Saturday, 2 June 2012

History of Birmingham



Birmingham's past undoubtably goes back as far as the Bronze age and beyond. However, very little remains from this era except the scattered flint stones and bronze artifacts that can be found in the city museum. Early Roman military roads have passed through the region. Anglo-Saxon tribes started to settle in the region around 700 A.D. Tribes such as the Hwicce and Anglian Mercians started to make the area their permanent home.
Evidence of Saxon settlement is apparent from the name endings of some of Birmingham's well known localities. The suffix -ley means clearing in a forest. Therefore Selly, Yardley, Moseley and Warley are likely to have been Saxon clearings. Other place names also carry the names of their founders. The town of Birmingham was a hamlet hence ending in ham. The followers of the ingas of Birm or Beorma completes the equation and demonstrates how many town names carry the names we have today. Medieval and subsequent Norman occupation also added to the variety of interesting place names, the origin of which is often buried in a murky past. An example of medieval remains can be found at Weoley Castle.
The Domesday Survey of 1086 (Domesday Book)
Leading up to the time of the Domesday Book, the independence of the scattered communities had started to fall under the control of the large landowners. Dudley Castle under the Norman William Fitz Ansculf was a prominent influence over the region. The Domesday book of 1086 values Birmingham manor at £1. Peter de Birmingham, holder of a manor worth considerably less than neighbouring areas such as Yardley and Handsworth, was the first recorded Birmingham. At the time there were five villagers and four smallholders with two ploughs. The most populous area at Aston records 43 adults.
The next recorded entry of significance comes in 1166 when Peter de Birmingham bought the right to hold a weekly market in his castle. The market prospered and Peter laid the foundations of the town of Birmingham. In 1232 a group of citizens formalised an agreement with William de Birmingham which freed them from the compulsory haymaking duties. The tradesmen and merchants were almost undoubtedly involved in the new and lucrative cloth industry. Birmingham had started its long and winding road to manufacturing.
Birmingham on the Map
Birmingham continued to expand and by mid 1300's the town was listed as third town in size in the county of Warwickshire. Coventry and Warwick were larger. Aston, once the larger settlement now became Aston beside Birmingham. The Birmingham market grew from strength to strength with traders selling their cloth ware and metal goods.
The castle of Birmingham, a focal point and power base for the town was influential in providing assistance for new chapel's, the Guild of the Holy Cross in 1392 and a chapel of St. John the Baptist at Deritend for the parishioners of Deritend and Bordesley. Between 1400 and 1450 a new Guildhall and a school were added. Birmingham had its first eductational facility. The castle's dominance was not to last. After a period of decline the castle lost its importance and influence.
At the time of Edward de Birmingham in the 1530's the manor was lost after Edward made enemies at court who confiscated his property. He spent 4 years in the tower of London and by 1538 he had died. The end of a family line, his wife Elizabeth continued to live in the town for some time after Edward's unfortunate downfall. The manor, a possession of the crown, later passed to Lord Lisle of Dudley in 1545. Lord Lisle later became the Duke of Northumberland and the most powerful man in England during the years of Edward VI.
Birmingham was becoming more of a town in its own right. No longer under such heavy influence of the whims of the current landlord the officials of the town could plan its destiny with little interference. Trade and manufacturing industry was starting to take hold. Birmingham was already known for its metalworking. In 1511 the Clerk of Ordanance placed an order for horseshoes and weaponry for the Royal Army. Trade links were being forged with East Anglia and Bristol. The tanning industry was also thriving.
Birmingham Expands
In the early 1500's the population of the town of Birmingham was reaching a 1000 inhabitants. The thriving local industry was already setting the scene for greater things to come. Enter the 1600's. Things were starting to change. A prominant and wealth landowner by the name of Holte commissioned the building of a large country house in the 1620's. Completed in 1634 it stood magnificient as it does today, standing in its own grounds, a testimony to the wealth and status of the Holte family. Sir Thomas Holte, Lord of Aston manor had made a tidy sum from the breaking up of the churches and was well in with the the crown. Sir Thomas was not the nicest of gentry having taken a cleaver to one unfortunate cook, killing him in the process. Aston Hall is one of the great Jacobean country houses of England.
The Holte's family seat was at Duddeston Hall. King Charles paid him a visit in 1642. A turbulent period of English history, the civil war, was soon to begin. Charles I, seeking allegiance in Birmingham was enraged that the Royal baggage train was looted and the goods sent to the Parliamentary cause. Prince Rupert descended on the town and meeting little resistance proceded to remind the townspeople of their duty to the crown by terrorising the local inhabitants . Birmingham thereafter was in favour of the Parliamentary forces.
The civil war came and went. Birmingham surpassed Coventry in size and status making it the largest town in Warwickshire. In the mid 1600's, with a population of some 7000 inhabitants, William Westley by 1700 drew up a town plan and calculated the population of Birmingham as 15,000. In fifty years the doubling of the towns population was caused by immigration from the surrounding towns and villages. Birmingham was gaining a reputation as a town where things were progressing. A trading and manufacturing town of status. Nails, metalwork, and anything in iron was being exported to London and Europe. Birmingham had a monopoly. The change to industrialisation had taken hold. Mills sprang up all around the town. Corn mills were being converted to the production of metal rolling and ironwork. An example of this which survives to this day can be found at Sarehole Mill . Birmingham was about to test its new found industrial might.




The Age of Revolution
After the civil war Birmingham rapidly grew and overtook the population of nearby Coventry. It was now the largest town in Warwickshire,
Approaching 15,000 in numbers towards the turn of the 1700's, William Westley drew up the first town plan. By 1730 this number had reached over 23,000. Birmingham's iron trade was well established and goods were being exported to Europe. Birmingham imported iron from Europe and made steel in its factories around Birmingham. Birmingham was rapidly establishing a reputation for quality goods at prices that undercut industry elsewhere. Gunmaking, toymakers and button makers were sending their wares around the world. The town of Birmingham already had a rich cultural mix of settlers from Europe and beyond. It also suffered from dissenters and Birmingham erupted in violence in 1791. Called the Priestley riots due to the fact that Joseph Priestley had upset the church and some of the establishment with his then radical ideas which resulted in him having to leave the town after his house was ransacked and looted on 14th July 1791. Priestley never returned to Birmingham. Political and religious disputes were common in these times. A military barracks was constructed in 1793 in Ashted to ensure that law and order could prevail.
The Lunar Society
Despite the rioting, Birmingham was expanding and experiencing something of a golden age. Around 1765 a group of Midlands intellectuals formed a society that would set the pace for the Industrial Revolution. Called the Lunar Society it brought geologists, chemists, scientists, engineers and theorists together to discuss inventions and ideas. Erasmus Darwin, Boulton, Watt, Priestley and Wedgewood all contributed to the ideas and vision of the times. The Lunar Society gathered at Matthew Boulton's house in Soho. Most frequent attendees were those living in the town which included Boulton, Watt, Murdock, Small, Withering and previously Priestley. The Lunar Society was held together through the keen interest of its members and to some extent the personal friendship that developed as a result. Matthew Boulton, born in 1728 and the son of toy manufacturer did not have a university education. However, history would dictate that he became one of the pioneers of the Industrial Revolution.
Matthew Boulton
Matthew Boulton's business empire grew from toymaking to buckles and buttons. Liaisons with the ambassadors soon had many international figures touring his factories in Birmingham. The house that Boulton purchased called Soho House is now a museum dedicated to his memory and achievements. In 1765, the soho manufactory on Handsworth Heath was built. Housing workshops and showrooms it was different from the normal sweat shops in and around the West Midlands. Using modern techniques to produce his goods the age of mass production had begun. It was the first factory to be lit by gas. It was one of Birmingham's first tourist attractions. Boulton's manufactory started producing silver plate and Boulton was instrumental in pressing Birmingham's case for an assay office so that gold and silver could be hallmarked in the region. By 1773, with an assay office in place Boulton's silver goods were being hallmarked in Birmingham.
 Enter James Watt - The Steam Age begins
James Watt, inventor of the newly patented device increasing the efficiency of steam and fuel in fire engines. In 1769, Boulton, realising the potential of this new innovation approached Watt with his proposition to build a factory for the production of steam engines. Watts existing partner James Roebuck was in financial difficulty and progress on Watt's steam engine had been painfully slow. An extension of the existing patent with assistance from Boulton ensured the partnerships success and the first two Watt engines were produced in 1776. By 1800 450 steam engines had been produced. Meanwhile William Murdock, the pioneer of gas lighting had invented steam driven transport. The Industrial Revolution was in full steam.
The Age of Transport
Turnpike roads across the length and breadth of England were in a poor state in the winter months and slow at the best of times. James Brindley had been busy organising an alternative that would enable Birmingham to ship heavy goods to London and the ports. After a slow start and some initial problems pumping the water required, the canals began to branch out across Birmingham. Transporting the materials was no longer costly. The brass and coal industry amongst others seized the opportunity. The Birmingham and Fazeley Canal, Worcester and Birmingham, Warwick and Birmingham joined with others and by the turn of the 1800's over a hundred boats a day were shipping cargo in and out of the town. Thomas Telford provided the solution for the need for more water with the Edgbaston Reservoir. The waterways now enabled Birmingham goods to be shipped round the world with ease. Another development however was just around the corner.
The arrival of the Railway
The Great Railway race had already started and Birmingham's Industrial Importance ensured that the town was high on the agenda for a railway link. In 1837 the first carriages arrived at Vauxhall from Liverpool. In 1839 the new railway terminus at Curzon Street had been completed. The London and Birmingham Railway was up and running. More Railway companies followed and New Street Station opened in 1854. Birmingham's Industrial might was now well established. In 1831 census records show the population at 112,000 and rising. Factories were springing up all over the town and the surrounding area. This was Britains Industrial Heartland.
Birmingham's Cultural Heritage - a city is born.
Immigrants arrived from Poland, Russia, Germany and Italy. A Jewish quarter quickly established itself and many families from Ireland settled in the town. Thomas Attwood a leading Birmingham Politician had helped pass the reform bill of 1832 and by 1889 Birmingham was a city. 1834 had seen the opening of the town hall and future years would see visitors such as Charles Dickens, Cardinal Newman and Midlands home grown composer, Elgar.




The Expansion of Birmingham
With city status Birmingham continued to expand. New parks, swimming baths, libraries and entertainment venues were built in the city. Joseph Chamberlain originally a Londoner, took the city to new heights. The Council House, The Museum and Art Gallery, the elaborate buildings in Birmingham University were all projects under the vision of Chamberlain. Borrowing heavily and using finance from the commercial sector the Birmingham Corporation transformed the city.
In Stirchley in 1878 George Cadbury and his sons had purchased 14 acres of land . The company moved to Bournville with cocoa as their main product. In 1895 the Bournville model village land was purchased providing accommodation to the working class of Cadbury's factories. It is even today managed by the Bournville Village Trust set up by the Cadbury family. The developments of Cadbury and the international status it has acheived is just one of the success stories of the region. The Cadbury Visitor centre is one of the city's leading tourist attractions.
Home of the Industrial Revolution, known for its contribution to arms manufacture and transport, the transatlantic cable, brass and iron,the Orient Express. Importing raw materials from and exporting to all four corners of the world, Birmingham has made it's marked contribution to the United Kingdom as we know it today. Indeed Birmingham is known throughout the world for its innovation and manufacturing. City of a thousand trades, home of the motor industry, Dunlop, Lucas and BSA, to name but a few.
 
The First World War
Birmingham city sent 150,000 men to Flanders, many of whom did not return or returned with terrible injuries. The importance of Birmingham cannot be underestimated. It's factories were vital to the war effort. BSA produced the Lewis gun at over 10,000 units a week. Millions of cartridges and shells along with armoured vehicles poured out of the city. Cadbury's produced food for the war effort. Following the war a massive housing development scheme expanded the city further. The city had escaped the worst of World War I by its distance and the limitations of the technology of the day. It had more than paid for this in the numbers of men lost in France during the war. The second world war changed the face of Birmingham forever.
The Second World War
Prior to 1939 Birmingham had already in place four aircraft factories and the skills with which to produce any aircraft needed in the event of war. War broke out and the German Luftwaffe had already targeted the city. 400,000 of Birmingham's population were engaged in war production. It is arguable that without the Industrial might of Birmingham, Britain could well have lost the second world war. Spitfires and Hurricanes poured out of Birmingham factories. Ammunition, shells, armoured vehicles, motorcycles, engine parts, amphibious craft and trucks supplied the British war effort. The blackout made navigation difficult for the Luftwaffe bombers. Time and time again the city suffered as the Luftwaffe tried to find the factories. Only the BSA factory suffered seriously at the hands of the enemy aircraft but over 6,000 homes were destroyed and over 5,000 citizens were killed or seriously injured. Many of Birminghams fine buildings were destroyed in the air raids.
The Rebuilding of Birmingham
After the war the city was rebuilt. In the 1950's and 1960's immigrants from the caribbean and Asia found their way to the city enriching its cultural heritage and founding the mixed race and cultural centre that Birmingham is today. The harsh buildings and some bad planning on the part of the Council has ensured that Birmingham has received much criticism for its appearance and its manufacturing decline in recent years. I leave the post war events to the citizens of Birmingham. Many today are still aware of the changes both good and bad that have shaped the city in recent years. However, the dismal and depressing drab city that you may have seen 15 or 20 years ago is going through a major change.




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