Days Out: Back to Backs, Birmingham

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The Independent Travel

The venue

Once upon a time, there were 20,000 back-to-back courtyards in the centre of Birmingham. Built as a quick, cheap solution to mid-19th-century overcrowding, each was only one room deep and backed directly on to another house. All facilities were communal, and life was hard. The back-to-backs were derelict by the 1930s, after which the Luftwaffe blew up a lot and the council got rid of the rest. But Court 15, with its 11 houses, has survived to be restored by the National Trust, offering a unique insight into how the industrial poor lived. Every detail is as authentic as possible, from working gaslights to coal fires and period locks.

Something for grown-ups

The three houses open to the public show many beds crammed into each tiny bedroom. Water had to be brought in manually, rats and mice were bedfellows, and the cellars were equipped as air-raid shelters. Each house represents a different period, from the 1840s to the Depression of the 1930s.

Something for children

Visitors are shown round by local guides, who encourage youngsters to look out for mice in mousetraps and drawers of false eyes in the Oldfields' house (Mr Oldfield was a glass eye-maker). In the communal wash house, they can work out how to use a copper and a dolly to wash clothes, and get the chance to be revolted by the primitive lavatories. Best of all, though, is the 1930s sweet shop on the corner.


Mr Bingham's shopoffers pineapple rock, acid balls and humbugs. For meals, you will need to go across Hurst Street to the Green Room Café (0121-605 4343). A two-course lunch costs £9.95. No children's meals.


There is disabled parking, and also a ramped entrance and modified toilets. Steep stairs mean no wheelchair access, but there is a virtual tour. Braille and large-print guides are available, and there is an induction loop.


Reopens on 21 January. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-5pm. Admission: £4 adult, £2 child, £12 family (two adults, two children); Free to National Trust members.

How to get there

Contact the National Trust, 50-54 Inge Street, Birmingham B5 4TE (0121-666 7671; Booking is advised because only 10 people go round at a time.

By coach: Digbeth coach station, where National Express calls (08705 808080;, is within easy walking distance.

By train: New Street Station (08457 48 49 50; is also near.

By car: Euro Car Parks at nearby Bromsgrove Street.