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A BRIEF HISTORY OF BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND
By Tim Lambert
BIRMINGHAM IN THE MIDDLE AGES
Birmingham is the second largest city in England. It began as a Saxon village. In the early 12th century it grew into a town. In 1166 the King gave the Lord of the Manor, Peter De Birmingham, the right to hold a weekly market at Birmingham. Once a market was up and running merchants and craftsmen came to live in Birmingham and it soon developed into a busy little town.
In 1250 the people of Birmingham were given the right to hold a fair each Summer. In the Middle Ages a fair was like a market but it was held only once a year. Birmingham's fair attracted buyers and sellers from all over the Midlands.
Medieval Birmingham became known for its wool industry. Wool was woven and dyed in the town. By the late 14th century Birmingham was also known for its metalworking industry. By then it was also known for leather working. Leather was tanned then used to make gloves, saddles, bottles, shoes and many other things.
In the Middle Ages the church ran the only hospitals. In them monks would care for the sick and poor as best they could. In the early 13th century a 'hospital' dedicated to St Thomas was built in Birmingham.
In 1500 Birmingham was still a small market town with a population of about 1, 500. It would seem tiny to us and even by the standards of the time it was a little town. The Old Crown House was built in the 14th century.
BIRMINGHAM IN THE 16th CENTURY AND 17th CENTURY
In the 16th century Birmingham grew rapidly. In 1547 the population was around 1, 800 people. By 1560 it had probably passed 2, 000. In the 17th century Birmingham continued to grow rapidly. In 1650 it had a population of around 5, 000. By then it was a fairly large and important place.
In 1570 a writer said Birmingham was 'full of inhabitants and echoing with forges. The lower part of it is very wet, the upper adorned with handsome buildings'. Aston Hall was built in 1635.
In the Middle Ages there was only one fair in Birmingham but by the early 16th century there were two. Furthermore in the Middle Ages there was also just one general market but by the middle of the 16th century there were three specialized markets, the Corn market, the Welsh market and the English market.
Wool was still woven and dyed in Tudor Birmingham. Leather was also tanned and made into goods in the town. There was, in the 16th century, a leather hall in Birmingham where it could be bought and sold.
However the newer industry of metalworking was fast taking over. Tudor Birmingham gained a reputation as a place where cutlers made knives, nailers made nails and many blacksmiths worked at their forges. Birmingham had 3 natural advantages. Firstly it was near to a source of iron ore. Secondly it was by a coal seam, which provided fuel for forges. Lastly it was surrounded by streams so that watermills could power the bellows for forges. Meanwhile in the middle of the 16th century a grammar school was founded in Birmingham.
The civil war between king and parliament began in 1642. In October 1642 the king came to Birmingham with his army. His soldiers looted the houses of civilians. After the king left the townspeople attacked his baggage train and looted it. In April 1643 a royalist army was sent to capture Birmingham. The townspeople erected earth defenses across the roads but the royalists simply marched across open country into the town. They then set about plundering Birmingham again.
The first mention of a fire engine in Birmingham was in 1695.
BIRMINGHAM IN THE 18th CENTURY
St Phillips Church was built in 1715. By 1720 Birmingham had a population between 11, 000 and 12, 000. By 1750 the population had risen to around 24, 000. By the end of the century the population of Birmingham had risen to 73, 000.