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All change, yet again.

I was in Birmingham last week, the city of my birth. And just to remove any confusion, I’m talking of Birmingham in the West Midlands of England.

Every time I visit there has been change. The city seems incapable of standing still for just one minute. Perhaps that’s how it should be, afterall, Birmingham is known as the driver behind the industrial revolution of the 18th and 19thC. and was for many years, the home of manufacturing in the UK earning it the aphorism of “The City of a Thousand Trades”.


The replacement for the NatWest Tower climbs skywards

It’s not an old city. Its growth, fed by the industrial revolution, came as a result of hundreds of thousands of ‘immigrants’ from the farming communities in surrounding counties. My own forebears on both sides were “Aglabs”, agricultural labourers, from Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Gloucestershire, together with true ‘immigrants’ from Ireland. Birmingham is a crucible, and always has been.

With that growth comes continual change. As a reason for change, added to that of growth, is development – in the shape of technology, working methods etc.

All of this stamps its mark on the city, its bricks and mortar and its people. Nothing here seems permanent. I myself worked on a new depot for Birmingham City Council’s Public Lighting department back when I left school in the early 60’s. It was built on the site of demolished inner city houses. ( curiously, only recently I discovered some of my forebears lived in the very houses demolished for that project). That development, constructed in the early 60’s was itself demolished in the first decade of the new century and has been built over.


The now demolished Nat West tower

The new pictures show a development currently underway, just near to the Council House in Colemore Row. It is going to be a 20+ storey office block. The site it’s being built on was a 20+ storey office block! – Birmingham’s own NatWes Tower. Confusing.

However, as you can see, not all of the cities old buildings are being flattened. Birmingham college of art remains. A glorious reminder of the skills of designers and artisans past. Long may it, and more like it, stand against the march of mammon and the banal lego architecture eroding the quality of our cities.

November 2019.

Our rosy coloured past. Hmmm.

This picture is of a house in front of one of the gas holders at Saltley Gasworks in Nechells, Birmingham. The image was taken in the late 60’s.

I was born just a couple hundred metres from here, within sight, or more accurately within ‘Smell’ of the gasworks. My dad worked there after he came back from fighting with the Desert Rats, Montgomery’s 8th army, in second world war. What’s more, those gas holders were nearly the death of him. He fell off one and survived, but that’s another story.

This image is a picture of my youth. Although my parents moved to the newly built council estates out in the suburbs, many of my relatives lived in or around this area. I would return often as a child.

What this image made me think about was just how much of a product I am of the social and political thrust occurring after the 2nd world war.

I am the product of the time and of the policies of Labour, the  political party in power back then.

  1. The massive growth in public housing after the war.
    We moved into a new council house in the suburbs around 1950
  2. The start of the NHS. 
    I was born in 1947. The NHS was born in 1948.
  3. Improved public education.
    Aged 11 I attended one of the early, purpose built Comprehensive Schools in Birmingham.

Therefore, I have the Labour Party to thank for providing me with improved living conditions, better heath care and better education. All of these steps forward were by the people and for the people.

Compare that to the flagrant self serving attitudes and policies of the current Millionaire Tory Elite and their Billionaire Backers.

What you see evident in the picture, and in the events of my life, is seemingly so deeply attractive to the Leave Party and all other Brexit believers that they wish us to be plunged back there.

For me it’s hard to understand why anybody would hold those days so lovingly to their breast? No. I’ve lived it. For millions of us it wasn’t rosy coloured with “Land of hope and glory” playing in the background. It was hard.

Lastly, whatever this present Tory government want to achieve will be directly contrary to what will benefit the real people of this country. Tories. Their lips are moving. They are lying. Run in the opposite direction, it’s a safer direction.

Peter Barton
October 2019

A note to the artist.

I visited an exhibition of photography in Hull yesterday – 5th October 2019. Amongst the work there was a large display devoted to the work of Tristan Poyser. In this intriguing piece Tristan explores the concept of the Geographical / Political border between Northern and Southern Ireland.

The line has been a contentious issue for many years and with the Brexit issue (where Southern Ireland will stay in the EU and Northern Ireland – being part of Great Britain – will potentially leave the EU ) inflaming debate once more. Tristan travelled the line over a period of a couple of years photographing as he went.

Unlike County and National lines in, say North America, the lines are not straight, twisting and winding as they do. Tristan handed out images he had taken and asked people to rip the images along where they thought the border may be. The effect was to produce a large number of public interpretations of the border, many annotated with what they thought about the connected issues.

The main part of the work is a series of Tristan’s images, large, ripped and re-mounted to indicate just where the border travels.

For me the exhibition raised so many issues about art, politics, geography and particularly the corrupt politics of todays world. I wrote to Tristan. You can see my note below.

The concept is excellent. The work is excellent.  It makes you think. Go visit.

I saw you and your show yesterday (Sat 5th). I believe the true judgement of a show is not necessarily the immediate impression you get whilst in the presence of the work. No, it’s about how it stays with you afterwards. 

I’ve thought about your show a lot since I left. Your exhibition made me question the issues of the Irish border and Brexit itself, particularly the act of a country divorcing itself from what what is has (always for some)  known. It’s akin to the tearing in half of photographs after a divorce. And like the rips in your pictures around the convoluted Irish border, where does that rip go around the children of the marriage?

That, I believe, is what children born after the UK joining the EU are, children of the marriage. And, like in a divorce, they are out of place, lost, deserted and changed forever, corrupted and, unforgiving – as I’m sure the politicians will discover to their shame and cost.

You work awakened me  to the  cleft developing, not just geographically but Geopolitically. In addition far from uniting the country, as has been spouted by Brexiter’s, that cleft will be felt in interpersonal relationships, for generations to come. How very sad. 

And all this in the hidden name of moneymaking plutocrats. Even sadder.

Those who call those of us who wish to remain “Remoaners” may soon discover they should be more correctly calling us “Re-told-you-so’s”. We shall see. I sincerely hope I’m wrong.

You can see the work here on Tristans web site , but the show itself is so much better.

Peter Barton



Note.Copyright of the image at the head of the page rests with Tristan Poyser