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The History of Industries and Toolmaking in United Kingdom


 
  Birmingham by J. Howard B. Masterman, 1920    

Introduction

No English borough has played a more important part in the industrial and political life of the nation during the last hundred years than Birmingham. Starting as a small manorial estate in the eleventh century, it has gradually become the centre of a great industrial area reaching to Dudley and Wolverhampton in the west, and towards Coventry and Nuneaton in the east.

Its growth has been due in part to natural advantages of climate and situation, but even more to the energy and enterprise of its citizens. The fact that Birmingham developed later than its neighbors saved it from sharing in the decline that the older mediaeval towns suffered through the restrictive policy of the craft gilds, and enabled it, at a later period, to offer asylum to Nonconformists who were denied the right of public worship in chartered towns.

It has recently been described as "the typical city of industrial individualism."  Hutton's account of the people of Birmingham as he saw them in 1741, though coloured by local patriotism, is typical of what many other observers have noticed.  "They were a species I had never seen; they possessed a vivacity I had never beheld; I had been among dreamers, but now I saw men awake, their very step along the street showed vivacity; every man seemed to know and prosecute his own affairs."

The number of different industries carried on in Birmingham has been of great advantage to the city in giving stability to industry and in fostering variety of interest. The city has fewer men of great wealth than most of our other great industrial centres, but a considerable number of Birmingham manufacturers have attained to a fairly high standard of prosperity.

Until recently, most of the leading citizens have lived within easy reach of the heart of the city, instead of escaping to more distant suburbs, and this has tended to prevent the detachment from civic interests that has been so injurious to some of our English towns.

Birmingham has shown a special aptitude for developing the civic loyalty of the strangers within its gates, and not a few of the men who are most closely associated with the public life of the city came to it from other parts of the country. Birmingham has, I think, less than other English cities of the clannishness that resents the intrusion of "aliens."

J. HOWARD B. MASTERMAN


 
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