Sunday, September 19, 2004

A day in Birmingham

We accomplished two things: Sarehole Mill and the Back to Backs.

Sarehole Mill is part of the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery system and is the only remaining working water mill (of 70) within the city. Water driven power was responsible for the beginnings of the industrial revolution. Sarehole Mill is a fascinating experience simply for the way in which the museum is set up - interesting, educational and free! But there is a bonus. J R R Tolkein spent his formative years living around the corner and credits the then village of Sarehole as being the setting for the Shire and Hobbiton in particular. So LOTR fans will find Sarehole Mill a Mecca. The village has long since been subsumed into the southern suburbs of Birmingham but this small gem remains.

The Back to Backs form a unique piece of social history right in the middle of Birmingham. Originally conceived as cheap housing during the industrial revolution, this "court" of 11 family homes sharing basic facilities has been preserved in a museum setting that only opened to the public in July. It is already a hot favorite among National Trust members - we were lucky to get on the tail end of a group tour. The court is surrounded by modern buildings - Chinatown, the Hippodrome Theatre and new urban housing projects (very different from what they replaced!).