A Virtual Tour of the Back to Backs – part 55
So, there we are. We’ve travelled through time from the end of the 18th century when Hurst Street was just a lane running though the countryside south of the street named after Birmingham merchant and landowner Richard Smallbroke. The land here was owned by the Inge family and further south by the Gooch family. As the town became the heart of the Industrial Revolution the two landowner families parcelled up their land, and let it out to speculators who created these random courts of tiny back-to-back houses.
John Wilmore’s court witnessed the demolition of the houses on the other side of Inge Street a century later to accommodate firstly a dance hall then the creation of the most visited theatre in the land. So, Court 15 residents would have seen the great and good of the entertainment world pass by on the other side of the street as they arrived and departed from “The Hippodrome”.
The folk from Court 15 saw horse buses passing up and down Hurst Street, to be replaced by electric trams, and later on these gave way to motor buses.
The entrepreneurial spirit of the Brummie was defined by the fact that all of these houses became not only homes to the working men and their families that arrived in the town to live here, but also their place of work. Within a hundred years all the houses had become shops and businesses were carried on in the cramped courtyard at the back.
Throughout the 20th century there was a constant battle to rid the city of its appalling, run-down housing. Court 15 sat there through two world wars and a depression as all the neighbouring courts, which at one time housed a quarter of a million Birmingham folk, disappeared.
Eventually, what was by then regarded as no more than a block of shops surrounded by a coach garage, was due to be wiped from the face of the earth itself. Thankfully its plight was bought to the attention of the Birmingham Conservation Trust and Court 15 Inge Street slipped into the 21st century to become one of the city’s most respected tourist attractions.