The street I’m most familiar with in the world is Forest Road, in Moseley, Birmingham. I’ve been walking up and down it since 1994, possibly more times now than the street I grew up in. I think if you pace a street enough times, it becomes yours – your patch. This comes incrementally; when you devise short cuts to the bus stop, when you know if there is still time to get to the off licence, and when you can give directions to April Croft (Cul de Sac) when someone asks. In later years, you will refer to landmark pubs by their former name, confusing your new visitors. The towers, cupolas and crenellations of Forest Road and Woodbridge Road are a clue to the area’s wealthy past: these are the homes of Birmingham’s professionals in Victorian times.
My end of Forest Road is flanked by two towers: the opulent but decaying splendour of a rich terracotta house on the left, and a beautifully tiled tower without an apex on the right. Strictly speaking (and despite my punny title), these aren’t turrets, rising as they do from ground level, rather than sprouting from the building itself. Several of the terracotta house’s garden features have been jostled by the shifting soil over the years, and some coping stones lost. In 2005 an F2 tornado further bashed the rooftops of Moseley, and you can see the patched up roofline. The street sign on the right has been adapted (unofficially) by a local artist to include a forest motif in green. The octagonal towers and large windows behind the hedge offer an ideal spot to paint. I’m going to make an audacious claim at this point: the Forest in question is actually the Forest of Arden, which at one time stretched from Warwickshire to Kings Norton.
You could spend the entire walk down this road gazing at the upper reaches of the houses: every inch is considered and expensive. There are many architects involved in creating the street, each with their own style. Gables are enriched with shaped brick dragons, decorative brick courses and the exquisitely moulded, rich, red terracotta Birmingham is famous for. In most cases the bricks have withstood time (and tornado).
Individual bricks are worth your consideration too: when you get to this modular level, you know your street well! B W Blades was a West Bromich brickyard’s founder, a Mr. Brownlow William Blades. This is also what I’d call my street gang, were I to form one.
Ornate stonework exists along the length of the street, as with these carved corbells (a supporting architectural element) and bosses (the leafy, cabbage-like things). Another feature of the street is the later subdivision into flats, and resulting wealth of unnamed bell options on arrival at an address.
At Anderton Park Road, two more towers. The half-timbered look, fashionable for the day, have a Bavarian feel: coloured timbers in unusual patterns.
Two stone gate posts for Milton Grange, a former children’s home. The Grange no longer exists, but the name is just visible in the stone.
On the far side of Church Road, nearly buried in the holly, is more stone lettering: Moseley School. This was Arnold School, a private school for wealthy local kids. At some point after the school’s closure, someone has tried to fill the V cut letters with mortar. Beneath this, in coloured chalk, PITY EROL. This seemingly weatherproof sentiment appeared several years ago, part of a long-term, sustainable graffiti campaign centered around the railway bridge. The bridge currently has just one graffito: NO.
A wonderful doorcase: a lot of theatre and pride in simply entering your house back then. I remember walking behind an elderly man on the other side of the road who pointed one (quite grand) house out to his companion and said “that used to be a chimney sweep’s house”. He was either plain wrong, or this folk memory attests to the briskness of trade for the humble chimney sweep back.
Opposite the school, false window recesses complete with stone sills. The suggestion of windows make an otherwise bleak wall – possibly considered too close to the road – more friendly to the eye.
At this point, Forest Road becomes Woodbridge Road. The Patrick Kavanagh bar is my nearest pub. It looks great: ornate windows, multicoloured brick and Lombardic Romanesque style. I think the Irish poet PK looks like Larry David, who I like too. But the beer is rubbish and I never go.
I only spotted this Ghost Sign (lost painted advert) a few years ago, despite actively looking out for them. It’s in the alley behind the pub, and seems to say Chatwins, Trafalgar Inn (the former name of PK’s) and other letters I can’t read. A long time ago there was an ice rink back here. Outside the pub too are the dishevelled pipes that would once take beer around the pub…I sincerely hope they are “former”.
The long running bakery Luker’s finally closed a few years ago. The shop front is boarded up and painted (during Moseley in Bloom) with fauna and flora. The baguettes are still there on the sign above, as is the “Online Gaming” sign further back – too difficult to take these extinct business signs down. Ghost signs of a modern kind. Not long after completion, I saw an elderly asian woman plant a kiss via her fingers on the painted fox. Fascinated, I asked what the fox meant to her…did she like foxes? Yes, she said, she liked foxes.
Journey’s end: the final tower. The original parapet has been altered in the late C20th to a squat, octagonal layer, echoing the tiled house at the beginning. I remember seeing an old photo showing a wrought iron structure there. A dead off-licence below, and some ugly tiling. On closer examination this isn’t a tower at all but rather a scroll leading smoothly into the row of shops to the right. Not common!
I suspect Woodbridge Rd and Forest Rd still have secrets to reveal to me – and there are almost certainly features like this near you too. Why not go for a walk later and take a look?