Hidden places

On Saturday we headed for the Curzon Street Station building in Birmingham to see the Hidden Spaces exhibition, which we’d seen advertised on tv and which looked fascinating.

It was.

There were photos of some of Birmingham’s most amazing forgotten corners: abandoned buildings, secret passages, follies; ranging in size from a signal box (at New Street Station) to the Grand Hotel, and even the vast network of underground tunnels used by BT as a telephone exchange during the Cold War. Apparently nobody knows their full extent to this day.

My own favourites were probably the glass corridor in the Council House, and the inside of Perrott’s Folly, a strange structure in Edgbaston which was almost certainly the inspiration, together with the nearby waterworks tower, for Tolkien’s The Two Towers. Unlike the rather rugged exterior, the inside was pure Gothic fantasy and rather pretty, underneath the peeling plaster.

Sadly the exhibition was only on for a week and yesterday was the last day, but if it’s ever repeated I can thoroughly recommend catching it as it’s an amazing insight into the places Birmingham’s population walk or drive past on a daily basis, but never get to see. An added bonus was getting inside Curzon Street Station itself, an impressive Grade I listed edifice built in the 1830s when the railway first came to the city. Apparently, it’s the oldest remaining example of “monumental railway architecture” (whatever that means) in the world. And just as impressive inside as out. It’s been empty and shut-up for years, but when (if) the HS2 rail project ever makes it as far as Birmingham, it will be the new terminus. The local authority already seem to have started tarting up the area in readiness, with a smart new park (Eastside City Park) on the doorstep. For the sake of the building, which deserves better, I hope they keep the momentum going.  The area felt safer and livelier than it has for years, and the exhibition was pulling in the crowds.