Culture: Timbers of Old Birmingham; Continuing Our Series on Birmingham's Historic Buildings, Terry Grimley Looks at the City's Half-Timbered Heritage

The Birmingham Post (England), June 27, 2002 | Go to article overview

Culture: Timbers of Old Birmingham; Continuing Our Series on Birmingham's Historic Buildings, Terry Grimley Looks at the City's Half-Timbered Heritage


Byline: Terry Grimley

Modern Birmingham is a city of red brick, concrete, steel and glass and crinkly tin sheds. If anything from an earlier age has survived, it must seem like an accident.

However, appearances can be deceptive. Long before 1960s redevelopment started to take a heavy toll on the city's Victorian heritage, several projects were launched to conserve what remained of Tudor Birmingham or, more precisely, its outskirts.

Birmingham Civic Society's guide to the city's heritage buildings, published this week, includes five half-timbered buildings, all but one located in outer suburbs which remained at least semi-rural until the onset of the 20th century.

The one dramatic exception is The Old Crown Inn in Digbeth, right at the heart of ancient Birmingham. Though optimistically dated 1368, the oldest parts of the present building appear to date from the early 16th century. It is the only surviving building in Digbeth which would have witnessed Prince Rupert's raid on Birmingham during the Civil War, when running battles were fought in surrounding back yards.

However, The Golden Lion, a rival establishment which used to stand directly across the road, still survives, even though the place where it used to be has long since disappeared under a 1950s dual carriageway.

Before the First World War some far-sighted citizens dismantled this building and reconstructed it out of harm's way in Cannon Hill Park, where it has served as a landmark for generations. Unhappily, neglect has now caught up with it and it now presents a sad picture of dereliction.

There have been suggestions that the Golden Lion could be moved back to a site near its original one as part of the regeneration of Digbeth. Either way, some urgent action is required.

Even the Old Crown, which was a famous building to every Birmingham schoolchild in the 1950s (how many readers remember the Our Birmingham booklets which were standard issue in primary schools?) has had a very wobbly recent past. Happily, it has been given an extensive and sympathetic refurbishment by its present owners.

As the early example of the Golden Lion demonstrates, half-timbered buildings lend themselves particularly well to being dismantled and reconstructed (a wave of destruction of such buildings in Bromsgrove in the 1960s prompted the creation of the Avoncroft Museum of Buildings).

Another example of an early building which survives on a new site is Selly Manor. A 15th century manor house which formerly stood in Bournbrook Road. …

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