Birmingham Back to Backs

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Hurst Street, Birmingham

Tucked away in an unexpected corner of Birmingham are the National Trust preserved Back to Backs. These houses were occupied as homes from 1831 right up until 1967 when they were deemed unfit to live in.

To visit the Back to Backs you first have to book a tour to go around Court 15 but you wouldn’t want it any other way. The tour guide was fantastic, endlessly knowledgeable, and really brought the place to life. The tour lasted an hour and 45 minutes and the time flew by as we were shown around two properties and the communal courtyard, wash room (or brew house) and toilets.

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Taken from the exhibition

The tour was full of the stories of the many individual families that had lived in Court 15 and was interspersed with voice recordings of old tenants. It was very well planned logistically, as we had to tackle eight steep, spiral staircases and cram into small rooms in our group of about ten.

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One of eight small, spiral staircases

However this only added to the brilliant insight the tour gave into the experiences of the people who lived in these cramped conditions. Court 15 was comprised of 11 houses, each with a family in, meaning that roughly 60 people would often share the one wash room and toilet and lived in very close proximity to one another. One of the previous tenants speaking on a voice recording stated that as a child he would often try to stay out of the house for as long as possible as the conditions were so uncomfortable.

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Looking out to the courtyard

The entire experience was absolutely fascinating as the tour guide covered over a hundred years of history focused on one very small plot in Birmingham. The excellent renovation and preservation of the site sent us back in time as we experienced how other people lived.

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Washing line in the courtyard

The Back to Backs are a far cry from the grand mansions and beautifully kept gardens any seasoned National Trust member may be used to. The space is very limited (of course) and there isn’t a cafe or cream tea in sight!

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1930s Sweetshop

But don’t worry – there is a 1930s sweetshop on the corner and there is not enough time for afternoon tea with so much to see and do. As well as the guided tour, the National Trust has an interactive exhibition upstairs, with old clothes, examples of the household pests that people lived alongside and detailed information about living conditions. It also includes fragments of the various wallpapers that were recovered and videos that explain the complicated conservation process.

13.05.18-04 Lucy in back to backs, Birmingham

Going back in time in the exhibition

I felt a whole lot cleverer when I left the Back to Backs and was delighted to have visited what felt like a pocket of history in a largely renovated area of Birmingham. I thoroughly recommend a visit if you enjoy history, have an interest in Birmingham, or just fancy a bit of fun!

For more information see the National Trust website: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/birmingham-back-to-backs/visitor-information/

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