1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Birmingham (England)
BIRMINGHAM, a city and a municipal, county, and parliamentary borough, the metropolis of one of the greatest industrial districts in England. Pop. (1901) 522,204. It lies in the north-west of Warwickshire, but its suburbs extend into Staffordshire on the north and west, and into Worcestershire on the south. It is 113 m. north-west from London by the London & North-Western railway, lying on the loop line between Rugby and Stafford; it is also served by the northern line of the Great Western, and by the north and west (Derby-Bristol) line of the Midland railway.
Site.—Birmingham, built upon the New Red Sandstone, is situated in the valleys of the Rea and other small feeders of the river Tame, near their sources, and upon the rising ground between these valleys. The site is, therefore, boldly undulating, varying from 200 to 600 ft. above sea-level, steadily rising towards the north and west, while the well-marked line of the Lickey hills skirts the site on the south-west, extending thence south-eastward. From the high ground to the south-east Birmingham thus presents the appearance of a vast semicircular amphitheatre, the masses of houses broken by innumerable factory-chimneys; the whole scene conveying a remarkable impression of a community of untiring industrial activity. The area of the town is nearly 20 sq. m., the greatest length from north to south 7 m., and the greatest breadth about 4 m. Yet Birmingham is a fraction only of an industrial district, of which it forms the south-eastern extremity, which itself resembles one vast city, and embraces such famous manufacturing towns as Dudley, Wolverhampton, Walsall, Wednesbury and many others. This is the district commonly known as the “Black Country,” which forms part of the South Staffordshire industrial district. Birmingham, however, does not lie actually within the “Black Country” properly so-called.
Streets and Buildings.—The plan of the town, as dictated by the site, is irregular; the streets are mostly winding, and often somewhat narrow. In the centre are several fine thoroughfares, containing nearly all the most important buildings. New Street, Corporation Street and Colmore Row are the chief of these. At the western end of New Street is a fine group of buildings, including the council house and art gallery, the town hall and post office. The council house and art gallery, begun in 1874 and completed in 1881, is in Renaissance style, and the material is Darley Dale, Spinkwell and Wrexham stone. The entrance is surmounted with a pediment filled with groups of excellent sculpture. The erection of that part which forms the art gallery was the work of the gas committee, to whom the council granted the site on condition that they would build such a gallery over their own office, the council having no powers at the time to raise the required funds. The art gallery contains a fine collection of modern paintings, including masterpieces of David Cox, Millais, Hunt, Henry Moore, Albert Moore, Briton-Riviere and Burne-Jones. In the industrial hall are rich stores of Oriental metal work, Limoges enamel, English and foreign glass and Japanese ceramics. In the side galleries are various textiles, and Persian, Rhodian, Grès de Flandres and other pottery. There is a remarkable collection of Wedgwood. Notable also is the collection of arms, which is probably the most complete in existence. The purchase of pictures has been made from time to time by means of an art gallery purchase fund of £12,000, privately contributed and placed under the control of the corporation. Many valuable works of art are the gift of individuals. In 1906 plans were obtained for additional municipal offices and another art gallery on a site on the opposite side of Edmund Street from the council house. The town hall, completed in 1850, is severely classic, modelled upon a Greek temple. The lower stage consists of a plinth or basement, 23 ft. high, upon which is reared a facade of peripteral character, with eight Corinthian columns (36 ft. high) at the two principal fronts, and thirteen columns on each side. These columns (imitated from those of the temple of Jupiter Stator at Rome) support a bold and enriched cornice, finished at each end with a lofty pediment and entablature. The exterior of the hall is built of Anglesea marble. The interior consists chiefly of a regularly-built room, designed specially for meetings and concerts, with an orchestra containing a fine organ. The hall seats upwards of 2000 persons, but when cleared of benches, as is the case at great political meetings, over 5000 may find standing room. The Midland Institute, adjacent to the town hall on the west, has a fine lecture theatre. To the south lie the post office, the inland revenue office and Queen’s College. To the north is the Gothic building of Mason College, an institution merged in the university. The Central free library, adjoining the Midland Institute, was rebuilt in 1879, after a fire which destroyed the fine Shakespeare library, the Cervantes collection, and a large series of books on, and antiquities of, Warwickshire, known as the Staunton collection. The Shakespeare series was as far as possible replaced, and the whole forms one of the largest reference and lending libraries in England. Edmund Street and Colmore Row are fine thoroughfares running parallel in a north-easterly direction from either side of the council house; in the first the principal building is the school of art, in the second are several noteworthy private buildings. Both terminate at Snow Hill station, that of the Great Western railway. New Street station, that of the London & North Western and Midland railways, lies close to the street of that name, fronted by the Queen’s hotel. The station is nearly a quarter of a mile in length. The roof of the older portion consists of a vast arch of glass and iron, carried on pillars on each side, and measuring 1100 ft. in length, 80 ft. in height, and 212 ft. in width in a single span. The building of the Royal Society of Artists fronts New Street itself with a fine classic portico; here are also the exchange (Gothic) and the grammar school of King Edward VI., a Perpendicular building dating from 1840, designed by Sir Charles Barry. Corporation Street was the outcome of a great “Improvement scheme” initiated in 1875, with the object of clearing away a mass of insanitary property from the centre of the town and of constructing a main thoroughfare from the centre to the north-eastern outlet, starting from New Street, near the railway station to Bull Street, and thence continuing to the Aston Road. The scheme received parliamentary sanction in 1876, and was finished in 1882 at a cost of £1,520,657. This led to an almost total extinction of the residential quarter in the centre of the town. The finest building in this handsome street is the Victoria assize courts. The foundation stone was laid by Queen Victoria in 1887, after Birmingham had been created an assize district; the building was completed in 1891. There is a handsome entrance, and within is a great hall, 80 ft. by 40, with a series of stained-glass windows. The exterior is red, and highly ornamented in the style of the Renaissance.
Among other noteworthy buildings are the county court, education offices and military drill hall. Among a fine series of statues and monuments may be mentioned the statue of Nelson by Richard Westmacott, in the Bull Ring; those of Joseph Sturge, at the Five Ways, and of Thomas Attwood, the founder of the Political Union, in Stephenson Place, both by J. E. Thomas; James Watt, a singularly beautiful work, in Ratcliff Place, by Alexander Munro; Sir Robert Peel, in New Street, by Peter Hollins; Albert, prince consort, in the council house, by J. H. Foley; and Queen Victoria, by Thomas Woolner; Sir Rowland Hill, in the hall of the post office, by Matthew Noble; and Dr Priestley, in New Street, by F. J. Williamson. There is also a fountain behind the town hall, commemorative of the mayoralty of Mr Joseph Chamberlain, and flanked by statues of Sir Josiah Mason, and George Dawson, who took active part in the municipal reform movement previous to Mr Chamberlain’s years of office. Sir Francis Chantrey’s famous statue of James Watt is in a special chapel at Handsworth church.
Suburbs.—The principal streets radiating from central Birmingham to the suburbs are served by electric tramways worked by the corporation, and also by motor omnibuses. The principal suburbs are as follows. Edgbaston and Harborne lie south-west of the centre of the city, being approached by Broad Street. These form a residential district principally inhabited by the richer classes, and owing to the enforcement of strict rules by the ground landlord, retain a remarkable semi-rural character, almost every house having a garden. Here, moreover, are Calthorpe Park, the botanical gardens, and the large private grounds attached to Edgbaston Hall, also the Warwickshire county cricket ground. To the south of Edgbaston, however, are the growing manufacturing districts of Selly Oak and Bourneville, and south of these, Northfield and King’s Norton, in Worcestershire. The districts to the east of central Birmingham are Balsall Heath, Sparkbrook, Small Heath and Saltley. On the south-east is the residential suburb of Moseley, and on the east that of Yardley. Between Moseley and King’s Heath to the south, is Highbury, the seat of Mr Joseph Chamberlain, whose active interest in the affairs of the town, both during his mayoralty (1873–1876) and at other times, was a principal factor in such works as the municipalization of the gas and water supply, the Corporation Street improvement, and the foundation of Birmingham University. On the east side the transition from town to country is clearly marked. This, however, is not the case on the west side, where the borough of Smethwick adjoins Birmingham, and the roads through West Bromwich and towards Oldbury and Dudley have the character of continuous streets. On this side are Soho and Handsworth, which gives name to a parliamentary division of Staffordshire. To the north lies Aston Manor, a municipal borough of itself, with Perry Bar beyond. To the north-east a populous district extends towards the town of Sutton Coldfield. Aston Hall is a fine Jacobean mansion standing in an extensive park. Aston Lower Grounds is an adjacent pleasure-ground. Besides these and the Edgbaston grounds the chief parks are Summersfield Park, towards Smethwick; Soho Park; Victoria Park, Handsworth; Adderley Park, towards Saltley; and Victoria Park, Small Heath. There is a race-course at Castle Bromwich, 3 m. east of the town.
Churches and Religion.—Birmingham is not rich in ecclesiastical architecture. It became a bishopric under the Bishoprics of Southwark and Birmingham Act 1904, including the archdeaconry of Birmingham and the rural deanery of Handsworth, previously in the diocese of Worcester. Before 1821 it was in the diocese of Lichfield. There were formerly a religious house, the priory of St Thomas the Apostle, and a Gild of the Holy Cross, an association partly religious and partly charitable, having a chantry in the parish church. The possessions of the priory went to the crown at the dissolution, and the building was destroyed before the close of the 16th century. The lands of the Gild of the Holy Cross were granted by Edward VI. to trustees for the support of the free grammar school. Until 1715 there was but one parish church, St Martin’s, a rectory, having the tithes of the entire parish of Birmingham. St Martin’s was erected about the middle of the 13th century, but in the course of ages was so disfigured, internally and externally, as to present no traces, except in the tower and spire, of its former character. In 1853 the tower was found to be in a dangerous condition, and together with the spire was rebuilt. In 1873 the remaining part of the old church was removed without disturbing the monuments, and a larger edifice was erected in its place. St. Philip’s, a stately Italian structure, designed by Archer, a pupil of Wren, was the next church erected. It was consecrated in 1715, enlarged in 1884, and became the pro-cathedral on the foundation of the diocese. It contains a rich series of stained-glass windows by Burne-Jones. Then followed St Bartholomew’s in 1749, St Mary’s in 1774, St Paul’s in 1779, St James’s, Ashted, in 1791, and others. St Alban’s is a good example of J. L. Pearson’s work, and Edgbaston church is a picturesque Perpendicular structure.
Under the Commonwealth Birmingham was a stronghold of Puritanism. Clarendon speaks of it and the neighbourhood as “the most eminently corrupted of any in England.” Baxter, on the other hand, commending the garrison of Coventry, says it contained “the most religious men of the parts round about, especially from Birmingham.” The traditional reputation for Nonconformity is maintained by the town, all varieties of dissenters being numerous and influential. The Unitarians, the oldest body established here, have among their chapels a handsome structure in Bristol Road, the Old Meeting, which in 1885 replaced the building in which the congregation was formed on the Presbyterian model by a number of ministers ejected under the Act of Uniformity. Another chapel, the New Meeting, in Moor Street, is memorable as having been the place of Dr Joseph Priestley’s ministerial labours from 1780 onwards. In 1862 the Unitarians removed from this place to a new Gothic edifice, called the church of the Messiah, in Broad Street, where they preserve a monument of Priestley, with a medallion portrait in profile, and an inscription written by Priestley’s friend, Dr Parr. The first meeting-house of the Society of Friends dates from about 1690. Among Independent chapels, that of Carr’s Lane had John Angell James and Robert William Dale as ministers. The Baptists first erected a chapel in Cannon Street in 1738. The Wesleyan Methodists were established in Birmingham by John Wesley himself in 1745, when he was roughly handled while preaching on Gosta Green. In 1903 a very fine central hall, with lofty tower, was opened by this body, in the style of the Renaissance, fronting upon Corporation, Ryder and Dalton streets. The Presbyterians have also places of worship, and the Jews have a synagogue. From the revolution of 1688 until 1789 the Roman Catholics had no place of worship here; but Birmingham is now a Roman Catholic bishopric. The cathedral of St Chad was built from the designs of A. W. Pugin. At Erdington, towards Sutton Coldfield, is a large Benedictine Abbey (1897) of the Beuron congregation, founded as a monastery in 1876; and in the vicinity, at Oscott, is St Mary’s College, where the chapel is a fine example of Pugin’s work. Cardinal Newman was superior of the Oratory of St Philip Neri from its foundation in 1851.
Administration.—The government of the town resided originally in the high and low bailiffs, both officers chosen at the court of the lord of the manor, and acting as his deputies. The system was a loose one, but by degrees it became somewhat organized, and crown writs were addressed to the bailiffs. In 1832, when the town was enfranchised, they were made the returning officers. About the beginning of the 19th century, however, a more regular system was instituted, by an act creating a body of street commissioners, who acted for the parish of Birmingham, the hamlets outside its boundaries having similar boards of their own. The annoyance and difficulty caused by these bodies, thirteen in number, led to a demand for the incorporation of Birmingham as a borough; and a charter was accordingly granted by the crown in 1838, vesting the general government in a mayor, sixteen aldermen and forty-seven councillors. The powers of this body were, however, unusually restricted, the other local governing bodies remaining in existence. It was not until 1851 that an act of parliament was obtained, abolishing all governing authorities excepting the town council, and transferring all powers to this body. Another local act was obtained in 1862, and in 1883 these various acts were combined into the Birmingham Corporation Consolidation Act. In 1889 Birmingham was created a city, and a grant made of an official coat of arms carrying supporters. The title of lord mayor was conferred on the chief magistrate in 1897. The city council consists of eighteen aldermen and fifty-four councillors, selected from eighteen wards; it is divided into seventeen committees, most of which consist of eight members. The corporation is the largest employer of labour in the borough, and is also a large landowner.
The gas, electric and water supplies are in its hands. The gas supply was taken over in 1875, and the electric in 1900 for £420,000. The local sources of water-supply are the rivers Bourne and Blythe, the Plant Brook and the Perry Stream, and eight deep wells. These works can provide 20 million gallons daily in dry weather. A large area outside the city boundaries is supplied, and in 1891, the demand having risen to nearly 17 millions a day, new sources had to be considered, and it was determined to seek an entirely new supply in Wales. By an act of 1892 power was given to acquire the watershed of the rivers Elan and Claerwen, tributaries of the Wye, lying west of Rhyader in Wales, and to construct the necessary works, the capital authorized being £6,000,000. About £5,900,000 had been spent when, on the 21st of July 1904, King Edward VII. formally opened the supply. Two reservoirs on the river Elan, formed by masonry dams from 98 to 128 ft. above the river-bed, were then completed, the construction of the three planned on the Claerwen being deferred until necessity should arise. Nearly a mile below the confluence of the rivers the great Caban Coch dam, 122 ft. high, and the same in thickness at the base, and 600 ft. long at the top, holds up the water for over 4 m. in the Elan, and over 2 in the Claerwen, having a capacity of 1500 million gallons. A series of thirty filter beds is included in the original scheme; and the water travels 73·3 m. from the source to Birmingham by gravity alone with a fall of about 170 ft. The area of the gathering ground is 45,562 acres, the mean annual rainfall in the district being 63 in. The complete scheme provided water for fifty years in advance, and a maximum of 75 million gallons a day was taken into account, in addition to 27 million gallons for compensation water to the river. The part of the works opened in 1904 provided about 27 million gallons of supply daily to the city. The corporation is obliged by the act to supply towns within 15 m. of the line of the aqueduct. A village for the accommodation of workmen was established near the Caban Coch dam; and the corporation adopted a modified form of the Gothenburg system in respect of the supply of intoxicating liquors, permitting no publican to open a licensed house.
The administration of the poor-law is vested in a board of guardians of sixty members for the parish of Birmingham. The parish of Edgbaston (wholly within the borough) is in the poor-law union of King’s Norton, and that part of the parish of Aston included in the borough is in the Aston Union. There are three workhouses—that for Birmingham parish, situated at Birmingham Heath, is capable of receiving over 2000 inmates. In 1882 a superintendent relieving officer was appointed, and a system of cross-visitation started for the purpose of checking abuses of outdoor relief. Workhouses, infirmaries and cottage homes are managed by the board, on which women first sat in 1880. The administration of justice was performed from 1838 to 1884 by a court of quarter sessions, with a recorder, and a court of petty sessions. In 1884 Birmingham was made an assize district of Warwickshire. In 1905 a special juvenile offenders’ court was initiated. The borough gaol is at Winson Green towards Smethwick. The drainage system is managed by the Birmingham, Tame and Rea District drainage board, constituted in 1877, and consisting of members from the city council and from districts outside the municipal area.
Birmingham was enfranchised in 1832, when two representatives were assigned to it, and Thomas Attwood and Joshua Scholefield, leaders of the Political Union, were elected. In 1867 three members were assigned, and in 1885 the number was increased to seven, and a corresponding number of parliamentary divisions created, namely Bordesley, Central, East, Edgbaston, North, South and West. By the Provincial Local Government Board Act of 1891 four local board districts were added to the city of Birmingham for local government—Harborne (Staffordshire), Balsall Heath (Worcestershire), Saltley and the rural hamlet of Little Bromwich (Warwickshire). These districts were by the act declared to be in the county of Warwick, though still remaining in their respective counties for the exercise of freehold votes. By this act the boundaries of the city were made conterminous for parliamentary, municipal and school board purposes. The area is 12,639 acres.
The population of Birmingham in 1700 was about 15,000. In 1801 it was 73,000, and it increased rapidly through the century. In 1891 it was 478,113 and in 1901, 522,204.
Education.—The oldest educational institution is the grammar school of King Edward VI., founded in 1552 out of the lands of the Gild of the Holy Cross, then of the annual value of £21. The endowments now yield upwards of £37,000. The principal school included in the foundation is the boys’ high school, held in the building in New Street. It has a classical and a modern side, and educates about 500 boys. Adjoining it, in a new building opened in 1896, is a large high school for girls, with 300 pupils. There are also on the foundation seven middle schools, called grammar schools, four for girls and three for boys, situated in different parts of the city, and containing about 1900 pupils altogether. The schools have numerous scholarships tenable at the schools as well as exhibitions to the universities and other places of higher education. Queen’s College, founded in 1828 as a school of medicine, subsequently embraced other subjects, though in 1882 only the medical and theological departments were maintained. In 1882 a large part of the scientific teaching, hitherto done by special professors in Queen’s College, was taken over by Mason College, and in 1892 the whole medical department was removed to the same institution under an order from the court of chancery. This change helped to advance the Birmingham medical school to a position of high repute. The theological students (Church of England) of Queen’s College are few. The idea of developing Queen’s College into a university had long existed. But it was destined to be realized in connexion with Mason College, founded by Sir Josiah Mason in 1870. Subsequent deeds (1874 and 1881) added Greek and Latin to the practical, mechanical and artistic curriculum of the original foundation, and provided that instruction may be given in all such other subjects as the trustees may from time to time judge necessary, while once in every fifteen years the provisions of the deed may be varied to meet changing needs—theology only being definitely excluded. In 1897 a new act was passed at the instance of the trustees, creating a court of 180 members, and removing University.the theological restriction. A measure of popular control is given through the appointment by the city council of five out of the eleven trustees. In 1898 a public meeting carried a resolution in favour of creating a university. It was estimated that a quarter of a million was needed to endow and equip a university on the scale proposed. Including £50,000 offered by Mr Andrew Carnegie, an equal amount from an anonymous donor, and the rest from local subscribers, in the autumn of 1899, £325,000 had been subscribed, and the privy council was at once petitioned for a charter, which was granted. The draft provided for the incorporation of the university of Birmingham with faculties of science, arts, medicine and commerce, with power to grant degrees, and for its government by a court of governors (of which women may be members), a council and a senate. Mason College was merged in the university. The faculty of commerce constitutes a distinctive feature in the scheme of the university, the object being to bring its teaching into close touch with the industrial life of the city, the district and the kingdom. In 1905 Sir Edward Elgar (who resigned in 1908) became the first occupant of a chair of music, founded owing to the liberality of Mr Richard Peyton. From the same year great strides were made in the development of the scientific departments of the university. A site at Edgbaston was given by Lord Calthorpe, and the erection of a complete and costly set of buildings was undertaken.
The Municipal School of Art was formed by the transference to the corporation in 1885 of the then existing school of art and the society of arts, and by the erection of the building in Margaret Street, the site having already been given and a portion of the cost provided by private donors. There are one central school and two branch schools. Evening classes are also held in some of the provided schools. The Midland Institute, the building of which was founded in 1855, and enlarged subsequently, includes a general literary and an industrial department. A marked development took place in 1885, when, fresh room having been provided by the removal of the school of art hitherto held in the building, the industrial department was greatly enlarged, resulting in the creation of one of the best metallurgical schools in the kingdom. The Municipal Technical School was established in 1893 in the building of the Midland Institute, and in 1895 was housed in a fine building of its own, in Suffolk Street, whither the whole of the scientific teaching of the institute was transferred. It contains metallurgical and engineering workshops and laboratories, lecture theatres for the teaching of chemistry and physics, a women’s department, and rooms for the teaching of machine drawing and building construction. Among other educational foundations may be mentioned a number of industrial schools, reformatories and private schools of a good class.
The principal libraries are the Birmingham library, founded in 1798 by Dr Priestley, in a modern building, the Central free library, and other free libraries in different parts of the city, each with a lending department and a reading room.
Charities.—The general hospital, the foundation of Dr Ash, an eminent local physician, was opened in 1779. The old building was replaced in 1897 by a splendid new one in St Mary’s Square, costing £206,000. The Queen’s hospital, Bath Row, the other large hospital of the town, was founded in 1840 by W. Sands Cox, F.R.S., an eminent local surgeon, who also founded the Queen’s College as a medical school. The general dispensary, the officers of which visit patients at their own homes, relieves about 8000 yearly. The children’s hospital (free) established in 1864 by Dr Heslop, has two establishments—for out-patients (a handsome Gothic building) in Steelhouse Lane, and an in-patient department in Broad Street. There is also a women’s hospital (free) for the special diseases of women; a lying-in charity; special hospitals for diseases of the eye, the ear, bodily deformities, and the teeth; and a homoeopathic hospital. The parish of Birmingham maintains a large infirmary at the workhouse (Birmingham Heath), and a dispensary for out-patients in Paradise Street. The majority of the hospitals and dispensaries are free. Nearly all these medical charities depend upon subscriptions, donations, legacies and income from invested property. There are two public organizations for aiding the charities, both of which were begun in Birmingham. One is a simultaneous collection in October in churches and chapels, on the Sunday called Hospital Sunday, established in 1859; the other is the Saturday Hospital collection, made by the work-people in March, which was established in 1873. A musical festival is held triennially in aid of the general hospital. There is a sanatorium at Blackwell, near the Lickey Hill, 10 m. south of Birmingham, common to all the hospitals. Amongst the non-medical charities the principal are the blind institution and the deaf and dumb asylum, both at Edgbaston; and Sir Josiah Mason’s orphanage at Erdington. There are also in the town numerous almhouses for aged persons, the chief of which are Lench’s Trust, the James Charities, and the Licensed Victuallers’ asylum. Besides the general benefit societies, such as the Oddfellows’, Foresters’, &c., which are strongly supported in Birmingham, the work-people have numerous clubs of a charitable kind, and there are several important local provident societies of a general character, with many thousand members.
Commerce.—From an early period Birmingham has been a seat of manufactures in metal. Hutton, the historian of the town, claims for it Saxon or even British antiquity in this respect, but without foundation. The first direct mention of Birmingham trades is to be found in Leland’s Itinerary (1538). He writes:—“I came through a pretty street as ever I entered into Bermingham towne. This street, as I remember, is called Dirtey [Deritend]. In it dwell smiths and cutlers. There be many smithes in the towne that use to make knives and all manner of cutlery tooles, and many lorimers that make bittes, and a great many naylors, so that a great part of the towne is maintained by smithes, who have their iron and sea-cole out of Staffordshire.” The cutlers no longer exist, this trade having gone to Sheffield; but the smiths remain, and the heavier cutting tools are still largely made here. The wide importance of Birmingham as a centre of manufactures began towards the close of the 17th century, one great source of it being the absolute freedom of the town, there being no gilds, companies or restrictions of any kind; besides which the easy access to cheap coal and iron indirectly helped the development. It is remarkable that two important trades, now located elsewhere, were first established here. Steel was made in Birmingham until 1797, but then ceased to be so for about seventy years, when an experiment in steel-making was made by a single firm. Cotton-spinning was begun in Birmingham by John Wyatt, Lewis Paul and Thomas Warren as early as 1730; but the speculation was abandoned before the end of the century. The great staple of Birmingham is metal-working in all its various forms. The chief variety is the brass-working trade. Iron-working, though largely carried on, is a much less important trade, works of this kind being chiefly established in the Staffordshire district. Jewelry, gold, silver and gilt come next to brass. The remarkable development of this branch of industry is demonstrated by the increase in the amount of gold and silver marked, as recorded by the Assay office—the figures of 48,123 oz. of gold and 84,323 oz. of silver in 1870 had been increased to 363,000 oz. of gold and nearly 3,000,000 oz. of silver by the end of the century. Then follow “small arms” of all kinds. Until 1906 a Royal Small Arms factory was maintained by the government at Sparkbrook, but it was then transferred to the Birmingham Small Arms Company, which had already extensive works in the district. Buttons, hooks and eyes, pins and other articles used for dress, constitute a large class of manufactures. Glass, especially table glass, is a renowned staple of the town. Screws, nails, &c., are made in enormous quantities; indeed, Birmingham has a monopoly of the English screw trade. Steel pens are also a specialty, the name best known in this connexion being that of Sir Josiah Mason. Electro-plating, first established in 1841 by the firm of Elkington, is one of the leading trades. Among other branches of manufacture are wire-drawing, bell founding, metal rolling, railway-carriage building (a large and important industry), the manufacture of cutting implements and tools of all kinds, die-sinking, papier-maché making and a variety of others. In 1897 there was a sudden development of cycle manufacturing, followed in 1899 by an almost equally sudden collapse, but this industry is maintained and accompanied by the manufacture of motor cars, tyres and accessories, for which Birmingham is one of the principal centres in Great Britain.
Birmingham may claim as her own the perfection of the steam engine, through the genius of James Watt and the courage of Matthew Boulton. The memory of the great Soho factory is one of the most precious heritages of the town, and Watt’s own private workshop continues just as he left it, with no single article disturbed, carefully preserved in the garret of his house at Heathfield. The mention of Watt and of Soho recalls the memories of distinguished inventors and others who have been connected with Birmingham. Here John Baskerville, the printer, carried on his work. An institution called the Lunar Society, which met each month about the time of full moon, brought together a brilliant company—Watt, Boulton, Joseph Priestley, Josiah Wedgwood, Erasmus Darwin, Samuel Parr, Dr William Withering, Richard Lovell Edgeworth, Sir Joseph Banks, Sir William Herschel, Dr Solander, John Roebuck, James Keir and many others. William Murdock, the inventor of gas, was a Soho man, and first used his invention to light the Soho factory at the peace of Amiens in 1802. The series of inventors is continued by the names of Gillott, Elkington, Chance, Mason and others. Thomas Rickman, the reviver and historian of Gothic architecture, practised as an architect in Birmingham. William Hutton, the antiquary and historian, carried on his bookselling business here. Many of the best engravers were Birmingham men, notably James Tibbitts Willmore and John Pye, the special translators of Turner’s marvellous creations. Attwood, Joseph Parkes, John Bright and Joseph Chamberlain speak for Birmingham in the region of politics and statesmanship.
One of the most marked features of social life in Birmingham is the fact that contrasts in the distribution of wealth are less strongly marked than in most other great cities. The distance between the poorest and the richest is bridged over by a larger number of intermediate gradations. Colossal fortunes are few; on the other hand there is a numerous class of rich men. These, however, for the greater part are actually engaged in trade or manufactures, and hold their place in local life rather on account of industry pursued than of wealth possessed. The number of the leisured class, enjoying large incomes without participating in any local industry, is relatively small, but is said to be on the increase. There are many manufacturing companies, but great private firms are also numerous. In regard to labour conditions, the system of small masters holds its own in the manufactures of Birmingham, and shows no signs of extinction. One effect of this condition is that capital and labour are not brought into enmity, and consequently strikes and disputes are infrequent. As regards the condition of the working classes it may be noted that Birmingham was the birthplace of the freehold land and building societies, by which workmen are enabled on easy terms to acquire houses of their own. The risk of an overcrowded population is consequently minimized; the houses, moreover, are generally well situated as regards light and air, and many have small gardens. Among industrial communities where peculiar attention is paid to the housing of workmen and their families, that of Bourneville, occupied by the employés of Messrs Cadbury, chocolate manufacturers, is well known.
History.—Owing to its rapid expansion, and the consequent newness of most of the public and other buildings, Birmingham is often supposed to be a modern town. It was, however, in existence as a community in the Saxon period. Proof of this was given in 1309 by William de Bermingham, then lord of the manor, who showed in a law-suit that his ancestors had a market in the place and levied tolls before the Conquest. Some authors have endeavoured to identify the town with the supposed Roman station called Bremenium, but this claim has long been abandoned as fabulous. A Roman road runs north and south across the site of the town, but no remains have been found other than a very few coins. The origin of the name is untraceable; the spelling itself has passed through about 100 different forms. Dugdale, the historian of Warwickshire, adopts Bromwycham, and regards it as of Saxon derivation. Hutton, the historian of Birmingham, has the fanciful etymology of Brom (broom), wych (a descent), and ham (a home), making together the home on the hill by the heath.
In Domesday Book Birmingham is rated at four miles of land with half a mile of woods, the whole valued at £203. Two hundred years later the family of de Bermingham, the owners of the place, come into sight, one of them, William, being killed at the battle of Evesham, in 1265, fighting with Simon de Montfort and the barons against Henry III. The son of this William afterwards took part in the French war, and was made prisoner; his father’s estates, forfeited by treason, were restored to him. Thenceforward the family engaged in various local and other offices, but seemingly abstained from politics. They held the place until 1527, when Edward de Bermingham was deprived of his property by means of John Dudley, duke of Northumberland, who trumped up a pretended charge of riot and robbery against him and procured Birmingham for himself. On the attainder of Dudley the manor passed to the crown, and was granted to Thomas Marrow, of Berkswell, from whom by marriage and descent it went to Christopher Musgrave, and finally, as regards the only valuable part—the market tolls—by purchase to the town itself. In the Wars of the Roses it does not seem that Birmingham took any part; but energy revived in the Civil War under Charles I., when the town sided actively with the Parliamentarians. In 1642, when Charles was marching from Shrewsbury to relieve Banbury, the Birmingham people seized part of his baggage, including much plate, money and wine, which they sent to the Parliamentary garrison at Warwick. Before the battle of Edgehill Charles rested for two nights at Aston Hall, near the town, as the guest of Sir Thomas Holte. The Birmingham people resented this by helping the Parliamentarians to cannonade the Hall and to levy a fine upon Sir Thomas Holte. They also supplied the Parliamentary army with 15,000 sword blades, refusing to make a single blade for the Royalists. These manifestations of hostility were avenged in April 1643 by Prince Rupert, who, with 2000 men and several pieces of artillery, attacked the town, planting his cannon on an eminence near Sparkbrook, still known as Camphill. The townspeople resisted, but were beaten, many persons being killed or wounded. Amongst the former was Lord Denbigh, one of the Royalist officers. Having captured the place, Prince Rupert allowed his troops to plunder it, to burn about eighty houses and to set their prisoners to ransom. He also levied a fine of £30,000, equal to at least £100,000 of the present value of money. This bitter lesson kept Birmingham quiet during the rest of the Civil War, though the sympathies of the people with the Parliamentarians were unabated. In 1665 Birmingham suffered heavy losses by the plague, great numbers of dead being buried in the Pest Field, at Ladywood, then a lonely place far outside the town, but long since thickly covered with buildings. In 1688 the Revolution provoked a temporary outbreak of Protestant feeling. James II. had given timber from the royal forest of Needwood, near Burton, to build a Roman Catholic chapel and convent in a place still called Mass-house Lane. This edifice the mob promptly destroyed when James gave place to William and Mary. Rather more than a century of quiet prosperity ensued, and then occurred the serious and most lamentable outbreak of popular fury known as the Church and King riots of 1791. For some years there had been much political activity in Birmingham, the dissenters, particularly the Unitarians, being desirous of relief from the political and religious disabilities under which they laboured. The leader in these movements was the famous Dr Priestley, who kept up an active controversy with the local clergy and others, and thus drew upon himself and his co-religionists the hatred of the more violent members of the Church and Tory party. The smouldering fire broke out on the occasion of the French Revolution. On the 14th of July a dinner of Birmingham Liberals was held at the Royal hotel to celebrate the destruction of the Bastille. This was the signal of a popular outbreak. A Church and King mob, encouraged and organized by leaders of better station, who were too cowardly to show themselves, began an attack upon the Unitarians. Priestley was not present at the dinner, but his house at Fair Hill, Sparkbrook, was one of the first to be sacked and burnt—his library and laboratory, with all his manuscripts, the records of lifelong scientific and philosophical inquiries, perishing in the flames. The house and library of Hutton the historian were also destroyed. The Unitarian chapel was burnt, and several houses belonging to members of the sect were sacked and burnt. The riot continued until a strong body of troops was marched into the town, but before their arrival damage to the amount of more than £60,000 had been done. Some of the rioters perished in the burning buildings, in the cellars of which they drank themselves into stupefaction. Others were tried and imprisoned, and four of the prisoners were hanged. The persecuted Unitarians recovered a small part of their losses from the county; but Priestley himself, owing in a great measure to the unworthy prejudice against him, was forced to remove to the United States of America, where he spent the rest of his life. A late atonement was made by the town to his memory in 1873, by the erection of a statue in his honour in front of the town hall and the foundation of a Priestley scholarship at the Midland Institute.
As if ashamed of the excesses of 1791, Birmingham thenceforth became, with one or two exceptions, a peaceful town. In the dismal period from 1817 to 1819, when the manufacturing districts were heavily distressed and were disturbed by riots, Birmingham remained quiet. Even when some of the inhabitants were tried and punished for demanding parliamentary representation, and for electing Sir Charles Wolseley as their delegate, there was no demonstration of violence—the wise counsels of the leaders inducing orderly submission to the law. The same prudent course was observed when in the Reform agitation of 1831–1832 the Political Union was formed, under the leadership of Thomas Attwood, to promote the passing of the Reform Bill. Almost the whole town, and great part of the surrounding district, joined in this agitation; vast meetings were held on Newhall Hill; there was much talk of marching upon London 100,000 strong; but, owing to the firmness and statesmanship of Attwood and his associates, there was no rioting or any sign of violence. Ultimately the Political Union succeeded in its object, and Birmingham helped to secure for the nation the enfranchisement of the middle classes and other political reforms. One exception to the tranquillity of the town has to be recorded—the occurrence of riots in 1839, during the Chartist agitation. Chartism took a strong hold in Birmingham, and, under the influence of Feargus O’Connor and some of his associates, nightly meetings of a threatening character were held in the Bull Ring. The magistrates resolved to put these down, and having obtained the help of a detachment of the metropolitan police—the town then having no local police force—a meeting was dispersed, and a riot ensued, which resulted in injury to several persons and required military force to suppress it. This happened on the 4th of July. On the 15th of the same month another meeting took place, and the mob, strongly armed and numbering many thousands, set fire to several houses in the Bull Ring, some of which were burned to the ground and others were greatly damaged. The military again interfered, and order was restored, several of the ringleaders being afterwards tried and imprisoned for their share in the disturbance. There was another riot in 1867, caused by the ferocious attacks of a lecturer named Murphy upon the Roman Catholics, which led to the sacking of a street chiefly inhabited by Irishmen; but the incident was comparatively trivial and further disorders were prevented by the prompt action of the authorities.
See W. Hutton, History of Birmingham (2nd ed., Birm., 1783); J. A. Langford, A Century of Birmingham Life, 1741–1841 (Birm., 1868), and Modern Birmingham and its Institutions, 1841–1871 (Birm., 1873); J. T. Bunce, History of the Corporation of Birmingham (Birm., 1885).