Balsall Heath

Balsall Heath is a working class, inner-city area of Birmingham. It is home to a diverse cultural mix including Afro-Caribbean, Indian, Pakistani, Irish and English, and the home of the Balti Triangle, a collection of Asian Balti restaurants and sweet centres.

Balsall Heath was agricultural land between Moseley village and the city of Birmingham until the 1850s when expansion along Moseley Road joined the two. The area was originally part of the Worcestershire parish of King's Norton, and was added to the county borough of Birmingham in Warwickshire on October 1, 1891.

During negotiations in the previous year it had been promised a public baths, to be built by the City of Birmingham Baths Department, and a free library, to be constructed by the Free Libraries Committee. In 1895 the library was opened on Moseley Road and in 1907 Balsall Heath Baths were opened in an adjoining building. The small lake (Lady Pool on old maps) at the end of Ladypool Road was also filled-in to create a park. In 1900 the area became home to the city's College of Art.

Balsall Heath initially had a reasonably affluent population, which can still be seen in the dilapidated grandeur of some of the larger houses. A train station on Brighton Road (on the Birmingham to Bristol line) led to further expansion and the end of the 19th century saw a proliferation of high-density small terraced houses.

A Muslim community was started in June 1940 when two Yemenis purchased an artisan cottage on Mary Street. They went on to establish the first mosque in the city.

Balsall Heath remained a respectable working-class suburb until the 1950s when street prostitution first appeared. Property values fell attracting Birmingham's poorer immigrants. By the 1970s the area was notorious for street robberies and drug dealing. Prostitutes also sat semi-naked in the windows of houses on Cheddar Road, openly touting for trade.

In September 1992, a report was published encouraging the formation of a zone of tolerance towards prostitution in Balsall Heath. This was opposed by a local police inspector and by residents. The following year Samo Paull, a woman working as a prostitute, was abducted from Balsall Heath and murdered. In 1994, local residents began to organize street patrols forcing the prostitutes and street criminals out of the area. These patrols had the qualified support of the police but were regarded as vigilantes by some. During this time the Sisters of Charity, a Christian organisation, offered outreach support to the prostitutes.[2]

The area subsequently enjoyed a slow revival. House prices are now similar to other inner-city areas while the crime rate is amongst the lowest. Property developers were also confident enough to convert the former Robinson's warehouse on Moseley Road into up-market flats, something that would have been incredible ten years earlier.

Balsall Heath was hit by a tornado in July 2005 which devastated many buildings around Church Road and Ladypool Road. Birmingham City Council offered loans to those who were unable to repair their properties and the area has now made a full recovery.

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