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Birmingham  1906-65
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Birmingham 1906-65

At the very beginning of the 20th century, J Cuming Walters wrote a series of articles for the Birmingham Daily Gazette. They dealt with the miserable condition and hopeless situation of those living in Birmingham's slums. Considerable debate followed, and in 1901 Birmingham Council established a Housing Committee to deal with the problem. For much of the next 100 years housing remained a live issue - not just in respect of bricks and mortar, but also in the sense of building communities.
'When We Build Again', 1941 - opens new window
'When We Build Again', 1941
Document (126k) | Transcript
Diet survey, 1947 - opens new window
Diet survey, 1947
Document (140k) | Transcript

1920s and 1930s

Despite the creation of the Housing Committee and then the Town Planning Committee, 10 years later, very little impact was made on improving housing until after the First World War. 'Homes fit for heroes' was then the call, and between 1919 and 1939 Birmingham Council built around 50,000 new houses, with another 65,000 being constructed by the private sector.

1940s and 1950s

The charts reproduced here from When We Build Again, published by the Bournville Village Trust in 1941, demonstrate how the bulk of the interwar building took place on the outskirts of the city, which led to the creation of the so-called 'Outer Ring'. Complaints soon arose, however, about the lack of community spirit and amenities on these new estates, with their large dislocated populations. Solutions came initially from community action and organizations such as the Birmingham Council for Community Associations, founded in 1930. Later, the city council also became involved and the provision of new facilities such as community centres and shops, halted by the Second World War, continued well into the 1950s.

Plan of Birmingham Inner Ring Road, 1946 - opens new window
Plan of Birmingham Inner Ring Road, 1946
Document (337k)
Improvements to Worcester Street and New Street, 1946 - opens new window
Improvements to Worcester Street
and New Street, 1946
Document (303k)

1950s and after

The 1950s also saw Birmingham slowly running out of land and the beginning of building programmes in so-called 'overspill towns' rather than in the city itself. Attention also began to turn towards the housing in the Inner and Middle Rings. In these areas there was still a large amount of substandard housing and, as the illustrated diet survey shows, the connection between poor conditions and poor health remained.

The situation was complicated by the increasing numbers of immigrants from Ireland, Pakistan, the West Indies and elsewhere, who were arriving in Birmingham throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Unable to qualify for a council house immediately (from 1949 applicants had to have been resident in the city for at least five years) and compelled to accept low wages, they had little option but to settle in the less salubrious areas in the centre.
Occupiers and owners of premises in Worcester Street and New Street, 1946 - opens new window
Occupiers and owners of premises in
Worcester Street and New Street, 1946
Document | Transcript
Improvements to Snow Hill Wharf, 1946 - opens new window
Improvements to Snow Hill Wharf, 1946
Document (213k) | Transcript
Slowly the Irish dispersed throughout the rest of the city, but this pattern was not repeated for other immigrants, who found themselves increasingly isolated in specific areas. The reasons why this occurred are still debated. Prejudice clearly played a part, but perhaps so did a desire by the new arrivals for their own 'community'. Whatever the reasons, the fact remains that large numbers of Birmingham's citizens were still living in poor conditions.


Steps to combat the problem were slow. In 1959 the city council set up its own mortgage scheme, and in 1965 they put through a Bill allowing them greater powers over the registration of residences with multiple occupancy, thereby allowing them to reduce overcrowding and force landlords to make improvements.

Report on Pakistani immigrants in Birmingham, 1958  - opens new window

Report on Pakistani immigrants
in Birmingham, 1958
Document (297k) | Transcript
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