Tag Archives: Maps

The Apollo Gardens

Eighteenth century Birmingham was graced, at different times, with two sites called the Apollo Gardens.

John Tomlinson’s Plan of Aston Manor, 1758, reduced in Plans of Birmingham and vicinity, ancient and modern,1884 [Ref. MAP/45209]

Holte Bridgman’s Apollo Gardens are shown on John Tomlinson’s Plan of Aston Manor, surveyed in 1758 [Ref. MAP/45209], on the north-east corner of the junction of Lichfield Road and Rocky Lane. The date when the gardens were first open to the public is not known.

On May 9th 1748 it was reported,

Whereas the Performance of Music and Fire-Works at Bridgman’s Gardens, at the Apollo at Aston, near Birmingham, was to have been on Thursday last, but the Inclemency of the Weather preventing ‘tis postpon’d to next Thursday Evening, when a grand Trio of Mr. Handel’s out of Acis and Galatea, and that favourite Duet of Arne’s call’d Damon and Cloe, will be perform’d by Mr.Bridgman, and a Gentleman of the Town… 1

The concerts were promoted by Barnabas Gunn, the first organist at St. Phillip’s church, who also promoted concerts at Sawyers Assembly Rooms and at the theatre in Moor Street. He was also,

…notable as a composer, producing sonatas and solos for harpsichord, violin and cello, and ‘Two Cantatas and Six Songs’ of 1736 that included George Frederick Handel among its subscribers.2

On Monday July 15th 1751 ‘Eleven of the Gentlemen of the Holte Bridgman’s Club and Eleven of the Gentlemen of Mr Thomas Bellamy’s Club’ met at the Apollo Gardens for ‘the most of three innings, for Twenty-Two Guineas’, the first recorded cricket match to take place in the district.3

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Board of Ordnance, Gun Barrel Proof House, The Tower, Bagot Street, Birmingham

Sandstone block which was part of a wall that once marked the extremity of the Tower site. Author’s image.

For most of the 18th century, muskets ordered from Birmingham contractors by the Ordnance Board were either proof tested to the Tower standard, within the grounds of the gun maker by an Ordnance Board inspector, or taken to London to be proved.1

In 1755, Board of Ordnance viewers were stationed at Birmingham to gauge and view barrels made by contractors for the Ordnance. Those that passed the test were then sent to London for proof. In 1777, with the increase in demand caused by the American War of Independence, the Ordnance in Birmingham established a warehouse to try to ease the selection process, but this caused the Ordnance viewers to become even more discriminating, which made the process even slower. Those barrels that passed selection faced a nine-day journey to London by road and canal and the contractor had to bear the cost of transportation as well as the expense of any rejected barrels.4

Soon after the outbreak of the Napoleonic wars this system was deemed unacceptable as more efficient and less time consuming processing methods were needed.

In 1796 the Board of Ordnance decided that the only way to overcome the situation was to build a proof house at Birmingham.4 The Government purchased land between the Birmingham-Fazeley canal, Walmer Lane (later Newtown Row) and Bagot Street, Birmingham. 2 A state-owned proofing establishment was erected on the site, with the main entrance in Bagot Street.4

While the Ordnance proof house was being built, an agreement was made with the gunmakers Galton, Ketland and Walker, Whately, Grice and Blair for their barrels to be proved at their own proof houses by the Ordnance viewers. 4

The Bagot Street Ordnance proof house opened in 1798 for the purpose of viewing and stamping all new government arms with a ‘Tower’ mark.5

The first Bagot Street proving house, ‘the explosions of which were very terrific to strangers’, 3 was replaced in 1808 by a larger one on the same plot but ‘at a greater distance from the view rooms’. A new View Room was built in 1811.4

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The Navigation Boarding School GR:SP053872

John Snape’s 1779 Plan of the Parish of Birmingham (left) and John Pigott Smith’s map of 1824-1825 (right) (Ref MAP/45209) 3

On 27 September 1769 Richard Hawkins leased approximately one acre of land, land that had formerly been part of Rotton Park fronting to Ladywood Lane, to William Round, a Birmingham toymaker, with an agreement that he would build upon it a ‘dwelling house’ for a public house or inn.

When William Round, in return for a loan of £400, assigned the lease of the same property to the executors of the will of Elizabeth Burton on 7 November 1770 Round had built a public house called the Navigation Coffee House with outbuildings, a bowling green and ale gardens.

Although no mention of the Birmingham canal, which opened on 6 November 1769, is made in any of the deeds associated with this property it was obviously the reason for William Round’s choice of the site and for the choice of name for his public house.

In various property transactions relating to the same property on 31 January 1775, 23 February 1775, 25 March 1778, 3 & 5 October 1778 and 5 September 1782 the building is referred to as the Navigation Coffee House.1

 The Birmingham Poor Rate Levy Book entries for the poor law year 1771-1772 until the year 1776-1777 have the entries Cooper & Jones, Navigation Coffee House. (There is no entry for the year 1770-1771). In 1777-1778 the rates are paid by Jones alone, in 1778-1779 no name is entered and in 1779-1780 & 1780-1781 they are paid by Edward Kelly or Kenny.2

John Snape’s 1779 Plan of the Parish of Birmingham (see top left image) shows little evidence of the buildings (a comparison of plots with John Pigott Smith’s map of 1824-1825 (see top right image) suggest that the Navigation Coffee House lies in bottom right-hand corner of plot 130).3

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Hidden Spaces Revealed

A couple of weeks ago I went along to one of the Hidden Spaces events – a behind the scenes tour of The Electric Cinema. It started with a fascinating talk by the Manager, and his enthusiasm not just for the Electric, but for the history of cinema, made for a really interesting look through the past 100 years of the theatre.

Over the years The Electric has been a silent movie theatre, a news theatre, even an adult theatre, moving through all these phases in the history of British cinema to its current revival showing a wide range of popular blockbusters which allows them to show foreign and art-house films alongside.

Birmingham Building Plan The Electric 1936 [66013]

Birmingham Building Plan: The Electric 1936 [BBP 66013] (The Tatler Theatre as it was then known)

The behind the scenes tour that followed was equally as unexpected, finding a hidden recording studio in the basement, and a huge projector sitting alongside state of the art digital projection equipment in, funnily enough, the projection room. (Which, by the way, was very tiny and very warm!) You can find a history of The Electric on their website.

The Electric is the oldest working cinema in the country but this got us thinking about other cinemas that have found a home in Birmingham over the years. For instance there was a cinema on the corner of Ethel Street; and one occupied the premises of the Piccadilly Arcade. When you take the time to look up at the buildings around you, it becomes obvious.

Closing of West End Cinema, New Street, Birmingham. Note the Picture House Sign over the doorway. [WK/B11/141]

 Note the Picture House Sign over the doorway.
[WK/B11/141]

Ordnance Survey, 1918 Edition. Note the Picture Theatre next to the Theatre Royal.

Ordnance Survey, 1918 Edition. Note the Picture Theatre next to the Theatre Royal.

The Ordnance Survey maps we hold for Birmingham give an indication as to just how many cinemas there were . On the 1918 map you can see The Picture House, located next to the Theatre Royal. Although it didn’t last long, The Picture House and Café appears in the 1919 trade directory with Ernest A. Plumpton as manager. It closed around 1926 and would become the Piccadilly Arcade. There were approximately 60 – 70 cinemas in Birmingham during the 1920s, going by how many were listed in the trade directories at this time.

A few years later, on the Ordnance Survey map for 1937-8 we find 4 cinemas alone within a fairly short distance of New Street Station. Initially I had only spotted 3 – the Electric of course, the Odeon on New Street, and a picture house on the corner of Ethel Street and Stephenson Street which was once the Forum, later an ABC theatre. It was only when a colleague remembered going to a cinema called the Futurist that I dug a little and realised there was a fourth cinema nearby  – in John Bright Street.

Ordnance Survey 1937/8 Edition. Note the fours cinemas around New Street Station.

Ordnance Survey 1937/8 Edition. Note the four cinemas around New Street Station.

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Guest Blogger: From the Searchroom

Map of Aberdare

Ordnance Survey Map [1″ 7th series / sheet 154]

This is probably going to make me unpopular with other authors, but in my field of technical guidebooks to railways I have latterly found myself increasingly going back into their history, to correct all the errors and gaps left by all the others who have failed to research their material properly. My own current project is a survey of railway cable inclines, of which the UK industrial sector once had over a thousand, every one now gone apart from preserved or re-created samples.

I find that Ordnance Survey maps, while suffering their own limitations [eg. the one-inch cannot cope with station platforms staggered both sides of a level crossing, or distinguish mineral lines from aerial ropeways, while some lines had come and gone in the 70 years between the 1st and 2nd editions], are an incomparable resource for the purpose. As are your admirable staff on the 6th floor who, no matter how much I drive them crazy blundering about between different editions chasing things for which I do not have dates, always manage to find what I ask for sooner or later. I recommend them to other users for all purposes.

Michael Oakley