In 1901, housing powers were delegated to a new Housing committee in recognition, at least, that there was a social problem. Its Chairman was Councillor J S Nettlefold, who opposed municipal housing and wholesale demolitions. Instead, his policy was to re-condition back courts by demolishing the two buildings on either side of a court entrance to allow more air and light to penetrate. These came to be called “Nettlefold Courts”. This policy of limited rehabilitation did produce some beneficial results, mainly through firm but friendly pressure upon the property owners so that a good deal of property was overhauled and repaired.
The committee also saw a partial answer to the problem of the central slum area in encouraging the outward migration of the city’s population and it concluded that the average working man required better housing accommodation than he had in the past. The Housing Committee aimed to do everything possible to encourage and nothing to discourage a high standard of living and most significantly to encourage the exodus to the suburbs.
In 1905, Nettlefold’s Housing Committee took a more radical look at the housing situation and a delegation visited Germany
to examine the ways in which new houses had been planned and built here. The Committee’s basic problem was to find ways of improving inner area conditions as well as to assist in the provision of healthy, cheerful houses on the outskirts of the city, whilst at the same time not unduly or unnecessarily increasing housing rents. The German experience proved to have a considerable impact on the Committee’s thinking and some fairly advanced Town Planning principles emerged.
The delegation found that every sizable town in Germany
had adopted a Town Expansion Plan. This provided for the future development of all land within their boundaries settling direction and widths of streets and generally controlling the types of development in particular areas. This was a novel concept compared to the English experience of a haphazard methodology. Enthused by what they had seen, the Housing Committee recommended that there should be powers to control development in new areas to ensure a better distribution of houses and provision of roads, and to buy land in the suburbs where private enterprise could be encouraged to build working men’s houses at moderate rents. In moving in this direction, Birmingham was emerging as one of the first British local authorities to espouse Town Planning ideas which have since been taken as basic Principles influencing the type and direction of development. These ideas were soon to have legislative support in the Housing and Town Planning Act of 1909. Over 1,200 photographs in this microfiche edition deal with Birmingham
’s slums in the period 1905-1912. Over 90% of these photographs were taken in 1905. This sequence starts with WK/B11/1563 Adams Street and proceeds in alphabetical sequence, including Allison Street
, Bagot Street Barford Street, Bath Row, Boardsley Street
and Wrentham Street
. This material should be of great interest to all urban historians.