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Alexander Betts

Dennis Williams

Proud Brummie
Re: Some great men of Birmingham..

And here's one of mine...

Brummie writer and rambler Vivian Bird, in his book Portrait of Birmingham gives lots of refs and stories about those brilliant 'Lunatics' and entrepreneurial 'Men of Birmingham' who shaped our futures and great City via the Industrial Revolution. I plundered it remorselessly in another life...and have no intention of faltering now...

So. one of the oldest and still extant Birmingham Family Businesses dating back to 1760 was that of BETTS & SONS.


Alexander Betts

"1760 saw the dawn of the industrial revolution in England and the ascension of King George III to the throne. Alexander Betts came from Battle in Sussex to the village of Birmingham to set up a smelting and refining business to recover gold and silver ores and recover precious metals from wastes being produced in Birmingham’s newly established jewellery quarter. The business was known as Betts & Sons.

Birmingham’s growth as a great industiral city can be traced from this time, with many entrepreneurs coming to the city to start up businesses based on newly available technologies, energy and an efficient transport infrastructure. Many new industries were born in Birmingham in the last 18th century, including the first cotton mill in 1771. In 1791 Arthur Young described Birmingham as “the first manufacturing town in the world”.

Alexander Betts died in 1781 and his son Edward carried on the business until his death in 1817. His grave can be found in St Paul’s churchyard in the Jewellery Quarter where he is buried with other Betts ancestors. His sons John and William continued in the family business which expanded and prospered for the next century as Birmingham grew to be known as the “workshop to the world”. John led the business until the late 1840′s and died in 1864 at the age of ninety. He was an energetic man and was one of the first sixteen elected aldermen of the first council of the city of Birmingham on its incorporation as a city in 1838. During his tenure the company became known as John Betts & Sons Ltd.
During the mid 19th Century the family became involved in exploration and trading overseas, notably Austrailia, where some family members emigrated to New South Wales and were involved in expanding geological knowledge that led to the initial gold discoveries in Austrailia in 1851. There are records of many consignments of ores and concentrates shipped from Austrailia to Bimingham or smelting at the John Betts factory. This family trait for exploration and innovation which is present in the projects ongoing today was evident from this early stage.

When Abraham Lincoln was elected president of America in 1860, the company reached 100 years of profitable business, and int he late 19th century the company continued to expand at its works in Charlotte Street, Birmingham and 131 Long Acre in London. In 1874 Alfred abd his brother John Betts bought the adjacent land to Charlotte Street ont he corner with Newhall Street for £2050 (approximately £2.5 million in today’s terms) in order to expand the works. Unfortunately, due to a corrupt lawyer, the brothers were left without the land or the money. Subsequently the Birmingham Assay Office was built on this site.


The end of the 19th century and first part of the 20th saw an explosion in technological advancements and exploitation of new regions for precious metals. Global silver production rose almost five fold in this period to 190 million ounces per year, and towards the end of this period, silver briefly ceased to be quoted as having any value. Consequently the early years of the 20th century were very difficult for the business until after the First World War and the business may have failed had the factory not been prevented from closing due to its contribution to the war effort.

After the end of the First World War a longer period of stability ensued for the business, and by the time President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963, the business had been trading for over 200 years. In addition to recovering wastes from the jewellery trade, the company dealt with wastes from potteries, mirror manufacturers, platers and other industries. The biggest development at the time was the recovery from the photographic tradem with the company carrying out all the refining work for Kodak for many years until the 1970′s.

The direct line of descendants has sometimes held by a thread and this is particularly true during the Second World War. John Francis Betts was a captain when he was shot and reported missing in action, presumed dead, after being surrounded and cut off by Germans whilst fighting to defend the retreat from Dunkirk (for which he recieved the Military Cross). He was eventually discovered in a hospital in Belgium where he recovered from a bullet wound which wnet straigh through his mouth. An inch higher and the Betts line would have died out. John Francis Betts had two sons and despite many difficulties during the 1970’2 the company survived and continued under Stephen and now two of his sons, Daniel and Charles, who are te nonth consecutive genration of the Betts family to manage a business which has now been in existence for a quarter of a millenium." They are still going strong...
 

Charlie

knows nowt
Re: Some great men of Birmingham..

Thanks Dennis, I didn't know much about these families. Fascinating!
 

ChrisM

Super Moderator
Staff member
Re: Some great men of Birmingham..

Thanks, Dennis, very interesting stories and a valuable addition to the Forum archive.

Chris
 
W

Wendy

Guest
Re: Some great men of Birmingham..

Wonderful family history I didn't know of the Betts family thank you so much Dennis a fascinating read!
 

Kiwiclaire

New Member
as suspected the remains of all the dead are buried together at witton and the site marked with an obelisk

he Old Meeting
The Presbyterians, later Unitarians, first worshipped in a small room somewhere in Digbeth which was licensed after the 1672 Declaration of Indulgence allowed non-conformists to build places of worship. Under James II worship had to be held in secret, but with the passing of the Act of Toleration in 1689 the (Old) Meeting (House) was built in Phillip Street. This lay off Dudwall Lane, later known as Pinfold Street, a site now under New Street Station. The Meeting was burnt down in high-church riots in 1715 and wrecked again in the Priestley Riots of 1791. It was again rebuilt in 1794 with schoolrooms and a library attached.



The burial ground was used from 1696, enlarged in 1779, 1869 and 1870; it was closed for burials in 1873 for all but reopened family graves. The building was demolished 1882 for the enlargement of New Street Station and the remains of the dead belonging to both the Old and New Meetings reinterred at Witton Cemetery where an obelisk marks the site. A new chapel in gothic style was built on Bristol Street in 1885.





lyn
Thank you for this interesting information. I have an ancestor, Elizabeth Mewis nee Tomlinson (c1755-1830) who was buried at the Old Meeting House and (I'm assuming that) she was re-interred at Witton Cemetery. I am coming to Birmingham at the end of the month and was wondering if you can tell me the location of the obelisk in the cemetery? Thanks, Claire.
 

Lady Penelope

master brummie
Hi Kiwiclaire,
If you go during opening hours and visit the office the staff will point you in the right direction for the obelisk. It's quite big and there are some gravestones. I was looking for the poet Freeth and found his stone (with some difficulty). I'll see if I can find the photos I took and post them here.
 

Lady Penelope

master brummie
Hi again,

Not sure if you've seen the earlier posts but the pictures I mentioned above are on this thread on post #288. There are also a couple of pictures of the meeting house on #284.
 

Kiwiclaire

New Member
Hi Kiwiclaire,
If you go during opening hours and visit the office the staff will point you in the right direction for the obelisk. It's quite big and there are some gravestones. I was looking for the poet Freeth and found his stone (with some difficulty). I'll see if I can find the photos I took and post them here.
Thanks Lady Penelope, unfortunately I'll be in Birmingham later on a Saturday, through until Sunday so the office won't be open. I did see the photos you posted of the obelisk. It is big! I also have a plot of my 3great grandmother Emela Catherine Wareing nee Mewis to visit as well (Square 88, number 17756).
 

Lady Penelope

master brummie
Thanks Lady Penelope, unfortunately I'll be in Birmingham later on a Saturday, through until Sunday so the office won't be open. I did see the photos you posted of the obelisk. It is big! I also have a plot of my 3great grandmother Emela Catherine Wareing nee Mewis to visit as well (Square 88, number 17756).
I've emailed the cemetery so will explain where the obelisk is when I get a reply. Failing that I'll pop down and find it!
 

Kiwiclaire

New Member
What wonderful service! I have just received an email from Witton Cemetery to say that the obelisk is in section 85, quite close to the section you will be looking at in 88. Map enclosed for easy reference. She also said that the office is open at weekends, 10am - 5pm.
Thanks so much! I have also found the grave of 4-great Sarah Rachel Mewis nee Faux 1793-1875 with the help of Midland Ancestors. Everyone has been so helpful - and this forum is great.
 

Lady Penelope

master brummie
Hope you have a wonderful time over here and that the weather behaves itself.

You've probably searched this site but there are one or two enquiries about the name Faux although when you search you get faux pas and faux other things. Might be worth a look if you haven't already done so.
 
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