Passion Points: 1171

12 Dec 2018 - Jay Mason-Burns

"A trip around my patch, Selly Oak" - a photo post from Jay's blog

One of Birmingham's People with Passion, Jay, shares with us his passion for his hometown suburb of Selly Oak in Birmingham where he has lived all his life. 

Take the full post for a great article and some wonderful photography.

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Howdy. Welcome to my latest blog post during which I'd like to invite you on a whirlwind trip in pictures around my hometown suburb Selly Oak, in leafy South Birmingham. 

The Steeple of St Mary's CoE Church, built 1862 in the Gothic revival style.  This is the Parish church of Selly Oak, Birmingham.

Harborne Walkway, off Reservoir Road, Selly Oak, Birmingham.

Selly Oak is one of those places that people often pass through on their way into and out of the City without stopping to look around to get a feel for the place. I love the place, and I hope that by reading this I can demonstrate to you why.   

The 63 bus going towards Birmingham, down the High Street, Selly Oak, Birmingham

I was born at Selly Oak Hospital in 1968, I grew up in the area which, back in the late '60s / early '70s, had a large Irish population (indeed my family are Irish).  I still live and work in the area, it's amazes me how much it's changed, especially during the last 20 years as old industries and populations have given way in the face of the University's expansion and urban regeneration. 

Where I was born, the remains of Selly Oak Hospital, closed 2013, Raddlebarn Rd, Selly Oak, Birmingham

I invite you to look a little closer to see that there's beauty in them there hills, there's a bustling population and a rich fascinating history ready to be explored.  Selly Oak is on the up, despite the naysayers and years of planning mismanagement! 

Selly Oak High Street

"Edgbaston Pool" at Winterbourne House & Garden, Selly Oak, Birmingham. 

Selly Oak is three miles from Birmingham's City Centre.  It's bordered by the more famous neighbours Harborne, Bournville and Edgbaston.  The Birmingham to Worcester Canal cuts a gentle swathe through the area, with the Cross City railway running parallel alongside.  The River Bourn flows gently throughout Selly Oak's parks and beneath the bustling traffic of the A38 Bristol Road. 

Autumn on the Birmingham to Worcester Canal, Selly Oak, Birmingham

The 'High Street' of Selly Oak, stretches for close to a mile, winding up what was once called 'Selly Hill' near the University Campus at Bournbrook Road through to the top of Weoley Hill where the new University of Birmingham School sits on the corner of Weoley Park Road. 

Autumn jogging, Weoley Park Road, Selly Oak, Birmingham.

The High Street is a real mish-mash of old and new, shops, pubs, offices, ancient churches, meeting houses and halls.  There's even a pocket park behind the Aldi Store dedicated to street art and graffiti. 

Street art, Bournbrook Graffiti Park, Selly Oak, Birmingham

The Big Wall at Bournbrook Graffiti Park, Selly Oak, Birmingham

Mr Yummy, Selly Oak High Street, Birmingham

Selly Oak's history is rich and varied, having been traced back to Roman times, it was even mentioned in the Doomsday Book of 1085, as 'Escelie or Eschelli'.  Theories abound about how Selly Oak received its name, ranging from corruptions of 'Salt ley' or 'Saltway' referencing the Salt trade that travelled Icknield Street from Droitwich (via the old Roman fort at Metchley) to the North Sea; to 'Sele leah' which meant a woodland clearing with a hall on it or arable land.  The fort's remains are preserved in-situ next to the University's Medical School on Vincent Drive :-)

Japanese Garden, Winterbourne, University of Birmingham, Selly Oak, Birmingham

A more scrullious story refers to Sarah's (or Sally's) Oak, named after a local witch who was apparently hanged and buried with an oak stake driven through her heart, which it was claimed then grew into a mighty oak tree.  In 1909 the ancient oak tree that had become known as the 'Selly Oak' was cut down, despite great public outcry, to enable the widening of Oak Tree Lane.  Today, the stump of this tree remains preserved (but half forgotten) beneath bushes in Selly Oak Park. 

Cyclists on Gibbins Road, by Selly Oak Park, Selly Oak, Birmingham (University clocktower in the distance)

In the late 18th / early 19th century Selly Oak was described in Francis Leonard's 'Story of Selly Oak' as "a small hamlet, part of the Parish of Northfield... when it consisted of about 50 houses, a Chapel and several outlying farms....where the High Street and Market Places were still country roads flanked with meadows and cornfields".  Back in those days "heavy traffic on the main road was represented by 20 stage coaches daily", there was no railway or tramway system, and the few inhabitants who visited 
the neighbouring town of Birmingham had to walk or pay for a ride to town on the old horse bus from the Gun Barrels Tavern, near Edgbaston Park Road. 

Looking up the High Street, by Dawlish Rd, Selly Oak, Birmingham

However things were about to change rapidly. The arrival of the Worcester and Dudley no. 2 canals brought with them a massive influx of industry and people.  The Industrial Revolution was in full swing, huge lime kilns lined the canals at 'Selly Port' where Quicklime was produced in vast quantities and distributed via barge to be used in construction.  Gravel and red clay was plentiful from pits and quarries in Selly Oak, supplying the local brickworks at Harborne and California (near Bartley Green). 

Selly Oak Cranes on the site of the Battery Park redevelopment, by B'ham to Worcester Canal, Selly Oak, Birmingham.

Prominent industrialists such as John Nettlefold, Thomas Gibbins and George Muntz established large premises in the area making bricks, volatile chemicals, screws, ammunition and metal 'hollow ware'.  These industrialists were also keen philanthropists, investing in their communities by donating land for public parks or investing in local schools and community buildings. Nettlefold built his family a beautiful house and garden at Winterbourne (later donated by the subsequent owners to the University) and oversaw the design and build of the community focused garden suburb of Moor Pool just up the road in Harborne. 

Winterbourne House, University of Birmingham, Birmingham

 Sunrise Silhouette, Muntz Park, Selly Oak, Birmingham

By the late 19th century, as Selly Oak's population expanded rapidly, housing was built on a vast scale for the workers in the local factories and a workhouse was established by Oak Tree Lane, this later became Selly Oak Hospital.  This expansion precipitated the need for clean drinking water, so a borehole three hundred feet deep was dug to extract water for public consumption.  A huge gothic style pumphouse (grade 1 listed) was built over the well to house a Boulton and Watt steam engine that pumped the water out for domestic use. 

The Pumphouse, Selly Oak, Birmingham

It was opened in 1879, to great acclaim, by Joseph Chamberlain (who later founded the University).  However with the subsequent opening of the Elan aqueduct, the Well became redundant and was capped and the Pumphouse deemed surplus to requirements.  It was later converted into an electricity sub-station, whilst the steam engine and pump were dismantled (now on display at Birmingham's Thinktank museum).  Despite the change of use I'm sure you'll agree it remains an impressive building. 

Pumping Station House, Selly Oak, Birmingham

Industry persisted long into the late 20th century with names like BSA motorcycles, Westley Richards Gunmakers and the Boxfoldia works, but those factories have long since made way for retail parks, student Halls of Residence, a road bypass and a new aqueduct and railway viaduct to straddle the bypass. 

The Ariel Viaduct with the University of Birmingham in the background, Selly Oak, Birmingham

Much of lower Selly Oak by the University has changed beyond recognition as industries, land and entire embankments have been cleared and re-landscaped.  

The Ariel Aqueduct crossing the Selly Oak bypass  (Aqueduct named after BSA Ariel motorcycles that were built in a factory on this site) Selly Oak, Birmingham

Between the Aqueduct and Viaduct, Selly Oak, Birmingham

Rich Bitch Studios, where bands like Black Sabbath, ELO, Slade, Roy Wood and Robert Plant have recorded music, was based in a converted engineering factory behind the High Street shops.  It was home for aspiring Brummie bands and musicians for over thirty years and hosted international greats such as Earth, Wind and Fire, Ruby Turner and US rockers Skid Row.  Sadly however they sold up and moved out in 2014 after which the studios were demolished to make way for new halls of residence for students, called the Recording Rooms.

Down the High Street, looking towards Edgbaston. Rich Bitch Studios was behind the shops on the left. 

Despite the prevailing change in it's encumbent population, Selly Oak retains a lot of it's old character.  Victorian housing dominate it's tight side streets, and in some places, beautiful buildings do remain. 

Lottie Road, Selly Oak, Birmingham

Selly Oak is very much a place in transition, it's changing all the time and it's my dearest hope that we can keep our oldest buildings. Many of Selly Oak's important buildings have been lost over the years, public houses have disappeared throughout the area following a wider national trend.  Thankfully, one of Selly Oak's finest buildings, The Goose at the Old Varsity Tavern, still remains.   

Cat's Eye View, The Goose at the O.V.T., Selly Oak, Birmingham.

This place has quite a wonderful history.  It was recorded in 1700 as a travellers inn; in 1839 the owner was James Kerby and it was called the Bell and Shovel Inn.  Kerby owned 43 acres of land, known locally as 'Kerby's Pools', it was a Victorian pleasure resort right in Selly Oak!  Its three pools were devoted to boating and fishing and there was also a leisure garden.  People came from all over Birmingham to enjoy the entertainment and facilities the resort offered.  Kerby staged a variety of seasonal attractions and events like fireworks displays. It was one of few spots for fishing within walking distance of Birmingham.

Later on there's a brilliant story about the first Australian test cricket team to visit England!  Mr Kerby and his partner Mr North further developed the site with a running track that enclosed a cricket pitch, adjacent to the Bournbrook Bridge.  A famous local team, the Pickwicks, defeated the Australians in a memorable game here.  It's recorded that "Mr Talboys", the Pickwick resident professional bowler, took five wickets for 37 runs, whilst the rest of the Australians were dismissed cheaply by a local cricketer, the late Mr. W. Boylin!  What a day that must have been!

Victorian Terraces on George Road, looking toward the Unversity, Selly Oak, Birmingham (these sit on the land once occupied by 'Kerby's Pools'. 

Arguably the 'Jewel in the Crown' at the heart of modern Selly Oak, is the campus of the University of Birmingham (which technically straddles the border with neighbouring Edgbaston).  Around the University Campus we have a surfeit of wonderful architecture, including the world's tallest free standing clocktower (at over 300 feet tall), the Joseph Chamberlain Memorial Clocktower, affectionally known as 'Old Joe'.  

'Old Joe' Clocktower, University of Birmingham, Selly Oak, Birmingham

The University of Birmingham received its royal charter in 1900, uniting Queen's College, Birmingham (founded in 1825 as the Birmingham School of Medicine and Surgery) and Mason Science College (established in 1875 by Sir Josiah Mason).  The founding of our University made it the first English 'red brick' university to receive its own royal charter.  The Campus, like the rest of Selly Oak, is a hive of construction and redevelopment as the University looks to it's future.. From the beautiful red brick heart of the Campus you can see the art deco styled Medical School and Hospital on Vincent Drive. 

University Medical School and QE Hospital Clocktower, Selly Oak, Birmingham.

In the heart of the Campus new buildings are springing up all the time; cutting edge laboratories, research facilities, aswell the sharp and sleek modern Library, designed by Associated Architects. 

University of Birmingham Library, Selly Oak, Birmingham.

More or less opposite to these new interlopers sits the brutalist masterpiece that is Muirhead Tower.  Home of the invaluable Cadbury Research Library and storage facility, Muirhead Tower sprang up in 1969 during a previous bout of University expansion.  It's my favourite building on campus :-)

In the heart of Selly Oak new buildings are springing up to host the huge influx of students from across the Globe.  The latest, and perhaps most impressive of these facilities, is the Unite Halls of Residence designed by Glenn Howells Architects. It sits on the site of the old Birmingham Battery Works beside the canal that once supplied the old factory with fuel, labour and materials.  When I was growing up there was a tiny "Greasy Spoon" type cafe beside the old works.  It was perched on a timber and concrete plinth that overhanged the canal on the edge of this bridge.  I used to wonder how it didn't fall into the canal, it looked so precarious, then one day it closed and demolished tout suite, and all those stories and history were gone! 

Selly Oak Canal Bridge and the Unite Halls of Residence, Selly Oak, Birmingham

Behind the Halls a huge retail park has recently opened after years of extensive land cleaning and reclamation.  It hosts an array of shops, eateries and will eventually be home to the University's new Life Sciences Park.  It caused a bit of an uproar when the demolitions were started to clear the sites.  The Battery offices that fronted onto the High Street had been modestly beautiful buildings, but sadly like many places, money talks and that past was swept aside. 

The Unite Halls of Residence atop the former site of the Birmingham Battery (empty land in foreground is proposed Life Sciences Park) Selly Oak, Birmingham

Battery Park, the new Selly Oak Shopping Centre

When the Sun goes down Selly Oak comes alive with the sound of bustling student night life.  The High Street is filled with chic little student-centric shops, Asian and Oriental eateries, pubs, a Shisha bar and even a Mr Egg Cafe!   

Mr Egg! High Street, Selly Oak, Birmingham

Night Life in Selly Oak, crossing the High Street, by Selly Oak Station, Selly Oak, Birmingham

It's hoped that, as part of the area's continuing regeneration, two of Selly Oak's most treasured buildings will be renovated - the Library and the Selly Oak Institute.  Both sit close to all the amenities on the High Street and yet they're sadly empty.  The Institute was built and opened in 1894 by the Cadbury family for the 'education and betterment of local people'.  It's a curious building, an odd melange of building styles, and yet it remained true to it's original purpose as a popular adult education facility until the early 2000s. 

Selly Oak Institute, High Street, Selly Oak, Birmingham

On the opposite side of the High Street, nestled in the shadow of the railway bridge, sits the empty yet very beautiful, grade 2 listed 'Carnegie' library.  Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish-American Steel magnate and philanthropist, donated £3000 for the building of Selly Oak's library on land donated by Thomas Gibbins, the owner of the Birmingham Battery.  The library was opened in 1906 by Gibbins himself and remained in use until 2015.  I love this place, I spent many hours here in my youth, it developed my love of reading and of local history.  I hope that a fitting purpose is found to keep it for all our futures. 

Selly Oak Library, beside Selly Oak Station, Birmingham

Perhaps Selly Oak's most beloved and famous building is no longer IN Selly Oak itself!  The Manor House of Selly Oak, or simply, Selly Manor, was originally located at the top of the hill on Bournbrook Road, near to the present day Catholic church of St Edward.  A beautiful timber, lime plaster and herringbone brick building, it dates back to the early 14th century as home to the Tithe lords of Selly Oak, the Jouette family.  Records show that luminaries such as Lord Catesby (of the Gunpowder Plot notoriety) and Oliver Cromwell himself lodged at the Manor during their country travels.  In 1907 George Cadbury bought the house and had it re-erected and restored on a beautiful garden site in Cadbury's new village at Bournville.  Today Selly Manor is a wonderful museum dedicated to the history and heritage of medieval Birmingham, if you have a chance do visit it. 

Selly Manor, originally located Bournbrook Road, Selly Oak, now Willow Road, Bournville, Birmingham

So that brings us to the end of our little tour of my Selly Oak.  I hope my text and photos have brought the area to life for you, and demonstrate why I love the area so.  As a street photographer I find a lot of inspiration just wandering the High Street and observing people going about their daily lives.  It's my place, my history, my family's heritage and I'm proud of it.  Thanks for reading!

Jay Mason-Burns a.k.a. jayjayjjetplane


Waiting for the last bus, Selly Oak, Birmingham


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29 Nov 2018 - Jay Mason-Burns

Everyday People, on the streets of Birmingham


Hello, my name is Jay, a.k.a.jayjayjjetplane. I am a photographer from Selly Oak in Birmingham, and I'd like to tell you a little bit about my passion for Street Photography :-)

I took up photography a couple of years ago as a distraction from the agonies of sciatica.  I was encouraged to walk more, because cycling could make my injury far worse, especially after I had corrective surgery.  So, I found myself walking the city streets, the parks, the canals and beyond, armed with a camera but with no specific photographic purpose in mind. 

To be honest I really didn't know what I was doing, I simply snapped what I thought looked good, architecture, reflections, sunsets, trees, street art, anything and everything.  Photography is one of those passions that sweeps you up and embraces you, it's seriously addictive. 

I started going to Instameets and photography walks around the city, looking for inspiration, but often I felt dissatisfied with what I was capturing, it wasn't really 'Me' if you know what I mean?  My wife, Sue, commented after seeing a batch of my pics, that she wished I'd snap more people.

I'd never really thought about people photography, or Street as it's commonly referred too, before.  But the seed was planted. 

A couple of weeks later on a photo-walk with my dear friend (the ultra talented) Barry Whitehead, he showed me the rudiments of street photography, how to get stuck in, capturing people on the move, what to look for, shutter speed, composition.  By golly, what a thrilling 90 minutes that was, it was full on immersion.

With my shutter speed set fast I mooched very slowly through throngs of people heading from one side of the city to the other. I took about 200 photos, many of them rubbish, but I was hooked!!  As the people streamed past us I looked for interesting people, funny hats, interesting hair, expressions, emotions, lovers holding hands, people looking sad or angry, anything.  I haven't looked back since!

Street photography is intoxicating, addictive and wonderfully rewarding.  You're always looking for interesting moments, expressions are fleeting, but if you can capture them, I really believe you're preserving something special, as a sort of 'memento mori', as my good friend Dave Allen once said to me. 

Birmingham has a long and famous history of building, knocking itself down and re-building again, it's what we're seeing right now before our eyes at the moment. But the one thing that doesn't change is the People.  Brummies, regardless of their background, are warm, funny, rough around the edges, often inspirational but always friendly, if a little daft. 

So, by taking photos of my fellow Brummies I hope to capture something of our time, that's perhaps missed out by the great architectural or landscape shots of our fair realm.  People are the Lifeblood of a city.  Without them a city is just a vast empty collection of concrete and glass, without purpose or power.  

Pictures of the City need people in them. My friend Simon MacCreery recently said that using people in city shots gives the viewer a sense of scale, which is completely right.  I think there's another truth that perhaps Simon never thought of.  Using People in your photography adds emotion and mood, they inhabit the pictures, animating the scene and giving life to the City.

I'm a keen explorer of our fair city. As I said earlier, I walk a lot! I love the winter time, when the nights draw in early, so the streets are still jam packed full of people after dark.  I regularly walk through Selly Oak, my local, on my way home from work. I have a little 35mm prime lens on camera, it's fast and lets in heaps of light, which is what you need to capture a live night scene.

I find street photography at night a real thrill, the images you can produce are so moody and emotive, yet weird and beautiful too. At nightfall the city changes, darkness fills every street corner, light is scattered, it prickles the air or falls softly from shopfronts, buses become beautiful portrait windows, cafes turn into tight little vignettes of emotion. It's dark, visceral and I love it. 

So, the next time you're out in the City, having lunch with friends, and you're watching the people go by, look for me and my camera because I've probably just snapped you!

Be well my Friends, be well!  

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