John Lerwill is Birmingham born & raised and worked in the Council's Legal Department at the Council House in the first-half of the 1960s.
Read more here.
Birmingham or Brummagem?
In an 1870 historical publication on Birmingham by John Alfred Langford, LL.D., he quotes an interesting suggestion that the
connection of the city name Birmingham (of Anglo-Saxon construction) to its popular name of Brummagem is as follows:
Bermingeham is the spelling of Domesday, and there can be little doubt that the e following
the g signifies that the g was pronounced soft, as was frequently the
case in the Midlands in words in which the g was elsewhere pronounced
hard. The entire word would, therefore, be sounded as Berminjam,
which swiftly spoken, slides naturally in the mouth of a Midlander into
either Bremijam or 'Brummagem'.
The above is a print of a Samuel Lines sketch of 1821, looking down Colmore Row on the right.
In those days Colmore Row led into Ann Street and remained that way until the building of the Council House in the 1870s.
This sketch was done before the Town Hall was built, and shows that the area around Bennett's Hill was still arable land.
Indeed, there was a legal restriction that expired in the 1830s to prevent building on that land.
Christ Church (which had been erected about 10 years before) stands in the middle distance.
The following picture from 1867 is of Ann Street as it swept down towards the Town Hall (1834). Ann Street was later re-aligned and integrated into Colmore Row.
The above is a sketch of the realigned Colmore Row as in the 1870s, after the Council House was built and much reconstruction.
The Town Hall and the spire of Christ Church can be seen in the very distance.
Please note that a number of the photos and diagrams I have used on this site originated from a number of the blogs listed below, and also
the John Morris Jones Collection.
I wish to express my indebtedness to all such sources. If there is any objection to my use of any image, or a need to state the source
on the image, please e-mail me.
There follow three lists of prominent people in Business, Politics, Science, Technology, Arts and Sport born in, or strongly associated with, Birmingham.
To see a single list of all these names sorted by Activity and Era,
please click here.
Especially Prominent People in Business, Politics and Intelligentsia born in, or strongly associated with, Birmingham
Matthew Boulton, James Watt and William Murdock.
Leon David Abrams - 20th c. surgeon/inventor; Francis William Aston - 20th c. chemist/Nobel Prize winner; Thomas Attwood - 19th c. reforming politician/economist; Herbert Austin - 19th/20th c. automobile manufacturer; John Baskerville - 18th/19th c. printer; Edward White Benson - 19th c. Archbishop of Canterbury; Conway Berners-Lee - 20th c. mathematician/computer pioneer; father of
Tim Berners-Lee of Internet fame. Alfred Bird - 19th c. inventor/manufacturer; Matthew Boulton - 18th/19th c. pioneering industrialist; John Bright - 19th c. social reform campaigner, politician; Donald Eric Broadbent - 20th c. cognitive psychologist; John Cadbury - 19th c. chocolate businessman. Business developed by his sons George Cadbury and Richard Cadbury; Joseph Chamberlain - 19th/20th c. businessman, reforming local and national politician, as were his B'ham-born sons
Austin Chamberlain (Nobel Peace Prize winner) and Arthur Neville Chamberlain (prime minister, 1936-40). Peter Checkland - 20th c. management scientist; Carl Chinn - 20th/21st c. social historian; Jesse Collings - 19th/20th c. reforming politician; George Dawson - 19th c. preacher; George Dixon - 19th c. politician/educationalist. His son Arthur Stansfield Dixon became an important metal worker and architect; George Richards Elkington - 19th c. inventor/manufacturer; Edward Augustus Freeman - 19th c. historian and politician; Francis Galton - 19th c. anthropologist/inventor/explorer/scientist; Samuel Garbett - 18th c. merchant/politician; Joseph Gillott - 19th c. inventor/manufacturer; Roy Grantham - 20th c. trades unionist; John Hall-Edwards - 19th/20th c. radiography developer; John Hardman - 18th/19th c. metalworker/glassmaker; Derek Hathaway - 20th/21st c. businessman/philanthropist; Roy Hattersley - 20th c. politician; Denis Howell - 20th c. politician/football official; Simon Inglis - 20th c. historian/author; Alec Issigonis - 20th c. automobile designer. Digby Jones - 20th/21st c. businessman/politician; Sampson Lloyd II - 18th c. banker; Joseph Lucas - 19th c. founder of Lucas Industries; Herbert J Manzoni - 20th c. town planning engineer; Josiah Mason - 19th c. industrialist and educationalist; William Morgan - 19th c. slavery abolitionist; George Frederic Muntz - 19th c. industrialist/politician; William Murdock - 18th/19th c. inventor; John Sutton Nettlefold - 20th c. social reformer; Cardinal John Henry Newman - 19th c. religious leader; Abraham Follett Osler - 19th c. pioneering meteorologist; Alexander Parkes - 19th c. inventor; Lewis Paul - 18th c. inventor; Richard Pearson - 18th/19th c. physician; Enoch Powell - 20th c. politician; Joseph Priestley - 18th c. scientist and philosopher; William Russell - 18th c. merchant/benefactor; Louisa Ryland - 19th c. benefactor; Clare Short - 20th/21st c. politician; Francis Alfred Skidmore - 19th c. high profile metalworker; William Joseph "Bill" Slim - 20th c. military commander; John Benjamin Stone - 19th c. politician/photographer; Joseph Sturge - 19th c. slavery abolitionist; John Taylor - 18th c. manufacturer/banker; William James "Will" Thorne - 19th c. trades unionist/MP; Julia Varley - 20th c. suffragette/trades unionist; James Watt - 18th/19th c. steam engine industrialist; David Wheeler - 20th c. computer expert; Joseph Powell Williams - 19th c. reforming politician; William Withering - 18th c. scientist; John Skirrow Wright - 19th c. social reformer; John Wyatt - 18th c. inventor; Malala Yousafzai - 21st c. campaigner;
Prominent People in the Arts, Entertainment and Media born in, or strongly associated with, Birmingham
Joan Armatrading - 20th/21st c. singer/songwriter; William Ashford - 18th/19th c. artist; W. H. Auden - 20th playwright/writer; Michael Balcon - 20th c. film producer; Granville Bantock - 19th/20th c. classical music composer; Joseph Barber - 18th/19th c. artist; Hilaire Pierre René Belloc - 19th/20th c. historian/writer; Leslie Webster Booth - 20th c. classical tenor; Anthony "Tony" Britton - 20th/21st c. TV and film actor; Edward Burne-Jones - 19th c. artist; Ian Campbell - 20th c. folk singer (the Ian Campbell Folk Group, with sister Lorna) and sons Ali Campbell and Robin Campbell of pop group UB40. Jasper Carrott (Bob Davis) - 20th/21st c. TV comedian; Barbara Cartland - 20th c. novelist; Lee Child (Jim Grant) - 20th/21st c. novelist; Adrian Chiles - 20th/21st c. TV personality; George Melville Cooper - 20th c. stage, film and TV actor; David Cox - 19th c. artist; Judith Cutler - 20th/21st c. novelist; Lindsey Davis - 20th/21st c. novelist; David Edgar - 20th/21st c. playwright; Norman Edwards - 20th c. sports cartoonist; Edward Elgar - 19th/20th c. classical music composer; Sid Field - 20th c. music hall, theatre and film comedian; Bernard Fleetwood-Walker - 20th c. artist; John Freeth - 18th/19th c. poet and songwriter; Tony Garnett - 20th/21st c. film and TV producer; Noele Gordon - 20th c. actress/TV presenter; Henry Green - 20th author; Tony Hancock - 20th c. TV, film and radio comedian; David Harewood - 20th/21st c. film and TV actor; William Armfield Hobday - 18th/19th c. artist; Andrew Hunt - 19th c. artist; Raymond Huntley - 20th c. stage, film and TV actor; Thomas Henry Illidge - 19th c. artist; Barry Jackson - 20th c. theatre director; Samuel Johnson - 18th c. playwright and author; Felicity Jones - 20th/21st c. radio, TV and film actress; John Alfred Langford - 19th c. journalist and antiquary; Ian Lavender - 20th/21st c. TV and film actor; Samuel Lines - 18th/19th c. artist; Hugh Manning - 20th c. TV and film actor; James Millar - 18th/19th c. artist; George Mogridge (Old Humphrey) - 19th c. writer; William "Bill" Morris - 20th/21st c. BBC producer/2012 Olympics chief; Henry Vollam Morton - 20th c. newspaper journalist; Stanley Myers - 20th c. musical composer; Nick Owen - 20th/21st c. TV personality; John Michael "Ozzie" Osbourne - 20th/21st c. musician/entertainer; Henry Albert Payne - 19th/20th c. artist; Augustus Pugin - 19th c. architectural designer; Simon Rattle - 20th c. classical music conductor; Adil Ray - 21st c. radio/TV presenter/entertainer; Terence Rigby - 20th/21st c. TV and film actor; Sax Rohmer (Arthur Ward) - 20th c. novelist; Victor Saville - 20th c. film director, producer and screenwriter; Martin Shaw - 20th/21st c. TV and film actor; Barbara Slater - 20th/21st c. TV sports producer; Bernard Sleigh - 20th c. artist; Thomas Barry Sullivan - 19th c. stage actor; George Thalben-Ball - 20th c. classical musician; J.R.R. Tolkien - 20th c. author; Kenneth Tynan - 20th c. playwright; Murray Walker - 20th/21st c. motorsports commentator; Julie Walters - 20th/21st c. TV and film actress; Carl Wayne (Colin Tooley) - 20th c. musician; Tom Webster - 20th c. cartoonist; Toyah Willcox - 20th c. singer/actress; Stephen "Steve" Winwood - 20th c. musician; John Wyndham - 20th c. author; Benjamin Zephaniah - 20th/21st c. poet;
Prominent People in Sport and Adventurist Activities born in, or strongly associated with, Birmingham
Sidney Solomon Abrahams - 20th c. champion athlete; Dennis Amiss - 20th c. test cricketer/cricket administrator; Keith Arkell - 20th/21st c. chess champion; Ian Bell - 21st c. test cricketer; Alfred Victor Blenkiron - 20th c. WW1 air ace (RFC/RAF); Ralph Broad - 20th c. saloon car racer/engineer; Russell Brookes - 20th c. car rally champion; Lisa Clayton - 20th c. circumnavigator; John Curry - 20th c. champion ice skater; John Devey - 19th/20th c. Aston Villa captain in league/cup double and club director; county cricketer; Albert James Enstone - 20th c. WW1 air ace (RNAS/RAF); Henry St John Fancourt - 20th c. pioneering naval aviator (WW1-WW2); Bernard Ford - 20th c. champion ice skater; Thomas Henry Gem - 19th c. co-inventor of modern tennis; Tommy Godwin - 20th c. cycling champion; Trevor Hampton - 20th c. RAF pilot/scuba diving developer; Ashia Hansen - 20th/21st c. champion athlete; Ann Haydon-Jones - 20th c. table-tennis/tennis champion; William Eric Hollies - 20th c. test cricketer; Jack Hood - 20th c. champion boxer; Sonia Lannaman - 20th c. champion athlete; Denise Lewis - 20th/21st c. champion athlete/TV personality; Nigel Mansell - 20th c. motor racing champion; William McGregor - 19th/20th c. founder of league football & football administrator: formerly chairman of Aston Villa FC; Anthony John Miles - 20th c. chess champion; Dennis Mortimer - 20th c. Aston Villa captain in League and European Cup success; Augurio Perera - 19th c. co-inventor of modern tennis; Johnny Prescott - 20th c. champion boxer; Edwin Prosser - 20th c. early enterprising aviator; Peter Radford - 20th c. champion sprinter; Daniel Wycliffe Sargent - 19th c. African explorer; Robert Henry Magnus Spencer Saundby - 20th c. aviator (WW1-WW2); Gladstone Small - 20th c. test cricketer; Alan Smith - 20th c. test cricketer/cricket administrator; Michael John Knight ("MJK") Smith - 20th c. test cricketer; Howard Spencer - 19th/20th c. Aston Villa and England captain and club director; Graham Paul Webb - 20th c. cycling champion; Bob Willis - 20th c. test cricketer;
Victoria Cross Holders Born (strictly) in Birmingham
William Amey - Nov 4, 1918 at Landrecies, France; James Cooper - May 7, 1867 at Little Andaman, Bay of Bengal; Norman Augustus Finch - April 22/23, 1918 at Zeebrugge, Belgium; Albert Gill - July 27, 1916 (d) at Delville Wood, France; Herbert James - June 28, 1915 at Gallipoli; John Patrick Kenneally (né Leslie Jackson) - April 28&30, 1943 at Djebel Bou Azoukaz, Tunisia; Alfred Joseph Knight - Sep 20, 1917 at Ypres, Belgium; George Ravenhill - Dec 15, 1899 at Colenso, South Africa; Thomas George Turrall - July 3, 1916 at La Boiselle, France; Arthur Vickers - Sep 25, 1915 at Hulloch, France; Samuel Wassall - Jan 22, 1879 at Isandhlwana, Zululand, Africa; Alfred Wilcox - Sep 12, 1918 at Laventie, France;
Foreign Connections in Birmingham
Elihu Burritt (USA) - 19th c. writer/diplomat; Washington Irving (USA) - 19th c. writer/diplomat;
Famous Businesses at some time Based in Birmingham
Accles and Pollock (aircraft components), Austin Car Company, W & T Avery (weighing scales), Bird's Custard, Brylcream (Men's Hair Products), BSA (munitions and motorcycles), Cadbury's Chocolate, Chad Valley Toy Company, Dunlop Tyres, Elkington's (electroplating), Joseph Gillott's (pens), Guest Keen and Nettlefolds (engineering), Hercules bicycles, HP Sauce, IMI Munitions, Jaguar Car Company, Lucas Industries, Metropolitan Cammell Carriage and Wagon Company, Mills (munitions), Norton Motorcycles, Philips bicycles, Rover and Land Rover Car Company, Rudge bicycles, Singer Car Company, Tetley Tea, Velocette (motorcycles), Webley & Scott (firearms), Wolesley Motors.
ACT (Applied Computer Techniques) was formed in Birmingham in 1965 and in the early 1980s developed the Apricot brand of micro computers which seriously competed against the IBM PC and other micro computers, and at one time achieved 30% of the British market in that range. Apricot eventually succumbed to the competition, although it may well be re-introduced in 2016 by a different enterprise.
The Jewellery Quarter.
Major aircraft production centres at Castle Bromwich and Longbridge in World War Two.
Two of Britain's big four banks were founded in Birmingham - Lloyds (1765) and Midland (1836).
Birmingham has been variously known as "The Toyshop of Europe" (1780s), "The City of a Thousand Trades" (1890s), "The Best Governed City In The World" (1890) and (later) "The Workshop of the World".
Indeed, Birmingham became the first manufacturing town in the world in the 1760s when Matthew Boulton built the world's first engineering factory.
In the last few decades, Birmingham has (painfully) been transformed from an industrial city into a centre of enterprise, but is still the main base for the Jaguar-Land Rover car company.
Photo by Jimmy Guano, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Birmingham_Skyline_from_Edgbaston_Cricket_Ground.jpg
In the words of Chris Upton (in his book "A History of Birmingham"):
Birmingham was the cradle of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century,
[the] cradle of local government and state education in the 19th [century] ...
Chartist riots, the arrival of the first trains, discovering Oxygen;
they're all Birmingham stories.
Birmingham was located near the coalfields of Northern Warwickshire and is at the centre of the UK's canal system. Due to these wonderful transport links, Birmingham became an increasingly large part of a global economy - products from Birmingham found their way to Europe, America, Asia and Africa.
The first canal to be built in the area was the Birmingham Canal, built from 1768 to 1772 and by the 18th century Birmingham was the greatest industrial city in the world. Even today it still reaps the benefits from a long history as the leading centre of trade and market innovation.
Industries had been established to provide objects such as chinaware and metal tongs, hallmarks of newly fashionable leisure activities like making tea, and a variety of other goods that were collectively known as 'toys'. It was declared that Birmingham was "The Toyshop of Europe", such was the demand. Many of the objects manufactured were not easy to be produced by mechanisation until a later date.
It may be of interest to read a definition of the time for the word "toy" (as in "Toyshop of Europe"). Quoting Sketchley's Directory of 1767:
An infinite Variety of Articles that come under this Denomination [toys] are made here [in Birmingham], and it would be endless to attempt to give a List of the Whole, but for the information of Strangers we shall here observe, that these Articles are divided into several Branches as the Gold and Silver Toy Makers, who make Trinkets, Seals, Tweezer and Tooth pick cases, Smelling Bottles, Snuff boxes, and Filigree Work such as Toilets, Tea Chests, Inkstands, etc etc...
In the early 1800's, Birmingham's factories were heavily dependant on components supplied by small independent workshops, as had traditionally been the case. The application of factory-based steam power was more slow to evolve in Birmingham owing to this fact and the few large factories then present. There were still thousands of small workshops employing a small number of workers - working on this scale it was as effective to use their hands rather than combine interests to create larger business concerns to utilise steam technology to operate presses, lathes and stamps. That is until economic demand forced the situation of relying more on machines.
To all that can be added stories of the development and rise of the Jewellery Quarter,
the great industrial achievements such as the supply of virtually all the steel and glass infrastructure
of the Crystal Palace at Hyde Park in 1851 and Birmingham's huge part in the rise of the motorcar industry. And it was Birmingham's Rover car company that built the world's first jet-engine powered car, in 1950. And so many other achievements to talk of.
By the end of the 1830's Birmingham also became the centre of the Grand Junction Railways linking London and Birmingham, becoming the hub of the national railway. By this point, Birmingham had a highly skilled workforce and had both imperial and commercial ambitions for the 20th century. Indeed, Birmingham completed the grand triple in consecutive centuries of being central to canal, railway and then motorway systems when, in 1972, The 'Spaghetti Junction' motorway interchange (the Gravelly Hill Interchange) was opened.
World War twice made a great impact on Birmingham's economy, and not only was the city a centre for the production of munitions it was also pinpointed as the main centre for the production of fighter aircraft and also made bomber aircraft during World War Two. But the armaments industry was nothing new to Brimingham: from the days of supplying large numbers of swords to the Parliamentary forces in the 1640s, to the huge number of guns made during the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) and also in the Crimean War (1850s), Birmingham has been a backbone to the nation's defence.
Birmingham, though, has not just been about industry. As intimated by Chris Upton, Birmingham played a huge part in the reform of politics in the first half of the 19th century, followed by the Chamberlain and Dixon led movement to make education available for all. And music has been a great part of the culture here, in all its forms. Going further back there was a great amount of philosophical discussion, and the Lunar Society (about which please see more below).
Remarkable 'Leading Lights' in Birmingham prior to 1900
1066 The Manor of Birmingham was held by Alwyne, son of Wigod the Dane, who married the sister of the Saxon Leofric, Earl of Mercia.
1086 Birmingham (as Bermingeham) mentioned in the Domesday Book.
The Manor was tenanted by Richard, who held under William Fitz-Ansculf, and included four hides of land and half-a-mile of wood, worth
20s.; there were 150 acres in cultivation, with but nine residents, five villeins, and four bordarers. In 1181 there
were 18 freeholders in Birmingham cultivating 667 acres, and 35 tenants in demesne, holding 158
acres, the whole value being £13 8s. 2d.
ca.1154 The king grants the right to hold a weekly market in Birmingham. It becomes a busy little market town.
1250 The people of Birmingham are given the right to hold an annual fair.
1300s The 'Great Fire of Birmingham' is alluded to but no details recorded.
1349 The Black Death reaches Birmingham and the Midlands.
1368 The Old Crown public house in Deritend is believed to have been constructed as a guildhall. If so, it is Birmingham's first school.
1380 Birmingham is becoming known for its metalworking industry.
1500 Birmingham has a population of about 1,500.
1552 King Edward's School is founded.
1560 The population has risen to around 2,000. There is still a wool industry in Birmingham and a leather industry but metalworking is fast becoming the most important industry.
1588 The nobility and gentry of this and adjoining counties, at the time of the threatened invasion
by the Spaniards, contributed sums of money sufficient to hire and equip no less than 43 ships of war (perhaps more than 20% of the English fleet). Among the names we note the following local subscribers of £25 each:-William Kinge and William Collmer (Colmore), of
Burmingham; Richard Middlemore, Edgbaston; Mrs. Margarett Knowlys, Nuneton; Gabriell Powltney, Knowle;
Richard Corbett, Meryden, etc.
1635 Aston Hall is completed.
1642 Royalists sack Birmingham but defeated at Kings Norton.
1643 Birmingham (Digbeth) was attacked by Prince Rupert,
with some 2,000 horse and foot; being pretty stoutly opposed, his soldiers slew a number of inhabitants, burnt
nearly 80 houses, and did damage (it is said) to the extent of £30,000. It took five days for the news of this exploit
to reach London. In the week following Christmas of the same year, a number of townspeople, aided by a party of
the Commonwealth soldiers, laid siege to, and captured, Aston Hall.
1650 The population of Birmingham is about 5,000.
1695 Birmingham gains its first fire engine.
1715 St Phillips Church is built.
1720 The population of Birmingham is about 12,000.
1724 Founding of the Blue Coat School for the "noble work of giving a good,
sound education to orhpans, or the children of parents whose poverty
and misfortunes render it almost impossible that they should be able
to discharge this, the most important of parental duties." The school still exists.
1731 A weekly stagecoach service begun to London via Warwick, Banbury and Aylesbury, although an earlier service was recorded as early as 1697.
An old "Road-book" of this date, says that "Birmingham, Bromicham, or Bremicham, is a
large town, well built and populous. The inhabitants, being mostly smiths, are very ingenious in their way, and
vend vast quantities of all sorts of iron wares."
1732 Birmingham's first newspaper commences, the Birmingham Journal, but becomes defunct in 1741 and is immediately followed by Aris's Gazette.
1733 The earliest public library in Birmingham founded by the Revd. W. Higgs, first Rector of St. Philip's.
1746 Acquisition of land enables the construction of the Jewellery Quarter.
1750 The population of Birmingham is about 24,000. In England's Gazetteer, published about this date, Birmingham or Bromicham is said to be "a large, well-built, and populous town, noted for the most ingenious artificers in boxes, buckles, buttons, and other iron and steel wares; wherein such multitudes of people are employed that they are sent all over Europe; and here is a continual noise of hammers, anvils, and files."
1750 (about) Founding of the Birmingham Book Club, which in fact was named as such to hide its real purpose, which was a venue for the discussion of non-conformist and political issues at a time when open discussion of such issues was not advisable. The initial membership was of a Unitarian flavour, it would appear. The founders of the Club were
among those who, along with Dr. Priestley, suffered so much for their opinions in the fatal year of the riots, 1791.
1766 In A New Tour through England, by George Beaumont, Esq., and Capt. Henry Disney,
Birmingham is described as "a very large populous town, the upper part of which stands dry on the side of a hill,
but the lower is watry, and inhabited by the meaner sort of people. They are employed here in the Iron Works, in
which they are such ingenious artificers, that their performances in the smallwares of iron and steel are admired
both at home and abroad. 'Tis much improved of late years, both in public and private buildings."
1768 The first of the Birmingham Triennial Music Festivals held. The proceeds contribute hugely to charitable purposes and contribute to the soon-to-be-built General Hospital.
1768 A body of men called Street Commissioners are given power to clean and light (with oil lamps) the streets of Birmingham. Their powers are increased until replaced by the Birmingham Corporation in 1851. Authority is also given to the Commissioners to make various structural improvements to New Street and High Street and the houses by St. Martin's
Church are to be taken down. It was later stated: "Many of those alterations made have entirely changed the appearance of the place, and
which have since been carried on with ever accelerating speed, until Old Birmingham has been almost lost in the embraces of the modern
1769 A first Birmingham canal is built, this one providing a major link to Wednesbury.
1773 The Birmingham Assay Office opens for the first time at the King's Head Inn at New Street thanks to the efforts of Matthew Boulton. This happened in partrnership with an application from Sheffield. The London gold and silversmiths were incensed at what they envisioned as an incursion onto their monopoly.
1774 Two debating societies created: the Free Debating Society, or as it was afterwards
called, the Robin Hood Free Debating Society, and the Amicable Debating Society.
Several appealing topics would be debated at each meeting, including the eternal question "What constitutes Happiness ?", and the challenging question of the day: "Is the Custom so much practised (in Birmingham) of sending Children to the
[Work]Shops to work as soon as they are well able to walk, injurious or advantageous to
the Inhabitants in general?"
1779 A General Hospital (the building of which commenced in 1766) is opened.
1779 The Birmingham Library (a subscription library) is opened.
1783 The first Chamber of Commerce was created, called a "Standing General Commercial Committee," composed of the
leading merchants and manufacturers, who undertook the duty of looking after the public interests of the town in commerce.
1788 The centenary of the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688 was celebrated here with great rejoicing. The town's anti-Catholic sentiments had been noted way back in the time of the English Civil War, but in fact by the 18th c. the sentiments of the locals were very much the Tory "for God and King".
1791 A notorious series of riotous and violent attacks were made on the homes of various personages who were suspected of having sympathy with the French Revolutionary cause, including the home of Dr. Joseph Priestley, who was made to flee from Birmingham. He later went to the USA, where he died.
1796 The world's first engineering factory built, at Soho.
1796 Formation of the Brotherly Society (formally named Brotherly Benefit Society in 1798), later described as "the first Mechanics' Institute in Britain".
1801 The population of Birmingham is about 73,000.
1806 The Public Office was built in Moor Street encompassing offices for the Street Commissioners, magistrates' courts and a prison.
This remained the primary local government centre until the 1880s and was physically replaced by Moor Street Railway Station.
1812 The Royal Mail postal service introduced to London, instead of the town being dependent on other mail coaches which passed through Birmingham from the more northern towns.
1813 A true Chamber of Commerce created, the first attempt (1783) having not been very useful.
1815-16 The Birmingham Manor House buildings were demolished and the moat filled-in. The remains of medieval stone structures excavated in 1973-75 survive intact beneath the buildings of the Birmingham Wholesale Markets. The Birmingham Manor House or Birmingham Moat formed the seat of the Lord of the Manor of Birmingham, but the structures demolished in 1815 were not the original buildings.
1818 The streets of Birmingham first lit by gas.
1821 Census reveals population has reached over 100,000.
1831 A national cholera outbreak, but only 21 deaths are recorded for Birmingham owing to the better living and water supply facilities (though far from perfect).
Near Wolverhampton, by contrast, there is an appalling affect on the local population.
1832 Birmingham obtains its first two MPs, Thomas Attwood and Joshua Scholefield. The Botanical Gardens open at Edgbaston.
1834 A new Town Hall is built in Birmingham, designed by Hansom of later 'Hansom Cab' fame. A new and grand Market Hall is also built in the Bull Ring.
1834 Horse-drawn buses are introduced to serve the suburbs.
1837 The first trains run between Birmingham and Liverpool.
1838 Birmingham becomes a Municipal Borough and
William Scholefield becomes the town's first mayor, his father (Joshua) having been one of Birmingham's first two MPs in 1832.
"Forward" was adopted as the town's motto in 1839.
1838 Birmingham is now connected to London by rail. Curzon Street is Birmingham's main railway terminal at this time.
1838 King Edward's School (established 1552 at Gild Hall, New Street, re-built 1708) moves into a Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin designed building on existing New Street premises.
1839 Birmingham Police force was formed.
1841 St Chad's Cathedral is built, designed by Pugin.
1847 A national cholera epidemic affected Birmingham and is exacerbated by the vastly increasing population which is creating unprecedented demands on water supplies and sanitation. Primitive water supplies become infected. It takes time for action to be taken.
1849-50 Second national cholera epidemic, and highly prevalent.
1850 Bingley Hall, Britain's first exhibition hall, is opened on the site now occupied by The ICC.
1852 Snow Hill railway station constructed though not known by that name until 1858. It received a major rebuild in 1912. Though closed in the 1970s it was later re-built and has also been the Metro terminal.
1852 Street Commissioners powers were transferred to the Town Council.
1854 New Street railway station constructed. It has since had three main re-developments.
1854 Foundation of the Birmingham and Midland Institute, 'a general scientific and literary association with an industrial institute, which would economize buildings, attendance, management and expenses of lectures, and concentrate into the Institution the energies of those who would support either'. This institute had the full backing of people such as Prince Albert and Charles Dickens.
1856 Diptheria in "full vigour", and other contagious diseases highly prevalent: death rate of children under 5 exceedingly high.
1861 A by-law says that all new houses in Birmingham must be connected to a sewer, some 12 years after a report had indicated such a move was necessary.
1864 Aston Hall becomes the first municipally-owned historical country house.
1864-65 There is a severe smallpox epidemic in Birmingham.
1866 First lending and reference library fully opened adjacent to the Town Hall.
1867 Birmingham Education League initiated, soon developing into a National League, founded 1869. The Birmingham Education League was co-founded in 1867 by George Dixon, a Birmingham Member of Parliament (MP) and past mayor, Joseph Chamberlain, a nonconformist and future mayor of Birmingham, and Jesse Collings (a councillor and future MP), to include branches from all over England and Wales.
The object was to achieve the establishment of a system which would secure the education of every child in the country.
1871-72 There is a smallpox epidemic in Birmingham.
1872 First Medical Officer of Health, Dr Hill, appointed.
1873 Horse drawn trams begin running in Birmingham.
1874 Another smallpox epidemic strikes Birmingham. A modern Fire Service is established.
1875 Birmingham council takes over the Birmingham Water Company (1826). After that, sanitary inspectors closed many private wells.
1878 Work begins on the flagship Corporation Street, built over many run down buildings and streets.
The work was mostly completed by the middle 1880s.
1881 The Council House is built and replaces the Moor Street offices.
1882 Birmingham gains an electricity supply.
1882 Opening of replacement lending and reference library following a hugely destructive fire in 1876.
1883 Smallpox strikes Birmingham again.
1885 Museum and Art Gallery opened.
1889 Birmingham becomes a county borough and a city.
1890 The first electric trams run in Birmingham.
1890 American journalist Julian Ralph proclaimed that Birmingham had become "The Best Governed City in the World", in Harper's Magazine.
1891 Balsall Heath, Harborne, Saltley and Ward End embraced as part of Birmingham.
1896 X-Ray photography for medical purposes was pioneered by Major John Hall Edwards; he took the first x-ray in Birmingham.
1900 Birmingham University is founded with its roots going back to 1828.
1901 Census reveals population has reached over 500,000.
1905 St Phillips Church becomes Birmingham Cathedral.
1906 The expansion of the city and its population called for a new way to provide fresh water.
The issue was solved by the supply of water from the Elan Valley in Wales via a gravitational system.
1911 Various adjacent areas embraced as part of Birmingham, including Aston, Handsworth and Yardley.
1928 to 1931 Further expansion including Perry Barr and Sheldon.
1931 Census reveals population has reached over 1,000,000. It has been a little higher than this level ever since.
1939 (Jul) Birmingham Airport opened at Elmdon, weeks before the outbreak of WW2 during which the airport was requisitioned by the military.
1940 (Aug) to 1943 (Apr) Persistant bombing of Birmingham in WW2, killing more than 2,000 people and destroying much property.
The destruction paved the way for much re-development of inner areas from the late 1950s and in particular an inner ring road system that was fully opened by 1971.
1948 Birmingham replaces Glasgow as the UK's second most populated city.
1953 After a gradual running down, the final cessation of tram and trolleybus services takes place: with the low cost of oil, reliance is now placed on internal-combustion buses.
1954 A survey shows that more than 20% of the homes in Birmingham are unfit for human habitation.
1964 The Bull Ring shopping centre opens following the destruction of the medieval Bull Ring market area and bomb-damaged market hall.
1965 Birmingham Rotunda opens.
1966 Aston University is formed from the existing Colleges of Advanced Technology.
I was working in the legal section of the Town Clerk's Department when the transfer to University was being prepared. My boss, Frank Jones, drew up the exceedingly lengthy legal documentation for this purpose.
1967 Construction of BT communications tower completed.
1967 Snow Hill station begins its closure in its then current form. See about Snow Hill & Lerwill Clocks.
The station is revived in the late 1990s.
1969 Birmingham Central Mosque opened. It is the second purpose built in the UK and one of the largest mosques in Western Europe. The first mosques in Birmingham, however, were opened in 1943-4.
1972 The 'Spaghetti Junction' motorway interchange (the Gravelly Hill Interchange) is opened, having been started in 1968.
1974 New Central Library opens in Chamberlain Square.
1974 Local government reorganisation nationally sees Birmingham become a metropolitan district within the West Midlands County Council authority.
1974 21 people were killed and 182 people were injured when two city-centre pubs were bombed by the IRA.
1976 National Exhibition Centre (NEC) opened near Birmingham Airport.
1986 West Midlands County Council abolished and Birmingham returns to unitary status. Some services continue to be operated on a West Midlands-wide basis.
1987 Pavilions Shopping Centre opens.
1991 The International Conference Centre and Indoor Arena opens, as does the Birmingham Symphony Hall.
1999 Metro tram service introduced to Wolverhampton from Snow Hill. Service loop extension from Snow Hill and around Bull Street complex to become available 2015.
2000 Mailbox Shopping Centre opens.
2001 Millennium Point opens.
2003 New Bull Ring shopping centre opens.
2011 A Big City Plan is announced. Included in this is the site of the de Birmingham home and one of Birmingham's first buildings which will be 'resurrected' in an upcoming future development. A new public space is being planned called 'Moat Square' in reference to the de Birmingham manor house and moat, and more exciting still, the boundary and general footprint of the moat will serve as a new water feature, returning it part way to its original purpose. It seems that the historic heart of the city, which has lay dormant for over 200 years is due to make an imminent 'come back' and breathe life back into Birmingham yet again.
2013 The first part of a re-developed New Street Railway Station opens.
2013 New Central Library opens, in Broad Street: the largest public library in Europe.
2014 (Nov) It was announced Birmingham was to create a combined authority with the four neighbouring boroughs of Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton. Coventry and Solihull accepted invitations to join the union in May, 2015. The authority is expected to be formed in 2015 in a bid to gain greater devolved powers from the government
2015 The old Pallasades shopping centre above New Street Station received a complete facelift to become known as Grand Central Birmingham.
Some Birmingham Inventions
1779 The photocopier.
1822 The steel pen-knib.
1875 The whistle, as used in sports and by the police.
1896 The X-ray scanner.
1901 The vacuum cleaner.
1902 The smoke detector.
1919 The mass spectrometer.
1921 The car windscreen wiper.
1922 The electric kettle.
1945 The microwave oven.
1960 The heart pacemaker.
Horse-drawn buses were introduced in the suburbs in 1834
Horse-drawn trams were introduced in 1873
The first steam-powered tram: 1882
The first electric tram: 1907
Petrol-driven buses of this type were first introduced in 1913
Petrol-driven bus of 1926
Petrol-driven bus of 1933
Trolley-buses of the 1940s
The last electric tram (prior to Metro): 1953
Petrol-driven buses of the 1950s
Classic Cars Made in Brum Since World War 2
1960s-onwards, Austin-Morris Mini
1960s-70s Austin-Morris 1100
1960s Austin-Morris Farina-style Family Saloon
1960s Austin-Healey Sprite
1970s-80s Austin Princess
1940s-onwards Land Rover
1950s Rover P4 Series
1960s-70s Rover 2000-series
1960s-70s Rover 3000
1970s-80s Rover 2000-series
1980s-onwards Range Rover
A Modern Map of Central Birmingham...
In less than 200 years, Birmingham grew from a town of some 12,000 to a city of half-a-million people in 1901. In that time it had expanded to become an industrial giant. By 1931, the population had exceeded the million mark.
By the year 2000, of the 4,000 inventions copyrighted in the UK, 2,800 came from within a 35-mile radius of Birmingham. Peter Colegate of the Patent Office stated that "Every year, Birmingham amazes us by coming up with thousands of inventions. It is impossible to explain but people in the area seem to have a remarkable ability to come up with, and have the dedication to produce, ideas."
This was the city of my upbringing. I left in 1968, but returned to live here in 2008, exactly forty years on. Physically, it has changed a great deal since I left, and much of it is a lot for the better. But as for the people, Carl Chinn tells the story of
BRUMMIES (click here).
John Leland, who travelled around England in the 1530s and 1540s, recorded his observations on what he had seen around the country, including Birmingham.
His was the first account of Birmingham in any detail, though his description does reveal that it was still a small place. It had, however, already established a manufacturing identity.
Leland came by way of King's Norton, then "an attractive country town" in Worcestershire where there was a fine church and some good houses belonging to woolstaplers, which probably included the Saracen's Head which is still there on The Green today. He eventually passed through good areas of woodland and pasture before he came to Camp Hill.
He described Birmingham thus (as translated into more modern English):
Before I arived in Birmingham I came through an attractive street of houses inhabited by smiths and cutlers wich, as I remember, was called Dyrtey [Deritend]. It is a hamlet or chapelry of [Aston] parish, and is completely separate from the parish of Birmingham; a brook markes the boundary between them. At one end of Deritend is a private chapel and timber dwelling house, close to the bank of the brook [probably 'The Old Crown', which still stands]. This flows down towards the right as one crosses the ford next to the bridge ... Above Deritend the brook divides into two streams, which rejoin a short distance below the bridge. [From Deritend through Digbeth] Birmingham's beauty lies in a single street, which runs for a quarter of a mile up the side of a modest hill, beginning almost at the left bank of the brook. It is a good market town, right on the border of Warwickshire in this direction, and so far as I could see it has only one parish church [St. Martin's]. In the town are many smiths who make knives and all kinds of cutting tools for a living, also many lorimers who make bits, and a great many nailers. ...
Carl Chinn states that after Birmingham, Leland headed north and crossed Sharford Bridge, later to be known as Salford Bridge in Aston, over the River Tame and rode on across sandy ground, upon which was grown rye, barley and oats, to Sutton Coldfield before continuing his epic tour.
This second city of Britain has a long history as a leading centre of trade and market innovation. Its earliest transformation, in the 1200’s, from an agriculturally insignificant village into one of the greatest industrial cities in the world, earned it a reputation as ‘The city of a thousand trades’.
Birmingham’s importance has been forged and fashioned by its own people. Despite its height above sea level (500+ feet) at the centre, it was never a site of strategic defensive importance, and has no surviving castle nor port nor significant natural waterway. The Gas Street basin and canals complex of the area was a man-made venture of the 18th century. The city emerged solely as a result of its ability to craft, manufacture, and trade goods in an atmosphere of freedom as the place
was unfettered by corporate rules. Though it did not receive a charter until 1838, Birmingham looked like and acted as a town might for hundreds of years. This added 'free licence' attracted many talented men to the place to develop their skills.
However, the combined advantages of unincorporated status, water-power, an industrial tradition and proximity to a coalfield were enjoyed by other Midland towns and at least one commentator has been forced to add the factor of a large supply of good drinking water.
The following text provides a summary of the city's history ("History & Traditions")
and main civic buildings ("Civic Buildings"), and includes hyperlinks to pages
that provide expansion on some topics.
Birmingham expanded rapidly between 1889 and 1911 by acquiring adjacent areas, as discussed below. The expansion
continued later in the 20th century.
Birmingham Diagrams and Maps (loaded in a new window)...
Small farming settlements existed in the Birmingham area since the Bronze Age.
In Roman times, the Icknield Street Roman road passed through what is now the Birmingham area, and a large military fort and marching camp existed in what is now southern Birmingham.
Remains have also been found of a Roman setllement named Vicus in the Birmingham area alongside the Roman fort.
Until the Middle Ages, the Birmingham area was a sparsely populated backwater, due to poor quality soil which made agriculture unproductive.
Much of the area was covered by the once-vast Forest of Arden.
Birmingham probably came into being as a small Anglo-Saxon village.
The name 'Birmingham' is derived from the Saxon name Beormaham. At some point 'ing' (people) was interjected. The meaning is a hamlet or village of Beorma's people, Beorma probably being a local Saxon tribal leader.
After the Norman conquest of Britain the area passed into the hands of the de Birmingham family (usually spelt de Bermingham) who established a small farming estate.
Birmingham was recorded as a minor village in the Domesday Book (1086) which stated that
there was land for six ploughs, but only three plough teams were used, there were the families of five villiens and four borders; woodland half a league by two furlongs, had no mill nor meadow.
It also stated that there was a manor, worth 20s, around a fifth of
the value of neighbouring manors Aston and Northfield. The manor house
was surrounded by a moat, which explains the origins of today's
'Moat Lane' and Birmingham City Council's 'Manor House' offices in the area.
Around the year 1154, lord of the estate Peter de Birmingham obtained a charter to hold a market. The market transformed Birmingham from a tiny, undistinguished farming village into a thriving centre of trade.
The market came to be called the Bull Ring. Located at a crossing point on the River Rea, Birmingham was at a focal point for trackways in the area, and for this reason attracted much trade, which in turn attracted skilled craftsmen to set up business there.
Throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the growth of
Birmingham continued steadily.
The growth of Birmingham is indicated by the poll tax return of 1327, where the number of taxpayers in the town was third only to Warwick and Coventry in Warwickshire.
The de Birmingham family retained control of the area until 1527, when John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland (later - in 1547 - Earl of Warwick) gained control of the town. He, in turn, lost it (on his execution, 1553) and that was the last occasion of nobility holding rights to the manor.
The town was always spoken of as consisting
of (1) The 'Borough of Birmingham and Deritend' and (2) The
'Foreign of Birmingham.' Both parts were within the Lordship or Manor
of Birmingham. The 'Borough' was the older part of the town ; and
all of it, except Deritend, lay within the Parish of Birmingham. The
'Foreign' included Bordesley, large parts of Edgbaston, as well as a
large part of the Parish of Birmingham itself.
These twofold broad descriptions are detailed when the Manor of Birmingham was granted, by Letters Patent,
to Lord Lysle in 1545.
The area is now hugely changed of course, but Digbeth still exists. A mansion from the 14th century (latterly a pub called The Old Crown) exists in the area.
Sadly, the Old Crown has born witness to multifarious activities over the years, some of them not too salubrious.
As evidenced in this newspaper ad. of the time:
Birmingham, June 25, 1763.-John Hawkes, at the Old Crown in Deritend begs
Leave to acquaint his Friends, that his Annual Meeting will be held at his House on
Friday and that the favour of their Company will be gratefully acknowledged by their
most humble Servant, John Hawkes.
N.B. There will be a Subscription on Cocking as usual, and he hopes that those
Gentlemen who intend to favour him with a Cock will please to send him there by
11 o'clock to be weighed.
But by September, 1777 the folowing news was reported: "We hear the
Justices have resolved not to renew the Licenses of any of the
Publicans who encourage Cockings, Skittles, or other unlawful Diversions."
St Martin's in the Bull Ring
The parish church of Birmingham, or "The Cathedral of the Bull Ring", as some would say. The first church was probably Norman, but was rebuilt in the 13th century.
As it stands today, most of the church dates from the late 19th century, though inside you can see effigies of the de Berminghams, who were Lords of the Manor.
There are windows by Burne-Jones and William Morris inside.
From at least the 13th century, St Martin's church has been at the centre
of the area now known as the Bull Ring, and it is almost certain that there
was a church on the site when Henry II granted a charter for a market.
The church was first mentioned in a written source of 1263. However in around 1290, a member of the de Bermingham family built a new church. Unfortunately, the church was built of red sandstone, a very soft material that weathered badly.
This meant that by 1690 there was serious deterioration of the building's fabric.
To try to combat the deterioration, the whole building (the tower included though not the spire) was encased in three thicknesses of red brick.
It was to stay like this for the next 200 or so years, but even that did
not stop the erosion of the sandstone.
Consequently, in 1873, the church, apart from the previously restored tower and spire, was rebuilt, and stands to this day.
This church was designed by Birmingham architect Alfred Chatwin.
Until the 17th century, St. Martin's was the only Birmingham church, and the population
subsequently grew so quickly that church facilities were rapidly in short supply!
St. Philip's church (in Colmore Row) was consecrated in 1720 and became St. Philip's (Birmingham) Cathedral in 1905.
The Market and the Bull Ring
The site of the Bull Ring, beneath the St Martin’s Church, has always been the city’'s historic market centre.
In the 12th century, a charter was granted to allow Peter de Bermingham, the lord
of the manor of Berm, to hold a weekly market every Thursday at his
manor, and levy tolls on goods and produce sold therein.
The geographical location of Birmingham, standing on the river Rea at the only good crossing in the area, combined
with this market charter were crucial factors in the early development of Birmingham.
From this time on, the town grew and flourished as craftsmen and traders began to settle in Birmingham to be near the market.
The name 'The Bull Ring' came about in the 16th century when a man called John Cooper was given the right to bait bulls at a site opposite St Martins Church.
At the time, this was one of the most popular sports, and the activity continued on the site until 1798, when it ceased to be held in the Bull Ring, instead being staged at Handsworth, which was outside the boundaries of Birmingham at that time.
As the town grew it continued to flourish with the markets at its very core; the Bull Ring was alive with people trading in all manner of goods. By the 19th century Bull Ring consisted of shops as well as markets.
Even as a child in the late 1940s, I remember well the traditional street entertainments that still took
place in the open market. These included a dancing bear and an escapologist
who got out of a chained, padlocked, sack. The picture (above) of St. Martin's
and the Bull Ring market was taken at about the same time - in the late 1940s or early 1950s.
In 1809, a statue of Lord Nelson was installed in the Bull Ring, in memory
of the men who died in the battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Nelson had made a visit to the (then) town in 1802.
In 1834 a great Market Hall was built in the Bull Ring, with enough room
for 600 stalls. The building was a magnificent hall, which overlooked the
street traders and barrow boys. Gas lighting was installed to allow trade
to continue after dusk.
My paternal great-grandfather, William Lerwill, sold his clocks here in the later part of the
19th c. His older two sons were also greatly involved in his business of clock-making, and the
third son was the one who had the task of taking the goods by cart from Milk Street to
market in the 1890s, before he joined up as a regular soldier.
The market hall was bombed and gutted in 1940 by a German
incendiary bomb. It remained in use however, although roofless, until the
first redevelopment of the Bull Ring (see below under Regeneration) swept it away in the early 1960s.
By the 1950’s the old Bull Ring site seemed to have everything, from shops like Chapmans selling birds, the Army & Navy store, and the largest Woolworths of its day.
Beginnings of Industrialisation
From the 16th century onwards, Birmingham became a centre of many metalworking industries, with a skilled population of ironmongers. Birmingham also became a centre of arms manufacturing, with guns and swords being produced in the town.
Birmingham's inland location, away from any major transport links, meant that its manufacturers had to produce goods of high quality and value to compensate the high cost of transport. This gave Birmingham a reputation for quality.
The armaments trade was greatly helped by the English Civil War: In 1642, Birmingham was sacked by the royalist forces led by Prince Rupert. Birmingham had allied itself with the Parliamentarian cause and Birmingham manufacturers supplied the Roundheads with much of their weaponry. Reputedly, 15,000 swords were produced in Birmingham for Oliver Cromwell's forces.
But as Macaulay wryly stated : "Birmingham had not been thought of sufficient importance to send a member to Oliver's Parliament."
The Industrial Revolution
Birmingham's skilled workforce, and the fact that Birmingham was located near the coalfields of northern Warwickshire and Staffordshire, meant that the town grew rapidly during the 18th century. By the mid 18th century, Birmingham had become the largest town in Warwickshire.
But it still took time for Birmingham to grow out of a quiet (even pretty) country town to the large hive of industry that was to follow by the 1800s.
In 1762 Matthew Boulton opened the Soho Foundry engineering works, Handsworth; his
partnership with Scottish engineer James Watt makes the steam engine into the
power plant for the Industrial Revolution. The term "horsepower" is coined by
In 1767 A number of prominent Birmingham businessmen, including Matthew Boulton and
others, held a public meeting in the White Swan, High
Street, to consider the possibility of building a canal from Birmingham to
the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal near Wolverhampton, taking in the
coalfields of the Black Country. They commissioned the canal engineer James
Brindley to propose a route. Brindley proposed a largely level route via
Smethwick, Oldbury, Tipton, Bilston and Wolverhampton to Aldersley. This
kick starts what became the Birmingham Canal Navigations and a centre of the canal system for transportation, which greatly aided its industrial growth. The canals still exist though mainly for leisure these days.
About that time (1765), Matthew Boulton, James Watt, William Murdock, Joseph Priestley and other leading lights formed the Lunar Society. Those "others" included Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of the evolution theorist, Charles Darwin.
The Lunar Society of Birmingham was a dinner club and informal learned society of prominent figures in the Midlands Enlightenment, including industrialists, natural philosophers and intellectuals. At first called the Lunar Circle, "Lunar Society" became the formal name by 1775. The name came about by the fact that their meetings were held monthly on the night of the new moon - the light from which would aid their travel.
These men came from far and wide in the Midlands to meet regularly between 1765 and 1813 to exchange views and collaborate with each other on various topics, all with the intention of communicating needs and solutions to help develop the region and the furtherence of science. They were what we would today describe as a "think tank", and were highly influential at that. They were not, however, the first discussion group in the Birmingham area, and nor the last, but the Lunar Society was the first one of such reputable clout.
All the world came to Soho to meet these great minds who were acquainted with the leading men of Science
throughout Europe and America. The Midlands Enlightenment dominated
the experience of the Enlightenment within England and its leading thinkers had
international influence. In particular it formed a pivotal link between the
earlier Scientific Revolution and the later Industrial Revolution, facilitating
the exchange of ideas between experimental science, polite culture and practical
technology that enables the technological preconditions for rapid economic
growth to be attained.
The town's industrial complexion was, by 1824, hardening, as described by Thomas Carlyle in a letter written during his stay in the town:
Birmingham I have now tried for a reasonable time, and I cannot complain of being tired of it. As a
town it is pitiful enough-a mean congeries of bricks, including one or two large capitalists, some
hundreds of minor ones, and, perhaps, a hundred and twenty thousand sooty artisans in metals and
chemical produce. The streets are ill-built, ill-paved, always flimsy in their aspect-often poor,
sometimes miserable. Not above one or two of them are paved with flagstones at the sides; and to walk
upon the little egg-shaped, slippery flints that supply their places is something like a penance. Yet withal
it is interesting for some of the commons or lanes that spot and intersect the green, woody, undulating
environs to view this city of Tubal Cain. Torrents of thick smoke, with ever and anon a burst of dingy
flame, are issuing from a thousand funnels. 'A thousand hammers fall by turns.' You hear the clank of
innumerable steam engines, the rumbling of cars and vans, and the hum of men interrupted by the
sharper rattle of some canal boat loading or disloading, or, perhaps, some fierce explosion when the
cannon founders [qy: the proof-house] are proving their new-made ware. I have seen their rolling-mills,
their polishing of teapots, and buttons and gun-barrels, and lire-shovels, and swords, and all manner of
toys and tackle. I have looked into their ironworks where 150,000 men are smelting the metal in a
district a few miles to the north: their coal mines, fit image, of Arvenus; their tubes and vats, as large as
country churches, full of copperas and aqua fortis and oil of vitroil; and the whole is not without its
attractions, as well as repulsions, of which, when we meet, I will preach to you at large.
In the 1830s the Grand Junction Railway (linking onwards to Liverpool and Manchester) and the London and Birmingham Railway were built and shortly aftwerwards, Birmingham New Street station became the hub of the national railway network.
Birmingham was one of the leading towns when it came to social reform in the 19th century. With Thomas Attwood and the Birmingham Political Union leading the charge, the Days of May in 1832 was a period that is said to be the closest Britain has come to revolution. The Union's meetings on Newhall hill attracted more than 200,000 people on separate occasions in 1831 and 1832 and were the largest ever political assemblies in the UK. The outcome was the 1832 Reform Act and Birmingham acquiring two M.P.s. This led to the town receiving a charter incorporating it as a municipal borough in 1838 with the ability to appoint a mayor.
During the 19th century, Birmingham's population grew rapidly and by the middle of that century Birmingham had become the second-largest population centre in Britain. Birmingham became known as the "city of a thousand trades" because of the wide variety of goods manufactured there.
Willey's History and Guide to Birmingham (1868) states the following:
The manufactures of Birmingham are almost infinite in their variety. Almost all articles of utility or ornament are manufactured in the town. From a pin to a steam engine, from pens to swords and guns, from "cheap and nasty" wares sold at country fairs by "cheap Johns" to the exquisitely beautiful and elaborate gold and silver services which adorn mansions of the rich...all things are made in this hive of industry, and give employment to its thousands of men, women, and children.
The "Jewellery Quarter" centred on Hockley (north Birmingham) became especially famous.
It was also during the 19th century that Birmingham gained its reputation as a grim industrial city, but the poorer areas have now largely been rebuilt and the city is a very popular tourist attraction. The city's many canals (numbering more than Venice) help to provide fascination for the city.
In 1873, Joseph Chamberlain became mayor of the (then) town. Under his leadership, the council introduced many innovative civic improvements. The town council purchased the city's gas and water works which improved the lighting and provided clean drinking water to the town, and pioneered slum-clearance schemes.
He was instrumental in providing a healthy income for the council and in the building of the Council House and the Victoria Law Courts in Corporation Street. Numerous public parks were also opened mostly as a result of bequests of lands from prominent personages, such as the Calthorpe family. The improvements introduced by Chamberlain were to prove the blueprint for municipal government, and were soon copied by other cities.
Birmingham became a county borough and a city in 1889.
Between 1889 and 1911 the boundaries of Birmingham were expanded to include the formerly separate towns of Aston, Edgbaston, Erdington, Handsworth, King's Norton, Northfield and Yardley, some of which had been part of Staffordshire and Worcestershire.
Thus, aided by the boundary expansion, Birmingham's population continued to increase to over one million people.
In 1974, as part of a local government reorganisation, Birmingham expanded again, this time taking over the borough of Sutton Coldfield to the north. Birmingham lost its county borough status and instead became a metropolitan borough under the new West Midlands County Council. This situation was partially reversed in 1986 when Birmingham regained its unitary status as a council.
The World Wars
In World War I, Birmingham did not experience any aerial attack, but the city's contribution to the war effort was considerable. The contribution was not only in terms of the number of men that served with the armed forces, but also in the supply of munitions, particularly from the BSA and Mills factories, and the vehicle manufacturing companies.
The city was heavily bombed by the German Luftwaffe during World War II, in a failed attempt to break the morale of the city's workers and reduce its vital industrial capacity. By the war's end over 5,000 citizens were killed or seriously injured, and over 6,000 homes were destroyed. Many of Birmingham's fine buildings were also destroyed in the air raids. It has been argued that Britain may have lost the war had it not been for Birmingham's industrial might.
By the end of the war, Castle Bromwich was producing 320 Spitfires and 20 Lancasters a month - more aircraft than any other factory in the UK. In both the First and Second World Wars, the Longbridge car plant made everything imaginable from ammunition to aircraft. Men and women turned out 2,866 Fairey Battles, Horsa gliders (as used in the D-Day landings, Pegasus Bridge and Arnhem), mines and depth charges, Hurricanes, Stirlings and Lancasters; whilst at the nearby Austin works almost 500 army and other vehicles were made each week - as well as a multitude of other goods.
Indeed, the array of war work in Birmingham was staggering. Bristol Hercules engines made at Rover; Lancaster wings, shell cases and bombs manufactured at Fisher and Ludlow's; Spitfire wing spans and light alloy tubing at Reynold's; and plastic components at the GEC. Up to the Battle of Britain all the aero-carburettors for the RAF's Spitfires and Hurricanes were made at SU Carburettors - and if it had been destroyed the air force would have suffered a mortal blow. Serck produced all the radiators and air coolers for these planes.
Workers at the Dunlop, Kynoch's, the Norton, James Cycle, Lucas, the Metropolitan-Cammell, Morris Commercial, the Wolseley, and the BSA (Birmingham Small Arms) all strove hard for victory. Indeed, when the BSA was hit badly in November 1940, Churchill himself was alarmed at the consequent national fall in the making of rifles.
British Timken produced the bearings for the pipeline under the English Channel that supplied the Allies with oil after D-Day in 1944. Smaller firms were also crucial. Turner Brothers made a wide range of jigs and tools critical for aircraft production; Eddystone Radio and the Monitor Radio Company were significant in their field; jewellers turned their hands to intricate parts; and Hudson's Whistles supplied whistles to the Royal Navy and others.
By 1944, 400,000 Brummies were involved in war work - a greater percentage of the population than anywhere else in the UK. But the irony of it all is that it was a former Birmingham man - Neville Chamberlain - who had worked so hard as prime minister to deflect war from our path. Instead his former city was totally absorbed in the war effort. Credit for much of the foregoing on Brum's part in the World War II effort is attributable to Professor Carl Chinn.
However, not-far-away Coventry (also a great engineering and industrial centre) also suffered greatly from the bombings, and both cities and their people (and the whole West Midlands area) take great credit in being able to continue their massive contribution to the war effort.
In the postwar years, a massive program of slum clearances took place, and vast areas of the city were re-built, with overcrowded "back to back" housing being replaced by high rise blocks of flats (the last remaining block of four back to backs have become a museum - click here to see more). The city centre was also extensively re-built, especially the Bull Ring Shopping Centre. Birmingham also became a centre of the national motorway network, with Spaghetti Junction being a famous linkage between the M6, M5, Aston Expressway and other main roads.
In 1950 Birmingham's economy could still be described as "more broadly based than that of any city of equivalent size in the world", but by 1973 the West Midlands had an above-average reliance on large firms for employment, and the small firms that remained were increasingly dependent as suppliers and sub-contractors to the few larger firms. The "City of Thousand Trades" had become over-specialised on one industry - the motor trade - much of which by the 1970s had itself consolidated into a single company - British Leyland. Trade union organisation grew and the motor industry in particular saw industrial disputes from the 1950s onwards. A city that for most of its history had a reputation for weak trade unionism and strong cooperation between workers and management, developed a reputation for trade union militancy and industrial conflict.
However, what had been a clear road for Birmingham's enterprise was curtailed in a further way. Up until the 1930s it had been a basic assumption of Birmingham's leaders that their role was to encourage the city's growth. Post-war national governments, however, saw Birmingham's accelerating economic success as a damaging influence on the stagnating economies of the North of England, Scotland and Wales, and saw its physical expansion as a threat to its surrounding areas - "from Westminster's point of view was too large, too prosperous, and had to be held in check". A series of measures, starting with the Distribution of Industry Act 1945, aimed to prevent industrial growth in the "Congested Areas" - essentially the booming cities of London and Birmingham - instead encouraging the dispersal of industry to the economically stagnant "Development Areas" in the north and west. The West Midlands Plan, commissioned by the Minister for Town and Country Planning from Patrick Abercrombie and Herbert Jackson in 1946, set Birmingham a target population for 1960 of 990,000, far less than its actual 1951 population of 1,113,000. This meant that 220,000 people would have to leave the city over the following 14 years, that some of the city's industries would have to be removed, and that new industries would need to be prevented from establishing themselves in the city. By 1957 the council had explicitly accepted that it was obliged "to restrain the growth of population and employment potential within the city."
In the years following World War II a major influx of immigrants from the British Commonwealth changed the face of Birmingham, with large communities from Southern Asia and the Caribbean settling in the city, turning Birmingham into one of the UK's leading multicultural cities. Since the early 1980s, Birmingham has seen a new wave of migration, this time from communities which do not have Commonwealth roots, including people from Kosovo and Somalia, and latterly from Eastern Europe. As of 2001, 16.5% of the city's population was born overseas: this increased to 22.5% in 2011. Interestingly, the proportion of people without educational qualifications went down from 37.1% (2001) to 28.2% (2011).
Sport is mainly represented by Aston Villa (at Villa Park, or - as once called - Aston Lower Grounds). Aston Villa was the world's leading football club until World War One and their former chairman (William McGregor) created league football in 1888. Also Birmingham City (originally called Small Heath Alliance) in soccer,
Moseley in Rugby Union and Birchfield Harriers is famous in athletics' circles.
Warwickshire County Cricket Club has its headquarters at Edgbaston, and is a perpetually recognised test match ground.
Also at Edgbaston is the Tally Ho! lawn tennis club. And that is where lawn tennis was first created in the 19th c.
It's not a well-known fact that music has been taken very seriously in Birmingham over the years. The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (for example) has for many years been recognised as a leading British orchestra. But not only classical music has been represented, but various forms of popular music also. The once-famous Moody Blues and UB40 were but two of many pop groups originating from Birmingham - as did the Spencer Davis R & B group. And then there was my own particular love of the 1960s - the Ian Campbell Folk Group, including the incomparable Dave Swarbrick. Click here for more information about the Ian Campbell Folk Group. Their wonderful folk music at the Jug o' Punch - and Ian Campbell himself was a fine writer of songs - lit up my Thursday nights!
Brummagem - a centre of wonderful diversity:
'A true Brummie wears a Shamrock in his Turban.'
Birmingham is home to six universities, but they have roots going back much further than these developments:
University of Birmingham (1900 by royal charter)
Aston University (1966 by royal charter)
Birmingham City University (1992)
Newman University (2012)
University College Birmingham (2012)
The University of Law (2012, private teaching university)
In the 1970s, the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) was built, 10 miles southeast of the centre, close to Birmingham International Airport. Although it is actually just inside neighbouring Solihull, it was instigated, and largely owned, by Birmingham Council, and is thought by most people to be in the city. It has been expanded several times since then.
The International Convention Centre (ICC) opened in central Birmingham in the early 1990s.
A massive new Central Reference Library was completed in the 1970s (but replaced by another even bigger library in 2013), and the nearby area around Broad Street, including the canal network, Centenary Square, the ICC and Brindley Place, was extensively renovated at the turn of the Millennium.
In 1998 a G8 summit was held in Birmingham, and US president Bill Clinton was clearly impressed by the city. He famously had a drink in a canalside pub - though he never paid for his beer!
In September 2003, after a year long redevelopment project, the new Bull Ring shopping complex was opened. In 2003, the city failed in its bid to become the 2008 European Capital of Culture, under the banner "Be in Birmingham 2008".
The 1960s had seen the first major redevelopment of the Bull Ring. Work began on
this development in 1961, and three years and eight million pounds
later the new centre was opened by the Duke of Edinburgh.
The development was a massive undertaking, covering 23 acres,
with 350,000 sq feet of retail trade area. It was described as 'the ultimate shopping experience', and the biggest indoor shopping mall outside of America. It contained high street names, as well as independent shops, an indoor market and the 'Bull Ring Outdoor Market'.
In 1964, the Rotunda was added to the city centre development.
Originally meant to be 11 storeys, it ended up as 25. One of the most
famous landmarks of the Birmingham skyline, the Rotunda has been both celebrated and berated. It is a true love it or hate it figure.
A few years ago the Rotunda was threatened with demolition. Thankfully however, it survived, and will continue to dominate the skyline of the city centre for many years to come.
By the 1980’s, and despite its trading history, Birmingham had little to offer in terms of the burgeoning growth of new generation retailers and department stores. The old Bull Ring shopping centre was tired and jaded, and the city had only one department store - a retail offer which was not on a par with Birmingham’s growing status as a leading centre for business and culture.
The latest redevelopment of the 40-acre Bull Ring site by The Birmingham Alliance is another milestone in the city’s history of innovation. The 110,000 square metres' scheme has been cited as the catalyst for Birmingham’s transformation into a world class retail capital - bringing modern, retail space into the city with department stores for Debenhams and Selfridges, over 140 shops, cafes and restaurants, 3,000 new car parking spaces, new open spaces, walkways and performance areas, and iconic new architecture.
Drawing on Birmingham’s historic street patterns, the Bull Ring is composed of a series of traditional streets, squares and open spaces, which once again link New Street and High Street to St Martin’s Church, the open markets, Digbeth and beyond. The Bull Ring provides a gateway to the east side of the city where plans are in place to regenerate the area and create a public park and learning quarter.
As part of the Bull Ring development existing landmarks such as the Rotunda, the old Moor Street Station, and St Martins Church have been cleaned and restored, and long lost historic Birmingham street names, going back as far as the 18th century, have been reintroduced.
A new pedestrian walkway next to St Martin’s Queensway has been called ‘Swan Passage’ after the nearby ancient route of ‘Swan Alley’, which appears on the 1731 plan of the city. Other names to reappear include Jamaica Row and Spiceal Street which first appeared in 1795.
In 2011 a Big City Plan was announced. Included in this is the site of the de Birmingham home and one of Birmingham's first buildings which will be 'resurrected' in an upcoming future development. A new public space is being planned called 'Moat Square' in reference to the de Birmingham manor house and moat, and more exciting still, the boundary and general footprint of the moat will serve as a new water feature, returning it part way to its original purpose. It seems that the historic heart of the city, which has lay dormant for over 200 years is due to make an imminent 'come back' and breathe life back into Birmingham yet again.
2. Civic Buildings
Designed by the architect Hansom, who also designed the Hansom cab. Work started in 1832 and the Town Hall was opened on September 19, 1834 although it was not finished properly until 1849 and the later stages of its construction were carried out under the direction of another architect, Charles Edge. It opened its doors not only for renowned classical composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Mendelssohn and Elgar, but also for leading jazz musicians, pop and folk groups.
Built between 1874 and 1879 on what was once Ann Street, and designed by Yeoville Thomason, the Council House is now a Grade II listed building, used for all Council and most Committee meetings. The front, facing Victoria Square, has a pediment showing Britannia receiving the manufacturers of Birmingham.
Before it was built the town council met at such places as the Public Offices in Moor Street, and even at a public house.
The town argued long and hard whether the finished building should be called The Municipal Hall, Council House, or Guildhall. The total cost was £163,000. Behind it stands the Museum and Art Gallery, built by the same architect in 1881-5.
I worked at the Council House for several years in the early 1960s, occupying a semi-basement office to the right of the photo. It is a building with an undoubted atmosphere and pride in Birmingham's past - particularly with the names of the Chamberlains etched in the Lord Mayors' roll.
City Museum and Art Gallery
Prominent collection of pre-Raphaelite and other paintings, silverware, sculpture, metalwares, glass, ceramics, wooden objects, ethnographical, archaeological and natural history collections, and the Light on Science interactive gallery.
The original 'Public Central Library' in Chamberlain Square (opposite the site of the 1970s replacement library). This library was first built in 1866 but a subsequent fire gutted the building. It was re-built and opened again in 1882. The staircase shown on the right was retained and re-installed in the two subsequent libraries.
The library in Broad Street on the left replaced the one in Chamberlain Square opposite the Council House, in 2013. The previous one had been built in the 1970s. The latest library is the largest public library in Britain and it is a marvellous repository and centre for research.
See a flythrough of the latest central library.
To contact the Library, and for information concerning local research, please click here.
A modern development built in Broad Street,
it is now the foremost accommodation in Birmingham for the CBSO (City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra),
which has had many fine conductors and musicians.
In Centenary Square, Broad Street, Baskerville House was designed by T Cecil Howit, and built in 1939.
Once a city administrative centre (once part of what was planned as 'the Civic Centre', in which Baskerville House was planned to be one of twin buildings in a large complex)
it is now a hotel. Most notable is the full height entrance porch with a pair of Ionic columns surmounted by roof level semicircular arch, The sides of the building boast similar Ionic columns.
3. The Rep
"The Rep" - the Birmingham Repertory Company - was established in 1913 by Sir Barry Jackson,
and until 1971 was housed in their Station Street theatre, adjacent to New Street Station.
1971 saw the re-housing of The Rep in their Broad Street building, near to Baskerville House (above).
4. New Street Station
Grand Central (above) is the fourth major iteration of New Street Station in 160 years, being opened in 2015.