Off to the right along the Fort Parkway are two significant Birmingham factories. First, a bit less than a mile from the Outer Circle is Fort Dunlop, the common name of the original tyre factory and main office of Dunlop Rubber. It was built in 1916, and by 1954 the entire factory employed 10,000 workers. At one time, when it employed 3,200 workers, it was said to be the world’s largest factory. The company was sold in 1980 and the building, derelict for almost twenty years, has now been redeveloped into an office and retail space. Fort Dunlop in its new guise opened on 1 December 2006. The roof is covered by soil and grass, and is the largest grass roof in the United Kingdom providing natural insulation and a wildlife reserve. The roof features three cows!
The Fort Parkway ends at the junction of the Chester Road. The roundabout there is called Spitfire Island to recognise that the fact that the factories on the north west corner of the junction are where more than half of the Spitfire aircraft made during the Second World War were made. This is now the Jaguar car factory at Castle Bromwich. By the end of the war the factories were producing 320 Spitfires and 20 Lancasters a month – more aircraft than any other factory in the UK. The completed aircraft were pushed over the Chester Road onto Castle Bromwich aerodrome to take off and be tested.
In the 1960s Pressed Steel Fisher on the same site produced bodies for the Austin Mini, which were taken around the Outer Circle on transporters to Longbridge.
The next junction of the left is with Wheelwright Road where many old properties once stood until they were cleared in the 1960s.
On the left just before the canal was the original Navigation pub. This was built on Bromford Lane just before the canal. Then after the Tyburn Road was cut through about 100 yards further north a “new” navigation Inn was built facing the new road. This is now a Chinese restaurant call Buffet island – it’s supposed to be very good.
We then cross the over the Birmingham to Fazeley Canal which was completed in 1789. As with all these big projects the whole scheme was mired in controversy with the contractors and the canal company falling out over the materials used and the design of the route. The sorry tale ended up with the canal company superintendent James Bough being imprisoned for libel and Pinkertons the contractors making a loss of about £2,500 – a large sum in the Eighteenth Century.