Vauxhall, Vauxhall Gardens
B7 - Grid reference SP089875
First record: c1750
Taken from the name of London district, these were Duddeston Hall pleasure gardens from c1740. The name is occasionally found as Vaux Hall. The gardens were laid out in the grounds of the hall which was set in rural surroundings overlooking the wooded Rea valley.
A variety of pursuits took place here including fairs, concerts, balloon ascents, fireworks, balls, bowling, and cock-fighting. In 1747 Aris's Gazette advertised:
This is to give Notice, - That there will be a main of Cocks fought at Duddeston Hall near Birmingham, betwixt the Gentlmen of Warwickshire and Worcestershire, for Four Guineas a Battle, and Forty Guineas the Main. To weigh on Monday, the 9th of June, and to fight the two following Days.
Above: Birmingham in 1839 by the SDUK from the Mapseeker website, use permitted for non-commercial purposes.
In 1818 Charles Pye wrote in his Description of Modern Birmingham:
These delightful gardens, which contain a very spacious bowling green, an orchestra, a great number of commodious gravel walks, on the borders of which are numerous lofty trees, of various kinds, together with parterres, where flowers of different sorts were accustomed to be seen, were, till of late years, resorted to by none but the genteeler sort of people, and from their retired situation, are every way capable of being made one of the most rural retreats for public amusement of any in the kingdom.
Times are now completely changed, it being turned into an alehouse, where persons of all descriptions may be accommodated with that or any other liquor, on which account the upper classes of the inhabitants have entirely absented themselves. By adopting this method, the editor is of opinion, that the present occupier is accumulating more money than any of his predecessors. - There are, during summer, fire works occasionally exhibited, and sometimes concerts of vocal and instrumental music.
With increasing urbanisation and industrialisation of the area the gardens were closed in 1850, and the land was sold to the Victoria Land Society for housing. The district was rapidly built up with dense working-class housing increasingly interspersed with industry.
Vauxhall House was a late Georgian/ early Victorian house which stood on Vauxhall Road almost opposite the present shopping centre. When built it must have stood very close to the entrance of Vauxhall Gardens.
At the end of the 19th century it was used as offices by the Board of Guardians of the Aston Poor Law Union. In 1911 Aston amalgamated with Birmingham and two years later, Vauxhall House became initially a Boys’ Home but was soon used as a working boys’ hostel. After they finished school or training, boys from the children’s cottage homes went to live in the Working Boys’ Hostel where they would be helped to find a job or an apprenticeshi
Left: Vauxhall House, 205 Vauxhall Road in 1963. Image 'All Rights Reserved' from the BirminghamLives website used here by courtesy of Dr Carl Chinn.
Just to the south of the present station, Vauxhall station was the original temporary terminus of the Grand Junction Railway from Birmingham to Liverpool in 1837.
It was Birmingham's first railway station, though any visible remains of the original building are doubtful. This railway was proposed immediately after the opening of Stephenson's Stockton-Darlington line 1825 but due to strong opposition from the canal lobby the bill was not passed until 1833 and the line not opened until 1837.
Initially George Stephenson was the surveyor, succeeded by engineer Joseph Locke. The Grand Junction was not only the first trunk line in the world but also the first long distance line (78 miles) to be all opened at the same time, previous routes having opened in stages.
The Royal Mail was first carried between Liverpool and Manchester 1830; mail was carried on the Grand Junction from 1837 and in 1838 the world's first mobile postal sorting began between Vauxhall and Liverpool.
Having arrived from Liverpool the previous day, the first public train pulled by the locomotive Wildfire left Vauxhall for Liverpool on 4 July 1837 at 7am reaching its destination four hours later. A report in the The Birmingham Journal of that same day read:
At 7 o'clock precisely in the morning, the bell rang, when the opening train, drawn by the 'Wildfire' engine, commenced moving. The train consisted of eight carriages, all of them First Class, and bearing the following names: 'Greyhound', 'Swallow', 'Liverpool & Birmingham Mail', 'Celerity', 'Umpire', 'Statesman', and 'Birmingham & Manchester Mail!'
The train started slowly; but emerging from the yard speedily burst off at a rapid rate. To those, who for the first time witnessed such a scene, it was peculiarly exciting, and the immense multitude, as far as the eye could reach, gave expression to their admiration by loud and long-continued huzzas, and the waving of hats and handkerchiefs.
Vauxhall was only a temporary station. The building of the Vauxhall Viaduct continued taking the line to Birmingham Station (now demolished) alongside the terminus of the London line at Curzon Street which still stands. The Vauxhall Viaduct is an engineering feat and carries the railway over twenty-eight arches across the River Rea into Curzon Street station. A second viaduct was built on top of it in 1852 to raise the line to the level of New Street Station.
A good length of the viaduct was opened to view after the demolition of the Co-op Dairy on Vauxhall Road in 2006, although that site is now occupied by the headquarters of the West Midlands Fire Authority. That building is due for demolition with the building of the HS2 London-Birmingham line due to open in 2030. Stretching across the open countryside of the Rea valley viaduct must have been a dramatic sight from Ashted when it was first built. One hundred and sixty years later, this important monument of the railway age is still very much in use and it is protected with a Grade II listing.
In the 19th century the crowded district of Vauxhall lay between the Grand Junction Birmingham-Liverpool Railway and the River Rea. The name Vauxhall has fallen out of use subsequent to the 1960s redevelopment of Nechells Green.
William Dargue 01.03.09/ 17.10.2012
For 19th-century Ordnance Survey maps of Birmingham go to British History Online.