Hockley – a classic slum and its people

Hockley is an inner city area in Birmingham England, lying north west of the famous Jewellery Quarter. I was brought up there from 1946 after my birth in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, to when the area was demolished in the early 1970s. The Hockley I and my parents and grandparents knew was a classic Victorian slum. It is known nowadays, if at all, though the books of Kathleen Dyas whose autobiographical reminiscences published by Virago as THE GIRL FROM HOCKLEY were read on Radio 4, and rightly so. There is a separate section on Kathleen and her history and the parrallel life of my mother on this web site under Kathleen and Julia.

The other section of this section of the web site is about Hockley as a classic slum. The inner city Birmingham of the Victorian period has now vanished, with the only back to back houses now preserved by the National Trust. Kathleen Dyas reminiscences about that way of life with great effect. However while the slums looked much the same to outsiders, and the poverty was real with most people only just above the poverty line when she was born in 1903, within the culture of the slums there were real differences and these will be dealt with in this other section. My mother, born Julia Maria Lane, lived a mile away from Kathleen Dyas and had a different life completely. Although born in 1903 like Kathleen, she was born in Shropshire and the first of many sadnesses in her life was coming to Birmingham at all. Kathleen never knew any other life but that of Birmingham and its harsh industrial culture. My mother knew of a world where the snow was not grey. It was one of many differences she was to experience in a life which for both women centred on their families – and the grim world of the Jewellery Quarter and the slums of Hockley were the workers of the Quarter lived and struggled to survive.

The differences in their lives I will explore, but they were united by adversity, and relative poverty, and this is what I deal with in the section dedicated to them and their experiences. Remarkable women who both died at a good age despite what they had endured, they lived lives dictated by combating the adversity their poverty imposed on them. They never met, and walked different paths with adversity as their companion, but they were never poor in spirit. However the grinding way of life they were born into made their lives difficult – and why this is so is what the classic slum was all about both in limiting their lives and giving ways to rise above shortages that were real if never, fortunately, the total poverty of destitution.

Trevor Fisher

Charlie Chaplin, the Black Patch, and Me