Back to Long List 2005
Back to Backs, Birmingham
The National Trust (West Midlands)
Contact: Kristy Jones
01793 462797

Birmingham’s last surviving courtyard of Back to Back houses opened to the public in July 2004. The Grade II listed Court 15, built between 1802 and 1831, comprises eleven small houses, with one room on each floor, built around a central paved courtyard with shared wash house and lavatories.

Working with former residents and the local community, the National Trust used evidence found in the houses during their restoration and discovered many of the original features, including fireplaces and doors, intact. Many of the

houses’ contents were donated by former residents and Birmingham people or sourced from local fairs.

Visitors to the Back to Backs will start their tour in the sweet shop, which has been restored to reflect the shop owned by Mr Bingham in the 1930s and is run by traditional local sweet maker, Sellars of West Bromwich. The tour then leads into the courtyard, where washing hangs on the line and children's games from the last century can be played. The courtyard, the last in the West Midlands to survive, was the heart of communal life, with a shared wash house and lavatories. The tour of the houses reflects four time periods. The first is the 1840s house, the home of the Levys, a family of Jewish watch and clock hand-makers. The next house belongs to the 1870s, the home of Mr Oldfield, a glass-eye maker who worked in the burgeoning taxidermy and toy industry, living with six children, a lodger and his girlfriend. Visitors then move on to the 1930s house, where retired bachelor, George Mitchell, lived alone (the Mitchell family were associated with Court 15 for nearly 100 years). The tour continues to the 1970s house of George Saunders, a tailor whose workshop was based at Court 15 until 2001.

The National Trust and the Birmingham Conservation Trust worked together to raise the £1.89m needed to buy the site and restore the houses. Half the funding came from the Heritage Lottery Fund; the project was also supported by the ERDF and private donations.

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