We visit Station Street in Birmingham to discover why thousands say it's a cultural asset

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We paid a visit to one of Birmingham’s most historic streets that faces an uncertain future

Station Street in the heart of Birmingham city centre is steeped in history and cultural importance.

At first, the road looks little more than a slightly run down area opposite New Street station, but it's home to some of Birmingham’s most famous businesses.

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The Electric Cinema -The UK’s oldest working cinema - also resides on the street, but recently closed its doors.  Some of the businesses on the street are also at risk of being replaced to make way for a 50 floor tower.

But a petition, which has just under 20,000 signatures, is aiming to designate the street as a Historic, Cultural and Civic Asset to protect the historic venues in the area.

So with uncertainty hanging over some of the city’s key landmarks, I decided to pop down to the street on a wet and windy March afternoon to find out how locals and businesses are feeling about the street’s future prospects.

The first thing you notice while walking down the steps at the front of New Street station is The Crown Inn. The venue has been crowned - no pun intended - as the "birthplace of heavy metal.”

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It’s where Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath played their first ever gig, and hosted local bands which went on to become household names,  including Led Zeppelin and UB40.

Station Street, Birmingham city centreStation Street, Birmingham city centre
Station Street, Birmingham city centre

The historic pub also welcomed the likes of The Who, Status Quo, Duran Duran, Thin Lizzy, Marc Bolan, Supertramp and Judas Priest during its heyday. 

Sabbath and Ozzy performed their gig at Henry’s Blueshouse upstairs in the venue. It’s a historic pub, and you’d think, considering its ideal location opposite New Street and music history it would still be thriving today.

But it’s been closed for a decade, and there had been fears for the building's future as it has laid vacant in recent years amid potential plans for a nee tower block on the street.

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Today, the windows are covered with boards and advertising. It was given Grade-II listed status following advice from Historic England in mid-March (2024), but its future as a pub remains uncertain.

There had been plans for the pub to reopen but funding was lost amid Birmingham City Council’s financial crisis. Considering its history, it’s quite ridiculous that it's been shut for 10 years.

The Crown, Station StreetThe Crown, Station Street
The Crown, Station Street

The street is also home to The Old Rep Theatre -  the UK’s first ever purpose-built repertory theatre - which opened its doors in 1913, and, of course, The Electric Cinema which closed recently.

There has been outrage and upset over the closure of The Electric. Despite reopening in 2022, it was confirmed earlier this month that the venue would shut for the foreseeable future.

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A petition was launched to save the cinema, with Historic England recently revealing the encouraging news that it will consider bids to list the venue. 

But jobs have been lost due to the closure and that will also affect other businesses on the street. I popped into the Station Pub, which sits on the corner of the street.

Majid, the manager of Station pub, told me of the importance of having these historic venues remain open.

He said: “I don’t want people to lose their jobs. It would be better for business because a lot of our customers would come here as they would be going to the Electric Cinema.

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“If they list it (The Electric) that would be better To be honest. We don’t want to lose our heritage sites, do we. I love history so I don't want to lose any of these sites.”

Bash, speaking outside the Electric CinemaBash, speaking outside the Electric Cinema
Bash, speaking outside the Electric Cinema

'We need to maintain Birmingham's traditions'

I then went to Chicken Express next door to the Electric for a bite to eat. One customer there, Bash, told me how the street used to be.

“All these businesses like Wetherspoons have opened up there in New Street and nobody’s renovated the street here,” he said.

“I used to work in Navigation Street around the corner. There was more life around here then, with the businesses going down the  number of people in the area dropped down.”

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Speaking about the history of Station Street, and The Crown and Electric Cinema, he said: “They need to renovate places like this and keep the tradition.”

“Once this place (The Electric Cinema) is listed it should help the other businesses, and there used to be a lot of people at The Crown - it used to be busy.

“On match day you’d get the Birmingham fans there, or any fans on match day - it was always packed. People would also go there for a quick bevvy and then go out.

"I work in the Bullring now, but I like to go to the local businesses to help keep them open. On the importance of the Station Street, Bash said: “It’s history isn’t it. It helps the local businesses here as well. The Electric and Crown are the kind of businesses you want to keep open to keep some tradition in Birmingham.”

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I absolutely agree with Bash. It's incredible really that there are so many historic venues on such a small street. The Crown getting listed status was vital for the future of the street, and The Electric Cinema needs the same treatment to protect the city’s cultural history.

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