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Black history in Birmingham: the story of George Saunders

The historic shopfront of George Saunders, the tailors, on Hurst Street as part of the Birmingham Back to Backs, West Midlands
The shopfront of George Saunders, the tailors, part of Birmingham Back to Backs | © National Trust Images/Robert Morris

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.

The workroom in the 1970s tailer's shop at the Birmingham Back to Backs, showing sewing machine, patterns and bolts of cloth.
The workroom in the 1970s tailor's shop at the Birmingham Back to Backs | © National Trust Images/Robert Morris

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.

A wooden box filled with glass eyes for toys from the 1870s house at the Birmingham Back to Backs, West Midlands.

Birmingham Back to Backs' collections

Explore the objects and works of art we care for at Birmingham Back to Backs on the National Trust Collections website.

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Booking your visit to Birmingham Back to Backs 

Birmingham Back to Backs are open for visits by guided tour only, book online in advance to explore the stories of Court 15.