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28 October 2014

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Pogus Caesar / OOM Gallery 1985
Pogus Caesar / OOM Gallery 1985

Handsworth Riots – Twenty years on

Racial tension and community discontentment escalated into the historical Handsworth riots that rocked Birmingham between 9th - 11th September 1985. Birmingham photographers reflect twenty years on.

Pogus Caesar / OOM Gallery 1985
Pogus Caesar / OOM Gallery 1985

Handsworth was devastated by two days of violent rioting in September 1985, mainly along the Lozells Road, following the arrest of a black man after a police stop and search. Twenty years on and Handsworth is a thriving multi-cultural area of Birmingham.

Your memories

What are your memories of the Handsworth riots in September 1985? Did you live or go to school in the area at the time? Were you part of the rioting? Or do you just remember watching the events take place on the TV or reading about it in your local newspaper?

We want to hear your stories and experiences on the BBC Birmingham website. Add your memories using the form below.

Through the eyes of Pogus Caesar

Birmingham film maker and photographer Pogus Caesar found himself in the centre of the riots and managed to document numerous scenes.

Pogus Caesar / OOM Gallery 1985
Pogus Caesar / OOM Gallery 1985

His stark black and white photographs are featured as part of the Burning Images exhibition at The Drum and the 'Handsworth Riots - Twenty Summers On' online OOM Gallery exhibition until 31st October.

Pogus Caesar writes: “At approximately 5pm on Monday 9th September 1985, black man is arrested near the Acapulco Cafe, Lozells Road for a traffic offence. 

"Very soon a crowd consisting of African Caribbean, Asian and British people ask the police to let the man go - the police refuse this request and the situation quickly escalates into a riot.

"By 7.30pm The Villa Cross Bingo Hall and Social Club has been firebombed, firemen try and put out the flames, the crowd say let it burn".

Handsworth Riots - Twenty Summers On - OOM Gallery

Take a look at a sample of photographs featured in the OOM Gallery online exhibition taken by Pogus Caesar during the Handsworth Riots.

See the pictures:

Handsworth Riots - Twenty Summers On - picture gallery >
Pogus Caesar - OOM Gallery website >
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

Burning Images Exhibition

Pogus Caesar / OOM Gallery 1985
Pogus Caesar / OOM Gallery 1985

Burning Images (30th September - 28th October) is a major exhibition at The Drum of photographs, text and video, capturing the sights and sounds of Lozells and Handsworth during the riots in September 1985.

The exhibition is in partnership with the Black History Foundation and marks the 20th anniversary of the 'Handsworth Riots'.

Bold, vivid images and text capture the raw emotion and depicts the reality of what happened in Handsworth throughout the riots.

This exhibition brings together for the first time, the work of Birmingham's leading photographers: Vanley Burke, Pogus Caesar, Derek Bishton and John Reardon. Burning Images serves as a visual backdrop to the 'Handsworth Evolution' programme - a critical and cultural exploration of the impact of the 1985 Handsworth riots.

Handsworth Evolution

Pogus Caesar / OOM Gallery 1985
Pogus Caesar / OOM Gallery 1985

Handsworth Evolution at The Drum (29th August – 30th October), is a cultural and critical exploration of the impact of the 1985 ‘Handsworth Riots’ on its communities in Birmingham portrayed through a series of events including: exhibitions, films, critical debates, drama and live music.

More Information

For more information on the Burning Images exhibition and Handsworth Evolution programme of events at The Drum, Newtown, Birmingham call the Box office on 0121 333 2244 or visit The Drum website.

The Drum website >
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites
last updated: 07/09/05
Have Your Say
What are your memories of the Handsworth riots in September 1985? Share your stories here...
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Your comment: 
The BBC reserves the right to edit comments submitted.

I go to a school called Handsworth in Canada and I decided to look up where it got its name and the history of our school Apparently from a suburb in Birmingham. I could'nt believe what I am reading. How did all of this happen?

Big up L.O.Z still the ghetto it was 20 years on. R.i.p 2 all the fallen souljaz

As i recall it ther was no riots in Handsworth they all happened in Lozells along the Lozells Road. Came down from Burbury Street and came to halt around the Lozells Inn and the side Sreets in and around that area the made there way back up to Burbury Street.

It was so scary that i lost my mind!



My family just moved to Lozells when the rioting began, and I was born that year! We have lived in Lozells since and even lived to tell the tale about the second batch of rioting that took place Oct/Nov of 2005. I have to say the community is close-knit, it's just a small minority that ruins it for everyone else. But hopefully with the building of the new NHS Development and Lloyds Bank that is to be situated on the main road, things may improve. It's a shame to let the area go down the drain, as many memories and families have been bought up here! We just need to spread the love amongst the youth and build bridges with the Police Force as they tend to keep miles away. Let's hope no more riots occur in Lozells ever!!! One Love ;)


I am a student doing a project about the Handsworth riots and have grown quite engrossed in it and am glad that so many people on this site have shared such interesting accounts of what they experienced in the riots/after them. And hope that many more people share their tales about the riots too. My father was young at the time of the riots and i am also shocked as to how much damage they caused to handsworth and i am glad that hansworth is more diverse and multicultural now even though it still has many problems.

Paul Hardy
I, along with my father, Mother, Sister and Brothers, were all born and raised in Lozells. I lived in a slum in Wilton St between 1961 - 1985 and went to school at St Silas (nr Villa Cross)I was part of a gang made up from a diverse range of charactors (Chimmo, Rammi, Paine, Faulkner, Baker to name a few - the good old days, I recall) There were no real racial tensions amongst us, we simply had great fun (albeit mischief) & sorted our differances out between ourseleves. At the time of the riots I was in the Wilton St Lozells St area, virtually all of that night. Whilst it was noisy, frightening, and viscious; it was also very exciting, as we had never experienced anything like it. Following the riots, the government ploughed millions into the area, yet after the riots, Lozells never really seemed to recover and to this day, still has no community identity. It's so sad to revisit the area, (my stepdad still lives there) and recall those unfortunate and unecessary events. My wishes go out to all of the people of Lozells in regaining a true community spirit.

I was living in Handsworth at the time, and remember going up the lozells road, to be met by a group of around 45 youths, I recall them shouting move your backside, and I replied "I'm with you" (as one does in such a situation)and ran as fast as mu legs could carry me

I am 14 i was not born then i am shocked that innocent people were harmed

In the early 1900's Handsworth was a prosperous area, but since its turned out to be a black hole.The riots have come and gone and others will likewise be coming. The area,employment,environment and its people need to change.

What i was most upset about was the 20 year anniversy of the riots celebrated in 2005. What sickned me was the fact the same event happened, riots started, showing to others that this little area hasnt moved on in the last 20 years we are were we were 20 years a go.

Sean Qadeer
I am a 15 year old boy and i live in the lozells area i hope that there will never ever be a shocking display of rioting again.

shawinderjit ghag singh
exams come and go and so do some suiters of freindship for companionship. I missed my bus sometimes on the way to/from school!

When i moved from bruxelles to kensington i was think happy thought of uk, my parents are moroccan arab, we are all one though

I was living in Cradley but working as a temporary caretaker at Handsworth College on Soho Road. I came to work one morning oblivious to any problems but couldn't help noticing loads of police on the street. I got to work and one of the other caretakers said "how about that last night", I of course knew nothing about it. I had been at the college for only a week and being a white guy from a white area, and having no real cultural awareness at that time I found it all a bit strange and in truth a bit scary. We opened the college canteen 24 hours a day for the next few days to feed the never-ending stream of police who had been drafted in. This whole incident I believe sent out the wrong message about Handsworth, Birmingham and so called ‘minority groups’ who in typical racist fashion got the “send them all home”, and “typical of that lot” cries from most of the country. This was a real tragedy as over the next few months I got to know people of all sections of the community, learned about cultures and even a little Punjabi language. For the record everyone always treated me with the utmost courtesy and respect during my time working in the town and I fell in love with its diversity. I even moved there for a while until work meant I had to move on. Handsworth was the and still is a fascinating place and. I hope that these troubles never happen again and instead of conflict the emphasis is put on the positives of this wonderful place and it’s wonderful people.

I was 17 at the time walking home with my 6 mnth old son to where I lived in Lozells street with my elder sister. Coming up Lozells street I saw the whole of Lozells road ablaze virtually. I could not believe what I was seeing. I quickly got my son and I into the flat and locked the door for what good that was, there were people trying to kick off the main door to get in when they finally did they knocked on all three flat doors trying to get in to stash their loot, boy was it scary, I'll never forget it, I to be strong, it was a good thing too because when it had all calm down after two day's the police came round to interview the tennance and to seach the property (fair play)

im 15 nd liv in slough bt wub jst lyk 2ay 2 komel da i agree wit u its so tru nd all these stupid ppl dat r involvd in stupid riots nd dat need 2 wke up nd realize wt sort of world there livin in!!! nd most of all go nd gt educated....mayb dat wil help em!!!!

I'm 18 and wasn't born when all the tension was going on but all i'd like to say is that why are we still so narrow minded about different races?cultures?religions? DO black people have yellow blood, do asians have pink blood and do white people have black blood? When we all have the same blood colour how can we be different?We all have bodies.We all have flesh. But still it's sad to see some racist people or people who like to differentiate and cause tensions between us. I personally, think it's very sad. We (Britain) claims to be a multi cultural society but yet some of us can't accept the fact that we are all ONE.

I was only 5 when the 1985 riots happen, i remember walking down the road with my mom and remember seeing mayhem all over the place. and 20 years on i was one of many Police Officer's trying restore public order on the lastest so-called riots of Handsworth 22/10/5. i still live in Handsworth and love living in a place where i grew up.

I wasn't born when those riotings happened but it seems lozells HAS changed.It also shows there was a bond between the different communities this was displayed but sadly in the wrong manner. Living in Small Heath i do not actually have to experience the terror people living in lozells feel. It seems that the realationship the blacks and asians have worked so hard to have is being destroyed and why? Because like people are saying a racial group is out to cause unrest. If the rumours r true(about the rape) about the girl then i feel disguisted that people could do such a thing and call themselves muslims. But i don't get why all asians r bein punished for it? Espicially as people r reporting it to be a rumour. This is only escalating and not doing nothing for anyone. As it is inevatible that other communties will get involved. If this is the work of rasicts then we can't let them win.

I have no memories but i would like to say why can't peole all get along - what if you're white; what if you're black; what if your; indian/seek/muslim- Asian we are all the same in more ways than we differernt I am a young girl of only 14 and I think racism is as pathetic as not liking some-one because you have brown eyes and them blue!

Bernadette Espinosa
I have not lived in Handsworth for 30 years and I am so sad to hear what has happened yet again In Birmingham.I keep up with the area because I spent the first 20 years of my life there, on Wellington Rd.Even though I now live in the US, I am deeply hurt by what I heard in 1985 and now again 2005..As a young girl I could walk with ease to Perry Barr and buy cakes at the Birmingham Dairies..we had Asian and Jamacian neighbours..we were all respectful to each other and interested in each others cultures..What happened? Why are we granting each other permission to take another person's life?Or be violent and destructive to each other? Is the community more intrested in being right? OK so you are all right and someone else dies and what for? For being right? About what I ask? Please I reach out to you all, no matter what money you have or not, no matter what your different beliefs, please give up your right to be right about your point of view and I request you make Handsworth, Lozells, Perry Barr a safe community for yourself and your children.Create a future where everyone wins and no one is left behind,no matter what your nationality is.. when will you draw the line and have the area be the peaceful place it once was..Take care of it and love it..it can happen with a commitment and alignment by you all, for you all vs against each other..Or you can hold on to your point of view and be very justified for your actions and more innocent lives will be impacted by fear, or some more of you will die..I am grateful I am not seeing what some of you are seeing now..read the comments from young people living there now..It's very scary!you know resentment is liking drinking poison waiting for the other person to die..I request that you have conversations that forward the future of you all and make a difference to impact the quality of your lives..Know you are loved and prayed for by someone who lives far away, does not know you, yet cares for your safety and future.

Bilaal Sarwar
I would like to tel Manjit at that time there was no Lozells people might hav called it that but there wasnt a lozells. There are still arguments about the lozells area ben too small to have an council. Virtually my whole family was and is still living in lozells, like stated before i can reassure there was no lozells, you may have called it at that time but officially there wasn't. It's like the area birchfield just up da road from lozells officially it is/was not an area but because of Birchfield rd. People started calling it that. We shouldn't be argueing if there was a lozells or there wasn't at that time, but we should be tryin to find a solution to prevent anything more happening with the recent riots.

i werent born when the first riot happend. but i think that it is a shame we cant come together as 1 community and im only 13 and i know that.

Ras Peter
I feel dreadful that 20 years on from 1985 we the people of Hnadsworth have not moved on very much.

i am 15 years old and i live in lozellz at the moment i find this whole idea very disturbing. in a way people are bringing out what they are feeling for years in the open but they also are resulting by inflicting pain on others.

i werent born when the roit happened but i was just reading about it and i thinks its really bad. racisim is'nt good everyone is the same.

Things haven't changed
20 years on-into the 21st century ,with internet and all the mod cons-things haven't changed. I was a 12 year old child back then living with my parents in Handsworth,and all the memories came flooding back when the war zone re-erupted last night. The same fear, anxiety and mixed emotions were provoked once again.What is the truth-perhaps we shall never know; but what is true -is how easy it is for irresponsible individuals to raise emotions and hatred against members of other communities-even before we know all the facts.It is so easy to blame others,for ones own weaknesses, it is so difficult to look within oneself. Will we take heed and make ammends?Will we learn from the natural disasters of the world?We can but pray.

Natasha Esty
My dad told me all about the handsworth riots as he was there at the time he said there was money on the floor clothes left on the floor from where people had broken into various shops. My dad said people at that time felt betrayed by the media and the police people thought of lozells to be a dangerous community because of the range of ethnic groups so they all decide to stand up for what the belived in to get their point across to the british community, Maybe they could of gone about it in a different way because many people died and got injured but they felt this was the right way to stand up to the media and the police. lozells has grown over the years into a respectable community and if me as a 14 year old girl can see this surely the media the police and the british community can open their eyes to.


I was living on Lozells Road at the time next to the petrol station, it all happend outside my house. I was only a kid at the time, I remember the Asian family who run the post officer were trapped, and died, I was only a kid at the time. I remember a bus drove down the road and every window got smashed. We used to have a fire guard in the house as we had a coal fire, my mum took it apart and nailed it at the windows tos top missiles comming threw the window.

I was fifteen at the time and lived on Carpenters Road, just off Lozells Road. I remember being home alone when things first erupted and at the time my grandmother and her husband lived next door. They came to our back door to get me into their house without having to go into the street. During that time I also worked in the Butcher's shop on Lozells Road. I remember many things about those few days. I remember seeing a TV reporter being badly beaten by rioters outside my living room window and another man coming to our window with a machette knife yelling at us to stay inside or be killed. We were watching TV images and real life at the same time! We later found all kinds of items in our garden, from a cash registers to tins of food from Food City. I stayed up all night serving tea and sandwiches to the police and fireman from the butcher's shop in Lozells Road and later received a letter from the B'ham Chief of Police thanking me for doing so. It was an experience I will never forget and the experience has followed me through life.

I'd just like to let Bilaal Sarwar know that Lozells did exist in 1985 and I was there and watched what happened. I knew the people in the post office who died. I remember having a police van stop outside our house on Leonard Rd and get pelted by bricks. Some going through our windows. I remember my dad standing at the door with a sword saying he will kill anyone entering the house. I remember houses on our street being looted. I remember the fires on Lozells Rd, the clothes from woolworths on the street. Some money here and there. I remember people with trolley loads of food and clothes going up our street. It was real and It is still there in my head. It was in Lozells and Handsworth, lets not forget that.

We were being kids and getting too close to the action, peeping through the gaps in the rioters. My sister fell down with blood on her head in the steet, dont know what hit her but people were doing stupid stuff throwing bricks and skimming bin lids. The crowd were driven back and we were left as the police advanced. A policeman knelt down and held her wiping her face and sheilding her from the stones. A bin lid hit him on the side of his neck and cut along his ear, but he stayed with us and got us back home. Thanks!

Bilaal Sarwar
i am a 15 year old boy living in lozells and when i was watching midland news today the presenter had said that the rioting had actually happened in lozells and not handsworth. I just want to make the point that 20-30 years ago there was no such thing as lozells and lozells was only developed by people livng around lozells rd. From there it had grown over the years. I am just trying to state that the riots did happen in handsworth. I would aslo like to say i do not like the way lozells is portrayed in the media. Over the years i have watched many news reports (not just from Midlands news) about lozells and they usually result to describing lozells as a poor and very dangerous area, but actually it has changed rapidly over the years. The main park has been rebuilt paving has been improved so the area looks great and the whole area is very safe, i can reassure you. Thanks for reading. Yours sincerely Bilaal

Baljit Mann Canada
I was 19 at the time the riots happened. I was wathching the 10 o'clock news on itn when it went into a news flash headline stating that they was full scale riot in handsworth. My dad came home from the soho road area and telling us what was happening on the streets. As a young photographer I wanted to go out and document this but my dad would not allow it. It was a sad day for us all in handsworth as our community was put into the spotlight.

I can remember being on the bus with my mother and her telling me to look the other way - as a rather curious 8yr old I looked out the window and saw looters smashing a bike shop window and running away with bikes...the police were just standing there watching... How times have changed....

As a 10 year old in lozells the riots were terryfying and it caused panic everywhere you looked. The sight of looters running with trollies and one looter slashing the fore service waterhose at the water hydrant .the morning after when i heard of the postmaster and his brother were killed still chills me today.

I was living in Handsworth at the time of the riots, I was only 12 years old and I just remember it being very scary. The two days of rioting felt like forever. Even after they ended, for months there was still a feeling in the air that the violence was going to erupt again any minute. Even though the area still has it's problems, 20 years on there is still a strong community spirit in Handsworth.

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