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Saturday, 28 June 2008

Upon further investigation. A site visit to Ludgate Car Park in Birmingham (UK) – which hasn’t been built on since World War II.


The idea of this project was to adapt (some would call is ‘appropriate’) the term ‘Sites of Significant Scientific Interest’ into a personal exploration of ‘social significance’. I therefore began a series of accounts in the city of Birmingham (UK) in which is ‘investigated’ Sites of Social Special Interest or SSSI. Herein are some documentation of ‘events’, gatherings and exploration under the SSSI banner. Enjoy.

Investigating Team - Paul, Ian, Brian & Harry. June 28th 2008

Note the tiling on the wall behind

(possible remnants of an old victorian toilet for example?)

Private ownership amongst paying customers?

An eccentric archaeology outing (Sites of Social Special Interest No.4) - to investigate informal musings regarding the Ludgate Car Park in central Birmingham (28th June 2008). A place, seemingly abandoned, is arguably one of the poorest maintained car parks in Birmingham (with little upkeep and a skewered layout, confusing and ugly in the very least). This site has not been built on since the Second World War. It is also the location of the last public execution in Birmingham of Phillip Matsell in 1806 (50,000 public members attended).

Following an announcement to invite fellow citizens to explore this environment initiated by myself, a small group of us (Ian Edwards, Brian Simpson and Paul Nocher) spent time in-situ, serving as an eccentric time team reasoning clues to the present physical condition of the car park.

Whilst I discussed the psychic and mental ambience of the place itself, suggesting that noise pollution and other forms of anxiety are deeply shocking to imagining and thinking – to allow contemplation and concentration to underpin and explore that which would come to our attention; During this announcement, the whole group became aware of the overhead police helicopter hovering and somewhat static above us (lasting 15 minutes approx). We seemed to have an audience of some description. We were unperturbed. Eitherway, this was compounded by Great Charles Street / Queensway dual carriageway traffic noise that roared itsway into our conversation, demanding extra concentration between ourselves (and effort to listen to myself reading the brief story surrounding the execution of Phillip Matsell during which time we noted the synchronicity of a scaffold van signage that simultaneously drove past whilst reading about the large scaffold execution structure that was rigged here in 1806 for the last public hanging. The noise surrounding us, hostile in nature, echoed the noises of air-raid planes, of a 50,000 crowd that littered this area in the past. Another psychic resonance that continued to be ‘attached’ to this neglected and historic landmark?)

This car park is reported to be haunted. It is suggested in Haunted Birmingham (a book by Arthur Smith and Rachel Bannister) that sightings of the ghost could possibly be Phillip Matsell (the last person in Birmingham to be executed and which took place here at the corner of Ludgate Car Park and Snow Hill). It could, I reflect, be a person(s) killed as a direct result of a 2nd World War bomb via the destroyed tenant back to back housing that once stood here - a bomb victim killed by the blasts? Days leading up to this investigation, I imagined previous inhabitants being of a medieval nature way before the industrialisation ever took place. In my mind, I saw huts and small fires – the living and working conditions of yesteryear. What are the remnants of history here?

In reference of ancestral communication, further investigations are planned including an EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena) readings to attempt to record sounds inherent in the immediate atmosphere from the bygone past (I shall report on this in the coming months).

The BT tower is located only 50 yards away from one of the main entrances to Ludgate car park. The tower, it is claimed, can withstand a 5 mega ton nuclear atom bomb. From World War II to a nuclear communication tower - bombs seem to be the symbolic resonance of this particular location in Birmingham - a certain psychic connection that is drawn to this part of the city?

Why has Ludgate Car Park not been built upon since the 2nd World War? Suggestions ranged from perhaps the challenges of surveying and securing the ground to be safe and fit for building upon? Were the foundations safe? The uneven road surfaces, the undulating and sloping ground (twisted and curved), the maturing trees and wild overgrown grass indicative of intentional neglect and sculptural bombing? Perhaps the site, as it is seems privately owned in part, is difficult to resolve as a full use site? Perhaps the cost of purchase is excessive? We were not sure. It did seem strange, in our opinion, that a site such as this, would not be purchased and built upon until now (Ludgate Car Park has just been sold after 60 years) – particularly as it is a prime site in central Birmingham (please note that the Gun Quarter is situated about half a mile away from this car park – the location explains itself – a manufacturing munitions location (the remnants of a war-world nonetheless)).

The Jewellery Quarter is less that half a mile away from the car park. Ludgate Car Park is located between two significant churches – St Phillips and St Pauls. It forms a link from north to south respectively; the footbridge over busy traffic on Great Charles street - it is the physical marker into the new territory, with the car park right infront of you upon exit at the bottom of the stairs as you turn the corner. This transition is abject in feeling, creating an ugly composition mirrored by the strange mix of new, smart, 50s and older architecture that now surrounds you in an ad hoc fashion (abandoned warehouses, posh bars, dismal looking office blocks, modern designer company houses, for example). ((Note that the Jewellery Quarter is a wealthier part of the traditional business community in Birmingham, full of prestige, and a place where warehouses are being slowly converted into living accommodation for example)).

The group discussed the overall geographic layout, the implications of change and the noticeable signs of the past – a cobbled piece of road exposed, the concrete road of patchwork surfaces, tar and aggregate. The walls of old bricks and overgrown landscape, the butterflies that partnered with the burdock bushes, the remnants of a tile lined wall upon a small section of the think indented brickwork (possibly the signs of a gents toilet for example?); of cabling cut crudely and protruding out of another wall close by. Ludgate Car Park, irrespective of history, served today as an apparent eye sore, lost in no -mans land, neglected without any due respect. We at least, made our offerings there and then, a hallmark of eccentric archaeology investigated and honoured, to bricks and mortar of mortal men and women, girls and boys, of car park pay and display, of private landlords, public executions, of munitions and wildlife et al…..

Copyright©2008 Harry Palmer / Upon further investigation…A site visit to Ludgate Car Park in Birmingham (UK) – which hasn’t been built on since World War II.