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Holidays: Eye'll be back.


WANTED! Glass eyes. And lots of 'em. That's the bizarre plea from the National Trust as they prepare Birmingham's old back-to-back houses for opening as a hot tourist attraction this summer.

Trust bosses in the Midlands want the carefully restored 19th century courtyard of working class homes in Brum's Inge Street to be as realistic as possible.

And it's proving to be a real eye-opener.

Each of the homes will house a trade typical of the time. There'll be a tailor, a watch-maker, a traditional sweet shop and ... a glass eye maker.

'Birmingham was the city of 1,000 trades,' says National Trust Communications Officer Claire Sharratt. 'And we want to depict that in the back-to-backs.

'We enlisted the aid of city genealogist Doreen Hopwood to check the old records so that the trades represented in the houses would be authentic.

'Where possible they're the actual trades that were once carried out in the houses. Tailor George Saunders, for example, only left Inge Street in 2001.

'The Levy family were watch-makers back in the 1840s and the Mitchells carried out all manner of trades but were unemployed in the depression of the 1930s.

'Where we need help is with the glass eyes, which were made by the Oldfield family. We don't have enough of them and we're hoping that Sunday Mercury readers can help us.'

The back-to-backs, close to Birmingham's Hippodrome Theatre, are on course for opening to the public on Friday July 23, when they'll be the focus of national attention.

The city's last surviving court of back to back housing has been fully restored by a partnership between the Birmingham Conservation Trust and the National Trust.

Visiting will be by guided tour only and as capacity is limited within their relatively cramped conditions, demand is expected to be high and early advance booking is advised.

Thousands of houses like these were built, literally back to back, around courtyards, for the rapidly increasing population of Britain's expanding industrial towns.

The story of the site is told through the experiences of the people who lived and worked there.

Visitors move through four different periods, from 1840 to 1977, and each interior reflects the varied cultures, religions and professions of the families who made their homes there.

For latest information, or to book a visit, ring the Infoline on 0121 753 7757. Admission by timed ticket will be priced pounds 3.80 (adult), pounds 1.90 (child) and pounds 9.50 (family of two adults and three children).

National Trust members, of course, go free. If you're not a member, and you join when you visit the back-to-backs, your admission charge will be refunded.

o Anyone with an eye to helping the project should contact the National Trust's Birmingham property manager, Simon Cleaver, on 07833 171650. Say you saw it in the Sunday Mercury.



THE EYES HAVE IT: the National Trust has launched an appeal for glass eyes for the glass eye maker in its restored 19th century courtyard of old trades
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Feb 29, 2004
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