Memories : Birmingham, 1972

Erdington High Street, Birmingahm

We’re on Erdington High Street in Birmingham. It’s a grey day in the West Midlands, and it’s in the middle of October 1972. What we have is a brilliant snapshot of life in the early 1970s – bleak, grey and dank. Or is it? Contrary to popular opinion, times are good. The economy is on the up as we enjoy what are known as the Barber Boom years, with high wage rises to counter rising inflation. In Birmingham 1972, people are spending and, as can be seen from the shops in the background, consumers have plenty of places to save as well as spend.

It’s a stone’s throw from central Birmingham, but is effectively a village in its own right, with its own bustling High Street, manor house and a number of moated properties. It’s interesting that the high street shops are mainly locally owned. Yes, we have the Nationwide and Woolwich Building Societies, and the inevitable branch of Woolworth’s is present and correct, but Decorwall, Bellman’s and Wine Ways are probably only familiar to those who live in and around Birmingham.

In terms of what are listening to right now, the Top 40 is a bit of a mixed bag. Number one at the moment is Lieutenant Pigeon’s jolly Mouldy Old Dough with Donna by 10CC, How Can I Be Sure by David Cassidy and Wig-Wam-Bam by The Sweet crackling from your Pye radio in the corner of your living room. Big news on the box is that the light channel, sorry ITV, has just started a new soap opera called Emmerdale Farm to offer a more rural Yorkshire take on the traditional kitchen sink drama that is Coronation Street. Within months, we’ll all be saying, ‘nayyyyy, Mister Wilks’.

So, tell us about the cars

Considering we’re in Birmingham 1972, a time of fevered domestic car buying, and it’s the home of The ‘Orstin, it’s interesting to see how few BMC and BLMC cars are on show. On this side of the road, from the nearest to the camera, we have a Mini, a Triumph 2500 and a Triumph Vitesse. On the other side of the road there’s a Triumph Herald, Triumph Toledo, Austin Cambridge, Hillman Hunter, a Mini and a Ford Escort Mk1.

Of the cars we can see, most are reasonably new, and a surprising number of them were built in Coventry and not Birmingham. Interesting indeed, and clearly this is a reasonably prosperous area of Birmingham – although it’s a million miles away from the glamorous Brum depicted in the fantabulous video that we exclusively share on AROnline – Telly Savalas Looks at Birmingham (do click on that – and then come back!)

By way of contrast, we’ve embedded the Google Streetview version of this photo, showing how things have changed since Birmingham 1972 and Birmingham today. Although the buildings remain very much as they did, the shops are very, very different now, reflecting changing consumer habits over the years. Where once we had Woolworth’s (with its sweet counter, music department and general household supplies), we now have B&M Bargains (with sweet trough, music bins, and odds ‘n’ sods for the home). How times have changed…

Here’s how it looks now

If you enjoyed this, let us know in the comments and, if you have any pictures you’d like featuring, drop me a line via any of the links below.

Thanks to Mike Humble for the photograph

Keith Adams
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  1. What is the badge on the radiator grille of the Triumph 2500? It looks like a cropped Union Flag. Some ‘right wing’ group? As for today’s Bet Fred occupying both of what were the Woolwich and the Wine Ways – how the gambling industry has entered everyday Britain. I blame the introduction of Premium Bonds!

    • I think b and m are just a modern day woolworths, which is quite ironic as we were told when it crashed that it was old hat by the so called retail experts! Funny that we have quite a few chains in that marketplace. I have to say that the betfred is signs of the current high street but back in the 70s it would have been a local turf accountant hiding off the back street with the windows all covered over!

  2. Looking at the recent Google Streetview of Erdington, who’d have thought in 1972 that nearly every car in Bitmingham would be imported. Back then, due to so many people in the city working in the motor industry, most people bought British and also staff employed by British Leyland would be entitled to a discount on a new car. Probably explains why Ford, whose products were soaring in popularity across other parts of the country, barely gets a look in.

  3. Full of nostalgia. Although the injection system was pressure critical ( IIRC it required a delivery pressure of 106 lbs/ ) and any significant drop caused poor cold starting and/or misfires, I still look back on the three 2.5 PIs I had in the 1970s as some of the best driving cars I had , with a particularly memorable soundtrack

  4. I’d forgotten that in the UK one is allowed to park facing the wrong way. We get ticketed for that in Canada.

  5. A grey, damp overcast day. How very British!

    I was ten years old in October 1972 and living not far away in Wolverhampton, so this picture takes me right back to my childhood. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

    PS. Peter S Badenoch, I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to park facing the wrong way in to UK too, but I’ve never heard of anyone getting done for it.

    • I’m sure an insurance assessor once told me that parking facing the “wrong” direction was potential grounds for having a claim disallowed.

      • I’ve always thought the only requirement (in the UK) was to park facing the ‘right way’ on an unlit road at night. Otherwise, the reflectors on your vehicle could confuse other traffic.

  6. Looking at the map, Longbridge is a reasonable distance from Erdington, so probably few “Austin” workers lived locally. Indeed with the M6 and A45, it would be a fairly easy commute for any Triumph workers in Canley!

    • The M6 was finally completed in 1972, by passing Birmingham, and seeing the opening of the legendary Spaghetti junction and the elevated motorway through Birmingham’s eastern suburbs.

  7. I think the ‘Austin Cambridge’ is actually the Riley or MG variant by the tail fins.

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