“Decent housing for decent people”

The Icknield Port Loop of the Birmingham Canal Navigations is one of those swathes of dereliction, just outside of Birmingham city centre, that shouldn't really exist anymore. It's a long, inaccessible ribbon of water, a better home to fauna and flora than it ever was for humans. It was part of James Brindley's original canal, …

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That particular articulation of social relations which we are at the moment naming as… Doulton Brook

A break from the Irish this week. I've been mostly reading Doreen Massey this week - if you're not familiar with her she's an urban geographer of major importance, who died earlier in the year (2016 striking again). She was a radical, a feminist, an unorthodox Marxist, and one of the best at problematising what …

Birmingham’s furthest outpost: Michel de Certeau and the strategies of Elan Village’s builders

 I was very fortunate recently to get to camp in one of the most beautiful spots in the country, in the Elan Valley, Powys. It's among the most sparsely-populated parts of the UK, falling within what John Henry Cliffe described as 'that great desert of Wales' as far back as 1860. Despite that descriptor, it's far from …

Naming spaces: the Kingsbridge passageways

Somewhere out there, there's a project waiting to be written on modern seasonal transhumance - the annual trek of the scattered to the lands of their fathers during the Christmas holiday, like Joseph returning to Bethlehem. In both my and OH's cases though, our kin have left the homelands themselves for the South-West, and so it's at this time …

“Slums” of the Black Country: Anvil Yard, Cradley Heath

Not far from the Lye Waste lies the ancient manor of Cradley. At the first talk I gave at Wolverhampton Art Gallery in the summer, somebody mentioned to me that I ought to check out Anvil Yard. It turns out, the history of this little yard has already been comprehensively written on the excellent Cradley Links site, so …

“Slums” of the Black Country: Gold’s Hill, West Bromwich

The Black Country is constructed not just upon topography but upon geology. Mines can only be built where there's something to mine; other sorts of works require proximity to those materials; infrastructure is built around, and to meet the demands of, the geology. The communities that build up around such environments therefore tend to be ad hoc, at the …

“Slums” of the Black Country: Darlaston

I've ummed and aahed a bit about what to write about the Post's report on Darlaston. It's really the same old story: surface drainage, evils, abomination, bubbling and seething, stagnant, over-flowing, the cholera, back courts, and so on; there's not a lot to add compared to previous outrages at Oldbury or Bilston. Despite the fact that the journalist's …

“Slums” of the Black Country: Eel Street, Oldbury

The Post's next community is one I'm loathe to try and explain in detail. Oldbury was infamous as one of the most polluted towns in the country - so much so that Dr Janet Sullivan recently completed a top-notch PhD thesis on the environmental and biological costs of industrialisation in the town. For a quick overview of …

“Slums” of the Black Country: The Mambles, Dudley

A young girl in the Flood Street area of Dudley, 1954. Image from Alamy (click for link to buy)

I've had a wonderful time speaking on my research at Wolverhampton Art Gallery and Archives recently - I've met tons of new people, heard anecdotes and stories and generally had a ball. I was discussing Carribee Island, a site of extremely poor housing, poverty and job insecurity, criminality (perceived, at least) and a very dense …