Some history on High Street Saltley in Birmingham in the County of Warwickshire


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The High Street at Saltley is a short thoroughfare but once had four public-houses, along with plenty of shops and services. Sadly, all the old buildings have gone and the locality is now occupied by warehouses and industry, some of it rather grimy. Having said that, the High Street developed as a result of 19th century industrial activity.

Birmingham : Map Showing High Street Saltley [1890]

The High Street connected Saltley Viaduct with Alum Rock Road and Washwood Heath Road, the former being the older route from the crossing of the River Rea before a new turnpike road was created across Washwood Heath. These roads were key routes to both Castle Bromwich and Coleshill.

Birmingham : Edwardian view of High Street Saltley from Crawford Street [c.1905]

This colour postcard shows High Street Saltley in the early years of the Edwardian period. The view is from the junction of Crawford Street on the right with the London Tavern standing on the corner. On the other side of the High Street the post office run by Thomas and Emma Swingler can be seen on the corner of Metropolitan Road. This street led to the works of the Metropolitan Railway Carriage and Wagon Company Ltd., the major employer in the locality until its closure in 1962.

Birmingham : High Street Saltley from the junction of Metropolitan Road [c.1908]

This view of High Street Saltley was captured from the junction of Metropolitan Road. A tram is trundling down the hill from what was once known as Upper Saltley, the area around the River Rea being Lower Saltley. On the right-hand side a branch of Foster Brothers can be seen with clothing and shoes hung outside the store. Next to this are the lanterns of the Coachmakers' Arms. The space next to the public-house is Corfield Terrace next to which was the chemist's shop run by James Austin. The shops opposite included the tobacconist Mary Ann Tonks and Lipton's Provisions.

Birmingham : Policeman on duty at the Metropolitan Works at Saltley [c.1905]

This photograph is looking from High Street Saltley along Metropolitan Road and the extensive works of the Metropolitan Railway Carriage and Wagon Company Ltd. The site was established in 1845 when the former stagecoach builder and operator Joseph Wright moved his carriage works from London to six acres of meadowland at Saltley. The business was continued by his sons and was registered in 1862 as a Limited Company with the Metropolitan name. By this time the firm employed over 1,300 people. The workforce grew as the company expanded the original site. By the time of this photograph the business had amalgamated with four other major companies. The whole undertaking was eventually acquired by Vickers Ltd. and merged with Cammell Laird and Co. to become Metropolitan-Cammell Ltd.

The newsagent's and stationery shop on the corner of Metropolitan Road was, at the time of the above photograph, run by Thomas and Emma Swingler. Thomas was also the sub-postmaster for Saltley. The post office had moved from No.8 a little further along the High Street. It would move again in a few years as the couple's son George continued the stationery business on the corner whilst they moved next door to No.4. However, by the end of the Edwardian period No.4 was occupied by the East Birmingham Labour Club.

Birmingham : George Swingler's Shop at No.2 High Street Saltley from the junction of Metropolitan Road [c.1911]

A slightly later view up the High Street from the junction of Metropolitan Road. George Swingler had taken over the stationery store and newsagent's by this time. Just beyond the lanterns of the Adderley Arms can be seen. The cyclist is just passing the public-house but I don't like his proximity to the tram line! On the opposite side of the High Street the first building on the corner of Hereford Square is the Metropolitan Bank which, at the end of the Edwardian period, was managed by William Bunn.

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Birmingham : Warwickshire Royal Garrison Artillery departing for their station [August 1914]

This photograph was taken in August 1914 and shows the Warwickshire Royal Garrison Artillery [Territorials] on the way from their headquarters at the Metropolitan Railway Carriage Works to Moor Street Station for departure. Commanded by Major Greg, the battery is turning out of Metropolitan Road and into the High Street. Commandeered brewery horses can be seen pulling the 4.7-inch guns. On the previous day the Birmingham press reported that "the whole of the expense of the special equipment of the battery of heavy guns which is associated with and being mobilised at the Saltley Works, is to be borne by the company. The battery was raised at the inception of the Territorial scheme by the company. Its headquarters and drill hall are at the company's works, and the officers and men are all engaged in the company's service. The battery leaves tomorrow for its station. This is a patriotic example which might well be followed by other firms in the Midlands."

Birmingham : Brewery Horses pulling the heavy guns of the Warwickshire Royal Garrison Artillery [c.1911]

Soldiers of the Warwickshire Royal Garrison Artillery smile at the crowds assembled to wave the battery off in August 1914. Of course, they thought it would all be over by Christmas. Years later, as a response to the stalemate that developed on the Western Front, the company would later be contracted to build tanks for the British Army. The company manufactured all 400 of the Mark V tank.

Birmingham : Shop of the Stationer and Newsagent George Edwin Swingler on High Street Saltley [c.1911]

Relics of the Boer War, the 4.7-inch guns pass by the shop of the stationer and newsagent George Edwin Swingler. He signed up in 1915 and served in Italy as a motorcyclist in the Royal Engineers Signal Service. He married not long after he returned to England. In later years he and his wife Mary managed an off-licence on New Town Row.

Birmingham : Premises of Charles Harman & Son, Funeral Directors, at No.14 High Street Saltley [c.1912]

The couple stood on the doorstep of No.14 High Street Saltley are probably John and Ethel Pitts. During the Edwardian period the couple were managers of this branch of Harman & Son, Funeral Directors and Wedding Carriage Proprietors. Lettering on the small side window shows that the firm's head office and carriage repository was based in Summer Lane, and that a branch office was based in the High Street at Erdington.

According to the census of 1911 John Pitts was born in Hamstall Ridware near Rugeley in 1869. However, in 1901 he gave his birthplace as Banbury in Oxfordshire. Whatever, the former coachman married Ethel Kind at Aston in 1900. She hailed from Staveley in Derbyshire. His experience with horses and driving carriages was probably a key factor in Harman's employing him. John Pitts had retired by the time of the Second World War but Ethel was still working as a manager of a café.

Birmingham : Showroom of Abbott Car Sales on High Street Saltley with residents of Corfield Terrace [1960]

I have pressed fast-forward [a term that is increasingly anachronistic] to May 1960 to display a photograph of the showroom of Abbott Car Sales. The image includes two residents of Corfield Terrace to the right of the image. This was a long row of back-to-back houses with the properties adjoining those of Coleshill Terrace. This showroom, once two separate frontages, separated the two courts and faced Gate Street.

Johnfromstaffs on the Birmingham History Forum tells me that the showroom features "a ragtop Austin A90 Atlantic in the front, and a Triumph saloon facing the camera. The Triumph was registered in the County Borough of Sheffield in January 1951. At that date it will be a Renown Mk1, using the same design of 2088cc engine and three speed column change gearbox that you would find in the contemporary Standard Vanguard, reliable, but not very exciting on 68bhp. The Austin was only produced as a convertible in 1949 and 1950, and the hardtop version in 1950 to 52. It was aimed at the USA, where it didn't sell because it was too small, so they tried to sell it in UK, but it was too big. The 2.7 litre 4 cylinder engine went on to redeem itself in the Austin Healey 100/4, but there was no redemption for the rest of the car, so production, even of the hardtop version, had stopped by 1952. With the brightness turned up, the lurker in the back corner is possibly a Vauxhall Wyvern or Velox from the late 40s or very early 50s. This was a 1938 car design dressed up with a new front end and curved boot to preserve sales until the new models were available."

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Birmingham : Entrance to Coleshill Terrace and Showroom of Abbott Car Sales on High Street Saltley [1960]

This photograph, also taken May 1960, shows a second, albeit smaller, showroom of Abbott Car Sales. The entrance to Coleshill Terrace can be seen to the right of the showroom. The houses in this terrace backed on to the properties of Corfield Terrace. Residents of No.8, the Taggart family were the last to leave Coleshill Terrace in 1969. The main premises fronting the High Street was once a chemist's shop but during the inter-war years it was used as the Christian Volunteers' Harmony Hall. After the war Bernard Smith traded here as Saltley Motors. Abbott Car Sales got into financial difficulties in 1963 and the firm was wound up in the courts.

Johnfromstaffs on the Birmingham History Forum tells me that "the car on the right was registered by Lincoln Borough Council in 1948/9, 785 number suggests 1949, and is a Ford, probably an Anglia so a 933cc sidevalve engine and not very quick. £90 seems a bit on the dear side. The two-tone was non-standard so could be a pre-war Ford in disguise. There is also no front bumper, and the position of the number plate suggests van parts have been used to modernise the appearance. The other vehicle in the shadows looks like an Austin A40."

Birmingham : Bakery and Shop of Joseph A. Barnes on High Street Saltley [1960]

This view shows the bakery run by the Barnes family for many years. The lettering on the wall is that of Joseph A. Barnes who operated the business with his wife Constance. Joseph took over the business from his father Arthur Barnes. Joseph's son remarked on the Birmingham History Forum that "after the war the family moved to Great Barr but Joseph kept the bakery going into the 1970s." He remembers that they used to have drink in the Tilt Hammer on Saturday lunchtimes after all the baking was finished. He recalled that "there was an off-licence on the corner of Adderley Road and High Street." He also remembered "Bentley's the tailor, a watch shop where he was bought his first watch, a vets, Chaplain's, Abbott's Car Sales, Arthur Wallis the greengrocer." He added that "around the corner in Adderley Road there was a sweet shop, a greengrocer and barber's shop near where the Number 8 bus stopped. Everyone called the barber Denis because he looked like Denis Compton!"

Birmingham : Record Shop and Army Surplus Store of Wireless Radio Dealer James Chaplain on High Street Saltley [1960]

In this image one can see the record shop that traded next door to the bakery. The album covers suggest that musicals and what is now called "exotica/easy listening" were popular sellers. If anybody remembers patronising this little emporium please post your memories. Next to the record shop was the Alladin's Cave of James or Jimmy Chaplain, a hotch-potch place that sold everything from army surplus to fishing tackle. Pre-WW2 directories list James Chaplain as a wireless dealer - he was still flogging radios when this picture was taken and seemingly undercutting the opposition! After the war he owned a large American car that he parked in the High Street, causing something of an attraction to locals and passers-by.

Birmingham : Residents of Corfield Terrace off High Street Saltley [1960]

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Related Newspaper Articles

"A verdict of "Accidental death" was returned at a Birmingham inquest today on Henry Mawby [otherwise Morbey], of Corfield Terrace, High Street, Saltley, who was crushed between two railway trucks during shunting operations at Saltley gasworks on Saturday. It was stated that Mawby was just nipped by the buffers of the trucks as, saying, "We will just cut through here," he entered a two-foot gap and the trucks made a slight movement. The Coroner suggested that it would be a good practice when shunting to brake the end truck to be coupled."
"Crushed by Railway Trucks"
Birmingham Mail : November 25th 1942 Page 3

"An inquest was held yesterday afternoon, by Dr. Birt Davies, the Borough Coroner. at the Grand Turk Inn, Ludgate Hill, on the body of Marie Eva Sawyer [5], whose parents live at 12, Corfield Terrace, Saltley. About eight o'clock on Sunday morning, deceased was in the act of placing a pot-hook on a bar over tbe kitchen fire, when her night-gown caught fire, and she was severely burnt on the head and several other parts of her body. She was immediately taken to the General Hospita1, where she died on the following morning from congestion of the brain and lungs caused by the burns. A verdict of "Accidental Death" was returned."
"Death From Burning"
Birmingham Daily Post : March 15th 1872 Page 7

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