Sunday, December 16, 2018

ISSUE NUMBER 211   October 2018

Carl Writes

In the 1930s there were over 40,000 back-to-backs in Birmingham. Built in terraces, they literally shared their back wall with another house behind that was part of yet another terrace. With no back door and no back windows, these small houses were dark and cramped – having as they did but one room downstairs plus a tiny scullery above the cellar head.
 Depending upon whether the back-to-back was of the two-storey type or attic high (three storeys), there would either be two small bedrooms on the one level upstairs or a bedroom above which was an attic.
 All the facilities that we take for granted today as essential for our privacy were lacking. Most back-to-backs either ran up a yard and if not and they fronted on to the street, then they would share the yard at the rear. In this yard would be communal lavatories, miskins for rubbish, a brewus for washing and – until the 1930s – shared water taps.
 During the inter-way years 200,000 Brummies lived in back-to-backs, equivalent to a city the size of Bolton, and as late as the 1960s, tens of thousands of English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Jewish and Black Brummies made the best of things with homes that were outdated, decaying and inadequate.
 Like hundreds of thousands of Brummies before them, they endured hard lives, collaring for little reward and having to contend with high death rates, industrial diseases and pollution from the factories all around. Living in cramped conditions in small, badly-built houses, they had carried on as best they could with little privacy, having to share communal brew’uses, miskins, lavatories, suffs, and cold water taps in the yard.
 Despite this, the Brummies whose address was back of were a proud people. The vast majority of mothers strove daily to keep their families clean and respectable, and throughout back street Brummagem the ties of kinship and neighbourliness were vital features.
These bonds allowed poorer people to fight back against their common enemy, poverty, and to create thriving neighbourhoods in which old ladies could pop out for a stick of ale in the dark nights with no worry of muggings, in which young women could walk the street safely and in which a youngsters who was clammed would be given a piece.
 These poorer working-class Brummies played a vital role in making Birmingham one of the greatest manufacturing cities in the world and they should not be forgotten. That is why compelling accounts like that of Grace Caroline Holte are so important. This month’s Brummagem features some of her memories of growing up back-to-back in Guildford Street between 1957 and 1968. We also include memories from an earlier decade, the late Ron Evans of Tipton. As ever there is much more to stir memories of a shared past, including wonderful photos of the Chip Shop Queen of Birmingham.

Have a bostin read.
Tara a bit




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