The Lane: A short history of Ladypool Road

Friday, 22nd September 2017

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Ladypool Road (Credit Balsall Heath Local History Society)
Ladypool Road (Credit Balsall Heath Local History Society)

I’ve always been fascinated by Ladypool Road: a street alive to the rhythm of life and death, one of those busy streets day and night, where fortunes are made and broken.

Noted Birmingham historian Carl Chinn’s PhD thesis emphasises ‘the growth of the Ladypool Road’, originally known as Ladypool Lane, in both the commercial and cultural life of the area. Known as ‘the Lane’, it became a unifying place for residents from both the upper and lower working classes, and geographically and psychologically forms an important bridge between Moseley and Balsall Heath and Sparkbrook.

Why is it called ‘Ladypool’? Long-time readers of this publication will be aware, thanks to Mark Baxter’s ‘Lost Moseley’ series, that Ladypool Road once had an actual pool or pond. The symbolism of water must run very deep in our human psyche, associated as it is with life, health, and growth. Pools, ponds and wells have deep associations with healing and mystery – there are sacred sites in most cultures around the world. Who knows what magical events may have occurred on this site? Who knows what miracles of healing, fertility and rejuvenation the waters of Ladypool have engendered?

Chinn mentions how Ladypool Road’s naming is ‘shrouded in myth and legend’, offering two stories. The first concerns the suicide of a lady in the pool, as recounted to Chinn by one of his interviewees, who claims the story was related to him by ‘an old gnarled man with a stick’ in the herbalists opposite Runcorn Road. The other story is that the pool itself was dedicated to ‘our lady’, a Catholic connection to St Mary’s, which as Mark Baxter tells us is significant insofar as the pool provided water for the church. But this may reflect the deeper, older and pre-Christian heritage alluded to earlier.

The commercial Ladypool Road begins at the junction with Highgate Road. In the 1950s and 60s, Ernie Guest would park his fruit and veg barrow around here, at the junction with Studley Street, near the Co-op shops, now Uncles Stores.

Further up, at the junction with Alfred Street in 1978, we’d have found a travellers’ caravan site, a year after the first restaurants in Birmingham served balti nearby, and the Balsall Heath carnival began. Both institutions survive today; every summer carnival begins at Balsall Heath park, near St Barnabas church. This secluded building, once much grander, was extensively damaged in the bombings of the 1940s.

The 2005 tornado, easily one of the strongest ever experienced in Britain, caused devastating destruction for many homes and businesses on Ladypool Road.

Past the park, in 2007, we’d have come across a disused shop occupied by a temporary art exhibition by Swiss-Iraqi artist Al Fadhil – described by critics as ‘chaotic’ and ‘bewildering’.

Grants provided in the aftermath of the tornado have facilitated new businesses along Ladypool Road, recalling its early history as a focal point of shopping. While the road has been subject in recent years to mysterious sudden deaths, and even a (non-fatal) shooting earlier this year, it remains a focal point of the community and I’m sure has many more tales to tell from its past, present and future.

Carl Chinn’s thesis on ‘West Sparkbrook’ can be read here:

Korvin Mobberley (Twitter: @kjmobb)