Perhaps the real story behind the 19th c. success of Birmingham.
'Know Your Birmingham' is mainly the story of the work done by a few great people to develop (nationally as well as locally) a civilised and fair way of life despite the effects of Birmingham's rapid growth and repressive treatment of ordinary people.
Well-worth reading ... Prof. Carl Chinn MBE
I'm very impressed by your articles ... Liz Shakespeare, a West Country author.
I've absolutely loved reading the magazine ... Johanne Clifton, a school principal.
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'.
Personally, I very much like this interpretation and it resonates with me.
From small beginnings grew a tree,
and after several hundred years of earnest development
there grew an industrial giant.
Large-scale manufacturing, Fair Parliamentary Representation,
Civic Works, Education For All, ... even Lawn Tennis and League Football! ...
these were all first to emanate out of Birmingham.
The City with more canals than Venice
and the largest public library in Europe.
In England, the only city with more open space (proportionate to size) is Bristol.
Historian and site owner 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.
John has spent a lifetime reading and researching on various aspects of history, but his specific interest in the city's history really stems from his time working at the local authority
and while having access to files and old legal documents. Also, John's family made some impact in the area during the 19th c.
with one member founding a financial insititution (the Wesleyan Assurance company) that was initially a 'penny club' for the benefit of the poor, and others that were very active members of the early trade union movement in Birmingham.
"Well-worth reading ... [An] insightful appraisal of many figures who were influential and well known in their time but whose contributions to Birmingham are now too often overlooked."Prof. Carl Chinn MBE
"I'm very impressed by your articles. You have obviously put a huge amount of work into this project; it is not easy to organise such a lot of material in a way that is accessible and succinct, yet still sufficiently informative, and I think you have achieved it admirably." Liz Shakespeare, a significant West Country author.
"I've absolutely loved reading the magazine ... I especially loved the individual stories as I may know parts of stories but to hear it all linked together against the national picture at the time is really enjoyable." Johanne Clifton, a school principal and a specialist in history.
Photos & Videos & Other Links & High-flying Brummies
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).
Read more. Peter Checkland - 20th c. management scientist; Carl Chinn - 20th/21st c. social historian;
Professor Carl Chinn MBE
As Community Historian at the University of Birmingham for 25 years until 2015, Carl had tried, tirelessly, to bring out the history of the city, especially from the view of the working man. As Carl himself has said:
I believe passionately that history must be democratised and that the lives of supposedly 'ordinary' people matter because the people themselves matter. To these ends my work has focused upon those who too often have been excluded from or marginalised by formal history: the working class, especially the poor; women; and ethnic minorities.
Carl continues to inspire via his lecturing at high schools, in leading historical walks around the City and in his publications.
Following the death in recent years of Victor Skipp and Chris Upton, Carl has become the main focus for the Birmingham area's history.
Jesse Collings - 19th/20th c. reforming politician; Peter Dawkins - 20th/21st c. architect, philosopher, Francis Bacon expert;
He was born and educated in Birmingham, England, and subsequently studied architecture at Cambridge University.
After Cambridge Dawkins entered architectural practice, first with A. G. Sheppard Fidler & Associates in their Birmingham office (1969-1972) and other organisations until 1978. A. G. Sheppard Fidler was formerly the Birmingham City Architect.
During this time Dawkins continued his landscape researches and wisdom studies, together with meditation and other spiritual practices. In addition, shortly after marrying in March 1973, Dawkins was given extraordinary instructions in a dream that threw him directly into research work concerning the philosopher Francis Bacon and the Rosicrucians, and the rich heritage that they have left for us today. Then, in 1978, following a powerful inner calling given in meditation and vision, Dawkins left the practice of architecture to devote himself full-time to research and educational work in connection with the wisdom traditions, the landscape and environment generally, and the Baconian-Rosicrucian-Shakespeare mysteries.
By this time Dawkins had met Sir George Trevelyan (regarded as as a major instigator of the New Age movement) who invited him to speak at Wrekin Trust events, encouraged him to make his landscape research and discoveries known publicly, and introduced him to the poetry and wisdom of Shakespeare. In this way Dawkins started to become a lecturer and teacher. Dawkins had also met Hope Brameld, secretary of the Francis Bacon Society, and the research work started with her in 1973 led eventually, with the help of the Marquess of Northampton and others, to the founding of the Francis Bacon Research Trust (FBRT) as an educational charity in 1980. Dawkins also met Stanley Messenger in the 1970s and, together with him and a group of friends, started a movement that gave rise to the Gatekeeper Trust, registered as an educational charity in 1982. Dawkins was also a trustee and honorary president of the British Council of the UN University for Peace (1986-87), and a trustee of the Shakespearean Authorship Trust (2002-2013).
From 1980 onwards Dawkins' public educational work started in earnest, first of all by means of the FBRT and Gatekeeper Trust, and then also with Zoence Academy, co-founded with his wife Sarah Dawkins in 1994. All three organisations continue to exist and flourish.
The educational work and geomantic pilgrimages in which Dawkins is involved are or have been in the UK, Republic of Ireland, France, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Spain, Belgium, Austria, Slovenia, Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey, Israel, Egypt, India, South Africa, South America and the USA.
George Dawson - 19th c. preacher; George Dixon - 19th c. politician/educationalist. His son Arthur Stansfield Dixon became an important metal worker and architect; Sir Guy Dain - 20th c. expert in medicine and medico-politics; 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; Bill Morris - 20th c. trade unionist; 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; Victor Skipp - 20th/21st c. social historian; William Joseph "Bill" Slim - 20th c. military commander; John Benjamin Stone - 19th c. politician/photographer; Joseph Sturge - 19th c. slavery abolitionist;
After legislation for the abolition of slavery in the British dominions was enacted in 1833, slave-owning planters in the West Indies lobbied to postpone freedom for adults for twelve years in a form of indenture. Enslaved children under the age of six were emancipated by the new law on 1 August 1834, but older children and adults had to serve a period of bonded labour or "indentured apprenticeship". Sturge led a campaign against this delaying mechanism.
In 1836 Sturge sailed to the West Indies to study apprenticeship as defined by the British Emancipation Act of 1833. He intended to open it to criticism as an intermediate stage en route to emancipation. He traveled throughout the West Indies and talked directly to apprentices, proprietors (planters), and others directly involved. Upon his return to Great Britain, he published Narrative of Events since the First of August 1834; In it he cited an African-Caribbean witness, to whom he referred as "James Williams" to protect him from reprisals. Sturge spent several months in the West Indies engaged on his study.
The original statement was signed by two free African-Caribbeans and six apprentices. As was customary at the time, it was authenticated by Rev. Dr Thomas Price of Hackney, London, who wrote the introduction. Following another trip and further study, Sturge published The West Indies in 1837. Both books highlighted the cruelty and injustice of the system of indentured apprenticeship.
Sturge found that the cruelty and injustice was as severe in many of the West Indian islands as they had always been before 1834, and as children of former slaves no longer had slave value, there were rising numbers of child fatalities due to malnutrition.
As a result of Sturge's single-minded campaign, in which he publicised details of the brutality of apprenticeship to shame the British Government, a major row broke out amongst abolitionists. The more radical element were pitted against the government. Although both had the same ends in sight, Sturge and the Baptists, with mainly Nonconformist support, led a successful popular movement for immediate and full emancipation. As a consequence, the British Government moved the date for full emancipation forward to 1 August 1838. They abolished the 12-year intermediary apprenticeship scheme.
For many English Nonconformists and African-Caribbean people, 1 August 1838, became recognised as the true date of abolition of slavery in the British Empire.
Joseph and his friend William Allen helped found the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society in 1839 and organised anti-slavery conventions in 1840 and 1843. With John Greenleaf Whittier he travelled through the United States observing the dreadful conditions of the slaves there. On his return he published 'A Visit to the United States in 1841' He also bought an estate on the island of Montserrat to prove the economic viability of free labour.
Both Joseph and his brother Charles held themselves responsible for the way in which their wealth was created. This led them to give up, with considerable adverse financial implications, the malt and barley part of their business, as these items were used in the production of alcohol. Joseph was one of the first English Friends to join the total-abstinence temperance movement of the 1830's. Joseph was also a leader in the agitation against the opium trade in the 1850s.
In the later part of the 1840s Sturge was one of the leaders of a movement for 'people diplomacy'. The aim was to influence public opinion in favour of arbitration as a means of avoiding war. Peace conferences were organized with his assistance in Brussels, Paris, Frankfurt, London, Manchester and Edinburgh.
He was also involved in two abortive attempts to avert international conflict. He visited Schleswig-Holstein and Copenhagen in 1850 trying to get their governments to submit their dispute to arbitration. He was also part of the Quaker delegation that visited the Russian Tsar Nicholas I in St Petersburg in 1854, trying to avert the Crimean War. He helped alleviate its consequences however, by arranging relief for famine-stricken Finland after the destruction caused by the British fleet.
Joseph was also instrumental in the foundation of an adult school in Severn Street Birmingham.
John Taylor - 18th c. manufacturer/banker; William James "Will" Thorne - 19th c. trades unionist/MP; Chris Upton - 20th/21st c. social historian; 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; John Bentley - 20th c. film & TV actor; 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 c. author; Tony Hancock - 20th c. TV, film and radio comedian; David Harewood - 20th/21st c. film and TV actor; Ann Heywood - 20th c. film actress; 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; Bill Oddie - 20th/21st c. radio and TV personality; 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;
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 by a different enterprise.
Major aircraft production centres at Castle Bromwich and Longbridge in World War Two.
The origins of Lloyds Bank date from 1765, when button maker John Taylor and Quaker iron producer and dealer Sampson Lloyd II set up a private banking business in Dale End, Birmingham.
The symbol adopted by Taylors and Lloyds was the beehive, representing industry and hard work. The black horse device dates from 1677, when Humphrey Stokes adopted it as the sign for his shop. Stokes was a goldsmith and "keeper of the running cashes" (an early term for banker) and the business became part of Barnett, Hoares & Co. When that occurred in 1884, it retained the black horse as its symbol.
The association with the Taylor family ended in 1852 and, in 1865, Lloyds & Co. converted into a joint-stock company known as Lloyds Banking Company Ltd.
Charles Geach from St Austell, was working as a clerk in the Birmingham branch of the Bank of England in 1830. His ambition was to start a bank of his own. Several businessmen backed him and he opened the first branch of the Birmingham and Midlands Bank in a rented shop at 30 Union Street on 22nd August 1836. It is interesting to note that the qualifications for a directorship included the demand that the Bank's directors should live within six miles of Birmingham Town Hall.
After absorbing several banks in the Midlands, it entered London by merging with the Central Bank of London Limited in 1891 to form the London City and Midland Bank. Thereafter it attained national coverage by a process of expansion and amalgamation.
On Friday, 23 April 1841, members of the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Birmingham gathered in a small room next to the chapel on Cherry Street and founded the Wesleyan Provident Assurance Society.
It was the height of the Industrial Revolution and the Society's aim was to help factory workers in Birmingham save for sickness and funeral expenses. The first premium was collected on 27 August 1841. They collected a few pennies every week to help with sickness and funeral expenses, offering life assurance and annuities even back then.
I understand that Joseph Smith (my ancestor) was a primary 'mover' in the establishment of this Society, and today the Wesleyan Assurance company in Birmingham has a meeting room devoted to his memory.
Photo by Jimmy Guano, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Birmingham_Skyline_from_Edgbaston_Cricket_Ground.jpg
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.
In the words of the late 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, especially from the late 1700s. 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, later, 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's fame is usually based on it's industrial prowess, but there's far more to it than that. Music has long been a great part of the culture here, in all its forms, but going back 300 years, there was a great amount of philosophical discussion. Further, as intimated by Chris Upton, Birmingham also played a huge part in the reform of politics in the first half of the 19th century.
it could be said that Birmingham's greatest influence has not been in industry but
rather in the sphere of Science, Humanities and Politics.
Just what has this carbonated drinks manufacturer got to do with Birmingham?
In the late 18th century, German-Genevan scientist Johann Jacob Schweppe developed a process to manufacture bottled carbonated mineral water based on the discoveries of English chemist Joseph Priestley. It is the connection with Joseph Priestley that is the key, for Priestley was based in Birmingham for some time and was a key figure in its history, but not just for his experiments in chemistry.
Priestley was also very much part of a radical scientific and philosophical think-tank in Birmingham and the Midlands called the Lunar Society.
In the following e-magazine of 128 pages, the story of Birmingham's remarkable social influence on the nation in the 19th c. (and earlier) is told through the highly remarkable work of six key individuals and their associates. Please click on the following image to download this publication.
Please click on this image to enlarge (needs 1000px).
Victoria Square, Town Hall & Council House, City Centre...
Paradise Area re-devlopment, behind Town Hall & Council House...
From south-west Birmingham direction...
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.
1166 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.
1381 Foundation of the chapel of St. John at Deritend, being part of the parish of Aston, not Birmingham, even though considered an extension of Birmingham. This chapel therefore enabled the residents of Deritend to worship locally rather than traverse over the ways to the Aston parish church, still near what is known as Villa Park.
1392 Foundation of the Gild of the Holy Cross, which was established at the request of "the Bailiffs and commonalty
of Bermyingeham," with a Master, Wardens and a brotherhood, and a Chantry at St. Martin's. A Gild Hall was erected in New Street, the site of which became the base of the King Edward's School (1552) - a direct consquence of the winding up of the Gild in the time of Henry VIII.
1500 Birmingham has a population of about 1,500.
1552 King Edward's School is founded, the site of which was used by the School until 1936.
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.
1631 A London report stated that "the plague has broken out in Deritend in the parish of Aston, and spread far more dangerously into Birmingham, a great market town."
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.
1665 London's Great Plague found its way into Birmingham by way of a box of clothes addressed to the maid of a hostelry in Moor Street. A great many died and as St. Martin's could not deal with the number of bodies, a place at Ladywood was found for their burial. The exact location of that burial place has been forgotten and has not since been found.
1695 Birmingham gains its first fire engine.
1715 St Phillips Church is built.
1716 Birmingham (unsuccessfully) applies for a charter. Later it is seen to be a blessing in disguise, as it would have inhibited growth.
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 states 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.
1762 The world's first engineering factory built, at Soho.
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. The last was held in 1912 as the series had begun to make losses. The conductor for the 1912 event was Henry Wood.
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.
1769, 18th-century British polymath Joseph Priestley published A New Chart of History and its prose explanation as a supplement to his Lectures on History and General Policy. Together with his Chart of Biography (1765, which he dedicated to his friend Benjamin Franklin), Priestley believed these charts would allow students to "trace out distinctly the dependence of events to distribute them into such periods and divisions as shall lay the whole claim of past transactions in a just and orderly manner."
And that's how the practise of Infographics was born.
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. The Assay office can still be visited today by appointment and is situated near to
the city's well renowned Jewellery Quarter.
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?"
1775 The first known building society was formed - Richard Ketley's, at the Golden Cross Inn, Birmingham. The earliest societies were 'terminating', and wound up when all their members had been housed. They were confined to the Midlands and the North of England. The last terminating society in existence (First Salisbury) was dissolved in March 1980
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.
1785 In January, less than 18 months since the Montgolfier first balloon ascent, an ascent from Coleshill Street was made by a Mr. Harper in a balloon. He reached a height of 4,300 feet and made various barometric measurements to feed scientific curiousity.
1787 A strong movement develops in Birmingham against the slave trade, supporting William Wilberforce in his abolition efforts. Dr. Joseph Priestley was one of those who strenuously opposed the trade, and other notables included the banker Samuel Lloyd and also Matthew Boulton. This agitation finally received legal backing in 1807.
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 and other matters, including the home of Dr. Joseph Priestley, who decided to flee from Birmingham. He later went to the USA, where he died. The construction of an army barracks was begun at Ashtead so that armed help could be called upon in riotous situations. Barracks were also built in other towns in England.
1793-onwards: For some years there were food shortages and severe poverty in the nation and this situation was shared by Birmingham, causing riots to take place at different times, at which armed militia and soldiery were called out to disperse the situation. People were often hurt in these proceedings and, indeed, some were killed. The food shortage difficulties were at least partly allayed by the provision of Union Mills from 1795, though they didn't stop the rioting, which went on into the 19th c. The wealthy of the town were highly charitable in practice, but for the most part the efforts of the charitable were rather employed
in relieving the poor, than assisting the poor to help themselves. Eventually (1816) a savings bank was organised.
1796 Formation of the Brotherly Society (formally named Brotherly Benefit Society in 1798), later described as "the first Mechanics' Institute in Britain".
1797 Mr. Boulton was appointed by the king to execute the new copper coinage. The Soho factory had already produced very large amounts of sovereign coinage.
1800 Birmingham Philosophical Society was founded.
1801 The population of Birmingham is about 73,000.
1802 The exterior of the Soho Foundry is lit with gas lighting by William
Murdock. This becomes the basis for Birmingham's immense Gas Industry which
incorporates many products and trades that rely on Gas to work.
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.
1808 Birmingham's dispensary for the poor was opened. Its opening had taken a total of 12 years since the matter was first mooted.
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. Now called the Chamber of Manufactures and Commerce.
1814 Birmingham Academy of Arts instituted.
1815-16 The Birmingham Manor House buildings were demolished and the moat filled-in and the site re-developed for use as a market. 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.
1817 Establishment of an Orthopaedic Hospital (in New Street).
1818 The streets of Birmingham first lit by gas.
1821 Census reveals population has reached over 100,000.
1821 Birmingham Society of Arts instituted.
1824 Plans are laid for railways to London and Liverpool.
1825 The Birmingham Water Works Company was incorporated by an Act of Parliament. By 1849, only about one-third of the town was
supplied with fresh water.
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 Political agitation led by Thomas Attwood forced the Reform Act of that year, which began modern political representation in Britain. 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 (via Manchester).
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 the same site, when known as the Gild Hall, 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.
1895 Frederick William Lanchester and his brother build the first petrol driven
four-wheeled car in Britain.
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.
This increased the population at a swoop from 525,960 to 840,202.
1928 to 1931 Further expansion including Perry Barr and Sheldon.
1931 Census reveals population has reached over 1,000,000. It has been around 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 became available in 2016.
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 2016/7 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.
2015 The discovery, among the manuscripts held by the University of Birmingham, of some of the oldest surviving fragments of the Qur'an - perhaps made within 20 years of the prophet Muhammad's death.
2023 Birmingham City Council effectively entered bankruptcy. All development projets suspended.
Some Birmingham Inventions...
1700 A cotton spinning-engine.
1722 The clothes iron.
1757 The Baskerville type face.
1769 Infographics was born.
1772 Papier mache.
1775 First known building society.
1779 The photocopier.
1793 Patent Leather.
ca 1800 First stand-alone cooker
1822 The steel pen-knib.
1837 First egg-free custard powder.
1840 The electroplating industry.
1856 The first plastic: celluloid.
1859-65 Lawn Tennis.
1875 The whistle, as used in sports and by the police.
1888 League football.
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.
1941 The Cluedo board game.
1942 FIDO : Fog Investigation and Dispersal Operation developed by B'ham Uni
1945 The microwave oven.
1960 The heart pacemaker.
2020 UK's First Hydrogen Train, in partnership with B'ham Uni
...and Other Achievements
1762 The World's First Mass Production Factory -
1850 The UK's First Purpose-built Exhibition Hall - Bingley Hall
Horse-drawn buses were introduced in the suburbs in 1834
Horse-drawn trams were introduced in 1873
The first steam-powered tram: 1882
A cable car: 1895
The first electric tram: 1907
Petrol-driven buses of this type were first introduced in 1913
Petrol-driven bus of the early 1920s
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...
Until the 18th c., Birmingham was a slowly-developing industrial town yet still had some of the hallmarks of village life. But then, particularly from after 1750, Birmingham sprung into life as a major force and the character of the town was massively changed. 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).
During the 15th and early 16th century Birmingham was increasing in status as an affluent market town. The industry of Birmingham was largely centred around farming, and associated trades. There was a move from rearing cattle for beef to the more labour-intensive rearing cattle for dairy, which in turn caused more migration into the town as more people came to find work. This also sparked the need for new housing and so the manpower to build the new houses.
The population of Birmingham had grown from 1000 to c. 1500 people by 1550. Wool was farmed and sold at the markets held once a week on a Thursday. Leather, as a by-product of farming, was also produced in tanneries on Tanners Row near to the River Rea in Digbeth. Clay tiles and bricks were also produced, along with iron works and many other related industries and trades that were putting Birmingham on the map.
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’.
But Birmingham’'s importance has been forged and fashioned by its own people. A major factor in Birmingham's success story has been said to be down to the character of the 'Brummie'; he is noted as being determined to overcome all obstacles and setbacks.
Despite its height above sea level (500+ feet) at the centre, Birmingham 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.
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)...
In 1825, a James Drake published his "Picture of Birmingham." From the Crescent, he says:
From the west end of
this area we enjoy a pleasing and lively summer-view over a considerable
tract of land, laid out in small gardens. This mode of applying
plots of ground, in the immediate vicinity of the town, is highly
beneficial to the inhabitants. ... They promote healthful exercise and rational
enjoyment among the families of the artizans; and, with good management,
produce an ample supply of those wholesome vegetable stores,
which are comparatively seldom tasted by the middling classes, when
they have to be purchased.
But by around that year (1825), Birmingham was losing its appearance as a country town in the interests of industrialisation.
Up until this time, a lot of land around the town centre was given to orchards and personal gardens, but these
were now disappearing - very rapidly.
(Left) Birmingham central places of interest in 1825.
To see this 1825 map in detail, download Issue One of:
"Know Your Birmingham" magazine series provides a more expanded history with far more interesting stories from the Middle Ages onwards
not included in this webpage.
"Well-worth reading ... [An] insightful appraisal of many figures who were influential and well known in their time but whose contributions to Birmingham are now too often overlooked." Prof. Carl Chinn MBE
"I'm very impressed by your articles. You have obviously put a huge amount of work into this project; it is not easy to organise such a lot of material in a way that is accessible and succinct, yet still sufficiently informative, and I think you have achieved it admirably." Liz Shakespeare, a significant West Country author.
"I've absolutely loved reading the magazine ... I especially loved the individual stories as I may know parts of stories but to hear it all linked together against the national picture at the time is really enjoyable." Johanne Clifton, a school principal and a specialist in history.
"... Both the people and social history elements were well researched and presented - and engaging ..." A retired Birmingham-born Marks and Spencer director.
The following text provides a summary of the city's history ("History & Traditions")
and main civic buildings ("Civic Buildings"), and other topics.
1. History & Traditions
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.
It is believed that in 1166, 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
A view from 1811:
A 1950s view. There's little change in appearance since the early 1800s, but Nelson's statue had been moved further 'up':
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 was taken at about the same time.
The old Bull Ring (early 20th c.) at work:
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 disfavour towards this activity caused it no longer 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 the Bull Ring consisted of shops as well as markets.
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.
The Development of the Markets
From the Victoria History of Birmingham:
The lack of any large market place meant that as trade grew the markets spread into many of the streets in the centre of the town. By 1553 the Cornmarket, the Welsh Market and the English Market were all apparently separate places. Westley's map of 1731 shows the corn market in the Bull Ring, with the shambles above it and the beast market in the High Street... The cheese market was moved to the Welsh Cross in 1768. A Monday cattle market, which was later discontinued, was opened in Deritend in 1776. The main cattle market continued to be on a Thursday, which remained one of the chief market days throughout the 19th century, although various goods were increasingly sold on other days. In 1791 a hay and straw market was established on Tuesday in Ann Street. The fish market in Dale End was apparently started at about the same time.
In the early 19th century the street commissioner cleared the Bull Ring and moved the general market there from the High Street in 1806. In 1817 they opened the Smithfield market on the site of the manor house moat. This absorbed the former markets for hay and straw as well as for cattle, horses, sheep, and pigs.
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.
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 1766 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.
The lower 'at night' image by
About that time (1765), Matthew Boulton, James Watt, William Murdock and other leading lights formed the Lunar Society. Those "others" included Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of the evolution theorist, Charles Darwin. Joseph Priestley also became a member.
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. They usually met at Soho.
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.
The members of the Lunar Society regularly produced practical results. In 1809 William Murdock was examined before a Parliamentary Committee on the subject of illumination by gas. "Do you mean to tell us," asked one member, " that it will
be possible to have a light without a wick .'" " Yes, I do, indeed,"
answered Murdock. " Ah, my friend," said the legislator, " You are
trying to prove too much." It was as surprising and inconceivable to
the honourable member as George Stephenson's subsequent evidence
before a Parliamentary Committee, to the effect that a carriage might
be drawn upon a railway at the rate of twelve miles an hour without a
The fame of Soho was so widely spread that no distinguished visitor
ever came to Birmingham, or to any place in the neighbourhood, without
going over the manufactory. So early as 1776, Katherine II.,
Empress of Russia, was a guest of the great manufacturer. In a letter
to Watt in that year Boulton mentions the fact, and adds "and a charming
woman she is." Another distinguished visitor (in 1802) was Admiral Horatio Nelson, a most popular visitor.
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.
From the above notes on the developments in the late 18th c., it may be supposed that Birmingham might have been increasing in importance and size. It was, and it was observed that: "Greater changes were made in the appearance of the place during the ten years from 1781 to 1791 than in the forty preceding". In 1783, historian William Hutton wrote:
It follows, if an intimate acquaintance
with our Country is necessary, an acquaintance with a principal
Part is peculiarly so. Birmingham in many Points of View may be
considered in that Light ; the Name is echoed through the Commercial
World ; there is not a Village without her Manufactures: This Seat of
Invention furnishes Ornament and Use. Her astonishing Increase is
beyond Example. The Traveller who visits Just once in six Months,
supposes himself well acquainted with her ; but he may chance to find
a Street of Houses in the Autumn, where he saw his Horse at Grass
in the Spring. A pitiful Market Town, in an Inland County by pure
Industry, in a few Years, surpasses most of our Cities. Thus singularly
circumstanced, she naturally calls for a History, and invites a Reader.
But there was a price to pay that was noted more than 50 years before the effect of the intensity of industry and growth was brought under better management. In his Letters from England (1807), the poet Robert Southey noted his concerns on the effect on the workers, referring to "... the sight of so many human beings employed in infernal occupations, looking as if they were never destined for anything better..." and "... incredible as it may seem, a trifling addition to their weekly pay makes these short-sighted wretches contend for work, which they certainly know will in a very few years produce disease and death, or cripple them for the remainder of their existence." And: "... commerce sends in no returns of its killed and wounded...".
About the period 1810-1820 it was said: "Slowly, but surely, the town is encroaching on the country, and, bit
by bit, Birmingham is losing its rural picturesqueness and country
aspect. [But] It will be a long time yet before all its gardens and pleasant
suburbs are absorbed by the growing demand for new habitations for
the ever-increasing people."
The town's industrial complexion was, by 1824, hardening, as described by philosopher/writer 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. Agitation started in Birmingham in 1817, and 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 (after decades of trying) to the town receiving a charter incorporating it as a municipal borough in 1838 with the ability to appoint a mayor.
The American consul in Birmingham, Elihu Burritt, recorded:
Very few thoughtful men of the nation can now doubt
that the storm would have burst upon the country
with all the desolation of civil war, if Thomas
Attwood and the men of Birmingham had not
drawn the lightning out of the impending tempest
by the rod of moral force, which was grasped and
wielded by his steady hand. From the central
hill of the town he lifted up his revolutionary
standard, with this new device : " PEACE, LAW,
AND ORDER ! " This white flag, and not the
bloody banner of brute force and brute passion
which had been raised in other times, at home and
abroad, to right political wrongs, was the drapeau
of the Political Union, which he formed and headed
in the metropolis of the Black Country. To this
rallied men of all ranks and professions and occupations,
members of Parliament, peers of the
realm, clergy and ministers of all denominations,
and the rank and file of the foundries, factories,
and workshops of the district. The means were
not only worthy the end but of equal worth in moral value. On that grand march to political
right and power, the masses stood shoulder to shoulder with their leaders. It was a great copartnership
and fraternization of the classes. They
showed to European Christendom a spectacle it never saw or conceived before ; what had never been seen or imagined in England before.
But agitation did not stop there, and the goodwill was lost some with the Chartist Riots of 1839.
The effect of increased industrialisation was coming to a head, however. In the report of Samuel Jones to the Commissioners of the Birmingham Street Act, on February 5th 1849, he stated:
When I commenced my duties in 1844 there were 173 steam engine chimneys, large and small, with 225 furnaces. Several parties had at that time applied means for consuming smoke but they were very seldom used, there being 111 chimneys that emitted dense black smoke from 16 to 35 minutes within every working hour, others varying from 6 to 16 minutes per hour. At the present time there are 224 steam engine chimneys, with 297 furnaces and 2 more now in course of erection. Which makes an increase in the last five years of 57 chimneys and 72 furnaces, the nominal power of the various engines amounting to about 3500 Horse Power. The quantity of fuel used for working of this power alone amounts to about 300 tons per day and most of it of the very commonest description. There are 17 of these chimneys, including some with flues from muffles in them that emit dense black smoke from 12 to 18 minutes within the hour, and 50 others though greatly improved since first under inspection, are still indifferent, they smoke from causes that may be avoided from 6 to 10 minutes within the hour, the others vary from 2 to 6 minutes per hour. There are 50 chimneys used exclusively for muffles, annealing pots and stoves - 22 for puddling and tube furnaces, 6 for glass houses, 2 for gas works - making a total of 304 chimneys (exclusive of smiths forges) from which such a quantity of dense smoke would arise as would envelop the whole town were it not for the many and excellent means adopted for its consumption. This shews that the nuisance is greatly abated but it is not to the extent it could be, as I am convinced that all steam engine proprietors ought to be in such a position, for their own advantage, as would enable them to work their engines without making so much smoke as would either injure the health of or be a nuisance to the Public.
But because of the now booming opportunities, 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.
Birmingham achieved borough status in 1838, but full powers were not acquired until 1851. But despite Birmingham's legal ability to make strides in improvements to the infrastructure and to cope with its rapid expansion, the new authority dillied and dallied as there were two opposite streams of thought lobbying against one another - the conservatives and the progressives. As the slums increased and health matters became worse for the poorer people, this situation impeded progress: it needed someone to come in and shake things about.
Between 1869 and 1873 Joseph Chamberlain had been a prominent advocate in the Birmingham town council of the gospel of municipal reform preached through the religious zeal of Mr Dawson and Dr Dale and also Mr Bunce (of the Birmingham Post). A key development of that perspective was the Birmingham Education League, followed (in 1869) by the National Education League: a growing movement to provide education for all.
In 1873, Joseph Chamberlain became mayor of the (then) town. And in 1873 his party obtained a majority, and he was elected mayor, an office he retained until June 1876. 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. Public health had become a major issue and was addressed.
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. Birmingham became a county borough and a city in 1889.
The improvements introduced by Chamberlain were to prove the blueprint for municipal government, and were soon copied by other cities. Unfortunately, however, when Chamberlain departed in 1883 to give service to the nation, inefficiency returned to the Birmingham adminstrators and after the 1880s there was a noteable slow-down in improvements which were not rectified sufficiently until after World War One. This was particularly true in respect of slum clearance.
Between 1889 and 1911 the boundaries of Birmingham were expanded to include the formerly separate communities of Aston, Balsall Heath, 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, and their aftermath
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. A visitor to Birmingham in the 1840s recorded:
No town of its size in the Empire spends more time and money in concerts and music festivals than Birmingham; no small proportion of its people are amateur performers; almost all are musical critics; and the organ in its great Hall [the Town Hall] ... is, with the exception of York, the largest in the Empire, and the finest, it is said, without any exception.
Elgar and Mendelssohn often visited Birmingham, and Antonin Dvorak, Czech composer (1841-1904) said of Birmingham: "I'm here in this immense industrial city where they make excellent knives, scissors, springs, files and goodness knows what else, and, besides these, music too. And how well! It's terrifying how much the people here manage to achieve."
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 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 was another milestone in the city’s history of innovation. The 110,000 square metres' scheme was 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.
Following quite extensive street pedestrianisation, a City Centre clean air zone was declared in 2021, at which point vehicles not meeting certain emission criteria were to be penalised. This zone was accompanied by further street layout changes.
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 lain dormant for over 200 years is due to make a 'come back' and breathe life back into Birmingham yet again.
For more general history on Birmingham (adding to the above) see this National Archives run sequence of pages: click here.
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. A significant extension to the Council House (in similar style) was completed in 1912-13.
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 spiral 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.