Birmingham is a city of two halves: one half is wrapped up in the history of the Industrial Revolution, while the other is steps into the future as the youngest city in Europe. Change is always afoot in the city. New buildings, businesses and roadworks are popping up all the time. But the oldest street in Birmingham has remained constant for a long time.
There are a number of very old streets in Birmingham and sometimes it’s not easy to work out which is the oldest. In 1902, historian Charles Anthony Vince wrote that Digbeth High Street was the ‘most ancient street in the City’. But its first recorded appearance comes from a document in 1553, called the Survey of the Borough of Birmingham, which listed the 18 existing streets in here.
Other streets that featured included Bordesley High Street, Chappell Street, Park Street, Spiceal Street, Dudley Street, Congreve Street, The Shambles and Swan Alley. But we can go further back than that! There is a deed from 1437 that concerns a property on Moor Street, while another from 1454 mentions Dale End.
But the very first mentioned street in Birmingham is Edgbastone Strete AKA Edgbaston Street in a deed in 1347. It was also one of the first streets to be paved, leading to the manor house, Edgbaston. In fact, from 1166 onwards, Peter of Bermingham was allowed to hold a market in the area. It’s believed a handful of streets would have popped up around it, including Edgbaston Street, becoming the beginnings of what we now call Birmingham.
So Edgbaston Street is the oldest in Birmingham? Well, certainly one of the oldest. But Birmingham Echo claims that High Street “could well be the oldest street in Birmingham.” It’s likely many of these streets all popped up around the same time. So we’ll never know for sure. But there is a potentially more definitive answer to this question…
Is Icknield Street the oldest road in Birmingham?
Basically, kinda, maybe. Icknield Street is an old Roman road connected to the Brittonic tribe, Iceni (Bouddica’s tribe if you were wondering). It starts at the Fosse Way in Gloucestershire and goes all way to Templeborough in South Yorkshire – passing through Birmingham! The stretch of A5450 near the Jewellery Quarter is called Icknield Street, while Icknield Port Road runs along the Edgbaston Reservoir. But they might not actually be related to the old Roman road…
Much of the exact route through Birmingham has been lost to time. These names, introduced around the early 19th century, are likely to be rough estimates of or homages to the old road. However, although it’s not very exciting to look at, there is a real stretch of Icknield Street through Sutton Park. Still considered one of the best-preserved examples of an unaltered Roman road in England! We’ll count it.