Forward: the Corporate Common Seal

common seal british library stock

One of the loveliest surprises when looking through the minute books of the Town Council, was turning a page and seeing, for the first time, the still vibrant, red, waxy seal of the Corporation. The seal would sit out proudly next to the signature of the current mayor, representing a stamp of approval against a lofty petition to Parliament or memorial to the nobility. Each year it appeared as a stamp of authority beneath the very long-winded explanation of the rate levy. Despite my best efforts, I was never able to make out clearly just what the image on the stamp represented, although I had a good idea of what was on there. So I was very pleased to come across the image above on the British Library’s Flickr site  []. Although it is a slightly later version, from the description of the seal presented in the minute books, this must be very similar. The only part of it that I am unsure of is the buckled belt at the bottom (any information on this would be gratefully appreciated!).

The Town Council appointed a committee to procure a common corporate seal on January 1st, 1839, only a few weeks after Birmingham’s returned its first Borough Council. The committee consisted of councillors William Pare, Thomas Clark, Thomas Clutton Salt, Edward Lucas and Thomas Phillips. Two weeks later they presented a meeting of the council with five devices for their consideration. The committee recommended device number one ‘with the motto Unity, Liberty, Prosperity’. However, no decision was made at this meeting and the five devices were left at the office of the Town Clerk, available for inspection by the members of the council for further consideration. The next mention is at a general meeting held on February 27th, 1839, when Councillor Pare presented the corporation seal. The Town Clerk, thankfully, included a description ‘The Birmingham Arms, encircled with wreaths of laurel and oak and with the words on a ribbon underneath “Incorporated by Royal Charter, 1838” and the whole enclosed in a garter, inscribed “Common Seal of the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of the Borough of Birmingham”. This description is pretty close to the image presented above, with the final addition of the motto also decided on at this meeting, where it was resolved that “The said seal, with the addition of the word ‘Forward’ as a motto be and is hereby adopted by this Council”. [BCC1/AA/1/1/1, Archives, Heritage and Photograph at the Library of Birmingham]  ‘The Arms’ I believe, refers to the heraldic coat of arms in the centre, being that of the local manorial family.

There is no indication in the minute books of how the motto ‘Forward’ was arrived at. Showell’s Dictionary of Birmingham claims that it was councillor William Middlemore, a local saddler,  who suggested the word, in preference to any Latin and that ‘Vox populi vox dei’ (‘the voice of the people is the voice of God’) had been mooted. I think this was a good move and that Birmingham has and continues to represent its motto very well. Other parts of the seal have changed over the years, though the motto and the Birmingham Arms remain. The words on the garter, declaring this to be the seal of the ‘Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses’ was very much of its time and represents a subtle emphasis of the ‘grand principle’ of representation. It is a simple statement of cohesion, one which was not popularly felt in reality. When the common corporate seal was stamped on a petition to Parliament demanding alterations to the postal service or tariff reform, the municipal men were really suggesting that they were expressing the opinion and demands of the whole of the borough electorate.

The seal was engraved by Mr Halliday, of Newhall Street.


The Arctic Sea Monster at Birmingham Fair, 1838

This is an extract from an article in the Birmingham Journal dated June 2nd, 1838. Copies of the Birmingham Journal are available on microfilm in the Local Studies department at the Library of Birmingham and through the British Newspaper Archives.  There is a fascinating site on Wombwell here: which also contains a link to a blog about menageries.


Birmingham Fair
Wombwell’s Royal National Menagerie




“Mr George Wombwell, the sole proprietor, most respectfully intimates to the gentry and public generally of  Birmingham and its environs that his Menagerie will attend the ensuing Fair; and he begs to assure them that there never has been seen travelling or in any zoological establishment in Europe so rare and valuable a collection of animated nature as his ample Menagerie now affords and he trusts to receive, on this occasion, a share of their support. Since his last visit, several rare and valuable additions have been made.

    The collection contains three Elephants, male, female and young, being the largest and smallest ever seen in this country; groups of Lions and Lionesses and their cubs. Those far-famed and singular animals, the Black Tigers of South America, and the Black Leopards of India

    The Hindoostan Leopardess and her two cubs, three months old, Panthers, Chittah, or Hunting Tiger, Senegal and Asiatic Leopards. A pair of the largest Royal Bengal Tigers ever seen. North American Black and Brown Bears. The great Ursine Sloth. The enormous Polar or Arctic Sea Monster, the white bear just arrived and added to the Menagerie; it is the only full grown bear ever brought to England from the Arctic regions; he was brought over by Captain Todd. Hyenas, striped and spotted, Wolves, Sledge-dogs, Jackalls, Raccoons, Coatimonda, Ichneumons, the Fossels or Fossents, or Musk Cats, Porcupines, the grey and black Capistrated Squirrels; the male and female Gnu, or Horned Horses; a pair of Zebras; a herd of the Kangaroos; together with the finest collection of Monkeys, Birds and Serpents ever collected. 

   In order to render his Menagerie superior to any other ever seen, Mr Wombwell has succeeded in procuring another of those singular animals, the RHINOCEROS, or the UNICORN OF SCRIPTURE, the largest ever imported into this part of the globe, and cannot fail to afford gratification to naturalists, or amateurs in the works of nature.

   N.B. In consequence of the rapid growth of the enormous Elephant, G.W. has been obliged to erect the largest machine in the form of a wagon ever was built. So ponderous as to require six roller wheels to support and twelve horses to draw it”


A night at the Town Hall – arriving

Each year Birmingham’s Town Hall hosted a grand fund raising event, run over several nights, to raise money for the General Hospital. In fact this important fund-raiser had been one of the motivating factors in building the Town Hall in the first place. This extract featured in Aris’s Birmingham Gazette of August 24th, 1846 and reveals some of  the remarkable planning that went into organising the festival.

Directions to be observed by parties attending the performances

Carriages will set down and take up in Single Lines as under:- Those taking company to or from the Galleries and the Secured Seats on the floor of the Hall will come up the North side of New-street and through the barrier on the same side, setting down with their horses’ heads towards the Navigation Office in Paradise-street or turning down the south side of New-street.

Those taking company to or from the Unsecured Seats on the floor of the Hall will come along the west side of Ann-street.

Gentlemen on horse back and servants with horses will approach and leave the Hall as above mentioned.

If when a carriage arrives at the Door of the Hall, the coachman, having the name of his party previously written on a card, will deliver it to one of the Police Officers stationed opposite the Door of the Hall, he will then call the party; which announcement will be repeated by Officers stationed at the Doors of the Hall and also in the Lobby upstairs.

No carriage can be allowed to stand more than two minutes at the Doors.

Carriages required to take away company prior to the conclusion of the performances will be allowed to pass the barrier until within half an hour of the close of the performances but every carriage allowed to so pass can only remain two minutes at the Town Hall Doors; and if the party do not come out within that time, it must drive off and move to the rear of the whole line of carriages.


Note: The situation of the barriers erected in the approaches to the Town Hall and Theatre may be seen in plans at most of the principal hotels and inns in Birmingham

These regulations will be strictly enforced by the Police and Gentlemen are earnestly requested to order their Coachmen to comply therewith in order to prevent inconvenience.

Regulations for the keeping of common lodging houses in Birmingham, 1852

In the brilliant The Condition of the Working Class in England, Friedrich Engels delivered a damning appraisal of Birmingham’s lodging houses as he saw them in the early 1840s:

The lodging-houses for proletarians are rather numerous (over four hundred), chiefly in courts in the heart of the town. They are nearly all disgustingly filthy and ill-smelling, the refuge of beggars, thieves and tramps and prostitutes, who eat, drink, smoke and sleep here without the slightest regard to comfort or decency in an atmosphere endurable to these degraded beings only.

Engel’s observation appears to be a moral one, directed at the inhabitants rather than the material structure of the town. He goes on to highlight the low mortality rates during epidemics in contrast with other local towns, such as Wolverhampton and Dudley and that also that there were no cellar dwellings in the town.  However, in 1849 the issue of Birmingham’s lodging houses was raised again, when Sir Robert Rawlinson presented his report on the town to the Government’s General Board of Health. Birmingham’s lodging houses appear to have been ordinary houses where rooms were let out to families as well as itinerant workers. The lodging houses were built around courts, which were often badly drained. Brasshouse passage was one such part of the town and Rawlinson’s investigation revealed that the population here in 1849 was as follows:

68 adult males
78 adult females
32 children aged under 15
108 children aged under 12
20 lodgers both male and female

Making a total of 306 residents in 64 houses. William Moseley Richards, surgeon at Birmingham’s dispensary, reported to Rawlinson that he had ‘not seen any other road in any other part of Birmingham in so filthy and dangerous a state’.

Birmingham Improvement Scheme Court 9 Thomas Street 1875 Print 100

The Birmingham Street Commissioners denied many of the allegations of the report, but it was damning enough to ring the death knell for the Commissioners and in 1851 the Town Council took full control of administration in the Borough. The new municipal men introduced their own set of rules and regulations, in accordance with national policy at that time just coming in, to manage these huge sanitary issues. Bye-laws were added which introduced corporation regulation of a number of private interests, including lodging houses and these are outlined below.  Interestingly at this time, the council also investigated the possibility of building corporation ‘model’ lodging houses. The Rawlinson Report on Birmingham can be viewed at the Local History  section at The Library of Birmingham, the bye-laws below were taken from the second volume of Birmingham Council minutes BCC 1/AA/1/1/2 [Archives, Heritage and Photography at the Library of Birmingham]

Regulations for common lodging houses under ‘The Common Lodging Houses Act 1851’

No. 1   No keeper of a common lodging house shall receive in such house, or in any room thereof, a greater number of lodgers or other persons than shall be fixed by the local authority on the report of their Inspector of Common Lodging Houses, and expressed in a ticket to be signed by such officer, which ticket shall be according to the form contained in the schedule to those regulations annexed and marked B. and the keeper of such lodging house shall hang up in a conspicuous part of each room into which lodgers are received a like ticket stating the number of lodgers allowed to be received and shall keep the same at all times visible and legible.

An adequate supply of the said tickets may be had upon application at the office of the Inspector of Nuisances in Moor Street.

No. 2   The keeper of such lodging house shall reduce the number of lodgers upon receiving notice to that effect from the local authority, such notice stating therein the special cause of the same being given and the period not exceeding one month during which it shall continue in force.

No. 3   Two children under eight years of age to be counted as one adult lodger

No. 4   Rooms used as kitchen or scullery for the use of the lodgers shall not be occupied as sleeping apartments

No. 5   Rooms in the basement or below the level of the ground shall not be used as sleeping apartments

No. 6   Persons of opposite sexes shall not occupy the same sleeping apartment, except married persons, or parents and their children under 14 or children under 10 years of age

No. 7   The keeper of such lodging house shall cause the windows of every sleeping room in such lodging house to be kept open to the full width thereof from nine to eleven o’clock in the morning and from two till four in the afternoon of every day, unless prevented by tempestuous weather or by the illness of any inmate in such room and during the time the windows are open as aforesaid, he shall cause the bed clothes of every bed in such room to be turned down and exposed to the air: but in those rooms occupied by persons who are obliged to work during the night and sleep in the day, the windows shall be kept open from two till four o’clock in the afternoon

No. 8   The keeper of such lodging house shall cause the floors of  all the rooms, passages and stairs in such lodging house to be thoroughly swept once at least in each day and thoroughly washed once in each week. And shall cause the walls and ceilings of every room to be thoroughly cleansed and well and sufficiently lime washed, twice (at least) in every year during the months of April and October; and the blankets, rugs, or covers used in such lodging house shall be thorough cleansed at least four times in every year, that is to say at least once some time during the first week of each of the several months of March, June, September and December

No. 9   The keeper of such lodging house shall cause every room in such lodging house to be ventilated to the satisfaction of the Inspector of Common Lodging Houses.

         In case of fever or any other infectious or contagious disorder occurring in any such lodging house, the keeper of such lodging house shall forthwith give notice thereof to the Inspector of Common Lodging Houses, that he may inspect the same, and direct any disinfecting process which he may deem necessary and effectual; and the keeper of such lodging house shall cause the blankets and bed clothes used by any person affected by such disorder to be thoroughly cleansed, and the bedding to be fumigated and if the same consists of shavings or straw to be burned immediately after the removal of the person affected by such disorder, in such manner as may from time to time be ordered by the Inspector; and when the District in which any such lodging house is situate is visited or threatened by any epidemic, endemic or contagious disease, the lodging house keeper shall make such reduction of the number of lodgers in each room as the Council shall direct

No. 10   Every such lodging house shall be furnished with a dust bin of sufficient size to contain the dust, ashes etc. that accumulate in the intervals of its being cleared away which shall not exceed two weeks

No. 11   A water closet or privy shall be provided for every such lodging house, having a yard or other facilities for erection thereof and where such facilities do not exist or where the closet or privy is used in common by the lodgers of two or more houses, the privy or closet must be provided in some place conveniently contiguous to the satisfaction of the Inspector, and for every twenty lodgers to be accommodated a separate closet or privy shall be provided

No. 12   The drains, the closets and sinks shall be trapped so as to prevent the effluvia coming up from the sewers or cesspools. The sink in the yard shall be so placed as to take all wash water through the drain from the closets

No. 13   The water closet, seat, floor and walls shall be kept free from filth and clean in all other respects

No. 14   The yards and areas of every such lodging house shall be properly paved, so as to run dry and effectually take off all waste water

No. 15   Every such lodging house shall have a proper drain communicating with a common sewer where such sewer is within 100 yards of the premises

No. 16   The keeper of such lodging house shall provide such accommodation for cooking and washing and such a supply of water for the use of the lodgers as shall be satisfactory to the Inspector

No. 17   Each room occupied as a sleeping apartment shall be furnished with bedsteads and sufficient bedding for the number of lodgers authorised to be received in such room

Dealing with Death: the early Coroner’s Court

The proceedings on the Coroner’s inquest on the body of Bassilese Steapenhill, who was shot by her husband on the night of Friday the 7th inst.were resumed on Tuesday morning at the Grand Turk on Ludgate-hill, Birmingham and brought to a conclusion on Wednesday

This inquest into the tragic death of Mrs Steapenhill was reported in Aris’s Birmingham Gazette on January 24th, 1842. At this time, certainly in Birmingham, it was standard procedure to hold inquests in a public house, such as the Grand Turk. Birmingham’s first coroner was Dr Birt Davies, appointed by the Town Council in 1839 and holding the post until his death in 1875. His successor was Henry Hawkes, who introduced an improved system of jury selection, mortuaries in every police station and a formal coroner’s court at the Public Office on Moor Street.

Showell’s Dictionary of Birmingham gives a grim account of the old practices, describing ‘the occasional exhibition of a dead body in the back lumber room of an inn yard, among broken bottles and gaping stablemen’ declaring this was ‘not conducive to the dignity of a coroner’s court or particularly agreeable to the unfortunate surgeon who might be required to perform a post mortem’.

Although the setting for these ‘pop-up’ coroner’s courts appeared unseemly, they were nevertheless carried out in a professional manner. The jury at Mrs Steapenhill’s inquest will have been selected from amongst ‘respectable’ residents living nearest to the scene of death. Aris’s gave a detailed account of the witness accounts, including friends and employees of Mr and Mrs Steapenhill, some of whom stated that the couple had argued often and that Mr Steapenhill had been seen to threaten his wife in the past. Dr Davies also called on William Hill, a local gun maker. Hill had been the first to reach the scene of the crime, after hearing the explosion of gun fire. It was Hill who had called Dr Annesley after finding the deceased ‘with blood running from her breast’. Hill was also requested to give the jury his professional opinion on the gun used in the crime: ‘It went off at half-cock, which it should not do and would not stop at full-cock; he likewise explained that a common percussion cap will frequently go off twice when the spring of the lock is weak’, the paper reported. Dr Daunt of the Enniskillen Dragoons was then called as an expert witness. He had been permitted to examine the body and give his opinion of the gunshot wounds. Dr Daunt gave his opinion that the wound had been sustained from the muzzle of a gun ‘pointed down, over the left shoulder, near the neck with the butt end elevated’, adding that ‘even the mischief done to the heart was in a slanting downward direction’. This, with other evidence, introduced the possibility of ‘accident’ and the jury had to decide whether the accused had intended to murder his wife. After a short recess, the verdict returned on Ezra Steapenhill was one of wilful murder. On March 21st, at the Lenten Assizes in Warwick, the judge presiding the case was reported to have read ‘most of the depositions, though not all of them’ and instructed the Grand Jury to determine whether Bassilese Steapenhill had come to her death through an act of ‘misadventure’. The jury, in the somewhat grander setting of the Warwick County Court, concluded that no foul play was intended and Ezra Steapenhill walked away as a free man.

The importance of an informed coroner’s verdict is also clear in the accounts of the Town Council. Listed below is a schedule of coroner’s fees, which were approved, after some discussion, at a Town Council meeting held on June 4th, 1845. The list shows allowances for use of rooms in public houses as well as fees for ‘expert’ witnesses. This schedule can be seen in its original context in the first volume of Birmingham Town Council minutes BCC1/AA/1/1/1 [Archives, Heritage and Photography at The Library of Birmingham]

Schedule of Coroner’s Fees

To the keeper of any inn or other public house for the use of room wherein an inquest or inquests are held at the discretion of the Coroner but not exceeding per day  3s 6d
To the keeper of any inn or other public house for the use of room for a dead body until the inquest is held at the discretion of the Coroner but not exceeding  7s 6d
To every witness examined before the jury at the discretion of the Coroner but not exceeding  2s 6d
To every witness not residing in the Borough for travelling expenses at the discretion of the Coroner but not exceeding per mile 4d
To every person for taking a dead body out of the water, extinguishing fire in the case of a person burning, removing a dead body when found, to some convenient place until an inquest is held at the discretion of the Coroner but not exceeding  7s 6d
To a chemist or engineer or other scientific person employed by the court at the discretion of the Coroner but not exceeding  £2  2s 0d
For a car in case of lameness or indisposition of any witness and on other extraordinary occasions in the discretion of the Coroner but not exceeding per mile  1s 0d

Taxi! Regulation of Hackney Coaches in the early 19th century

The rapid growth of Birmingham as an industrial urban centre brought a great deal of traffic to the town from the late eighteenth century onwards. In addition to what appears an almost perpetual opening up of new carriageways, the local administration also introduced a mass of bye laws to ensure the town could maintain its momentum. The Street Commissioner’s minute books from the early part of the nineteenth century reveal this momentum in their continual iteration of bye laws and the establishment of committees to deal with various transportation issues. In this post, I shall give a small sample of some of the early bye laws for the regulation of hackney coaches (only later were they referred to as ‘hackney carriages’) and sedan chairs. This latter gradually disappears from the bye laws as the second decade of the century draws to an end. The notes presented here come from the series MS 2818 [Archives, Heritage and Photography at The Library of Birmingham]


It was the Street Commissioners who had regulatory control of public transport in the first half of the nineteenth century. Through various and successive legislative acts they were given power to ‘constitute, ordain and provide’ bye laws for the regulation of hackney coaches and sedan chairs. These powers covered the behaviour of drivers and carriers as well as the appearance of the vehicles, the times in which they could operate, fares and distance of journey. In 1803 this authority was delegated to the Bye Law Committee of the Street Commissioners who were responsible for issuing licenses and also had the power to levy fines for any infringement of the regulations.

On February 21st, 1803, the Bye Law Committee ordained that coach men were not exceed journeys of more than four miles through the town and chair carriers only one mile (though this may have been quite far enough to carry a sedan chair and passenger!) with a fine of £3 for infringement. All licensed carriages and chairs were to clearly display their license number on the vehicle, the number would be issued by the Bye Law Committee and plying for hire without a license would merit a fine of ‘not less than five shillings nor in excess of twenty shillings’. [MS 2818/1/3]

The 1812 Birmingham Improvement Act introduced more specific regulations relating to the appearance and condition of hackney coaches. Previous regulations still applied and in addition all coaches must be ‘clean, properly sprung, dry, strong and warm with glass windows at both sides and big enough to carry four persons’. The carriages were to be stationed at stands designated by the Commissioners from 9am until midnight every day and drivers were not to absent themselves from their coaches, nor refuse any fare without reasonable explanation. [MS 281/1/4]

The fares set by the Bye Law Committee can be seen to have remained static for many years, the following sample was set at a meeting held on January 4th,  1813:

For distances up to 1 mile         1s
–     1 to 1 1/2 miles          2s
–     1 1/2 to 2 miles          3s
–     2 to 2 1/2 miles          4s
–     2 1/2 to 3 miles          5s
–     3 to 3 1/2 miles          6s
–     3 1/2 to 4 miles          7s

drivers could also charge for waiting time, sixpence for up to 15 minutes, rising in increments of sixpence for every subsequent 20 minutes of waiting. [MS 2818/1/4] In 1840, ‘night fares’ were introduced. Drivers were permitted to charge double the fare between the hours of midnight and 6am between October 1st and April 1st or between the hours of midnight and 7am between October 1st and April 1st. In addition, anyone calling for a coach or carriage and then not using it, would have to pay a sum covering the fare from the stand to the pick up point. Non-payment of fare would incur a fine of 20 shillings, on top of the fare due. [MS 2818/1/7]

The distribution of stands can be seen to spread out out further as time progressed and there were an increasing number of places where people could get a ‘cab’. The Bye Law Committee presented lists of appointed stands to meetings of the Street Commissioners along with memorials from members of the public who had requested a new stand to be appointed near their residence, or otherwise, the removal of one. These requests were always considered and often granted. The following appointed stands were presented at a meeting on February 1st, 1836 the committee appointed 63 stands: 13 on New Street, 6 on Paradise Street, 7 on Ann Street, 4 on Temple Row, 4 on Colmore Row, 6 on Broad Street, 3 on Islington Row, 2 on Sand Pits, 2 on Great Hampton Street “near Hills, at the trees”, 4 on Bristol Street, 2 on Bromsgrove Street, 4 on Digbeth, 2 at Five Ways, 1 on Camp Hill,  1 near the Highgate Turnpike and 3 at Dale End. [MS 2818/1/6]

Incorporation in 1838 also meant an extension of the town’s boundary, although the Street Commissioner’s had no legal jurisdiction or responsibility for those areas requests for stands were generally granted and, among the minutes from a meeting in May of 1840, in excess of 100 stands are listed. The distribution of these is interesting, giving an insight into the parts of Birmingham people frequented in the course of their daily activities. So while the list is extensive, I think it’s worthy of inclusion to demonstrate how the ‘mundane’ can be used as evidence of just how rapidly change took hold of Birmingham during the 1830s and 1840s. There was also clearly more demand for transportation outside public houses!

This list is from MS 2818/1/7  

New Street, 3 between the Hen and Chickens Hotel and the principal entrance to the Free School, a space of 6 yards to be left opposite that entrance on which no coach or car is to stand.

A further 3 on New Street, between the above entrance and Peck Lane

4 between Peck Lane and King Street

4 between the Post Office and Christ Church, but no coach or car is to stand within ten yards of the bottom of Bennett’s Hill, nor opposite the New Royal Hotel or the Society of Arts

4 in the middle of Ann Street opposite Christ Church – 3 of these at the bottom of the street

2 on Colmore Row, at the gate near the Blue Coat School, one on either side of the gate at the end of Church Street

4 on Temple Row, opposite the office of the Mining Company close to the church-yard wall

3 on Newhall Street, in the middle of the upper part of the street opposite the Mechanic’s Institute

Broad Street – 3 between King Edward’s Place and the Canal Bridge; 3 at the north side of the road, near the Five Ways turnpike

3 on Islington Row between Williams Street and the Five Ways Gate

Five Ways – 2 on the north side of the road on the Edgbaston side of the Five Ways Gate

4 at Sand Pits, between The Parade and Camden St

6 on Great Hampton Street – 3 near Tookey’s, at the trees and 3 near the end of Livery Street

2 on the eastern side of Bristol Street, near the top of Bromsgrove street and 2 on the opposite side of the road

2 opposite the Sun Public House

2 on the Bristol Road, beyond the corner of Wellington Road

2 near to the corner of Sir Harry’s Lane

2 on Bromsgrove Street, opposite the Dolphin Inn

At Smithfield – 2 on the eastern side of Jamaica Row at the northern end of the market

At Digbeth – 3 by the side of the churchyard, near the end of St. Martin’s Lane and 4 near the end of Rea Street

Bordesley – 3 opposite the Sheep Public House, Camp Hill and 2 opposite the Coach and Horses

Highgate – 1 near the turnpike

Dale End – 1 opposite the engine and 3 on the left hand side from High Street near the pump

4 opposite St. Peter’s church

4 on Whittall Street, 2 on each side of the chapel yard gate and close to the footpath against the chapel wall

6 on Cardigan Street

6 on Howe Street

2 on Belmont Row, opposite the Queen’s Arms

2 on Holt Street, at the corner near the end of Great Brooke Street and Ashted Row

Bloomsbury – 2 opposite the Grand Junction Public House

Soho Hill, Handsworth – 2 at the end of Hampstead Row

Hockley – 2 opposite the Grand Turk near the corner of Hunter’s Lane

3 on Aston Street, opposite The Swan with Two Necks

Clothing a Constable

Birmingham’s first municipal council took on the responsibility for maintaining the peace of the town. The first professional police force there was controversial, it having been forcibly instituted by central government in the 1839 Birmingham Police Act. Following confirmation of the Municipal Charter in 1842, the town council were able to finally take hold of the civic reins. Responsibility for managing the local police was placed in the hands of the Watch Committee, a group of men appointed annually from amongst the members of the council. The Watch Committee was represented by 6 aldermen and and 16 councillors. The 16 councillors represented the district wards: 1 for single wards and 2 for ‘double’ wards (those which had 6, rather than 3 councillors).

The Watch Committee was required to present its accounts at quarterly council meetings. These accounts offer up all sorts of information, revealing transactions between the public corporation and private business. The purchases of uniform presented here give some indication of the growing confidence held by the municipal men in their presentation of the professional face of Birmingham, as the uniform appears to become more elaborate. In May 1851 the committee reported to council that the four inspectors had requested a uniform, claiming that inspectors in London, Liverpool and Bristol were supplied with two suits of uniform perannum. The Watch Committee, after due consideration, recommended the Birmingham inspectors to be supplied with one per annum and this was granted. Later in 1851 the accounts include a sum of £11 and 5 shillings as ‘detective force allowance for plain clothes’.

The following entries are a small representation of Watch Committee accounts over a number of years and can be found in the second volume of Birmingham Town Council minutes at the Library of Birmingham: Archives, Heritage and Photography BCC1/AA/1/1/2

 August 4th, 1847

Thomas Evans for boots                            £106 4s  6d
Moore & Co. for hats                                  £173 5s
Dolans & Co. for clothing                          £640 2s 5d

February 1st, 1848

Dolans & Co. for clothing                          £194 6d
Thomas Evans for boots                            £153 10s

May 1848

Mr Evans for boots                                    £103 9s 6d
Mr Lilly for buckles                                   £11
Mr Goodrich for bags                                £1 2s
Mr Marsden for armlets                           £4 14s 4d

October 8th, 1848

Mr Ashford for leather belt frogs            £2 5s 6d

February 6th, 1849

Mr Evans for boots                                    £43

October 6th, 1849

Dolans & Co. for clothing                        £3 3s 5d
Mr Allen for a jacket                                £1 1s
Mr Kerslake for boots                              £4 12s
Mr Gent for hats                                       £3

November 9th, 1849

Mr Hyatt for new handcuffs                  £2 5s 3d
Thomas Evans for boots                         £2 9s
J.R. Crook for hats                                    £149 10s
William Adams for clothing                   £20 2s 1d

January 1st, 1850

William Adams for clothing                   £6 19s 6d
William White for wellington boots     £3 18s 9d
James Nicholls for truncheons               £32 10s
J.R. Crook for 3 hats                                  £1    9s

August 6th, 1850

J.R. Crook for hats                                   £153 2s
Mr Marsden, lace for uniforms             £5  16s
Mr Evans for boots                                  £113 6s
Mr Corbett, for a suit of uniform
for Inspector Glossop                              £5 19s
William Adams for 73 chevrons            £5 15s 7d
William Adams for fitting 57
suits of clothes                                          £6 7s 6d

October 31st, 1851

William Spicer, for capes                          £83 15s
J.R. Crook, for hats                                     £149 4s
John Kerslake for boots                            £4 12s
W. Gent for hats                                         £3
Thomas Evans, ‘boots as per contract’    £128