About

newhall-hill3

I have just started researching for a PhD in Modern History at the University of Birmingham, under the supervision of Professor Carl Chinn and with financial support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

There is still only a working title for my thesis, but the proposal is a case study of Birmingham and its administration between 1838-1852. This time frame falls within a period of immense change in British politics and society as the impact of industrialisation and urban growth became starkly visible. This was an age of sweeping political reform and immense social upheaval. Life appears to have been running at an ever increasing pace. Birmingham was one of a small number of towns at the forefront of this dynamic change, bursting at the seams with a population that was technologically innovative, culturally motivated and politically radical.

The period under consideration for this research was chosen as one which really represents the frontier between old and new styles of approach to local administration. This is an area which I hope to explore in more detail in my thesis. I am particularly interested in the interface between the ‘public’ and local authorities. I want to understand the extent to which public demand influenced reform at a local level and how local demands might have impacted on changes to national policy as well as consideration of how these new approaches to social management impacted on real lives. Another ambition for the thesis is to move away from the traditional ‘grand narrative’ approach of class conflict, so often applied to nineteenth-century Birmingham,  considering instead the rather more ordinary interactions of daily life. I have discovered that the minute books of both the Town Council and the Street Commissioners reveal an incredibly vivid insight into how Birmingham developed materially during the first half of the nineteenth century. Not through any poetic description or fanciful musings, but through planning applications, petitions of complaint and bye-laws. Such a vibrant and real image of the town emerged from these ‘mundane’ interactions that I thought it would be useful to share them. Hence this blog on an occasional history of the mundane.

Birmingham’s early Victorian history has too often been overshadowed by the towering presence of the later administration of Joseph Chamberlain. It has been written off as a time of civic stagnation. I want to contest this perspective by bringing to the fore the dynamic and often bold actions taken by Birmingham’s early civic leadership.

The majority of evidence sourced for this blog can be found archived at the Library of Birmingham, which offers a HUGE quantity of archival material for anyone interested in the history of Birmingham – and it’s not at all mundane!

Law Makers, Law Breakers

Although Birmingham was incorporated in 1838, until 1851 the majority of the management of the fabric of the town still fell under the control of the self-elected Street Commissioners. Over the course of some 80 years they oversaw the transformation of the town from a few puddled streets into a thriving commercial centre. They held administrative responsibilities not dissimilar to our current council, including paving, draining, lighting but also street cleansing, licensing of cabs, managing the markets and filling in potholes. They also had to oversee some seismic changes, particularly the coming of the railways. Overall, reading through the minute books of the Commissioners, there is an impression of a pretty impressive system. However, just like today, the management of a large and dynamic infrastructure came with many difficulties and the Commissioners came under fire, particularly over issues of drainage and smoke pollution. In the letter below, taken from the Birmingham Journal of September 24th, 1842, a local resident is complaining about something which must have been quite an issue to those living and working nearby, that is the smells of managing Birmingham.

Law Makers, Law Breakers,

Sir,- if I mistake not, our commissioners have made a bye law to prevent persons removing manure &c. between a certain hour in the morning and a stated time at night. Now, at their own premises in Shadwell-street, manure is often removed during the day, causing such a stench as cannot be conceived, far different to stable manure generally.  In fact, it is quite a nuisance.
Yours respectfully,
Truth.
Birmingham, September 17th, 1842

From rumour to riot

firefightersbrr

Rioters attacking firemen in the Bull Ring

In the wet and stormy summer of 1839, Birmingham was in turmoil. There was a strong Chartist presence in the town, holding meetings in the Bull Ring twice a day promoting the ideal of universal suffrage to large crowds. It was the newly established town council which had the responsibility of policing the tensions, a difficult task given that the Churchwardens had taken up a legal challenge against the legitimacy of the council. They refused to hand over any of the rate money to the council, leaving them hamstrung and unable to properly suppress the growing unrest. In consequence the town’s first mayor, William Scholefield, decided to approach the Home Secretary for support. A body of Metropolitan Police had been dispatched, arriving in Birmingham on July 4th and subsequently being subjected to a severe beating as they attempted to break up a meeting. Two of the London police were stabbed, although they did make a recovery at the General Hospital. In consequence of this a new, bitter antagonism grew between the Brums, the alien police force and the town council who had called them in. Across the course of several days the Metropolitan officers exacted their response, operating a random stop and search policy and confiscating any tools that might be deemed as offensive weapons. In an artisan town where men relied on their tools to earn a living this act only added to the pervasive tensions. The riot act was put in place, but few observed the magistrates’ ban on assembling in public places. On July 15th a notorious riot took place in the Bull Ring, a number of shops were razed, firemen were attacked and some local families were forced to clamber down from upstairs windows as Birmingham burned. The episode caused a good deal of national scandal, the young Queen Victoria summoned a meeting with Prime Minister Melbourne and  wrote of her concerns  in her diary.

The case against the arrested rioters reached the Warwick Assizes in September, during which three men were found guilty of the capital offence of pulling down property. The following is the witness statement of Edward Savage, a shoe maker of Bow Street (near Horsefair). This is a useful statement as, if accurate, really reveals just how the riot of July 15th began. The Lovett and Collins mentioned in the transcript were William Lovett of the London Working Men’s Association and John Collins, a journeyman pen maker from Birmingham who was a leading Chartist. The two had been arrested and imprisoned in Warwick gaol for penning and publicly posting an objection to the behaviour of the London police. The news of their bail on the 15th had clearly reached Birmingham.

Edward Savage, a shoe-maker, Bow Street:- I left work about seven o’clock on the night of the 15th of July, and went with a few neighbours to the meeting at Holloway-head. There were some hundreds there. We came from Holloway-head down Exeter Row, where Wilkes directed the mob to go down Smallbrook Street, down Digbeth to the Warwick Road to meet Lovett and Collins. I and my companions saw two policemen endeavour to take a man into custody. We afterwards followed the crowd to Camp-hill, and the man, who was not taken, told the people there assembled how he had been treated by the police. When the man told the mob what had happened, some of them said they would go and ‘hammer’ the police. Two hundred, I should think, went back towards the Bull Ring.

St. John Ambulance Association: Nurses for Egypt (1882)

From Birmingham Daily PostSeptember 12th, 1882

St. John Ambulance Association:- Nurses for Egypt

To the Editor of the Daily Post,

Sir,- Will you permit me to inform numerous local applicants who have addressed me on this subject – some of whom (men and women) have most generously volunteered their services – that the conditions upon which they are accepted are these: All travelling and other necessary expenses of the nurses and ambulance pupils who may be selected for service at the seat of war are paid; and although the committee’s list is fully complete, further increase of the number, which is much required, will depend on the pecuniary support received from the public, who are earnestly appealed to for contribution to enable dispatch of this expedition on its mission of humanity. Subscriptions – however small – will be gratefully received, acknowledged, and forwarded to the promoters of the Egyptian Relief Fund by,
Yours faithfully,
G. King Patten, Hon. Secretary
105, Colmore Row
Birmingham
September 11

In 1882 the British government staged an intervention in Egypt, sending a fleet of ships to the coast in July, with an army of more than 40,000 men heading across land towards the Suez Canal zone and on to Cairo and other key towns/ports. Britain maintained an occupation of Egypt until after the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian treaty. The St. John Ambulance Association was founded in 1877, developing and forming into a uniformed brigade a decade later. There was a military nursing corp at this time, ‘The Army Nursing Service’, which had been active during the first Boer (Zulu) War. The conditions must have been extremely challenging for women travelling to North Africa at this time.

Some interesting background on the Army Nursing Service can be found here:

http://www.scarletfinders.co.uk/8.html

 

Charge of Bigamy

From Birmingham Daily Post, September 13th 1861

Birmingham Police Court

Before T.C. Kynnersley, T. Cox and C.H.Cope Esqs.

Charge of bigamy.- A young man named W.G.Reed, a coach-maker, residing in Francis Street, was brought up on remand, charged as above. It appeared from the evidence that in December 1850 (sic.) , the prisoner married a woman named Elizabeth French, at St. Andrew’s Church, Bordesley, in this town. – Mrs. Sarah Wall, pew opener at the church, said she saw the parties married, and Detective Jenns, who had the case in hand,  produced a copy of the marriage certificate. Within seven months the coach-maker, who had gone up to London, became acquainted with a young woman named Emma Churchill, and was in July 1959, married to her at St. Phillip’s Church, Stepney. Jenns produced a copy of the certificate of this second wedding. The defence set up by the accused was an odd one. His first wife, a deformed young woman….agreed to make her his wife, on condition that, should she bring forth a living child, the union should be held to be binding, but if the babe died then the marriage would be void. The child did die and he, leaving the deformed woman, married Churchill in London. The Bench committed him to the next assizes for trial. The question of bail being referred to, the Magistrates said that they would accept two sureties in £50 each, and the prisoner at £100. Not being provided with the sureties, the bigamist was locked up.

**The missing word, replaced in the text above with three dots, was not quite legible to me, and the more I looked at it the more unsure I was of what it read. I think, given the context, it perhaps referred to the impregnation of  poor Elizabeth French. The date ‘1850’ seems quite clear in the print, but it would seem more probable that it should have read 1858, which would tie in with Reed’s trip to London ‘within seven months’. 

A Nuisance on Henry Street

This letter to the editor featured in Birmingham Daily Post on September 9th, 1859

A Nuisance
To the Editor of the Daily Post

Sir,- Will you oblige me, on behalf of several of my neighbours, by giving publicity to the following most intolerable nuisance: Every day, but far worse on Saturday, the occupants of houses situated on the corner of Heneage and Henry Streets are greatly annoyed by parties in in the next yard in Henry Street flying their pigeons and throwing stones, potatoes &c., upon the roofs above houses, which fall into the first named yard with destructive effect upon windows &c.,  and render it very dangerous for children walking in the yard, and adults too; when if any remonstrance is made by the neighbours they only receive abusive language for their interference.  Can you, Mr. Editor, or any of your correspondents enlighten me as to what I or any of my neighbours can do for the suppression of this nuisance which becomes more and more unbearable and oblige,
Sir,
faithfully yours,
Henry Street

Singular Conduct of a Pistol Maker

Birmingham Police Court

 

September 1st, 1858
Before T.C.S Kynnersley and S. Buckley Esqs.

Singular conduct of a pistol maker:- A respectable young man named William Henry Bate, who stated that he was a pistol maker in Talbot Street, Winson Green, was summoned to answer the following rather serious charge: A neat little Irish girl named Margaret Colorin, servant to Mrs. E. Mahoney, shopkeeper in the above locality, stated that a few nights ago – it was near ten o’clock and quite dark – she had occasion to go into the yard, into which the premises of the defendant Bate came. As she passed she distinctly heard Mrs. Bates say to her husband “Paddy’s a-coming”, and he directly fired off a pistol three several (sic.) times. The sound came as if defendant was not many yards off, and she was so much frightened that on getting into her mistress’s house she had a violent fit of hysterics.  Mrs. Mahoney and another respectable female neighbour, proved hearing three distinct reports of fire-arms. The defence was that Mr. Bate, whose father is a gun-maker in Whittall Street, in accordance with his father’s practice, always proves his pistols before disposing of them. He did so on the night in question. He only discharged one, his wife letting off the other two. He distinctly denied pointing them at the girl, and did not hear his wife say that Paddy was coming. Mr. Kynnersley said it was a highly improper course to pursue at night and Mr. Bate must pay the costs, 7s. This was done.

[Birmingham Daily Post, Thursday 2nd September 1858]

The British Association for the Advancement of Science: Birmingham, 1849

At a general meeting of the Birmingham Street Commissioners held on September 4th, 1848, exciting news was revealed: the British Association for the Advancement of Science had announced that it would hold its nineteenth annual conference in Birmingham the following year. This was great news for the town, and a strong indicator of a growing cultural reputation. The Association, formally established in 1831, had become an institution of some national importance, holding annual meetings, attracting great scientific minds and, of greater importance, pooling ideas into readily accessible publications.

As was the habit in Birmingham, visiting members of the Association were treated to a warm reception lasting several days. Aris’s Gazette recorded an impressive list of ‘noble and distinguished visitors’  who were entertained by the Mayor. Amongst the names can be seen local gentry and European dignitaries, including Charles Bonaparte, Prince of Canino and nephew of the Emperor, he was also a recognised ornithologist who discovered a new breed of petrel during a trip to America. Other visitors to the conference included easily recognisable names, Charles Darwin, whose grandfather Erasmus had been part of the Lunar Society,  Michael Faraday (also no stranger to Birmingham, he worked with the Chance brothers on improving lighthouse efficiency) and Hugh Edward Strickland, who had just published his groundbreaking work on the anatomy of the dodo.

800px-ExtPassdodo-ea-rs05

Frontispiece from Strickland’s ‘The Dodo and its Kindred’ (1848)

The arrangements for the conference had been undertaken with suitably rational organisation, utilising Birmingham’s numerous cultural buildings. The Gazette reported how the Association’s various  groups and committees were accommodated across multiple sites. This is interesting, as it reveals the diversity of the Association and an inkling of how exciting the conference might have been but also really shows an impressive array of cultural institutions in Birmingham; this was not just a dusty town of lodging houses and puddled courts (although there were plenty of those too!):

The most ample accommodation was provided by the Local Committee for the comfort and convenience of the members. Eight departments in the Free Grammar School were devoted to the use of the four sections, A, C, D and G; the Philosophical Institution was set apart for the section of chemistry; section F and the sub-section of Natural History were accommodated in the Queen’s College. The large room of the Society of Arts was converted into a reception room, where every facility was afforded the members for procuring lodgings and obtaining information upon all subjects. The Town Hall was also thrown open, and nearly all the manufactories of the town were accessible to the visitors

For all its culture, Birmingham clearly also kept an eye on the commercial opportunities that such a large and nationally important event might bring.

The British Association for the Advancement of Science still exists, now known as the British Science Association. Their website can be found here :
http://www.britishscienceassociation.org/history

The minutes of the Birmingham Street Commissioners are available to view by appointment at the Wolfson Centre, Library of Birmingham, the 1848 entries are in MS 2818/1/7  – this is a free service but recent staff cuts means that access is now limited.

Aris’s Gazette is available via subscription to British Newspaper Archives, or free of charge in the Library of Birmingham Local Studies department, floor 4. Again it is perhaps best to check on opening times. Please support our local archives and resources in any way you can. They are a vital part of preserving and understanding our heritage and culture. If we lose them, and the experts who manage them, there is little chance of getting them back. Ta. 

Coffee Break?

From Birmingham Journal , January 16th, 1836

Mocha Coffee, at 2s. per pound

    The superiority of Mocha Coffee over every other description must be acknowledged by everyone who has tried it. Its flavour so perfectly mild and free from any property which is calculated to offend a weak stomach, particularly recommends it to invalids; and were it not for the high price at which this description has hitherto sold, there can be no doubt that its use would have long since superseded the Coffee imported from the West Indies.
At the present moment good Coffee is much enquired for and difficult to procure, unless at an extraordinary high price; this is owing to the scarcity of West India Coffee, the consumption of this article in Great Britain being greater than the Colonies can provide for.
The Mocha Coffee, and in fact every description not grown in the West Indies, pays an extra duty of three-pence per pound.  This duty has hitherto had the effect of limiting the importations to very small quantities, but the high price to which West India Coffee has now advanced, brings the Mocha and East India into the market on nearly the same footing.
I beg to state that I have made a large purchase in Mocha Coffee; of its quality I will leave the public to judge. The price is Two Shillings per pound. I have only to invite a trial, resting assured that a trial will convince every person of its superiority over every other kind imported into this country,
J.R. ANDREWS,
                                                               No. 14, High-Street, Birmingham
The richness of Coffee depends almost entirely on the manner in which it is made. It ought never to be boiled. Boiling water poured over the Coffee gradually is the proper method. But those who are very choice in this article should use “Parker’s Patent Coffee Pot“; the plan is most admirable, it being more properly the essence of the coffee, extracted by steam made to pass through the “grounds” and then condensing; thus preserving the flavour and strength to a perfection unattainable by any other method. Another recommendation is, that it cannot by carelessness or any other cause be made bad. I have one of these Coffee -pots by me, and shall be happy to show it to any person. I do not sell them, but can procure them of any size to order.

A_small_cup_of_coffee

Expenses of the Watch: 1848

At a general meeting of the Town Council held on February 1st, 1848, the Watch Committee presented the following account of their annual expenses from the previous year. At the opening of the report there was also a table showing the current ‘strength of the police force’, according to rank. The numbers presented were:

69 first class officers
69 second class officers
69 third class officers
61 fourth class officers
9 preparatory officers
5 detectives

The committee also confirmed that ‘the station and section houses are in good condition’.

There are lots of interesting expenses on the list, maybe we shouldn’t read too much into the Chief Superintendent’s ‘incidental expenses’ and the greatest expenditure appears to be on clothing and stationery. One woman appears on the list. Although it is not known why Mrs. Ford was left in charge of a female prisoner, but she appears to have been paid quite well for her trouble. Also on the list is a payment to cover damages to a ‘car’. This may have been a cab.

The table has been drawn up from original material taken from the Town Council minute books, which can be viewed at the Library of Birmingham, Archives, Heritage & Photography.  The staff are very helpful & infinitely knowledgeable. And of course the minutes in their original form are available to view free of charge. Because of recent cuts to this important service, visits are by prior appointment only. But do go and look at them, they’re fascinating. Reference number for this volume is BCC1/AA/1/1/2

I hope the format is easy to read. Payments are written in the form £,s,d (pounds, shillings & pence)

Payee Service/goods Payment (pounds, shillings & pence)
John Tonks Printing £20,,14,,0
Hunt & Sons Printing £18,,1,,0
Watts & Williams Surgeons 7s, 6d
J.W. Davies Surgeon 5s,, 0d
J.V. Solomon Surgeon £ 3,,10,,0
Dolans & Co. Clothing £194,,0,, 6
Thomas Evans Boots £153,,10,,0
W. & G. Ashford Stocks 18s,, 0d
Pashby & Plevins Repairs £11,,15,,9
Smith & Hawkes Repairs £1,,14,, 6
B. Burgess Repairs 7s,, 2d
Chief Superintendent ‘Incidental expenses’ £13,,1,,5
Inspector Glossop ‘Incidental expenses’ £1,,17,,3
W. E. Bayldon Apprehending a prisoner £  3,,8,,0
Mrs Ford Taking charge of a female prisoner 13s,,6d
Dawson & Son Printing &c. £19,,10,,0
Mr. Talbut Repairing locks 12s,,7d
Mr. Farmer Repairs 12s,,6d
J.E. Hornblower Preparing plans in support of an indictment £2,,2,,0
Superintendent Roberts Expenses in endeavouring to apprehend a prisoner £1,,15,,0
Allen & Son Stationery &c. £10,,12,,6
J.W. Showell Stationery &c. £4,,9,,9
John Holt Brushes &c. £1,,6,,6
Mr. Parkes Damage done to a car by a prisoner in custody of police £1,,6,,6
D. R. Hill Plans, specifications and estimate of cost of new police station £21,,0,,0

The results are in:Birmingham’s first council election,1838

common seal british library stock

The Birmingham ratepayers elected their first town council on Wednesday, 26th December 1839.  There was a limited electorate because of legislation passed in 1835 which restricted voting to ratepayers of three years standing. Anyone who, for some reason, had not paid their rates during the course of  the previous three years was excluded from taking part in the election. As may be guessed, women were not permitted a vote even if they were long-standing ratepayers.

Shown below are the results of Birmingham’s first council election. The candidates were divided between ‘Radicals’ and ‘Tories’. This might appear odd; when I voted today there was a choice of five candidates from very different political parties. In fact, the choice presented in 1838 as controversial then too. In the run up to the election there were some candidates who were not Tories, but equally did not consider themselves to be Radical. In the list below you’ll see that some candidates are presented as ‘placed upon both lists’.  This was a form of protest. In the end, the Radicals won every seat and on first sight this does appear something of a rout, however the outcome was closer in some districts than others. By my quick calculation, the Radicals took 66% of the total votes.

One interesting name on the list is that of Richard Tapper Cadbury, father of John (who perhaps needs no introduction here).  He was a stalwart of the Street Commissioners, Birmingham’s self-elected administration which held responsibility for managing the town’s infrastructure. In 1851 the council usurped the commissioners, but from the first election until that date there was an uneasy relationship between the two. This is perhaps why Cadbury (and a few other commissioners) made the decision to take part in the election.

The report reveals the returning officer for the elections to be William Scholefield. He was the son of Joshua Scholefield who, along with Thomas Attwood became one of Birmingham’s first MPs. William Scholefield was a known Radical and was elected councillor for St. Peter’s ward, so it might seem a bit off that he was in charge of ensuring fair vote counting. However, at the time of the election, he also held the office of High Bailiff and it was acting in this capacity. He holds the distinction of being Birmingham’s first mayor.

The following is taken from the Birmingham Journal,  December 29th 1838. This newspaper is available to read online, by subscription to the British Newspaper Archive and free of charge (appointment advised) at the Library of Birmingham.

Corporate Elections in Birmingham

Each ward in the town was contested by Tory candidates, every one of whom were defeated. Elections commenced in the different wards precisely at nine o’clock in the morning under the superintendence of deputy returning officers, and the poll was kept open until four o’clock when the boxes were conveyed to the committee room of the Town Hall and their contents examined by W. Scholefield esq., the returning officer, and the following were declared the result of the elections.

Screenshot 2016-05-05 at 20.17.04 - Edited

©The British Library Board

Screenshot 2016-05-05 at 20.24.07 - Edited

©The British Library Board 

 

Screenshot 2016-05-05 at 22.11.13 - Edited

©The British Library Board

Screenshot 2016-05-05 at 22.16.08 - Edited

 

©The British Library Board