Some history of Hurst Street
Strangers to Birmingham may be surprised to learn that Hurst Street once had a pub called the Roebuck Inn. Despite the fact the tavern was built during the reign of King William the Fourth, it seems an odd name for an inn sign in the centre of Birmingham. However, step back in time and it is quite apposite. Below is a conjectural plan of Birmingham for the year 1533. It is based on old plans and private surveys of Henry the Eighth and Queen Mary. The Roebuck Inn's future location is right in the middle of Holme Park. This appears in older documents as Hom-Park, the hunting playground of the Lords of the Manor who resided in the moated manor house close to St. Martin's Church. In the 12th century this was the home of Peter de Bermingham. However, in 1533 Holme Park was owned by the Marrow family, Lords of Berkswell. The adjoining land seen on the plan was owned by William Phillips. His family first settled in Erdington following the Norman conquest. Their descendants are the Inge's - hence Inge Street which crossed Hurst Street by the Fox Inn
Note that the Lady Well is marked on the plan, a few yards from the future site of the Fox Inn. Another key feature on the 1533 plan is the water channel just to the south-east of the Roebuck Inn's future site. Cut from the Rea near Spring Street, this fed the manorial mill from which Mill Lane takes its name. Originally built to grind corn, the mill is thought to have been constructed around 1549 by William Askerick or Askerye, third husband of Mrs. Edward Birmingham. He was granted a lease of all the "ryvers, strames and wattercourses with the Holme Park" on condition that he erected "a Corne Mylne, containing in length one baye and a half, upon the land of the Uttercourt." The Uttercourt or 'Outer Court' being the open space between the moat and Digbeth. When later operated by Robert Porter, the mill produced sword blades for the Parliamentary forces during the English Civil War. However, this led to its destruction by Prince Rupert's forces when they attacked the town in 1643. It was rebuilt and became known as Townsend's Mill after the tenant John Townsend. It had reverted to a corn mill but was converted to mixed use by the Farmer family and was known as Farmer's Slitting Mill. Charles Lloyd was the occupier by 1731 and it later passed to Sampson Lloyd II, a descendent of a Quaker family from Leominster whose son would later co-found the famous Lloyd's Bank in Birmingham.
At one time Holme Park would have been a natural habitat for roebucks. Thomas Hanson's 1778 plan of the town shows how Holme Park had become something of a market garden for Birmingham in the late 18th century. However, the land to the south-west was still open fields. By this time the former Holme Park and surrounding area held by the Marrow family had been acquired by Thomas Sherlock, Bishop of London. He was something of a speculator and bought the land in 1730. The estate was later bequeathed to Sir Thomas Gooch of Benacre Hall, Suffolk.
It was Sir Thomas Gooch, the third baronet, who started to develop the area, naming many of the streets after his family or parts of the country that were of significance to them - hence Gooch Street, Sherlock Street, Benacre Street and Suffolk Street. Hurst Street was first developed in the late 18th century. Gradual expansion down the road led to the laying out of Lower Hurst Street. The Gooch archive collection reveals that the first 99 year lease agreements for the newly--built properties in Lower Hurst Street date from 1834. The Roebuck is the only surviving Lower Hurst Street building from this period.
Arguably the most famous building in Hurst Street is the Birmingham Hippodrome. Built on a site that included the Compass Inn, the first form of entertainment on the corner of Inge Street was the Tower of Varieties, a circus operated in 1891 by James and Henry Draysey. The brothers were born in Birmingham but were of Bavarian descent. The tower from which the venue took its name can still be seen in the above photograph. However, it was deemed unsafe in 1960 and subsequently demolished. The circus was a spectacular failure and closed within five weeks. The 3,000 seat auditorium was eventually reconstructed by F. W. Lloyd and, with a smaller capacity, opened as the Tivoli Theatre in 1900.
Featuring variety bills, the new venture was a success and was re-named the Hippodrome in 1903. A slump in fortunes saw the place close again but the theatre re-opened once more in 1910 when Fred Karno was on the bill. The theatre was back in the fold of the Draysey family in 1914 when they acquired the business. Another rebuilding programme was undertaken after the First World War but the venue hobbled along before being put up for auction. However, the asking price was never realised and in 1924 the Hippodrome was purchased by Moss Empires who invested £40,000 on a major refurbishment. It was the beginning of a successful forty year programme of shows. Everybody who was anybody appeared at the Hurst Street theatre over the years. The building has been radically altered since the mid-1960s but remains a key component of Birmingham's attractions.
Another major tourist attraction in Hurst Street can be seen in the above image - though they were not a tourist attraction in those days as they were real businesses in real shops. This row of shops were not only saved from demolition, but they were restored and opened as a museum. Why? Because the buildings form part of the last surviving back-to-backs in Birmingham. Owned and operated by the National Trust, the back-to-backs were opened to the public via guided tours. The properties fronting both Hurst Street and Inge Street were originally houses but were gradually opened as shops in the Victorian era. Separated from the front properties by a single brick wall, the houses to the rear formed Court 15 and, like thousands of similar housing developments throughout Birmingham, had shared facilities such as the yard, the privies and a brewhouse. Typically, the courts were owned by an individual who had built the houses and then collected the rent from the residents who moved in. In some cases, publicans and innkeepers were the landlords of a whole mini-community behind the boozer - see the Black Lion Inn for such an example.
The early landlords were, by and large, speculative builders who tended to lease the land from the private estates - here it was mostly the Gooch Estate. Although not the case here on this particular corner of Hurst Street and Inge Street, many would find it easier to sub-let a corner public house and the funds would help to infill the spaces between the taverns with relatively cheap housing. The incoming residents could then enjoy their purpose-built community pub. It was toymaker John Wilmore who leased the plot on the corner of Inge Street from the Gooch Estate in 1789. At first, he only erected a few workshops but, as the numbers of people moving into Birmingham dramatically increased, he [and seemingly every other leaseholder] opted to utilise every inch of space available to maximise rent income. The first houses were erected in 1802 and more were squeezed into the plot so that by 1831 Court 15 was pretty much as we see it today. In the succeeding 200 years, it is estimated that some 500 different families have lived and worked in Court 15.
Court 15 was just one of some 20,000 similar housing developments in Birmingham so you can imagine the numbers of people that were crammed into the town. And the construction of the back-to-backs correlated with the population growth of Birmingham during the 19th century. At the beginning of the century there were some 70,000 inhabitants; at the end of Queen Victoria's reign there were more than half a million people living in the 'workshop of the world.' The incomers hailed from all over the country and, indeed, parts of Europe. In 1851, for example, steel toy filer Charles Nation had come from London via Gloucester and tailor Thomas Williams hailed from Denbighshire. One of the families featured in the museum moved up from Wilmore's Court from London. Lawrence Levy was a descendant of a Jewish family from Poland. He and his wife Priscilla lived at No.28 Hurst Street in the corner of the plot forming Court 15.
A key motivation for the Levy's move to the corner of Hurst Street and Inge Street was that Jewish people had concentrated in this locality. A synagogue was erected in Hurst Street in 1791 before being replaced by others at Severn Street and Blucher Street. However, a Hebrew School opened in Lower Hurst Street as late as 1843. Working as a watchmaker, Lawrence Levy probably created a workshop on the upper floor of the house where greater light from the window could be obtained - there was no electricity in those days! The National Trust have re-created the working environment that Benjamin Levy would have utilised. The room, of course, doubled as a bedroom. Additional income would have been generated by taking in a lodger or two - with curtains forming the division between living space. Enjoying some success, the family moved to Coleshill Street and, later, Vyse Street where the business was continued by sons Morris and Emmanuel. Recorded as a watch manufacturer, Morris Levy later lived in Unett Street with his wife Pauline. Emmanuel meanwhile moved to Icknield Street with his mother and continued to operate as a gift watch manufacturer.
Another featured family of the National Trust back-to-backs are the Oldfield's. Herbert and Ann Oldfield moved to No.1 15 Court from 71 Hurst Street by the time of the 1871 census which records Herbert as a bead and glass toy maker. He manufactured glass eyes for stuffed animals, dolls and teddy bears. He probably extended this trade to the manufacture of glass eyes for those who had lost an eye in an industrial accident or even at war. Household income was boosted by Herbert and Ann Oldfield's children. Their son Matthew, for example, worked as a printer. The family took in a lodger for additional income. In 1871 30 year-old William Hunt lived in the house whilst working as a brewer. The whole experience of the back-to-backs is highly informative and engaging. Moreover, they offer a tactile experience of Victorian times and help the visitor to envisage what life was like in old Brummagem.
The survival of the back-to-backs is remarkable in that the rest of Hurst Street has not fared so well. There are very few old buildings these days. Regeneration swept away a considerable number of buildings during the 1950s and 1960s. However, a fair amount of damage had already been wrecked by bombs that fell on Birmingham during the early part of the Second World War. Hurst Street was hit by at least nine incendiary bombs and three high-explosive bombs. There was also one unexploded bomb on the corner of Kent Street. The photograph above shows damage to Tony's Ballroom and adjoining shops. This ballroom was one of two Tony's in Birmingham, this one being known as Tony's Royale Ballroom. It was well-appointed and all members of staff were trained teachers of dance.
In the immediate post-war years, there was a hasty clearance of bomb sites in Birmingham. On some of the sites temporary buildings and shops were erected to maintain some sort of normality.
In this photograph you can see some temporary shops that were put up hurriedly next to the Empire chip shop and restaurant, the latter being a popular port-of-call for many a pub-goer in the 1950s and, indeed, those who were coming out of the Hippodrome and tucking into a bag of chips before getting the bus home. The chip shop lasted for quite a few years and was used by customer of The Locarno, a club opened close to the junction of Smallbrook Street.
Those temporary shops did not last long - they seem to have disappeared in this photograph taken in April 1958. By this time the 'top' end of Hurst Street became a building site and would remain so for a number of years whilst the elevated buildings that would form the Smallbrook Queensway were erected. This would create a subway that connected Hurst Street with Hill Street. This was later removed to create a more pedestrian-friendly zone within this part of the city.
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1845 White's Directory of Birmingham
1 John Brown, Umbrella Maker
2 James Day, Hairdresser
3 Joseph Bosward, Carrier
5 John Bradley, Ivory & Box Rule Maker
William Pickering, Cabinet Maker
6 Charles Curran, Plumber & Painter
.....here Thorp Street intersects.....
13 Daniel Noon, Shopkeeper
14 Mrs. Mary Lowe, Straw Hat Maker
17 Joseph Moore, Hard/Soft Wood Turner
18 John Adamson, Tailor
19 Luke Andrews, Lamp Maker
22 Thomas Pye, Hairdresser
23 Edward Weall, Grocer & Cheesemonger
.....here Inge Street intersects.....
24 Fras. Foster, Wire & Tin Plate Worker
27 William Henry Norton, Tailor
30 Thomas Orme, Shopkeeper
31 & 32 Anchor, Walter Monk
34 William Flavell, Brass Engraver
William Woodland, Wood Toy Maker
35 Walter Pritchard, Boot & Shoe Maker
39 Mrs. Mary Antrobus, French Polisher
John Lancaster, Steel Spectacle Maker
40 Ezekiel Bell, Plumber & Painter
43 Charles Gallimore, Pearl Button Maker
54 George Clarke, Beer Retailer
55 & 56 Richard Timmins & Sons
Heavy Steel Toy and Tool Makers
56½ Joseph Baker, Pen.Case/Spectacle Maker
60 Joseph Haslam, Shopkeeper
62 John Bryars, Beer Retailer
63 John Daniel, Baker & Shopkeeper
Joseph Mills, Brassfounder
William Benson, Book/Fancy Case Maker
Mrs. Elizabeth Moore, Pearl Button Maker
65 Mrs. Charlotte Brown, Straw Hat Maker
Littlewood & Webb, Heavy Steel Toy Makers
69 John Jones, Butcher
.....here Inge Street intersects.....
73 John Houson, Carver & Gilder
74 Joseph Burkitt Hogg, Boot & Shoe Maker
.....here Lady Well Walk intersects.....
James Insole, Saddlers' & Coach Ironmonger
Unitarian Chapel : Rev. Thomas Bowring
86 William Jones, Leather Gig Collar Maker
88 William Brown, Plumber & Painter
Related Newspaper Articles
"Thomas Rayworth , fishmonger, Bromsgrove Street, was charged with violently assaulting Thomas Atkins, also a
fishmonger, living at No.10 Congreve Street. Mr. Francis appeared for the prisoner, and Mr. Cheston for the defence. On Thursday afternoon Atkins, who had been to the
Corporation Baths, in Kent Street, was returning along Hurst Street, when he met the prisoner, who said, "What are you doing down here? You are after my wife
again." Before he had time to reply Rayworth struck him across the face with a ginger beer bottle, and followed up the attack by a vigorous application of his
"bunch-of-fives." The prosecutor was knocked down again, and his injuries were so serious as to render incumbent his removal to the General Hospital.
With reference to the imputation of "coming after the wife," Atkins solemnly averred that he had not seen the lady for eight or nine months. In answer to Mr.
Cheston, he said he did not know where the prisoner lived, but he knew he had summoned him five or six months ago for an assault. Mr. Cheston : Was it not
distinctly proved on that occasion that you had committed adultery with this woman? I have no recollections of it. In cross-examination did you not admit
having taken her to a house of ill-fame twice? No, I did not. The policeman who arrested the prisoner said he confessed to having assaulted the prosecutor in
the manner stated, and professed sorrow for what he had done. Mr. Cheston, for the defence, said he could not deny that his client had struck the man with the ginger
beer bottle, but in mitigation of the punishment, he urged the Bench to take into consideration the gross provocation which he had received. Some time ago he was
summoned for beating the prosecutor, and fined a light penalty. In consequence of the revelations made on that occasion he sold up his home and separated from his wife.
Some time back a gentleman feeling interested in the case, interposed his good offices, and succeeded in bringing the pair together again, when peace and harmony was
restored. But the demon jealousy was once more aroused in the husband's breast on discovering the man, whom he believed to be the seducer of his wife hanging about
the house, and gazing intently at the windows. It was on one of these visits that the watchful eye of Atkins detected Rayworth, whom he followed, and in the heat of
the moment, and believing that he was "hankering after his wife again," he struck him a blow. The story of the baths he imagined and was a pure invention;
he was there for the purpose of meeting Mrs. Atkins. A woman with whom the prisoner lives was called, and affirmed that she never saw the prosecutor in the vicinity
of her house. The Mayor : Atkins, we consider this a very serious assault, and if we did not believe that you have had some little ground some time back for this
illusions about your wife's relations with the prosecutor, we should have sent you to prison without the option of paying a fine. This time we fine you £3
and costs, or six weeks' imprisonment."
"A Desperate Assault"
Birmingham Mail : June 10th 1871 Page 2
"At the Birmingham Police Court, yesterday, before Messrs. Bunce and W. H. Hart, William Farmer and John Farmer, of Centre Row, and Thomas
Graley and Joseph Richards, Robin Hood Yard, Inge Street, were summoned for taking part in an affray in Hurst Street, to the terror and disturbance of citizens; and
to show cause why they should not find sureties to keep the peace. John Farmer did not appear. Police Constable I. Cohen [E19] said that at about twenty-five
minutes to three o'clock on Sunday, the 29th March, he was standing near Thorpe Street when he saw William Farmer and another man quarrelling. Richards then came up,
and commenced to fight with Farmer, who produced a loaded stick from his pocket. Graley then appeared on the scene. He produced a buckle-ended belt, and commenced
fighting with one of the Farmers. The fight lasted about five minutes, and before the finish a great crowd had collected. Witness, who was in plain clothes, blew his
whistle and several officers came, but as soon as the combatants saw the uniforms they went off down Ladywell Walk. Mr. King [assistant magistrates' clerk]
: Did you try to prevent them fighting? Witness: No, it was no use in me trying. Witness further stated that Richards went off before the belt and stick
were used. John William Jones, manager of the Criterion, said that he saw the disturbance outside the public house door. There were about one hundred and fifty persons
gathered around, and an obstruction was caused. Mr. Bunce: So that no quiet passenger could go through without great difficulty? Witness: No, they would
have to push their way through. Richards admitted fighting with his fists, Farmer said that he used the loaded stick to protect himself, and Graley said that someone
threw him the belt to use after Farmer had endeavoured to hit him with the stick. Charles Price said that all the defendants lived in the locality of Hurst Street;
and he thought that in the case of Graley and Farmer there was likely to be a renewal of the disturbance, as there was considerable animosity between the families.
The row would have been renewed on Sunday last but for the presence of the police. Price also stated that Farmer had sustained three bad scalp wounds, which he had had
dressed at the hospital. He there gave his wrong name, in order to mislead the police. Mr. Bunce: So that they can fight the matter out themselves? Price:
Yes, sir. There were no convictions against Richards and Graley, but Farmer had appeared several times on summonses for assault. Mr. Bunce said that the Bench were
determined to stop these disgraceful disturbances, and all the defendants would be bound over to keep the peace. Farmer would be bound over in £10., and would
have to find a surety of £10. to keep the peace for six months, or in default of finding the surety to go to gaol for twenty-one days; and he would have
to pay the costs or go to gaol for a further seven days. Graley and Richards, who were not so much to blame, would be bound over themselves in £10., and would
have each to find a surety in £5. to keep the peace for six months, or go to gaol for twenty-one days; and pay the costs, or go to gaol for a further
seven days. The Bench granted a warrant against John Farmer."
"Recent Disturbance at Hurst Street"
Birmingham Daily Post : April 7th 1891 Page 7.
"William Edward Mountford , was indicted for unlawfully wounding George Smith, a hawker, on May 10th. According
to the evidence for the prosecution the parties lived in the same yard in Hurst Street, and on the Sunday night in question Smith was going into the court when he was
set upon by a number of women and knocked down. Whilst they were beating him Mountford rushed out of his house with a knife in his hand, and shouting "I'll do
the lot of you," stabbed prosecutor on the arm. Mountford alleged that prosecutor and some other men were knocking his father about, and that as Smith, had a poker
in his hand, he picked up a rasp and struck him on the wrist to make him drop it. The prisoner was sentenced to eight months' hard labour."
"Story of a Hurst Street Disturbance"
Birmingham Daily Mail : July 3rd 1914 Page 3
"Arthur Lockley , tube drawer, pleaded not guilty to a charge of unlawfully wounding James Kirk on November 8th.
Evidence was given that on the night mentioned the prisoner stabbed the prosecutor in the face, on the corner Hurst Street and Inge Street. He afterwards told Kirk's
sister that he was very sorry. When arrested by Police Constable Hillier prisoner, in reply to the charge, said there was a general fight, but there was no stabbing, and
he "touched out" as well. The hearing was adjourned until tomorrow morning at 10.30.am."
"He Touched Out"
Birmingham Daily Mail : November 24th 1914 Page 3