Some history of High Street Aston
High Street Aston Newtown, or New Town in times of old, is a continuation of Newtown Row and formed the ancient road from Birmingham to Walsall. Heading out of town, the High Street started from the junction of Asylum Road and continued north to Six Ways.
Forming the central shopping district of the 'New Town,' the High Street was once part of the land attached to Aston Hall. The High Street, like neighbouring newly laid-out roads was heavily developed following the sale of the land in the late 1840s.
The few old buildings of the vicinity disappeared, being replaced by new development that continued throughout the 1850s. A small portion of the street fell within the boundary of Birmingham - the Hockley Brook forming the boundary close to the junction of Phillips Street. Everything north of this junction was in Aston.
Aston's High Street wanted for nothing as there were shops large and small offering every household item and plenty of luxury goods. There were cinemas, theatre, dining rooms and, of course, a good number of public-houses. Astonians only needed to jump on a tram or bus into Birmingham for a special trip or event, everything else was on the door-step.
Street Scenes in High Street Aston
I have a good number of photographs of Alma Street but, apart from photographs of the Royal Exchange at No.1, I do not have images of the western side of the High Street between Six Ways and Whitehead Street. Located next to the Scotch House, this photograph of No.77 kick-starts a mini-tour of the High Street. This florist's shop was closed by the time of this photograph dated August 16th, 1961. The glass panes have been given the Windolene treatment, that white stuff that is a hard to remove by the next occupier. Bill posters have been added to the frontage, mostly advertising wrestling at the Embassy Sportsdrome on Walford Road in Sparkbrook. There is an interesting poster in the centre announcing a "Peace and Socialism in The Park" event.
The florist trading here was Vera Sanderson. I think she may have been Vera Driver who started her career as a typist before marrying George Sanderson in July 1944. This couple moved to Lichfield Road. There is a pub connection here because Vera's father, George Driver, was once the publican of the Colliers' Arms at Kidderminster. Her brother, John Driver, served as a corporal in the Ghurka Signals and was stationed in Malaysia. Reportedly, there was only one shop where he could buy the kind of shirt he liked. There he met a Siamese girl named Phenteno who helped to make alterations to his army clothes. Not long after he married her at Kuala Lumpur. The couple returned to England on the troopship Dilwara.
At the outbreak of World War Two the shop at No.77 High Street was occupied by Barnett and Ethel Seager who operated a tailoring business from these premises. Barnett Seager lived to the age of 85 out in Hall Green and died in 1974.
A couple of doors down at No.81 was the restaurant and coffee rooms run by Alfred Iommi. He had taken over the business from his parents Giovanni and Lucia. Giovanni's family hailed from Arpino in the Province of Frosinone but moved to Birmingham in the 19th century. He followed his father Felice into the ice cream business. Other members of the family earned a living as organ grinders. His wife originated from the same province but from Arce. Officially listed as confectioners, Giovanni and Lucia occupied these premises for several decades. If you are thinking that the ornate fascia of the frontage looks a little like a public-house then you are correct. This was formerly a beer house known as the Hope and Anchor.
Moving along a few metres, here are the two houses that stood next to the former Hope and Anchor. These were numbered 83 and 85 High Street. At the start of the Second World War the house immediately next to the former boozer was occupied by the rubber worker Herbert Baker and his wife Maria. It seems that they took in lodgers for the property was also occupied by the civil servant William Norton, along with Alfred Norton, a baker and confectioner. I wonder if he was working next door with the Iommi family? A similar domestic arrangement seems to have been the case next door at No.85, a house occupied by Samuel and Ivy Gardner, along with the elderly Emily Brookes who, despite being born in 1874, was still working part-time as a cleaner. These houses faced Burlington Hall across the road.
I am not sure where the window cleaner has gone to? He seems to have left his ladders and cart in the street - perhaps it was time to grab a bite to eat at Binden's Fish & Chip Shop at No.91 High Street Aston seen here in the centre of the photograph. Of course, it was not always run by the Binden family. During World War One, Frank Shaw was recorded as a fried fish dealer at this address. At the end of the Victorian era it was William Astle who was frying up on the premises. At this time the brassworker Henry Hodgetts and his family lived next door at No.93.
This 1961 photograph shows a cluster of shops further down the hill towards the Globe Cinema. This is interesting in that it shows a dray from Atkinson's Brewery Ltd. The company had been acquired by Mitchell's and Butler's two years earlier but it would seem that the Cape Hill brewery were still running the fleet with Atkinson's livery.
This photograph includes the business to which the Atkinson's dray was delivering and shows the properties on the western side of the High Street looking down towards the Globe Cinema on the junction of New Street. Like the upper part of the street, this section of the High Street featured a mixture of residential and commercial properties.
The address of this shop was No.101 High Street and it was for many years the premises of William Henry Owen & Son, a tailoring business. Born at Thornby in Hertfordshire, William and his Halesowen-born wife Edith had earlier kept a tobacconist's shop across the street at No.104, a few doors from Burlington Hall. Edith probably managed the fag shop as William was already documented as a tailor. The couple, along with their four children, moved across the road to these premises by the end of the Victorian period. William Owen died, aged 75, in June 1939 and the family business was continued by his son Clarence who had become a master tailor.
This is the cluster of shops that was featured in the earlier image featuring the brewery dray. The shop on the left was a second-hand furniture shop run by Richard Hobbs and his wife Ethel. They seem to be flogging a batch of fireplaces, almost certainly salvaged from houses being pulled down in the redevelopment of the area. A young couple with a pram are outside the next shop. The sign seems to have fallen off so I not sure who was running this at the time of this image. However, this was once the shop of Rose and Leonard Male. Officially listed as Aston Electrical Co., Rose looked after the retail unit whilst her husband was out-and-about engaged as an electrician, electrical engineer and contractor. During the Second World War he was also an auxiliary in the Fire Service. At the turn of the 20th century this was the premises of the photographer Louis Merci though, by 1903, he had moved to Whalley House at Quinton. The shop was then used by a hairdresser and a furniture dealer.
The shop next door, in the middle of the photograph, seems to be empty. In the 20th century it was traditionally a tobacconist's shop. During World War One it was run by Lancashire-born Philip Reginald Kirk. He had earlier worked as a toolmaker whilst living with his parents next to the Golden Eagle on Lodge Road. He married Ruth Littlehales in 1903. Prior to taking over this shop on the High Street the couple had lived at Wilson Road in Handsworth. In the late 19th century this address was the premises of the umbrella maker Joseph Hewitt.
To the right of the photograph is the shop/offices of Samuel Dean. The money lender had been operating from these premises since the Second World War. Another office was based at 177 Ashted Row during the 1950s. His home however was out in leafy Moseley before he and his family moved to Stratford-on-Avon.
Dating from April 1960, this photograph affords another view of the shops on the western side of the High Street. The first shop next to the cinema was 137 High Street. When the Globe was in its infancy, this shop was kept by Arthur Germany, an artificial tooth maker. He operated his business from here for decades but he and his wife Iva lived out at Jockey Road in Sutton Coldfield. Born in 1877, he died four years before this photograph captured his old shop. Arthur Germany rented the premises from the Lyons estate who had acquired the corner plot for the construction of the cinema.
The Globe Cinema had the look of a triangular building but it extended along its New Street building line so, inside the auditorium, it probably looked like a regular rectangular building. Part of the corner plot once had a cycle factory run by William Henry Hill. Opening as the Globe Electric Theatre, the cinema opened on Monday August 4th, 1913 with a screening of "The Heritage," Hopefully, the cinema was full for the opening night in which case there were 700 bums on seats. Gilbert Valentine Butler had been appointed as manager of the cinema.
The gates of the Globe Cinema were hanging off when this photograph was taken in April 1960. The place was looking a bit tatty as it had closed in September 1955. However, here you can see the kiosk from which tickets would have been handed out to hundreds of Astonians. When the cinema opened in 1913 the price of a ticket ranged from 3d. to 9d.
Photographs of the 'bottom' half of the High Street from the Globe Cinema to the Stork Inn seem to be few and far between. This photograph dating from August 1954 shows a couple of shops that faced Burlington Street. Nearest to the camera on the right is the tobacconist's store kept by Thomas A. Kirby. His well-presented double-fronted shop looked directly across to Burlington Street. The address of his shop was No.163 High Street. He and his wife Gladys lived at Yardley. Both born in 1901, they were married in July 1926. The shop had a history of retailing tobacco and confectionery. During the First World War Alfred Ashmore operated a similar business from here. He had traded here throughout the early years of the 20th century.
At the time of this photograph the smaller shop next door was No.163a and occupied by the butcher Leslie Frank Norris. Trading at this address for many years, he operated two shops on the High Street. Born in 1902, he married Alice Dale in April 1929. The couple lived at Lingfield Avenue at Old Oscott before moving to Alcester where Leslie Norris died in August 1974.
The large shop frontage facing towards Webster Street was the main premises of the drapery firm Elizabeth Black Ltd. This firm prospered under her leadership and employed a large number of staff at several shops in and around the Birmingham area. Elizabeth originally worked for the London-draper William Black at Kingston-upon-Hull where he was in partnership with William Cussens. They married in 1881 and moved to Birmingham, the place of Elizabeth's birth. William established a drapery business on High Street Aston and the couple lived at Albert Road in the 1890s. Elizabeth had six children but they were affluent enough to afford a housekeeper and domestic servant. Following her husband's death, Elizabeth steered the business to continued success and by the mid-Edwardian period operated shops at 173 High Street Aston and 44 Highgate Street. With another store on Cape Hill at Smethwick, the business was made into a limited company. By the time of this photograph Peter Black was the chairman and managing director.
This photograph shows No.193 which had for a good number of years been a place for shoe bargains. The building was located on the southern corner of Inkerman Street. Here it is called Wholesale Bargain Stores but a trade directory published in 1940 records the business as N. B. Shoe Warehouse. In that year the shop next door at No.195 was a hardware store but here it is called Clydesdale and specialised in radio, prams and bicycles - I guess that covers a lot of bases! Beyond that shop was a branch of George Mason Ltd., the grocery and provisions retailers. Incidentally, the man on the corner seems to be selling a bit of fruit and veg from his barrow.
Those who like wandering around finding ghost signs on buildings would have had a field day here on the corner of Inkerman Street as the building was plastered with lettering that advertised the goods once sold from the premises. And they seemed to flog a bit of everything from toys to plates, from barrows to good straw and baths to teapots. Incidentally, in earlier times this emporium and row of shops were included within New Town Row but in the early-mid 20th century became part of High Street. So, the thoroughfare was extended [numerically at least] from Inkerman Street to Asylum Road. Anyway, this wondrous emporium was operated by the Wyatt Brothers who also had premises at 182 Alum Rock Road at Saltley.
This 1960s photograph is the first across the street as we head back towards Six Ways. This is No.184 on the north corner of Phillips Street. The shop was one of the bakery outlets of George Baines Ltd. There were a number of outlets by 1916 because an item in the newspapers reported that Ernest Leslie Smith, chauffeur to George Baines of Finch Road in Handsworth, was brought before the Deputy Stipendiary charged with stealing £54 in shop takings. It was part of Smith's duties to collect the takings of various shops belonging to George Baines. On July 10th he collected £54 from three shops and then abandoned the motor car he was using, leaving it in the street. Nothing was heard of him until he gave himself up to the police at Kenyon Street after squandering the money in London, Liverpool, Bristol and Cardiff. On account of his young age, Smith was spared a jail sentence but ordered to pay his former employer £10 compensation by instalments of five shillings per week.
This zooms in a little on the previous photograph and shows some early immigrants shopping at George Baines. They may be wondering where the heck is the Jalebi, Kaju Katli, Gulab Jamun and many other of the sweet cakes we now take for granted in parts of Birmingham. They are perhaps asking each other what an egg custard is? It must have been quite a culture shock for people moving to the UK during this period. It is a fascinating part of modern Britain and if you can still find the BBC Radio 4 series "Three Pounds in My Pocket" as a podcast or download you will find it truly enlightening and inspiring. Of course, I have no idea where these women originated - perhaps even Uganda as many started to flee the country in the late 1960s.
This 1950s photograph is looking back towards Phillips Street with George Baines on the corner. Next to the bakery outlet was a butcher's shop then the elaborate frontage of the Dog and Duck. In fact, at one time the shop to the left of the pub was also a butchery operated by John H. Hamilton & Son. The Timpson's shoe shop had occupied No.176 for a good many years before this photograph was taken. The national chain can be traced back to 1865 when shoemaker William Timpson, along with his brother-in-law Walter Joyce, starting selling shoes on the Oldham Road at Manchester. To the left of the photograph is the Department Store known as The House That Jack Built, one of the shops most fondly remembered by Astonians, if only for the smell and the wooden floors!
Taken from near the junction of Burlington Street, this 1954 photograph shows the scale of The House That Jack Built in relation to its neighbouring properties. The business was founded by Lewis Spokes Richards, a Northampton-born linen draper who had other stores in Birmingham, including premises in Summer Lane, Lozells Road, Watery Lane and Inkerman Street.
After becoming a limited company, Lewis Richards held the post of chairman and managing director. He was appointed chairman of Aston Local Board and the Aston School Board. When he died in March 1927, he left an estate of more than £250,000 and, in addition to donations to medical and educational institutions, he left £100 to each of his employees who had clocked up 10 years service and £50 to those who had served the company between five and ten years. For those who had worked for the company for a shorter period were given £25.
Standing on the corner of Webster Street is the Waggon and Horses at No.160. There were three retail units between the public-house and the department store owned by Lewis S. Richards and, in 1940, these included branches of Wimbush the bakers and the provisions firm of the Home and Colonial Ltd.
At the time of this photograph a branch of Foster Brothers stood at No.158 on the corner of Webster Street. This was on the opposite corner to the Waggon and Horses. The clothing firm had been on this corner since the late Victorian period. Before their time here the shop was occupied by the furniture dealer James Foley. The shop to the left at No.156 was traditionally a butcher's shop. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries George Field traded from these premises. In 1940 James Proctor was the butcher operating next to Foster's. His name can still be seen on the frontage in this later photograph.
Aston's main theatre was close to the junction of Potter's Lane and looked across to the Barton's Arms. James and Lister Lea & Co., the architectural firm responsible for that public-house, submitted plans for the Aston Hippodrome and these were approved by the Aston Surveyor and Town Council in February 1908. Work started at the end of July and the Hippodrome opened on December 7th in the same year - now that is how a project was delivered on time in the Edwardian era. I have included much more information on the Hippodrome on my page for the Barton's Arms.
This view looks northwards up the hill away from the Barton's Arms. The Ovaltine billboard advertisement is positioned on the side of Burlington Hall, a building that during the First World War was home to the National Amalgamated Union of Shop Assistants, Warehousemen & Clerks. The hall was used for a wide range of social and community activities. In 1901 the hall hosted its 24th Christmas breakfast with over 200 guests being entertained. The hall had been decorated by members the volunteer service corps. The sick club divided 10s. 6d. per member, and those present contributed liberally to a fund for the entertainment of the old people on Saturday.
This view is taken to the north-west of the junctions of Whitehead Road and Park Lane which met the High Street behind the tram photographed. In the distance you can see the shop at No.88 on the corner of Park Lane which was occupied by Beckett of Birmingham, dyers and cleaners. I am quite excited that it was once a cycle dealership run by William Benwell. On the extreme left of the image there is a tobacconist's shop which, at the time of this photograph, was run by Herbert William Toon and his wife Doris. The chemist's shop was No.86 and was run by William Izon - his surname can partly be seen high up on the frontage.
This photograph shows the bookshop and music store run by Herman and Emma Edwards. In Birmingham's trade directories Herman was listed as a bookseller but the lettering on the windows of the shop show that the couple traded in all manner of goods from music to pictures. The couple also did a line in venetian blinds and, in addition, acted as furniture brokers. Leather-bound books are stacked up in the window. The tomes were probably selling for pennies but would be worth a few bob nowadays to book collectors. The shop was on the east side of the High Street, midway between the Six Ways and Whitehead Road. At the outbreak of the Second World War the shop was flanked by a greengrocery run by Charles and Margaret Butcher and, on the other side, a sweet and fags shop kept by William and Gertrude Holmes. Herman Edwards was involved in an attempt to save the life of a young girl working in the neighbouring shop [see newspaper article.]
Moving further along, back towards Six Ways, here you can see the Orient Cinema and Malt Shovel public-house. Opening in the same week as the Odeon at Perry Barr, the Orient Cinema first screened films for the public on August 4th, 1930. The film shown was the American comedy "The Cohens and The Kellys in Scotland." Designed by the architectural practice of Satchwell & Roberts, the exterior of the building was Neo-Classical in style but auditorium, in keeping with the name, had an oriental flavour with the walls decorated with Chinese mural landscapes painted by George Legg. The cinema was re-branded as an ABC in February 1964 but closed five years later. The building was acquired and re-opened in order to screen Bollywood films but the cinema finally closed around a decade later.
These two shops adjoined the Orient Cinema and were numbered 28 and 30 respectively. The betting shop of Jack Carter was a relatively recent addition due to changes in gaming and betting legislation. More businesses can be seen below with Murray's Electrical occupying the shop next to the former Aston branch of the Birmingham Municipal Bank, part of the Birmingham Corporation Savings Bank created by a 1916 Act of Parliament to raise money to aid World War One.
Have Your Say
If you would like to share any further information on High Street Aston - 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
"The story of a Birmingham girl whose clothes caught fire was told by a friend at an inquest, yesterday, on Dorothy Ruby Frances Allies, aged
14, of 11, Laura Terrace, Trinity Road, Aston, a shop assistant, who died in hospital on Thursday from burns received in the confectioner's shop of G. and W. Holmes,
High Street, Aston, on New Year's Day. Joyce Pearson, the friend, said: "I had my back to her as I was getting the tea. Dorothy was sitting in front of the
fire. When I turned round I saw her clothes alight at the back. Then she screamed that she was on fire." "We both lost our heads. I dashed out into the street to
fetch help, and Dorothy ran out, too." Herman Edwards, a next-door neighbour, described how he saw the two girls dash out of the shop, one of them with her clothes
alight. "I dragged her inside as quickly as I could and wrapped her in a carpet, ripping her clothes off as best I could." he said. Mrs. G. Holmes stated that the
day in question was her half-day, and Joyce Pearson came to the shop to keep Dorothy company. There was a kitchen at the back of the shop with an open firegrate.
Questioned by the Coroner, Mrs. Holmes admitted that the back of Dorothy's overall might project outwards as it was a full one, and might have caught fire as she
turned round. Dr. J. C. Leedham-Green, of the General Hospital, describing the burns the girl suffered, said they covered over a third of the body, being principally
on her back. A verdict of "Accidental death" was returned."
Birmingham Daily Gazette : January 30th 1937 Page 5