The Birchfield Heritage Trail is a celebration of the history and diverse cultural heritage of this area of Birmingham situated north of the city-centre and a short distance from the Alexander Stadium – home to the Birchfield Harriers and one of the main venues for the Commonwealth Games 2022.
It is one of 20 heritage trails across the city funded through the Commonwealth Games Legacy Fund.
The trail will reveal some of the hidden secrets of the Birchfield area, how the place has changed over time and the many links between Birchfield and other parts of the world including Commonwealth countries.
During the summer of 2022 there will be guided tours of Birchfield led by volunteers and taking in some of the sites on this trail. We also want to encourage people to explore Birchfield and discover untold stories on their own or with friends and family as part of a self-guided tour – hence the map, leaflet and QR code.
Home in 1872 to James Henry Stone – brother of MP and photographer Sir Benjamin Stone, the building later became the Hollick and Taylor Studios – one of the oldest operational recording studios in the UK.
Built in 1872 it was originally the home of James Henry Stone a local JP and Brass Founder (1829 – 1908). He was at various times – Chair of Handsworth Library Committee, a churchwarden at St Silas in Lozells and on the committee of the Handsworth Bridge Trust. He was also one of the promoters of the scheme to create Victoria Park (now Handsworth Park) and opened in 1887 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. His brother was Sir Benjamin Stone MP and keen photographer. There exists a photograph of James Henry (dated 1880) and of the house and garden, both taken by his brother.
James Henry Stone is buried in St Mary’s churchyard along with his immediate family. His wife and two children all died before him, so his name is at the bottom of the impressive gravestone.
The house was acquired in 1945 by John and Joan Taylor as a family home. Shortly afterwards the Taylors converted part of the building into a recording studio and teamed up with Charles Hollick to create the Hollick & Taylor studios. It is the oldest operational recording studio in the city and reputedly one of the oldest in the UK after Abbey Road.
Both Noddy Holder (with Steve Brett & the Mavericks) and John Bonham (with The Senators) made their first recordings at Grosvenor Road. It was also used by Spencer Davis. Other bands to record there include The Applejacks, The Fortunes, The Moody Blues, The Move, and others that were part of the city’s Brum Beat movement. The Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band recorded their UK No. 2 hit “The Floral Dance” there, and Jasper Carrott’s double A-side comedy single “Funky Moped“/”Magic Roundabout”, a UK Top 5 chart hit, was produced by Jeff Lynne, with Bev Bevan on drums and backing vocals on the former track. Comedian Ken Dodd recorded his radio shows at GRS. Cliff Richard used the studio to launch his 1976 I’m Nearly Famous album.
Working together in the studio, John and Joan Taylor also made recordings for film and television, including the Gerry Anderson series Thunderbirds and Stingray. They helped develop a lip synch mechanism that was later used on Captain Scarlet. Dubbing was also done there including for the 1961 film The Guns of Navarone.
Reggae legends Jimmy Cliff and Steel Pulse recorded here as did Ska band Ranking Roger (Roger Charlery) and the Beat.
The studios are now home to acapella group – Black Voices – and managed by a voluntary board.
Built in the Art Deco style, these flats were home to the first TV celebrity hairdresser, Raymond Bessone or Mr Teasy-Weasy. “A teasy-weasy bit here and a teasy-weasy bit there”
These three blocks of flats, built in the Art Deco style, are on a site once occupied by a large house called The Lindens – hence Lyndon Close. Linden is an alternative name for the Lime Tree of which there are many to be found in this area.
Wellington Court was once the home of Raymond Bessone – Mr Teasy-Weasy – the first ever TV celebrity hairdresser. Born in Brixton, London, in 1911 Raymond learned his craft in his father’s barber’s shop. He later opened a shop of his own in Mayfair and was the first hairdresser to showcase his talents with a programme on tea-time TV. He opened salons in several major cities including Birmingham. He also trained the next generation of celebrity stylists including Vidal Sassoon.
Raymond Bessone – Mr Teasy-Weasy
The Calthorpe Arms was the headquarters for the Birchfield Harriers in the early years from 1877 to 1881. The club’s opening run was held here. Now one of the UK’s premier athletic clubs the Harriers are based at the Alexander Stadium in Perry Barr.
The Birchfield Harriers were formed in 1877 following a dispute over a cross-country race. The dissatisfied competitors decided to call a meeting and form a separate cross-country club named after the district at the centre of their activities – Birchfield.
The Calthorpe Arms was used as their headquarters from 1877 to 1881 when they moved to Aston Lower Ground. The emblem of the Harriers is a running stag. The Harriers has been represented at every summer Olympics bar one since 1908.
Birchfield Harriers’ first athletics meeting was held at the Aston Lower Grounds, next to what is now Villa Park. By the 1920’s the club had saved enough money to build their own stadium in Perry Barr, the original Alexander Stadium being named after W. W. Alexander who had devoted his life to the early development of the club. It was completed in 1927 in time to celebrate the club’s 50th Jubilee.
The old Alexander Stadium was used for a variety of sports and was even used as a POW camp in WW2. Eventually as other stadiums started to install synthetic tracks, a decision was made to work together with the city council on a new stadium in Perry Park. The old stadium is now home to Greyhound racing.
The new Alexander Stadium opened in 1978 and has now been transformed for the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
Lea Hall was built for the Muntz family in 1790. The family combined business and politics, with three members of the family – George Frederick, Philip Henry and Philip Albert Muntz all representing Birmingham in Parliament over a period of 66 years – though never more than one at a time!
Lea Hall was named after Lea Hall Farm which stood on Wood Lane. The earliest reference to the name dates from 1635 but the present hall dates from 1790 and is a Grade II listed building and was built for the Muntz family.
The most notable member of the family was George Frederick Muntz (1794 – 1857) who was an industrialist and Liberal Party MP for Birmingham from 1840 till his death. As an industrialist G. F. Muntz developed Muntz Metal, a brass alloy that replaced the more expensive copper to prevent fouling by barnacles and other marine life on ocean going ships. The Cutty Sark was one such ship. Muntz was a supporter of political reform and member of the Birmingham Political Union whose actions led to the Political Reform Act of 1832.
George Frederick Muntz
The home of Henry Bowyer Joseph Lane, prominent architect and water colourist, once stood here at 6 Wellington Road.
His father – Henry Bowyer Lane – was one of the beneficiaries from the compensation paid to slave owners following the Slave Compensation Act 1837.
Henry Bowyer Joseph Lane (1817–1878) was a prominent architect in Toronto, Canada in the 1840’s. He made major additions to Osgoode Hall, the home of the Law Society in Upper Canada. Osgoode Hall is illustrated here alongside a watercolour that Lane made of The Grange, built in 1817, and one of the oldest buildings in Toronto. Lane moved back to England in 1847 and is listed as living in Birchfield at the time of the 1851 census where his occupation is given as “Proprietor of Coalmines”.
Lane later moved to Australia where he held a variety of roles including police magistrate and deputy sheriff in the Colony of Victoria. Some sources say he died in Birchfield but the evidence is that he died in Warrnambool, Victoria. There is a memorial plaque to Lane in St John’s Anglican Church, Port Fairy, Victoria.
His father, Henry Bowyer Lane (1782 – 1837) was awarded compensation for the enslaved on the Spring Valley estate in the parish of St Thomas in the East, Jamaica along with Robert Stewart. Henry Bowyer’s claim arose from his second wife (Jane Thomson). In his will it states that his assets include: “One third part of a Sugar Plantation called Spring Valley in the island of Jamaica together with the slaves, stock utensils etc thereon the property of my present wife and settled on her and her children.”
The amount received was £4,044 17s 9d for 210 enslaved.
After decades of campaigning, the Slavery Abolition Act was passed in 1833. The plantation owners in the Caribbean, represented by the London Society of West India Planters and Merchants (now the West India Committee), opposed abolition. The 1837 Act paid £20 million, equivalent to £17 billion in today’s money, and constituting 40% of the Treasury’s tax receipts at the time to the former slave owners, but nothing to the liberated people.
Legacies of British Slavery: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/
Watercolour of The Grange, Toronto, Canada
Watercolour by Henry Bowyer Joseph Lane of Thouhama (also known as Sweet-Grass) wife of an Onondaga Chief – one of the indigenous nations of Canada.
Once a private residence and home for a period to William Henry Muntz, the building became an hotel and then a pub, and is now a Madrassa.
This grade II listed building was constructed in 1820 as a private residence – Church Hill House – though it is said that there has been a house on this site since 1538.
Around the 1880s, it was occupied by the Muntz family, George Frederic Muntz’ second son William Henry Muntz having married Alice Parker, the second daughter of its occupant, George Parker, in 1846.
It later became a hotel, known as the Hill House Hotel and then the Endwood Hotel, before being purchased in 1937 by the brewers Butlers of Wolverhampton, who used it as a pub. That company, and thus the Endwood, was acquired by Mitchells & Butlers in 1960.
The building is now an Islamic education centre or Madrasa.
This sculpture by artist Luke Perry was inspired by the migrations to Handsworth by people from around the world. It is also a reference to the Windrush generation; Commonwealth citizens who came to the UK between 1948 and 1971 and named after the Empire Windrush which arrived at Tilbury Dock, London on 21 June 1948.
“The SS journey is a representation of the bow of a steam ship with a passenger looking into the distance and to their future.”
Created by artist Luke Perry the sculpture was inspired by the journey made by many people from the Caribbean to Handsworth in the 1950s and 60s. It also speaks to everyone who has come from other parts of Britain or further afield and chosen to make Handsworth their home.
The figure on the bow of the boat is cast in bronze and was modelled on Hector Pinkney MBE – better known locally as ‘Mr Handsworth.’
Sometimes called the “Cathedral or Westminster Abbey of the Industrial Revolution” St Mary’s, Handsworth is the resting place of Matthew Boulton, James Watt and William Murdoch. Also buried in the graveyard are Essau and Henty Smith, King and Queen of the Black Patch Romany Gypsies.
St Mary’s Church is a Grade II* listed building. The first stone church building was erected on the site around 1160. It was a small and austere Norman structure, occupying about half the present south aisle. The few surviving Norman features can be seen at the lower stages of the sandstone tower at what was originally the church’s east end. In its long history, St Mary’s has undergone successive reconstruction, especially in 1820 and again in 1870.
The church is noteworthy as the resting place of Matthew Boulton, James Watt and William Murdoch and has been variously described as the “Cathedral or Westminster Abbey of the Industrial Revolution”.
James Watt lived at Heathfield House in Handsworth and was the inventor of the separate condenser, the greatest single improvement ever made to the steam engine. Watt patented the invention in 1769 and later moved to Birmingham in 1775 to form a partnership with Matthew Boulton to manufacture steam engines. Initially the business was based at Soho Manufactory just off the Soho Road but then moved to a new site beside the canal and opposite what is now Black Patch Park in Smethwick. Many steam engines were shipped to plantations in the Caribbean where they were used to extract juice from sugar cane. Little is mentioned of Watt’s life before moving to Birmingham, but he had a significant role in managing his father’s business trading in slave-grown produce such as sugar and cotton.
The churchyard at St Mary’s is also the last resting place for at least 35 Romany Gypsies that died between 1889 and 1915. These include Esau Smith (King) and Sentenia (Henty) Smith (Queen) who all lived on the land that is now Black Patch Park in Smethwick.
As the term “Vale” suggests, this is a valley through which a stream flows (now underground) from Handsworth Park to the River Tame. The shops were built in the last decade of the 19th century and along with the pub (since demolished) was, and still is, the nearest thing Birchfield has to a centre – once a village – now an “urban village”.
The Vale is a local shopping centre, where five roads converge on a small triangular public space with a large tree at its heart. There are photographs of the shops on Robert Road from about 1911 including: Brown – Family Butcher; J. Devey – Fruiterer & Florist; Patons – Knitting Wools; E.H. Hall – Drugstore & Post Office; and a Confectioner advertising Cadbury’s chocolate. It gives some indication of the relative wealth in this area of Birmingham at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
There is also a photograph of J. Holland, Boot Makers, at Number 35 which is now a house. The Lime tree in the middle of the Vale doesn’t appear on the map surveyed in 1886 but does appear on later maps. Was it planted to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden (1887) or Diamond Jubilee (1897)?
Wilton Road URC was built on land owned by the Lempriere family. George Philip Lempriere was a famous balloonist and aeronaut, and a founder member of the Midland Aero Club in 1909.
The land upon which the church now stands was originally occupied by a large house owned by the Lempriere family. The two daughters of the family were members of Westminster Road URC and one of the sisters – Jessie – gave the land to build a new church which opened in 1974. Jessie laid the foundation stone. Jessie’s father George Philip Lempriere was a famous balloonist.
Born in 1854 in London he came to Handsworth as a young man and devoted himself to Aeronautics. Throughout his career as a balloonist, he performed at many events including fetes, galas, shows and gave lectures.
He stood in 1897 as an Independent Councillor in Soho Ward but was unsuccessful despite his unique campaign style – leafleting the public from his hot air balloons! In 1909 he founded along with Sir Francis and Herbert Pepper the Midland Aero Club – one of the oldest private flying clubs in the country.
He died on 20 February 1949 just short of his 95th birthday and is buried in Handsworth New Cemetery.
Lempriere House which used to be on the site where the church now is
Captain Alfred John Loftus retired to 6 Grosvenor Road after a lengthy career at sea and a distinguished role as hydrographer to King Rama V of Siam (now Thailand). King Rama V had a British tutor – Anna Leonowens – who along with his father, King Rama IV, was portrayed in the musical – “The King and I”
The obituary in the Handsworth magazine of 1899 noted that “Handsworth has lost one of the most picturesque of her residents and the King of Siam is deprived of a faithful Consul.” Captain Alfred John Loftus FRGS retired to 6 Grosvenor Road, Handsworth after a lengthy career at sea that began at age 13.
After many adventures he became hydrographer to King Rama V of Siam (now Thailand) and was responsible for surveying coasts and rivers, telegraph and railway routes and in charge of the observatory for recording eclipses of the Sun. Rama V (1868 – 1910) was son of King Mongkut (Rama IV) who was portrayed by Yul Brunner in the film “The King and I” and was taught by Anna Leonowens who was appointed governess to the royal children. For several years “The King and I” was banned in Thailand, because it was said to be historically inaccurate and unfair to the late king.