What’s in a name?

By Alan Clawley.

The name ‘Small Heath’ is well-known wherever you go and a surprising number of Brummies will tell you that they were born and brought up there before moving away to better themselves and their families.

Small Heath 1974 from Unequal City HMSO 1977

Small Heath 1974 from Unequal City HMSO 1977

It seems now, though that, the name ‘Small Heath’ is in danger of disappearing off the map.

Small Heath Alliance that played on the Onion Patch in Muntz Street has long been Birmingham City Football Club. Small Heath Harriers have gone. Small Heath was the constituency of Labour’s Dennis Howell – football referee, Minister for Sport and Drought – and the seat of two Labour Lord Mayors, Jim Eames and Marjory Brown who represented Small Heath on the Council.

Some years ago the Westminster constituency of Small Heath was merged with that of Sparkbrook, then abolished altogether for the 2010 general election – when it became the more lugubrious ‘Hall Green’. Just to confuse matters there are now parts of ‘Small Heath’ that are in Ladywood, Hodge Hill and Yardley Constituencies. The old ward of Small Heath was eventually divided up between Sparkbrook, Nechells, South Yardley and Bordesely Green and thus disappeared altogether.  At election time people who swear that they live in Small Heath won’t accept that they now live in a ward with another name.

Small Heath Park is now having its own identity crisis because the councillor responsible for the Trust that owns it wants to it to be re-named ‘Victoria Park in Small Heath’ because it was opened by Queen Victoria in person on a visit to the famous Birmingham Small Arms factory, the BSA.

Politicians are divided about whose patch it is on; it stands in the extreme western end of the South Yardley, but is close to the boundaries of Nechells and Bordesley Green where most of its users live.

Small Heath Park plate

Small Heath Park plate

The Park has been known as Small Heath Park for most of its life and all of the lives of anyone alive today. If you were to ask anyone in the Park what its name was they would never say ‘Victoria’ because the name Small Heath Park is engraved on a plaque at the entrance, and is on all the maps.

Places are sometimes renamed to divert attention from an unfortunate or embarrassing past.

After a serious fire in 1961 Britain’s first atomic power station ‘Windscale’ was re-named ‘Sellafield’, which sounds much nicer and greener. The name of Birmingham’s ‘Gun Quarter’ is being challenged because of its connotations with gun crime. Small Heath has certainly lived through some hard times and its park has been badly neglected, so councillors have little to boast about there, unlike the Council’s green flagship Cannon Hill Park.

In mainland Europe new regimes would change the names of streets and even entire cities to show that they were in control and were turning over a new leaf. Thus, Stalingrad became St.Petersburg. Back here the Central Library will be re-branded ‘The Library of Birmingham’ to signify its journey into the 21st Century.

Whether or not the councillor gets his way, what really matters is that Small Heath has a park that Queen Victoria would be proud to open.