King's Heath Local History Society

The Home Page History of Kings Heath Famous Kings Heathens Maps Publications Research Photographs Old Newspaper articles Contact us a line


King’s 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 chemists surviving.

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.


a line (small in size)


© KHHS 2015