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Birmingham in 1835

BIRMINGHAM, a large commercial and manufacturing town in the county of Warwick, and hundred of Hemingford ; it occupies a narrow peninsular projection of the north-western portion of the county, which is bounded on the north and south by the neighbouring counties of Stafford and Worcester. It is 102 miles in a straight line N.W. of London, and by the nearest road 109 miles. It is 79 miles S.E. of Liverpool, and the same distance N.N.E. from Bristol, both in a straight line. Birmingham is written Brymyncham in the 'letters-patent' of Edward VI, by which the free-school was founded.

The parish of Birmingham, though extending on the north and west to a considerable distance from the town, is smaller than the agricultural parishes in the neighbourhood. It is bounded on the east and north-east by the parish of Aston, in Warwickshire ; on the south by that of Edgbaston in the same county ; on the west and north-west respectively, by those of Harborne and Handsworth, both in the county Stafford. The parish is in form an irregular quadrangle, elongated east and west. It is about eight miles in circuit, and contains, according to late surveys, 2,810 acres. The ancient church, dedicated to St. Martin, is not far from the the south-eastern boundary of the parish. The town at present covers the whole eastern half of the parish, and extends its lines of building to a considerable distance into the parish of Aston. Many of the inhabitants also find, in the continuous portion of the parish of Edgbaston, pleasant residences, at an easy distance from the crowded and commercial part of the town.

Birmingham is situated near the centre of England, and in its vicinity we find the water-shed which separates the streams that belong to the basin of the Trent from those which belong to the basin of the Severn. The river Rea, a remote branch of the Trent, is about 310 feet above high water in the Thames at London - taken at a point close to Birmingham. The surface of the ground is varied, the streets generally lying on a declivity, which facilitates the cleansing of the town, and contributes to its general health. The prevalent geological character of the neighbouring country is the new red sandstone, with beds of clay and gravel superimposed. It has been asserted that coal exists in the immediate neighbourhood, but this is questionable. The middle of the parish of West Bromwich seems the boundary of the accessible beds of coal, beyond which, in this direction, the strata are greatly disturbed ; and the coal, if it exist here, appears from late trials to lie at an immense depth.

The soil in the vicinity of the town is of indifferent quality, but the ample supply of manure, and the value of every open space of ground, induce such a system of culture as renders it highly productive. Large plots of ground in the immediate environs have been long divided by their proprietors into small gardens, which are let at the rent of one and two guineas per annum. Many of these are occupied by artizans, and have been productive of great benefit, both in respect of the vegetables they have yielded, and the healthful exercise derived from their cultivation. This appropriation of the land is however fast diminishing, owing to the rapid increase of the town.

Birmingham has from a remote time been a market-town, and to, a certain extent the seat of manufactures. Being situated at a moderate distance from the Staffordshire mines of iron, which were unquestionably worked at a very early date ; and placed in a district which was distinguished as woody (the northern or Arden division of Warwickshire), it offered great facilities for smelting the ore of iron, which, before the introduction of the steam-engine, could only be effected by means of charcoal. That this was the fact, was noted by William Hutton, the first historian of the town, in his description of a very ancient furnace which was still worked when he wrote in 1780, and near to which rose what he calls 'a mountain of cinder' the refuse of the operations of smelting, which, according to the then existing scale of increase, must have least a thousand years to accumulate. The iron being prepared on the spot, it is natural to suppose that a colony of artificers would settle here, and that they would early acquire skill in the use of the material. During the Heptarchy, the manor appears to have been a possession which gave dignity and consideration to its holders, who resided at a castle or mansion near the cluster of buildings which formed the nucleus of the present town. But it does not appear that in 'ancient times' Birmingham attained to any degree of splendour. The only religious establishment of any considerable antiquity within the precincts, the priory of St. Thomas, if founded before the reign of Edward I, must originally have been of small size, as nearly all the lands which are known to have belonged to it were granted in that reign by the neighbouring proprietors. Though the seat of industry and the simpler mechanical arts, the progress of Birmingham was for many centuries slow, and its productions, from the difficulty of transit, circulated within a limited district. In the sixteenth century Leland speaks of the place as 'a good market-town,' of which 'the beauty' was one principal street, of a quarter of a mile long. It was inhabited by 'smiths, that use to make knives and all manner of cutting-tools ; and many lorimers that make bitts, and a great many nailors.' A place thus characterized by the industry and ingenuity of its inhabitants waited only for more favourable circumstances to increase its wealth. This change appears to have taken place in the seventeenth century, when, on the restoration of Charles II, a fondness for metal ornaments was introduced from France, where the exiled king and his adherents had long resided, and Birmingham took the lead in the manufacture of the glittering trifles which the taste of the age demanded.

Among other causes which favoured the progress of the town may be mentioned the operation of the Corporation and Five Mile Acts, and other arbitrary laws. The consequence of these enactments was the ejection from cities and boroughs with chartered privileges of many individuals, who settled in this comparatively inconsiderable town, and brought with them the capital and the industry which enabled them to seize on the advantages presented by its locality.

Except the parish church of St. Martin, Birmingham contains no edifices, either public or private, of greater antiquity than the black and white half-timbered houses of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which are numerous in the older part of the town, in the suburb of Deritend, and in the line of street which Leland describes as forming 'the beauty' of the place.

Birmingham has not been the scene of any important historical events. It continued, from the time of the Heptarchy, in the possession of the Saxon family on which it conferred a name, whose members long paid 'homage, suit, and service,' at the command of the Norman conqueror, to the lord paramount, who resided at Dudley Castle. In the reign of Henry VIII the last De Birmingham was ejected from his inheritance by the conspiracy of John Dudley, afterwards Duke of Northumberland. (See the narrative at some length in Dugdale's Warwickshire.) After the attainder of this nobleman, the manor lapsed to the crown, and was given by Queen Mary, in 1555, to Thomas Marrow of Berkswell, in the county of Warwick. It has since, by purchase and marriage, changed hands several times, and now belongs to Christopher Musgrave, of Foxcoat in the county of Sussex. But the most important portion of the manorial rights, the market-tolls, were purchased a few years ago by the commissioners of the Street Acts, and are held by them for the benefit of the town.

In the year 1643 the even course of events was interrupted by the civil wars. The inhabitants of Birmingham, as it appears from Clarendon, had been by no means backward in the expression of their opinions on the important occurrences of the reign of Charles I, and had taken a decided part on the popular side by seizing the royal carriages and maltreating the attendants, and by supplying large numbers of sword-blades to the parliamentary troops, while they refused to execute orders given by the commissaries of the royal army. Accordingly, when Prince Rupert, the nephew of the king, was sent with a body of 2,000 men to open a communication between Oxford and York, his progress through Birmingham was resolutely opposed, and a sharp skirmish took. place, attended by the loss of several lives on both sides, and the destruction of a considerable portion of the town by fire. A spot of ground near the entrance from Oxford received, and has since borne, the name of Camphill, a name which still indicates the place where the prince halted the night before he forced his passage through the town. Three short pamphlets were published on the occasion, two of them by writers on the parliamentary side, and one by a royalist gentleman. They severally give a minute though somewhat confused account of the affair, each being coloured, as might be expected, by the prejudices of the writers.

At the close of the eighteenth century occurred the tremendous explosion of party spirit which has been since known under the name of 'the Riots.' On this occasion the motives and opinions of those who rejoiced in the dawn and progress of liberty in France were so far mistaken and misrepresented, that when, on the 14th of July, 1791, a party of respectable inhabitants met to celebrate the anniversary of the destruction of the Bastile, a mob was excited to break the windows of the hotel where the festivity was held. Emboldened by the impunity which attended this outrage, the assailants, in rapidly increasing numbers, proceeded to acts of more extensive destruction.

The Unitarians had been for some time objects of dislike and suspicion from their known freedom of opinion ; and among them Dr. Priestley, who resided in Birmingham, as minister of one of their congregations, was, from the uncompromising language of his writings, especially obnoxious. The two meeting-houses of the Unitarians, the house of Dr. Priestley, and the residences of several of his personal friends, were accordingly the objects of attack, and were destroyed by fire, or otherwise greatly injured and plundered in the course of the night of the 14th of July and the two following days. Among the loss of valuable property which attended these acts of popular fury, none was so greatly to be lamented as that of the library and laboratory of Dr. Priestley, in which were accumulated in MSS the records of the labour of years, the facts collected during a life of industrious observation. These valuable MSS. were wantonly destroyed, scattered, and irrecoverably lost. The arrival of military aid, tardily afforded, at length dispersed the plunderers, and restored tranquility ; but the effects of bitterly-excited party feeling long remained perceptible in the various circles of the town.

The simple form of municipal government which existed when Birmingham was an obscure village has never been changed, though the forms of manorial authority have gradually adapted themselves to the demands of an increasing community. The authorities are the constables and a headborough, assisted by other officers, whose duty it is to superintend the weights and measures, and to examine into the quality of articles of food offered for sale: they are all appointed annually by the jury called by the bailiff of the manor, and assembled in court leet. During the long-continued non-residence of the lords of the manor, the bailiffs have gradually assumed an importance to which their actual official duties did not entitle them. They have long had the precedency in public meetings and on various occasions, and under the provisions of the late Reform Bill, which conferred the elective franchise on Birmingham, the high and low bailiffs are named as the returning officers.

Birmingham, from the nature of its staple employments, lay, till lately, under the stigma of blackness and dirt ; but the improved processes, and the great change in the nature of its manufactures, with the excellent arrangements of the commissioners of the Street Acts, tend, especially in the newer parts, to remove these grounds of reproach. Its general aspect is that of a place suddenly and greatly improved ; the streets lately altered or erected are wide, and the buildings are good. Many of the public edifices are substantially built, in a style highly creditable to the taste of the people.

Among the public buildings the most prominent are those adapted to religious worship. Till the commencement of the last century there was only one church in Birmingham, that of St. Martin's, which was erected at a very early date, and is still standing, but is disguised externally by a covering of brickwork, and internally by coatings of plaster, and numberless ornaments of dubious character. The spire, which is of lofty elevation and good proportions, is still unchanged. St. Philip's church, built in 1719, is correct and elegant in its proportions and ornaments, and adorned with an enriched tower of considerable height, surmounted with a dome and cupola.

Of the other places of worship belonging to the Established Church, which have been since erected, St. Mary's, St. Bartholomew's, St. Paul's, St. Jame's, Ashtod, and St. John's and Trinity, Deritend, are chapels of ease ; Christ Church, St. George's, St. Peters, and St. Thomas's, are churches in their respective parishes parcelled out from the entire parish of Birmingham. This division, which does not extend to the parochial assessments, which are levied uniformly through the whole original parish.

The chapels of the various denominations of Dissenters are forty-five in number, and in several instances present marks of superior taste. Till within a very few years Birmingham had no public buildings of any pretensions to skill in design ; but latterly the commissioners and other superintending bodies have shown a laudable desire to beautify the town by employing the best architects. The town-hall is a magnificent building of the Corinthian order, the proportions of which are taken from the temple of Jupiter Stator at Rome. The exterior is of a grey marble brought from Anglesea ; the extreme length of the building is 166 feet, the breadth 104, and the height 83. The interior length of the hall is 140 feet, the width 65, and the height 65. It contains a fine organ, said to be the most powerful in Europe, and is used for the great music festivals and for public meetings. The market-hall, lately erected in the High Street, is an extensive stone building, well arranged, with vaults beneath for storing goods ; it is one of the finest structures of the kind in the kingdom. The public office, where the police sittings of the magistrates are held two days in each week, and where the business of the commissioners of the Street Acts and other public bodies is transacted, is a large and well-conducted establishment, at the back of which is the town prison.

The old grammar-school has been taken down, and a magnificent building in the middle Gothic style is now (1835) erecting on the old site, which has been enlarged considerably by purchasing some adjoining premises. The school, when completed, will undoubtedly be one of the finest buildings of the kind in England. It will contain a very large school-room with cloisters under it, a large room for a library, and spacious accommodation for the head master and usher.

The buildings which belong to the Public Institutions and Joint Stock Companies also present in many instances handsome fronts ; as the Theatre, the Society of Arts, the Libraries, the Banking Companies, and the News Room.

The beast-market is near the site of the ancient manor-house of Birmingham, and on the ground formerly occupied by its moat. A cemetery has lately been made near the Wolverhampton road, similar to that at Kensall Green, London. For domestic purposes a plentiful supply of water has always been attainable at Birmingham by digging below the prevailing beds of gravel and sand ; but in the higher parts of the town the water thus obtained is of the quality called hard ; so that many persons have found employment and subsistence by conveying in wheel-carriages and in portable vessels the better water from the lower situations, where there are public pumps of soft water. The inconvenience attendant on this mode of supply has, however, induced the establishment of a water-company, whose reservoirs and forcing engine are placed at some distance from the town on the Lichfield road, and which at a moderate charge distribute an abundant supply of water to all parts of the town.

Birmingham has for many years been lighted with gas. Of the two companies, one is seated near the town ; the other has its establishment at West Bromwich, a distance of six miles ; in this latter case the coal burnt near the spot where it is procured, and the gas is conveyed by pipes through the intervening distance. The vicinity of the mining district, and the consequent necessity of finding a mode of transit for great masses of heavy material, as the bulk and weight of many of the articles of manufacture, early led to the construction of navigable canals in different directions from the town, as from a centre, towards the principal points of commercial distribution. The original canal, which communicated with the collieries, was inconveniently narrow, and very winding in its course. These defects have been remedied by opening a new line of canal, executed under the directions of Mr. Telford, which by wide and deep cuttings avoids the necessity of the ascending and descending chain of locks, which impeded the former communication. This canal is also remarkable for the grand proportions of the bridges of masonry and of iron, which cross the deep excavations. Birmingham will soon be the centre of extensive railway communications in different directions. That with London is now (1835) in progress.

Camden, who travelled through England in the sixteenth century, a few years after Leland, says of Birmingham, in his 'Britannia,' that 'most of the inhabitants be smiths ;' to which Bishop Gibson, in his edition of Camden, published in 1722, adds, 'and other artificers in iron and steel, whose performances are greatly admired both at home and abroad.' The editor was, however, scarcely correct if he meant it to be understood that the manufactures of the town were in his time confined to iron and steel goods. Various fancy articles in other materials were then regularly made, and the manufacture of brass goods had commenced. The use of this valuable compound metal has continually increased during the last hundred years, and the talent of the designer has been tasked in the invention of new forms, and in the adaptation of classical models to the purposes of modern domestic comfort and ornament. The introduction. of the stamp especially, which was first applied to the multiplication of copies of smaller wares, as buttons, buckles, and cloak pins, and which was at length adapted, by increasing its power, to the production of large forms, has caused the greatest change in this branch of manufacture. The process of casting, though preferable for many articles, is tedious ; the forms require considerable repairing and finishing after they leave the sand, and the metal is necessarily so thick as to be for many purposes inconveniently heavy : but the stamp brings up the work on the die, on light rolled sheet metal, so that the most intricate and involved patterns are executed with the greatest precision ; and by the ingenious application of separate parts, the work of the carver and gilder, in large decorative pieces of scroll and foliage, is successfully imitated.

In plated wares the style and form were long deficient in grace, but the taste and spirit of Messrs. Boulton and Watt were instrumental in improving the forms of the articles usually produced ; and an increasing familiarity with ancient models, and with the flowery and playful style of the age of Louis XIV, continues to give mew impetus to this manufacture. The introduction of the new mixture called Albata, or British plate, will also, by its superior durability, increase the use of that material in domestic articles, superseding to a great degree the use of spoons, knives, and forks, plated in steel, which have hitherto been made in large quantities. In these manufactures also the stamp is extensively used, assisted by the chasing tool and hammer for ornaments of low relief.

The founding of iron is rapidly improving and extending itself. A comparatively few years ago the principal cast articles of this material were heavy kitchen articles, grates and stoves ; but increased care in the selection of the metal, and a desire to produce elegant forms at a cheap rate, has caused cast iron articles to be manufactured of small size and of light and tasteful patterns, which, when coloured by bronzing, almost equal the more expensive brass wares ; and in hollow vessels such perfection in thinness and lightness is attained, that the use of beaten copper is almost forgotten.

The manufacture of guns was introduced at the commencement of the last century, and has been carried on to an immense extent ; a total of nearly 5,000,000 of fire arms were supplied from Birmingham between the years 1804 and 1818 inclusive, to meet the demands of government and of private trade. A proof-house, under the conduct of a master, wardens, and trustees, has been established by act of parliament, where the fabric of all guns and pistol barrels is tried by a heavy charge : all those which sustain the explosion receive a stamp, to counterfeit which is felony ; and to sell such barrels without the stamp is punishable by heavy fines.

Buttons and buckles, so far as they are articles of ornament, almost took their rise in Birmingham, and this town witnessed all the fluctuations of these manufactures, from the small plain buckle, and the horn or bone button coated with metal foil, through all the capricious and almost innumerable varieties of form and ornament which prevailed during the age of powder, embroidery, and gold lace, or which the still more fantastic taste of foreign markets demanded. At length the buckle has been completely supplanted by shoe-strings, and the button, except where the taste of foreign countries demands otherwise, is generally worn with a well gilt but plain or slightly ornamented surface. The denomination of 'The toy-shop of Europe,' given to Birmingham by Burke, was correct at the time, but the extensive application of powerful mechanical forces has now raised the character of the staple productions of the place. All articles of metallic ornament, such as polished steel toys, gold and gilt jewellery, chains, snuff boxes, &c. are still manufactured, but not to such an amount as to form a characteristic part of the industry of Birmingham.

The quantity of silver used in the manufacture of pencil-cases, boxes, chains, thimbles, &c., and in the numerous fittings and mountings attached to glass and other wares, is considerable, and an Assay Office is established in the town, where all articles in this metal being above 5 dwt. are examined, and if found to be of the proper standard, are marked with the government stamp. The quantity of silver used in the manufactures at Birmingham is about 3000 ounces weekly, or 150,000 ounces per annum.

Japanning, in all its varieties, is another extensive branch of manufacture. It commenced with the varnished boxes and small articles, which were coarse imitations of the Oriental toys, but was gradually improved by John Taylor, who gave elegance to the devices on the surface ; and still further by Baskerville, who introduced the light and highly polished but firm and durable papier mache, which he adorned with paintings in a style before unknown. This branch of industry has called forth great talent ; and some of those who have taken rank among the painters of their age have commenced their career by executing the ornamental designs on the trays and waiters of Birmingham. Articles of this kind are susceptible of great elegance, and when produced in perfection are beautiful specimens of the pictorial art.

Glass-making has long been carried on in Birmingham. This manufacture is not now confined, in its higher branches, to cut vessels for the table, nor to the sparkling drops which decorate girandoles and chandeliers ; but the glass for the latter purpose is cast into forms of scrolls, foliage, busts, and well-formed complete figures of small size, with a degree of boldness hitherto unknown, and is rendered susceptible of all the variety of form which a metal could take ; while the lathe and cutting-tool give it a perfection of surface which imparts a delicacy and a brilliancy attainable in no other material.

An apparently trivial article, the steel-pen, has latterly grown into such extensive use as to form a considerable branch of manufacture. The price has been perpetually diminishing, and the article itself, at the same time, continually improving. The principal manufacturer of steel-pens employs 250 individuals, and consumes annually upwards of forty tons of fine sheet-steel, each ton of which will make nearly 10,000 gross of pens. Supposing the whole work of the other manufacturers in the town to equal that of this individual, it will give a total of 800,000 gross, or nearly ten millions of steel-pens, annually made in Birmingham, besides the large numbers made at Sheffield and other places. This manufacture was first established in Birmingham about the year 1821, before which time the article was scarcely known in the market. Shortly after this date they sold for 12 shillings per dozen, but the price rapidly fell to 2 shillings per dozen, or £1, 4 shillings per gross. The increasing facilities of production, and the consequent abundant supply, added to the competition of the numerous manufacturers, has since gradually sunk the price of well made `three-slit pens' down to 1 shilling per gross, while commoner articles are made at a price very much lower.

The cutlers, lorimers, and makers of wrought nails, who in Leland's time formed the bulk. of the industrious population of Birmingham, have thus been gradually driven away by the increasing demand for articles requiring more taste and skill in design and execution. Agricultural and manufacturing steel and edge tools, including files and saws, are however still made, and a number of new manufactures have been introduced during the last half century, which owed their origin to the facilities afforded by the newly created mechanical forces, that gave a spur to invention by almost insuring its success. Among these are wire-drawing, cut-nail, screw, and pin manufacturing. Fine turnery would naturally arise from the increasing use of the lathe.

Die-sinkers, modellers, and designers were required by those who used stamps and casting-moulds ; and engravers were called for to represent in the books of patterns exhibited by the merchants, the forms of the numerous articles prepared by brass and iron-founders and other manufacturers. Artists in these several lines have been thus drawn to the place, and the arts themselves are cultivated to a degree of perfection before unknown out of the metropolis.

The establishment of gas companies gave an impetus to the manufacture of tubes of various descriptions, as well as to the taste of the designer in forming graceful combinations for the introduction of the new and beautiful light into shops and houses.

Some branches of the cotton manufacture have been localized in Birmingham, such as those of webbing for braces and girths, cords, lines, &c., probably on account of the facility with which the requisite machinery could be procured.

The umbrella trade arose from the demand for the brass furniture of these useful contrivances ; which led to an attempt to execute orders for the article complete.

In the nail manufacture, as carried on in Birmingham, machinery is used by which well-formed nails are cut out of sheet-iron,with a rapidity which leaves far behind the swiftest motion of the muscles in snipping paper with scissors. Nails thus cut receive by powerful pressure well formed heads, while a happy application of chemical science, in annealing, gives them a tenacity which almost rivals the productions of the fire and the hammer. A more desirable object could, indeed, be hardly conceived than that of finally superseding by improved methods the slavish labour of the nail-block, which still employs, at a rate of wages hardly sufficient to support life, from 20,000 to 30,000 persons in the neighbourhood of Dudley and other places on the north-west side of Birmingham.

Screws are also formed with beautiful precision without heat, and by a series of mechanical contrivances which remove the severity of the labour, and render the attention and superintendence of women and children nearly sufficient.

The machine used for the making of button-shanks is another of those aids to human industry in which the most intricate motions, regularly repeated, are successfully imitated. A single revolution of the machine cuts the suitable length from the wire, bends it into its proper curves, and gives to its extremities the flattening which is necessary to fix the shank to the surface of the button.

Of the more ponderous apparatus that of the rolling-mills is the most interesting. In these a vast force is necessary, in order, by simple compression, to dilate into a long and thin sheet the bar or ingot of metal. The action of the steam-engine, the source of motion, the rapid revolution of the large and heavy fly, almost baffling the eye in its efforts to follow its course, and the perpetual whirl of the rollers elongating the hard material presented to them, altogether give to the stranger a striking example of the wonderful power and almost endless application of the force of steam.Steam-engines are now very numerous in Birmingham, the number being about 110, and the total power, technically expressed, is nearly that of 2000 horses. In fact, steam-power is an article produced in great quantities for sale. A person who conducts a small manufactory in the vicinity of a principal steam-engine, willingly pays a certain sum as rent in order that he may be allowed to bring into his building a revolving shaft to give motion to his range of lathes, as the work executed by each man is much increased if he be relieved from the labour of turning the wheel.

Every condensing steam-engine of moderate size, pours forth a constant stream of hot water, now suffered to run off to waste, sufficient to keep constantly heated to 100° a tank of water containing from 1000 to 2000 cubic feet. A very trifling outlay would, from such a source, form a system of warm-baths surpassing in the abundant supply of water, and in the price at which it could be obtained, the most splendid bathing establishments of imperial Rome. The luxury of a warm-bath might be thus enjoyed at a cost consistent with the means of persons in every class. The use of such baths would give to the working man, soiled and exhausted with the labours of the day, a feeling of healthy enjoyment of which at present he has no conception, and would send him forth in a fit condition for enjoying rational recreation, or for profiting by those means of instruction which are offered to him by the various existing institutions.(See Birmingham and its Vicinity, by W. Hawkes Smith, pt.i, p.15, London, C. Tilt, 1834.)

The principal staple machines of the workshops are the stamp, the press, the lathe, and the draw-bench. The stamp and press are used to multiply copies of a given form engraven on a die, or to cut out pieces of metal of similar size and shape : the former, by the sudden blow of a descending weight ; the latter, by the gradual but more effective descent of the die, urged by a screw worked round by a long and loaded arm.

The lathe is well known as the instrument used in turning, or producing, by the action of a sharp chisel or cutting-tool on the rapidly revolving material, correctly circular forms ; and it is most extensively in use in smoothing and polishing the various metallic wares. An ingenious addition renders the lathe applicable to the production of oval forms.

The action of the draw-bench is to elongate a piece of metal, while an equable thickness is preserved, by forcibly drawing it through a small hole in a steel-plate. This is not only useful in the wire manufactory, but also in the lengthening of tubes ; in regulating the surfaces of various cylindrical and other continuous figures, as the bodies of candlesticks, pencil-cases, &c ; and in giving uniform folds, or moulded curves to strips of metal for various purposes.

With these few contrivances to assist the file, the hammer, and other hand-tools, the skilful workman produces the infinitely varied fabrics of ornament and utility for which the town is so much celebrated.

It is not difficult to obtain access to most of the manufacturing establishments in Birmingham, and the visiter, in the course of his researches, is equally delighted by the power and precision of the machinery employed in some branches, and by the ingenuity of hand which is still required in others.

The working population of Birmingham has rapidly increased within a few years, and now composes the great bulk of the inhabitants. A reference to the parochial accounts shows, that out of a total of 30,600 assessments, 16,000, or a large half, are composed of those which are rated at £5 per annum and under ; and 8,060, or more than another fourth, from £5 to £8.

Education - Charities
In the 'Twentieth Report of the Commissioners for Inquiring into Charities' (dated 12th July, 1828), 114 folio pages are devoted to the charities of Birmingham. We avail ourselves of this to give some account of the establishments for education.

Free Grammar-School
The Free Grammar School was founded and chartered by Edward VI, in the fifth year of his reign, 'for the education, institution, and instruction of boys and youths in grammar.' The government of the school and the management of the revenues were vested in twenty discreet and trusty men of the town and parish, who were in the first instance nominated by the crown, but were empowered to fill up the future vacancies which might occur in their own body. They were constituted a body corporate, with power to have and receive of the king or others lands and other possessions for the purposes of the charity. The school was then endowed by the king with the property of the dissolved religious establishment called the Guild of the Holy Cross, which was to be held in common soccage at a rent of 20 shillings per annum. The governors were to nominate the masters, and, in concurrence with the bishop of the diocese, were from time to time to make written ordinances for the government of the school. It would be tedious to recapitulate the minor details in the history of this establishment, and we shall therefore merely describe its state in 1828 ; only previously mentioning that since 1676 a sum has been set apart to furnish exhibitions at Oxford or Cambridge, for scholars chosen from the more advanced pupils of the school. The amount appropriated to this purpose, and the number of the exhibitions, have been altered from time to time ; but since 1796 the number has been ten, at £35 each. The successive regulations made by the governors appear very generally to have been framed with the view of adapting the establishment as nearly as possible to the changing wants of the community. The income of the charity estates, which consist of numerous houses and other buildings in the town, erected for the most part under building leases granted for long terms of years, and of pasture-grounds and gardens adjacent to the town, amounted in 1827 to £3,314, 14 shillings and 1 penny ; and it was then calculated that, through the expiring of leases, it would become about £9,000 by the year 1840, and about £11,000 by 1850. The actual income (1835) is about £4000. The income was thus appropriated in the year mentioned:-

Salaries, &c. £1,393, 15 shillings 10 pence
Branch schools £370, 1 shilling 10 pence
Exhibitions £315, 0 shillings 0 pence
Secretary and law charges £433, 12 shillings 8 pence
Repairs and improvements £126, 18 shillings 3 pence
Taxes &c £155, 5 shillings 9 pence
Balance against the charity from preceding year £114, 9 shillings 2 pence
Total £2,909, 3 shillings 6 pence

The funds of the charity have been applied to the maintenance of a grammar-school and other schools in the town of Birmingham. The smaller schools have amounted to eight : six for the instruction of boys in the English language (in one of which drawing was also taught), and two for the instruction of girls in reading, knitting, and sewing.

In 1827 all but one of these had been discontinued, in consequence of the question which had arisen concerning the validity of some of the statutes, and in consequence of the proceedings in Chancery on the subject. The governors however continued to exercise the privilege of sending sixty children to the national school in Pinfold-street, in lieu of a ground-rent of £15 payable to them by the trustees of that institution. The proceedings in Chancery alluded to above commenced in 1824 ; and in July, 1825, an order was made by the master of the rolls, directing an inquiry, by a master in chancery, into the state of the property, and the propriety of rebuilding the school-house, and also directing the preparation of a scheme for the future establishment of the school. This order was confirmed by the vice-chancellor in January, 1828 ; and in March, 1829, the master made his report and presented the scheme, which was varied, amended, and confirmed by a Chancery decree, dated June 7, 1830. The scheme provided, among other things, that in the said grammar-school the learned languages shall be taught, and be conducted by a head-master and usher, with an assistant to each. That a master to teach writing and arithmetic should also be appointed by the governors, at a yearly salary of £100. That the head-master and usher should have taken at least the degree of M.A. of Oxford or Cambridge, and be members of the Church of England and in holy orders, but to hold no ecclesiastical office requiring them to perform in person weekly parochial duty. That the salary of the head-master should be £400 per annum, exclusive of the rents and profits of certain lands, for which however the governors are empowered to compound ; and that of the usher £300 per annum : each of them to be also provided with a house free of rent and taxes. That the master and usher should each nominate his own assistant, subject to the approval of the governors, and that the salaries of such assistants should be £200 per annum each ; and in case of the master or usher not filling up a vacancy within three months of its first occurring, then the governors alone to appoint such assistant. That no boy should be admitted to the school under eight years of age, or who is unable to write and read English, nor any boy continue in the school after having attained the age of nineteen. That boys not sons of inhabitants of Birmingham or adjacent places shall pay such sums for their education as the governors shall fix. That ten exhibitions of £50 a year each should be founded for the grammar-school boys going to Oxford or Cambridge, two exhibitioners to be elected in one year, and three in the following year, and so on alternately : the exhibitions to be held for four years, but residence during terms to be indispensable. That an annual visitation be held, and an examination of the boys take place, as to their proficiency in learning, 'and whether they appear to be instructed and well-grounded in the fundamental principles and doctrine of the Christian religion ; provided nevertheless that no boy shall be subjected to such examination if the parents or guardian of such boy shall in writing state to the examiners that they object to that part of the examination.' That the governors should have power, with the advice of the bishop of the diocese, to provide a library for the use of the school, and to establish a system of rewards for eminently deserving boys in or quitting the school. Exceptions were filed to this report, which were overruled, and the report confirmed. In April, 1830, the masters report was presented, recommending the rebuilding of the school-house, and showing the increasing value of the property. This report also stated 'that it would be of great benefit to the inhabitants (of Birmingham) if a school were established for the education and instruction of boys in modern languages, the arts, and sciences;' and ' that the governors conceived that it would be for the benefit of the said town of Birmingham, and not prejudicial to the objects of the said charter (i.e. to the old grammar-school), to apply a portion of the said surplus revenue of the said charity to support a school of the description last mentioned.' The better to carry the above reports into effect, an act was obtained in August 1831, regulating the grammar-school according to the scheme just detailed, with the exception of limiting the number of boarders to be respectively taken by the master, usher, and assistants, which had been fixed by the scheme at thirty, twenty, and ten, to eighteen, twelve, and four ; any future assistants not to be allowed to take any boarders, and the governors to have no power to increase the number of boarders to be taken by the master and usher.It is enacted also that the new school for teaching modern languages, the arts, and sciences, shall be regulated by a scheme to be approved of by the Court of Chancery, upon a petition to be preferred by the governors ; and the governors are empowered to purchase a surrender of certain leases in order to erect the school-house, masters' houses, and other erections for the purposes of the said school. Also power is given to the governors, and they are required within eight years from the passing of the act, to appropriate a sum not exceeding £4,000 for the establishing of four schools for the elementary education of the male and female children of the poorer inhabitants of Birmingham, and to nominate masters and mistresses with such salaries, payable out of the rents of the charities, as they may think expedient. In case of there being any surplus remaining, or hereafter accruing, such surplus to be applied, under the direction of the Court of Chancery, in improving, enlarging, extending, or increasing the said free grammar-school, the said new school for teaching the modern languages, the arts, and sciences, and the. said elementary schools, or either of them, or for promoting the objects of the said respective schools. An abstract of the accounts of the income and expenditure is to be annually published in some newspaper printed and published in Birmingham ; but no alteration is made in the appointment of the governors, who remain self-elective, subject to certain qualifications. We have elsewhere mentioned that the building of these schools is in progress.

Blue-coat School
This school was founded in 1722, by subscription among the inhabitants, assisted by a grant of a site for the school and some surrounding land from Lord Digby, the Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, and others. The property, as augmented by subsequent bequests of lands, and premises, and money, produced £1,029 in 1827 of which £173, 16 shillings arose from investments in the funds, other moneys having been invested in land. Adding to this annual subscriptions and collections, and casual benefactions, the whole income exceeds £2,000. The greater part of this amount is annually exhausted by the current expenses of the school, at which about 160 children of both sexes are instructed in reading, writing, and arithmetic, and the principles of the Christian religion as professed by the Church of England, and are entirely clothed, lodged, and boarded. The institution is under the management of a committee of the subscribers. A number of children, varying from ten to twenty, are also kept in this school, under the charity of George Fentham, a mercer of the town, who by will, dated 1690, left property now producing about £308 per annum, a proportion of which was to be applied to teaching poor children, male and female, 'to know their letters, spell, and read English,' and to putting them out as apprentices. The trustees pay to the Blue-coat school. £11 per annum for the board and lodging, of each child, and allow to the master and mistress of the school a gratuity of £10 for their additional trouble. These children are fully clothed once a year : they leave the school at the age of fourteen ; and if opportunity offers, they are apprenticed (without premium).

Piddock's charity
The rents and profits of a farm, bequeathed by William Piddock, became applicable in 1763, to the schooling, apprenticing, or otherwise to the benefit of poor boys of the parishes of St. Martin and St. Michael. The farm now lets at £45. Previously to 1820, the trustees used to contribute £30 per annum to the Madras school of the town, in consideration of being allowed to place sixty children therein ; but a debt having been contracted in rebuilding the premises in 1820, none of the proceeds were in 1827 applicable to this purpose. It was expected that the charity would again became operative about this time.

Ann Crowley's Charity
Under the will of this lady, with an addition afterwards made by Mrs. Scott, £6 is paid to a school-mistress for instructing, at her own house in Birmingham, ten girls sent by the trustees, to read, sew, and knit : and a further sum of five guineas is disposed of in the purchase of cloth and worsted, for the girls to work up into clothing for their own use.

Protestant Dissenters' Charity-school
This school is situated in Park-street, where it has been carried on for many years. It originated in and is still principally supported by voluntary contributions, with the addition of legacies and other casual benefactions. There is no land belonging to this charity, except that on which the school-house stands.

Sunday-schools were early established in Birmingham, and they are now supported by the congregations of all the religious sects, both in the Establishment and among the dissenters, and not less than 16,000 children are constantly in course of receiving at these seminaries the humble but useful portions of elementary knowledge which they are capable of bestowing. Twenty day-schools, including the Blue-coat School and nine Sunday-schools, are connected with the National School Society.In the former there were 1,664 boys and 1,813 girls, in March, 1835 ; and in the latter 1,050 boys and 735 girls, (Report of the National Society, 1835.) A charity-school, attached to the Established Church, maintains nearly 200 children of the two sexes ; another, called the Dissenting Charity School, receives 50 girls. There are several schools on the plans of Lancaster and Bell, and infant-schools which receive pupils between the ages of two and six ; and an excellently managed school for the deaf and dumb, where nearly 50 of these unfortunate individuals are instructed, and rendered capable of usefulness and enjoyment. An extensive and well-conducted parochial asylum for the infant poor provides for upwards of 400 children, who would be otherwise destitute, and who are judiciously educated, and taught early to spend a portion of their time in useful and profitable labour.

Several useful institutions for intellectual improvement are supported principally by individuals of the working classes. Among these is a well conducted Mechanics' Institute, not so numerous in its list of members as might be expected in such a place, but zealously supported. This institution gives class instruction in writing, arithmetic, mathematics, drawing, and the languages, under able tuition ; and it contains a well selected library of 1,200 volumes. A weekly lecture is given on subjects connected with science, art, history, and general literature.

The Artizans' Library was founded at the commencement of the present century, and is supported by small quarterly subscriptions. It consists of 1,500 volumes.

The Social Union for improvement and recreation is of late date. It consists entirely of persons of the working classes, and its members meet at fixed times, and alternately hear lectures and join in conversation, or enjoy musical and other entertainments.

The efforts of the Temperance Societies are also felt in Birmingham. Large numbers enrol themselves in these institutions, and numerous instances are weekly produced of persons who, urged by the considerations presented to them, have succeeded in forsaking their habits of vicious indulgence.

Sick clubs and benefit societies are of old establishment ; but many of them have been proved by experience to be founded on erroneous calculations, and nearly all are rendered useless by the condition of holding their meetings at the public house, where the members are induced to lay out money in drink. This radical defect is now in course of removal by the recent establishment of Provident Societies, on true principles, which meet for despatch of business at the vestry-rooms of various places of worship, or other places unconnected with needless and prejudicial expenditure. All such institutions, supported and managed totally or principally by the working people themselves, whether directly devoted to education or not, are peculiarly valuable as tending, each in its own way, to give them habits of frugality, knowledge of business, and to elevate their general character.

There are in Birmingham numerous charitable institutions, which are well managed and liberally supported. Among these may be named the General Hospital, whose funds are assisted by the celebrated triennial musical festivals, now held in the town-hall ; the Dispensary ; a society for the suppression of Mendicity ; a Magdalen institution ; and a great variety of minor associations for supplying clothing and other comforts to the necessitous poor.

The upper and middle circles of Birmingham are a highly improved and intellectual community. Great attention is paid to the cultivation of literature and the fine arts. Besides circulating and other minor libraries, there are two principal public collections of books, the Birmingham Library, containing 16,700 volumes, and with 560 subscribers of one pound per annum ; and the New Library, containing 4,000 volumes, and with 360 subscribers. There are also many reading societies, in which the new publications circulate among the members. In New Street are the rooms of the Society of Arts for the exhibition of pictures by ancient and modern artists. Concerts of a high order of excellence are given, and the exhibitions of the Society of Arts are of the very first class. A botanical and horticultural society has been formed whose gardens are on an extensive scale ; and the school of medicine presents advantages second only to those of the metropolis. A philosophical institution is liberally supported, and there is also a spacious and well supplied news and reading room.

Population of the parish of Birmingham 112,000
Population of the suburbs, connected with the town but in the adjoining parishes 8,000
Total 120,000

Comparative state in 1815 and 1831

1815 : Population 78,000 ; Assessments £247,050
1831 : Population 112,000 ; Assessments £281,611
Increase:- Population 50 per cent. ; Assessments 12.5 per cent

State of the closely peopled divisions


Extent in acres

Value of fixed property per acre

Total value

Population per acre

St. Phillip's





St. Mary's





St. Peter's





Extent of the entire parish 2,810 acres. Average population 41 per acre.


Under £5 per annum


Class C, or one-half of the population

£5 to £8 per annum


Class B, one-third

£8 to £12 per annum


£12 to £15


Class A, one-seventh

£15 and upwards


Total assessments


Local taxation, as annually paid

Rates paid by

Class A

Class B

Class C


Poors' rate





Highway, Lamps, Town-hall &c.









Amount of rate of 1 shilling in the pound £7,800.