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A TRIBUTE TO OLD BIRMINGHAM

Radiorails

master brummie
Lewis's had two areas where parents could leave their children for a short while. One was the hairdressing salon - never went in the myself, the other was Pet's Corner. A half hour - a long time for youngsters really - could be spent in there whilst adults did other shopping - usually clothing or similar where a free hand was essential. ;) The other thing to recall was the basements in Lewis's or Greys which served as air raid shelters during WW2.
Lots of information about these two stores, in their own threads, for anyone wishing to delve in greater detail.
 

Vivienne14

Super Moderator
Staff member
Like others who have commented, I remember distinct phases of visiting ‘Town’. My earliest visits in the 1950s were with my Dad, always on Saturday afternoons. We’d always first head to Lewis’s Foodhall to buy their fresh bread and cottage cheese. It was a delight; the smells, the food piled high and, a vivid memory, the lighting. It was very bright, especially on winter afternoons. We’d get to the Foodhall through the Minories. I think the bakery section was on a sort of mezzanine level. It was a different, exciting and vibrant world to me.

A couple of visits to the roofless Market Hall were made just before it was demolished to make way for the redevelopment. So I don’t have many vivid memories of the place except I remember, like many others, the pet stall in one corner of the Market Hall. Dad was keen on goldfish so I expect that’s why we visited it. That’s about all I remember of the place.

To me as a youngster in the 1950s, New Street was a magical place on a late winter afternoon. Lots of brightly lit shops, warm inside and plenty interest for me. We didn’t generally buy much, not like later years on trips to Town with my mum. But Dad was usually set on one place; Hudson’s the Bookshop. And he’d head straight for the electronics/engineering department. I think it was in the arcade behind the shop front on New Street. While he’d browse the latest engineering developments I’d occupy myself with the books on display on tables down the centre of the shop. I think my Dad probably bought his electronics magazines from there, probably a special treat to himself instead of borrowing them from Perry Common Library. After a little browse along New Street we’d go to the #29 bus stop on Corporation Street, under the jeweller’s clock and head home.

The next phase of visits would be with Mum in the early1960s. This usually involved cramming in visits to as many clothes shops as was humanly possible. But first we’d kick off with a toasted tea cake and a milkshake (mum would have a coffee) at the milk bar in Dale End. It was decorated in American diner-style with lots of chrome and plastic upholstery. We always sat up at the bar to eat.

Feeling well prepared for the task ahead we’d set off for M&S, then across to BHS, through the arcade to C&A and then up Union Street to Rackhams. Sometimes we’d have to get shoes and those trips were more focussed with plenty of shoe shops all over town to choose from. England’s was a favourite when I was young, but Dolcis and Faith later took over in popularity for having more fashionable shoes on offer. Another favourite ‘browse’ for my mum was ornaments. The hours we spent browsing ornaments - Rackhams (very pricy), Lewis’s basement (more reasonably priced) or Greys (cheaper). Clutching our new purchases we’d catch the #29 bus outside Greys on Bull Street. If the bus was full, which it often was having already picked up from previous stops around town, we’d have to go on top deck. This was very risky as the driver often seemed eager to get on his way by quickly pulling off from the bus stop and lurching on to Snow Hill.


The final phase covers my teenage years in the mid to late 60s. No longer was I dragged from one shop to another. But this is when I discovered a visit to town could be more ‘sociable’. It would start with meeting school friends either outside Midland Bank on the ‘ramp’ or at the Post & Mail building at Colmore Circus. First we’d pop into Miss Selfridge (Lewis’s), swing by Oasis and come out smelling of Patchouli, then on to Crowthers (Corporation Street), then on to Bus Stop in New Street (formerly Hudson’s Bookshop I think). By this time we’d earned a hot chocolate and a fag in the Pickwick coffee bar (I think in Burlington Arcade?). Sometimes we’d go on to hang out at record shops, like the Virgin shop down Corporation Street.

When I discovered my independence in the late 1960s, there were many thrilling and sometimes frightening nights out. Town was a very different place at night, even in those days there would be fights and scuffles between boys. Nights out would start off by meeting school friends outside Chelsea Girl on Dale End, then walking up to the Rainbow - accessed through the BHS Arcade. Some weeks we’d go to the Locarno or the Top Rank Suite. That was an opportunity to really get dressed up. Cocktail dresses, false hair pieces and false eye lashes were the norm for us girls. Spent a lot of time preening ourselves in the ladies then on to the dance floor. They were great nights out.

In the 1970s with the benefit of maturity (!) we’d turn to pubs for a good night out. The Pot of Beer near Aston Uni and the Windsor in Cannon Street were favourites. In those days we all smoked and most of the evening would be spent chatting, drinking and smoking til our eyes streamed. Yes, the smoke in pubs was suffocating ! For a bit of sophisticated culture (?) we’d go to the Arts Lab or see bands at the Town Hall, Aston Uni or the Odeon New Street. The Opposite Lock offered a good night out too, especially as they had a TV room for the men to watch football while us girls hit the dance floor. Then we’d have to walk to Bull Street to catch the night service bus, grabbing a Ted’s ‘Ot Dog and a Sunday Mercury for the journey home.

‘Town’ played a very big part in my growing up. Over 15 years almost all of my jobs were in Town until I moved away from Birmingham. By the time I left in the 1980s it seemed to me to be down at heel. The buildings were dirty, many were uncared for. The ‘modern’ 1960s buildings were losing their appeal and it had fallen behind in serving the people who worked and visited the City. This was an image it seemed to struggle to shake off.

I’m glad I knew it as a bustling and thriving place with lots on offer to a youngster in the 1960s/70s. We were so fortunate. I hope youngsters get to feel the same about the new Birmingham of today. Viv.
 

Richarddye

master brummie
hi folks as we all know our city centre is seeing a massive transformation and slowly becoming a distant memory of how it was for many of us....i wont bang on about the loss of many historical buildings as i have said it all before...many times :rolleyes: main observations are that as we are now seeing the return of the trams it seems to me that apart from getting rid of the congestion of the buses we are also seeing a lack of people and will they ever come back we had trams and buses before but the streets were always full of shoppers ect...ell brown for instance takes a lot of photos for us updating what is going on and yes some of his photos are taken quite early in the day but some are not and i keep asking myself..but where are all the people? certain parts of the city centre has become a ghost town especially where the trams are running...businesses along those routes forced to move or close down i took a drive around on sunday and could not believe how many shops were boarded up once again the little man must suffer......we are slowly losing the vibrant busy city centre that we once had...ok maybe some things needed change we must move on to a degree but all i see now is a city centre with no soul and no atmosphere and if and when the transformation is ever finished i will still feel the same way and i for one will always miss the was it once was

so i am starting this new thread as a place where our brummie members can post their posative memories of how for them life once was in the city centre and please feel free to post any old video footage of days gone by....please remember this thread is just for our memories and a testament to how life was...i will kick start by posting this 1950s footage...i am sure some of you will recognise buildings no longer with us...thanks folks

lyn
Lyn, thank you so very much for starting this thread...….It is a great rip down memory lane with a history lesson included!
 

Richarddye

master brummie
I liked to visit the city centre as a youngster, it was lively and all the hustle and bustle you expected was there to be experienced. Maybe it was only very old people who found irritations but generally speaking most people seemed to enjoy their trips into town.
Shopping interests were dependant on your age and if you were married with family. I am sure adults always had their favourite shops and other places they usually visited.
When with adults most of the shopping was not of great interest to me but sometimes some places did have an area of interest. The Bull Ring and Markets always had an aura of excitement as they varied in what they did and often previously unseen things came along. Of course no visit to the city was complete without a meal at Woolworth in the Bull Ring, Pattisons or Kunzle. For me the buses were the principal interest and would be the reason to happily agree to a town visit. Over the years - during WW2 and up to 1954 a bus journey into town was usually interesting in itself. Identity Card checks, road detours due to bombing or demolition, newer buses or a rare one that I had never ridden before. Then there was the occasional visit to friends or relatives that lived very close to the city centre. I never found it a time that I did not enjoy.

At a later time, aged ten onwards, I was able to make journeys on my own to town so my spheres of interest started to expand. The Cherry Street Model shop, Snow Hill railway station and the Broad Street area which was less well known as were the main shopping streets of Corporation Street, High Street and New Street: these places were a discovery in themselves.
But by 1954 I had moved to the Deep South ;)
WOW Alan, your last paragraph is a really big one...……..I can clearly reflect on the The Bull Ring (one of my favorite places) the hustle and bustle of the city.
When I was ten I had just really gotten into train spotting, for my tenth birthday I got two Ian Allen books, GWR & LMS. I used to take the 29 bus alone from Handsworth to Snow Hill, buy a platform ticket and with my sandwich stay most of the day. Sometimes on a cold day I would have 3d (or 2d) to buy a cocoa. Was never allowed to go to New Street for LMS until I was 11 so I had to spot them at Handsworth Park. Always tried to be there when the LBW (London, Birmingham, Wolverhampton) came through. sometimes the was something special pulling up the incline in the park. Not sure about Brum today, I think i know but here in the US particularly where I am now we would allow 10, 11 or 12 year-olds out in the city alone. Different days, yet so much better and we will miss them!
 

oldMohawk

master brummie
I certainly do ... had my photo taken there ... :)
The first photo shows my sister and me taken at Jeromes Photo Studios in WW2. The second photo dated 1943 and taken in the same studio shows her future husband. They met and married in the 1950's. My brother-in-law is wearing 'Birmingham Mail Charity Boots' which I think were given out from the Steelhouse Lane offices.

 

pjmburns

master brummie
Janice, I remember all the things in your post #19 except for the lunches. We only ever had meals out when we were on holiday.
Pen
I must say those lunches were a very rare treat and were, I suppose, my introduction to eating out.
One other 70s student memory. At the start of term when we had just had our grants (no student loans back then) was to treat ourselves to coffee and a shared slice of gateau in Druckers.
 

Andy1

proper brummie kid
i remember the old square shops ...there should be one or two photos of them somewhere on the forum...think i read that the shops are still complete but obviously just infilled underground...

lyn
Strange to think of the retail outlets as just "being filled in". Bit of an eerie thought.
 

Lady Penelope

master brummie
Lady P's post about the old Birmingham Eye Hospital jogged a few memories of my own. I remember the big hall where the specialists sat on high chairs at wooden desks, and my Mom used to say it looked like a Victorian counting-house. Like many medical men back in the 1950's, most of them were very abrupt and also very old. I hated the place. Then in the 80's I developed a cataract, and ended up back in the EH for it to be fixed, a 'knife-and-fork' job under general anaesthetic, and a 3 day stay in hospital. The ward I was in was large and over-heated, and there was a room for tea, coffee, sandwiches, etc. My best memory of that stay was the gorgeous female specialist, totally unlike the old moth-eaten fogeys of 35 years before!

Maybe this should be in another thread, but sometimes during the night footsteps could be heard along the corridor outside, approaching the ward...no-one ever came in, and when I asked a nurse what that was all about she told me it was the 'EH spook'! Apparently, no-one had ever seen anything, but the sounds of the footsteps were heard frequently, and had been for years and years. I wonder if they're still heard in the new hotel....

I've also had experience of the new EH, another story.

G
Big Gee, I'd forgotten about the desks where the doctors sat and I'm glad I didn't know about the 'spook' as I'd have been out of there like a shot in my nightie and eye patch!
 

oldMohawk

master brummie
In my very early years I don't remember being taken into 'town' because everyone we knew lived in the Great Barr/Kingstanding/Perry Common area. Most food and other items could be bought in local shops and Hawthorne Road in Kingstanding had shops which sold everything we needed.

My first memory of 'town' was walking with my mom and neighbour through scenes like below and I can remember stepping over the hose pipes. I don't know why I was taken there but it left quite an impression.
New_St_Apr1941.jpg

Pantomime visits brightened our lives and I vividly remember seeing one at the Alexandra Theatre.
Another pantomime I still remember was at the Wellhead Lane Bus Garage by members of staff and their relatives. It was excellently performed on a proper stage with curtains and the leading lady was lovely - fell in love with her !

And Lewis's ... queuing on the stairs to see Santa's Grotto, the lifts and escalators. I have 20 posts in the Lewis's thread so I won't repeat myself here ... I liked the store ...

Then WW2 ended and we had VE and VJ parties in the streets ... but some sadness as dads and uncles came back from the war changed from what they had been before and some never came back.

Then my teenage years started, and I often went to town on my own. The winter of 1947, three months of deep snow, and we also had the new atomic bombs to worry about.

In 1950 I discovered the Birmingham Ice Rink in Summerhill and had six happy years there.
Old_Ice_Rink_0.jpg

before the Royal Air Force required me for two years. It was a strange but slightly proud feeling walking through town in military uniform.

After national service I got back to the fun at the ice rinks but the old ice rink closed and the new ice rink in Hurst Street did not have the same atmosphere. I remember going to New Street station starting an ice club journey by train and boat to Berlin. We could not afford air travel in those days.

I bought a car and drove it through the major road works demolition and rebuilding of Birmingham. I didn't give it much thought at the time but much of it looked like this ...
lancaster_place-l.jpg

Then marriage, a child, and work at a large engineering plant just inside Brum. Visits into the city seem to tail off with parking not easy although we still went to Lewis's and Rackhams until they closed. Then the 'out of town' retail parks became the norm.

The last time I drove into Brum I needed a 'sat-nav' to guide me on a route to the place I was going to.
And now I look at all the dark glass windows in ellbrown's photos and wonder are they offices or apartments ?

But for the young people of today it will be the Birmingham they will remember ... :)
 
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mw0njm.

Brummie Dude
Big Gee, I'd forgotten about the desks where the doctors sat and I'm glad I didn't know about the 'spook' as I'd have been out of there like a shot in my nightie and eye patch!
L P. People would have thought you the ghost running around like that.:grinning:
 

Bob Davis

Bob Davis
Wow, it is amazing what a simple request has produced and also there is a certain naivety to the memories which shows how sheltered we were as children during the war years. Our Dads came back if we were lucky, but often there were changes to them that we now recognise as the trauma affect but then, like the 'shell shock' of WWI was glossed over. Going to 'town' during the war years was a different experience, particularly on a day after a heavy raid, often I wold go up with my Grandmother, I have only vague memories of what we did and where we went, but I know Grays & Lewis's were always involved and somewhere there would be tea and cakes, often collecting ration books and for some reason Marsh & Baxter are also remembrances from that time. Then 1944 onwards grandmother would see me on the 5a, while she went and caught the 78 tram to Slade Road.
Bob
 

devonjim

master brummie
Shall probably repeat much that has been written above. I have never kept a diary for more than for January in any year. I was born end of 1940. I have been known, in quite bad taste, to joke that Hitler heard of my birth and started to bomb Brum.
I remember an Anderson shelter being in our garden in Tyseley, also an evacuee Jean Baker from London was around at the time of the V-Bombs. Dad was away in the Eighth Army in N. Africa and I first remember meeting him around the time I started school in Acock's Green. My maternal grand-dad had introduced me to gardening, visits to his parents in Sparkbrook and to countless great uncles and aunts in various parts of the city (one was an engine driver so was of special interest!). Visits to Lapworth canal by train and to Elmdon Airport. Uncles had motor bikes and sidecars, great fun.
I can recall the market hall minus roof, especially Pims which I think was a pet shop. The Big Top site circus with Liberty horses, Lions and Elephants (in later years the circus moved to Bingley Hall). Lewis's and Gray's, and the Co-op to collect the divi., I suppose there other shops? This would all have been pre 1950.
 
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mbenne

master brummie
When I read Old Mohawk's post the mention of 'pantomime' brought back a forgotten memory of going to the Birmingham Hippodrome. I was about four or five at the time and though I had no real recollection of the theme of the panto I know that one of the stars was Dickie Valentine. We sat in the in the middle section about 4 or 5 rows from the stage. At some point Dickie started to throw out handfuls of sweets into the audience, with several attempts at the balcony (no H&S in those days) and was looking to invite a child up on stage to join him. He looked straight in my direction and beckoned me to come up. I was petrified, especially when my Mom and Nan both tried to pull me out of my seat but I got quite angry and flatly refused. A young girl eventually went up and was encouraged to make animal noises as he sang Old Macdonalds Farm. I was really envious when, at the end, she was given a large box of sweets. My Mom and Nan kept on at me for ages for losing out!

It was a long shot but this afternoon I did a google search and to my surprise I found a copy of the programme from the show - and another article about the hippodrome and links the the Birmingham Chinese Quarter - see below. The panto I went to was the 1959 production of Aladdin and the stars were Norman Evans, Dickie Valentine and Eve Boswell. I did further searches on Eve Boswell's songs but have no recollection of her or her music. It was a different matter with Norman Evans as an old youtube clip jogged my memory of his role as widow Twanky and my recollection of Chinese performers using diabolos in their act. It was as though someone had switched the light on. In case there has been a similar post I searched this site just in case I'm repeating myself and found a piece under Xmas Parties - Lucas Children - it seems someone else on here may have seen the same panto!!!

My Mom must have taken me to other pantos as I remember being up in balcony seats and watching The Three Monarchs, whether this was the Hippodrome I have no Idea. I do have a few lines about another panto that I wrote about in infants school. This would have been My Weekend News which we always wrote up on the following Monday. Being 21st November this would have been a panto I went to on Friday 17th November 1960! On this occasion the stage was quite a way off. Apologies for the writing and spelling - I'm much improved and will translate as I still remember writing it and even the class and desk I sat in!

One Night I went to the theatre and there was a pair of binoculars you could put 6d into the machine and you could have binoculars. I looked at the stage . I saw a man playing a piano. He was playing the Teddy Bears Picnic. I knew the tune to the song.

I remember the piano on stage and a group of men singing and there being a banner attached to the piano - I have obviously attempted to repeat the name as I saw it on the banner - Brooig Boys but your guess as to who they were is a good as mine lol. If anyone could throw any light on who they were or which panto it was I'd be grateful.

If this post needs to be moved please feel free



1579282691399.png
 
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Edifi

master brummie
Last time I drove in Bham I had to go to register my Brothers death up broad St in 2013. What a nightmare that was.Then when my B/in Law died in2016 had to go again,so went from Great Barr to the registry office by Taxi so much easier £10,and caught the bus back with bus pass
 
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