A struggling actor, who occasionally lends a harmonium to Dudley Moore, turns down a full time role in Emmerdale Farm to sell domestic lighting. It's an unlikely story but one that's completely true.
The history of the former Christopher Wray Lighting works, located on Bartholomew Row next to Millennium Point, is as varied as that of its owner.
The complex of buildings which make up the site is surrounded on all sides by modern development but itself is an incredible snapshot of the city's history. A row of three townhouses front the street, frozen in time and left vacant since 2003.
The site has been dogged with misfortune over recent years, with failed compulsory purchase orders, failed demolition applications and a subsequent statutory listing seeing its value plummet from over £2 million to negative £1 million.
Two of the townhouses are original Georgian residences, which predate the earliest map of the city, indicating their age could date back as far as 1720.
This makes them the oldest surviving dwellings in the city centre and a vitally important part of Birmingham's architectural history. They would have sat proudly as part of a grand square around the now demolished St. Bartholomew's Chapel.
The site is bookended on Fox Street with a row of former back-to-back houses and the courtyard between the two rows of houses evolved over the centuries into a manufacturing hub.
The complex is Grade II listed, not for its architectural merit, but as a fascinating and well preserved example of light industry operating within a courtyard of houses. The townhouses, although heavily adapted, still have a domestic arrangement of rooms around timber staircases.
The remains of patterned wallpaper are stained from water damage and net curtains sway with the wind rushing through the broken windows. The courtyard to the rear is accessed by a big cart entrance, which leads into an 18th century maltings.
Around this top-lit central space are long, narrow workshop buildings with workbenches along one side and lots of cast iron windows, enabling workers to work flooded in natural light.
Littered around the spaces are the remnants of the industrial past and it's easy to get a feel for the oppressive working conditions. In the windowless basement workshops old die stamps are arranged along a floor trench, with the remains of a menacing rusted steam hammer overhead.
Parts of an old furnace sit against the wall and an array of tools and dies fill the space. These are the surviving relics of over 250 years of manufacturing on the site, probably beginning with jewellery manufacture and finally ending with lighting.
Christopher Wray took on the buildings in the early 1970s and they swiftly became an integral part of his business.
From his workshop in Birmingham, Wray served all of his other shops in the country, including his famous emporium on the King's Road in London, the largest dedicated lighting retail space in the country. Wray specialised in a traditional, antique inspired style and there are many reminders still scattered around the spaces, such as traditional lampshade moulds and ornate alabaster brass mouldings.
An enormous amount of work in necessary to bring these buildings back into viable use, but use is the only effective means of conservation for these decaying treasures.
Plans are due to be submitted for a student-led mixed-use scheme comprising leisure, retail and residential accommodation and work is expected to commence early next year.
The painstaking redevelopment work will be overseen by heritage development specialists CZero and it is hoped the Georgian townhouses will be taken on by a building preservation trust, to preserve their future in some form of public use.
Article by Matthew Goer, Director, Associated Architects
Published in the Birmingham Post, 23 December 2014