How do you describe Digbeth to someone who’s never been there (or even to Birmingham)? I know I’m not up to that task, but I’ll give it a go. The area was first settled in the 7th Century and, according to Wikipedia, “The area around Digbeth and Deritend was the first centre of industry in Birmingham and became one of the most heavily industrialised areas in the town. This may have been due to Henry Bradford who in 1767 donated land on Bradford Street to anyone willing to establish a trade there. The street soon prospered and there were over twenty public houses on it catering to its workers. Today there are just three; the Adam & Eve, The White Swan and The Anchor.“
The historic nature of Digbeth is very evident in many of the buildings in the area.
Here are two of the aforementioned pubs, both fine examples of the work produced by James & Lister Lea. And, whilst on the topic of historic pubs, here are a couple more!
The Old Crown is believed to be the oldest secular building in Birmingham and, newly revitalised, The Woodman is another fine example from James & Lister Lea.
It’s not just pubs, though.
But that’s just looking around the edges…there is much more to Digbeth than its past glories, however well tended they are! If you just drive through the main High Street you will probably have missed most of what Digbeth is about. Venture down the side streets to find the true (he)art of Digbeth.
Birmingham is a city that is renowned for reinventing itself, but this has come at a cost. Many superb old buildings have been completely lost to make way for the brand new shiny edifices that have sprung up around the city. This is still going on today. Birmingham Eastside is on the edge Digbeth and Millennium Point was one of its first major developments.
The Woodman now stands alone on the edge of Eastside Park opposite Curzon Street Station and over the road from Millennium Point. The new terminal for HS2 will be here as well when it is completed in about 10 – 12 years time.
However, if you walk along New Canal Street away from Millennium Point towards the centre, you will begin to see what sets Digbeth apart from the rest of Birmingham.
I remember when this was a pub called The Spotted Dog, but along with many back street pubs it couldn’t survive without a major reinvention. Thus, Suki10c was born.
Further into Digbeth and you find a piece of resurrected art, now given a suitably prominent position.
The original was at St Chad’s Circus until it was demolished in 2007 as part of the redevelopment of that area of Birmingham. This version was made by Oliver Budd, son of the original artist Kenneth, and was unveiled in February 2013.
Behind this mosaic is the prime example of the ethos behind Digbeth’s regeneration – the Custard Factory. Bird’s Custard left Birmingham for Banbury in 1964, but it wasn’t until 1992 that the site was redeveloped. Rather than flattening the site and building something shiny and new (like the rest of Birmingham), existing buildings were utilised to provide workspace for artists, designers and communicators. As more has been developed shops, galleries bars and restaurants have been added with fantastical art all around. Even the car parks provide a canvas for the local artists.
As one ventures further into the back streets of Digbeth, more and more public art appears adding a splash of colour to what is still an industrial zone. There are roadside murals, canalside art and even a whole house covered in ‘graffiti’. This is what, to me, typifies the Digbeth spirit – a willingness to make use of the existing structures and find new, exciting uses for them; creating rather than destroying.
As well as the visual arts, Digbeth is home to a vibrant music scene with most of the venues being pubs that needed to diversify to survive – here are some pictures
Well, that’s about it for my quick tour around Digbeth. There’s lots I’ve missed out and for a fuller idea of what is happening in the area the Digbeth is Good website is the perfect place to start. (Also available on Twitter @Digbeth)
Next Sunday will see Birmingham’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade through the streets of Digbeth and you’ll be able to find me in the Flea Market of the Emerald Village in the Custard Factory. Many (if not all) of these pictures will be available to buy as 9″ x 6″ prints in an A4 sized mount. Come along and say “Hi!” and if you want a picture I’ll offer a 10% discount to readers of this blog with the password CHIMNEY.
Hope to see some of you next week and even if you can’t make it then I would urge you to explore Digbeth to find the hidden gems that I’ve pictures and those I’ve not mentioned here.