Black history in Birmingham: the story of George Saunders
As one of the last businesses to leave Court 15, George Saunders’ tailor shop forms the basis of the unique collection at the Birmingham Back to Backs – but George’s story also demonstrates an important part of the black history of the city. Find out more about George’s life and work here.
Black history in Birmingham
George came to the UK in 1958 as one of thousands who answered the call sent out by the British Government to help fill the labour shortage that the country suffered after the Second World War.
Benefiting from the British Nationality Act 1948 which gave them the right of abode, people came from across the Commonwealth from places like India, Pakistan and the Caribbean. Many had already served Britain during the war and had come with the hopes of resuming their wartime positions or making a better life for themselves in the ‘motherland’
But very little was done to prepare the new arrivals or indeed the rest of the British population. Racism, prejudice and violence were rife, and George suffered it first-hand. He struggled to find work in Birmingham and was turned away from interviews despite demonstrating his skill as a tailor, which he had learned from his father in the Caribbean.
George’s tailor shop at the Back to Backs
At first, George found work in a biscuit factory before returning to the profession he loved – working first at Philip Colliers tailors, then setting up his own business in Balsall Heath. Eventually, George moved his shop to Court 15, Hurst Street, in 1974.
George built up his reputation by word of mouth, and with his son's help, George made, mended and altered suits, trousers and jackets – using only the best quality cloth. Between 1974 and 2001, he made clothes for Birmingham celebrities like Pat Roach as well as Libyan school children, and was awarded a prestigious order from the Queen’s Guards for his work.
The legacy of George Saunders
George was one of the last tenants to use Court 15 before it was donated into the care of the National Trust and turned into a museum. George donated some of his items and equipment to the Trust as a way of preserving some of the property’s history.
These items can still be seen when you visit as they form the setting for George Saunders’s shop, which is the last stop on the tour, where you can learn more about George’s extraordinary life.
Find out what life was like in back-to-back housing for the working classes of the 19th and 20th centuries and discover the people who brought the Back to Backs to life.
Step back in time and experience life in Birmingham’s last surviving court of back-to-back houses, taking you from the 1840s through to the 1970s on an intimate guided tour.
Explore what goes into caring for a particularly unusual collection, which offers a glimpse into the lives of the ordinary people who helped shaped Birmingham.
Birmingham Back to Backs are open for visits by guided tour only, book online in advance to explore the stories of Court 15.