Birmingham And The Industrial Revolution

Birmingham was one of the most significant cities in the development of the industrial revolution. How did it achieve its position of prominence in early industry.

Birmingham is located in Britain’s largest royal hunting ground, just outside the Forest of Arden. Birmingham town had a very interesting Saxon name. By dissecting the name, Birmingham, we know that during the Saxon’s times a man named Berm and his family – or “ing” – kept their home – or “ham” there.

Domesday Book had the first official mention of Birmingham. Birmingham Manor was a small place, as there were only 9 houses, may be around 50 people, other than the associates of the Lord of the Manor. The boundary of the land having the manor in it is mentioned to be having 4 hides. A hide is supposed to be approximately 120 acres of land. So, there were 480 acres, and not the whole land would be the arable land stated.

Peter de Bermingham, Lord of the Manor of Berm, was granted a charter in 1166 to hold a market every week on Thursday, and given permission to levy tolls on goods and produce sold there. The privilege of holding a fair each year for four days, starting on Holy Thursday, was secured in 1251 for the Manor of Birmingham. Such institutions flourished since Birmingham was on the River Rea at the only decent crossing in the district; therefore, it was a natural centre where track ways (no proper tracks existed) came together. Traders and craftsmen started settling in Birmingham to be close to the market. Since Birmingham was a manor, not a town, no irksome restrictions had to be observed by smiths, craftsmen, tanners, or gunsmiths in the Middle Ages. They could display and sell goods unhindered, enjoying the same privileges held by those who traveled to the increasingly flourishing town for trading. This liberty encouraged those of enterprise and ambition in the neighborhood to go to Birmingham, where they could work with no disturbances and compete with anyone. Thus, the town thrived and grew in the 14th and 15th centuries.

In Tudor times both banks of the Rea were filled with water mills and the workmen of Digbeth, Deritend and the nearby boroughs of Rea used the water wheels to turn the early machines. However, still more important is the fact that Birmingham was the only region with good supply of drinkable water, sufficient enough for the ever growing population.

The increasing number of patents granted to Birmingham tradesmen and inventors in the early eighteenth century shows the strong spirit of inquiry and initiative which was spreading throughout the town, and the great improvement of tools and processes. For instance, a certain John Taylor took out a patent for cast-iron hollow-ware in 1779. Henry Clay, one of John Baskervilles apprentices, patented papier-mache in 1772, while two brothers named Wyatt patented a machine for cutting screws, work which had hitherto been done by hand. Another townsman, named Harrison, made a steel pen for Dr. Priestley. Josiah Mason later started one of the largest factories in the world for the manufacture of pens. There were many more inventions about this time, so you will understand why Birmingham became so busy and progressive.