16 January 2012

Short History of Ann Street

You can request this illustration with the numbers written underneath and a list of 1851 census entries for each of these numbers. For more details contact Jenni Coles-Harris at cuppatea.biscuit@googlemail.com  

Birmingham was first surveyed in 1731 and a map of the town was drawn up (see map here). The line of Ann Street existed, but it was called New Hall Lane, and stretched more-or-less along the line that Colmore Row covers today. Ann Street is now, again, part of that whole road now named Colmore Row, but when houses were first built it was a seperately named road. Building work on the north side began in the late 1740s and the road was then called Bewdley Street (the first mention of it being named Ann Street was in 1777*). The houses, originally on the outskirts of Birmingham, would have been dwelling houses then later converted into shops as the town grew around. The south side was slower to develop as it was on the site of the gardens of Bennett's Hill House, though some building took place in the 1780s. It was probably due to its proximity to the Bennett's Hill gardens as the town grew up all around that it became affectionately known also as Mount Pleasant at the same time as being called Ann Street.

Ann Street (Mount Pleasant) in 1774.
Between 1794 to 1817 a hay market was held on Bennett’s Hill (the hill that was there before the street that took its name), till it moved to Smithfield Market.* In 1805 building work began on the new free church called Christ Church at the bottom corner of the gardens of Bennett's Hill House, where Ann Street met New Street. In 1818 the lease of Bennetts Hill House and its gardens expired and the land attached began to be sold off and built upon with two new roads cutting through it, Bennetts Hill and Waterloo Street. At this time many of the houses on the south side of Ann Street (which may have been more makeshift) began to be replaced.

In 1834 the Town Hall was built, but the bend in Ann Street meant that people walking down the road to the Town Hall from the St. Philip's area were deprived of a fine view of the new building. Almost immediately there were plans to remove all the buildings from the bottom end of the street and straighten the line so that there would be a much better framing of the Town Hall. Eventually, the council decided that a new set of public offices should be built on the land, and they had bought up all the leases, finally building the Council House on the site in 1873, which occupies the site today. There are no buildings from the Georgian or Regency periods surviving on the north side of Ann Street (now part of Colmore Row), but some later examples do survive on the south side.

At the time of the 1851 census most of the original houses from the 1740s and 1750s were still standing on the north side of the street, though the houses between number one and about number twelve had been replaced in the late 1820s or early 1830s as they had become quite delapidated, probably by Richard Blood who had built himself a slightly finer house at numbers seven and eight, though he had moved out by 1851 (see illustration of street below). Numbers 25 and 26 had also been rebuilt at a similar time, and may have been the site of a dilapidated property described in 1796, the premises of silversmiths Bishop and Waterhouse. The property was owned by Misses Mary and Elizabeth Steen and next door to Joseph Hepinstone (actually spelled Heptinstall), who ran a file manufactory that was still being run by his family till the building was demolished. The Misses Steen requested a number of renovations to their property including the ‘roof of [the] warehouse to be raised one storey [...] a new pair of Elm stairs out of the middle shop into the top shop, to take down the summer house in the garden and build a new necessary, New Door to the present Necessary, [...] New shutter with oak curb and Hinges to the cellar window [...] paint all the woodwork on the outside twice over with good oil and colour’, and all this ‘in a proper manner and with good Materials’.*

The summer house was a remnant of when all these premises had large gardens and is a reminder of a time before the area was built up with manufactories like Heptinstall’s, warehouses and courts of houses. The comment about the middle shop and the top shop is also interesting, the 'shops' would have been workshops rather than in the sense that we would use the term. The addition of the requirement of quality work suggests a propensity for shoddy building work. There is no follow up to whether the work was carried out as the two ladies wished, but considering that it was probably one of the two buildings that were demolished, it probably wasn't carried out as well as they may have hoped.

Using the 1851 census we can gauge how the street was being used at the time. The north side was mainly shops with the families running them living above; some families had a single servant and others had none. If you required something for dinner, there was a fishmonger and a game dealer, but also two confectioners who would also supply you with cakes as well as savoury dishes such as pies. There were three premises involved in making furniture and other general shops. Some of the premises weren't lived in and were being used as offices, such as the house agents and the new buildings at 25 and 26. The Register Office was at 15 Ann Street, run by the registrar, Henry Knight. The Knight family lived at the house, where they had lived for several years, and it was probably in the front room where marriages would take place and births and deaths could be registered. There were three pubs, all on the north side, the Town Hall Tavern, the Bell & Candlestick (briefly known as the Cole Hole) and the Old Bricklayer's Arms.

Behind the north side of the street were six courts, four of which were lived in. Some of the courts had names, such as court 5 which was called Humphrey's Court, probably after the builder. In 1845 a survey of 202 Birmingham courts was conducted, including the four in Ann Street; all the courts examined suffered from either disrepair or poor drainage or both, and one court was considered in the opinion of the surveyor to be ‘disgraceful’,* though which one it was is not mentioned. It is not useful to make generalisations about the state of the courts, all were different and some houses were more comfortable than others, though many did suffer neglect. The alley entrance to the left leads to court 6 which was the only one of Ann Street's courts to be photographed.

Before we move to the south side of the street, one building in particular is worth noting, and that is the crenellated house on the corner. In 1851 it was Bryan's pastry shop and confectioner's, but the town collectively seemed to remember one of its previous incarnations; that of Allin's Cabinet of Curiosities and his 'Multum in Parvo' shop. It was probably the Allin family that had originally commissioned the property and the three next to it back in the mid 1700s. Opposite the crenellated shop was Christ Church (see picture below), the wall and railings of which took up about a third of the south side of Ann Street.

Watercolour of part of the north side of Ann Street, with Christ Church in
the foreground. Painted in 1873 by A. E. Everitt.

The majority of the houses on the south side were unoccupied, they were offices for solicitors, accountants, an architect (originally Thomas Rickman, but on his death by his partner Mr. Hussey), and metal merchants. Those living in the houses were clerks to the businesses or live-in housekeepers. The whole side of the street had been built from the early 1820s, probably because the lease of Bennett's Hill House had not allowed the building of permanent premises, so only when that lease expired could proper building work begin. The use of the two sides of the streets shows the beginnings of a change in how the buildings in the central parts of Birmingham were occupied, buildings were less and less becoming homes and being used as offices instead, with the previous occupants moving out to the suburbs. Another building on the south side of the street that had people living in it was the school which had been Birmingham's first infant school. The school had had a residence for the school master built attached to it, but on the 1851 census this is being lived in by one of the teachers and a housekeeper.

Overview for Ann Street
The houses on Ann Street were not quite as elegant as some of those on nearby streets for the well-to-do such as Paradise, but they were never-the-less built for and inhabited by the wealthy inhabitants of Birmingham, but those with slightly less money to spend. They would have all originally, most likely, been dwelling houses, and had large gardens at the rear, and there was originally a water source, possibly a stream, that ran through the gardens.* By the late 1700s we discover that some of the properties are being used as manufactories, such as Heptinstall's file manufactory and the silversmith's next door. At the same time as this, courts of new houses were being built behind the original ones, and new groups of poorer residents moved in. Although some of the courts behind were not well maintained, they were not the worst in the town. In the mid to late 1820s (possibly into the early 1830s) many of the more run down houses were replaced, and this period may have revamped some of the more tired parts of the street. The building of the Town Hall in 1834 would have helped to produce a thriving area around Ann Street and the other nearby streets. This can be seen on the 1851 census by the wide range of shops and trades that Ann Street supported.

Ann Street in Maps

On the 1731 map Ann Street was part of New Hall Lane, the grand house, New Hall, could be reached via the tree lined carriage-way (seen top right). Bennett's Hill House and its walled garden can be seen on the other side of New Hall Lane. *This map segment has been rotated 90 degrees anti-clockwise for ease of comparison.*
By 1750 the street was now called Bewdley Street, and was beginning to be built on (you can see an illustration that includes most of these buildings at the bottom of this post). The gardens of Bennett's Hill House have been extended with tree lined walks, and the road to New Hall is now being build upon.
By the time of the 1778 map the street is beginning to be called Ann Street, as well as its other name; Mount Pleasant. The south side is still to be built upon, but the north side is fully built up. The properties still have their large gardens, and you can see their position opposite Bennett's Hill which explains why the street was known as Mount Pleasant.

* References available on request.
To find out more about Ann Street click on the label below.

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