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

Gosta Green

B7 - Grid reference SP076877

Gorsty: first record 1306; Gorsty Green 1673

Lower Gorstey Green 1758

Aston University campus around the junction of Aston Street and Woodcock Street is the site of this medieval green. This would have been common or open pasture and used as such because the underlying glacial drift was not very fertile arable land. The placename means 'gorse green' and derives from the Old English gorst green, the shrub gorse or furze being well adapted to such conditions and able to survive in quickly-draining gravelly or sandy soils. Gorse was used by the poor as a fuel and for thatching their houses. The spiny nature of the plant ensured that people only used it if they had no alternative.


William de Gorsty held the green in the early 1300s and probably took his name from the locality. The green was on the edge of the manor of Birmingham. The boundary was marked by Duke Street, now vanished, which ran parallel to and south of Woodcock Street. On a map of 1785 the north-west side of the built-up town had just yet reached the junction of Steelhouse Lane and Lichfield Street, the site of the present Children's Hospital. By 1795 building was taking place beyond Gosta Green and into the manor of Aston.

 

Ryder Street - the picture is looking east from the corner of Old Cross Street 1958. Reproduced with the kind permission of Keith Berry. Thanks to Albert Jordan for his information.
Ryder Street - the picture is looking east from the corner of Old Cross Street 1958. Reproduced with the kind permission of Keith Berry. Thanks to Albert Jordan for his information.

The green was used for public meetings in the 18th and 19th centuries: John Wesley preached here; the freed Chartists, Lovett & Collins in 1849 spoke here to a crowd of 30 000 people. And throughout the 19th century a regular market was held here.


Ryder Street was formerly known as The Butts. From the reign of Edward IV (1461-1483), archery practice was made compulsory on Sundays and feast days to guard against the threat of invasion. All men aged from 16 to 60 were required to own a longbow of their own height and every township had to set up archery butts or targets. The statute was revived by Henry VIII in 1541 for fear of French invasion, but fell into abeyance in the 17th century.

 

During the 19th century Gosta Green became a poor working-class neighbourhood. As a result of Joseph Chamberlain's Corporation Street development 1878, hundreds of slum dwellings were demolished and thousands of poor and working-class people were displaced from central Birmingham. Chamberlain's ambitious Improvement Act had made no provision for rehousing families who ended in up in cramped and insanitary conditions in areas such as this.

 

Gosta Green c1925. Image from the BirminghamLives website 'All Rights Reserved' used with the kind permission of Carl Chinn
Gosta Green c1925. Image from the BirminghamLives website 'All Rights Reserved' used with the kind permission of Carl Chinn

By 1885 just sixty-two houses had been built for those displaced and those by private enterprise. At last in 1889 the council built twenty-two three-bedroom houses in Ryder Street, the City's first council houses.

 

In 1891 eighty-one more were built in Lawrence Street, Old Cross Street and Duke Street. These streets were west of the north end Holt Street and now lie under the Aston University site.


Subsequently the quality of housing deteriorated badly and most of the area was demolished soon after World War 2. No housing was rebuilt and the area was zoned for light industry. A large part of the area was gradually taken over during the 20th century for educational use with only a few Victorian public houses surviving.

 

 

Take a look at Aston University.


The university at Gosta Green was granted its charter in 1966. It had originated in 1875 when a School of Metallurgy was set up by G H Kenrick in the Birmingham and Midland Institute, the BMI. In 1895 the Birmingham Municipal Technical School separated from the BMI and classes were taught in chemistry, physics, metallurgy and electrical engineering. From 1897 these took place in Suffolk Street in a large purpose-built red-brick and terracotta building designed in high-Victorian gothic, now demolished.


Planning for a new college building at Gosta Green began in 1933 but, because of the Second World War this was not opened until 1955 by the Queen. In 1961 the technology departments became the country's first College of Advanced Technology. 

 

The CAT was renamed the University of Aston in Birmingham in 1966, although the site was always within the manor of Birmingham and never was in Aston. From the late 1980s the site around the original building was developed into a campus with many other buildings added including Woodcock Street Baths which was taken over as the University's sports centre. In 1997 the university changed its name to Aston University.

 

 

Birmingham City University
This university originated as The City of Birmingham Polytechnic in 1971. As well as the College of Commerce, which was an amalgam of a number of different institutions: Birmingham College of Art, Birmingham School of Music, South Birmingham Technical College and North Birmingham Technical College, the School of Jewellery, Birmingham Conservatoire, Anstey College of Physical Education, Bordesley College of Education, City of Birmingham College of Education, Bournville College of Art, Birmingham and Solihull College of Nursing and Midwifery and the West Midlands School of Radiography. It is housed on other sites in the city including Perry Barr, Westbourne Road Edgbaston, Margaret Street in the City Centre, the Conservatoire in Paradise Circus, and the School of Acting and Technology Innovation Centre at Millennium Point. In 1992 polytechnics were permitted to adopt the title of university as long as they retained their distinctive mission and commitment of wider access to higher education. The title, the University of Central England in Birmingham UCE was approved in 1992. In 2007 the UCE became Birmingham City University and has since built a number of new buildings south of Gosta Green in a district now known as Eastside.


Aston Science Park was set up in 1982 along the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal Digbeth Branch as a joint venture by the Aston University and the City Council and continues to expand.


The name Aston Triangle, its apex at the junction of Jennens Road and James Watt Queensway, was coined in the 1990s to encompass the campuses of Aston University and the University of Central England.

 

Lower Gorstey Green is recorded in 1758 at the junction of AB Row and Belmont Row.

 

 

Click to enlarge the images in the Gosta Green Gallery below.

 

William Dargue 05.03.2009/ 20.11.2020