Birmingham began its life as a small Anglo Saxon hamlet on the edge of the Arden Forest and grew to become a major city through a combination of civic pride, innovation and immigration that all helped to fuel the Industrial Revolution both in Birmingham and the Black Country.
By the turn of the 20th century, Birmingham had risen from a market town to become the hub of the automotive and manufacturing industries. The city had earned a reputation initially for its canal network, including the Grand Union Canal and then as a city of cars and now on to a major convention centre and shopping destination.
The transformation of the city from a rural manor recorded in the Doomsday Book started around 116 when Lord of the Manor, Peter de Birmingham, got a Royal Charter from Henry 11 that let him hold a weekly market at his ‘castle at Birmingham’.
Within a century of 1166, the town had transformed in to a prosperous area of craftsmen and merchants.
By the 14th century, the town was an established centre for the wool trade and was situated on several important trade routes across the country.
The huge industrial growth in the area began well before that of the northern textile towns and can be traced back to the 1680’s. And as early as 1791, Birmingham was being described as the first manufacturing town in the world by the economist Arthur Young and was the third most-populous area outside of London and Bristol.
Despite things such as the industrial steam engine having origins in the area, they did little to do with the expansion of Birmingham and things such as buckles, buttons, jewellery and guns were produced in small specialist workshops and this growth in manufacturing was driven in part by the highly skilled workforce of the area and the many innovations that came from the town.
Between the years of 1760 and 1850 residents in Birmingham registered well over three times as many patents as any other area or town in that time making it the most inventive town of the era in terms of manufacturing technology.
As the canal network in Birmingham and the Black Country expanded rapidly, following the building of the first canal that inked the town to the coal mines in Wednesbury, the town and its population expanded rapidly and the town became know as the ‘workshop of the world’.
With the arrival of the railways in 1837, the Grand Junction Railway linked the town with Manchester and Liverpool and in the following year the line to London opened. The London and North Western Railway jointly constructed New Street Station with the Midland Railway and in 1852, the Great Western arrived and constructed the smaller station of Snow Hill that linked to Oxford and Paddington. Latterly, the city became known as the ‘city of a thousand trades’ because of the huge variety of products being produced locally.
In 1851 a network of sewers was built that connected to the River Rea however, only new homes were connected to the sewer system and existing homes had to wait decades to be connected to the system.
Gas lighting was introduced in 1818 and a water company was established in 1826 but it would only provide clean water to paying customers with electricity being supplied to the area in 1882. From 1873 horse drawn trams were introduced with electric trams following in 1890.
When Joseph Chamberlain became mayor of the town, some of the worst slums such as the back to back houses were demolished and under his leadership Birmingham was transformed under one of the most ambitious schemes outside of London.
Chamberlain was also responsible for the building of the Council House and the Victoria Law Courts on Corporation Street.
Clean water supplies were improved and the water supply increased through the construction of the Elan Valley reservoir in Wales. This project was completed in 1904.
The City or Birmingham continues to enjoy tremendous growth and many more projects are being worked on in the city including the extension of the Metro Line from Snow Hill to New Street Station.
Naz Daud Birmingham Directory Birmingham Guide Birmingham News
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