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Corporation Street c1920

Corporation Street 1920

This crowded view of Corporation Street in 1920 is a typical view of one of Birmingham's city centre shopping streets. This scene is well before pedestrianisation became a reality in the centre of Birmingham and yet there is but one motor car in the shot, heading up the road away from New Street. Travel by bus and taxi today is now only possible in one direction, down towards and across New Street.

The scene has changed somewhat since 1920, the shop fronts today would be unrecognisable to a visitor from the 1920s, but above street level, many of the ornate building fronts have not changed a great deal. On the left side of the street, with a prominent name board and the "Witches Hat" style roof is the home of one of the best known names in cakes and buns in Birmingham.

Pattinson and Co. Ltd. Confectioners were based at 25 & 27 Corporation Street from around 1888 to the end of September 1967, providing for the tastes of the sweet-toothed folk of the city from this site for over 80 years. The firm had been around for many years before moving into the newly constructed buildings in Corporation Street. Pattinson's was started by two maiden aunts in 1791, who sold buns and cakes to coach passengers in New Street. The firm, by the time of its closure in 1967, consisted of 18 cake shops and restaurants employing 400 staff. The 18 branches were mainly in Birmingham, though there were others in Sutton Coldfield, Solihull, Wolverhampton and Walsall.

Further up Corporation Street, at numbers 53 & 55 on the junction with Cherry Street is the impressive clock tower which belonged to the Cobden Hotel, Cobden Chambers and Cobden Coffee House. The buildings were commissioned in 1881 by the directors of the Birmingham Coffee House Company Ltd on recently cleared land. They were to be built of Corsham Down Stone with columns and piers on the ground floor in Aberdeen Granite. The building cost ,216 to build. Around the same time, another developer who owned the adjoining property, offered to provide the owners of the coffee house, 100 rooms on the 3rd and 4th floor of his building and so the Coffee House company became hoteliers.

The Cobden Hotel was named after Richard Cobden, a colleague of John Bright and an activist in the fight for free trade and the abolition of the Corn Laws in the 1840s. John Bright a strong supporter of the temperance movement officially opened the building in 1883. The Cobden Hotel, in 1883, would cost you 1 shilling and 6 pence (1/6d) a night for a single room and 2/6d for a double room, this included attendance (room service) and a boot cleaning service. The hotel was unlicensed for sale of alcohol as it was owned and run by supporters of the temperance movement.

Indeed the very reason that the Birmingham Coffee House Company opened the Coffee House in the first place, was to offer an alternative to the pub to the working folk of the city. Public drunkenness was quite common in those days and the Temperance Society grew out of a desire to tackle this social problem. Samuel Edward Short, the manager of the Cobden Temperance Hotel, as it is described in Kelly's Trade Directory of 1920, was in post from 1886-1931. The hotel continued in business until around 1959, when the company purchased a property on the Hagley Road and vacated the Corporation Street site. The plot was redeveloped in the 1960s for Rackhams department store. House of Fraser is the current occupier.

The banner strung across the road is advertising the Midland Musical Competition Festival, a regular musical feature in the city, held at the Town Hall and Central Hall. It was held between May 10th-15th in 1920.

Digital Birmingham Photo Archive -1920
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