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...

Solihull News - - NOSTALGIA -

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

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