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Travel writers views of Birmingham

BordesleyExile

master brummie
Writing of Birmingham, Robert Southey opens with "The devil has certainly fixed on this spot for his hothouse". Its always interesting to have different perspectives of Birmingham and Southey certainly provides unique insights. In his book Letters from England vol 2 published in 1814 he arrives from Worcester in a 16 seater coach with a door at one end & windows at the other. Like other travel writers he is impressed by the ingenuity he witnesses in Birmingham and he visits Soho. Unlike other writers he provides us with descriptions of the sights & smells of Birmingham, the method of gun testing, a raid on an establishment where counterfeit money is produced, the effects of the war with France on ordinary people & the untenanted houses which resulted. Like other travel writers Southey is impressed by the ingenuity he witnesses.
Southey's book is available on Internet Archive:
https://www.archive.org/stream/lettersfromengla02soutuoft#page/38/mode/2up/search/birmingham
 

BordesleyExile

master brummie
"Very extensive & a great part of it elegantly built" is the description given to Birmingham by William Thomson in his book A Tour of England & Scotland in 1785. More postive than Robert Southey he records that Birmingham was crowded, something overlooked by every writer I have come across so far. Like other travel writers he refers to the burgeoning industry and the evident wealth. He tells us that the number of carriages & women had doubled in a decade, but coffee houses had not flourished. He described the people as industrious, but all dimunitive in size & sickly in their appearance from their sedentary employment.
https://www.archive.org/details/tourinenglandsco00thomiala
 

BordesleyExile

master brummie
"This place is really wonderfull; it strikes one with enchantment" wrote Richard Joseph Sullivan in 1780. "A few years ago it was but an inconsidrrable dirty village and now ....it is one of the largest & most populous towns in the kingdom........The houses are well built; the streets broad & well paved and the spirit of industry so universally predominant that not a person is seem, no not even children iwithout being employed in some kind of business. "
Observations made during a tour through parts of England is accible on Google Books.
https://books.google.com/books?id=Z...=0CF8Q6AEwCDg8#v=onepage&q=birmingham&f=false
 

BordesleyExile

master brummie
"From the balcony before our windows (the Hen & Chickens Hotel) we could see down the whole length of the street; although a good width it has not a pleasing appearance from the uniform colour of the houses which are built of dark red bricks & which, as is usually the case in England, not being coated over, give a very sombre look to the town,-a fefect increased by the smoke from the numerous hard-ware work-shops continually hanging over the town & giving a much darker appearance to the bricks than when new" so wrote Dr Spiker in 1816.
William West, in his 1830 History Topography & Directory of Warwwickshire balances Dr Spiker view by adding "With regard to Dr Spikers observation they may in some respects be correct; but ever since his visit in 1816 the improvements in Birmingham, in the new buildings & in the new fronting of the old ones has in a great degree remedied the evil he complains of.
Dr Spiker was far more complementary of Birmingham's manufacturing industry, but I have yet to find his original writing. As the librarian to the King of Prussia his text may or may not have been in English.
 

Rupert

master brummie
I have just read this thread through and find it very interesting. It's funny but I have not thought about the wars with France with respect to the daily affairs of Brum but there must have been an effect since this was the center of the Industrial Revolution and manufacturing would have been skewed to produce war materiel. I have always found Pye's Travels to be a remarkable insight to this period or a bit later and being from Brum one can read his travels and have a picture in one's mind of the places that the words describe. His remark about the huge mound of ash and slag next to Aston furnace enabled a full understanding of an old old picture from which aspect was unknown untill one realised that it was from the top of...you have it...the mound of ash. It takes effort to dig these little gems out and I just wanted to say that the effort is known and noted. My dog is not dead but his picture seems to have gone. He is a good bit greyer now though so perhaps a later shot is called for now.
 

Rupert

master brummie
The whole length of the street from the Hen And Chickens would have been New Street looking past the first King Edwards school towards Christ Church and we can actually show a picture of the actual view that would have been at that time from here. I suppose that this posting inn might have taken over from the Swan at that time. There would have been more stabling room out back also.
 
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