A little history of Harborne

I came across this little history of Harborne when I was looking for something else and, as I got drawn into it, thought you might enjoy it too. It’s taken from Showell’s Dictionary of Birmingham, always a delight to rummage through. There’s a copy in the Local Studies Centre at the Library of Birmingham, 4th floor. If you’re there or thereabouts for a visit it’s worth finding out, I believe it’s usually kept on the bookshelf that faces the glass doors into the Wolfson Reading Room. 

Harborne did not become part of Birmingham borough until 1891. Before that it had fallen into the boundaries of Staffordshire County.  Showell’s was published by the Cornish Brothers around 1885.

David Cox ‘Harborne’ (Google Art Project)

“Harborne is another of our near neighbours which a thousand years or so ago had a name if nothing else, but that name has come down to present time with less change than is usual, and, possibly through the Calthorpe estate blocking the way, the parish itself has changed but very slowly, considering its close proximity to busy, bustling Birmingham. This apparent stagnation, however, has endeared it to us Brums, not a little on account of the many pleasant glades and sunny spots in and around it. Harborne gardeners have long been famous for growing gooseberries, the annual dinner of  the Gooseberry Growers’ Society having been held at the Green Man ever since 1815. But Harborne has plucked up heart latterly, and will not much longer be ‘out of the running’. With its little area of 1,412 acres, and only a population of 6,600, it has built itself an Institute, (a miniature model of the Midland) with class rooms and reading rooms, with a library, with lecture halls, to seat a thousand at a cost of £6,500, and got Henry Irving to lay the foundation stone in 1879. A Masonic Hall followed in 1880, and a Fire Brigade Station soon after. It has also a local railway as well as a newspaper. In the parish church, which was nearly all rebuilt in 1867, there are several monuments of olden date, one being in remembrance of a member of the Hinckley family, from whose name that of our Inkley’s is deductible; there is also a stained window to the memory of David Cox. The practice of giving a Christmas treat, comprising a good dinner, some small presents, and an enjoyable entertainment to the aged poor was begun in 1865, and is still kept up.”


‘A well seasoned tippler’

Birmingham Police Court

On Saturday October 9th, 1858, before magistrate William Lucy,

A well-seasoned tippler.- The notorious Barbara Colman was placed at the bar charged, as usual, with being “drunk and disorderly”. She was described as of Fox Street, hawker, and this was nearly her hundredth appearance before the Magistrates. Today she said she did not know how it was; “when I’m ill, I keep sober, but when I get well, then I go off drinking.” What were the Magistrates to do? Sending her to gaol was of no avail. The old stager put in a novel appeal: Please your worship, I was going to be married.” This from a lass who owns to sixty-eight was too much for one’s gravity, and amidst the general laughter, Barbara was discharged, and in gratitude for this she said, “I’ll ask you all to the wedding!”

This item was taken from Birmingham Daily Post, October 11th 1858.  Available to view by subscription to the British Newspaper Archives. Birmingham’s historical newspapers can also be viewed free of charge in Local Studies at the Library of Birmingham, 4th floor – please support our local libraries and archives.

A humble petition

Petition gov.uk

A couple of weeks ago I signed an on-line petition that was calling for a change in a certain government policy. On reaching 100,000 signatures the petition was then presented for debate in Parliament and the response made public. All British citizens can take part in petitioning the government on any subject that they feel strongly about, it is a tradition that goes back hundreds of years and was particularly popular in the early part of the 19th century, the so called ‘Age of Reform’. Petitions from Birmingham during this time included one in 1812 demanding an end to trade embargos  (as a result of Orders in Council) that were having a negative impact on the town’s trade with America and another around the same time calling for the repeal of the East India Company’s charter. Other large manufacturing and port towns, such as Manchester, Liverpool and Bristol, also petitioned and as a result both policies were repealed. Petitioning could be a powerful political tool, especially when combined with outbreaks of popular unrest.

Petitions then were, of course, hand written and signed. On a recent archive trip I was lucky enough to see an example of an original petition.

VLUU L200 / Samsung L200

1828 Birmingham petition (Donna Taylor)

VLUU L200 / Samsung L200

1828 Birmingham petition (Donna Taylor)

As you can see it was quite a chunky scroll, but with the exception of a few holes along the paper between the signatures, is in great condition. It was fascinating to see. This particular petition can be dated to 1828, because the first signature is that of ‘Charles Shaw, High Bailiff’. Bailiffs were elected annually and Aris’s Birmingham Gazette published their names around the same date each year, so it was pretty easy to trace.

VLUU L200 / Samsung L200

1828 Birmingham petition (Donna Taylor)

There’s something rather special about seeing a person’s signature, I always feel it’s as close as I can get to a handshake with the past. Although it was not possible to unroll the whole scroll, it was possible to see that it comprised several petitions attached together. This makes sense, because it was likely that petitions were left in multiple locations to attract plenty of signatures.  In parts it looked as though sheets were glued together, but there was also evidence of stitching:

VLUU L200 / Samsung L200

1828 Birmingham petition (Donna Taylor)

This is a great resource. But why is it in Birmingham, and not tucked away in a Parliamentary archive? Well, in 1828 there was an attempt in the House of Commons to have the Nottinghamshire constituency of East Retford disfranchised (that is, they would lose their MP) following decades of alleged electoral corruption. There was a suggestion that one of the big industrial towns that did not have an MP could instead be given the East Retford seat; the two towns primarily tipped for the transfer were Manchester and Birmingham – and Birmingham set about gathering signatures requesting that it be given the Parliamentary seat. In the end, East Retford retained its MP for another few decades, while Birmingham and Manchester would have to wait until 1832 to realise their ambition of representation. As a result, the petition was never delivered to the House.

The Birmingham petition can be found at Birmingham Archives, Heritage and Photography, Library of Birmingham – reference MS 3097 (1 of 2) 


If you are interested in current Parliamentary petitions, the official website is here: https://petition.parliament.uk/