Choke – Ten years of the re-emergence of Cheapside

On Thursday 29 I went up to The Edge, owned by the wonderful Friction Arts yesterday to pick up my computer lead which I’d left there on Sunday. The Edge is located on Cheapside in Digbeth, an area which really kick-started by love of derives and psychogeography, being a maze of industrial units, derelict warehouses street art, backstreet pubs and incongruous new-builds. Walking up there yesterday on a thrillingly wet and blustery day, I was able to look at the new build that is going to be its neighbour for the foreseeable future.

I first wrote about Digbeth formerly in 2011, when the Created in Birmingham blog were looking for guest contributors. I submitted an early draft of chapter 4 of The Wind, called ‘New Light Through Old Windows’, concentrating on a walk around Digbeth. The action is a photo journey, in this extract starting on where I was yesterday on Cheapside.

“To your right, you see glorious Cheapside. Factories and warehouses to let with flexible terms.They say that this area will eventually be regenerated, and this street, being closer to the main drag may be ripe for the pickings.”

Ripe for the pickings indeed. A later version of ‘New Light…’ described what happened to the area opposite The Edge. It was originally the location of Cleary’s, now located on Moseley Street, until the following happened…

” A fire of pallets in a skipyard on my left belched smoke into the air. Around me, factories and warehouses to let with flexible terms. I considered the plans made before the property crash in 2007, where the deserted streets around me would be transformed into flats and parks, with the Chris Rea River raised and now running through it. It didn’t happen, but some pubs had suffered a ghastly fate.

Up Cheapside stood what used to be the old Irish pub Cleary’s, and Cleary’s had been demolished and flattened to make way for the flats that were never built, and now, were never going to be built. A vacant area, a panelled fence around it, the patch where Cleary’s used to be strewn with weeds and buddliea, remnants of yet another stillborn idea.”

Over the years, the wild area opposite The Edge took on a life of its own, with feelers and tentacles wrapping its way around every available surface. And where that came, so did an unmonitored sense of play, with make-shift dens and skate ramps. Boards cordoning off the area were gleefully stripped off and used as canvasses for graffiti and tagging. This was all very nicely impromptu and free-wheeling, but of course it couldn’t last forever.

Building work started again last year around March/April and the area was properly fenced off. Work was completed quite quickly in getting the land flat. You could easily peep inside the building and see the old structures removal, look at the many different storeys amd see who had been walking around in there, making their marks with hieroglyphics and rubbish. Free space and shelter for those who needed it most, or those looking for adventure.

And there I was, looking at the new build that is being erected finally after all these years. All the plans are being put into place. Almost ten years in the planning. I was a bit perplexed by the new Volvic campaign, featuring a young chap called Owen, a Lord, all looking-down smiles and superority saying “I’m a jolly good break-dancer.” Maybe Lord Owen will be down The Fountain soon? His new local?

To the left of me was the emergence of the new developments. A purple and orange prison built out of Lego blocks, with green army netting draped across one of the frontages. A church bell rang out 12 times, and in that grey day, I half expected ‘Black Sabbath’ or ‘The Birmingham School of Business School’ to burst out at me. It wasn’t that though, instead, random industrial clanking and whirring bashed behind the imposing edifice, dwarfing me, dwarfing Al Noor Poultry Products, dwarfing The Edge.

It’s very high. And because you approach it from a low point walking up the hill, the whole area becomes oppressive and bleak. Around there, the road is narrow, unlike further up the hill where there is more breathing space between the buildings on both sides of the road. It will be interesting to see if the claustrophobic feel to the building is still there once its finally  up (will it ever be finally up?), but, being located quite in the industrial zone, luxury apartments may seem a strange bedfellow.

Particulary with the mix of all-night clubs such as Club PST, artist run spaces (The Lombard Method and the newly launched The Anchor Gallery incorporated inside Buddies’ cafe  (more of that anon), rehearsal rooms (Muthers) and more cafes, shisha lounges and still quite a few backstreet boozers unspoilt by gentrification. Plus a plethora of dogged warehouses, factory units  and the abbatoir of course, the smells of which greet the visitor like they were the Bisto kids to this promised land if you approach it via Hurst Street.

Maybe it will look different in the sun, but I certainly found it to appear oppressive and cramped. Time will tell obviously! Whatever, its another new chapter for blackboard Birmingham. The ever burgeon.



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