the magistrates : "I was very drunk when
I did it. Now I have messed up my life." He was Augustus John Richard Stewart of 2/21 Clark Street, Ladywood. and he was committed to Walsall Quarter Sessions for
trial. Mr. A. A. Cotterell, prosecuting, said that Stewart was actually in the hands of the police bebore the theft was reported. He had been detained in connection with
another matter. Then, when Mr. Albert Norman Mason. of 20 Hobart Drive, Walsall. reported the theft of money and property valued at £11. 15s. from his house, they
recalled that Stewart had articles which fitted the description of those reported stolen."
"Messed Up His Life Sent For Trial"
Birmingham Daily Post : November 19th 1957 Page 7
"Violet Place, Clark Street, Ladywood, Birmingham, is the road where many are afraid to sleep. The houses creak, walls bulge, and ceilings hang
dangerously. But the people who live there have nowhere else to go. The creakings started on Saturday. Then the roofs of two houses caved in. The families of Nos. 3 and 4
- the Faulkners and the Crocketts - had to move to temporary homes. For Mrs. Connie Faulkner, aged 26, and her children, their new home was a derelict house with no
electricity or cooking facilities. Water was lying in patches on the kitchen floor and the walls are dirty and damp. "I don't want to stay here." she said.
" but what can I do? There is nowhere else to go." Said Mrs. E. Smith, of No. 5: " It's a disgrace. They ought to give us new homes."
"Houses Creak in Violet Place"
Birmingham Daily Gazette : August 31st 1953 Page 5.