Flight back in time
Historical images take us back in time to days of Birmingham Racecourse, the British Industries Fair exhibition hall, Castle Bromwich Aerodrome and Dunlop Rubber Company. DAVID BENTLEY reports...
REMEMBER the days of Birmingham Racecourse, British Industries Fair exhibition hall, Castle Bromwich Aerodrome and Dunlop Rubber Company?
Every day, hundreds of motorists drive right by a big clue to the past of the Castle Bromwich area of Birmingham.
Spitfire Island is named after its metal plane sculpture that recalls the days when the aerodrome housed the largest Spitfire factory in the UK, producing up to 320 planes a month.
When production ended at Castle Bromwich in June 1945, a total of 12,129 Spitfires had been built – more than half of the 20,000 ever produced.
Our latest set of aerial shots looks back at Castle Vale, Castle Bromwich and Bromford in previous decades, showing many of these long- vanished landmarks before they gave way to modern development – and the vast expanse of green fields that once surrounded them. Among the landmarks of yesteryear was Castle Bromwich Aerodrome, initially a privately- owned business on former playing fields.
It was requisitioned to train pilots in the First World War and, later, during the Second World War, a factory was built there making Spitfire fighter planes. Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory became the largest of its kind in the UK, employing 12,000 people.
As a daily visual reminder of that past, a steel sculpture called The Sentinel was put up in 2000 on the traffic roundabout now called Spitfire Island. It was designed by JRR Tolkien’s great- nephew, the sculptor Tim Tolkien.
Castle Bromwich Aerodrome was a contender to become Birmingham’s planned new municipal airport but Elmdon was picked instead.
The airfield closed in 1958 and demand for more housing sparked plans in the 1960s for the ‘ Castle Bromwich Airfield Estate’ on the site.
Intended to house 22,000 people in 5,000 homes including 34 high- rise blocks, the scheme was eventually named Castle Vale and completed in 1969. Another well- known feature was the British Industries Fair exhibition hall, next to the airfield. Built in 1920, it was sold along with the airfield for housing and industrial development. The BIF was replaced by the National Exhibition Centre.
Castle Bromwich – now a small parish within Solihull borough – was once a far more extensive area that was probably centred on a medieval hamlet and dairy farms on the fertile floodplain of the river Tame.
The crossing point over the river was Bromford Bridge in neighbouring Bromford. This was previously the site of an ancient ford used since Roman times as part of a route to Coleshill, with a bridge first mentioned on the spot almost 1,000 years ago.
In 1894 the Bromford Bridge Racecourse opened. Purchased by Birmingham Racecourse Company in 1949, it closed in 1965 and became the site of the Bromford council estate.
As a reminder of its existence, many local streets have names with a racing theme.
As William Dargue’s A History of Birmingham Places and Placenames comments, some streets refer to famous racehorses: Hyperion Road to the 1933 Derby winner, Reynoldstown Road to the 1935 Grand National winner and Tipperary Close to Tipperary Tim, the 100- 1 1928 Grand National winner.
Fort Dunlop, now regarded as being in Erdington, was in the past part of Bromford.
At one time the world’s largest factory, it was built in 1916 to make tyres for the rapidly expanding motor industry.
The Grade II listed building is now home to a number of businesses including the Solihull News.
We have been given special permission to use these images by the Britain From Above collection.
Fort Dunlop Rubber Works and, left from top, Castle Bromwich Aerodrome, British Industries Fair Exhibition Hall and Castle Bromwich Station and the George H. Hughes Works off Edgemond Avenue and Castle Bromwich Airfield