Birmingham’s past goes back as far as the Bronze Age at least. Anglo-Saxon tribes started to settle in the region around 700 A.D. The suffix –ley means a clearing in a forest so we have such as Moseley, Yardley and Warley. Just prior to the Domesday survey of 1086 the scattered communities had started to come under the influence of the large landowners. Peter de Birmingham was the first recorded Birmingham. The most populated area was Aston which had 43 adults. By 1166 de Birmingham bought the right to hold a weekly market in his castle, this market was successful. By 1230 a group of people were involved in the new and financially rewarding clothing industry. Bu the mid 1300’s Birmingham had grown to be the third largest town in Warwickshire (behind Coventry and Warwick at this time), metal goods as well as cloth ones were now being put together and sold.
The de Birmingham family line came to an end in 1538 and Birmingham became more of a town in its own right and no longer dominated by the influence of powerful individuals. In the early 1500’s the population was circa 1,000
The Holte family completed the building of Aston Hall in 1634, it is acknowledged as one of the best Jacobean houses in England. By the mid 1600’s the population had grown to about 7,000 inhabitants, this doubled in the 50 years to 1700. Nails, metalwork and iron goods were being exported, metal rolling mills sprang up all around the town.
By 1730 the population had raced to about 23,000 and the city was also now engaged in making guns, toys, buttons etc. Matthew Boulton born 1728 became a pioneer of the Industrial Revolution; in 1765 the Soho Manufactory was built at Handsworth Heath. It housed workshops and showrooms and was a cut above the normal sweat shops.
It engaged in mass production, it was the first factory to be lit by gas. It also made silver plate and an assay office opened in 1773. In 1769 Boulton approached James Watt with a deal to produce Watt’s newly patented steam engine. By 1800 some 450 steam engines had been produced. The roads were in a poor state and particularly in the winter months; James Brindley came up with a faster, more reliable and cheaper way of distributing the manufactured goods – by canal. On the 1831 census the population of Birmingham had grown to 112,000. In 1837 the first railway carriages arrived at Vauxhall from Liverpool and by 1839 the new railway terminus at Curzon Street was complete. In 1849 the population has accelerated to about 230,000.
New Street station opened in 1854. Immigrants came for employment and arrived from Poland, Russia, Germany and Italy. With City status gained in 1889 Birmingham expanded rapidly, new libraries, parks and theatres were built. Joseph Chamberlain was the driving force behind the building of the Council House (opened in 1881), the Art Gallery, the Museum and Birmingham University.
In 1882 Birmingham gets its first electricity supply. In 1883 the population is now circa 410,000. In 1890 the first electric tram runs on the Bristol Road. In 1935 Neville Chamberlain becomes Prime Minister; in 1939 75,000 Birmingham school kids are evacuated. Birmingham’s factories were vital to the war effort in the First World War. They produced guns, shells, cartridges, armoured vehicles.
Cadbury’s which opened in 1878 produced food supplies. Before the start of the Second World War had commenced in 1939 Birmingham already had four aircraft factories which made the city an even more important target for the Luftwaffe. Around 400, 000 of the city’s population were involved in production allied to the war effort. Over 6,000 homes were destroyed; around 5,000 civilians lost their lives or were severely injured. After the war the city was gradually rebuilt (with the benefit of hindsight it must be said not particularly successfully); immigrants came from new places like the West Indies and Asia. Britain’s economy boomed in the late 50’s and early 60’s and another massive programme of slum clearance and rebuilding was commenced. Again regretfully a lot of homes and shops built as recently as the mid and late 60’s were poorly planned and a lot of these were already being torn down after as little as 25 years.
Today Birmingham seems to be thriving again (certainly from a new buildings and entertainment and leisure point of view); have they got it right this time around? –
Only time will tell……...