Up, up and not quite away

From Aris’s Birmingham Gazette Monday 23rd October, 1826. Birmingham’s 19th century newspapers are available on microfilm in the Local Studies department at the Library of Birmingham.


Balloons could be a spectacular sight

Birmingham’s own local Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens were situated very closely to the barracks and held regular military concerts and several ballooning events. The lively event described in the report appears to have taken place in the barrack yard and, although the balloon was ultimately unable to take off, it nevertheless makes an entertaining read.

An immense concourse of people assembled on Monday in the neighbourhood of the barracks, in the expectation of seeing Mr. Graham ascend with his balloon; and the barrack yard, from which the ascent was announced to take place was nearly filled with persons who paid to view the process of inflation. The time appointed for the ascent was two o’clock, and the balloon commenced filling a little before eleven. The gas was supplied from the works of the Birmingham and Staffordshire Gas-light company and the inflation proceeded for some time favourably, but towards two o’clock a rent was perceived from which the gas was rapidly escaping. The balloon, however, continued to fill for some time, when Mr. Graham stated that the action of the wind on the top of the immense machine counteracted the operation of the gasometer, and prevented any more gas from entering. The people who had paid for admittance became very impatient as the afternoon advanced, and suspected that no ascent was intended. In order to satisfy them, Mr. Graham seated himself in the car at four o’clock and the balloon was released from its fastenings, but it had not obtained sufficient buoyancy to rise from the ground, and only dragged for about the yard. The populace seeing there was no possibility of the balloon ascending, became enraged and would have torn the machine to pieces had not the soldiers kept them off, and succeeded with some difficulty in clearing the ground.  Numerous are the accounts given why the balloon did not ascend. Mr. Graham says that a number of persons who had bets depending upon its non-ascent held the car down until the gas had escaped through an aperture they had purposely made in the silken fabric. During the time the gas was escaping in volumes. The stench through the yard was most intolerable. Mr. Graham declares that he will shortly make a gratuitous ascent, accompanied by Mrs. Graham as some compensation for the disappointment.


‘More nuisance than profit’ – the Michaelmas Fair


Michaelmas, or the feast of St. Michael, falls on September 29th. In Birmingham, as in many other places, it was one of two dates used to divide the administrative year. The other being Lady Day on March 25th.  The town’s bye-laws, covering all manner of administration, from lighting and policing, to the opening times of the Market Hall, contained regulations which applied from Lady Day to Michaelmas and from Michaelmas to Lady Day. These were important dates in the nineteenth-century calendar.

Most town’s held an annual Michaelmas Fair, and indeed many still do. Birmingham was granted a royal charter to hold a Michaelmas Fair (and also a Whitsuntide Fair) by Henry III, in 1251.  These could be big events, bringing a great deal of commercial activity to the town. In due course the Michaelmas Fair also became known as the Onion Fair.  In 1872, the Illustrated London News gave the following account of Birmingham’s event, which reveals good grounds for the change of name:

It is held on the last Thursday of September, in the wide open space called The Bull Ring, which is situated in the centre of the town in front of St. Martin’s Church. The growth of this savoury vegetable is the object of much attention by many of the neighbouring market-gardeners and farmers, who find the soil and climate well adapted to its cultivation. Nowhere can such large quantities be seen, or of finer quality than in the special fair at Birmingham…the onions are piled in stacks, heaped in wooden crates or wicker baskets, spread up on wide stalls or  suspended in perpendicular ropes from cross-poles overhead. The air is fully charged with their pungent odour, causing the unaccustomed eye to perhaps shed an involuntary tear.

The Fair would be announced in advance, by notice in the local press. These were very formal and carried only the necessary information. This example from Aris’s Gazette in 1854:

Notice is hereby given that the Michaelmas Fair of this borough will be held on Thursday next, September 19th, for the SALE of HORSES, CATTLE, PIGS AND SHEEP, and on that and the two following days for the SALE of GOODS and all types of  MERCHANDISE

Advertisements for other Michaelmas fairs appeared in the local press at around the same time. Aris’s Gazette ran the following notice of Coventry’s ‘Michaelmas Cheese and Onion Fair’ on September 21st, 1840, which carried at least a small element of fun in its competition:

Will be held, as usual, in Cross Cheaping, tomorrow (Tuesday) when a PRIZE of a handsome SILVER TEA-POT will be given to the largest purchaser of cheese in weight. The Committee will dine together after the Fair, at the King’s Head Inn, at five o’clock, when they will be happy to see any gentleman who will favour them with his company.

The decline of the annual fair was decried in Showell’s Dictionary of Birmingham, which stated that ‘the fun of the fair is altogether different now to what it used to be’ and continuing

These fairs were doubtless at one time of great importance, but the introduction of railways did away with seven-tenths of their utility and the remainder was more nuisance than profit. As a note of the trade done at one time, we may just preserve the item that in 1782 there were 56 waggon loads of onions brought to the fair

Eye-watering indeed!

Showell’s Dictionary of Birmingham along with copies of various 19th century newspapers, can be found in the Local Studies Department of the Library of Birmingham. 

Bye-laws for the regulation of the Market Hall, 1835

At a meeting of the Street Commissioners held on March 4th, 1835, the following bye-laws for the regulation of the recently opened market hall were presented MS 28181/1/6 Library of Birmingham: Archives, Heritage and Photography

  1. Open for business every day, except Sunday etc. as previously outlined*
  2. Closing of the Hall to be indicated by the ringing of the Market Bell half an hour before closing and again at the time of closing. Every person continuing therein could be fined 10 shillings for each and every half hour
  3. All stalls, standings, bins and tables provided by the Street Commissioners and no person permitted to add to them. No carts, hand-carts or wheelbarrows to be brought into the Hall – penalty of 10 shillings
  4. No hawking or carrying about any article for sale – 10 shilling fine
  5. Items for sale to be placed on the appropriated place and not on crates, baskets, boxes or sacks – 5 shilling fine
  6. Every person taking a stall or standing shall occupy the same by himself or herself, or by some part of his or her family or by his or her own servant and shall not underlet the same – 10 shilling fine per day
  7. Failure to pay rent would result in repossession and re-let
  8. No dogs allowed in the Market Hall
  9. Damage done to Market Hall or to lighting therein – 10 shilling fine in addition to cost of repairs
  10. Stalls and areas around them to be kept free from litter
  11. Vegetables and other things may not be washed after 9am – 5 shilling fine
  12. No smoking of tobacco in the Hall – 5 shilling fine
  13. Poultry plucking not permitted – 5 shilling fine
  14. Unloading of goods to take place in Bell Street, Worcester Street and the end of Philip Street as far as the first gate and not elsewhere. No goods to be carried through the High Street entrance – 10 shilling fine

* at a meeting on February 2nd, 1835 (same manuscript), the Market Committee had proposed the above bye-laws for the consideration of the Street Commissioners – the opening times were presented there as:

  • Market Hall to be open every day except Sunday at 6am from Lady Day to Michaelmas and at 8am from Michaelmas to Lady Day and will close every day, except Saturdays, at 11pm – the close to be announced by the ringing of a bell

Lady Day and Michaelmas are two of the four traditional ‘quarter days’ (the others being Christmas day and Midsummer’s day) – Lady Day falls on March 25th and Michaelmas on September 29th

‘The finest Market Hall in England’: commercial aspirations in the mid-nineteenth century

The Improvement Act of 1828 (9 Geo. IV) gave the Birmingham Street Commissioners authority to erect a ‘market house’. Over the course of several years, money was raised through loans from the public and was finally opened to the public in February 1835. It was a grand building and came to be a much loved feature in Birmingham.


Birmingham Market Hall

Further alterations to the hall were proposed by the Market Committee of the Street Commissioners January 1849 ‘to promote the comfort and convenience of persons resorting thereto…and also to improve the internal appearance of the hall’. The Market Committee planned to ‘increase the accommodation of the public, by enabling them to purchase every article required, or usually to be found in a market – shops conveniently fitted up, being established, it is to be hoped that respectable Fruiterers, Green Grocers, Florists, Fishmongers and Butchers will avail themselves of the facilities and conveniences thus offered to them.’  As a result of these improvements, the committee suggested that ‘the public will be supplied not only with the common necessities of life, but with the more luxurious articles which, in combination, will give a greater interest to the whole, and the noble building will be appropriated to its legitimate purposes instead of being occupied by the vendors of manufactured articles, to the great injury of the fair and honest shopkeeper.’

The Street Commissioners had expended a substantial amount of the ratepayers cash on establishing Birmingham’s markets, but there was clearly a great sense of pride in their achievements. At this same meeting in 1849, the Market Committee expressed its clear intention to make this the ‘finest Market Hall in England’. Their report included detailed descriptions of the alterations to be made, and for the most part they were carried out by 1851. This information came from the volume 8 of the Street Commissioner’s minutes MS 2818/1/8 Archives, Heritage and Photography at the Library of Birmingham

Summary of planned improvements to the market hall, presented by the Market Committee of the Birmingham Street Commissioners at a general meeting held on January 1st, 1849

‘Panelling, or divisions of the stalls will be 4 feet high, capped with light mahogany’

‘On either side of the High Street entrance there will be 19 fruit shops, fitted with moveable sashes, sash doors and stall boards’  each shop containing an area from 80 to 130 square feet and ‘similar to the shops in the centre avenue of Covent Garden Market, London’

There would be 7 fish, game and poultry shops, fitted as described above and with an area of 110 square feet

12 butchers shops, fitted as above with an area of 65 square feet

In the centre of the hall, 18 fish stalls, 90 feet square with moveable marble slabs, each 4 feet wide.


Stalls in market hall, 1937

The fish stalls, along with the 7 proposed game and poultry shops were to fitted with a water tap and independent drain, and with ‘the whole of these drains discharging themselves into a shaft into which the overflow from the fountain will fall, effectually carrying away all filthy matter and preventing the escape in the hall of any offensive effluvium, into which shaft also arrangements will be made occasionally to discharge the fountain basin which will contain about 500 gallons of water – effectually driving away every particle of filthy matter.’


Market hall fountain

The projected cost of the improvements ‘including the magnificent fountain’ was £2000, plus an estimated annual cost of £20 for the supply of water to the fountain for 8 hours a day. The Market Committee suggested that the increase in rentals would bring the town an annual return of £500

The market hall was bombed in November 1940 and was eventually demolished to make way for the new Bullring development of the 1960s.

City Bull Ring Old Market Hall isolated




Photograph c. 1870s, fountain in distance

Letter to the editor on the recent visit of Prince Albert

The tour of Birmingham manufactories by Prince Albert in November 1843 included a visit to Armfield’s button manufactory.  The following letter to the editor appeared in Aris’s Birmingham Gazette of December 4th, 1843.

To the Editor of Aris’s Birmingham Gazette
We beg to correct, through the medium of your widely circulated newspaper,  an error which has crept into the reports of Prince Albert’s visit to Birmingham.  The Times of Thursday contains the following statement:- “The button manufactory of Mr Edward Armfield was the next object of interest, &c. It was somewhat singular that the Prince, as if by anticipation, on this occasion wore Birmingham buttons of Mr. Armfield’s make.” This is incorrect; the buttons the Prince wore having been made by us, and presented to his Royal Highness when a deputation waited upon him two years since to solicit his patronage. The mistake in the report arose from his Royal Highness, when looking over the specimens in Mr. Armfield’s warehouse, recognizing a pattern which he occasionally wore.
Your obedient servants
Hardmans and Iliffe

12, Paradise-street December 2, 1843

Birmingham bye-laws for the regulation of slaughterhouses: 1852

At a meeting held on March 19th 1852 the General Purposes Committee presented the following bye laws for the regulation of slaughterhouses in the borough. These were approved by the Council and stamped with the corporate common seal. The following is taken from the second volume of Birmingham Council’s minute books which can be found at The Library of Birmingham, BCC1/AA/1/1/2 

No. 1    The occupier of every slaughterhouse within the borough shall cause the same to be well and sufficiently ventilated to the satisfaction of the Council or Committee appointed by the Council so as at all times to admit a free circulation  of air therein, and shall also cause the same to be thorough whitewashed with quicklime at twice in each year namely between the 1st and 10th of March and the 1st and 10th of September

No. 2    Every occupier of a slaughterhouse shall provide and keep a sufficient number of tubs, boxes or vessels with tight and close fitting covers thereto constructed to the satisfaction of the Council for the purpose of receiving and conveying away all manure garbage and filth; and shall in all cases except as hereinafter provided immediately after the killing and dressing of any cattle in such slaughterhouse cause all such manure garbage and filth to be placed in such tubs, boxes and vessels, and such tubs, boxes and vessels together with their contents shall be removed beyond the limits of the Borough or to such place as shall be appointed by the Council at least once in every 14 days or oftener if requested between the hours of 10 at night and 8 in the morning; and all the blood arising from the slaughtering of cattle shall be put into separate tubs or vessels with close fitting covers and shall not be permitted to flow in the channel or sewer or open street. Provided always that no blood shall be put into the same tubs or vessels in which the manure garbage or other filth is put. Provided always that the manure, garbage and other filth shall not be kept or carried away in such tubs boxes and vessels where impermeable covered drains are provided for carrying away the same.

No. 3    All the tubs and vessels which are used for the removal of any manure, garbage and filth, and all the tubs and vessels which are used for the removal of blood from any slaughterhouse shall immediately after being used for such removal be thoroughly emptied, cleansed and purified, and the floor of such slaughterhouse shall then also be effectually scoured and cleansed and the whole shall generally be kept in such a condition that neither within the slaughterhouse nor without it shall there be any offensive smell arising therefrom.

No. 4    Every occupier of such slaughterhouse shall remove or cause to be removed from such slaughterhouse the hides and skins of any cattle that shall be slaughtered therein within two days next after such cattle shall have been slaughtered.

No. 5    The occupier of any such slaughterhouse shall not slaughter or suffer to be slaughtered therein any diseased or unsound cattle

No. 6    Every occupier of such slaughterhouse, in case of diseased or unsound cattle being brought to such slaughterhouse shall forthwith give information thereof to the Council, or to their authorised officer in that be any cattle in such slaughterhouse behalf.

No. 7    No occupier of any slaughterhouse shall build or permit any access or opening to any privy or middenstead from such slaughterhouse to be made or if now made to remain, nor shall any such occupier permit or suffer any pigs or other animals to be kept in any slaughterhouse, except for the purpose of being fasted previous to killing.

No. 8  No occupier of any slaughterhouse shall keep or retain any cattle in such slaughterhouse for a longer period than 72 hours previous to the slaughtering of the same.

No. 9    The occupier of every slaughterhouse shall cause the same to be thoroughly washed and cleansed within 3 hours after the completion of the slaughtering and dressing of any cattle therein on any day during which any such slaughtering or dressing shall take place.

No. 10    The occupier of any such slaughterhouse shall not keep or permit to be kept in such slaughterhouse or premises any ferocious dog, unless such dog shall be securely fastened or muzzled.

No. 11    All members and authorised officers of the Council shall have free access to every slaughterhouse, and to every part thereof at any time when they shall demand admission for the purpose of inspecting and examining into the condition thereof with regard to the cleanliness, ventilation and management thereof.

No. 12    The occupier of every registered slaughterhouse shall cause the word ‘slaughterhouse’ together with the number corresponding with the number ch slaughterhouse shall be registered in the Register kept for that purpose by the Council to be painted or otherwise inscribed to the satisfaction of the said Council on, over or adjoining to the outside of the door or entrance to such slaughterhouse, and there kept and continued free from any obliteration or defacement.

No. 13    The occupier of every slaughterhouse shall cause a copy of these bye laws written or printed in large characters to be affixed in some conspicuous place of such slaughterhouse to the satisfaction of the Council and of their authorised officer, and to be at all times kept and continued in such place; and in case such copy of these bye laws or any part thereof should be obliterated or defaced such occupier shall forthwith affix in the same conspicuous place as aforesaid another copy of the said bye laws in lieu thereof.

No. 14    Every occupier of any slaughterhouse within the said borough who shall in any respect fail to comply with either of the foregoing bye laws or in anywise offend against the same or who after due notice from the Council requiring such slaughterhouse to be whitewashed, purified and cleansed shall neglect so to do, or who shall at anytime refuse to allow any member, officer or servant of the Council an inspection of the premises shall forfeit and pay for each and every offence any sum not exceeding the sum of £5 and and a further penalty of 10s/- for every day during the continuance of the offence after written notice thereof from the Council; the said penalties to be recovered and applied as the statute directs.

At a meeting of the Town Council held on August 17th, the General Purposes Committee reported that having submitted the above bye-laws to the Recorder for approval, numbers 5, 6 and 15 had been disallowed (though there is no 15)

Beautiful industry: Prince Albert’s tour of local manufacturers in 1843

The royal visit in November 1843 was a great opportunity for Birmingham to show off its pioneering industries. Below are some extracts from Aris’s Birmingham Gazette of December 4th 1843. The enthusiasm for industry is evident as the journalist presents the many mechanised processes as art.



Bacchus glass at V&A

“On arriving at the glass-works of Messrs. Bacchus in Dartmouth-street, his Royal Highness was ushered into the manufactory and inspected the process in every stage. Whilst in the establishment, an elegant cup, with two handles, was blown in the presence of the Prince, and a very chaste centrepiece was produced by the new mode of pressing. The rapidity with which the glass was passed through the different stages from its raw or liquid state to when it was turned out from the mould perfect and fit for use, was regarded by his Royal Highness with great interest. An elegant glass pillar was also manufactured in the Prince’s presence with great rapidity. His Royal Highness was next conducted to the mixing room, where the glass is prepared for the furnace; in this room a large number of ladies were assembled, who cordially welcomed his Royal Highness.”

This was a whistle-stop tour and after a fleeting visit to the glass maker’s show rooms, the royal cavalcade headed off across the town to Water Street and rolling mills belonging to the Muntz brothers. George Henry Muntz, also M.P. for Birmingham, was out of town, so it was his younger brother and local alderman Philip who entertained the royal visitor. The Muntz brothers had patented a metal alloy, which still bears their name and is in use today, particularly in maritime constructions. 

“A most novel, but for the manufactory, a very appropriate sight was here exhibited. Instead of carpeting, a quantity of the patent yellow metal, used for the sheathing of ships’ bottoms, which has been the subject of so much litigation, was laid down for his Royal Highness to walk over. The prince was then conducted through different departments of the mill, where the various operations of the manufacturing the patent metal were being carried on. He was first shown the metal in its liquid state, taken from the furnace and cast in bars, or pigs; next the process of heating the solid mass which, while in this state, was subjected to the operation of powerful rollers turned by steam machinery. The flattened bar, after being taken from the rolls, was again subjected to heat of the furnace and once more passed through the rollers; and in this way, by four operations, the shapeless mass was converted into a fine sheet of metal, cut by circular shears into the required length.”

By the time the prince left Muntz’s it was noon and crowds of workers were filling the streets, “the rush of artizans from the manufactories of St. Paul’s was so great that every thoroughfare was completely obstructed.” The paper reported that there was no disorder, owing to the ‘good humour of the populace’ and the ‘temperate conduct of the police’.

Upwards of an hour was spent at the papier-mache manufacturers of Jennens and Betteridge on Constitution Hill where the prince was shown

“the various stages of the papier mache manufacture, from the first process of pasting the sheets of paper together in the form of trays until the article was turned out in its polished and highly finished state. Prince Albert seemed much interested in the beautiful arts of enamelling, inlaying with pearl and painting, which are carried on in separate rooms, and examined with much apparent gratification the many designs and views which were being transferred from the works of Landseer, Roberts and other artists, to the more costly and highly ornamented articles intended for the drawing-room and boudoir. After examining the process of turning door handles, vases and other ornamental articles, his Royal Highness was conducted to the show rooms where he appeared to be highly delighted with the magnificent and elegant collection of articles which were there displayed.”  Here, further ‘delight and surprise’ was expressed at the wide variety of goods to which the papier mache process had been supplied: “the room containing specimens in every shape, including work-tables, chairs, folding screens, cabinets, work-boxes, desks, and picture frames”. 


After being presented with a gift of a “beautiful papier mache chess table and inkstand”, and meeting with a number of ladies who had been invited to the showrooms of Jennen and Betteridge’s for the occasion, the royal entourage moved on to Charlotte Street, where a tour of Messrs. Sargant Brothers gun  and sword manufactory was conducted. The crowds here were ‘immense’ and the prince was greeted by a gun salute fired by some of the workers who had served at Waterloo. The prince was given a demonstration of the “the process of rolling gun barrels and turning and boring them by steam machinery. The highly finished and perfect style by which the barrel was turned out excited the admiration of his Royal Highness, who very carefully examined a variety of guns turned out by Messrs. Sargant for the Ordnance Department by order of the government.”


The prince was then conveyed to Elkington’s, in Newhall Street. The site of Elkington’s is now a vacant lot, previously occupied by the Birmingham Science Museum. In 1843 the electroplating system which was pioneered by Elkington’s attracted a great deal of attention, much like the interest generated by 3D print manufacturing today. The sense of wonder and excitement that watching the process instilled in the reporter is not lost in this article:

“This new and beautiful invention is carried on most extensively here, the perfection to which the art is brought having superseded, to a great extent, the old system of gold and silver plating. At this establishment are also manufactured solid gold and silver articles, deposited by the same agency as is used in the process of plating, the solid articles merely requiring a longer period for the process of deposition. Large quantities of buttons, rings, bracelets and other light ornaments were placed in a small basked and dipped in a solution of gold, and in less than five minutes they were brought out perfectly and beautifully gilt…one of the most recent applications of this beautiful art is the coating of flowers, leaves and rare plants with gold, silver or copper; birds too are subjected to the same process and form exquisite specimens for cabinets and other collections. The invention, among the infinite variety of purposes to which it is applied, has also been used in coating cloth and canvas with copper, as sheathing or covering for buildings; and by the same process wrought or cast iron can be coated with zinc or copper, thereby preventing oxidation and the continual expense of re-painting. His Royal Highness was very minute in his enquiries, and manifested considerable acquaintance with the principles of the science upon which this manufacture is based.  The prince was especially interested with the operations of the batteries in connection with the solutions of various metals and witnessed not only the coating of various ornaments with gold and silver, but also the production of solid articles manufactured both in silver and copper entirely from solutions.”

The next factory to be visited was Edward Armfield’s button manufactory. Birmingham was well known for its button production, and during his tour here the prince recognised a pattern of some buttons which he owned. Once again, new methods of manufacture were on show “his Royal Highness remained for some time in the stamping-shop, admiring the beauty of the figures which are raised upon the buttons at a single blow.”



Occupation of prisoners: shoemaking, carpentry and stitching

A report shown on BBC news today asked ‘Can fashion prepare prisoners for life on the outside?’  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-29086003


The report revealed a collaboration between the London College of Fashion (LCF) and Holloway Prison, which will enable women to work towards an NVQ and will also lead to high street sales of goods produced by the women in Holloway Prison. Professor Frances Corner explained that this was part of LCFs commitment to “widening and transforming lives”. One of the women interviewed said that the course also took away the boredom of being locked in a cell for much of the day.

Prison as a place of rehabilitation, rather than simply a punishment, is of course not a new idea and the provision of useful occupation was an early consideration when Birmingham’s Borough Council were preparing to open the town’s first house of correction in the mid-nineteenth century. At a meeting in July 1850, the Gaol and Buildings Committee of the Town Council reported that a foreman carpenter had been appointed for the gaol “under whose superintendence several of the prisoners have worked advantageously”.  In the same year the visiting justices recommended (and the council subsequently approved) the appointment of an instructor shoemaker at 20 shillings per week, with 6 shillings deducted for food and clothing. The wages of the instructors were revised in the same year, after a  further report from the visiting justices concluded that they were “insufficient to secure the services of efficient persons” and the weekly wage was increased to 30 shillings per week, with an instructor tailor being added to the payroll in 1851.


The prison was at that time occupied by men and women, adults and juveniles, although it seems likely that only males received supervision from the tailor and shoemaker. It also seems likely that such supervision was intended to keep the men occupied as much as to teach them a new trade.  However, both a school master and a school mistress were appointed for the gaol in 1850, at annual salaries of £60 and £20 respectively. So it would seem a fair conclusion that female juveniles, at least, received some sort of education. 

The 19th century reports featured here can be seen at Library of Birmingham, Archives, Heritage and Photography BCC1/AA/1/1/2 [Minute books of Birmingham Council, volume 2]

A royal visit: November 1843

Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their children boarding the ro


An ‘Extraordinary Special Meeting’ of the Town Council was called on November 27th 1843 where an imminent visit from Prince Albert was announced. Two letters from Secretary of State Sir James Graham were presented; these were dated November 24th, giving notice of the intended visit on the 29th. The following correspondence was transcribed into the minute books and reveal that this was to be a whistle-stop tour of local businesses and King Edward’s grammar school. The minute books can be found at the Library of Birmingham, Archives, Heritage and Photography, BCC1/AA/1/1/1 


Whitehall, 24th November, 1843


   His Royal Highness Prince Albert has notified to me his intention of paying a visit to Birmingham on the Morning of Wednesday next, the 29th November.

   His Royal Highness will arrive at the Rail Road Station from Drayton manor about half past ten o’clock and is anxious to visit the Manufactories, of which I enclose a list, in the order set forth in the encloseed paper.

   Royal carriages will be in attendance at the Rail Road station to convey His Royal Highness to the Places which proposes to visit, and as the time which the Prince can devote to this excursion is limited it is desirable that the Municipal Authorities should receive His Royal Highness at the Station on his first arrival in the Borough.

   I hasten to give to you the earliest information of the intended visit that in concert with the Corporation and the principal inhabitants you may prepare for the reception of His Royal Highness and may make arrangements which will secure his easy progress from place to place.

   I shall be obliged if you will communicate to the owners of the establishments which His Royal Highness proposes to visit, his gracious intention that they may be ready to receive him, and to show those branches of their Manufactories which are most worthy of observation


  1. Bacchus & Sons – Glass Makers – Ashted
  2. Philip Muntz – Rolling Mill, Boring of gun barrels etc by steam – Livery Street
  3. Jennens & Betteridge – Papier mache manufactory – Constitution Hill
  4. Elkington Electro Type gilding etc. – Newhall Street
  5. Sargant – Sword maker – Charlotte St
  6. Armfield – Button maker – Newhall Street
  7. King Edward’s School    
  8. Town Hall                      
  9. Proof House

return to the Rail Road station


This list is interesting in that it represents some of key industries for which Birmingham was becoming so well known: guns of course, but also buttons, glass and other metal wares. Many of these manufacturers were not only local captains of industry, but were at the cutting edge of technological advances.

The second communication from the Secretary of State, bearing the same date, related to security arrangements, appearing almost as an afterthought:


   With reference to my letter addressed to you this day on the subject of the intended visit of His Royal Highness Prince Albert to Birmingham on Wednesday next, it has occurred to me, that you may require some assistance in addition to the Police to preserve order and to be placed at your disposal

   A Guard of Honor will be in attendance to meet His Royal Highness on his first arrival in Birmingham and the Lord Lieutenant of the County of Warwick, and the Officer commanding Her Majesty’s troops in Birmingham have received orders to afford any assistance which you may require in aid of the Civil Power to keep clear the carriage way and to prevent any obstructions

   I have the honor to be, Sir, your faithful servant

A royal visit was an important endorsement for a town which in recent years had struggled to maintain public order during a period of sometimes violent national unrest. Less than year previously there had been an assassination attempt had been made upon Queen Victoria. No doubt the extra military assistance was welcomed by the town council, who agreed upon the following warm response, to be presented to the Prince by the Mayor:

To His Royal Highness Field Marshall Prince Albert of Saxe Cobourg and Gotha


May it please your Royal Highness,


   We, the Mayor, aldermen and Burgesses of the Borough of Birmingham approach your Royal Highness’s presence with feelings of exaltation and gratitude for the distinguished honor conferred upon us by your Royal Highness’s gracious visit to our Borough – We hail it as a mark of the confidence of your Royal Highness in the loyalty and affection of our Hearts towards our beloved Queen and of your Royal Highness’s appreciation of the high respect and esteem that we entertain for Her Majesty’s illustrious Consort.

   The personal virtues which so eminently distinguish your Royal Highness as a Man, a Husband and a Father, it is our happiness to know and our pride to acknowledge.

   We welcome your Royal Highness to this Seat of Industry and the Arts and we fervently pray the Supreme Ruler of the Universe to vouchsafe to our Most Gracious Sovereign the Queen to your Royal Highness, and to your Royal Offspring a continuance of this special favour and protections, and that you may ever possess and enjoy the affection and esteem of a loyal, a prosperous and a happy people

The unanimously agreed response of Birmingham’s municipal men reveals a great deal about their values, including an emphasis on masculinity and family values.  There is an evident pride in the town’s industry, but also in its arts both are capitalised in the transcription and the council men boldly proclaimed the town as a ‘Seat’ of industry and the arts. Here is an insight into how the town perceived itself and how it wished outsiders to view it. There is also an important reassurance that the people of Birmingham held a loyalty to the Crown and a respect for the current monarchy.




Mr Bradshaw’s map, 1833

From Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, September 2nd, 1833

“It is with pleasure announced that MR BRADSHAW has completed the Third part of his MAP, shewing the elevations of the Canals, Rivers and Railways of the greater part of England, from a datum of 6 feet 10 inches under the sill of the Old Dock at Liverpool. The levels have been expressly taken for this publication, and carefully examined by some of the leading members of the Institution of Civil Engineers, whose testimonial is subjoined.

Testimonial._ We, the undersigned, having had opportunities of comparing Mr Bradshaw’s Canal Maps with the Lines of Navigation and Levels herein described, have no hesitation in recommending the same as a most useful, correct and valuable work.

Thomas Telford,     William Cubitt,
James Walker,        J. Brunel.”