One of the things I liked most about our Birmingham getaway was the visit to the “Back to Backs”. This tourist attraction is not very well known and surprisingly is one of the best things to do in Birmingham right now.
Located in the city’s Chinatown, Birmingham Back to Backs is a mixture of a living museum, a costumbrista centre and an urban expedition.
A living museum of common people
This is a set of three consecutive houses that share an interior courtyard with each other. These buildings were built in the nineteenth century and tell you how families lived in any neighborhood of the city during that time.
Visiting the Back to Backs seems to me tremendously interesting, since during my travels I always learn a lot about how the illustrious characters of each era lived as kings, painters or writers… however, ordinary people almost never appear in the pages of history, and this museum is undoubtedly a great exception.
Before I get into it with the different things we saw during the visit, let’s talk a little bit about logistics, as it’s a bit special.
This living museum has a strict quota of daily visits which ensures that it is kept in perfect condition and lasts many centuries longer. So if you want to visit it, you have to send an email to make a reservation.
It is not possible to buy the ticket at the moment if you do not make the previous reservation so make sure you do not forget this important detail.
A museum with a candy store
The visit begins at the corner candy store, which also dates back to the 19th century and sells the most traditional sweets of that time. The person who attends the place is very nice and we enjoyed chatting with her.
We asked him what candy or sweet is the best-selling and fun told us that some Custard jelly beans (custard) are a hit that even locals buy.
For those who don’t want to feast on sugar, there’s also a selection of sugar-free candies and sweets, so while you wait for the tour to start, you can go for a stroll around the picturesque shop.
What you’ll see at the Back to Backs Museum
Once the start time arrives, the guide will punctually pick up the group at the store. We were touched by Jennifer, a lady of London origin who had lived in Birmingham for many years.
Joking and jovial, the guide began the visit by taking us to the oldest apartment of all those in the Birmingham Back to Backs houses, a small two-room flat where there was no running water or electricity.
We are in the middle of the 19th century and families have little space. It is common to have many children who sleep together in a bed and are illuminated with candles made from the fat of the animals they consume in the house, which gives off a stinking aroma that coupled with the lack of hygiene, should be a good “eau de toilette”.
After going up some very steep stairs, you will change apartments and also the year.
As if it were a journey through time, you appear a few years later, in the middle of the industrial revolution. Birmingham becomes an important centre for the industry and they start manufacturing a lot of things. The houses already have artificial light and the furniture is a little more elaborate.
It is striking and interesting to learn more about these people from Birmingham, because it is not only a staging for the museum: there are documents and records that show that they really existed and many of the objects they present to us today were inside the houses when the renovations began.
I think it’s one of the museums where we took the most photographs and it’s that everything around us was super interesting.
Without a doubt, Birmingham Back to Backs is an attraction that if you pass through Birmingham you should not miss.
Phone: +44 01216667671
Hours: The candy store is open from 10.30 to 5. The museum opens only when you book and they tell you the time.
Location: 55-63 Hurst Street/50-54 Inge Street