No one can grasp a proper understanding of the industrial heritage of the West Midlands without a visit to the Back to Backs in Birmingham. Here you can see the home workshops which generated the momentum to propel the region and power the ‘City of a thousand trades’.
Many have come to think of Back to Backs as epitomising slum housing but a visit to Hurst Street soon scotches that image. As a quote on one of the walls in the exhibition area says: “they call these places slums… take no notice, it’s people, not houses that make slums”.
In fact the Birmingham Back to Backs were never slums. Typically they were built to a better standard than in many other British cities. Nevertheless there were only three outside toilets shared between the occupiers which at one point amounted to some 80 people.
In its heyday it was a hive of industry. Each house was occupied by a skilled tradesman and his family (and often a lodger or two), attracted to Birmingham because it was a free city, without Guilds and other constraints preventing the setting up of businesses. People flocked to the area from London and further afield attracted by the opportunities available and many settled in courts similar to this last surviving example in Birmingham. Well trained volunteer guides lead you around the site and bring alive each dwelling with the stories of its people and how they lived, and plied their trades. This is a ‘must see’ for young and old alike.