A “Virtual” Tour of The Back to Backs – part 10



A Virtual Tour of the Back to Backs – part 10

Before we go upstairs we will see pens and a bottle of ink on the small table. These are a reminder that by the time the Levys were living here a Joseph Gillott from Edgbaston had perfected machinery to manufacture pen nibs. His invention led to a massive reduction in the cost of pen nibs and ultimately this meant a huge rise in literacy. It is said that at one time two thirds of the pen nibs in use across the world were made in Birmingham. There is, of course, a museum in The Jewellery Quarter commemorating Birmingham’s pen nib manufacturing legacy. Click here for the Pen Museum website   

As we approach the foot of the stairs we may be able to imagine that when the house was built there was a door just here on the left leading to the front room of John Wilmore’s house. But now of course, by the 1840s, it has been bricked up.


When we reach the top of this staircase we turn to the left into the Levy’s first floor bedroom. In here we will find a rather grand bed, looking somewhat out of place here in this working-class house. However, it seems that there was a tradition amongst many Jewish families to pass expensive items of furniture down from one generation to the next. This is how the Levy’s may have come by such as bed. This one is called a “Half Tester” and it has half of the canopy that you would find on a more familiar four-poster. The bed does dominate the room and can you imagine how the Levys got it in here?

Against the far wall is a very grand chest of drawers where the family would have stored their best clothes.

Over in the far corner is a much plainer looking bed, more typical of the type you would find in a house such as this. The bed is Adelaide’s and it may well have had a straw mattress. Vermin would often nest in it, and her parents’ bed would have had the same type of mattress or palliasse. These would be stuffed with fresh straw every year, around harvest time when straw was cheap & plentiful. She would have been sharing this room with her parents as there are only two bedrooms and she has three brothers.

Beneath the window there is a small table with a basin & jug standing on it. Adelaide would fill the jug with water each evening before the family went to bed. They would then each take it in turns to wash before going to bed and when they arose in the morning. Lawrence would also shave there. Woe betide anyone who uses too much water!

Joseph Gillott
Joseph Gillott’s Pen Nib factory display board
A panoramic photograph of Levy’s First Floor
The half tester bed in Levy’s First Floor bedroom
Adelaide’s bed and the chest of drawers in Levy’s First Floor bedroom
The basin & jug on the table in front of the window