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Welcome to birmingham.gov.uk

Birmingham Improvement Scheme

When this scheme was proposed it was claimed that it would improve housing in central Birmingham. Some streets were very narrow - The Gullet, seen in this photo where it met Stafford Street, was a prime example. This is one example of the photos taken by James Burgoyne, a photographer with a studion on the Coventry Road, for Birmingham Town Council.


New shops, traffic improvements


The area immediately to the north of New Street was called Scheme No. 1; it did not hold poor housing; there were many flourishing businesses and the buildings were in good condition. However, the Council included in its plans:
'... the running of a street as broad as a Parisian boulevard from New Street to Aston Road, a street of a kind that Birmingham was stifling for the want of...'
Small businesses in Cannon Street, Cherry Street and Union Street would have to be demolished to make way for the 'boulevard'. The Council attempted to justify this part of the scheme by claiming that it would also make an important difference to the health of the district. The Mayor said to the Council on 12th October 1875:
'Such an opening will immensely improve the ventilation of the great area behind it. As long as there is a wall like Bull Street dividing the town east and west, and cutting off the air from those quarters, so long shall we be unable to make a perfect Scheme of Sanitary Reform.'

Map of the 1879 Birmingham Improvement Scheme

Planning, demolishing the old buildings and creating the new street took several years. Birmingham first applied to make use of the Act in 1876; work was still going on in 1886.

Modernisation

 Suffield shop in Bull Street, 1886

Birmingham town guides published before the eighteen-seventies make it clear that there was still a number of old half-timbered buildings in the centre of the city at that time. One which was demolished in the 1880s as part of the traffic improvement plans was Old Lamb House on the corner of High Street and Bull Street.
This belonged to the Suffields, the grandparents of the author J.R.R. Tolkien. They moved into a shop in 39 Corporation Street, but the business failed there. According to a family story this was because the sprinklers were left on by accident, and the drapery stock was ruined. Corporation Street

The new street was called Corporation Street. Some of the buildings which were put up in the 1880s are still standing, especially at the northern and southern end.
This photo shows the southern section of Corporation Street, looking up from New Street, taken in the early 1920s.

There is an Improvement Scheme Collection which consists of about 130 photographs taken by James Burgoyne.


You can view the collection by appointment at the Library of Birmingham, Archives, Heritage and Photography department.