Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Birmingham Villages

This past weekend we spent some time exploring two of the Birmingham villages, namely Yardley and Kings Norton. As is the case with most large cities today, they consist of a central core and numerous satellites that have been engulfed by suburbanization. London has numerous villages (Mayfair, Knightsbridge, Dulwich, Greenwich to name several of the better known ones) and so does Birmingham, even if on a smaller scale. To help promote an understanding of the Birmingham villages we have started two Flickr Groups.

Yardley is located off the Coventry Road on the southeast side of the city. The village in situated in a veritable oasis of green surrounded by inter-war housing estates. There are several historical sites including the parish church of St. Edburgha and Blakely Hall. We spent over an hour talking to a couple who help to maintain the church and also act as guides to school children who visit. The Flickr photos carry more historical information so we won't duplicate it here.

Kings Norton is located on the southwest side of the city, just off the Pershore Road. (it is interesting that one of the main roads out of Birmingham should be named after what is a relatively unimportant destination today - that all changed with the dissolution of the abbey at Pershore as it was then an important religious center). The church of St. Nicolas is a fine building which can be seen from afar. The associated fifteenth century timber framed buildings are currently being restored using lottery funding.

Of the two Yardley needs help - maybe some lottery money would be better spent there than on spa facilities for the employees of Manchester United Football Club (as was reported last week in the press). Yardley has a lot of graffiti and our friends there tell us that the area is dominated by unruly people who have no regard for property. CCTV cameras don't seem to help much and the children's playground is covered in graffiti - now why would anyone want to do that?

By contrast, when we stop at the local convenience store on Kings Norton Green we couldn't help but note the positive rapport between young and old. Perhaps not surprisingly we saw less graffiti in Kings Norton (though there is evidence that much has already been cleaned off the old Saracen's Head).

Most visitors to Birmingham cannot believe the city can be any older than 1750 and even then most of what they see is either Victorian or modern. So to stumble across 15th Century buildings can be quite a surprise. The city is doing what it can to preserve several of the older buildings but there seems to be a lot more than can be done.