Day 4.  The Birmingham Back to Backs

After checking out of our hotel and leaving our luggage to collect later, we set ourselves up for the day with cooked breakfasts in a nearby pub and then made our way to Hurst Street where we had booked a tour of the Birmingham Back to Backs terraced houses which are now operated as a museum by the National Trust.

Birmingham Back to Backs
Birmingham Back to Backs

Tours last approximately 90 minutes and are limited to around 8 people as the rooms are very small.  We had booked by phone a few weeks in advance as we thought Sunday mornings would be popular.  The tours cost £8 per person but are free of charge to members of the National Trust.

Birmingham Back to Backs
Court 15 of the Birmingham Back to Backs

It was suggested that we arrive 15 minutes early to take a look in the small museum before starting the tour.  This was worthwhile as it provided us with background information about these types of terraced houses and their occupants.  These houses are preserved examples of similar homes built around shared courtyards, constructed for the rapidly expanding population of Britain’s industrial towns.  The houses were restored by the Birmingham Conservation Trust and opened to the public in 2004.  Each of the four homes is decorated and furnished as it would have been in a different era, 1840’s, 1870’s, 1930’s and 1970’s.

Birmingham Back to Backs
Inside the 1840’s living room

Meeting our guide, we were escorted down a dark, narrow alleyway to the Back to Backs courtyard.  Here we viewed the communal area where families did their washing, men brewed their beer and where we glanced in the ‘privy’ shared outside toilets families had to queue up to use and take a candle if it was dark so that they could see where they were going.  The first home we explored was the 1840’s which was lit by candlelight and because of wallpaper taxes being payable at that time, families applied stencils to their walls.  Each of the Back to Backs has just one room downstairs with the only outside door leading into this room.  There was a small kitchen corner but water had to be brought in from the well, with heating and cooking coming from the cast iron range.  A very narrow, winding staircase led upstairs where we found a bedroom with basic furnishings.  In this room a cloth separated the beds, with the householders sleeping at one side and their paying lodgers at the other.

Birmingham Back to Backs
Shared bedrooms in the Birmingham Back to Backs

In the 1800’s the court was occupied by button makers, woodworkers and tailors many of whom worked from home.  By 1900, the ground floors had been converted into shops and many buildings remained as homes until 1966 when they were declared unfit to live in.  The tour highlighted the overcrowding and hardships people had to endure and it is so pleasing that the National Trust were interested to buy these homes and save them for the nation as they are such a contrast to the majority of their stately home properties.

The Mailbox, Birmingham
The Mailbox, Birmingham

After our tour ended we headed for The Mailbox, an exclusive shopping mall in the city centre which opened in 2000 on the site of the Royal Mail’s main Birmingham sorting office which at one time was the largest mechanised sorting office in the country.  A branch of the designer department store Harvey Nichols is to be found here alongside wine bars and restaurants with their terraces overlooking the Worcester and Birmingham Canal.

BBC Birmingham Visitor Centre
Inside the BBC Birmingham Visitor Centre

On Level 3 we came across BBC Birmingham which has a visitor centre with free admission.  The visitor centre covers two floors and was very interesting with its interactive exhibition showcasing content from the BBC.  We were also able to look through virtual reality glasses at a BBC 360 degree video.  Upstairs we glanced through the windows of the BBC West Midlands studios, tested our skills at reading the weather forecast using the autocue and had our photos taken with a mock up of the Strictly Come Dancing judges.  It was all good fun and for those interested, guided tours can be taken around the studios.  We actually went on a similar BBC tour at MediaCityUK and you can read about our experience there from the link at the end of this post.

Brindley Place Birmingham
Brindley Place Birmingham

Strolling along the canal towpath, it was just a short walk from The Mailbox to Brindley Place which is a canal side development named after the 18th century canal engineer James Brindley.  Formerly this area was the site of Birmingham’s industrial past but when British manufacturing declined in the 1970’s factories gradually closed down and the waterfront buildings became derelict.

Brindley Place Birmingham
Brindley Place, Birmingham

It has now been transformed into a vibrant part of the city with pleasant landscaped walkways, squares and footbridges making it easy to access the many bars and restaurants that line each bank.  The area is also home to the National Sea Life Centre, the Crescent Theatre and the International Convention Centre.  Short pleasure boat trips can be taken along the canal and we found it to be a very attractive place to take an afternoon stroll.

Brindley Place Birmingham
Canal side pub at Brindley Place, Birmingham

It was then time to head to a cafe for a light snack before returning to the Travelodge to collect our luggage for the train journey home.  Our long weekend in Birmingham had been lovely, we’d planned in advance what we hoped to see and do and our days were fun filled and busy – just as we like them to be.  I would recommend Birmingham for a short break, there’s no need to bring a car, using trains to the university and the Black Country Living Museum is easy and the city centre is compact enough to be able to walk everywhere.  Hopefully it won’t be too long before we make a return visit to Birmingham as the city has much to offer visitors.

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Other posts in this series:

A long weekend in Birmingham

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The Black Country Living Museum

MediaCityUK Tour

49 thoughts on “ Day 4.  The Birmingham Back to Backs

  1. Pingback: Day 4.  Visiting the Birmingham Back to Backs – MidlandsBiz Blog

  2. m.

    I know almost nothing about Birmingham, and found this post really interesting! The Back to Backs look fascinating, especially that they’ve decorated the different homes to fit different periods. I’d love to see that!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I did like what I saw of Birmingham. I was staying not far from the Back to Backs but they weren’t open when I passed by, bright and early, so it’s good to see inside. 🙂 Some of them would take me a little close to my youth though 😦

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Enjoyed the exposure to back to backs. I couldn’t imagine having a renter sleeping in that close proximity to the bedroom. Made me want to know more about the type of housing my London ancestors had in the late 1700s before they migrated to Australia. As they were carriage builders and blacksmithsI don’t know what level of housing they would have occupied.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Your post brought me to when I used to live in Birmingham for about four months back in 2012-2013. Unfortunately, I did not know about Birmingham Back to Backs, which looks really intriguing. I love the history of the city and people. People may think about castles and a grand mansion when thinking about the UK, however, as a famous industrial town, Birmingham displays the different face of what we used to. You may want to visit Black Country Living Museum that tells the story of the first industrial town and its life.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. vickya1993

    This is pretty much where I live! I’m so glad you enjoyed visiting, we are so far away from London and we don’t get as many tourists but birmingham and grand central station and the mailbox are fab places to see, eat and shop

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Sue for your kind words. It appears that I’m off somewhere every day but as I spread my posts at four day intervals I’m at home quite a bit too! Leaves are a chore at this time of year as we have three 100 year old copper beeches in our garden so you can imagine the mess they create!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you for this post! So great to see familiar corners of Birmingham. Brindley Place and Mailbox are my favourite areas of the city centre, so many attractive restaurants and cafes by the canals. The BBC Birmingham Visitor Centre sounds very exciting, I would love to visit!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I love your posts! The UK has always been one of my favorite places to visit. I have only been to the bigs cities (London, Dublin, Edinburgh) Your posts leave me yearning to do more exploring, please keep traveling and posting!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for making contact and for your kind words. London, Dublin and Edinburgh are all splendid cities to visit but as you suggest, the U.K. has many more interesting towns and cities for a weekend visit. I’m so pleased you enjoyed this series of posts on Birmingham and I intend to explore more of the country and write about it on my blog.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Even more tempted now Marion to plan a visit to Birmingham. I love the sound of the interactive BBC exhibition, we did the Media City tour as well and really enjoyed it so I think this would be right up our street too. A chance to do a bit of browsing in the Mailbox wouldn’t be turned down by me either!! I’ve seen the Back to Back tour in the National Trust book and always been curious and keen to visit – it too sounds fascinating.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Our weekend to Birmingham was really nice Joy, and just as you do, with pre-planning and organising our time we managed to fit in all sorts of different activities including shopping!, The Back to Back tour is so interesting, I’m certain your son would enjoy it too. Hope you get an opportunity to visit one weekend before too long.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. WOW! Fantastic!

    A beautiful Birmingham, how I’d wish to visit that place someday.

    I loved your photos, there is such a thing called old homes, utensils, clock, and things inside the house. A preservation of the past that recalls the old memories. Recalling the past has a great feeling of joy.

    A very interesting posted article… I have a similar story too when I visited the VIGAN, Philippines (, I have taken some photos of old houses.

    The Vigan City, Philippines was conquered and ruled by the Spaniards in the 15th Century up to 19th Century. The houses, building structures was then preserved up to now.

    Liked by 2 people

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