Birmingham City Council

Smart's Brickworks, California, Birmingham


California on the south-western edge of Birmingham, between Harborne and Quinton, was until 1797 a typical rural area near to Birmingham. The canals arrived around that time and heralded the change from rural to industrial, John Barnes, a local man, opened his first claypit in the area of the present Barnes Hill and constructed a small brick works. The works expanded and developed for many years, with bricks and other materials being moved between California and Birmingham on the canal network, including use of the 818 metre long Lapal Tunnel between Halesowen and Selly Oak, Barnes had a wharf in Birmingham.

Around 1871 James Smart took over one of the brickworks and it is his works which are featured in the photograph above. The decline of the brickworks in California began around 1900, the quarries in the area were used by the military for rifle practice during the first world war and in 1917 the remaining brick production was further affected by the collapse of part of the Lapal tunnel, a collapse which was never repaired.


The photograph above was taken in 1941, the site survived until around 1948 when it became a scrapyard for a while, then a motor-cycle training ground for a short time after that. Around 1960, what was left of the chimbney stacks and buildings were demolished, the clay pits and canals were filled in with the city's rubbish. The area was then landscaped and grassed over, leaving no visible trace of the industrial past which had flourished in the area for over 100 years.

Libraries Photo Archive - 1940s
Photographic and other Special Collections in Central Library
Birmingham Archives and Heritage Service
Digital Birmingham Photo Archive