In transcribing the following paragraphs from the Internet Archive online version, I have expanded the abbreviations for easier reading and added paragraphing and subtitle South The illustrations are in the original. The Gazetteer has 1856 on the title-page for this volume, but the statements in this essay date it to 1851. — George P. Landow]

Birmingham c. 1850. Click on image to enlarge it. The original map has been reproduced at a large scale to enable readers to locate the very small numbers indicating specific places and buildings. It might take substantial time to download.

Decorated initial B

BIRMINGHAM [anc. Bremenium], one of the greatest manufacturing towns of England, is situated in the Northwest extremity of county Warwick, division of its name, him. Hemlingford, on the borders of the counties of Stafford and Worcester; 102 miles Northwest London, and 112 miles by railway. It stands nearly in the centre of England, on slightly elevated ground, having an ascent on all sides but the Northwest, is somewhat circular in form, and about 5½ to 6 miles in circumference. The streets are generally winding, few of them running parallel to each other, and still fewer being perfectly straight; many of them, however, are imposing, and are lined with handsome buildings. The lower part of the town, consisting chiefly of old houses, is crowded with workshops and warehouses, and inhabited principally by manufacturers; but the upper part contains a number of new, broad, and regular streets; houses well built, chiefly of brick, the more recently erected being, in most instances, faced with Roman cement and plaster. They are lighted with gas, and the main streets, upon the whole, well paved; in the smaller, however, as in many other towns in England, the footways are laid with boulders, making very uncomfortable walking to unaccustomed feet.

The Townhall, Birmingham. From Nature on Wood by C. W. Radclyffe. Click on image to enlarge it.

Public Buildings

The most remarkable of these are the townhall, and free grammar-school; the latter founded and chartered by Edward VI. The townhall, situated at the East end of Paradise Street, and erected for municipal purposes, public meetings, and musical performances, is the great orna ment of the town, and is so lofty and large, that it is seen from almost every part of it. The building is rectangular, and after the model of the temple of Jupiter Stator at Rome. It rests on a rustic basement of 20 feet in height, pierced with doors and windows, and is surrounded by a series of Corinthian columns supporting entablatures above. It is 160 feet long, 100 broad, and 83 high, and is of brick, faced with marble. The large saloon or hall is 145 feet long, 65 wide, and 65 high. It can accommodate above 4000 persons sitting; and contains a large orchestra, capable of holding 400 performers, with a lofty, wide, and deep recess for the organ, one of the largest and finest in the world.

The free grammar-school, a beautiful structure, erected in 1834 at an expense of about £50,000, stands nearly in the centre of the town. The architect, Mr. Barry, has employed in it the same general style as that which he has adopted in the new Houses of Parliament. It is of a regular quadrangular figure, 174 feet in front, 25 wide, and 60 high, and embodies an adaptation of the collegiate, civil, and ecclesiastical pointed architecture of the latest Gothic or Tudor style. It contains both a classical and a commercial school; and the education given in it has been eulogised as consisting of a happy combination of classic lore and practical science. In 1847, the number of pupils was 1200, about 400 of these being in the central schools, and 800 in three branch schools, erected in suitable veying the benefits of this noble foundation very extensively. The institution is now open to persons of every denomination. It is under the management of 20 governors, and the bishop of the diocese.

Among the other public buildings of note, besides several of the churches to be afterwards mentioned, are the Queen’s college (late the royal school of medicine and surgery), opposite the townhall, in Paradise Street, founded in 1828, containing most valuable and extensive museums of human and comparative anatomy, incorporated by royal charter in 1843 up to 1846 open to medical students only, but now open to all classes of students, and entitled to issue certificates for degrees in the university of London, in arts, law, or medicine; Queen’s hospital, lying-in hospital, deaf and dumb institution, blue-coat school, blind asylum, Bingley exhibition hall, Hebrew school, Odd-fellows hall, bank ruptcy court, the building belonging to the society of arts, the theatre, the post-office, the news-room in Bennett’s Hill, the philosophical society, the polytechnic institution, the dis pensary, and the new market-hall, wash houses, and baths; and to these may be added the public office, the proof-house, the London and North-western Railway station, the general hospital, the cavalry and infantry barracks, the Birmingham new and theological library, the extensive and commodious baths at Lady Well and Balsalt, and the of Lord Nelson, a colossal figure in bronze, in the centre of the open area called the Bull Ring. New barracks, on a large scale, are about to be built at Birmingham.

Places of Worship

The Bull Ring and St. Martin’s Chuerch. Birmingham. From Nature on Wood by C. W. Radclyffe. Click on image to enlarge it.

Birmingham, within the borough, which includes Edgbaston, a suburban parish and town, and part of Aston, contains 23 churches and chapels in connection with the Establishment. The old parish church of St. Martin’s, supposed to have been founded in the seventh or eighth century, though its present exterior does not seem earlier in date than the 13th, is not remarkable either for grandeur or architectural beauty, but has a large massive tower, surmounted by a tall symmetrical spire, about 210 feet high; measures are now in progress for re-building it. The interior contains some fine and remarkably curious monuments of the De Birminghams, the ancient lords of the place. St. Philip’s Church, erected in 1725, on the most elevated spot in the town, is a beautiful structure, in the Palladian or Italian style, consisting of a pedestal line, of good height, a range of lofty Doric pilasters, enclosing the large and well-proportioned windows, and a handsome balustrade. The tower, carried upwards by a series of carved figures, is surmounted by a dome and cupola. St. George’s Church, erected in 1822, is a handsome and graceful structure, in the decorated English style, with a lofty, square, embattled tower. St. Thomas’s Church, the most capacious in the town, built in 1829, gives a fine specimen of Doric architecture. The other churches are St. Mary’s, belonging formerly to the parish of St. Martin, erected by subscription in 1744; St. Paul’s, erected by subscription in 1779, somewhat heavy in its architecture, but relieved by an extremely light and elegant spire; Christ Church, a large, plain, and commodious stone building, ad mirably situated on an angular tongue of land, formed by the convergence of several important streets; St. Bartholomew’s, a plain brick building, with a powerful organ, by England, and a handsome altar-piece; St. Peter’s, formerly a chapel of ease to St. Philip s, in the Grecian style, with a massive Doric portico, in imitation of the Parthenon at Athens; St. James’s Chapel, a chapel of ease to Aston Church, as are also St. John’s, built in 1735, and Holy Trinity Chapel, a handsome Gothic building; All Saints , erected in 1833, a large and handsome brick structure, interspersed with Bath stone; and Bishop Ryder’s Church, so called as a testimonial to the memory of the prolate of that name, by whose example and influence subscriptions were raised for its erection. To these may be added, the old and the new church at Edgbaston, and several churches recently built in those populous parts of the adjoining parishes, included within the Parliamentary boundary of the borough.

The dissenting places of worship are very numerous. There are a large Roman Catholic cathedral, and three or four chapels; ten Wesleyan Methodist chapels, three new connection, and one belonging to the Wesleyan Association, besides several smaller, belonging to other sections of Methodists; eight Baptist chapels, seven Independent chapels, five places of worship for Unitarians, an elegant new Presbyterian church in Broad Street, and a chapel belonging to Lady Huntingdon’s connection; a New Jerusalem church, a Quakers meeting-house, and a Jews synagogue. Some of these places of worship are very elegant and spacious build ings. The most remarkable is the Roman Catholic cathedral of St. Chad, erected at an expense of £60,000; it contains a melodious peal of bells; contiguous is a handsome building, the residence of the Roman Catholic bishop and clergy.

Charitable Institutions

Amongst the charitable institutions, the most important are the general hospital, supported by subscriptions, and by the profits arising from the triennial musical festival; and the Queen’s hospital, founded in 1840. There are, besides, the general and self-supporting dispensaries, the lying-in hospital, the eye infirmary, an institution for the relief of deafness, the general institution for the blind, the deaf and dumb asylum, and the Magdalene asylum at Islington. In va rious parts of the town are numerous almshouses, for the aged and infirm poor; and sundry other charitable institutions, the names of which need not be here specified.

Schools, Literary and Scientific Institutions, &c.

Besides the free grammar-school, and Queen’s college, already de scribed, the principal educational establishments of Birming ham are: the blue-coat school, with accommodation for 200 boys, and 100 girls; the education includes the ordinary elementary branches, and religious instruction; the girls are also taught sewing, knitting, and household work, and are prepared for domestic servants; the Protestant Dissenters charity school, established in 1762, and entirely supported by voluntary subscription, at present clothes, maintains, and educates 40 girls, but the number is not limited; St. Philip’s industrial free school originally established in 1824, though the present building was erected in 1846 admits 170 children, boys and girls. Besides these, there are numerous private, ordinary, and boarding schools; National, British, and Lancasterian schools; a Hebrew school; infant, Sunday, and ragged schools, &c.; Springhill College, for the education of young men for the dissenting ministry amongst Independents is a well-endowed seminary, and in the neighbourhood of Birmingham is the Roman Catholic seminary of Oscott. A diocesan training institution is about to be erected, for the diocese of Worcester, at Saltley. There are two public subscription libraries in the town, one containing 30,000 volumes, and the other 7000; a society of arts, and Govern ment school of design, an Odd-fellows literary institute, a philosophical institution, a polytechnic institute, and a society of artists. Among the scientific institutions, the Birmingham botanical and horticultural society, established in 1829, whose gardens are at Edgbaston, is deserving of notice.


The origin and progress of the prosperity of Birmingham, is wholly attributable to the excellence and extent of its hardware manufactures. Its geographically central situation on the border of a great coal and iron district, combined with the command of a wide and ready transit, both by canal and railway, have contributed to render it one of the greatest manufacturing towns, in the particular line above alluded to, in the world; approached only, perhaps, by Sheffield. Nowhere else can we find such extraordinary developments of human skill and ingenuity, nor such perfection in the arts in which they are employed. The vast variety of trades render it a desirable place for the talented and skilled artizan; and this variety is such, that it has seldom happened that Birmingham has been distressed, like many towns, from utter lack of employment. Of the early history of Birmingham, as a manufacturing town, little further is known, beyond the general fact that it has enjoyed a reputation for its iron and steel manufactures for several centuries; although its greatest and most rapid progress has taken place within the last forty years.

In 1805, the amount of hardware and cutlery exported was 4288 tons; in 1844, it amounted to 22,552 tons, all the intermediate years, with two or three exceptions, showing a progressive increase. In 1821, the value of the exports was 1,237,692; in 1844, 2,179,087. But the value of hardware goods was, probably, fully a third more in the former than in the latter year; so that the quantity exported in 1844, exceeds that of 1821 far more than the respective valuations indicate. The extra ordinary reduction in the price of Birmingham manufactures has arisen, partly from a reduction in the cost of the material, but chiefly, and in many cases solely, from improved methods of production, as the cost of the material forms, generally, a very small portion of the value of the finished article. Some of these reductions are truly extraordinary: on fire-arms the reduction is about 53 per cent.; on gun-locks, from 65 to 85 per cent.; on spoons, stirrups, &c., from 61 to 69 per cent., and on iron chains, 68 per cent. One of the most important manufactures of Birmingham is that of fire-arms. During the last war, 5,000,000 were furnished on account of Government, and on the private trade; those for the former being supplied at the rate of 15,000 muskets weekly. The manufacture of swords is also one of the staple trades of Birmingham. Both of these trades, however, have, of course, much fallen off; and the skill and industry employed in them have taken other directions.

At Soho, in the vicinity of the town, was formerly one of the largest steam-engine manufactories in the world, belonging to Boulton, partner of the celebrated James Watt; but the steam-engine department is now carried on, exclusive ly, at Smethick, a short distance to the west of Soho, where extensive works have recently been erected by the same company. Goods of various descriptions, however, are still made here, such as vases, candelabras, and other articles in bronze or ormulu, with large quantities of plate. Here, also, the copper coinage of the kingdom used to be executed. The coining mill, working eight machines, was capable of throw ing off 4000 pieces of money per hour.

Cast-iron articles of all kinds, and of the most beautiful patterns and workmanship, are manufactured here to a great extent, superseding those made of more expensive metals. In former years, iron-found ing was limited to large and heavy articles, but is now extended, with the most entire success, to the lightest and most graceful, in the finishing of which bronze is now very generally employed. The quantity of solid gold and silver plate manufactured in Birmingham is not great; but the consumption of silver in plating was very considerable, having been estimated at about 200,000 ounces a year. It is now, how ever, rather less, in consequence of the introduction of such metallic compounds as that called albafa, which, though inferior in appearance to well-finished plated goods, are durable and cheap.

The beautiful invention of electro-plating, first discovered in this town, tends very greatly to the increase of the consumption of silver, and also of gold. The vast establishment of Smith, Elkington, and Co., New Hall Street, is an object of great attraction. Japanning, in all its forms and varieties, is carried on here to a large extent; and, though of comparatively recent introduction, has attained to a great degree of perfection, especially in the pictorial department; the trays and waiters manufactured in Birmingham, particularly those of papier maché, often displaying, in the conception and execution of their ornamental designs, taste and talent of the highest order.

Glass manufacturing, and glass staining or painting, forms another important branch of manufacture; in the former, ornaments of a size are made, which it was once thought could be produced only in metal; on these the most beautiful, delicate, and brilliant surfaces are raised by the. lathe and cutting tool. The manufacture of steel pens, scarcely known 25 years ago, is another important branch of the trade of Birmingham. One manufacturer of this apparently trivial article, employs 400 individuals, and consumes upwards of 85 tons of fine sheet-steel annually, each ton making 10,000 gross of pens. The price of this article has fallen from 12s. per dozen to 1s. per gross, and still lower for an inferior article. The whole quantity of steel pens now manufactured is estimated at 750,000,000 annually, consum ing above 400 tons of steel. Large quantities of these are exported.

Pins are also manufactured here to a great ex tent; and such is the extraordinary productive powers of the machinery employed, and of the system of minute subdivision of labour, that 12,000 pins can be cut and pointed in an hour, and 50,000 heads rounded off in the same space of time. The manufacture of buckles was at one time carried on to a great extent at Birmingham, but has long been extinct, in conse quence of the general disuse of that article. Buttons are still made in large quantities, and, though there has been a great falling off in some of the branches of that trade, yet necessity, the mother of invention, has given birth to many new species of buttons. The whole number made annually in the town is estimated at 750,000,000. When gilt buttons were more in demand than they now are, so extraordinary a degree of perfection was attained in the art of gilding, that 3d. worth of gold was made to cover a gross of buttons. In making florentine, or silk buttons, 14 pairs of hands, and a number of machines, are employed; and yet a set of 14 buttons can be sold for a 1d. or l½d.

Fancy seals, brooches, clasps, and other trinkets, composed of what is called Birmingham gold, and polished steel, are made in immense quantities, of the most beautiful workmanship, and at prices which excite astonishment. Great numbers of gold rings are also manufactured; in 1839, no fewer than 25,000 wedding gold rings were assayed and marked at the Assay Office in Birmingham. The above sketch gives only a selection of a few of the leading articles manufactured at this great seat of human industry and ingenuity. The simple enumeration of all, without any statistical detail, would occupy a far greater space than could be afforded in a work of this nature.

The machinery employed in the manufacture of nails, screws, button shanks, and in rolling out thick bars, or ingots of metal, into long thin sheets, are amongst the most wonderful inventions of the mechanical genius of this extraordinary place; all of these combining prodigious power, with the most delicate and beautiful pre cision of movement. The most delicate impressions on metals are often produced by the die sinking stamp. Not many large capitalists are engaged in the manufactures of Birmingham; a great proportion averaging from 500 to 1000. These persons give out their work to the workmen they employ, who are generally paid by the piece, and work at home. The employer has thus no expensive establishment to maintain, and no wages to pay but when he has orders to execute. The workman, again, when the work put into his hands requires the aid of machinery, may hire, for any given time, one or more rooms, together with a certain quantity of steam power, in any one of a number of buildings appropriated to such purposes, which are furnished with steam-engine, working-shafts, lathes, benches, &c. The engine power of Birmingham, in 1849, was estimated at that of 5400 horses, and consumed 377 tons of coal per day. The working of this power employed 8000 to 10,000 persons.

It has been greatly lamented by those who take an interest in the morals of this town, that a vast and increasing employment of married women and of very young children in the delicate manufactures, should occasion much domestic evil and physical suffering; but still more that the morals of the cottage hearth, together with its comforts, should vastly suffer by the absence, in so many cases, of the mother and wife. The effect upon the educational effort is very disastrous. There is a branch bank of England in Birmingham, and seven other banks, and a very flourishing savings-bank.

Canals and Railways

Birmingham is in the centre of the canal and railway systems of the kingdom; and is indebted to them for a great part of its prosperity. The Old Canal opens a communication, through the Severn, with Shrewsbury, Gloucester, and Bristol; and, through the Trent, with Gainsborough, Hull, and London. This canal has also a junction with the grand line, running through the potteries of Staffordshire, to Manchester and Liverpool; so that both the Irish Sea and the German Ocean are laid directly open to Birmingham traders. The new Birmingham and Fazely Canal provides a similar water conveyance, by Tamworth, Atherston, Nuneaton, and Coventry, to Oxford; and thence, by the Thames, to London.

In addition to the facilities for conveyance by canals, Birmingham has the advantage of the following railways : the London and Birmingham, and the Grand Junction, now amalgamated under the name of the London and North-western Railway; the Birmingham and Derby Junction, which passes from the London and Birmingham line to Derby, and thence to Nottingham; the Birmingham and Bristol, which passes through Worcester and Gloucester; both of which branch from the London line to their respective termini. There is now open a railway into the potteries, and the Northern parts of Staffordshire are also penetrated. Shortly there will be a direct communication with the populous district of which Dudley and Wolverhampton are the extremities, by means of the Stour Valley Railway, soon to be opened. The Oxford Railway, amalgamated now with the Great Western, is expected to proceed in its works, which are far advanced; its immense viaduct being now a prominent object.

Markets, Fairs, &c.

The markets are held, Monday, Thurs day, and Saturday, and are well and abundantly supplied. On Tuesday, there is a market for hay, straw, and hides. Fairs are held at Whitsuntide and Michaelmas; that is, on the Thursday and two following days in Whitsun-week, and on the Thursday and the two following days nearest to September 29. At these fairs, considerable business is done in cattle, horses, and agricultural produce generally. Birmingham is the emporium of the midland couuties.

Municipal Government and Representation

By the Reform Act in 1832, and Corporation Reform Act, 1835, Birmingham was constituted a borough, and sends two members to Parlia ment. Constituency in 1846, 6129. Its municipal charter bears date October 31, 1838, and divides the borough into 13 wards. Sixteen aldermen are elected; one for each of the 13 wards, and three supernumeraries to act in the absence of any of the other 13. The number of councillors is 48. The aldermen are in the commission of the peace, and hold regular borough courts. The county magistrates sit in petty session, for the division, at the public office, twice a week, and the borough magistrates daily. The county court has also been established in Birmingham, and has superseded the old court of requests. A separate court of quarter-sessions for the borough, has recently been granted by the Crown. Previous to the erection of this court, all prisoners committed for trial were sent to the county prison, at Warwick; but a borough jail has been lately completed at Winson Green, 2 miles from the centre of the town, at the estimated cost of £50,000. There is also a lunatic asylum erected near it. The borough comprises the parishes of Birmingham and Edgbaston, and the townships of Bordesley, Deretend, Duddeston, and Nechells. Area, within the parliamentary and corporate boundary, 8780 ac.

Name and History

Birmingham was known to the Romans under the name of Bremenuim, and is mentioned in Doomsday Book under the name of Bermengeliam. The name, as well as those of the neighbouring hamlets of Castle Bromwich and West Bromwich, is supposed to have been derived from the great quantity of broom which grows in the vicinity. It is said to have been celebrated for the manufacture of arms previous to the Roman invasion. Of its early history, how ever, very little is known. It was the centre of the Saxon kingdom of Mercia; and, at the time of the Conquest, was a place of some consideration.

Birmingham was distinguished in the cause of the parliament; and was the scene of some conflicts, in the last of which, in 1643, it suffered considerably; having been taken, partially burnt, and a heavy fine inflicted on the inhabitants by Prince Rupert. It suffered, to a fearful extent, from the plague in 1665. Its first considerable increase in size and population, took place in the reign of Charles II. Toward the middle of the last century, it be gan to assume an important appearance, and has since continued rapidly to increase. It is not eighty years since it was made a post town; previous to this, letters used to be directed to Birmingham, near Walsall. The American and French wars, during the latter part of the last century, and the early part of this, were the great causes of the prosperity and in crease of the place, by the great demand which they caused for muskets.

In July 1791, Birmingham was the scene of a series of disgraceful riots; property was destroyed to the amount of £60,000. In 1839, riots again took place, when several private buildings in the neighbourhood were set on fire, and various other excesses committed. During the excitement of 1848, not one man was taken into custody for any political offence a circumstance indicative of great moral improvement

Public Health

The general healthiness of Birmingham is deserving of notice. Dr. Price considered it the healthiest place in England. For this it is thought to be indebted partly to the quantity of vitriol which is consumed in the manufactories, and is considered to have a purifying influence on the atmosphere; but a more obvious and more extensive cause may be found in the larger quantity of open space which Birmingham possesses, when compared with such towns as Manchester and Liverpool; in the general excellence of its drainage, greatly facilitated by the substratum of sand and gravel on which it is built; and in the important fact that there is scarcely an underground dwelling, or what is called a cellar, within its precincts.

One man in Birmingham lives on the same space as two in Manchester, and three in Liverpool; and the mortality of each town is as nearly as possible in the same ratio. Edgbaston, already named, a suburban parish and town, near Birmingham, is pleasantly situated about half a mile West from the latter. It is a favourite residence of the wealthier classes of Birmingham, and is almost exclusively inhabited by them. It is in consequence rapidly increasing, and becoming quite a fashionable resort. It consists of several principal streets, regularly laid out, and remarkably well kept. The houses, mostly modern, are well built, chiefly of brick stuccoed, there being few of stone. Water is abundant, and all the principal thoroughfares are now lighted with gas. There are here two churches, and a third is about (1850) to be erected, all connected with the Establishment, and three public schools. No workshops of any description are allowed to be erected in the parish. There are botanical gardens here, open to the public one day in the week. Area of par. 2790 ac. Pop. 6609. Population. In 1801, the population of Birmingham and the suburbs was 73,670; in 1841, it was 182,922; being about 150 per cent, in 40 years; in 1849, it was estimated at 220,000. (Local Correspondent; Guide to Birmingham; &c.)


Blackie, Walker Graham. The Imperial Gazetteer: A General Dictionary of Geography, Physical, Political, Statistical and Descriptive. 4 vol South London: Blackie & Son, 1856. Internet Archive online version of a copy in the University of California Library. Web.9 November 2018.

Last modified 10 November 2018