Birmingham Back to Backs
Birmingham Back to Backs

The Birmingham Back to Backs are an evocative set of working-class houses set around a Victorian courtyard. 'Back to back' housing characterised the Victorian expansion of industrialised Birmingham, and other large British cities. These closely packed houses and thousands like them were home to generations of lower-income Birmingham inhabitants. This small set of buildings are the last surviving court of such buildings in Birmingham.

The houses were permanently occupied from 1840 until 1977. Displays cover four periods of occupation, and the story of the inhabitants is told through their own eyes (and words, in some cases).

Impressions of Visiting the Back to Backs
The houses were really fascinating. In the street picture, you see the houses on the outside. These people had to walk down a narrow dark passageway under the house to get to the outdoor loos and the laundry area. It's mostly the houses on the inside facing on to the courtyard that you get to see on the tour.

They're set up with each house at a particular date,  and furnishings are based on families that actually lived there.  It's very interesting to see the changes in home furnishings from the earlier to the later times. Changes in plumbing/kitchen arrangements, but also the amount and kinds of 'stuff' like books.

Some of the families had members who worked from home, and you see their workshop set up as well (a table near a window). One of the street.- facing houses still had its equipment from a tailor in the 1950s. Some of the families also had lodgers so were really overcrowded (shocking, in light of today's predator concerns and CRB checks to see just a curtain separating a lodger's bed from kids' bed).

The tour guides were very good. They had a fair bit of information on the real-life families who lived in the houses and how they lived, why they lived there, why they moved. We had a really good poke around, and the children tried out sleeping top to tail in the beds.

When asked what struck her most about the Back to Backs, our 12-year-old daughter replied 'They were tiny.'

Because of the cramped quarters, the Back to Backs can only be visited by guided tours. Pre-booking is not required, but it is strongly advised. See the National Trust website for booking details.