A “Virtual” Tour of The Back to Backs – part 5



A Virtual Tour of the Back to Backs – part 5

We’ve been hearing about John Wilmore building his house here, but how did he first come to be here?

In May 1789 his father, also John, a builder from Birmingham, took out the lease on a strip of land on Hurst Street that ran almost half way down Inge Street. The lease stated he was to build “two substantial dwelling houses both costing no less that £700”. Sadly, just two months after he signed the lease, Britain went to war with France – that put a stop to his plans.

By 1802 John (senior) was dead and the land was inherited by sons John & Joseph. It was divided so that John (junior) had the smaller square plot on the corner and Joseph had the remainder (this became court 14). And so, John built the house we see here.

The ground was a sea of mud and had on the Hurst Street side two sheds, one a nail maker’s workshop and the other a “Horse Killer’s”. Both vital businesses in early 19th century Brum.

John soon divided his house and set about making more money from the land by building a pair of “Back to Backs” next to it. Then at a later date another pair. The need for a £350 “substantial dwelling” was soon forgotten and each of his new houses, built in the 1820s, cost an estimated £95.00 each! 

So how did he save money? Well, a lower roof for a start (go back to part 1), smaller rooms, cheaper woodwork, etc all helped to make the newer houses cost less.

None of these six houses had kitchens, bathrooms, running water, drainage or indoor toilets. So, to overcome some of these shortcomings John Wilmore built, in the courtyard, a pair of wash houses (in Brum always known as the “Brew’us”) and three privies in the corner, communal facilities shared by all his tenants.

But there’s still more building work to be carried out on this tiny plot of land, just 20 yards square.

Panoramic photograph of the courtyard showing back houses 1, 2 & 3 – 2017


The back of John Wilmore’s first house – looking through the washing


Back houses numbers 1 & 2


Back houses numbers 2 & 3
Back house no 2 with the entry on the right-hand side