William Dargue  A History of BIRMINGHAM Places & Placenames from A to Y


B5 - Grid reference SP080862

Duryzatehende: first record 1381

Deritend, Bradford Street, looking towards the City Centre. The bridge over the River Rea is just beyond the white lorry.
Deritend, Bradford Street, looking towards the City Centre. The bridge over the River Rea is just beyond the white lorry.

Occasionally spelled Derrington in the past, the origin and meaning of this name is uncertain. Celtic survivals in placenames near Birmingham are rare, but Deritend may be one such. River names often contain a Celtic element; the names of the rivers Cole and Tame are both Celtic, the former referring to hazel trees, the latter possibly to dark slow-flowing water. In Deritend the element der may derive from the Ancient British dwr meaning 'water'; with the addition of the Anglo-Saxon geat meaning 'gate'.

It is possible that the name derives is from the Old English, deor geat meaning 'deer gate'. In the Middle Ages the word 'deer' could also mean (small) animals in general, and the word 'gate' was used to describe a geographical feature such as a gap between hills.


However, the name is most likely of medieval origin and probably refers to one of the deer parks of the de Birmingham family. The de Birminghams had a deer park at Rotton Park, and this one on the eastern side of Birmingham along the west bank of the River Rea, in the district known as Digbeth. The park was in two parts. That part north of Digbeth High Street was known as Little Park or Over Park ie. Upper Park - it was the hill rising towards Camp Hill and Highgate and lay around Bradford Street and Cheapside. (See Birch Hill.) The southern part was Holme Park, a holm being low-lying land by a river, here the valley of the River Rea.


The Old Crown, the Custard Factory in the background
The Old Crown, the Custard Factory in the background

It is interesting to note the record of John Leland's visit to Birmingham in 1538. He either failed to hear or failed to remember the name correctly and tried to make sense of what he thought he had heard. This often happens with placenames, causing them to change from the original meaning. Leland wrote:


I cam thoroughe a praty strete or evar [before] I enteryd into Bremischam toune. This strete, as I remember, is caullyd Dyrtey [Deritend], in it dwelle smithes and cuttelers, and there is a brooke [River Rea] that devydithe this strete from Bremisham. Dyrtey is but an hamlet or membre longynge to [Aston] paroche therby and is clene seperated from Bremischam paroche.


A conjectural view of Deritend Chapel in the Middle Ages. Image scanned from R K Dent Old & New Birmingham 1880, downloaded from sally_parishmouse on flickr. For a direct link to Sally Lloyd’s Parishmouse website see Acknowledgements.
A conjectural view of Deritend Chapel in the Middle Ages. Image scanned from R K Dent Old & New Birmingham 1880, downloaded from sally_parishmouse on flickr. For a direct link to Sally Lloyd’s Parishmouse website see Acknowledgements.

The dirty end 


There is at the end of Dyrtey a propre chaple [St John's, no longer there] and mansion howse of timbar [The Old Crown], hard on the rype [bank] as the brooke cummithe down, and as I went thrwghe the forde by the bridge, the watar ran downe on the right hond, and a few miles lowere goithe into Tame rypa dextra [on the right bank]. This broke risethe, as some say, a 4. or 5. miles above Bremicham toward the Blake Hills [Clent Hills; actually it rises on Waseley Hill] in Worcestershire. This broke above Dyrtey brekethe into 2. armes that a litle benethe the bridge close agayne.


Certainly it was the 'dirty end'. There were the forges of the 'smithes and cuttelers', perhaps as many as a hundred in the Digbeth and Deritend area. In 1807 the English poet Robert Southey wrote of Birmingham in the guise of a visiting Spanish nobleman:


The noise of Birmingham is beyond description; the hammers seem never to be at rest. The filth is sickening: filthy as some of our own towns may be, their dirt is inoffensive; it lies in idle heaps, which annoy none but those who walk within the little reach of their effluvia. But here it is active and moving, a living principle of mischief, which fills the whole atmosphere and penetrates every where, spotting and staining every thing, and getting into the pores and nostrils. I feel as if my throat wanted sweeping like an English chimney.


(See Pype Hayes for more on Southey.)


The River Rea bridge. The river is flowing towards the photographer; Deritend is to the left of the picture, Digbeth to the right.
The River Rea bridge. The river is flowing towards the photographer; Deritend is to the left of the picture, Digbeth to the right.

Early industry


There were also tanyards by the River Rea. Leland would have found the area both smoky and smelly. Tanneries were usually close to a stream to ensure plentiful water for processing and for disposing of the waste, acids, dyes, hair, lime, proteins, oils, salt and tannins, all of which would have been left to wash away in the stream and contaminating water supplies for miles downstream.


The washed animal hides were soaked in a lime solution to loosen the hair and fat before being scraped clean with a blunt knife. The hide was again washed before being treated with tannins to preserve it, the tanning liquid having been prepared in leeching pits where oak bark would have been left in water for several weeks. The hides were then washed and treated with oil, cod liver, linseed oil or rapeseed oil to prevent the leather from drying too quickly. Most of these processes were very smelly.

Deritend is a district name and, as High Street Deritend, it is the name of the road east of the River Rea which runs north up to Digbeth and the Bull Ring, an important route to Birmingham market from Norman times.

Deritend lies east of the river and was from Anglo-Saxon times always part of the parish of Aston, although it was part of the manor of Birmingham. At a very early time in the history of Birmingham, the manorial lord must have staked his claim to both sides of the river bank.


St John the Baptist from William Hutton 1783 An History of Birmingham, a work in the public domain.
St John the Baptist from William Hutton 1783 An History of Birmingham, a work in the public domain.

The church of St John the Baptist


Because Deritenders had to travel several miles to their parish church at Aston, they were eventually granted the right to their own chapel of ease in 1380, and the right to elect a priest and manage their own affairs the following year. William Dugdale writing in 1656 in The Antiquities of Warwickshire set out the details of the deal by which the vicar of Aston would not lose any financial entitlements:


Inhabitants here and in Bordsley, on the other part; by the consent of Robert de Stretton then Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, the said Inhabitants of these two Hamlets , partly in respect of the danger by flouds , especially in Winter-time, and their great distance from the said Mother-Church of Aston; and partIy that their Children might not want Baptism, in case of necessity, there should be a Font in the said Chapell, and that they might have libertie to find at their own proper costs, a fitting Priest to celebrate divine Service therein, as also for Churching, of women.

Provided that the same Inhabitants should repaire to the said Mother-Church of Aston, on Easter-day, Christmasse-day, All-Hallown-day, and the days of the Dedication of the said Church, scil.
[scil. = scilicet (Latin) = namely] S. Peter & S. Paul, hapning next after the Feasts of the Nativity of S. John Baptist, and Purification of the blessed Virgin; then and there to render and pay to God and the said Parish Church, all their Tithes, great and small, with Oblations , in such sort as they had antientIy used, and were of right to do to the same Church, Which Priest serving in this Chapell, was by the before specified Agreement in case the Vicar of Aston for the time being, or his Parochiall Priest could not attend it, to visit the sicke of these two Hamlets , and to administer unto than, as also to confesse and absolve them, so as they should shrive themselves once a yeare to the said Vicar of Aston, or his Parochiall Priest, as of right they ought.


A conjectural view of Deritend Chapel after 1735 scanned from R K Dent Old & New Birmingham 1880 by sally_parishmouse on Flickr.
A conjectural view of Deritend Chapel after 1735 scanned from R K Dent Old & New Birmingham 1880 by sally_parishmouse on Flickr.

The church of St John the Baptist was built on Deritend High Street at Chapel House Street. In 1735 it was rebuilt in neo-classical style. The church was out of use by 1939 and demolished 1947; the Bull Ring Trading Estate now stands on the site.

A famous son of Deritend who worshipped at St John's was John Rogers. The son of a local lorimer, born c1500, he attended the Guild School, the Old Crown and went on to Cambridge University. Here he became a priest working with William Tyndale and Miles Coverdale translating the Bible into English. For his protestant views he was burnt at the stake at Smithfield on 4 February 1555, the first protestant martyr under Queen Mary.


On the wall of the Meeting Room of Aston church is the bust of John Rogers clothed in Victorian style. Paid for by public subscription in 1883, it was moved from its original home at St John's when the church closed.





The Old Crown from Toulmin Smith 1863 Memorials of Old Birmingham, a work in the public domain.
The Old Crown from Toulmin Smith 1863 Memorials of Old Birmingham, a work in the public domain.

Well worth a visit - the Old Crown.

Deritend's finest building is a remarkable survival. The Old Crown is recorded from 1368, though the large timber-framed building as seen now dates from the 16th-century. It was the Guild Hall of St John the Baptist during the 15th century and included the priest's house and a school for members' children. It was certainly the 'mansion house' described by John Leland on his travels in 1538. Queen Elizabeth I slept in the Gallery Chamber over the main entrance en route from Kenilworth Castle in 1575. The building was converted to private houses in the 17th century, narrowly escaped demolition by Birmingham Corporation in the 19th century and is now a public house.



The 19th century

Although neighbouring Digbeth on the Birmingham bank of the Rea was always a busy industrial area, even in the 19th century the countryside was not far away. An old lady quoted in the Birmingham Daily Gazette in 1866 recalled her childhood memories:


There used to be pleasure boats for rowing parties up the river under Deritend Bridge, then just finished and put up in place of the old pier bridge. Having passed Bradford Street and Cheapside bridges they arrived at the lovely sequestered and elegant gardens of Apollo House in Moseley Street.

This hotel and pleasure gardens on the banks of the River Rea eventually failed and the house subsequently became the residence of several well-to-do families including the noted Birmingham historian, William Hamper.

Although Deritend was administered separately from Birmingham, its position on a main route into the town encouraged residential, industrial and retail development here effectively making it a suburb of Birmingham.

The district was still a desirable one in 1750 on the edge of open countryside. The Birmingham historian, Toulmin Smith quotes an old man who remembered seeing deer feeding in the deer park here, the wall of which ran along the north side of Bradford Street. An advertisement in Aris's Gazette newspaper described a house for sale in Deritend:


To be Lett, And entered upon immediately, A very good new-built House, four Rooms on a Floor, with a Brew-house and Stable, and other conveniences, a very good Garden, walled in, and a Fish Pond in it, situate very pleasant by the Water Side, near the Bridge, in Birmingham.

But by 1810 buildings stretched along Bordesley High Street to the junction of the Coventry and Stratford roads. Bordesley's population, largely situated in Deritend, was over 18,000 by the time of the 1841 census. Encouraged by the cutting of the Warwick & Birmingham Canal in 1799, Deritend developed first on the south side of the High Street (See Cheapside) and then from the late 1790s on the north side. By the mid-1800s it was a maze of narrow streets and courts intermingled with the noise and pollution of industry. Hamilton's National Gazetteer of Great Britain & Ireland of 1868 glossed over the squalor and poverty in the district and only hinted at the impact of industry here:


Deritend . . . has recently vastly increased in population, and may be regarded as an integral part of the town, partaking in every respect in its trade and manufactures. The approach from the Coventry road, which forms the main street, is by a handsome stone bridge over the river Rea. The Warwick and Birmingham canal passes through the chapelry, and on its banks are numerous forges, foundries, mills, and other works.

It was not until 1838, when Birmingham was granted its Borough Charter, that the district became part of the town. Deritend was a mixture of small industry and poor quality housing until after World War 2, with the large slum clearances which were completed during the 1960s. Much remains industrial, and the houses which originally interspersed the workshops have long gone. Since the end of the 20th century the City Council has encouraged people to move back into the City Centre, and there has been a great deal of residential development, especially around Bradford Street.



The unfinished Duddeston Viaduct
The unfinished Duddeston Viaduct

Take a look. The 58 arches of the Bordesley Viaduct are a major landmark of Digbeth and Deritend. Built in 1852 by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, this Grade II Listed viaduct carries the Birmingham & Oxford Railway across the Rea Valley. The viaducts from Snow Hill Tunnel and from Moor Street Station join just before passing over Allison Street.

The Bordesley Viaduct is then joined by the Duddeston Viaduct which was built in 1846 to link the Oxford and London lines with the new station being built at New Street. However, when the Great Western Railway bought the Oxford line in 1848 and Snow Hill Station was opened, access to New Street was no longer needed and work on the almost completed Duddeston Viaduct was abandoned. Only a small part of the line near Bordesley Station was ever used and that as cattle sidings which still remain high above Upper Trinity Street. Some arches over roads have been demolished but most remains. The unfinished end of the viaduct can be seen in Montague Street.

Take a look. There was much rebuilding in Deritend and Digbeth during the 18th and again in the 19th century and there are a number of interesting Victorian survivals. Deritend Free Library opened on the same day in 1865 as the original Central Library. A small gothic-style building, it closed in 1949 and, although no longer a library, is the oldest library building in Birmingham. It has recently been renovated.



Take a look at the Devonshire Works.

This imposing building in red-brick and terracotta was built by Alfred Bird Junior in 1902 as a custard factory. Unused for some years after the 1960s, the Grade II Listed building, now known as the Custard Factory, was converted into an arts complex in the late 20th century.


The firm of Bird's originated in a small shop in Bell Street near the Bull Ring. Here in 1837 chemist Alfred Bird Senior invented a custard for his wife Elizabeth who was allergic to eggs. He was also the inventor of baking powder. This yeastless raising agent enabled British troops to eat fresh bread during the Crimean War 1852-1856. Bird's was the first company to use free calendars as advertising.

The company went from strength to strength especially under Alfred Bird Junior, introducing new products including Bird's Blancmange Powder c1870 and Bird's Jelly Crystal Powder in 1895. Continued expansion led to Alfred Junior building the Devonshire Works. In 1947 Bird's became part of General Foods and in 1963 the company left Birmingham.


See also Birmingham and Digbeth, and The Bull Ring; see also The Irish Quarter.


Deritend Gallery


William Dargue 03.11.2008/ 01.08.2010



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