THE OUTER CIRCLE – STAGE 4
Our previous stages have taken us roughly half way round the Outer Circle to Witton, where there has been the opportunity for a break and a cuppa at the Tesco Supermarket café.
So as we leave the supermarket car park we turn right along Aston Lane. Off to the right at the traffic lights ahead of us is Wellhead Lane. This is reputed to be roughly on the line of the Roman Icknield Street as it made its way to Lichfield. About quarter of a mile along Wellhead Lane is located Perry Barr bus garage, which provides a large proportion of the buses on the 11 route. It is said that at the time it was built the garage had the second largest unsupported roof in the world.
When we come to the end of Aston Lane we will arrive at the Birchfield Road Underpass which takes the A34 road under the Outer Circle.
As we go round the roundabout look to the left and you may see an Asian supermarket on which is on the site of the Birchfield Picture House which opened in 1913 and closed in 1962. The residents of Perry Parr were well blessed for cinemas, as about quarter of a mile further along Birchfield Road is the old Perry Barr Odeon cinema. This is still standing and was opened by Birmingham born Oscar Deutsch in 1930. It was the very first of what was become the UK’s largest cinema chain
Birchfield Picture House in 1952
After crossing Birchfield Road the Outer Circle takes us into Wellington Road on its way to Handsworth and to our right is the Crown & Cushion pub. The original Old Crown & Cushion which dated from around the 1860s was believed to be the place where Aston Villa football club was formed. This was replaced in the 1930s with a huge Old Crown & Cushion building which was in turn replaced by the current modern building.
As we go along Wellington Road, on our right beyond the houses, factories and the railway is Perry Hall Park. Perry Hall was the home of the Gough-Calthorpe Family. The Gough-Calthorpes are still major landowners today owning significant parts of Edgbaston. Perry Hall came into ownership of the Gough family around the late 1600s. The hall was originally a timber framed manor built around 1576, and was extensively altered in the 1840s in a style to resemble Aston Hall. The parklands around the hall and the building itself came into the hands of Birmingham City Council in 1928 and the hall was demolished, leaving the park as playing fields.
Perry Hall in the 1920s. Today, not far from the entrance to Perry Hall Playing Fields off Perry Avenue, is a rectangular garden surrounded by a brick-lined moat fed by a small stream, which runs into the nearby River Tame. Although this has every appearance of a 20th-century park feature, it is the medieval moat of Perry Hall.
On our right at the junction with Wood Lane is the Calthorpe Arms pub, which recognises the area’s association with the family.
As we travel further along Wellington Road we cross a railway line which was built in 1896 to connect what is now the West Coast Main Line to the north west of New Street to the old Grand Junction line to Walsall. Just after the railway bridge on the right where relatively modern houses & bungalows are built was a yard that was used to store the last of Birmingham’s trolleybuses in 1951 before they were taken away to be cut up at Stratford-upon-Avon.
We are now approaching the junction with Hampstead Road and down here to our left was Handsworth Wood Station which was closed in 1941 and St Mary’s Parish Church where Matthew Boulton, James Watt & William Murdoch were all laid to rest. St Mary’s stands in 4 acres of grounds and is often called “the Cathedral of the Industrial Revolution”.
Watercolour of St Mary’s Parish Church Handsworth © Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery
As we go from Church Lane into Oxhill Road we will pass on our right St Andrews Church that had its foundation stone laid in 1907 by the Earl of Dartmouth. It was consecrated two years later by the Right Revd Charles Gore who was the first Bishop of Birmingham. Behind the church is a row of listed cottages which dating from the 16th century and these at one time were Handsworth Town Hall.
The row of listed cottages which date from the Sixteenth century which at one time were used as Handsworth Town Hall. They stand behind St Andrews Church in Oxhill Road.
We now travel for about a quarter of a mile along Oxhill Road where in the 1930s the number 11 bus would have had the company of the no 26 tram before we turn left onto Rookery Road.
Birmingham’s most famous forging gang was led by William Booth. He was a farmer with 200 acres of land. At his farm house near to Perry Barr he conducted a massive forging operation imitating Bank of England notes. Unfortunately for Booth one of his servants was arrested in Walsall in 1812 trying to pass a £2 note and he spilled the beans. Following a massive police raid on the farm house Booth was sent for trial along with the rest of his gang, some of whom turned King’s evidence. Booth was sentenced to death. However all did not go well. At the execution Booth, who four years earlier escaped execution when he was acquitted of the murder of his elder brother, seemed to be in luck again when the hangman’s noose broke and he fell the full 10-foot drop. He obligingly climbed the gallows again and had to wait a further fifteen minutes whilst the noose was fixed, but this time the trap door jammed and it had to be forced open. Booth left the huge sum of £6,000 pounds to his widow & daughters and Booth Street in Handsworth is said to be named after him. When we reach the end of Rookery Road Booth Street is about 150 metres to our right up Soho Road.
We are however going to turn left into Soho Road and travel for a short distance towards the city. This was part of the road from London to Holyhead built in the early 19th century by Thomas Telford, which attracted tolls until 1870. It is also worth noting that Soho Road was on the route of the Birmingham cable tramway that ran along here to Colmore Row between 1888 and 1911.
On our left just before we turn off Soho Road is the abandoned Red Lion pub. There was a Red Lion Inn on this site in the 1640s when the stables were used by Cromwell’s troops. The present rather grand building was built for the Holt Brewery. As I write this in 2014 the abandoned pub has just been put up for auction and a better future may be found for it and its fine interior.
The Red Lion Handsworth in better days, Photographed here in 1949 with locally manufactured Rover & Austin cars bought to a halt by the policeman on “point duty”.
About a third of a mile ahead of us next to Handsworth library is the site of the Elite Picture House which was opened in 1913 and closed in 1966. The building was demolished in the 1980s and recently a new building was erected here, which houses an Indian bank.
As if to reinforce Boulton’s association with the area we now turn right into Boulton Road. The site of Boulton’s Soho Manufactory was about three quarters of a mile down Soho Road towards the city. In the same area and still standing is Soho House, which was Boulton’s home between Seventeen-Sixty-Six and Eighteen-Oh-Nine, now preserved by the city as a museum. This is well worth a visit.
Soho House, photographed during an event day in 2011. It was once a regular meeting place for some of the greatest minds of the 18th century. Matthew Boulton (1728-1809) was a founding member of the Lunar Society, a group of great thinkers and inventors who met regularly at his home at Soho House. Boulton’s guests included James Watt, Erasmus Darwin, Josiah Wedgwood and Joseph Priestley.
As we go down the hill you will see that ahead of us in the valley of the Hockley Brook are two railway bridges. The first steel span was built by the Great Western Railway to carry their line between Birmingham and Wolverhampton, then on to Birkenhead. After the electrification of the West Coast Mail Line in the Sixties this route closed to be opened again in 1999 as The Midland Metro Line 1, and later for trains from the re-opened Snow Hill to places such as Stourbridge and Worcester. The tram stop here is called Winson Green Outer Circle.
The second brick arched bridge is carrying the line that goes through Handsworth Wood that we crossed earlier when we were on Wellington Road.
By the time we reach the railway bridges the road we are on will have become Handsworth New Road, and just after the bridges on the corner of Beeton Road on our right is Bishop Latimer’s Memorial Church with its massive tower which was consecrated in 1904.
Down here the road becomes Winson Green Road and we will reach the prison originally built in 1849 on the left. Prisoners from Winson Green were involved in the restoration of the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal in the 1960s, when the National Trust had taken a lease on the Canal and their project manager, by using prisoners and volunteers kept restoration costs down to just £40,000. One of Winson Green’s most famous inmates was Charlie Wilson, imprisoned for his part in the Great Train Robbery; he escaped from the prison in July 1965 and was recaptured in January 1968 in Canada. Alleged serial murderer Fred West committed suicide in his cell here on New Years Day 1995 before he could be brought to trial. Even Ozzy Osborne of Black Sabbath fame served six weeks in Winson Green after he was arrested for breaking & entering and theft in 1966. The last person ever to be hanged at the prison was 20 year old Jamaican, Oswald Augustus Grey. He was executed on 20 November 1962 after being convicted of the shooting to death of newsagent Thomas Bates during the course of a robbery in June 1962. In 1995, the prison was criticised by its own Board of Visitors for being soft on prisoners. This arose after allegations that one inmate had gone on two weeks’ holiday to Minorca, while being released for weekend leave.
After the prison our tour will go straight ahead past the end of Aberdeen Street. But if you are travelling on an Outer Circle bus today you will turn left here so that it can stop outside what is now City Hospital. The hospital was opened in 1889 and was originally on the site of the Birmingham Union Workhouse, which was later named Dudley Road Hospital, this is still the name by which it is generally known locally. The hospital’s original ward block was almost quarter of a mile long and based on a design by Florence Nightingale. The original gatehouse known as the “Gateway of Tears” still stands neglected just inside the entrance in Western Road.
The Archway of Tears could be preserved as a meeting place and community asset. The Birmingham Conservation Trust has been engaged in finding a suitable use for the gatehouse. There is a very large and imposing room above the archway which could be used for events and conferences and there is a real need for a Community Hub in the deprived area around the hospital. Although the building was turned down for listing which means certain funding sources will not be available, The Birmingham Conservation Trust believe that the project should satisfy community requirements and stand a real chance of preservation as a community asset.
However we are going to follow the original Outer Circle route which here will cross the ex-LMS main railway line on its way from New Street to Wolverhampton and onward towards the north, this is also the site of Winson Green station, which closed in 1958. On the same bridge the road crosses the Birmingham Canal Navigation main line which here runs next to the railway on its way from the Black Country to Birmingham.
After we turn right at the traffic lights into Dudley Road, look to our left to see the trees lining Summerfield Park which was given to the city in 1876 by Lucas Chance the well known Smethwick glass manufacturer. His home, Summerfield House at one time stood in the centre of the park. Lucas & his brother William formed Chance Brothers who were involved in the elimination of the hated window tax in 1851 and in the same year supplied all the 900,000 square feet of glass for the Crystal Palace in London.
We are going to turn left, but about 150 metres ahead of us on Dudley Road is a blue painted building that now houses an Indian takeaway. That was the Dudley Road Picture House which operated from 1912 to 1932. This was replaced by the Grove Cinema which is about half a mile further on. Opened in 1932 and closed in 1981 the Grove was part of the Clifton Group of cinemas, owned by the Clift family who controlled many cinemas in Birmingham. The building is now a bathroom centre and still has the name Grove at the top of the frontage.
As we turn into City Road the Victorian building to the right on the corner was built in 1903 for Lloyds Bank and was said to be the only bank in Winson Green because other bank owners ignored the area as they believed that the residents were too poor.
The next stage will see us going down City Road.
The Bloopers: Delivering a guided tour from the top deck of a 1953 bus is a challenging experience. Trying to hold the notes and microphone as well as fending off the hecklers from the back required numerous skills. Delivering the material coherently was at times difficult as the bus pitched and rolled along Birmingham’s poorly maintained roads. In spite of this verbal errors were few and far between. The occasional “right” instead of “left” was, I insist, designed to keep the passengers on their toes.
However two howlers were spotted. On our first tour I declared that we were passing the FOX AND GLOOSE then in 2012 we passed under a BRICK ARSED BRIDGE in Handsworth New Road.
Ho Hum! No one’s perfect!
About the author
The author of the Outer Circle tour is David Humphries. David was bought up in Hall Green and now lives in Solihull. He, and his wife Pam, started their OuterCircleBus.com tours of the No 11 bus route and have run them every year beteween 2011 and 2014. Visit www.OuterCircleBus.com to find photographs of the tours and to find out how much money was raised for charities from the tours. David now conducts guided tours of the Birmingham Back to Backs and Newman Brothers at the Coffin Works in Fleet Street.
YOU CAN CONTACT DAVID ON INFO@OUTERCIRCLEBUS.COM