BIRMINGHAM - Extract from National Gazetteer, 1868
The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland - 1868
The principal lines of railway radiating from the town are the London and Birmingham, the Grand Junction, the Birmingham, Gloucester, and Bristol, the Birmingham and Derby, the Oxford and Birmingham, and the Birmingham, Wolverhampton, and Shrewsbury railways. The London and Birmingham was one of the earliest lines constructed, and the germ of the great system under the control of the London and North-Western Company. It was formed under the direction of Stephenson, and was completed in five years from its commencement, in 1833. It is carried through eight tunnels, over six viaducts, and above 300 bridges, and employs about 100 engines. Branch lines from it run to St. Alban's, Aylesbury, Luton, Bedford, Oxford, Northampton, Peterborough, Warwick, and from Hampton to the Midland Counties railway.
The Grand Junction railway connects Birmingham, through Stafford, Crewe, and Warrington, with the Liverpool and Manchester line, which it is about midway between those towns. The London and North-Western Railway Company was formed in 1846 by the union of the two companies of the London and Birmingham and the Grand Junction. The communication with Manchester is through Stafford, Crewe, and Stockport. Branch lines from the Birmingham and Bristol railway run to Tewkesbury, Cheltenham, and Dursley. The Birmingham and Derby railway crosses the Trent Valley line at Tamworth, and meets the Midland railway at Burton.
The present greatness and importance of Birmingham is of modern and comparatively recent growth, but the town itself is undoubtedly of very great antiquity. Although it is singularly unconnected with events usually called historical, and has not attracted the antiquary or the topographer, so that the notices of it from time to time are very brief and unsatisfying, there is yet enough of definite statement coupled with fair inference to show that a town has existed here from a very remote period, and that its inhabitants were even then engaged, on a small scale, in the same branch of manufacturing industry as that still carried on on so vast a scale.
From its position near the iron-mines of Staffordshire, and the extensive forest lands of Warwickshire; from the numerous vestiges of ancient mining works in the neighbourhood, consisting of a great furnace, masses of cinder, and hundreds of old coal-pits, it is probable that to this place belongs the honour of being the earliest seat of the iron manufacture in England. It has even been asserted that in this neighbourhood were fashioned the necessary tools and implements for working the rich tin-mines of Cornwall in the days when Phoenician merchants first traded thither; and that those chariot scythes which made the resistance of the Britons so formidable to the Romans were manufactured here first.
Considerable diversity is found in the spelling of the name of this town at different periods. In the Norman survey it is called Bermengeham. But the question of priority and correctness remains unsettled between that form and another differing much from it - Bromwycham. Those antiquaries who support the former derive it from the great British tribes of the Brummings and Bermings, who inhabited this part of the country.
Those who prefer the latter seek for the derivation of the name in a Saxon origin; and there are two facts of interest and importance which certainly favour the latter: one, the vulgar pronunciation of the name as "Brummagem"; the other, the existence of villages and a town in the immediate vicinity which bear the names Bromwich and Bromsgrove. The first syllable of these names is the Saxon for "broom", and probably indicates the common growth of that shrub in the district. The last syllable of Birmingham is undoubtedly Saxon, and signifies "the village" or hamlet. One zealous inquirer into the matter discovers 140 variations in the form of the name Birmingham.
Birmingham appears to have been a place of importance before the Roman invasion, and to have been the seat of a small Roman station on the Icknield Street, from the occurrence of Roman antiquities in the neighbourhood. But there are no historical notices of this place before the latter part of the sixth century, when it was given by the King of Mercia to a Saxon family originally named Ulwine, or Allen, but who thenceforward took the name of the place, and were styled De Berminghams. They continued to hold the manor after the Conquest, but by military tenure under the FitzAusculphs, to whom the Conqueror had granted it.
In the reign of Henry VIII. their ancient inheritance was taken from them through a base plot of Dudley, afterwards Duke of Northumberland; on whose attainder, which followed in a few years, the manor passed to the crown. Queen Mary gave it to the Marrows, a Warwickshire family, who held it 150 years, and ultimately sold it to Bishop Sherlock. It has since that time frequently changed owners.
The Commissioners of the Street Acts hold the market tolls, the chief of the manorial rights, for the benefit of the town. The manor-house, or castle, a moated residence of the De Berminghams, stood near the old church of St. Martin. In the civil war of the 17th century, Birmingham embraced the popular cause, supplying swords to the parliament and refusing them to the king; and in 1642 the king's carriages were seized and his messengers arrested. In the following year Prince Rupert appeared before the town, at the head of 2,000 men. The inhabitants, joined with some of the parliamentary forces, encountered him at Camphill, and were repulsed. Some lives were lost, and part of the town was burnt by the royalists.
Birmingham was the scene of serious riots in 1791. On the 14th of July in that year a dinner party was held by the Liberals to commemorate the taking of the Bastille two years before. A counter demonstration was provoked, a mob assembled, and the outburst of violence began by an attack on the house where the Liberals had met. The Unitarian chapel was nest burnt down, and immediately after the residence of Dr. Priestley, the Unitarian minister and distinguished chemist, with his valuable books, manuscripts, and instruments. Dr. Priestley himself, whom the mob eagerly sought after, escaped with his family to Worcester.
The riots were continued the three following days, several places of worship and many private houses being burnt; nor were the rioters, who numbered from 8,000 to 10,000 men, finally dispersed till the night of the 17th, when several cavalry regiments arrived, and put a stop to the disgraceful proceedings. In more recent times, too, Birmingham has been the scene of several tumultuous meetings. In 1839 the Chartists disturbed the public peace, and caused the first institution of the police, who succeeded in restoring tranquillity, and have ever since maintained good order in the town, to the great advantage and increase of its manufactures.
Birmingham occupies an elevated situation near the centre of England, at the south-western limit of the great central plain forming the basin of the Trent. The substratum of the district is the New Red sandstone. The surface, consisting generally of clay or gravel, is undulating, and scarcely any part of the town is flat. The scenery of the suburbs and surrounding country is very pleasant, and the air is considered healthy.
Although from the character of its trade the town might naturally be expected to be deficient in cleanliness and beauty, such is far from being the case. From the sloping surfaces, the abundance of water, good drainage, improved processes of manufacture, and the general police of the town, its aspect is usually clean and agreeable. Cellar residences are almost unknown here, but a large number of persons live in narrow courts. The inhabitants are supplied with water by a company formed in 1825, who have a large reservoir at Aston, fed by the river Tame. There are also numerous pumps and wells, both private and public, and some water-carts from which the poor purchase their supply.
Before 1838 the government of the town was conducted by two bailiffs, high and low, two constables, a headborough, and other subordinate officers for the inspection of weights and measures, food &c. The office of bailiff had gradually increased in importance with the growth of the town, and the more so from the non-residence of the lords of the manor. Under the charter of incorporation the borough is divided into 13 wards, and the government is vested in a mayor, 15 aldermen, and 48 councillors, with the style of the "mayor, aldermen, and burgesses of the borough of Birmingham". The mayor is the returning officer at the elections for the borough, which was constituted by the Reform Act in 1832, and returns two members to parliament, besides being a polling-place for the northern division of Warwickshire.
The limits of the parliamentary coincide with those of the municipal borough, and are much more extensive than those of the parish, comprehending in addition the parish of Edgbaston, and the townships of Bordesley, Deritend, and Duddleston-cum-Nechels, in the parish of Aston. The parish of Birmingham is about 8 miles in circuit, while the borough is 21 miles, including 59,090 inhabited houses, with a population, according to the census of 1861, of 295,955, against 232,841 in 1851, showing an increase of 63,114 in the decennial period. The corporation has a revenue of about £130,000.
The manufacturing industry of this great and busy town would be matter for a volume of itself, and that not a mere modern handbook, but a good, old-fashioned, ponderous folio. The tale would be full of capital illustrations of the greatness of little things. Steam-engines and fire-arms are mighty instruments, impressing us at once with a sense of their importance; but the buckle and the button, the pin, the nail, and the steel pen, looked at in the light of the statistics of their production here, assume an importance that is startling.
Leland, in the reign of Henry VIII., speaks of Birmingham in a passage often quoted, as "a good market town", with one "paroch church". He adds, "There be many smithes in the towns that used to make knives and all mannour of cuttings tooles, and many lorimers that make bitter, and a great many naylors", &c. He visited it in 1538, and almost the same description would have suited it a century later. The one street, which he calls "the beauty of Bermingham", was, he says, a quarter of a mile long.
The streets of the present borough are said to measure about 100 miles in length, and the number of inhabited houses increases at the rate of 4,000 per annum. But in addition to this must be noted the hundreds of erections springing up on every side beyond the limits of the borough, which are connecting the town with the agricultural districts of Warwickshire and Worcestershire on the one hand, and the great mining and manufacturing communities of Staffordshire on the other.
Birmingham not being situated on any of the great lines of traffic, was not even a post town till a time but little beyond the memory of persons still living. Some curious instances have been recorded of the addresses usually put on letters from distant places to persons in Birmingham, implying the possibility of a difficulty in finding it. At the period of the restoration of Charles II. a new epoch of industry and prosperity opened for the town; when courtly fashion and luxury, and the imitation of ancient and foreign models, gave an impetus to the production of a variety of costly and elegant articles. The manufacture of brass articles was soon after introduced, and rapidly rose into importance.
It still remains one of the principal branches of industry, employing between 3,000 and 4,000 persons. The trade of Birmingham has this peculiarity, that in time of war, or of threatened war, although the peaceful arts are stopped, there is a large demand for guns and other weapons. About the middle of the 17th century the manufacture of fire-arms was transferred from London to Birmingham, and has since been carried on to an enormous extent. During the French revolutionary war the Birmingham manufactories supplied to the British government about 30,000 stand of arms per month, besides an immense number to the East India Company; and since the breaking out of the civil war in America, the English trade to that country has chiefly been, maintained by the supply of warlike implements to either of the belligerents, a regular rate of insurance being taken for war risks.
Under an Act passed in 1813, a proof-house was established for the purpose of testing and stamping all gun and pistol barrels made in the town. The establishment is under the direction of a master, wardens, and trustees, incorporated by the same Act. It is made felony to counterfeit the stamp. The proof-house, situated at Digbeth, on the canal, is called the Tower, and is surrounded by lofty walls. Several cannon are mounted in the outer court.
The shoe-buckle, introduced at the revolution of 1688, and remaining a fashionable ornament for a century, gave rise to one of the most extensive and flourishing manufactures of Birmingham. It is said that at one time 5,000 persons were employed in it. After running through an endless variety of size, shape, and pattern, exhibiting all duress of beauty and ugliness, the buckle fell out of fashion and became extinct. The button manufacture, probably commenced at a very early time, has been long, and still is, carried on to a great extent. It is divided into a large number of separate branches, and gives employment to nearly 3,000 artisans.
In the early part of this century a very large and characteristic feature of the industry of this place was the manufacture of polished steel goods (locally called toys), gold, silver, and plated articles, jewellery, chains, and an infinite variety of fancy wares, which occasioned Burke's description of Birmingham as the "toyshop of Europe". Such goods are still made, but they bear a smaller proportion to the entire productions of the town than formerly. The greatest establishments are for iron and brass founding, rolling, stamping, plating, and drawing of metals, iron roofs and girders, railway waggon and carriage building, coach and railway lamps, galvanised iron, wire drawing, metallic bedsteads, brewing, and coachbuilding. These include works for steam-engines and gasometers.
New departments of manufacture have been opened by the introduction of the stamp for metal goods, of Albata and Britannia metal; and the processes of electro-typing, japanning, and glass-making are carried on to a large extent. Among the important manufactures of recent introduction are those of the steel pen, the pin, and the umbrella. One manufactory alone is said to employ 300 hands, many of them women, and to produce 300 millions of steel pens annually. The production of nails and screws is enormous. Other important branches of industry are, modelling, die-sinking, and the manufacture of brass and other tubing.
The skill of the artist is more and more in demand, and the number of designers, engravers, carvers, chasers, die-sinkers, lithographers, and modellers at work, is considerable, and every year increases in proportion as the national taste becomes elevated. In fact, the importance of artistic skill in these manufactures can scarcely be over-estimated, as it not only affects their value in England, but their demand throughout the world. The better to facilitate this object the Government has founded a School of Design at Birmingham, and there is a local Society of Arts, who hold a yearly exhibition, and have a School of Art and an Art-Union.
Occasionally an exhibition of arts and manufactures is held on a large scale; and so successful do these means appear to have been in elevating the quality of English manufactures, that this marked improvement specially attracted the attention of the French Commissioners for the International Exhibition of 1862, and occasioned them to point out the necessity of the adoption of similar measures in France.
The introduction of steam power in 1780 was followed by an immense extension of trade and production. The work performed by the steam-engines of Birmingham in 1849 was calculated to be equal to the labour of 86,000 men, and is now probably doubled. Gas was first successfully used for the purpose of lighting in the famous Soho Works, near Birmingham, founded by Matthew Boulton, and long conducted by him in partnership with James Watt. The works were illuminated with gas, under the direction of Mr. Murdoch, in 1802, on occasion of the peace with France. In these works also the steam-engine was first used in 1780.
The manufacture of the copper coinage issued in 1792 and following years was undertaken by Mr. Boulton; and to the firm, still bearing the name of Boulton and Watt, Soho Mint, is entrusted the preparation of the new bronze money introduced in 1861. The order from Government was for 1,800 tons of bronze pennies, &c., and will occupy between two and three years in the execution.
The principal inhabitants of Birmingham form a large commercial class, consisting of merchants, accountants, agents, and stockbrokers, and a great body of clerks. The Chamber of Commerce was established in 1813, and exercises a vast influence, not only in Birmingham, but throughout the kingdom. The circulation is in Bank of England notes, for the ready conversion of which into bullion there is a branch Bank of England, besides many local banks.
There are freehold land and building societies, besides joint-stock companies for canals, gas, insurance, and other purposes connected with the Birmingham trade, which is considered by foreign nations of sufficient importance to require the presence of resident consuls, though Birmingham is an inland town. The town is above 2 miles long, and nearly the same in breadth, and is adorned with many handsome edifices, although there are few ancient buildings. The chief streets are High street, New-street, Bull-street, Snow-hill, Digbeth, and Dale-end; many great improvements have been made in the streets of late years.
For civil purposes Birmingham is still one parish; but during the last century and a half the increase of the population has necessitated the erection of thirty additional churches, in connection with some of which district parishes have been created. The original parish church is St. Martin's; the living is a rectory* in the diocese of Worcester, of the value of £1,048, in the patronage of Hawke's Trustees. The church, situated in the Bull Ring, is the most ancient building in the town, having been probably erected in the 13th century. It has a tower and well-proportioned spire, and contains some old monuments of the Lords De Bermingham. It has been outwardly cased with brickwork, and inwardly disguised by plaster and arbitrary ornamentation, so that its original appearance is only to be guessed at.
The living of St. Philip's is a rectory*, value £800, in the patronage of the Bishop of Worcester. The church, built in 1715, stands on a hill 460 feet above the level of the sea, and has a tower surmounted by a dome and cupola. The architecture is of the Corinthian order. The triennial musical festivals took place in this church from 1778 to 1829. An extensive cemetery surrounds the church.
The living of St. George's is a rectory* of the value of £550, in the patronage of Hawke's Trustees. The church, built by Rickman in 1822, is a handsome structure, in the decorated style, with an embattled tower and pinnacles. The living of St. Thomas's is a rectory, of the value of £480, in the same patronage The church is in the Grecian style, with a lofty tower, and is situated on Holloway Head. It was erected in 1829, and has a finely panelled ceiling. The living of All Saints is a rectory, value £250, in the same patronage. In addition to these are the curacies of St. Mary, St. Mark, St. Paul, Christ Church, St. Peter, St. Luke, Bishop Ryder's, St. Stephen, St. Jude, St. Bartholomew, St. Barnabas, St. John at Ladywood, and Magdalene chapel, besides five others in the parish of Aston.
In 1841 was completed the fine Roman Catholic cathedral, dedicated to St. Chad. It is built of brick, in the form of a cross, after designs by Pugin, and contains a fine screen with a roodloft, richly-carved stalls from Cologne, and a splendid pulpit of carved oak from Belgium. Near it is the bishop's residence, with chapel, library, cloisters, &c. The places of worship for Dissenters are very numerous, and include some large and handsome edifices. They belong to the Wesleyans, Independents, Baptists, Presbyterians, Quakers, Unitarians, &c. The Presbyterian church, erected in 1849, is a fine structure, in the Italian style, from designs by Botham. It is about 100 feet in length, and is lighted from the roof. The Jews have a synagogue in Blucher-street, erected in 1858 at the cost of £10,000; also one in Wrottesley-street.
The educational institutions of Birmingham are numerous and important. The principal are the free grammar school, Queen's College, the blue-coat school, Oscar Roman Catholic college, Springhill Independent college, the Protestant Dissenters', Fentham's, Leach's, and other charity schools. The grammar school was founded by Edward VI. in 1552, and endowed with the estates of the Guild of the Holy Cross. It has a revenue of £10,000 per annum, and ten exhibitions at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. The number of scholars is about 450. Attached to it are eight subordinate schools, with about 1,000 pupils.
The school-house has been twice rebuilt, first in 1707, and again in 1832. The present buildings form one of the chief, if not the chief, architectural ornament of the town. They are situated in New-street. The structure, which occupies three sides of a quadrangle, is of stone, in the Tudor style, and was erected from designs by Barry, at a cost of £40,000. It is 174 feet in length, 127 in depth, and 60 feet in height. Queen's College, founded by charter in 1843, as a school of medicine, now embraces the study of theology and law. The building is in the Tudor style.
The blue-coat-school, established in 1722, has a revenue of above £2,000, and maintains and educates 160 children. The produce of a bequest by George Fentham in 1690, now amounting to above £300 a year, is applied to the support of from 15 to 20 children in that school. The Roman Catholic college is a very handsome structure, in the Tudor style, with a richly-ornamented chapel, oratories, refectories, and various other apartments and offices. It is of red brick with stone dressings, and was designed by Pugin. Springhill College was established in 1838, for the education of candidates for the university, and has an income from endowment of £500 per annum.
At the neighbouring village of Handsworth are a convent of the Sisters of Mercy and a House of Mercy for destitute young women. There is also a branch convent of the Sisters of St. Paul, in Bath-street, and the Brotherhood of Oratorians, in Lombard-street, of which Dr. Newman is principal. Birmingham has many charitable foundations, at the head of which may be named the General Hospital, founded in 1778 by Dr. Ash, and supported from the first partly by the produce of the triennial musical festivals. The profits of the festival have gradually risen from £127 the first year up to several thousand pounds. The building was enlarged in 1791, and contains a portrait of the founder, by Sir Joshua Reynolds.
The Dispensary was established in 1794. There are also infirmaries, the Queen's Hospital, an asylum for the deaf and dumb, blind asylum, Magdalene Institution, and many other institutions for relieving the diversified wants and sufferings of the poor. The literary and scientific institutions include two public libraries, one founded in 1779, the plan of which was subsequently revised by Dr. Priestley; the other in 1796; both are supported by subscription, and contain, the former 30,000, the latter 7,000 volumes; a newsroom at Bennett's-hill, established in 1825, a handsome edifice with a Doric front; the Philosophical Society; the Society of Arts and School of Design, founded in 1821, with about 500 students, a third being females; the Polytechnic Institute; the Odd Fellows' literary institute; the Society of Artists, &c.
The townhall of Birmingham, erected in 1834, is a magnificent structure of Anglesey marble, designed by Hansom, after the temple of Jupiter Stator at Rome. It occupies an elevated site in Church-street, and is a conspicuous object from all parts of the town. The hall itself stands on a basement above 20 feet high, and is surrounded by ranges of columns of the Corinthian order, fifteen on each side, and eight at each end. The interior dimensions are - length, 145 feet; breadth and height, 65 feet. It is capable of holding 4,000 persons. In this hall is the fine organ built by Hill, one of the largest in England, being 45 feet high and 40 wide. It has 4,000 pipes, four sets of keys, and nearly 80 stops. The longest pipe is 35 feet in length. This magnificent organ is the property of the General Hospital. The musical festivals have been held in the townhall since its erection. The hall contains a bust of Mendelssohn.
The Birmingham and Midland Counties Institute is a noble pile of buildings, situate in Paradise-street, near the townhall. It contains a museum, lecture-rooms, news and class-rooms, &c. The first stone was laid by the late Prince Consort on the 21st November, 1855. It is governed by a president, vice-president, and court of governors. Of the public buildings not already named must be mentioned the new borough gaol, occupying seven acres of ground at Winson Green; the large market-hall in the Bull Ring, 360 feet long, 108 wide, and 60 high, with space for 600 stalls; the corn exchange, built in 1847; Smithfield market, on the site of the old manor-house; cavalry and infantry barracks; the public office, with court-room and prison, built in 1806; the Court of Bankruptcy, County Court, post-office, union poorhouse, &c.
There are also a theatre, Vauxhall pleasure gardens, botanical gardens at Edgbaston, and the Ladywell and other bath establishments. There are three cemeteries. The Rhea is crossed by a stone bridge at Deritend, which was rebuilt in 1823. In the centre of the Bull Ring is a statue of Lord Nelson, by Westmacott, set up in 1809. At the top of New-street is the handsome bronze statue of Sir Robert Peel, inaugurated on the 27th of August, 1855. It was designed by Mr. Peter Hollins, of Birmingham, and cast by Messrs. Elkington and Mason; and in front of the magnificent railway station in New-street is a marble statue, recently erected, of Thomas Attwood, Esq., to whose exertions Birmingham is mainly indebted for her political independence.
The affairs of the town are administered by a recorder, bench of borough magistrates, town clerk, clerk of the peace, coroner, and treasurer, with right of quarter sessions. Birmingham is the seat of a Poor-law Union, comprising the parish; of a County Court district; of a Borough Court for the recovery of small debts under £20; and of a Bankruptcy Court, the jurisdiction of which extends over the surrounding counties of Warwick, Worcester, Hereford, Salop, Leicester, and Stafford, and parts of several others.
In connection with these courts there is a small local bar, conveyancers, above two hundred solicitors, public notaries, surrogates for granting marriage licenses, and law stationers. It is a registration district for births, deaths, and marriages, as are also Aston and King's Norton. The manor is held by Lord Ward of Dudley, who takes the title of baron from the town.
There are several newspapers published in Birmingham the principal are, the Birmingham Daily Post, a Liberal journal, with a circulation of about 20,000 copies daily; the Birmingham Journal, also a Liberal paper, with a circulation of 13,000 copies; Aris's Birmingham Gazette, an influential Conservative paper; the Midland Counties Herald, a neutral paper; and the Saturday Evening's Post, addressed to the working classes, with a circulation of 15,000 copies; besides many almanacs and railway guides, &c.
The principal canals are the following: the original Birmingham canal, 23 miles long, constructed in 1769, and connected, through the Stafford and Worcester canal, with the river Severn; the Fazeley canal, cut in 1790, connecting Birmingham by the Grand Trunk canal with Manchester and Hull, and by the Grand Junction with London; and the Birmingham and Liverpool canal, 39 miles long, constructed in 1828, joining the Ellesmere and Chester canal at Acton. The few remains of antiquity consist of the vestiges of a hospital founded in the reign of Edward I., of a priory, and of a large Roman camp, with a triple fosse, on Iknield Street, which ran through the parish.
Many distinguished men have been connected with its history. Amongst others may be mentioned John Wilkinson, John Taylor, Dr. Priestley, Watt, Eginton, Murdoch; besides Matthew Boulton, born in 1748; Bishop Smalbroke, in 1672; and Cary, the translator of Dante, in 1772, who were natives of Birmingham. The eminent printer, Baskerville, had at one time a printing-office here.
Thursday has been the market day from the earliest times, and still is the only day for the corn market, though general markets are held on Monday, Thursday, and Saturday, and a hay market is held on Tuesday. Fairs take place on the Thursday in Whitsun week and two following days, and the last Thursday in September, also lasting three days. There are wakes, and quarterly meetings of the ironmasters, which take place on the second Thursday in the months of January, April, July, and October."
"BISHOP RYDER, a hamlet in the borough of Birmingham, hundred of Hemlingford, in the county of Warwick, near Birmingham. The living is a perpetual curacy in the diocese of Worcester, in the patronage of trustees."
[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)
Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003]