Uncle Tom – this is my story

Hello, my name is Tom Mitchell. I was born on the 16th of March 1841 in a house in Inge Street in the town of Birmingham. I lived in the same court of back to back houses until I passed away at the age of 72 in December 1913.

My father, Thomas, and my mother Ann came to Birmingham from Wolverhampton around 1830 and were living in Court 15 Inge Street by 1841. It seems that I was the first baby to be born in Court 15 after it had been completed in 1831 by the landlord John Wilmore. We lived at number 52 Inge Street which was alongside of the entry to the courtyard.

The corner of Inge Street and Hurst Street c1840 (a sketch of what it may have looked like at this time - produced for Birmingham City Council in 1985)
The corner of Inge Street and Hurst Street c1840 (a sketch of what it may have looked like at this time – produced for Birmingham City Council in 1985)

Dad was a lockmaker, a skill he bought with him from Wolverhampton, and he set up his business making locks for furniture in a workshop that Mr Wilmore had built in the courtyard.

I had three brothers and a sister all older than me – so I was the baby of the family. As we grew up we Mitchell boys were all taught how to make locks by our father and when we got married we would move into other houses in Court 15.

In 1861 my brother Benjamin moved into 55 Hurst Street which was larger than the other houses in Court 15 as it was on the corner. He had married Mary Anne three years earlier and in 1861 they gave birth to my nephew George.

Benjamin was careful with money, and the lock making business was a success. He moved out of Court 15 and was living in 359 Rotton Park Road where he and Mary Anne even had a servant. When he died in March 1907 he left the princely sum of £1,718 in his will.

As it turned out my nephew George was the last member of the Mitchell family living in Court 15. He was still making locks in the little workshop and he died in 1935 (after me of course!). By then everyone thought he was penniless. The houses in Court 15 were now more than a hundred years old and in a very poor state of repair. Having said that they had put a tap in the courtyard during the 1870s for a good supply of water. Mains drainage had been installed around the same time so the miskins full of wee and poo mixed with ashes from the fire were consigned to history. Gas lighting was put in around 1890 and George even had the benefit of electric light in his latter years. So what kept him there?

One may assume that it was the sense of community. You can almost picture the ladies in the neighbouring houses running round looking after bachelor George. Getting a bit of shopping, making a bowl of stew that would last a few days and mending his worn out clothes. George died in the workhouse infirmary on the 31st of March,  a sign of someone who does not have two halfpennies to rub together. The March of 1935 gave the population a bitterly cold spell with temperatures hovering around freezing point on the 8th, but then it warmed up with it being well over sixty degrees a week later. But fog was widespread, with the industrial city of Birmingham succumbing to it for many days that month. Was it the fog & extremes of temperatures that bought about George’s demise?

As it turns out George’s housing was probably a matter of choice. Upon his death he left enough money to buy at least four of the new semi-detached houses that were being built in the Birmingham suburbs – £2,440 10s. 7d in fact, which he left to his younger brother Henry.

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