Some history on Great Russell Street in Hockley at Birmingham in the County of Warwickshire


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Laid out in a north-south direction, Great Russell Street started from Tower Street, where St. George's Church was constructed, and continued north to the junction of Farm Street where a continuation northwards was along Lennox Street. When laid out, the section between New John Street West and Lennox Street was known as Lower Russell Street. Development of the thoroughfare was from south to north, so the buildings closer to the town centre were the older properties.

Birmingham : Saint George's Church from Tower Street and Great Russell Street at Hockley [c.1954]

This photograph shows the Church of Saint George in the Fields on the corner of Great Russell Street and Tower Street. The church was officially in Great Hampton Row but the site extended back to Great Russell Street.

This image affords a good view of Saint George's Church and, in particular, the extension of 1884. The church was demolished in 1960 and even Tower Street and Great Russell Street have disappeared from the landscape. A replacement church was eventually built in the locality and this also serves as a community hub within the enlarged gardens where fragments of the old Saint George's can be found. The original church was consecrated in 1822. Saint George's was a Gothic Revival building by Thomas Rickman and a Commissioners' Church erected to help maintain order amongst the poor urban population.

Saint George in the Fields, the original name of the church, provides a clue to the character of the locale when constructed in 1819. Early development of Great Hampton Row had started at the southern end of the thoroughfare and, as the name suggests, marked the extent of urban expansion at the time. Likewise, Great Russell Street was on the edge of town when this section was developed. The thoroughfare gradually developed northwards during the mid-19th century.

Birmingham : East Side of Great Russell Street between Tower Street and Brearley Street at Hockley [1961]

St. George's Church of England Schools were located on the eastern side of Great Russell Street. The above photograph shows housing on the same side of the road between the schools and Brearley Street. The houses in the foreground were numbered 23 and 24, the entry between leading to Court No.6. The next pair were numbered 25 and 26 with the entry providing access to Court 7.

Birmingham : Nos.27-9 Great Russell Street at Hockley [1961]

The above photograph shows housing on the same side of the road just before Brearley Street. These houses are numbered 27, 28 and 29. The entry led to Court No.8. In July 1884 there was an inquest respecting the death of Thomas Holder, aged 60, who lived in this court. He was subject to fainting fits and fell down one Saturday, and died from concussion of the brain a few hours afterwards.

No.28 was the home of the Hughes family before the First World War. It was in November 1914 that Annie Hughes received news that her husband William, who was serving with the 3rd Battalion of the Coldstream Guards, died at La Tortoire on September 8th, of wounds received in action. Private Hughes was a reservist, and when called up to join his regiment, he was working at the Tube Works in Rocky Lane. The couple had three children. Indeed, the youngest was born on September 22nd, a fortnight after the death of William Hughes.

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Frustratingly, I do not have a photograph of the first building after the schools. At No.15, it was a beer house bearing the sign of the Woodman. On the opposite side of the street at No.244 there was another beer house called the Barley Mow.

Birmingham : Chip Shop on the corner of Great Russell Street and Brearley Street at Hockley [1960]

This chip shop was located on the western side of Great Russell Street, on the northern corner of Brearley Street. It is a great period shot with a young lad probably detailed to look after his young sibling in the pram whilst his mother is getting the chips - or maybe a fishy treat. If he is really lucky she will boy a bottle of Vimto which is advertised on the windows, though the hanging sign above the entrance is urging patrons to buy Pepsi-Cola. The photograph was taken in November 1960 and also shows an entry along the side of the premises plus the front door of No.238 Great Russell Street.

The shop had a quite a history of serving the locals with their fried spuds. During the Second World War the business was listed as Moseley & Hughes. This was Florence Moseley and Emily Hughes, a pair of elderly ladies still working their socks off. Florence's son Alfred worked as a manager of a pharmacy. The three of them lived on these premises. Born in 1879 Florence Moseley lived until 1971, an excellent innings that would encourage advocates of a fried food diet. Apart from being in business together, Florence and Emily must have been great friends as, in later years, they both lived at No.56 Lozells Street. Prior to the shop being used as a chippy the premises was a greengrocery. In the Edwardian period it was run by Elizabeth Leek.

Birmingham : Housing on Great Russell Street between Brearley Street and New John Street West [1960]

The next intersection of Great Russell Street was at New John Street West. This view shows the housing from the chip shop towards this road junction. The narrow entry [above the heads of the children] once led to a soap works, though the main access was from Brearley Street. A little further along the road, close to the lamp-post, was the premises of the solder manufacturers Allen & Timmins, but once the site of the Lamp Tavern. Note that the properties in the foreground had been cleared and the ground floor windows bricked-up. It would not be long before the wrecking ball came-a-knocking.

Birmingham : Housing on Great Russell Street between Brearley Street and New John Street West [1960]

Unfortunately, I do not have a photograph of the eastern side of the road in this section of Great Russell Street. I wish I had for it would show the former Swan and Rose, two beer houses. This image shows the properties closer to the junction of New John Street West. Already on a slope, note how the road drops down significantly in height after the road junction. The lower two-storey buildings were numbered 215-9. No.217 had used to be a dairy operated by William Hewson before the First World War. An entry in the foreground led to a court named Zion Place.

Beer Label for Mitchell's and Butler's Cape Ale

Ansell's - The Better Beer

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Crossing New John Street West and down the hill, the properties shown below were on the left-hand side of the road, not long before the St. Matthias' Tavern on the corner of Bridge Street West.

Birmingham : Auction of houses on Great Russell Street [1914]

The bill posters on the walls of the buildings show the property details for an auction of the row, the sale being held on 27th March 1914. The sale did not mean that the occupiers were moving on. However, they would have to pay rent to a new leaseholder following the sale.

These buildings were back-to-backs so there were 12 households here rather than just the six fronting the street. Lot No.1 was for the lower of the properties on the right of this photograph, numbered 203, 204 and 205. The Lot also included eight houses at the rear, 3 being part of the main block and a further five up the yard, numbered 1-5 back of 204. The annual rental income from all the households amounted to £109.4s. The auction was for a lease of 54 years with a ground rent of £20. Armed with these figures it is possible to calculate how much these would realise at auction based purely on a calculated return-of-investment and an annual income that generated an interest rate more favourable than that offered by a savings account or bank. This is how most investors did their sums and wished to spend as little as possible on repairs and renovations. Consequently, the properties degenerated over the years and was partly responsible for the mass demolition in the 1960s.

Lot No.2 included Nos.206, 207 and 208, on the left of this photograph, along with another eight houses to the rear. The annual rents collected each year for these properties was slightly higher at £111. The term of lease and ground rent was the same as that in Lot 1. No.208 was occupied by the fruiterer Ernest Smith. That is possibly his wife Leah stood on the doorstep. In 1911 this couple lived at No.7 Court 35, which was part of Lot.1 and would have been one of the houses to the rear of the main block on the right. They had three young sons, Alfred, Samuel and Ernest.

No.208 certainly went through some changes of use in the early years of the 20th century. During the early Edwardian period Mrs. Fanny O'Brien dealt in clothes from the premises. However, by 1908 the shop was occupied by the fried fish dealer Mrs. Mary Ling.

Birmingham : Court 36 at Great Russell Street [c.1905]

This is Court 36 which backed onto the Court where Ernest and Leah Smith lived at No.7 in 1911. This court was accessed via an entry between 206 and 207 Great Russell Street. The houses shown are Nos.2-6 and backed onto Nos.4-8 of Court 35. In the houses featured above 36-4 was occupied by four people in 1911. Edwin Cash worked as a painter and lived in one of the three rooms with his young son. His aunt Ellen Patrick and niece Getrude Garratt took the other bedroom. Things were a little more crowded next door at No.5 where nine people somehow lived in three rooms, one of which would have been the kitchen on the ground floor. Most of the occupants were the Ashford family. There was acres of space at the end of the row as only the labourer Joseph Blower and his wife lived at No.6. The other two houses were seemingly unoccupied during this year - a loss of earnings for the leaseholder! No.3 was once the home of Henry Holdcroft, the man charged with murder in the Great Russell Street Shooting Case.

The building in the adjoining plot separated from No.6 by a brick wall, was that of the Olympic Works where, in the post-war years, a firm conducted vitreous enamelling. This factory fronted Bridge Street West around the corner. In the 19th century the factory is marked as both the Phoenix Firework Company and the Midland Carpet Shaking, Dyeing and Cleaning Company. I have developed a tickly cough just typing that never mind living next to the place.

Birmingham : Shop and Housing at Great Russell Street [c.1961]

Crossing Bridge Street West, one would have arrived at the above scene. In the foreground the first on the left, on the west side of the street, was No.192 and the view is looking down the road towards the end of the street at Farm Street. At No.189 there was a shop which, at the start of World War Two, was occupied by Henry and Evangeline Lea. Before the First World War the shop was run by Amy Tranter. At that time No.192 here on the left was occupied by the greengrocer Frederick Hodges. It appears as though there was a larger shop window here but reduced to a domestic frame with brick infill.

Birmingham : Great Russell Street Housing and Shop [March 1967 : Photo by Phyllis Nicklin © MLA West Midlands and University of Birmingham]

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Related Newspaper Articles

"Mr. B. Weekes, deputy-coroner, held an inquest yesterday afternoon, respecting the death of George Thornhill [29], 30 Court, 6 House, Great Russell Street, who was killed on Saturday morning, at the Birmingham Proof House. James Hodgetts having described the mode of loading the barrels for the purpose of testing them, Samuel March, proof-master, said that the gun which exploded and killed the deceased was loaded in the usual manner. It was a central fire breech-loading barrel, and in his opinion the deceased dropped it, and the nipple coming in contact with some hard substance caused the cartridge to explode. Deceased's brains were blown out. He was a very steady workman, and witness could not suggest anything to prevent a similar occurrence under like circumstances. A verdict of "Accidental death" was returned."
"Shocking Accident at the Proof House"
Birmingham Mail : March 7th 1883 Page 2

"The adjourned inquest on the body of Maud Mansell, aged fourteen years and nine months, 37 Court, 16 house, Great Russell Street, who died in the General Hospital on Wednesday last from injuries to the head, caused by a bullet fired from a revolver by Henry Holdcroft, alias Cooke, was held yesterday, at the Coroner's Court, Moor Street, by Mr. Weekes [deputy coroner]. Holder, who is a jeweller, nineteen years of age, and resided at 36 Court, 3 house, Great Russell Street, was present during the enquiry, in the custody of Superintendent Beard. The proceedings were watched on his behalf by Mr. F. Hooper. The mother of the deceased, Ann Mansell, who gave evidence of the identification of the body when the inquest was opened on Thursday, was recalled. She said her daughter worked for Mr. Jacobs, jeweller, Regent Place, Caroline Street. Holdcroft also worked at the same establishment. He lived in the next court to witness, and from the upstairs window of her house his house could be seen. She knew that he had had a pistol since last summer. He was in the habit of firing it off in the yard particularly during the past fortnight. On Tuesday week, the 27th January, she called to him and told him if he was not careful he would break the windows. On Saturday week, about half-past two in the afternoon, she was at the bedroom window, and saw Holdcroft at the door of his house. She saw him load the pistol and shake it in a menacing manner in the direction of her house. He then pointed the pistol at the house and fired. At that time the deceased was at the window of the room above where she was standing, and the pistol was pointed towards her. Shortly afterwards Holdcroft fired again, and both bullets struck a wooden screen between the two yards. John Jenkins, Moseley, an assistant in the office of the City Surveyor, produced a plan showing the position of the houses occupied by Mansell and Holdcroft. The screen in question was six feet high. There were several bullets embedded in the woodwork of the screen. The ground rose from Holdcroft's door to the screen to the extent of eighteen inches or two feet. From the level of the doorstep of Holdcroft's house to the screen would be about 7ft. high. A person firing from the doorstep to the attic window of Mansell's house would have to aim much higher than the top of the screen. The void house next to Mansell's could be seen from Holdcroft's doorstep, and a person firing at that house could fire into the bedroom window of Mansell's house. By Mr. Hooper: The distance between Holdcroft's house and the place where the girl was shot was twenty-two yards. By the jury : The attic window was about fifteen feet from the ground. John Clutterbuck, jun., 218, Bridge Street West, said he was employed by Mr. Jacobs, jeweller, Regent Place. On the 5th November last Holdcroft and the deceased were working at the same place, and a quarrel arose between them, but he could not say what about. He heard Holdcroft say to the deceased, "I should like to punch you." Two or three minutes afterwards, while sitting beside witness, Holdcroft produced a pistol, and, turning to him, said, "I should like to put her light out." Deceased could not hear what was said. Witness told Holdcroft to put the pistol away, and he did so. On Monday, the l0th November, there was another quarrel between the deceased and Holdcroft in the shop. It arose over some condensed milk. Holdcroft had a pistol in his hand, and he said he should like "to put one into her." At the time he used that expression he pointed the pistol towards the deceased. Witness again told him to put the pistol up, and he did so. Two days afterwards witness and Holdcroft quarrelled, and the latter struck him with a file, for which he was discharged from his employment. Joseph Fieldhouse, 10 Court, 7 house, Lower Tower Street, said Holdcroft and the deceased were courting up till the 4th or 5th November, when they quarrelled. He was present in the workshop on the 10th November, when they quarrelled. They accused each other of telling tales. He saw Holdcroft take a pistol from his pocket and point it at the deceased, saying, "I'll put this into you when you get outside." Witness told him to put the pistol away, and he put it in his coat pocket. Witness afterwards took the pistol from the pocket without Holdcroft knowing that he did so. He found it loaded with powder and lead, but there was no cap on it. Witness took it home and kept it until the 4th inst., when he gave it to Police Constable Farmer. On November 12th Holdcroft brought another pistol to the workshop, and another quarrel took place between him and the deceased. He took the pistol from his pocket, pointed it at the deceased and said "he'd put it into her." On the same day he quarrelled with the last witness, and was discharged. By the jury: Although on the 10th there was no cap on the pistol Holdcroft had some caps in his pocket. He gave witness two of the caps after he had missed the pistol from his pocket. He accused witness of having taken the pistol, but witness denied having done so. Maria Louisa Walker, fifteen years of age, 15 Court, 3 house, Great Russell Street, said she worked with the deceased. Holdcroft and the deceased walked out together, and witness walked out with a young man named Fox. She remembered hearing Holdcroft and the deceased quarrel one night in Great Russell Street. She heard deceased tell Holdcroft she did not want him, as she had got someone else. Holdcroft replied, "Let me catch you, and I'll shoot your brains out, and the one you are with." After that witness never saw them out together again. Since then the deceased had been keeping company with a boy named Ward. Last Saturday week, about half-past ten at night, witness and deceased went out together and met their lovers, Ward sad Fox. In consequence of the rain they all went into the entry leading to Holdcroft's house. They stood near the street end of the entry. Deceased and Ward were on the right-hand side, and witness and Fox on the left. The entry was lighted by the lamps from the street. While they were in the entry Holdcroft came down the street and passed up the entry to his house. As he passed them he said "Good night." About four minutes afterwards witness saw him in the yard at the top of the entry without his hat and coat, and directly after that she heard the report of a revolver. Witness and deceased ran out of the entry, but returned almost immediately. Two or three minutes afterwards she heard another report, and deceased immediately said, "Oh, Louie, he's shot me; it's in my head." Deceased went into the street, and witness took hold of her. She was bleeding from the right temple. Holdcroft then came down the entry, and said, "Have I hurt her?" Ward replied, "Yes, you've shot her." Holdcroft said, "I'll fetch a cab," and did so. Deceased was then driven to the General Hospital. William Ward [sixteen years of age], 204, Great Russell Street, iron and steel driller, said he had been keeping company with the deceased during the past two months. He knew that Holdcroft previously kept company with her. He gave evidence corroborating that of the last witness with respect to the firing of the revolver down the entry. He said that when they went back into the entry, after the first report, he heard Holdcroft say, "That's frightened you, has it?" After the second report, and the deceased was shot, Holdcroft came down the entry and enquired if he had hurt anyone. Witness replied, "Yes, you've shot Maud Mansell" and the deceased answered, "It was quite accidental." Alfred Fox, fourteen years of age, 20 Court, 3 house, Great Russell Street, polisher, who said he had lately been keeping company with Louisa Walker, gave similar evidence with respect to the shooting. Maude Cooke, half-sister to Holdcroft [nine years old], 36 Court, 3 house, Great Russell Street, said she was at home on the Saturday night, when her brother entered the house. He took off his hat and coat, and then took the revolver produced from a cupboard, and some cartridges from a tin box. He loaded the revolver, and said to her "You see me frighten these girls out of the entry." He stood on the doorstep and fired towards the entry. After firing he said, "Has that frightened you?" and someone replied, "That don't frighten us, Harry." He reloaded the revolver, and remarking, "Does this frighten you?" fired again. A girl then screamed and her brother put the revolver on the table, saying, "I think there's a row." He ran down the entry, and she heard him say, "Have I hurt anyone?" Harriet Tandy, wife of Thomas Tandy, 10½, back of the Leopard Inn, Gooch Street, said she formerly lived in the same court as Holdcroft. She remembered the night of the 31st January because that was the night before she was married. During the evening, while stooping down at the water-tap, she heard a report of firearms, and looking up saw Holdcroft on the doorstep. Henry Stevens, 33 Court, 2 house, Hope Street, cabman, said that as he was driving along Wheeler Street Holdcroft stopped him, saying, "A lady is shot come with me." Witness said he was engaged, but Holdcroft said, "For God's sake, come." Holdcroft jumped on to the back of the cab, and witness drove to Great Russell Street. The deceased was put into the cab, and witness drove to he hospital. As he was driving away Holdcroft said "Let me get on the back: it's me that done it." Witness gave him permission, and on the way to the hospital he said, "I shot down the entry, and the bullet rebounded and hit the girl, but I was not aware until I fetched the cab." At the hospital, at the request of the nurse, witness and Holdcroft carried the deceased upstairs to the ward. Superintendent Beard said he visited the hospital on the Saturday night, and saw the deceased and afterwards Holdcroft. He arrested the latter, and charged him with shooting the deceased. The prisoner said, "There were a lot of playing and laughing in the entry, I stood at the top, by the garden gate. I fired against the wall for a lark. They jumped off the step into the street for two or three seconds. I went up to the door and stood. I again looked down the entry and they had returned. I fired down towards the top corner of the entry, and I think it must have glanced off the wall. They were at the bottom of the entry. I turned round to go into the house, when I heard someone squeal. I ran down the entry and said "Have I done anything? and Bill Ward said, "Yes, you've hit Maud Mansell." I then ran down the street after her to see if it was true, and directly I found it was true I saw a cab passing Wheeler Street. I ran after it and caught it, and after some persuasion, I got him to come and take her to the General Hospital." Witness took the prisoner to Kenion Street police station, where he was again charged with shooting the deceased. He then said that in firing he only intended to make a report, and that he bought the revolver for the purpose of shooting rats. Witness had examined the entry, and failed to find any trace of the bullet having struck the wall. He found bullet marks on the screen, and also holes in the bedroom windows of the void house, evidently made by bullets. Police Constable Farmer produced the revolver fired by Holdcroft and a box of cartridges which were given him by the prisoner's sister. He also produced the pistol given him by the witness Fieldhouse. The revolver contained six chambers, and five were loaded when it was handed to him. Superintendent Beard, recalled, produced the depositions of the deceased taken at the General Hospital before the Stipendiary. In her deposition the deceased said she had no quarrel with the prisoner before she was shot. She did not believe he fired at her on purpose, to hurt her. Evidence was also given to the effect that the bottom of the entry was well lighted when the deceased was shot. Kate Holdcroft, eighteen years of age, sister of the prisoner, said that a few days before the deceased was shot she saw her brother with the revolver and cartridges. She told him they were dangerous but he said he did not think they were. George Herbert Rose Holden, resident surgical officer at the General Hospital, said that when the deceased was admitted a circular wound, less than a quarter of an inch in diameter, was found over her right eye. She complained of headache, which increased the next day. She grew worse, and died on the following Wednesday. A post-mortem examination revealed the fact that the bullet had passed through the brain, and it was extracted close to the skull. The cause of death was due to laceration of the brain, the result of a gunshot wound, and subsequent inflammation along the course of the bullet. He saw nothing in the appearance of the bullet to indicate that it had came in contact with the wall of the entry. The Deputy Coroner, in summing up, said that great credit was due to Sergeant Gosling for the careful and diligent manner in which he had prepared the case. It was quite clear the deceased came by her death through a gunshot wound inflicted by the prisoner, and the question for the jury to consider was whether that act rendered him liable to a verdict of murder or manslaughter. If they believed that when he fired the second shot down the entry he saw the deceased and her companion, then their verdict must inevitably be one of wilful murder: but if they believed he fired at the side of the entry with a view to frighten the people only, and that the ballet rebounded down the entry and struck the deceased, the verdict would be one of manslaughter. The jury retired, and, after an hour's deliberation, returned into court with a verdict of "Wilful murder" against the prisoner Holdcroft, who was committed for trial at the Birmingham Assizes."
"The Great Russell Street Shooting Case"
Birmingham Daily Post : February 10th 1891 Page 7

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