The Public Works Committee: 1852

In late 1851 a new Improvement Act made the Birmingham Street Commissioners defunct, and powers of managing and maintaining the town were handed to the town council. Many changes were brought into effect under the new system and the town councillors were keen to introduce what they believed to be a far more efficient system of administration. The minute books of the town council from around this time are really interesting, as they go into great detail of how this re-organization took shape. Below is an extract from a committee report of January 1852. The town council had only been handed full control in December of the previous year, so, although there were still some issues to be sorted out, they must have moved with great efficiency.

Report of the Public Works Committee (January 2nd, 1852)

Proposed system for conducting the business of the department:

For the efficient maintenance, cleansing and watering of public thoroughfares, the borough  divided into 4 districts, viz.

The North District The East District The South District The West District

  • 21 men assigned to each district, including a foreman to keep their time and direct them and 5 cleansing machines and 9 watering machines (all of which are in stock) with 10 horses and a proper proportion  of 26 gravel and mud carts which were also in stock
  • Hours of labour to be from 6am to 6pm  (except the men employed in cleansing the streets) ‘who are to be at their work at any hour, day or night, as the weather and circumstances may require, allowing one hour for breakfast and one hour for dinner excepting the months of November, December, January and February when the hours will be from 7 to 6, the men breakfasting before commencing work during these months’

Stations assigned to the districts:

North District     the yard in Shadwell Street
East District        no yard yet fixed
South District    the yard in Holliday Street
West District               do.

  • The Sewer Department will consist of 7 men including one foreman
  • Flagging and Paving Department for repairs only will consist of 8 men, 2 stone masons and their 2 labourers, 2 paviours and their 2 labourers
  • For keeping the watering machines, the bodies of the gravel carts and for jobbing work, two carpenters will be employed.

All works such as paving and flagging (except repairs) should be done by tender and contract, as well as the supply of rag stone and materials, horse provender etc.

Committee not yet prepared to report on the removal of night soil or on the plans of proposed new sewers

Number of men employed  Details of Men to be Employed Weekly Wages Annual Wages
84 Road and cleansing men, wages averaging each 19/- £79,,16s
1 Inspector of Cleansing Machines £1,,10
1 Porter for Holliday Street yard £1,,5
2 Attending machines, feeding horses, cutting chaff, beams etc., 18/- £1,,16
1 Yard Man for North District Station 18s
1 do.  for South District Station 18s
90 Total £86,,3 £4479,,16
Sewer Department
1 Foreman £2
6 Men  @ 18/- £5,,8
7 Total 7s/8d £384,,16
Flagging Department
2 Masons  4s/6 each £2,,14
2 Labourers 3/- each £1,,16
2 Paviours 4s/6 each £2,,14
2 Labourers 3/- each £1,,16
8 Total £9 £468
2 Carpenters £2,,16 £145,,12
Borough Surveyor’s Office
Office Clerk £1,,10 £78
Office Boy 8s £20,,16
Char Woman 15s £39

At the end of their report, the committee expressed regret in reporting the death of Edward Day, a young labourer employed in the maintenance of Birmingham’s sewers. During a great storm, Edward had been washed into the River Rea and had drowned. The public works committee requested a gratuity of £5 for Edward’s mother, who was ‘entirely destitute’ to cover the expense of his funeral. The minutes do not make clear whether this sum was granted.

The town council minute books are available to view in their original form at Birmingham Archives, Heritage and Photography,  Wolfson Centre, Library of Birmingham  – reference for this copy BCC/1/AA/1/1/2  

Access to Birmingham’s world-class archives is currently limited as a result of spending cuts. Please lend your support to our local archives in any way that you can – follow @FoLoB on Twitter for updates


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