Gentile and pastoral, the site of Summer Row in the 15th Century was a beautiful scene of fields, woods and ponds. It was part of the Colmore family estate which stretched from St Philips Cathedral down a sweeping valley up to a hill top now known as the Jewellery Quarter. The tranquil past of the Summer Row area is long forgotten, only place names remain to highlight its legacy. Lionel Street is named after a member of the Colmore family and was built shortly after the 18th century. In the same period, New Road, the former name of Summer-row was established. 400 years later, maps and business directories from the late 1800’s show the Summer Row area to be very typical of inner city Birmingham with a maze of congested canal warehouses, factories and over populated courts. The historic factors that transformed Birmingham from an ordinary provincial town into a mighty industrial giant (canals and metal) can be found in the Summer Row area.
Running alongside summer row is Farmers Locks, or locally known as ‘Old Thirteen’, a flight of 13 locks on the Birmingham to Fazeley canal, taking the canal down 81 feet/25m to the old science museum at Newhall Street. In 1840-s, it is said nearly 70 steam engines and over 120 wharfs/works lined the banks of the canals; the vital transport route used to ship in millions of tonnes of metal to be bashed and worked into a thousand products. Brummie entrepreneurs made fortunes from establishing metal and brass foundries along Summer Row, Lionel Street, Fleet Street and Charlotte Street.
With Summer Row’s future based around 24 hour New York living culture, there will be a return to all night activity in the area. A glimpse into the past shows the area never fell silent as the relentless flotilla of boats and barges navigated the canals by daylight and through the night by gas light. Rusty gas lamps can still be spotted along this stretch of canal to this day. Walking beneath the bridge arches you can imagine the horses scraping the cobbles, straining to pull the boats into the centre of Birmingham.
Not all the business on Summer Row depended on brass and metal bashing. Records reveal a variety of people plying their wares. The site of the Shakespeare Pub on Lionel Street was home, aptly enough, to a ‘coopery’, an old English term for a barrel maker. Firms like McCallum & Hodson became wealthy manufacturing Papier Mache for different purposes, Yonwin Charles of 46 Summer Row made his money from producing surgical instruments and Mr Charles Pope of 35 Summer Row found his niche as a fried fish dealer!
If it could be made bought and sold you’d find it around Summer Row whether it was pen nibs, bedsteads or steel toys; the areas industrial diversity reflected in a nutshell Birmingham’s reputation as the workshop of the world.
The history books give a glimpse of another side to the area also in keeping with other grand old Brummie traditions – pubs and drinking. Street corners and back alleys housed simple and unpretentious pubs, focal points for factory workers and friends to relax and enjoy themselves. Birmingham’s industrial prowess was matched its pub network with over 1,500 in the centre alone; majority of brewing their own ale. In the 19th Century, life for the working class man involved little walking as the factory, pub and home stood side by side. Summer Row had two pubs within a small stroll of each other, the White Swan and the Rose & Crown. Turn the corner into Fleet Street and you had the welcoming site of the Green Man Inn and the Chapel Inn. Throughout the years the same sites along Summerrow have housed pubs, long after the White Swan disappeared, the site housed Birmingham’s first wine bar, Willie’s.
It is no coincidence that the developers of Summerrow were in fact the same company behind Willie’s and their return to the area marks an exciting new era of operation for the company. In the late 50’s and early 60’s young hipsters would twist the night away at the Las Vegas Coffee bar on the Row as well. Further along the row the site of the Rose & Crown will be the lounge bar Apres. So the regeneration of Summer Row will rekindle its use as a place to work, eat, drink and dance.
For some, the mere thought of braving the Brummie beer hoards every weekend sends a ripple through their martini. Crowded bars, increased levels of crime in busy areas and drunken yobs are deterring the more discerning drinker from socialising in the city. But the scene is set to change; Summer Row is due to launch at the beginning of November and that means no more messing with the masses on when you’re out in Birmingham.
Summer Row is a pioneering new social area. This hip oasis echoes the stylish transformation of the second city and is testament to the changing face of the UK bar and restaurant scene. Sitting on the edge of the Jewellery Quarter, Summer Row will encapsulate the creative reputation of its surrounding area with its cutting edge design and abundant character. Inspired by the unique ambience of New York, the scheme has embarked on a journey to innovate the way we eat, drink, work and wind down.
‘It will be a step away from other mainstream developments around Birmingham, says development Director Keith Williams. It won’t have loads of big brands or hoards of people. It’s more select. We wanted to create a New York-style community, something hip but understated which would still put this corner of Birmingham firmly on the map.’
The £10million leisure and lifestyle scheme is being developed in the city centre by Town & Country Inns Plc, a Birmingham based company that have operated venues in the city for over twenty years. The company has a knack for spotting the potential of new social areas in Birmingham; they were one of the first operators to establish themselves successfully on Broad Street with the venue Stoodi Bakers over ten years ago and have played an integral part in shaping the city’s nightlife over the last twenty years.
Venues such as Liberty’s, Bakers, Some Place Else and Rockwells are but a few of their successful business ventures. In addition to this they were one of the first companies to open a wine bar in Birmingham. Coincidentally Willie’s (as it was known) was built on the site of Summer Row in 1974 and their return to the area marks an exciting new era of operation for the company.
Spanning 45,000 sq ft in total, Summer Row will incorporate two major bar/restaurant units set over two floors, creating over 100 jobs. Both floors will be licensed with a combined capacity of 1,800 over two floors, split comfortably between intimate zones, two restaurants, two sophisticated bars and a late lounge.
The upper floors will be transformed into 18,000sq ft of hi-tech office space, providing the city with a welcome boost of prime stock. Award winning Raw Design of Birmingham are responsible for creating the stunning interiors throughout the scheme. Under the scheme, the facade of Summer Row will remain intact and developers Pettifer will do a complete rebuild of the rear.
Each unit will be operated by Town & Country Inns to ensure an independent and unique ambience. In short, Summer Row will be a thrilling antidote to Birmingham’s mass of multiple bar and restaurant operations, appealing an informed market that demand quality, service, sophistication and style as requisites when they socialise in the city.