A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 7, the City of Birmingham. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1964.
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THE CITY OF BIRMINGHAM
In 1780, in the preface to his History of Birmingham, William Hutton noted that until then Birmingham had 'never manufactured a history of herself who has manufactured everything else'. (fn. 1) Since Hutton's day this lack of histories has been repaired without in any way diminishing the town's fertility in other directions. Out of origins of unusual obscurity for so great a city Birmingham by the Interregnum had become widely known as 'a place very eminent for most commodities made of iron'. (fn. 2) A century later Samuel Johnson, though not always flattering to Birmingham, dubbed it 'the seat of the mechanic arts'. (fn. 3) By the early 19th century its native 'genius to invent' and 'hand to execute' (fn. 4) had combined to multiply its industries still further and to endow them with a repute extending throughout the world. It became, in fact, the nucleus of one of the most important industrial conurbations of the British Isles.
'Toys' and jewellery, small arms, printing, nails and screws, bedsteads, chocolate, bicycles and motor cars, chemicals and engineering have made Birmingham a household word. The renown of Soho in the 18th century is matched by that of Longbridge in the 20th.
Nor has Birmingham's repute been purely industrial. Joseph Priestley epitomized the town's importance in the 18th century as a triple centre of nonconformity, radical politics, and scientific research. Later Attwood and the Birmingham Chartists, Bright and the Birmingham Liberals, and Chamberlain and the Birmingham Unionists brought the city's name to the forefront of national politics, just as Cadbury and Bournville have made Birmingham important in the history of English social welfare. In the present century Birmingham remains one of the world's great cities, and continues to expand and thrive. For fifty years, both in area and population, it has been the second largest English city. (fn. 5)
The ancient parish of Birmingham comprising 2,996 acres lay entirely in Warwickshire. (fn. 6) On the north lay Handsworth parish in Staffordshire with its hamlet Perry Barr, (fn. 7) and on the east the Warwickshire parish of Aston comprising the townships of Aston, Witton, Erdington, Water Orton, Castle Bromwich, Little Bromwich, Bordesley, Deritend, Duddeston with Nechells, and Saltley with Washwood. (fn. 8) On the south Birmingham was bounded by Edgbaston in Warwickshire (fn. 9) and on the west by the Staffordshire parish of Harborne and its chapelry of Smethwick. (fn. 10)
Until the 19th century the boundaries of the ancient parish defined the administrative limits of the town. The Improvement Acts of 1769 and 1773 (fn. 11) referred to the 'town of Birmingham' without further definition but the Act of 1801 (fn. 12) empowered the Commissioners to extend the boundaries of the town 'within the parish only'. By 1832 the eastern half of the ancient parish and parts of the parish of Aston were densely populated: building had not been so extensive in Edgbaston but the parish was becoming urbanized. (fn. 13) The boundaries of the parliamentary borough were therefore drawn to include, with the parish of Birmingham, the townships of Duddeston with Nechells, Deritend and Bordesley (all in the parish of Aston) and the whole of Edgbaston parish. (fn. 14) When, in 1838, the town was granted its charter, the parliamentary borough boundaries were taken as those for the new municipality. (fn. 15) The churchwardens and select vestry of Edgbaston asked that their parish should be left out of the borough but nothing apparently came of the request. (fn. 16) The boundaries of the borough (after 1889, the city) remained the same until 1891: in that year the city was extended (fn. 17) to include the half of Harborne parish (Staffordshire) not in the Smethwick area, an area named Balsall Heath in the northern (Moseley) division of King's Norton (fn. 18) parish (Worcestershire) and two townships in Aston parish, Saltley, and Ward End (otherwise called Little Bromwich). In 1909 the civil parish of Quinton in Worcestershire was added to the city. (fn. 19) In 1911 the area of the city was almost trebled by a further extension of its boundaries: under the Greater Birmingham Act (fn. 20) the borough of Aston Manor, Erdington and Handsworth Urban Districts, most of King's Norton and Northfield Urban District (i.e. excluding Beoley, Rednal, Rubery, Wythall, and Cofton Hackett), and Yardley Rural District (fn. 21) were brought within the city boundaries. (fn. 22) In 1928 Perry Barr Urban District was divided between West Bromwich, Birmingham and Sutton Coldfield, the greater part of the area being placed within the bounds of the city. (fn. 23) In 1931 part of the parish of Solihull (fn. 24) and parts of the parishes of Castle Bromwich, (fn. 25) Minworth, (fn. 26) and Sheldon (fn. 27) in the Meriden Rural District were added to the city. (fn. 28)
It is with the history of all this area, now confined within the boundaries of the modern city of Birmingham, that this volume is concerned.