A “Virtual” Tour of The Back to Backs – part 21




A Virtual Tour of the Back to Backs – part 21

We have six people sharing this room at the top of the Oldfields’ house. Given the personal hygiene and the sanitary arrangements available in 19th century Birmingham, coupled with the use of gazunders, you can imagine that the smell in this room was probably overpowering, to say the least! What was done to overcome this? We may find that a sprig of lavender was hung in the centre of the room to fight what was probably an unequal struggle with the inevitable pong.

But, who are these two individuals in the “lodgers’ bed” at the top of the Oldfields’ House?

It is a young man called William, and a young woman who also goes by the name of Anne (with an “e”). It is said that they didn’t even know each other when they found that they would be sharing this bed! So, what is going on here?

The answer is best described with a modern-day term – “Hot Bedding”. One uses the bed at night whilst the other is at work, and the first one works whilst the other sleeps. 

Anne Hawkesfield, it seems, may have worked in the markets, nearby at the Bull Ring. The nature of much of the work meant that she would have worked during the night, therefore used the bed during the day.

William Holder was, in the census, a brewer, and would have worked during the day, using the bed at night.

But, if you let your imagination wander a little, can you picture this young couple cuddled up in bed together – keeping very quiet – because they are sharing this small room with four young boys?

With that thought in our minds, let us go down stairs. Take care – going down can be as much as a challenge as climbing up these narrow spiral staircases. Many folk go down sideways with their feet on the wider part of the treads and their back to the handrail. In reviews of the Back-to-Backs most people’s most vivid memories are of the spiral staircases!


The sprig of Lavender
Oldfield’s Top Floor – the lodgers’ bed
The Oldfields’ top floor – the door to the staircase
Descending a back-to-backs spiral staircase