Some history of Suffolk Street
Suffolk Street, or Suffolk Street Queensway, is not a road for a cyclist! The road forms part of the inner ring road imposed upon Birmingham by Sir Herbert Manzoni when he was City Engineer and Surveyor.
The excavation for the tunnel to connect to Great Charles Street was a vast undertaking, along with an underpass beneath the old Horsefair. Most of old Suffolk Street was razed to the ground as modern development lined the new dual carriageway. Manzoni had little regard for historic buildings and espoused a futuristic city of concrete. He took the city's "Forward" motto to the max. It is taking decades for cash-strapped Birmingham to undo his mistakes.
Suffolk Street, like many of the surrounding roads, was named after geographical places of significance to the Gooch family, residents of Benacre Hall in Suffolk. Sir Thomas Gooch kick-started major development of the area in order to increase land rents and top up the family coffers.
Though part of Easy Row and Paradise Street, it is worth mentioning the old canal offices that stood at the top of Suffolk Street. The canal company created a wharf on six acres of land on the Gooch Estate. Supervised by James Brindley, the Birmingham Canal was constructed between 1768 to 1772 and the wharf, dubbed Paradise Wharf or Old Wharf was an important hub for bringing coal from the Black Country.
Just down from the canal offices was the imposing Curzon Exhibition Hall, principally for the annual dog show, but, to make it pay, the company that built the structure planned to host a range of events.
In what was described as a free treatment of Gothic, the building was designed by Edward Holmes. The foundation stone was laid by Viscount Curzon, president of the National Dog Association, in August 1865. Messrs. Horsley Brothers, the building contractors, had the place up in no time.
The architect designed the interior so that the hall could be used by circus acts at various times during the calendar. Furnished with a handsome gallery around the entire interior, along with refreshment rooms and shops, the building made a profit and returned a dividend to shareholders from the off. The Royal Amphitheatre and Circus were performing at the hall by 1871. With a seating capacity that reached 3,000, Curzon Hall also hosted music events and boxing nights.
Throughout the Edwardian period the academic-turned-showman Waller Jeffs enchanted the paying public with seasonal magic lantern shows, light opera music, brass and military bands, along with live sound effects. As the first to promote a complete programme of moving films in the Midlands, Waller Jeffs was regarded as a pioneer of film entertainment. He made movies - or flickers as they were known - of many famous people of the period including Joseph Chamberlain and Buffalo Bill. His seasons at Curzon Hall were billed as "New Century Pictures."
The organisers of the Dog Show became disenchanted with the accommodation and calendar availability of Curzon Hall and made the decision to move the event to Bingley Hall in their annual report of 1908.
The owners of the Hippodrome Theatre made an application to move to the site of Curzon Hall in 1914. A licence was granted to Henry Hamilton in March 1914. However, the building was commandeered as a recruiting station during the First World War. Boxing events were still staged at the old Exhibition Hall to raise funds for the upkeep of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Club in Newton Street.
Following the First World War unemployment rose to such levels that Curzon Hall was used as a massive dole office. The owners of the building had to wait until 1924 until reconstruction work could be started on what would become the West End Cinema and Dance Hall. In September of that year it was reported that several interesting finds were made by building workers. "In the cavity of the foundation stone at the front of the building was found a tightly-stoppered glass bottle, containing a copy of Aris's Gazette, a set of plans by the architect Mr. Edward Holmes, and a number of silver and copper coins of the period when the hall was erected. Workmen engaged in digging operations at the rear of the building came across the skull of a monkey. It is presumed the animal died during the visit of one of circuses which came to Curzon Hall and was buried on the spot. A silver-mounted tortoise-shell snuffbox, bearing the initials "E.W." and the date 1795, was also unearthed, and two lots of coins of the Georgian and William periods were dug up in the course of excavations. One lot was found at the side of the hall facing Holliday Street. a considerable distance from the surface, and the discovery suggests that at one time a market or fair was held on the site. In what was the cellar of a former public-house, standing at the corner of Suffolk Street and Holliday Street, was found a second lot of coins."
The property agent Frederick J. Pepper was the Chairman of Directors who applied for a cinematograph, music, singing and dancing licence for the West End Cinema when work was reaching a conclusion in January 1925. Frederick Pepper had a finger in many pies and was involved in the development of the Piccadilly Arcade at New Street. Ironically, he dabbled with town planning and in 1918 he devised a plan for the construction of a central ring road, the very thing that would later mean the demolition of the West End Cinema.
Costing some £70,000, the reconstruction work, supervised by Frederick Pepper, included the installation of stained-glass windows featuring Shakespearian subjects. These were supplied by the Bromsgrove Guild and were designed and executed by Archibald J. Davies. The glazier who installed the windows was the father of John Green who later managed the West End Cinema towards the end of its life.
The cinema opened on March 9th, 1925 with a screening of the naval war film "Zeebrugge." The film was preceded by a performance of the West End Orchestra conducted by Henry Such. Described as palatial, the West End Cinema caused a stir in Birmingham. One reported stated that "the cinema is up to date in every way. The lighting, seating, and ventilation follow the most modern style, and the result is a cinema de luxe." The building was open throughout the day with the balcony café serving luncheons, teas, and suppers.
As the West End Cinema appealed to the more affluent citizens of Birmingham, it was a good fit for Provincial Cinematograph Theatres, a growing chain operator of such buildings. Accordingly, they took over the West End Cinema in 1926 and installed a Wurlitzer Theatre Organ. Reginald Dixon once had a short residency at the West End Cinema and Dance Hall.
Provincial Cinematograph Theatres were taken over by Gaumont-British Theatre Corporation in 1929. The latter were acquired by the Rank Organisation in 1941. The company upgraded the ballroom by installing a sprung dancefloor, fondly remembered by Brummies when it was officially known as the Top Rank West End Ballroom.
The widening of Suffolk Street spelt the end for the cinema and ballroom. The closure was first announced in the local press during February 1965. The cinema hobbled on until March 1967. The site was later used as the studios and offices complex for Alpha TeleVision [ATV] which, apart from the listed-Alpha Tower were demolished for a new hotel.
This photograph shows the old and the new at a time when Suffolk Street was changing dramatically during the construction of the Queensway or Inner Ring Road. These buildings are close to the junction with Paradise Street. Some old properties can be seen to the left. These would only have a short time before a wrecking ball would erase them from the Birmingham landscape. The line of the new Suffolk Street would follow the curve of Trafalgar House which can be seen here nearing completion.
The foundation stone of Trafalgar House, an eight-storey glass and stone-faced shop and office block, regarded as one of the most striking of the city centre developments in the early 1960s, was laid by the Lord Mayor of Birmingham [Alderman John Lewis] on March 3rd, 1960. Costing £350,000, the building, thought to be the first pre-cast concrete office block in Birmingham, was to be faced with white Sicilian marble. At the ceremony the Lord Mayor used a specially inscribed trowel for the stone, beneath which newly-minted coins and contemporary copies of newspapers were placed in a deed box. The building, a development by the Murrayfleld Real Estate Company Ltd., was due to be completed in November 1960.
The shops were occupied and trading by the time of this photograph taken in June 1961. Note the butterfly canopies above the frontages. These were an inspiration for Bianca Rosoff, the artist who created a large gold-painted fibreglass sculpture on the side of the building. It was reported that members of the Birmingham Public Works Committee confessed to not understanding the meaning of the work. The artist, otherwise known as Bianca Lowenstein, told the Birmingham Daily Post that "she had endeavoured to emphasise the beautiful simplicity of the design of the main elevations and the shape of the 'butterfly' canopy over the shop fronts to Suffolk Street." The newspaper referred to the artist as Princess Lowenstein. I think she may have been Countess Bianca Fischler von Treuberg who married Peter Rosoff.
The offices of Trafalgar House were largely occupied by the Public Health Department previously based in Congreve Street. J. Johnson and Company Limited also occupied a new Travel Bureau and Offices within Trafalgar House. There was a large basement restaurant operated by Kunzle's, the Birmingham Cake and Catering Company. It was in the kitchens of the restaurant where a fire broke out just three years after the building was completed. The intense heat of the blaze caused the metal entrance doors to explode into the street. The restaurant was reduced to its concrete framework.
This early 1960s view of Suffolk Street shows the junction of Swallow Street. Old properties continue to the Technical School for which similar shops and courts were removed. The Old Red Lion would have been lost to this development of the 1890s. Featuring wall advertisements for cigarettes, the corner premises seen here was a café run by Albert and Ellen Wood. In the mid-1950s the shop next door was a hairdressing salon run by Leslie A. Brock. Oddly, there was a hairdresser operating here in the mid-1840s when Thomas Biddolph wielded his scissors on the premises. In that decade the shop on the corner was occupied by the corn dealer Richard Chattaway.
The building next to the College of Technology was a general shop run by M. W. Williams. The residential properties between look to have been boarded up by the time of this photograph. The last people to occupy these properties were Peter and Kathleen Gillum at No.69, Ellen and Clement Bates at No.70, John and Lily Martin at No.70, and John and Frances Stanton at No.72.
This was the main entrance to the Birmingham Municipal Technical School which opened in 1895. Sixty years later the education facility evolved into the UK's first College of Advanced Technology. This institution moved out to a new complex at Aston, becoming a university and receiving its royal charter from Queen Elizabeth II in April 1966.
Costing £88,500, this building was officially opened by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire in December 1895 though it had been in use since September of that year. The ceremony included the presentation of a gold key manufactured by Charles Smith, Sons and Co. Limited of Deritend. The architects of the school were the partnership of Oliver Essex, John Coulson Nicol and John Goodman. The Queen Anne-styled building, erected with a steel framework, contained 116 rooms distributed over five floors. When the building was completed the entrance was singled out for praise and described as a doorway "spanned by a wide, deeply-recessed, elliptical arch, enclosing four pairs of swing doors." It was rich in modelled ornament, and in the spandrils were figure subjects representing various sciences.
This photograph is displayed courtesy of the Photo by D. J. Norton website maintained by his son Mark Norton. Taken in 1952 this image shows Navigation Street from the junction of Suffolk Street. The retail unit on the corner at No.58 Suffolk Street was the premises of the taxidermists Edward Francis Spicer & Sons. The premises were partly shared with the plumber John Henry Brown. Living at No.199 Pershore Road, Edward Spicer had also operated from premises in Great Colmore Street. Dennis Norton would have had his back to the Central Goods Station which was built over the south-western section of Navigation Street. To the photographer's left would have been the large building of the College of Technology. Part of the site for this educational establishment was once occupied by the Old Red Lion. In this view of Navigation Street there is a tantalising view of the White Swan on the right-hand side. The street numbering was the same on this corner in the mid-19th century. Indeed, the business conducted on the corner was exactly the same. In fact, a shop providing exactly the same service operated on the opposite corner. That shop was occupied by Alfred Yeoman who was described as an animal preserver.
In the 21st century the Christadelphian Hall on the corner of Gough Street was a rare survivor of old Suffolk Street. Built on the site of the Plough [and Harrow] and featuring a baroque doorcase, this terracotta building was erected between 1910-11 to the designs of the Cardiff-based architect G. A. Birkenhead. The builder was William Bishop of King's Heath.
The Christadelphian Hall officially opened in May 1911. The first meeting place for Birmingham Christadelphians was established in 1864 at the school in Ann Street. This was superseded by the Athenaeum Hall in Temple Row when there were 53 members of the ecclesia. This building in Suffolk Street was for a congregation that formerly met at the Masonic Hall in New Street. The new building was needed when the Masonic Hall was converted into a cinema.
In the above photograph, captured in August 1957, the building further along Suffolk Street was the printing works of Stanford and Mann Ltd. All the other buildings seen here in Gough Street have vanished.
The Welsh Presbyterians [Welsh Calvinistic Methodists] built this chapel on Suffolk Street in 1898 to accommodate the growing congregation that used to pack themselves into its predecessor, the Rehoboth chapel on Wood Street [later Granville Street]. That was itself a replacement for a small chapel on Peck Lane that was closed for the construction of the railway. The Welsh Presbyterians also built a large chapel at Hockley Hill. I can make out two names on the foundation stones of this, the Eglwys Bresbyteriadd Cymru - Evan Thomas and William Jones.
The minister of the chapel for a term of 48 years was the Reverend J. Roberts-Evans. A native of Llanbedr, near Barmouth, his early career followed a different path. His parents had mapped out a medical career for him and, accordingly, he was sent to the Liverpool Institute. Whilst there he became a pawnbroker as this was the business in which the friends with whom he was staying were engaged. However, he had his road to Damascus moment, reigniting his early desire for the ministry. He went to Bala College for four years and then to Owen's College at Manchester. He accepted a call to Nantgwrtheyrn, Caernarfon, a little quarry township of which he became teacher in the weekdays and pastor on Sundays. From there he went to Wigan, thence to Tyldesley, and, in 1889, went on a preaching tour in the United States, covering 8,000 miles. On his return he accepted the invitation of the Welsh people in Birmingham, much to the surprise of a famous Birmingham man, Dr. R. W. Dale, who knew Mr. Evans and Llanbedr well and was astonished that a man could leave such a spot for "smoky Birmingham." Mr. Evans said he had received some training in smoke at Wigan. Dr. Dale attended and spoke at his induction service in Birmingham. Mr. Evans was pastor at the old chapel in Granville Street and then at the chapel in Suffolk Street from its foundation. He ministered afterwards at Llanidloes and then at the English Presbyterian Church at Smethwick before going to the Welsh Presbyterian Church at Hockley, where he continued until retiring from the ministry around about 1930.
This photograph of Peterson's Suffolk Street Rubber Company was marked 'corner of Gough Street' but the business was listed near to Holloway Head. Indeed, a 1911 advertisement stated that they faced the Horse Fair and Smallbrook Street. Another advertisement in the newspapers at the time of this photograph proclaimed they had not just a few mackintoshes in stock but hundreds! The shop also stocked dust jackets for motorcyclists and work overalls, along with waterproofs, raincoats and boots. The shop offered free repairs to any goods bought in the previous 12 months.
The rubber shop and manufactory remained until the mid-1950s. In this image taken a little later the corner of Suffolk Street and Holloway Head was occupied by Brooke's Opticians. Next door, here seen with a wide shop frontage, was Handley's motor cycle and scooter outlet. The Tower Hill Transport Company also had offices here.
This photograph was also taken from the old Horsefair. The main view is of John Bright Street but the lower section of Suffolk Street can be seen to the left of the image. In the mid-1950s the key traders between here and Station Street were the furniture store of Alfred Bowers and the radio dealership of J. Houghton Limited. As can be seen in the below photograph the junction would soon be cleared in preparation for works on the inner ring road and Holloway Circus.
Have Your Say
If you would like to share any further information on Suffolk 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
"About three o'clock on Saturday morning a most daring attempt was made to enter the premises of Messrs. Day and Millward,
scale-beam makers, Suffolk Street. The premises of the firm are very extensive, and extend as far back as Ellis Street, where there is a back entrance nearly at
the back of the Synagogue. On entering from the back in Ellis Street, a person has to pass the foundry, and then proceed down the passage between the workshops, in
order to arrive at the Suffolk Street entrance. A view of this passage is commanded by the window of a man who resides on the premises. It appears that between two
and three o'clock on Saturday morning Police Constable Baskerville noticed two or three men loitering about, and communicated the fact to his fellow officer.
Shortly before three o'clock, on passing the back door of Messrs. Day and Millward's premises, he was induced to try the door, and it opened, and he then
saw five or six men, who rushed at him, and one of them threw a crow bar at him, which struck him on the head. On recovering from the blow, he ran after them, two
them going towards Singer's Hill, and the others in the direction of Exeter Row. He followed the latter, at the same time raising an alarm. Sergeants Fletcher
and Rouen were coming up Gough Street at the time that the thieves ran down Ellis Street, followed by Police Constable Baskerville, and they joined in the pursuit.
The two prisoners turned up an entry in Ellis Street, and on following up they were informed that the prisoners had scaled a wall leading into Exeter Row. On going
thither they found that Police Constables Canning and Lines had come up, but one of the prisoners struck Canning on the head with a crowbar, rendering the officer
insensible. The prisoner [Cane] was, however, instantly secured by Police Constable Baskerville, who promptly arrived on the spot. The other prisoner seeing
the officers, attempted to retrace his steps up the passage, but was followed by Lines and the two sergeants. In the scuffle which ensued Lines received a severe
blow across the right eye from crow bar, which rendered him insensible. The prisoner was, however, overpowered by Sergeants Fletcher and Rouen. He proved to James
Lamorciere, of Oxford Street, fitter, and other man being William James Cane, of Bordesley Street, painter. Both were taken to the lock-up, and brought before
the magistrates on Saturday, when they were remanded till Thursday next. The Police Constable Canning now lies at the Queen's Hospital in a dangerous state,
resulting from the injuries, and Lines is at present under medical treatment, and unfit for duty. The robbery was evidently planned some one acquainted with the
premises, the thieves, after trying the back door with a "jemmy" were forced to get over wall and remove an iron bar. After getting access to the premises
the thieves had to pass the house of the man who resides on the premises, and then go between the workshops to the front of the premises adjoining Suffolk Street.
There they mounted the roof of a small shed, and opened a small window by which they obtained admission to the counting-house. Here they endeavoured to remove
the iron safe, but it was evidently too for them, and they were glad to escape with a few dozen files. The man who resides on the premises was disturbed about the
time of the robbery, and watched his window for about ten minutes, but hearing nothing retired to bed. In a few minutes he was again aroused by the cry of the pursuit.
A bunch of skeleton keys was found by Sergeant Rouen in the entry where thieves were captured."
"Daring Burglary in Suffolk Street"
Birmingham Daily Gazette : November 6th 1865 Page 5
"At the Public Office on Thursday, before Mr. T. C. S. Kynnersley, two men, named William James Cane, 22, painter, Bordesley Street, and
James Lemercie, 18, fitter, Oxford Street, were charged, on remand, with breaking into the warehouse of Mr. John Milward, Ellis Street, and violently assaulting Police
Constables Canning, Baskerville, and Lines. Police Constable John Baskerville stated that on Saturday morning, about three o'clock he was on duty in Suffolk Street.
He tried the back gate leading to Mr. Millward's premises in that street, and found the wicket was open. He then looked and saw several men inside the yard. They
immediately ran out through the wicket, and knocked him down in the street. The first two men who came out were the two prisoners. As he was on the ground the prisoner
Cane threw a "jemmy" at him. He at once got up and pursued the two prisoners, making an alarm as he went. The other men made their escape in different directions.
The prisoners went into Exeter Bow, where Lemercie was stopped by a policeman. He followed Cane until he was stopped by Police Constable Lines. He never lost sight of the
prisoners. Cane struggled with him, but he secured him. He afterwards went with other constables to the prosecutor's premises, and found marks on the wicket-gate
which corresponded with "jemmy" thrown at him. Police Constable Canning stated that he stopped the prisoner Lemercie in Exeter Row, running away from the other
constable. Prisoner raised a bar and struck him several blows over the head, and also cut him with it in the throat. He struggled with him, but the prisoner made his
escape. He pursued him, and he was caught in an entry by Police Constable Lines. The witness had afterwards to be taken to the Queen's Hospital. Police Constable
Lines heard the alarm, and went to Exeter Row and saw Police Constable Baskerville running after Cane. He ran after him and knocked him down with his staff. He was then
secured. A gentleman at a window told him that the other man was up an entry. He went there, when Lemercie came out and struck him under the right eye with a jemmy.
They struggled together, and Police Constable Baker coming up they took him into custody. They also took a jemmy from him. Police Sergeant Rowan said that he had
examined the prosecutor's premises, and on the gate found marks of the jemmy. In the entry in Exeter Row, where the prisoner Lemercie was apprehended, he found a
bag containing skeleton keys. In the prosecutor's counting-house he found that some of the woodwork around the iron safe had been broken away. He also discovered
a small box on the roof of a building underneath the counting-house window. The window could be readily reached from the roof, and the premises entered that way.
Police Constable T. Pratt proved finding a brace outside the gates, in Ellis Street, and inside the gates were three packets of files. A piece of silk was also found at
the bottom of Suffolk Street. Mr. Milward, jun., proved leaving the premises quite safe on Friday evening. The box was on a desk in the warehouse. The silk and files were
his father's property. William Hales, the prosecutor's watchman, said he lived on the premises. At ten o'clock on Friday night he went over the premises, and
they were then all safe. During the hearing of the evidence, the prisoner Lemercie conducted himself with the greatest sang froid, and continued to address
Detective Inspector Kelly, who had charge of the case. He accused him in ironical language of taking into custody some years ago two ladies on a charge of picking pockets,
and who proved to be respectable persons. He called Kelly a wolf in sheep's clothing, and said that he [the prisoner] did not deny his character, but he had
read Kelly's in the London papers. He thought that it was time that the Birmingham people were put on their guard against such man as Kelly, as he was man who would
commit perjury for anything. To catch him they ought to have set a honest man to catch a rogue, not a rogue to catch a rogue. He pleaded guilty to being on the premises,
but would scorn to steal such trifling articles. The prisoner Cane also pleaded guilty, and they were both committed to the Sessions for trial."
"Determined Warehouse Robbery in Suffolk Street"
Aris's Birmingham Gazette : November 11th 1865 Page 5
"Jane Williams , 14 Court, Suffolk Street, described in the charge sheet as a nymph of the pave, was charged with stealing
£1. 7s. 6d. from the person of Jonah Johnson, Cheapside, chimney sweeper. On Saturday week the prosecutor arrived at New Street Railway Station by the train
which leaves Hampton at nine o'clock in the evening. As soon as he had set foot on the platform he was accosted by the female, who asked him to treat her with
two of gin. At first he refused, but after little gentle persuasion he was induced to give her a glass of half and half. She then enticed him into Vale Street, where
"conscience made a coward of him," and he refused to honour her with a visit to her domicile. The lady pulled at his coat and told him to come on. Immediately
he of the sooty face found himself minus his purse, containing all he had, £1. 7s. The prisoner pleaded guilty, and said, "Oh, your Worships, do have mercy
on me for the sake of my dear children. I'll never come here no more." Mr. Cheston, who appeared for her, said she was married to a respectable man, and had
a comfortable home. It was unaccountable why she took to such disreputable calling. In answer to the Bench, a police officer deposed to the prisoner having been seen
constantly hanging about public thoroughfares for unlawful purposes. She was committed for three months."
"The Sweep and The Lady"
Birmingham Daily Post : October 1st 1889 Page 7
"Eliza Moran, married, 6 Court, 3 House, Suffolk Street, was charged with assaulting Bridget Carlow, 6 Court, Suffolk Street, on the 14th
inst. Prosecutrix stated that on the night named she was in the yard near the prisoner's house. Carlow came to the door with a poker in her hand, struck her on the
head with it, and ran back into house. Prosecutrix, in endeavouring get at her, broke tho window with her arm, and sustained other injuries that way. She was taken to
the hospital, and the injuries to her head and arm necessitated detention for a fortnight. For defence, Mr. F. Hooper said that the prisoner received great provocation.
Prosecutrix came to the door and kicked. Prisoner said: "If anyone come in I'll strike them." Prosecutrix broke into the house, and prisoner struck her
in self-defence. A witness named Alfred Lipscombe gave evidence in support of this. A fine of 40s. and costs was imposed, with the alternative of one month's
imprisonment. Prisoner [to her husband]: "Bring some dinner, and don't you pay one penny for me."
Birmingham Daily Post : October 1st 1889 Page 7