Handsworth, West Midlands

Handsworth (grid reference SP035905) is now an inner city, urban area of northwest Birmingham in the West Midlands. Handsworth lies just outside Birmingham City Centre.


Soho Road
Handsworth is located in West Midlands county
Location within the West Midlands
OS grid referenceSP 040 896
Metropolitan borough
Metropolitan county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Postcode districtB20/B21
PoliceWest Midlands
FireWest Midlands
AmbulanceWest Midlands
EU ParliamentWest Midlands


Hay-Making, Handsworth - William Ellis - 1859
Hay-Making, Handsworth (1859) by William Ellis

The name Handsworth originates from its Saxon owner Hondes and the Old English word weorthing, meaning farm or estate. It was recorded in the Domesday Survey of 1086, as a holding of William Fitz-Ansculf, the Lord of Dudley, although at that time it would only have been a very small village surrounded by farmland and extensive woodland.

Historically in the county of Staffordshire,[1] it remained a small village from the 13th century to the 18th century. Accommodation was built for factory workers, the village quickly grew, and in 1851, there were more than 6,000 people living in the township. In that year, work began to build St James' Church. Later St Michael's Church was built as a daughter church to St James'. In the census of 1881, the town was recorded as having approx. 32,000 residents. By the census of 1911, this had more than doubled to 68,610.

The development of the built environment was sporadic and many of Handsworth's streets display a mixture of architectural types and periods – among them some of the finest Victorian buildings in the city. Handsworth has two grammar schoolsHandsworth Grammar School and King Edward VI Handsworth School (for girls). St Andrew's Church is a listed building in Oxhill Road which also held Sunday school classes in a small building on the corner of Oxhill Road and Church Lane. It also contains Handsworth Park, which in 2006 underwent a major restoration, the vibrant shopping area of Soho Road and St. Mary's Church containing the remains of the founders of the Industrial Revolution - Watt, Murdoch and Boulton. The 1901 Red Lion public house was grade II* listed in 1985, but has been empty since 2008 and is considered "at risk".[2]

Handsworth parish was transferred from Staffordshire to Warwickshire, and became part of Birmingham, in 1911.[1] The redbrick building with the clocktower in the photograph was originally the offices of the district council on Soho Road.

Birmingham historian Dr. Carl Chinn noted that during World War II the boundary between Handsworth and the outlying suburb of Handsworth Wood marked the line between being safe and unsafe from bombing, with Handsworth Wood being an official evacuation zone, despite being at least ten miles away from any countryside that might now qualify as "green belt" land, and being on the periphery of many "high risk" areas.[3] During World War II, West Indians had arrived as part of the colonial war effort, where they worked in Birmingham munitions factories. In the post-war period, a rebuilding programme required much unskilled labour and Birmingham's industrial base expanded, significantly increasing the demand for both skilled and unskilled workers. During this time, there was direct recruitment for workers from the Caribbean and the area became a centre for Birmingham's Afro-Caribbean community.

A tram depot was erected near Birmingham Road, next to the border with West Bromwich, during the 1880s, and remained in use until the tram service ended in 1939. Although it has since been demolished, a replica of the depot was created later in the 20th century at the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley.[4]

The West Indian population in Birmingham numbered over 17,000 by the 1961 census count. In addition, during this time, Indians, particularly Sikhs from the Punjab arrived in Birmingham, many of them working in the foundries and on the production lines in motor vehicle manufacturing, mostly at the Longbridge plant some 10 miles away.

A growing city centre is driving improvement and development into the area. Smaller wards and management of boundaries in 2018[5] will redefine this area. Property prices are rising.[6][7][8][9][10][11]

Boulton and Watt

Heathfield Hall, Handsworth by Allen Edward Everitt
An 1835 painting of Heathfield Hall, by Allen Edward Everitt

Matthew Boulton's Soho Manufactory was set up on the northern edge of Handsworth, on Handsworth Heath. It operated from 1766-1848 and was demolished in 1863. Boulton commissioned Samuel Wyatt to design his nearby house Soho House, which is now a museum.

In 1790, Heathfield Hall, also designed by Wyatt, was built for Boulton's business partner, the engineer James Watt. Watt died in the house in 1819, and was buried at nearby St Mary's Church. In the 1880s engineer George Tangye bought the hall and lived there until his death in 1920. From 1927 the hall was demolished and the lands redeveloped.[12][13] What was the Heathfield Estate is now the land that comprises West Drive and North Drive. Watt's workshop from the house was dismantled and rebuilt in the Science Museum, London.

Civil unrest, social issues and community

A riot occurred in 1981, during which similar riots took place in Brixton (London), Chapeltown (Leeds), and Toxteth (Liverpool). The 'sus' law (Vagrancy Act 1824) saw black youths being disproportionately stopped, searched and arrested by the police, on the grounds of mere 'suspicion' of possible illegal activity; this, along with high unemployment and social alienation, was a key element of the backdrop to the 1981 riot in Handsworth (similarly in Brixton, Chapletown, (Leeds) and Toxteth). Following the Brixton riots of 1981, the subsequent Scarman report (1981) concluded that the events of 1981 were "essentially an outburst of anger and resentment by young black people against the police." This scenario was replicated in Handsworth, Chapletown, (Leeds) and Toxteth. A similar social backdrop of tensions and hostility towards the police existed during the rioting of September 1985, which lasted for two days. It began in Lozells Road, Lozells and spread into Handsworth; to which this unrest was ascribed.

After the 1985 riots and a change in perception of British sub-urban integration, community relations were reviewed. Local government worked to improve community relations as a way of managing both racial and cultural differences. Encouragement was provided by arts organisations such as West Midlands Ethnic Minority Arts Service; its director, Pogus Caesar, documented the riots, and Black Audio Film Collective produced the 1986 film Handsworth Songs.

There was further unrest in 1991 and 2005; with a fatality occurring during the 2005 riot.[14] The 2011 England riots also spread to the Handsworth area.

The Guardian online article 'Riots don't happen without a reason' (August 2011) seeks to explore the context and histories of these inner-city riots, since the 1980s; emphasising the need for improvements in the relationship between the community and the police.[15]

In December 1982, on her first official visit to the West Midlands, Princess Diana of Wales visited the ‘Cultural Centre’ in Handsworth.[16] A year later in 1983, the 3 times World Heavy Weight Champion and Olympic Gold Medallist, Mohammed Ali, also received a rapturous welcome from Handsworth’s community.[17]

Recent neighbourhood schemes and developments (2012) have helped to improve the area. Most visitors report that Handsworth is friendly, with an excellent sense of community. Businesses in the area particularly on SOHO road have contributed towards schemes in partnership with council local services. Soho Road, Holyhead Road & Soho Hill is within a Business Improvement District (BID) area.[18]

A number of initiatives promoting community cohesion, exist within this multicultural community. The Handsworth Community Choir boasts a blend of singers from the area.[19] The Handsworth Park Community Garden opened in July 2017. The community website ‘Inside Handsworth’, shares community news, events and stories.

Musical legacy

Handsworth has produced some notable popular musical acts: Steel Pulse (whose first studio album Handsworth Revolution is named after the area), Joan Armatrading, Pato Banton, Benjamin Zephaniah, Swami, Apache Indian, Ruby Turner and Bhangra group B21 and Jamaican musicians such as Mighty Diamonds, Alton Ellis, Burning Spear and Dennis Brown have performed in Handsworth, rare photographs of these musicians are held in Pogus Caesar's OOM Gallery Archive. In addition, hard rock band Black Sabbath's lead guitarist and song writer Tony Iommi, Steve Winwood, UK pop singer Jamelia and progressive rock drummer Carl Palmer were born in Handsworth.

The tenor Webster Booth was born in Handsworth in 1902, and began his singing career as a child chorister at the local parish church of St. Mary's. Together with his duettist wife Anne Ziegler, he became a mainstay of West End musicals and World War II musical films. A BBC Showbiz Hall of Fame article described him as "possessing one of the finest English tenor voices of the twentieth century."[20]


Handsworth Park has hosted numerous events: The Birmingham Tattoo, The Birmingham Festival (both originally called Handsworth- rather than Birmingham) and the Flower Show, and in 1967 The Birmingham Dog Show. The Scouts Rally was another annual event held in the park for many years when Scouts from a wide area congregated and paraded. The Handsworth Carnival grew out of the Flower Show and Carnival; Caribbean-style carnivals began in Handsworth Park, in 1984, with a street procession via Holyhead Road. In 1994 the carnival was held in Handsworth Park for the last time. The following year it was moved from the park out onto the streets of Handsworth, since which time it has been known as the Birmingham International Carnival. In 1999, it was again held in a park, but this time in Perry Barr Park. Handsworth Park also hosts an annual Vaisakhi Mela and the Simmer Down Festival, a celebration of live music, dance and spoken word.


Among education providers is the Rookery School, a 100-year-old mixed state primary school, still housed largely in its original buildings.[21] [22] Secondary schools include Handsworth Wood Girls' Academy, Holyhead School, St John Wall Catholic School, also, selective state schools such as Handsworth Grammar School and King Edward VI Handsworth (girls).

Notable people


  1. ^ a b "The Parish Boundaries of Handsworth". Handsworth Historical Society. Archived from the original on 15 September 2013. Retrieved 3 September 2013.
  2. ^ "Pubs in Peril". Historic Pub Interiors. Campaign for Real Ale. Retrieved 21 December 2015.
  3. ^ Carl Chinn (1996) Brum Undaunted: Birmingham During the Blitz, Birmingham Library Services
  4. ^ "Tram depot - Black Country Living Museum - Britain's friendliest open air museum". Bclm.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-07-29.
  5. ^ https://www.birmingham.gov.uk/info/20097/elections_and_voting/1054/local_government_boundary_review
  6. ^ https://www.propertyinvestortoday.co.uk/breaking-news/2017/11/property-investment-in-birmingham-continues-to-boom
  7. ^ https://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/landlord-guide/where-to-invest-in-birmingham-property/
  8. ^ https://www.birminghampost.co.uk/business/business-news/birmingham-housing-market-set-outperform-12581398
  9. ^ https://www.allaboutcareers.com/features/article/second-city-rising-the-birmingham-boom
  10. ^ https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/united-kingdom/england/birmingham/articles/birmingham-hotels-report-record-year/
  11. ^ https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/feb/01/tale-of-second-city-food-and-shops-help-birminghams-renaissance
  12. ^ Allen Edward Everitt. "Heathfield Hall, Handsworth". Birmingham Reference Library. Retrieved 2010-06-05.
  13. ^ "George Tangye". Retrieved 2010-06-05.
  14. ^ Hugh Muir; Riazat Butt (24 October 2005). "A rumour, outrage and then a riot. How tension in a Birmingham suburb erupted". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 December 2012.
  15. ^ https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/aug/10/riots-police-black-community
  16. ^ https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/nostalgia/handsworth-history-through-years-birmingham-7638262
  17. ^ https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/local-news/world-in-pictures-muhammad-ali-at-70-8477
  18. ^ https://en-gb.facebook.com/SohoRoadBID/
  19. ^ http://www.handsworthcommunitychoir.org.uk/
  20. ^ "Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth". Showbiz Hall of Fame. BBC. Retrieved 2009-12-09.
  21. ^ Rookery School Archived 2010-01-01 at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ Ofsted details for unique reference number 132138
  23. ^ Who Was Who in America, Historical Volume, 1607-1896. Chicago: Marquis Who's Who. 1963.
  24. ^ Iommi, Tony (8 November 2012). "Chapter 1: The birth of a Cub". Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath. Simon & Schuster Ltd. ISBN 978-1849833219.
  • Simon Baddeley (1997), The Founding of Handsworth Park 1882-1898, Birmingham University
  • Carl Chinn (1996), Brum Undaunted: Birmingham During the Blitz, Birmingham Library Services
  • Peter Drake (1998), Handsworth, Hockley, & Handsworth Wood, Tempus, Stroud, Glos.
  • Allen E. Everitt (1876), Handsworth Church and its Surroundings, E.C. Osborne, Birmingham
  • Frederick William Hackwood (1908), Handsworth: Old & New: A History of Birmingham's Staffordshire Suburb (re-published: A & B Books, Warley, West Midlands)
  • John Morris Jones (1980), The Manor of Handsworth: An Introduction to its Historical Geography, with amendments by "Friends of Handsworth Old Town Hall", 1969. Handsworth Historical Society
  • Handsworth General Purposes & other Committees - Minute Book 1880A, Handsworth Local Sanitary Board, Birmingham City Council, Central Library Archives (ref: BCH/AD 1/1/1)
  • Handsworth & Birmingham newspaper cuttings collected and arranged by G. H. Osborne between approx. 1870 and 1900, Birmingham City Council, Central Library Archive (ref: L.f30.3)
  • Victor J. Price (1992), Handsworth Remembered, Studley: Brewin Books
  • Lord Scarman (1981), Scarman Inquiry into the Brixton Riots, April 1981: Lord Scarman's report

External links

Clive Robbins

Clive Robbins, (23 July 1927 in Handsworth, West Midlands – 7 December 2011 in New York)

was a British music therapist, Special Needs educator, anthroposophist and co-founder of Nordoff-Robbins music therapy.

Dave Ball (guitarist)

David J. Ball (30 March 1950 – 1 April 2015) was an English guitar player.

Dave Martin (screenwriter)

David Ralph Martin (1 January 1935 – 30 March 2007) was an accomplished television and film writer. He was born in Handsworth, Birmingham, England and attended Handsworth Grammar School.

Desmond Douglas

Desmond Douglas MBE (born 20 July 1955 in Jamaica) is a British table tennis player. He lived and was brought up in the area of Handsworth, Birmingham, West Midlands. He was an attacking, left-handed, player, notable for his scissor jump smash. He was famous for his use of close to the table blocks on the backhand side, mixing pace with powerful topspin from his forehand side.Douglas was 11 times English Table Tennis champion, who peaked at equal World No. 7 and European No. 3. He represented Great Britain at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, in both the singles and the doubles, where he was partnered by Sky Andrew. Douglas played professionally in The German Bundesliga for eight years , between 1977-1985. Douglas is still actively involved in table tennis, coaching throughout the country, including training some of the top young British prospects at the Youth Development Squad. He also coaches at Sutton Coldfield College and Woodfield Table Tennis Club, Wolverhampton.

He lives in Walsall, West Midlands.

Frank Healy

Francis "Frank" Healy (born in Handsworth, Birmingham, England) is a former Napalm Death guitarist. Healy also was the bass player for Cerebral Fix. He also played bass in the first live Anaal Nathrakh session for the John Peel show. He is currently the bassist in the band Benediction.

Ged Simmons

Ged Simmons (born 1960 in Handsworth, Birmingham) is a British actor who played DI Alex Cullen in The Bill from 2000 to 2002. He has also been in Coronation Street, EastEnders, Bodyguards, Touching Evil, Holby City, Dream Team, The Rotters' Club, Doctors and Spooks.

He is also the author of a number of screenplays and theatrical works. His first novel, The Gravedigger's Story, was published by impbooks in April 2004.

He was elected President of the Student Union at his college in Walsall, West Midlands.

Handsworth Grammar School

King Edward VI Handsworth Grammar School for Boys, formerly and commonly Handsworth Grammar School, is a voluntary aided grammar school that admits boys from the age of eleven and eighteen (as well as girls in the sixth form, since September 1997). The school was founded in 1862 and is located in Handsworth, Birmingham, England. it is situated just off the A41, near the junction with the A4040. King Edward Handsworth Grammar School is sometimes abbreviated as HGS. The headmaster is Dr Simon Bird.In September 2017, the school was admitted into the Foundation of the Schools of King Edward VI, where it was renamed King Edward VI Handsworth Grammar School for Boys.The school has five houses: Henry, William, Nelson, Galahad and Alfred

Handsworth Wood railway station

Handsworth Wood railway station was a railway station in Handsworth Wood, Birmingham, England, on the London and North Western Railway's rail link between the Chase Line and the West Coast Main Line. The station operated between 1896 and 1941, and like neighbouring station Soho Road, closed during the Second World War, as a result of decreasing use by passengers who possibly found the new 16 bus route more convenient.

The station site lies in a cutting through Handsworth Park, adjacent to St. Mary's Church.

Heathfield Hall

Heathfield Hall (sometimes referred to as Heathfield House) was a house in Handsworth, Staffordshire (the area became part of Birmingham in 1911), England, built for the engineer James Watt.

In 1790, Watt's business partner Matthew Boulton recommended to Watt his friend, the architect Samuel Wyatt, who had designed Boulton's home, Soho House, in 1789. Watt commissioned Wyatt to design Heathfield Hall.

Watt died in the house in 1819, and was buried at nearby St Mary's Church. His garret workshop was then sealed, and few people were ever allowed to visit it. The contents - over 8,300 objects, including the furniture, window, door and floorboards - were removed in 1924 and used to recreate the room at The Science Museum in London, where they may still be viewed.After a series of subsequent owners who had slowly sold off the associated lands for development of semi-detached villas, in the 1880s engineer George Tangye bought Heathfield Hall. He lived in the house until his death in 1920. After his family sold the house, from 1927 the hall was demolished and the lands redeveloped.What was the Heathfield Estate is now the land that comprises West Drive and North Drive in Handsworth, developed in the 1930s with a number of arts and crafts and moderne-style houses.

John Henry Godfrey

Admiral John Henry Godfrey CB (10 July 1888 – 29 August 1970) was an officer of the Royal Navy and Royal Indian Navy, specialising in navigation. Ian Fleming is said to have based James Bond's boss, "M", on Godfrey.

Red Lion, Handsworth

The Red Lion is a disused public house on Soho Road, in the Handsworth district of Birmingham, England.

A pub has stood on the site since 1829. The then building was purchased by the Holt Brewery in 1893 and the current building was erected for them in 1901 by the local architects James and Lister Lea. It was taken over by Ansells on their acquisition of Holt in 1934.

The three-storey building, in brick with a brick and two-tone terracotta facade, a Welsh slate roof and a polygonal corner tower surmounted by a cupola., was granted grade II listed protection in January 1985.Having closed in 2008, the pub was put up for auction in October 2014, but failed to sell. As of December 2015, it is unused, and is considered "at risk" by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), and by Historic England, who placed it on their Heritage at Risk Register for 2015. It retains what CAMRA have described as:

a spectacular interior including floor–to-ceiling tiles in passages, ornate bar fittings, four tiled paintings, and panelled 'coffee room'... and a magnificent bar back of mahogany and gilded, painted and etched mirrors featuring Holt Brewery lettering and squirrel motifs

Soho House

Soho House is a museum run by Birmingham Museums Trust, celebrating Matthew Boulton's life, his partnership with James Watt, his membership of the Lunar Society of Birmingham and his contribution to the Midlands Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. It is a Grade II* listed 18th-century house in Handsworth (historically in the county of Staffordshire, but part of Birmingham since 1911), England. It was the home of entrepreneur Matthew Boulton from 1766 until his death in 1809, and a regular meeting-place of the Lunar Society.

St Andrew's Church, Handsworth

St Andrew’s Church, Handsworth is a Grade I listed parish church in the Church of England in Handsworth, West Midlands.

St Francis of Assisi Church, Handsworth

St Francis of Assisi Church is a Roman Catholic Parish church in Birmingham. While the church is located between the Lozells and Hockley parts of the city, the parish covers most of Handsworth. It was founded in 1840, originally as a chapel in the nearby listed building, St. Mary's Convent designed by Augustus Pugin.

T. D. Kendrick

Sir Thomas Downing "T. D." Kendrick, KCB (1 April 1895 – 2 November 1979) was a British archaeologist and art historian.

The Anchorage, Birmingham

The Anchorage is a Grade II* listed building in Handsworth Wood, Birmingham, England.It was built in 1899, to Arts and Crafts-style designs by Joseph Crouch and Edmund Butler, as a house for Alfred Constantine, a manufacturing jeweller. At the time, the area was in Staffordshire. The building is made of brick, with stone dressing and applied timber framing. The roof is tiled, with an off-centre cupola.A fire in around 1977 burnt the main hall's minstrels' gallery and a set of murals, The Hunt and Feast, by Fred Davis. Other interior fittings include metal work by a member of the Bromsgrove Guild, possibly Benjamin Creswick, and embroidery by Mary Newill, who also made stained glass for some of the windows.The building was granted protection from unauthorised alteration through Grade II* listed designation on 8 July 1982.It was subsequently converted for use as a multi-occupation hostel by HDA Architecture. As of 2015, the building was occupied by the Jesus Fellowship Church.

The Endwood

The Endwood is a disused grade II listed public house on Hamstead Road, in the Handsworth Wood district of Birmingham, England.The three-storey building was constructed as a private residence, Church Hill House, in 1820, when Handsworth Wood was part of Staffordshire. It has a stucco finish, a slate roof and porch with doric columns.Around the 1880s, it was occupied by the Muntz family, George Frederic Muntz' second son William Henry Muntz having married Alice Parker, the second daughter of its occupant, George Parker, in 1846.It subsequently became a hotel, known as the Hill House Hotel and then the Endwood Hotel, before being purchased in 1937 by the brewers Butlers of Wolverhampton, who used it as a pub. That company, and thus the Endwood, was acquired by Mitchells & Butlers in 1960.It was given listed building status in July 1982.In June 2015, a planning application was submitted to Birmingham City Council, for use of the building as an education centre. A 2001 proposal to convert the building into flats was dismissed.The building sits immediately opposite the site of the defunct Handsworth Wood railway station (1896–1941), and the railway line passes beneath the house in a short tunnel. St Mary's Church (Norman, rebuilt 1820) and Handsworth Park (1880s) are also nearby to the south, as is the A4040 road to the north.

Vic Crowe

Victor Herbert Crowe (31 January 1932 – 21 January 2009) was a Wales international football player and later football manager.

Walter Withers

Walter Herbert Withers (22 October 1854 — 13 October 1914) was an English-born Australian landscape artist and a member of the Heidelberg School of Australian impressionists.

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