Step into the past with a visit to Birmingham Back to Backs, the city’s only surviving cluster of ‘back to back’ houses where working-class people lived around a communal courtyard. These cramped homes were built and occupied during the 19th century, and now the only way to see how a good many Brummies (locals) lived back then is by taking this unique tour with a knowledgeable local guide.
The few remaining back to backs on Hurst and Inge streets, which now fall under the jurisdiction of the National Trust, have been carefully restored and offer curious visitors a sensory snapshot of history and the opportunity to get a real feel for what it was like to live and work in such close quarters. People lived in these back to backs from 1840 until 1967, and the tour leads you through the decades, providing insights into this now-extinct way of life in Britain.
This compact and communal lifestyle emerged in the 1800s in response to the rapidly increasing populations of Britain’s industrial towns. However, by the 1970s, the city had demolished most back to backs (minus these remaining few) as part of a program of ‘slum clearance’ schemes on the grounds that they were not fit for habitation.
The National Trust has converted two of the back to backs on Inge Street into accommodation, so you can rest your head here, too. With excellent cafes, restaurants, shopping and other attractions nearby, it’s a great way to experience the city. Take the train to Birmingham New Street station, go out the Southside/Hill Street exit and walk to the Back to Backs – it’s less than half a kilometre. Bus services are also available from the city centre.