Tour of Lost Birmingham Nᵒ.3: The Shops in the Church Wall (New Street)

Part of a larger illustration of the area around Christ Church. Circa 1830.

When Christ Church was built in 1805, it was decided that four small shops should be built into the high church wall, which were to be rented out in order to provide an extra income for the church. I cannot think of another example of shops in the UK that were set into the surrounding wall of a church like this, surviving or otherwise, which would have made these ones, if they had of survived, unique. The shops under Christ Church were too small to be lived in, and the only way in or out was from the front (a health & safety nightmare for today). Behind the back walls of the shops were the catacombs that sat beneath the church, and further back, behind the church, the graveyard.

At the time the church was built this area was developing as a commercial part of the town, it had begun to be built up with residential properties from the 1740s, but later became a busy shopping  area. The illustration (left and above) depicts some of the shops of Ann Street in the distance, with the Bell and Candlestick pub in the centre, its name representing the prominence of the brass trade in Birmingham. The original cobbles of New Street can be seen in the foreground, and a small bow fronted shop window which had developed to better show off the wares which could be bought inside. You can also see the oil lamps used to light the exterior, and the basic sheets being used as cover from the elements.

The plan, above, was drawn up in 1821 and gives an insight into the life behind the facade of the shops. The four small shops that were set into the wall are all different sizes with irregular walls, giving an impression of how they may have been laid out inside. The four shops are run by Jones, Wakelam, Smith and Jones. The plan also shows two new shops in darker pink run by Freeman and Carr, that had just been built, as well as the waggon yard to the right. The buildings just behind, running along the length of the church's wall, are Freeman's kitchen, Freeman's pantry, Carr's brewhouse, the privies and some stables with another brewhouse. Brewhouses were used for washing clothes. The waggon yard was run by a Mr. Wallis, and it seems that it made and stocked waggons for business and goods use rather than having coaches for travelling, though you could hire hackney coaches a little further down New Street.*

Image left: The front gates to Christ Church, with the high wall and shops.

* References on request.
Images courtesy of Birmingham Library and Archive Services.