Kings Heath in the 20th and 21st centuries
by Margaret Shepherd
King's Heath at the turn of the
20th century was still a rural community despite the growth in population
during the latter part of the 19th century. Most of the roads leading off the
main Alcester to Birmingham road were still country lanes. The population was
mixed with a few wealthy families like the Cartlands and others living on
their own means' who employed one or two servants. There were professional
people but there were also a large number of poor families. The accounts from
the various churches show how they tried to help particularly during the severe
winters or at Christmas. The King's Norton and Northfield District Council
which managed King's Heath as it was not yet part of Birmingham, concerned
about the number of hungry children in school set up feeding centres. The one
in King's Heath was in the parish hall and breakfast was served every day at a
nominal charge. It consisted of bread and dripping, porridge and cocoa. Later
the church extended the scheme to include dinners and some of the better off
boys in school subscribed to help the poorer ones.
In 1902 an application was made to Andrew
Carnegie, the Scottish millionaire, for money to build a free library. A
subscription list was opened to buy a piece of land on the Grange estate
between Station Road and the police station. The foundation stone was laid in
1905 and the library opened in 1906. Next door was the Seventh Day Adventist
Church and three shops. In the early 1920s the church became Hope Chapel. The
congregation remained there for fifty years before they moved to larger
premises in Moseley. The building was demolished and an extension to the
library built which is now the children's section.
In 1907 transport to Birmingham improved with
the demise of the steam tram which no one mourned as they had been slow, dirty
and noisy. The new electric trams extended the route passing the old depot in
Silver Street and finishing at Alcester Lanes End.
By 1908 the District Council faced a severe
problem with schooling as the original school on the High Street was full so a
new school was built in Colmore Road and opened in 1911. In November of the
same year King's Heath became part of Birmingham.
A new form of entertainment came to the village
in 1912 with the opening of the King's Heath cinema in Institute Road and later
a second, the Ideal, opened in York Road at the back of the Hare and Hounds.
This was later wired for sound and closed in 1932.
In 1915 Colmore Road school became a military
hospital and the children moved to King's Heath where part time schooling
continued until 1919. In 1923 a plaque was put up in All Saints Church to
commemorate the men of King's Heath who had died in the war and a Calvary was
erected in the church yard. The British Legion based in Station Road hold the
yearly service of remembrance there.
During the early 1920s most of the farms and
farm land disappeared as Birmingham City Council built new estates at
Billesley, Warstock, Pineapple and Dad's Lane to house slum clearance from the
city centre and King's Heath became more of a city suburb than a rural village.
In 1926 the Outer Circle bus route was completed. This was dubbed The bus
which went nowhere' as it covered a twenty six mile circular route linking the
outer suburbs. Many paid a shilling to go all the way round seeing parts of the
city not seen by them before during the two and a half hour ride. This bus
along with the trams and the train made King's Heath a popular shopping centre.
The shops were varied with a large number of grocers, bakers, butchers and
green grocers the largest of which was Cooper's opposite the church. There were
also stationers, jewellers, iron mongers and drapers but two shops that did
good business during the depression years of the late 20s were the pawn brokers
in York Road and Poplar Road. By the early thirties entertainment had changed
with the opening of the Kingsway cinema on the Parade a row of shops
which replaced cottages whose long front gardens became the access road and
later a car park. In 1932 the Institute closed and Woolworths acquired the site
opening its store in 1934. Home entertainment was booking, too, as could be
seen with the opening of wireless and record shops.
In March 1939 King's Heath school closed and the
staff and pupils transferred to new premises in Wheelers Lane. The old building
was used during the war by Masons the grocers as a storage depot. King's Heath
was bombed between August 1940 and April 1941 and over a hundred civilians were
killed. The railway station was closed in 1942 and the site sold for retail. In
1945 Masons moved out of the school building but it became necessary to reopen
it as a school and it was not finally closed until 1982 when a new building was
opened on Valentine Road. The old school building was demolished and shops
built on the site.
In 1948 the closed church yard next to the
parish church was transformed when the gravestones were laid flat and eight
years later in 1956 the Victorian vicarage was demolished and St Dunstan's
Roman Catholic Church built to replace the one bombed in 1941.
By the 1960s the character of King's Heath had
changed again. In 1952 the trams ceased to run and there were buses only to the
city centre. By this time, however, private cars were becoming more numerous
and the congestion on the High Street grew steadily. A bypass or a bridge have
been considered but rejected. The advent of TV saw the demise of the Kingsway
which became a bingo hall and the dog track at Alcester Lanes End became a
housing estate. Another link with the past went with the demolition in 1962 of
the old parish hall next to the church and building of a new one beyond the
church car park. The arrival of the supermarket saw the closing of the
individual food shops and now their premises have become estate agents, charity
shops or restaurants with just one butcher, one baker, one green grocer and two
Now in the 21st century there are further
changes. The vicarage has been demolished and the site is to be used for
community purposes beginning with a medical centre, optician and chemist to be
followed later by facilities for the elderly and a village square.