From childhood I’ve been interested in the history of Birmingham and for as long as I can remember I’ve been fascinated by exploring old buildings, sites and relics from the City’s past. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of playing on the derelict platforms of Rubery station and exploring the crossing keepers house off Rubery Lane and the trackbed, which in those days was still ballasted and still had track laid adjacent to the old level crossing.
It was then with much dismay that a fleet of bulldozers moved in and began clearing the ground for what was to become the sprawling Frankley housing estate and my attention switched to many hours watching the comings and goings on the Longbridge Rover factory railway from the bridge on Bristol Road South interspersed with harassing the builders into giving me rides on the aforementioned bulldozers busily carving up the countryside for the housing development.
As I grew older and my ability to explore further afield developed, without having to be under parental supervision, I discovered the site of Snow Hill station in the City Centre – a relative time capsule in the late 70’s-early 80’s where, with torch in hand, I walked the tunnels to Moor Street and gained access to the underground labyrinth of booking halls and parcels offices along with walking the line to the abandoned Hockley station at every opportunity. I also became fascinated with the extensive canal network around the City and the views of largely derelict ex-industrial premises and warehouses that such explorations afforded: the site of the Midland Railway’s Central Goods factility at the rear of the the Royal Mail sorting office – now the Mailbox – was also a regular haunt.
At that time, during the early 1980s, much of Birmingham’s industrial and transport past was still in situ, albeit crumbling, and I would ‘discover’ new places of interest on a daily basis and hurriedly get to my local library – at the time a strange wooden portakabin affair at the Fordrough in West Heath – to get local history books and find out as much as possible about where I had been and what it used to be so as I could return armed with information and see what further evidence I could find.
Old canal wharves – Cadbury’s Waterside, for example – old factories – Kings Norton Factory Centre, for example – old railway sites and much more besides all held a fascination for me. Almost any back street in the City Centre housed a wealth of interesting Victorian – and pre-Victorian – industrial monoliths, mostly vacant and with ease of access . . . at least to a child!
This interest stayed with me well into the late 1980s with one of the last memories of my ‘early’ explorations being around the derelict Lucas factory off Wheeler Street in Hockley. However, with being in full-time work, and evening work too, and with the discovery of things such as a social life and playing in a succession of bands my life took a different course and then during the 1990s I moved to Liverpool and later to Hull and that was that . . . or so it seemed.
In 1999 I moved back to Birmingham and, after being away for a number of years, saw it through fresh eyes: so much had changed. Snow Hill station had returned – albeit in the comparatively abhorrent form it is in today – the Museum of Science and Industry (a frequent haunt of mine) had gone which seemed indicative of an intense program of eradicating all signs of Birmingham’s industrial past. The Bull Ring Shopping Centre had been reborn, factory centres had become ‘business parks’, housing associations and supermarkets had seemingly bought-up every piece of ex-industrial land and the City appeared to be in the last throws of a monumental metamorphosis into a homogenised European-style centre for retail, office space and ‘city centre living’. Where once Broad Street was the gateway to a fascinating array of back street workshops, canal side warehouses and the like, it was now the backdrop for hotels, exclusive apartments and trendy bars and restaurants: where had ‘my Birmingham’ gone?
To cut a long story a bit shorter, in 2003 (now with wife and children) I embarked on a Diploma in website design and was searching for a project for my portfolio and recalled some of my earlier explorations and thought it would be a nice idea to revisit the old railway at Longbridge and produce a small website showing the history of that part of what was originally the Halesowen Railway. As I began doing a bit of background research it began to dawn on me just how many railways we’d lost in Birmingham and the project began to snowball into the website covering all the stations – past and present – that had once been operating within Birmingham and its surrounding counties. What I thought would be a small project of interest to me and possibly a handful of others snowballed into a website of many hundreds of pages (Rail Around Birmingham) and has recently been developed further into a series of books and to me writing pieces for the BBC and various other organisations which is way beyond my wildest expectations!
However, to return to this website, it was during my many days out exploring sites for Rail Around Birmingham (this time with camera in-hand as opposed to my younger years when, much to my later regret, I only committed the sites to memory) that I thought it would be interesting to document other buildings and sites of interest – especially those earmarked for demolition in a seemingly endless phase of Birmingham ‘regeneration’. I have amassed over the years many photographs, documents and old postcards and ephemera covering Birmingham’s past and thought it about time I produced a vehicle for them to be displayed . . . hence this website.
My hope is to use the site as not only a vehicle for my musings and images of Birmingham but also for others to actively write for the site and post comments on articles and to develop a useful historical resource for those interested in the City: time will tell . . . and finally, Birmingham Roundabout is not affiliated to any company or organisation – it is a personal project of mine and any views expressed are either mine, or where another author is credited, those of that author.
Andy Doherty, March 2009