The theme of the fourth annual FOBAH walk, which took place on Sunday 12th May, was Gangs of Digbeth. Meeting at the Custard Factory on Gibb Street, our lead on that rather damp afternoon was Chris Upton who proved to be a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide. With a good mix of age and experience in the group, we set off to explore the history of the area.
Our walking tour began by heading towards the Great Western Railway and the viaducts that loom large over the Bird’s factory. Although now home to recording studios, the fantastic artwork on display on walls and bridges hints at the gang culture and was an appropriate backdrop for our afternoon.
There were a number of gangs active in this area, the Allison Street Gang, Milk Street Gang and Barn Street Gang to name a few. Some names were recognisable, having passed these streets minutes before whilst walking from St. Martin’s.
Walking along Floodgate Street and River Street, a picture of the humanitarian efforts in the area was emerging. Joel Cadbury established the Birmingham Medical Mission in the 1870s, dispensing medicine and free food, and Floodgate Street School was opened in 1891. Many gang members were recruited through factories and having a school and medical mission would have given youngsters the opportunity to escape this life.
Our guide then took us up onto Fazeley Street, past the now empty Typhoo factory, and the offices of Fellows, Morton and Clayton, Canal Carriers. Next to their main offices stands a building made of Oldbury brick that once housed canal workers, then became a sweet factory, and later a boxing club. Boxing clubs were popular as they provided an outlet for gang members to vent their anger.