Goodbye Steelhouse Lane, we will miss you :-(

Said no one who ever spent a night in this infamous grade-II listed Victorian lock up! Six by eight foot cells, a hard bed with a paper thin mattress, no window or natural light, and a toilet you do not control the flushing of, no the holding cells of the Steelhouse Lane lock up were most certainly not a place you would want to spend a night in.


Image by Jay Sidhu (@sidhu88)

The abandoned lock up is both eerie and sobering now but it was in use until just last year when the new cells at Perry Barr Police Station opened. Dating back to the 1920’s , the holding cells of the lock up have held some rather well known members of the criminal underworld including Fred West and some of the members of the original Peaky Blinders gang from Smallheath. The most recent residents however were admitted not under arrest but through choice thanks to a very special instameet organised by IGersBirmingham and in collaboration with Birmingham’s Hidden Spaces and West Midlands Police.

Fraser McGee @frasermcgee

Image by Fraser McGee (@frasermcgee)

Upon first entering the Lock Up, the first thing that strikes you is the smell. A mixture of bleach and toilets permeates the old jailhouse and gives it an immediate sense of foreboding. Proceeding through the booking in area, where ‘residents’ were searched before being placed into cells, there is a real sense of history. How many people passed through this area in the last 100 years? Guilty and innocent, drunk and disorderly, many a Brummie will have had their name entered into the detainment logs but not many would ever choose to admit it. Everywhere there is evidence of the Lock up’s recent use. Notes and scribblings on the whiteboards, police uniforms and riot gear, even cups of tea still sitting in one of the two interview rooms where no doubt many deep and meaningful chats were had.

Wendy yip @yipski

Image by Wendy Yip (@yipski)

Imran AB @imranab

Image by Imran AB (@imranab)

James Burnett @iamjamesburnett

Image by James Burnett (@iamjamesburnett)

The main cell block is now eerily quiet but according to Police Representative Steve Rice, it used to be extremely noisy thanks to the old metal doors being constantly slammed, not to mention the prisoners. The three story cell block is flooded with natural light which makes for a stark contrast to the windowless cells where only artificial light is on offer. Walk into one of the Lock Up’s many cells and you will be struck by their sparseness. A thin mattress to sleep on, a metal toilet minus a flush, and a message offering drug abuse support was all the company and comfort the ‘residents’ were given. Arrows on the ceiling of each cell point east towards Mecca to allow for Muslim prisoners to pray.

Bobby Griffiths @bobby.griffiths

Image by Bobby Griffiths (@bobby.griffiths)

Down in the basement resides one of the most interesting features of the jail – the Court Room Tunnel. This old tiled tunnel connects the Lock Up to the Law Courts on Corporation Street and through this the prisoners would journey to meet their fate. Locked now for security reasons, the Tunnel can be viewed through the small glass window in the door which reveals the path taken by so many over the years.


Image by Kris Askey (@krisaskey)
For a photographer the Lock Up was a challenging subject, however as you can see from the images below and throughout, many of the attendees rose to meet the challenge with some great shots!
Birmingham’s Hidden Spaces are renowned for opening up Brum’s secret heritage to the public including the Municipal Bank on Broad Street and also Curzon Street Station. Throughout the Summer they will be opening the Lock Up to the public. For tickets visit .

Victoria Beavon @victoria_beavon

Image by Victoria Beavon (@victoria_beavon)

Ryan Garrett @urban_savage_photography

Image by Ryan Garrett (@urban_savage_photography)

Rob Perry-Griffiths @robperrygriff

Image by Rob Perry-Griffiths (@robperrygriff)

Luis Colas @iamluiscolas

Image by Luis Colas (@iamluiscolas)

Jon Crampton @joncrampton

Image by Jon Crampton (@joncrampton)

Jay Mason-Burns @jayjayjetplane

Image by Jay Mason-Burns (@jayjayjetplane)


Imran AB @imranscope

Image by Imran AB (@imranscope)

Freddy Nevison Andrews @efeneh

Image by Freddy Nevison-Andrews (@efeneh)

Dan Foxhall @the_foxh

Image by Dan Foxhall (@the_foxh)

Barry Whitehead @bazjayuu

Image by Barry Whitehead (@bazjayuu)

Image by Ben McPhee (@benmcphee)

Words by Fraser McGee

Images by members of the IGersBirmingham Community