Walking around Digbeth you may not have noticed St Anne’s Church, hidden amongst the industrial buildings of the area, its steeple peeping above roofs of the surrounding buildings- you might say that it’s almost incongruous with its surroundings. And it kind of is, I suppose.
The Catholic church was founded by Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman in 1849, initially in an old gin distillery in Deritend. And as many will know, in the nineteenth century this part of the city was home to some of the poorest migrants in Birmingham, in this case the Irish, fleeing their homeland in hope of the promise of work. Throughout the century, the Irish population in Birmingham continued to increase rapidly and catholic churches were a product of this influx of migration, built to house the increasing congregations of Irish in the city, and this meant that other churches sprung up throughout Birmingham, as well as St Anne’s. It’s not surprising then, that the church is in the centre of the Irish Quarter.
The building that stands today on Alcester Road, was built in 1884, and one famous former parishioner was JRR Tolkien who converted to Catholicism in 1900. If you’re heading in that direction, try to spot it’s red-brick facade amongst the warehouses.