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42. ‘Brindley Place’ Then and Now; & the Netherton Tunnel.


The fact that in my dotage, I wander around and take semi-incoherent photographs, is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, while looking through old 35mm B&W negatives a few weeks ago, some were found that seemed quite interesting. They must have been taken about 1972, more or less contemporary with those of the half-demolished Birmingham Snow Hill station, which are to be found earlier in this boring & threadbare diary. These newly-found were taken in and around what is now Brindley Place, the totally rebuilt and re-conceived area off Broad Street. It was inevitable, we suppose, that we should go there again and try to match up the old with the new. Which proved extremely difficult…


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Actually, this first one wasn’t too bad. There is nothing whatsoever in the first photo. that is also in the second – except for the little bridge over a siding to the right, which is essentially in the centre of both shots. Its wall curves back down & around to the left, then up again. It marks the origin of the Birmingham & Fazeley canal which goes off to the right & down the Farmer’s Bridge locks. The building with the chimney & the round window is – was – a malt house. Its site is marked by a pub called The Malt House, which I sometimes go to, as they still have live jazz there on Sunday afternoons, and which again, has appeared in these pages.


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This one isn’t so good; the angle is wildly wrong. But, the house you see upper left of centre on the b/w image was not demolished (as was everything else), but still survives, splendid & refurbished, to the upper right of centre on the recent image. This was the brew-master’s house. The street which ran above the tall wall to the right of the b/w shot was called St. Peter’s Place; it ran into St. Martin’s Row, and has totally vanished. But why, gentle reader, do you ask what has happened to the over-arching bridge or tunnel, from the mouth of which the early shot was taken? Why does it not figure equally (if not more so) in the modern shot? The answer is very simple: it too, is not there any longer! See below…


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You see, the canal was built over on both sides. The buildings on the far side of Broad Street still survive, as you see in the modern shot. Actually, one of those houses above the canal was tenanted by my father back in the late 1950s into the 1960s. He had a business selling radio, TV and audio equipment for many years and in several locations in Birmingham. One of them was over this canal. But to revert to the early black & white image on the left. A Unitarian church was built over the canal in about 1862, and was still there 100 years later, as its spire attests. A further building over the canal – the one with all the windows – is recorded on a 1914 OS map as ‘Sunday School’, which was doubtless associated with the Unitarian church. That was all demolished with the re-development of this area. The vanished street called St. Peter’s Place is now seen to the left; note the ‘doors’ in the street-level of the wall – these were presumably to allow the Fire Brigade access to the waters of the canal for fire-fighting purposes.


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I’ve got the angle wrong again, but this is the least-changed image in many ways. They were taken at the top of the Farmers Bridge lock flight on the Tamworth & Fazeley canal, looking towards the junction with the Birmingham-Worcester canal, where the Malt House pub now is. Sloping off to the left is the Cambrian Basin. A number of buildings are still the same, but in the background, the NIA (National Indoor Arena) looms large.


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This page is concluded with a few shots taken around the same time – about 1972 – of the portals of the Netherton Tunnel, which needs no introduction. A broad tunnel, with tow-paths on both sides, and illuminated by gas-light, it was another late triumph of canal engineering, opened in 1858. It superseded the older tunnel nearby, which was made in the late 18th century & was small & narrow & caused delays of hours & even days to get through it. Here, the ‘northern’ portal is visible through the right-hand arch of the bridge.


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Here is the ‘northern’ portal – the tunnel actually runs more north-east to south-west, but it’s obvious what is meant. Actually, these photos. came about quite by chance. A friend and I were lamenting that just nattering together (& playing old jazz 78 rpm records) after having been out for a Sunday Lunch was ‘wasting a useful Sunday afternoon’; and that it would be good to get out into the fresh air and go somewhere and do something. I asked him what he suggested. He replied ‘Well; I’ve always wanted to walk through the Netherton Tunnel.’ So I said ‘Right then. Let’s walk through the Netherton Tunnel. Where is it?’ Bear in mind that this was forty years ago, and my ignorance in those days was almost all-encompassing. So we set off, with no equipment other than a rather dubious electric torch.


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We duly arrived at the southern portal, which you see here. However, besides taking the rather weak electric torch (without which, to be honest, the walk would have been an extremely foolhardy thing to attempt), I was resourceful enough to take along a portable cassette recorder, in case any useful comments might be made during the expedition. Here are some extracts from the recording made that day: nethertonfinal.mp3 .


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And here we are, triumphant at the other end. Note the naïveté of the graffiti in those far-off days. People mostly just wrote their names. Truly, those were simpler times. I’m the pudgy chap on the right. Alas, my old friend on the left, who suggested this expedition, departed this life ten years ago. I wonder what it means. We didn’t walk back through the tunnel; we’d had enough of it by then. We walked back over the top, and got soaked to the waist from tall grass & other vegetation. But it certainly was an unforgettable Sunday afternoon, 40 years ago.




Page written 18th April 2012.