Hidden stories of landmarks in and around Birmingham – from skeletons to nuclear bunkers
The West Midlands is full of iconic landmarks, from the BT Tower to the bullring. Some of us see these recognizable places almost every day, but many of them have fascinating stories that you may not be aware of.
With that in mind, we’ve rounded up some of the stories behind some of the most famous landmarks in and around Birmingham. They include underground tunnels in the city center, a macabre discovery under the arenas, and a mysterious red door that hides an overgrown secret.
Let us know in the comments below if you think there’s a secret West Midlands part we missed in the list.
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The nuclear bunker under the BT Tower
Many Brummies may not know this, but a top-secret nuclear bunker built after World War II sits beneath the city streets. There are a number of well-hidden entrances to Birmingham’s underground network, including the iconic BT Tower.
The bunker, made up of vast concrete tunnels, was designed to maintain British telecommunications in the event of a bomb attack during the Cold War. Codenamed ‘Anchor’, after Birmingham’s hallmark of jewellery, the hallways stretch for miles from the BT Tower to Southside and beyond.
Sitting 115 feet below the surface, BT workers still intermittently use the tunnels for modern communications links.
The skeletons under the arenas
During excavations to build the modern Bullring shopping centre, hundreds of skeletons were unearthed by archaeologists. Most were found in St. Martin’s Cemetery, buried in the proper Christian manner at the time.
However, two were found outside any cemetery, placed in earthen graves on their backs with their arms crossed. As it transpired that they had been buried under ground or in a back garden, it has been suggested that the couple were murdered.
They could also have been killed in the Battle of Birmingham during the English Civil War and given a quick burial.
Kray Twins artwork at Spaghetti Junction
The artist behind the work is unknown, but this interesting piece of Kray Twins graffiti can be found on the A38M. The mural is in a difficult to reach position, on the side of one of the many pillars under Spaghetti Junction.
Tunnels under the mailbox
The Mailbox is now a haven for shops, bars and restaurants – but many Brummies will be unaware of a secret hidden below that ties to its past. A 400m tunnel, built in 1970, passes under the site and was used by Royal Mail employees transporting deliveries between a sorting centre.
Electric trucks carried cages full of letters and parcels from the trains, before transporting them to the office to be sorted. The office, based on the site of a former railway goods depot, along our canals, was Birmingham’s largest building at the time.
The mysterious red door of the Birmingham Five Ways
Opposite Birmingham’s Five Ways station is a mysterious red door, covered in squiggles of graffiti. You may have passed by without giving it much thought, but the gate actually leads to a hidden Jewish cemetery.
The cemetery goes mostly unnoticed, away from the heavy traffic of Islington Row Middleway. Those who want to visit, however, will find it difficult to do so, as high fences also prevent their entry.
Known as Betholom Row, the cemetery dates back to the 1700s. Passers-by tall enough to look over the door should be able to make out the old headstones beyond the foliage.
The hidden doors of the M5
Thousands of motorists drive the M5 through the West Midlands without thinking about it every day. However, the main highway contains a hidden secret – most notably, three hidden gates between Junction 4 for Worcestershire, Junction 3 for Halesowen and Quinton, and Junction 2 for Oldbury.
Property of the National Highways, which manages and develops all the highways and major A roads in the country, they are reserved for the particular use of their engineers.
The Hidden Kitchen and the Tunnel of Secret Servants at Hanbury Hall
Earlier this year, a hidden centuries-old kitchen and a ‘secret’ tunnel were discovered in a historic Worcestershire stately home. Archaeologists working at Hanbury Hall made this exciting discovery during construction work on a new cafe.
While digging, they found the remains of a kitchen dating back to the 18th century. They also discovered evidence of a servant moving from the kitchen to the main house.
Madness and Toposcope, Lickey Hills
In 1907 Edward, George Jr and Henry Cadbury donated Beacon Hill to the city, ensuring that the view from the Lickey Hills would remain as it is today. Using the etched toposcope as a guide, you can spot everything from the BT Tower to the QE Hospital and more.