Walk 141: Digbeth (Birmingham) Art Trail: It’s a (Peaky) Blinder!

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 3.7 miles (6 km)

Time to walk: This is a ramble so you can take as long as you like as there’s lots of cafes, art galleries etc to explore. It took us just over 2 hours, without a coffee stop

Difficulty: Easy & all on flat, hard surfaces

Parking: We were staying in Birmingham, but probably the closest public car parks are those near the Bullring in Birmingham

Public toilets: Cafe

Map of the route:

This is a fascinating walk & whilst we’re giving you a map, it’s a walk where we’d just ask you to ‘explore’. Also, we cannot guarantee that all of the murals you see in this walk will still be there as ‘street art’ doesn’t last forever. Indeed we came to see the huge 50 foot ‘Peaky Blinders’ mural below, but it had already gone…

If you’re fans of Peaky Blinders then this is where it really all happened. You’re not going to see the locations from the television series as Digbeth is where the real ‘Peaky Blinders’ used to roam the streets & ply their trade. However…it is an area where you feel completely safe in daytime, but could be quite ‘dangerous’ after dark 😉

The name Digbeth is derived from “dyke path”. However, Digbeth is also believed to have originally been called ‘Duck’s bath’ in reflection of the water supply in the area. It has also been suggested that it comes from “dragon’s breath”, referring to air pollution during the industrial revolution

The area around Digbeth & Deritend was the first centre of industry in Birmingham & became one of the most heavily industrialised areas in the town. The amount of manufacturing in Digbeth made it of national importance. Industry was attracted to the area as a result of the supply of water from the River Rea & from the natural springs in the region. Digbeth was accessed by the Grand Union Canal & the Digbeth Branch Canal in the 18th & early 19th centuries

Railways also arrived in Digbeth in the 19th century. The mainline passed through Digbeth via a large railway viaduct which we’ll see on this walk. Industry that settled in Digbeth included Typhoo Tea & Birds Custard 

Digbeth has very close links with the Irish community of Birmingham & is known locally as the city’s ‘Irish Quarter’. The traditional St Patrick’s Day parade is held in & around the area, usually attracting crowds at times estimated to be 100,000 strong, making it the largest in the country

Shall we have a stroll & see what it has to offer then?

Let’s Walk!

1. Our walk starts right in the centre of Birmingham outside a railway station. However, this isn’t the station that’s recently been redeveloped called New Street…this is the beautiful, old, traditional station called Moor Street

Today’s Moor Street station is a combination of the original station, opened in 1909 by the Great Western Railway as a terminus for local trains, & a newer Moor Street station with through platforms, a short distance from the original, which opened in 1987, replacing the original. The two were combined into one station in 2002, when the original was reopened & restored, & the newer station rebuilt in matching style

The original station was not demolished, but was mothballed & allowed to deteriorate. By the late 1990s, the former platforms were overgrown & dilapidated, & cracks in the wall were visible from the road side, including some caused by the impact of a runaway bus. In March 1988 the “Moor Street Station Historical Society” was formed to “Save Our Station”. Dr Bernard Juby, a medical practitioner from nearby Yardley, became its Chairman & immediately set about campaigning for the station & its warehousing to be listed. Large teams of volunteers met each weekend to clean & preserve the various building

The existing artifacts were carefully renovated, stored & subsequently re-used when the station reopened to the public. As a result of their efforts the old station became Grade II listed in 1998

2. Ready to go? Coming out of the station, turn left. Across the road’s the Bullring Centre

The Bullring, when combined with Grand Central, to which it is connected via a link bridge, is the UK’s largest city centre based shopping centre & has been an important feature of Birmingham since the Middle Ages, when its market was first held

3. Walk down the hill, passing the futuristic Selfridges

There’s some information boards on the wall on the left that tell you you’re now standing in the heart of historic Birmingham

4. At the bottom of the hill, turn left & pass under the railway bridge. At the end turn right into Shaw’s Passage along the railway arches…

The arches are full of interesting characters & businesses so don’t be afraid to wander round. Look at the ‘robot’…

…but don’t forget to peek through the bars of Digbeth Community Garden. Today it was locked & looked quite rundown, but let’s hope this is temporary

What it does do though is give us an idea of the amazing art we’re going to  see on this walk…who’s that peeping over the fence. What we can’t portray on this site is the sheer size of some of these paintings

5. Turn left into Allison Street…

Mrs WWAW recommends the cafe on the left. At the end turn right into Bordesley Street. You can tell that Digbeth used to be a major industrial area

6. Stop on the corner with Meriden Street to see your first major mural. Surely you can’t miss it…What was funny was we were stood on the kerb waiting to take a photo & there was a stream of cars passing. One stopped as he thought we wanted to cross the road & we had an amusing chat about how people weren’t normally that polite!

Keep straight ahead & enter the open air car park on the left. Looks slightly dodgy doesn’t it, but occasionally you need to be brave to walk our walks…

There’s some great art in here so just spend some time wandering around & taking it all in…

The “spider” type mural is actually quite famous & is by a local female Birmingham Artist known as Anatomic. We’ll see more of her work on this walk

7. Come back out of the car park & turn left, continuing along Bordesley Street. On the right side of the road’s ‘The Ladbrooke Hotel’

The building that the hotel occupies is obviously an old industrial property, but sadly we can’t trace any of the history of it

Bordesley Street’s full of big old buildings, including the ones on the left of the road. Many have references to the automobile industry

8. Turn right into Trent Street & walk towards the railway arches…

There’s another car park on the right with graffiti if you fancy exploring it, but pass underneath the arch, noting the paintings on the brickwork. Turn first left into the short Coventry Street

9. Here was one of our favourite murals, mainly because we love Peter Sellers & ‘The Pink Panther’ films…

On the left though, just behind the bins was another superb painting, this time by the artist #newso. Whenever a new painting appears in Digbeth & no-one claims responsibility for it, everyone thinks that Banksy has struck!

10. Turn left into Milk Street & walk under the arches once more…

…& admire the hypnotic image on the business gates straight ahead

There’s another well-known mural near the bridge that seems to be one of the permanent ones…

11. After roughly 100 yards, turn right into Little Ann Street & walk to the pub at the end of the road called ‘The Ruin’

Click on the link on the pub’s name above which will give you a great history & it appears that there’s been licensed premises here since 1785

Have a look at the fabulous mural on the wall of the pub drawn by Andrew Mills, also known as #title…

This mural lists 12 of Digbeth’s food & drink venues, known as ‘The Digbeth Dozen’

12. Turn right into Floodgate Street…

There’s plenty more art to be enjoyed along here until you come to Moore’s Row on the right…

13. Turn briefly right up Moore’s Road to look at the mural on the corner…

Now walk back to Floodgate Street. The large building ahead’s the old Bird’s Custard Factory which we’ll visit shortly

14. Continue along Floodgate Street to the corner with the High Street where you’ll find a fantastic memorial mural to JFK

The mosaic was erected on St Chad’s Circus outside the City’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in July 1968. When the road system was redeveloped in 2007 the mosaic was demolished. Key features, including the heads of some of the main figures, were retrieved & retained

In 2012 it was re-created using new materials. The new mosaic was erected here in January 2013, in reworked form, including the controversial addition of a new face, that of former Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Mike Nangle, the city’s first Irish Lord Mayor

Featured alongside Kennedy in the mosaic are his brother Teddy, the seal of the President of the US, Martin Luther King, American policemen & other figures – what a fabulous piece of art!

15. It’s car park time again, so turn left along the High Street &, after 50 yards enter the car park on the left…

There is an absolute extravaganza of graffiti art in the car park & you could easily spend half a day wandering around it

The thing that we loved most though was the tie on part of the Custard Factory…

16. It’s time to enter the Custard Factory surrounds, so come back out of the car park turn left & then first left again into the narrow Gibb Street. Beware though as there be giants here waiting for you…

This is the Green Man, a 40 foot high sculpture, a huge structure made from vegetation & stone. Walk into the Custard factory which has an excellent art gallery that’s free to wander around

The Custard Factory complex is set in fifteen acres of factory buildings, originally constructed by Sir Alfred Frederick Bird, the son of Alfred Bird, the inventor of egg-free custard. After the Birds company moved to Banbury in 1964, the buildings were redeveloped from 1992, in two initial phases, creating 145 units for artists, designers & communicators

The first phase created around 300 jobs, half of which were previously unemployed. By the completion of the project, it’s anticipated that a total of 1,000 jobs will be created

Phase one consisted of the refurbishment of Scott House which is now home to a community of hundreds of media companies, artists & small creative enterprises. A 220 seat theatre was also incorporated , inspired by the Custard Factory Theatrical Company

Phase two, originally named ‘The Greenhouse’, but now ‘Gibb Square’, was completed opposite the Custard Factory in 2002. It focuses on new media & media businesses. It includes a hundred studio/offices, a ring of poolside shops, galleries & restaurants standing next to a large water feature

17. Explore the nooks & crannies as there’s always something to be found here. We loved the ‘cat & mouse’ with the mouse hiding in the doorway…

18. Walk towards the railway arches & through them back to Floodgate Street. However…we bet this 20 yard walk will probably take you half an hour as there’s so much excellent art in all the nooks & crannies. There’s too many to put into the this walk, so you’re just going to have to go & find them for yourselves!

Here’s a selection of our favourites…

19. Back out on Floodgate Street, turn right & walk past ‘The Ruin’ once more…

There was one piece of art that made us both go “ahah” given the history of where we’ve just visited

And then literally 10 yards away are the robots – you see what a fantastic eclectic area Digbeth is…

20. At the end, turn right into Fazeley Street & then immediately right again into Heath Mill Lane…

Over the road there’s a garage that has some great automobile art on its walls

21. It feels you’re walking round the block now & indeed you are, so turn first left up Alcock Street, turning right into Hack Street & passing under another railway arch…

On the left’s one of the most famous pieces of graffiti in Digbeth, called ‘Birmingham Boy with Glasses’ by Golden Boy

And next door’s two massive pieces

22. Hack Street turns into Bromley Street which, in turn, descends back to Heath Mill Lane one more. At the junction turn left & pass the “Drop Shot” – you can’t exactly miss it

Ready for another car park? This one’s quite special as it’s The Custard Factory car park & the walls of both sides of the entrance are made from crushed cars!!

23. The car park’s got some more huge pieces, but the thing that was catching everyone’s eye was the huge canvas covering the far wall. You can see the size by the contrast with the cars at the bottom of the photo…

Come back out & continue for a short distance along Heath Mill Lane passing ‘Birdies Bar’ described as a tropical bar serving cocktails amongst palm trees & a beach!

24. Take the first left up Lower Trinity Street…

Once again there’s some stunning pieces of art up this hill, starting with this incredible portrait of Muhammed Ali by French artist Akse

Plus next door’s a massive piece created by the “Made You Look” Collective of artists

25. As you move up the hill there’s numerous pieces of art on the wall. We can’t emphasise how large some of these are..

‘Flash ahaaaaa……Saviour of the Universe’!! #Ming

26. Pass under the arch & you’ll find another set of amazing graffiti on the corner – it literally is everywhere you look

27. Turn right onto Adderley Street & pass under the arches once more…

Do you think that Phil Mitchell is lurking somewhere in the shadows around here?

28. On the corner of the High Street’s ‘The Rainbow’ pub. The pub is where the first ‘peaky blinders’ attack happened in 1890

Turn right onto the High Street which we’re going to follow all the way back to the Bullring

So that’s it!

A stroll around the art capital of Birmingham that we never knew existed & a route we’d walk about once a year to see what’s changed. The Custard Factory’s also a place you have to spend some time exploring as there’s always something going on

It’s great so…

Go Walk!