The Girl Next Door? Local History, Maps and Back-to-Backs

On first examination it would be easy to assume that the subjects of this entry in the 50 Marriage Mondays series had met through being neighbours, possibly from childhood.

Marriage Certificate - Thomas Adams & Mary Ann Barton

Marriage Certificate – Thomas Adams & Mary Ann Barton

Bride: Mary Ann Barton, of 1 Bk 89 Heneage str
Groom: Thomas Adams, of 2 Bk 89 Heneage str
Date: 29 March 1902
Location: St James Church, Ashted, Birmingham

Only a fragment of Heneage Street exists today, and none of the buildings along the street survive.  The parish of Ashted lay within the Duddeston and Nechells redevelopment area, first proposed in 1937 due to the unsanitary state of the housing. Redevelopment commenced after World War II when the area had suffered bomb damage due to its proximity to industrial targets, including St James church, which was demolished around 1956.

So, can we locate the residences of Thomas and Mary Ann?  A clue lies in the addresses.  The abbreviation ‘Bk’ stands for back, indicating the houses 1 and 2 were situated behind the house numbered 89 that fronted onto Heneage Street.  Behind the houses that lined the streets there were courts or yards serving several 2 or 3 story Back-to-Back or Tunnel-Back houses accessed by an alley or passage.  Many such houses on Heneage Street had only 3 rooms. The houses of each courtyard shared outdoor toilet facilities and water pump.  Birmingham Lives, The Carl Chinn Archive includes photographs of this type of housing, like Court 15 in nearby Adams Street.

The 1890 1:2,500 scale Ordnance Survey map shows Heneage Street stretched from Woodcock Street in the west to Great Francis Street in the east.  It also shows the confusing jumble of courts.  A larger scale map, (available at, coordinates 408330, 287837) the 1: 500 Ordnance Survey Town Plan of Birmingham, dated 1887-1889, shows individual houses, but does not give house numbers.  However, the 1903 street directory[1] makes it clear that the house numbers ran from 1 to ca. 150 along the south side starting at the Woodcock street end, and from 151 upwards along the north side starting at Great Francis Street.  So number 89 was on the south side between Henry Street and Willis Street:

South side Heneage street
……… here is Henry st ………
Nicholls Harry, coal dealer
75           Smith Joseph, confectioner
81           Hayes Mrs. Elizh. shopkr
89           Heybeard Mrs. Dora, pawn-broker
90           Pearson Hy. painter & glazier
91           Hurst Mrs. Mary Ann, haberdasher
93           Avery Rowland G. grocer
97           { Gill Herbt. Edwd. chemist TOWN SUB-POST, M. O.O. & S. B
……… here is Willis st ………

Counting back from 97, the post office (marked in green) on the corner of Heneage and Willis streets, 89 is a house (marked in yellow) with a passage on both sides leading to courts 15 and 16 (marked in blue).  Each court contained 3 back-to-back houses (marked in red).

Back-to-back houses behind 89 Heneage Street

Back-to-back houses behind 89 Heneage Street

The street directory does not list everyone who lived in the street, but only those prepared to pay for an entry, such as businesses.  To answer the question of whether Thomas and Mary Ann met as neighbours, I turned to the 1901 census, taken a year before their marriage.

Neither Mary Ann nor Thomas lived in Heneage Street in 1901.  Pawn broker Dora Heybeard is enumerated at no 89 and the Bagliss, Tebbett and Browning families are listed at 1, 2 and 3 houses in court 16.  Court 15 is not identified in the address column, so I am not sure which census entries relate to those houses.

The most likely candidate on the 1901 for Mary Ann Barton, is a 26 year old pen grinder, enumerated as a boarder with the Kidner family at Court 23 house 1, Clifton Road, Aston.  The address again gives the clue that the house was a back-to-back.  I have not identified Thomas Adams on the census because there are several possible candidates.  Both Mary Ann and Thomas had moved more than once prior to 1901 with their parents, but apparently left home by 1901.  In 1901, Mary Ann’s parents and Thomas’ parents lived at 85 Adams Street, Aston and 5 Guthrie Street, Aston Manor respectively.

Year Mary Ann Barton’s address Thomas Adams’ address
1871 N/A 2 bk of 27 & 28, Barr Street, St Martin
1875 35 Brewery Street, Duddeston N/A
1881 60 Richard Street, Aston 13 Upper Hockley Street, Upper Hockley Street, Birmingham All Saints
1891 Court 2 House 4, Dartmouth Street, Aston Upper Hockley Street, Birmingham All Saints
1901 Court 23 house 1, Clifton Road, Aston Not found

It is clear that the Barton and Adams families moved around the poorer parts of Birmingham close to the city centre.  They may have been even more mobile than suggested by the census records presented here.  Several addresses indicate back-to-back houses.  Investigating the area has helped me understand my great grandparent’s humble origins.

© Sue Adams 2013

[1] “UK, Midlands and Various UK Trade Directories, 1770-1941”, Birmingham, 1903 Kelly’s Directory of Birmingham, image nos 141-142. digital image. Ancestry ( : accessed 18 September 2013)