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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Redditch to Birmingham

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas SEPTEMBER. 24, 2021


My first train journey in 18 months. Also our first long distance trip since Covid. We were making a return visit to our old home town to see friends, some of whom we hadn't seen for two years.


While there I decided to do a quick trip into Birmingham as I had spent several years documenting changes on photo walks, so wanted to do a bit of a catch up.


I was a little apprehensive both of going into a large city and also travelling on a train after recent events. I needn't have worried as the train was almost empty.


I decided to turn the train journey itself into a post, after seeing a friends's recent train post. I decided to document all the stops into Birmingham and give a bit of history and background.


On a technical note after some experimenting at the start of the journey I settled on a wide angle including all blemishes and distortions. I set the focus point at about one third from the left of the screen and just below centre and clicked away. I knew many shots would just be deleted as the speed of the train meant I had to try to predict when things were in frame, resulting in many blurred trees.


In editing the shots I decided to only adjust lighting and remove noise. I left all lens distortion and most of what look like dust spots are actually marks on the window. An additional problem was a plastic film over the window which had some imperfections and created a halo affect around very light sections. This led to some blurring but overall I was surprised by the clarity of some shots.


They are mostly in order of taking.


I am starting in Redditch, which today is the end of the line. Originally the line, called the Evesham Loop carried on from here and went unsurprisingly all the way to Evesham. It opened in stages between 1859 and 1868. The line beyond Redditch closed in 1962. Today, what is left forms the 32 mile long Cross City Line travelling between Redditch and Lichfield via Birmingham New Street.


Redditch is a small town with a great industrial heritage at one time producing upwards of eighty percent of the needles in the world. It was also famous for producing springs and fishing hooks, and today has a huge diversity of smaller industrial companies making everything from car parts, to sweets to aerospace parts. It's newest employer is an Amazon warehouse. The centre is being fitted with advanced Amazon Robotics technology which will help sort parcels from fulfilment centres before they are transported to delivery stations from where they are collected by drivers for delivery to customers.


Redditch is in the county of Worcestershire as in the sauce. It is set in the green belt outside the city of Birmingham.


During this journey you will see the landscape transition from countryside to suburban to urban.


The first stop is a very short distance away and is Alvechurch, we are still in Worcestershire at this point. The station and views are very unremarkable as it lies just on the edge of the village and so they belie the great history of this place. The banner on the platform declares that the railways at least are pleased I am back. Many people are still too afraid to travel on public transport.


Alvechurch means "Ælfgyth's church". In the eighth century, Ælfgyth founded a church on the site of today's church of St. Laurence. King Offa of Mercia gave the land forming the parish to the Bishops of Worcester in 780. The parish is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1068 as Alvievecherche with a small population of under 20 people. In the 13th Century the Bishop of Worcester built a palace in the village, and a weekly market and an annual fair were established.


The second stop is Barnt Green. Originating from the development of the railway, Barnt Green has always been a commuter settlement. When the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway was completed in 1840 the only buildings already in existence on an 1880 map were Barnt Green House, probably the oldest recorded bearer of the name Barnt Green, the buildings which made up the railway station, and Sandhills Farm which dates from the 15th century.


The early establishment of Barnt Green as a village began with the construction of The Victoria a public house that was originally built as a temperance house at the start of the 20th century. The majority of the village is a product of the 20th century. Much of its development occurred between the World Wars, with very many houses built between the 1940s and 1970s, and some newer redbrick development.



The third stop is Longbridge and we are now in Birmingham, Britain’s second largest city. Industry arrived in Longbridge about 125 years ago as Birmingham started to burst at the seams.


The first factory arrived in 1895 to manufacture tin boxes. Four years later Herbert Austin started the Austin Motor Company Ltd for the princely sum of £7500 and turned out his first car within two weeks. By 1906 they were making four cars per week. By the time the first World War started the Longbridge factory was helped by government support to make weapons. Eight million shells were produced along with 650 guns, 2000 aeroplanes, 2500 aero engines and 2000 trucks.


In recognition of these efforts Herbert Austin was knighted in 1917. Later the Austin Mini was produced for forty years at the site. By 2016 all car production had ceased. Longbridge is now moving into the new century with brand new developments making use of the acres of land and great transport links.




Next Stop is Kings Norton. Excavations at Kings Norton found signs of a small Romano-British settlement, including Roman pottery and a Roman ditch at Parsons Hill, near Icknield Street.


In 1616, King James granted permission to hold markets and fairs at Kings Norton. Both the original fairs and the market eventually fell into disuse. At some later date, a mop fair began to be held on the Green on the first Monday of October. A mop fair was a hiring fair where people would go looking for employment.



I will let you guess the next stop as it is the only station decorated in a distinctive purple livery, recognised the world over, which is the biggest clue you are going to get. This area was once in the county of Worcestershire as Birmingham is a city born in the 19th century and only just over a hundred years old. This suburb was later swallowed up by the mega city surrounding it.


This village built in green countryside was founded by a Quaker factory owner whose product comes wrapped in purple. A model village was built to house his workers and the whole area was an alcohol free zone until very recently. Today it regularly comes out in surveys as one of the nicest places to live in Britain.


The original factory in the centre of Birmingham had outgrown it’s site so this new site was found. It was farmland with fields and winding lanes and woods with bluebell glades.


The factory moved here in 1879 as there was room for expansion and it was already serviced by a canal and railway.


In 1893 the owner George bought 120 acres of land to build his model village. By 1900 the estate included 313 houses set on 330 acres. The house designs were traditional but with large gardens and modern interiors. The only thing lacking was a pub as the founders were teetotal. In 1900 a trust was set up to develop the estate as schools, hospitals, museums, public baths, and reading rooms were added. Today it is a conservation area and the trust still runs the estate and controls all development and maintenance. Today there are 7800 homes on 1000 acres with 100 acres of parks and open space.


George had this station built for his workers and also had it lit at night which was very rare at the time, because George employed many young women in his factory and they had to travel after dark to return home to Birmingham.


If you haven’t guessed already, George was George Cadbury and the village is Bournville, which gave it’s name to their most famous chocolate bar.


Next stop is Selly Oak. There have been several prehistoric finds in the area, some of the earliest being Late Neolithic. Finds of this nature are rare in Birmingham. There is also much more evidence of Roman occupation including a fort and two major roads.


The Oak element of the name Selly Oak comes from a prominent oak tree that formerly stood at the crossroads of the Bristol Road and Oak Tree Lane/Harborne Lane. The original spot is still commemorated by an old Victorian street sign above one of the shops on the north-side of Oak Tree Lane, which declares it to be "Oak Tree Place" and has the date of 1880. The tree was cut-up and the stump removed to Selly Oak Park, where it remains to this day.


The stump of the old oak in Selly Oak Park was examined using dendrochronology, and the results gave a date of 1710–1720 for when the tree began growing.


Today The University of Birmingham is spreading into Selly Oak from it's nearby campus.


Next stop is The University of Birmingham, including the Queen Elizabeth Hospital which is a teaching hospital. The QE as it is known is the massive white building below.


The Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham is a major, 1,215 bed, tertiary NHS and military hospital in the Edgbaston area of Birmingham, situated very close to the University of Birmingham.


The hospital has the largest solid organ transplantation programme in Europe. It has the largest renal transplant programme in the United Kingdom and it is a national specialist centre for liver, heart and lung transplantation, as well as cancer studies. The hospital has the largest single-floor critical care unit in the world with 100 beds, and is the home of the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine for military personnel injured in conflict zones. This part of the hospital is a high security wing.


Schoolgirl and education activist Malala Yousafzai was flown in from Pakistan to receive treatment at the hospital after being shot in the head by the Taliban in an incident in which she earned plaudits across the world for her bravery and determination in recovery. After her recovery, Yousafzai became a prominent activist for the right to education. Based in Birmingham, she co-founded the Malala Fund. Aged 17 at the time, she was the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate. Yousafzai completed her secondary school education at Edgbaston High School, Birmingham in England from 2013 to 2017.



Now that we are approaching the city centre, the line exists almost completely in cuttings before disappearing into tunnels for it's final approach to New Street Station. The cuttings and tunnels feature miles of blue engineering bricks.


I am getting off at Five Ways station to walk into the city centre and I will catch the train back at New Street.


The name of Five Ways dates back to 1565, when roads leading to Harborne and Halesowen were recorded as being located there. Five Ways railway station is located on the Cross-City Line. It opened in 1884 to replace the Granville Street station and closed in 1944, reopening in 1978. The old station building survives as offices on Islington Row.



Birmingham New Street is the largest and busiest of the three main railway stations in Birmingham city centre, England. It is a central hub of the British railway system. New Street is the fifth busiest railway station in the UK and the busiest outside London, with 46.5 million passenger entries and exits between April 2019 and March 2020. It is also the busiest interchange station outside London, with just over 7 million passengers changing trains at the station annually.


The original New Street station opened in 1854. At the time of its construction, the station had the largest single-span arched roof in the world. In the 1960s, the station was completely rebuilt. An enclosed station, with buildings over most of its span and passenger numbers more than twice those it was designed for, the replacement was not popular with its users. A £550m redevelopment of the station named Gateway Plus opened in September 2015.

Views of the station will come in later posts as I am sticking with window views in this post, which means columns and tiles when you are underground.


The power signal box, below, at New Street, was completed in 1964 on the site of the former turntable. It is a brutalist building with corrugated concrete architecture, designed by John Bicknell and Paul Hamilton in collaboration with William Robert Headley, the regional architect for British Railways London Midland Region. The eight-level structure with five main stories including track and street levels, and cable chamber below track level, is at the side of the tracks connected to Navigation Street. As of 2020, it is a Grade II-listed building.


We now return to Redditch with views from the other side of the line.


Birmingham University) is a public research university located in Edgbaston, Birmingham, United Kingdom. It received its royal charter in 1900 as a successor to Queen's College, Birmingham (founded in 1825 as the Birmingham School of Medicine and Surgery), and Mason Science College (established in 1875 by Sir Josiah Mason), making it the first English civic or 'red brick' university to receive its own royal charter.


The student population includes 23,155 undergraduate and 12,605 postgraduate students, which is the 7th largest in the UK (out of 169). The annual income of the institution for 2019–20 was £737.3 million of which £140.4 million was from research grants and contracts, with an expenditure of £667.4 million. The university is home to the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, housing works by Van Gogh, Picasso and Monet; The tower (above) was built to commemorate Joseph Chamberlain, the first Chancellor of the University (with the commemoration being carved into the stone at the tower's base).


I am rather concerned that a teaching establishment of this calibre would be boasting about recreating the words of Shakespeare, rather than just teaching them. In what sense could they be recreated I wonder? How alive would Shakespeare be after being researched, reinterpreted and recreated?


 

With the creation of the Selly Oak Bypass below two new rail and canal bridges had to be built. The Worcester and Birmingham Canal is a canal linking Birmingham and Worcester in England. It starts in Worcester, as an 'offshoot' of the River Severn and ends in Gas Street Basin in Birmingham. It is 29 miles (47 km) long. There are 58 locks in total. Construction of a double barge-width (14 ft) canal began in 1792 from the Birmingham end, but progressed slowly. Selly Oak was reached in October 1795 and Kings Norton Junction by May 1796. At Selly Oak, a new aqueduct, the 'Ariel Aqueduct', was constructed in 2011 to carry the canal over a new section of the A38.


Selly Oak Pumping Station, below, was a water pumping station operating in Selly Oak, Birmingham, England from 1878 until the 1920s. It was built by the Birmingham Corporation Waterworks department in 1878 to house a Boulton and Watt steam engine pumping water for domestic use from a borehole underneath the building. The building is in the Gothic style and was designed by Martin & Chamberlain. It appears as a French Gothic Royal Chapel. The building became unnecessary after the opening of the Elan Valley Aqueduct, and it was converted into an electricity sub-station. It is Grade II listed.



This is the back of the Selly Oak Free Library, below. It was announced in June 1902 that Andrew Carnegie had promised to contribute £3,000 towards a free library and reading-room in Selly Oak, following an appeal from Mr E. A. Oliveri. Selly Oak Library was erected to designs by the architect John P Osborne, and the foundation stone was laid on 1 August 1905. The foundation stone reveals that the building was funded by Andrew Carnegie and that the site was given by local business man Thomas Gibbins, who owned the Birmingham Battery and Metal Company. The library cost £3,000 (equivalent to £325,065 in 2019), and was officially opened by Thomas Gibbins on 23 June 1906.



Homes that back on to the canal take full advantage of the handy amenity. The canal is primarily used for leisure with many narrow boat companies renting out boats for holidays afloat.




Back out in rural Worcestershire, the cows are grazing.


At the end of the line in Redditch after getting off the train you can find the evidence of the tunnels that originally carried the trains on to Evesham. Today they have been re-purposed as pedestrian access.





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