REPRINTED FROM THE "BIRMINGHAM DAILY MAIL,"
WITH REVISIONS, CORRECTIONS, AND ADDITIONS.
By E. EDWARDS.
BIRMINGHAM: MIDLAND EDUCATIONAL TRADING COMPANY LIMITED.
[All Rights Reserved]
These sketches, with the signature "S.D.R.," were originally published in the Birmingham Daily Mail newspaper. The earliest were written, as their title indicated, entirely from memory. Afterwards, when the title was no longer strictly accurate, it was retained for the purpose of showing the connection of the series. It must be understood, however, that for many of the facts and dates in the later sketches the writer is indebted to others.
The whole series has been very carefully revised, and some errors have been rectified. The writer would have preferred to remain incognito, but he is advised that, as the authorship is now generally known, it would be mere affectation to withhold his name. He hopes shortly to commence the publication of another series.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF BIRMINGHAM 1
THE BULL RING RIOTS, 1839 19
GOSSIP ABOUT ROYALTY 37
BIRMINGHAM BANKS, OLD AND NEW 45
JOHN WALSH WALSH AND THE ASTON FETES 69
G.F. MUNTZ, M.P. 79
JOSEPH GILLOTT 89
HENRY VAN WART, J.P. 101
CHARLES SHAW, J.P. 108
ROBERT WALTER WINFIELD, J.P. 116
CHARLES GEACH, M.P. 125
WILLIAM SANDS COX, F.R.S. 132
GEORGE EDMONDS 140
CHARLES VINCE 155
JOHN SMITH, SOLICITOR 164
FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF BIRMINGHAM.
It is a fine autumnal morning in the year 1837. I am sitting on the box seat of a stage coach, in the yard of the Bull-and-Mouth, St. Martin's-le-Grand, in the City of London. The splendid gray horses seem anxious to be off, but their heads are held by careful grooms. The metal fittings of the harness glitter in the early sunlight. Jew pedlar-boys offer me razors and penknives at prices unheard of in the shops. Porters bring carpet-bags and strange-looking packages of all sizes, and, to my great inconvenience, keep lifting up the foot-board, to deposit them in the "front boot." A solemn-looking man, whose nose is preternaturally red, holds carefully a silver-mounted whip. Passengers arrive, and climb to the roof of the coach, before and behind, until we are "full outside." Then the guard comes with a list, carefully checks off all our names, and retires to the booking office, from which a minute later he returns. He is this time accompanied by the coachman, who is a handsome, roguish-looking man. He wears a white hat, his boots are brilliantly polished, his drab great-coat is faultlessly clean, and the dark blue neckerchief is daintily tied. His whiskers are carefully brushed forward and curled, the flower in the button-hole is as fresh as if that instant plucked, and he has a look as if he were well fed, and in all other respects well cared for.
Looking admiringly over the horses, and taking the whip from his satellite, who touches his hat as he gives it up, Jehu takes the reins in hand; mounts rapidly to his seat; adjusts the "apron;" glances backward; gets the signal from the guard, who has just jumped up—bugle in hand—behind; arranges the "ribbons" in his well-gloved hand; produces a sound, somehow, with his tongue, that would puzzle the most skilful printer in the world to print phonetically, but which a Pole or a Russian would possibly understand if printed "tzchk;" gently shakes the reins, and we are off.
As we pass toward the gateway, the guard strikes up with the bugle, and makes the place resound with the well-known air, "Off, off, said the stranger." Emerging upon the street, we see, issuing from an opposite gateway, a dozen omnibuses, driven by scarlet-coated coachmen, and laden entirely with scarlet-coated passengers. Each of these men is a "general postman," and he is on his way to his "beat." As the vehicle arrives at the most convenient point, he will alight and commence the "morning" delivery. The process will be repeated in the evening; and these two deliveries suffice, then, for all the "country" correspondence sent to London.
Leaving them, our coach passes on through busy Aldersgate Street, where we are interrupted frequently by droves of sheep and numerous oxen on their way from Smithfield to the slaughter-houses of their purchasers. On through Goswell Street, alive with cries of "milk" and "water creeses." On through Goswell Road; past Sadler's Wells; over the New River, then an open stream; and in a few minutes we pull up at "The Angel." Here we take in some internal cargo. A lady of middle age, and of far beyond middle size, has "booked inside," and is very desirous that a ban-box (without the "d") should go inside, too. This the guard declines to allow, and this matter being otherwise arranged, on we go again. Through "Merrie Islington" to Highgate, where we pass under the great archway, then newly built; on to Barnet, where we stop to change horses, and where I stand up to have a look at my fellow outside passengers. There is not a lady amongst us. Coachman, guard, and passengers, we are fourteen. We all wear "top" hats, of which five are white; each hat, white or black, has its band of black crape. King William IV. was lately dead, and every decently dressed man in the country then wore some badge of mourning.
During the whole of that long day we rattled on. Through sleepy towns and pleasant villages; past the barracks at Weedon, near which we cross a newly-built bridge, on the summit of which the coachman pulls up, and we see a deep cutting through the fields on our right, and a long and high embankment on the left. Scores of men, and horses drawing strange-looking vehicles, are hard at work, and we are told that this is to be the "London and Birmingham Railway," which the coachman adds "is going to drive us off the road." On we go again, through the noble avenue of trees near Dunchurch; through quaint and picturesque Coventry; past Meriden, where we see the words, "Meriden School," built curiously, with vari-coloured bricks, into a boundary wall. On still; until at length the coachman, as the sun declines to the west, points out, amid a gloomy cloud in front of us, the dim outlines of the steeples and factory chimneys of Birmingham. On still; down the wide open roadway of Deritend; past the many-gabled "Old Crown House;" through the only really picturesque street in Birmingham—Digbeth; up the Bull Ring, the guard merrily trolling out upon his bugle, "See the Conquering Hero Comes;" round the corner into New Street where we pull up—the horses covered with foam—at the doors of "The Swan." Our journey has taken us just twelve hours.
And this is Birmingham! The place which I, in pleasant Kent and Surrey, had so often heard of, but had never seen. This is the town which, five years before, had vanquished the Conqueror of the Great Napoleon! This is the place which, for the first time in his life, had compelled the great Duke of Wellington to capitulate! This is the home of those who, headed by Attwood, had compelled the Duke and his army—the House of Lords—to submit, and to pass the memorable Reform Bill of 1832!
My destination was at the top of Bull Street, where my apartments were ready, and a walk to that spot completed an eventful day for me. I had come down on a special business matter, but I remained six months, and a few years later came again and settled down in Birmingham. My impressions of the place during those six months are fresh upon my memory now; and, if I write them down, may be interesting to some of the three hundred thousand people now in Birmingham, who know nothing of its aspect then.
Bull Street was then the principal street in Birmingham for retail business, and it contained some very excellent shops. Most of the then existing names have disappeared, but a few remain. Mr. Suffield, to whose courtesy I am indebted for the loan of the rare print from which the frontispiece to this little book is copied, then occupied the premises near the bottom of the street, which he still retains. Mr. Adkins, the druggist, carried on the business established almost a century ago. He is now the oldest inhabitant of Bull Street, having been born in the house he still occupies before the commencement of the present century. Mr. Gargory—still hale, vigorous, and hearty, although rapidly approaching his eightieth year—then tenanted the shop next below Mr. Keirle, the fishmonger. His present shop and that of Mr. Harris, the dyer, occupy the site of the then Quakers' Meeting House, which was a long, barn-like building, standing lengthwise to the street, and not having a window on that side to break the dreary expanse of brickwork. Mr. Benson was in those days as celebrated for beef and civility as he is now. Mr. Page had just opened the shawl shop still carried on by his widow. Near the Coach Yard was the shop of Mr. Hudson, the bookseller, whose son still carries on the business established by his father in 1821. In 1837, Mr. Hudson, Sen., was the publisher of a very well conducted liberal paper called The Philanthropist. The paper only existed some four or five years. It deserved a better fate. Next door to Mr. Hudson's was the shop of the father of the present Messrs. Southall. All these places have been materially altered, but the wine and spirit stores of Mrs. Peters, at the corner of Temple Row, are to-day, I think, exactly what they were forty years ago. The Brothers Cadbury—a name now celebrated all over the world—were then, as will be seen by reference to the frontispiece, shopkeepers in Bull Street, the one as a silk mercer, the other as a tea dealer. The latter commenced in Crooked Lane the manufacture of cocoa, in which business the name is still eminent. The Borough Bank at that time occupied the premises nearly opposite Union Passage, which are now used by Messrs. Smith as a carpet shop. In all other respects—except where the houses near the bottom are set back, and the widening of Temple Row—the street is little altered, except that nearly every shop has been newly fronted.
High Street, from Bull Street to Carrs Lane, is a good deal altered. The Tamworth Banking Company occupied a lofty building nearly opposite the bottom of Bull Street, where for a very few years they carried on business, and the premises afterwards were occupied by Mrs. Syson, as a hosier's shop. The other buildings on both sides were small and insignificant, and they were mostly pulled down when the Great Western Railway Company tunneled under the street to make their line to Snow Hill. "Taylor and Lloyd's" Bank was then in Dale End. The passage running by the side of their premises is still called "Bank Alley." Carrs Lane had a very narrow opening, and the Corn Exchange was not built. Most of the courts and passages in High Street were then filled with small dwelling houses, and the workshops of working bookbinders. Messrs. Westley Richards and Co. had their gun factory in one of them. The large pile of buildings built by Mr. Richards for Laing and Co., and now occupied by Messrs. Manton, the Bodega Company, and others, is the most important variation from the High Street of forty years ago. The narrow footpaths and contracted roadway were as inconveniently crowded as they are to-day. The house now occupied by Innes, Smith, and Co. was then a grocer's shop, and the inscription over the door was "Dakin and Ridgway," two names which now, in London, are known to everybody as those of the most important retail tea dealers in the metropolis. Mr. Ridgway established the large concern in King William Street, and Mr. Dakin was the founder of "No. 1, St. Paul's Churchyard."
New Street is greatly altered. At that time it was not much more lively than Newhall Street is now. The Grammar School is just as it was; the Theatre, externally, is not much altered; "The Hen and Chickens" remains the same; the Town Hall, though not then finished, looked the same from New Street; and the portico of the Society of Artists' rooms stood over the pavement then. With these exceptions I only know one more building that has not been pulled down, or so altered as to be unrecognisable. The exemption is the excrescence called Christ Church, which still disfigures the very finest site in the whole town.
Hyam and Co. had removed from the opposite side of the street, and had just opened as a tailor's shop the queer old building known as the "Pantechnetheca," and the ever-youthful Mr. Holliday was at "Warwick House." The recollections of what the "House" was then makes me smile as I write. It had originally been two private houses. The one abutted upon the footway, and the other stood some thirty feet back, a pretty garden being in the front. The latter had been occupied by Mr. James Busby, who carried on the business of a wire-worker at the rear. The ground floor frontages of both had been taken out. A roof had been placed over the garden, two hideous small-framed bay windows fronted New Street, and a third faced what is now "Warwick House Passage." The whole place had a curious "pig-with-one-ear" kind of aspect, the portion which had been the garden having no upper floors, while the other was three storeys high. The premises had been "converted" by a now long-forgotten association, called the "Drapery Company," and as this had not been successful, Mr. Holliday and his then partner, Mr. Merrett, had become its successors. It was in 1839 that the first portion of the present palatial building was erected.
A few doors from this was the office of The Birmingham Journal, a very different paper then from what it afterwards became. It had been originally started as a Tory paper by a few old "fogies" who used to meet at "Joe Lindon's," "The Minerva," in Peck Lane; and this was how it came about: The Times had, early in 1825, in a leader, held up to well-deserved ridicule some action on the part of the Birmingham Tory party. This gave awful and unpardonable offence, and retaliation was decided upon. Notes were sent to several frequenters of the room that, on a certain afternoon, important business would be "on" at Lindon's, and punctual attendance was requested. The room at the appointed time was full, and the table had been removed from the centre. The ordinarily clean-scrubbed floor was covered with sheet iron. A chairman was appointed; and one gentleman was requested to read the obnoxious article. This over, a well-fed, prosperous-looking, fox-hunting iron merchant from Great Charles Street rose, and in very shaky grammar moved, that The Times had disgraced itself and insulted Birmingham, and that it was the duty of every Birmingham man to stop its circulation in the town. This having been seconded, and duly carried, another rose and proposed that in order to mark the indignation of those present, the copy of the paper containing the offensive leader should be ignominiously burnt. This, too, was carried; whereupon the iron-dealer took up the doomed newspaper with a pair of tongs, placed it on the sheets of iron, and, taking a "spill" between the claws of the tongs, lighted it at the fire of the room, and ignited the ill-fated paper, which, amid the groans and hisses of the assembled patriots, burned to ashes. This ceremony being solemnly concluded, the "business" began. It was deplored that the "loyal" party was imperfectly represented in the town. It was considered desirable that the party should have an "organ" in the town; and it was decided to open a subscription there and then, to start one. The necessary capital was subscribed, and a committee was formed to arrange with Mr. William Hodgetts, a printer in Spiceal Street, for the production of the new paper. Mr. Hodgetts subscribed to the fund to the extent of L50, and the singularly inappropriate name for a weekly paper, The Birmingham Journal, was selected. The first number appeared June 4th, 1825. The editor was Professor Bakewell. It continued in the same hands until June, 1827, when Mr. Hodgetts paid out the other partners, and became sole proprietor. He enlarged it in 1830, at which time it was edited by the well-remembered Jonathan Crowther. In 1832 it was sold to the Liberal party. The Argus, in its issue for June, 1832, thus chronicles the fact:
"THE JOURNAL.—This newspaper is now the property of Parkes, Scholefield, and Redfern. It was purchased by Parkes in February last for the sum of two thousand pounds, and was delivered up to him on the 25th of March last. Poor Jonathan was unceremoniously turned out of the editorial snuggery into the miserable berth of the Editor's devil. 'Oh, what a falling off is here, my countrymen!' And who, think ye, gentle readers, is now Editor of The Journal? An ex-pedagogue, one of the New Hall Hill martyrs, a 'talented' writer that has been within the walls," &c., &c.
This seems to point to George Edmonds; but I cannot find any other evidence that he was ever editor. Be that as it may, Crowther remained, and the paper was published at the old office in Spiceal Street as late as May, 1833, when it seems to have been removed to New Street, and placed under the care of Mr. Douglas. In May of that year, Mr. Hodgetts published the first number of The Birmingham Advertiser. Meanwhile, Mr. Douglas sat in The Journal office, in New Street. It was a little room, about 10 ft. by 6 ft., and the approach was up three or four steps. Here he reigned supreme, concocted Radical leaders in bad taste and questionable English, and received advertisements and money. The whole thing was in wretched plight until about the year 1844, when—Mr. Michael Maher being editor—Mr. Feeney, who was connected with another paper in the town, went to London, saw Mr. Joseph Parkes, and arranged to purchase The Journal. Mr. Jaffray soon after came from Shrewsbury to assist in the management, and with care, industry, and perseverance, it soon grew to be one of the very best provincial papers in the country.
The Post Office occupied the site now covered by Lilly and Addinsell's shop. The New Street frontage was the dwelling house of Mr. Gottwaltz, the post-master. A little way up Bennetts Hill was a semicircular cove, or recess, in which two people might stand. Here was a slit, into which letters were dropped, and an "inquiry" window; and this was all. There were seven other receiving houses in the town, which were as follows: Mr. Hewitt, Hagley Row; Mr. E. Gunn, 1, Kenion Street; Mr. W. Drury, 30, Lancaster Street; Mr. Ash, Prospect Row; Mr. White, 235, Bristol Street; Miss Davis, Sand Pits; and Mrs. Wood, 172, High Street, Deritend. Two deliveries took place daily—one at 8 a.m., the other at 5 p.m. The postage of a "single" letter to London then was ninepence; but a second piece of paper, however small, even the half of a bank note, made it a "double" letter, the postage of which was eighteenpence.
Between Needless Alley and the house now occupied by Messrs. Reece and Harris, as offices, were three old-fashioned and rather dingy looking shops, of which I can tell a curious story. Rather more than twenty years ago, the late Mr. Samuel Haines acquired the lease of these three houses, which had a few years to run. The freehold belonged to the Grammar School. Mr. Haines proposed to Messrs. Whateley, the solicitors for the school, that the old lease should be cancelled; that they should grant him a fresh one at a greatly increased rental; and that he should pull down the old places and erect good and substantial houses on the site. This was agreed to; but when the details came to be settled, some dispute arose, and the negotiations were near going off. Mr. Haines, however, one day happened to go over the original lease—nearly a hundred years old—to see what the covenants were, and he found that he was bound to deliver up the plot of land in question to the school, somewhere, I think, about 1860 to 1865, "well cropped with potatoes." This discovery removed the difficulty, the lease was granted, and the potato-garden is the site of the fine pile known as Brunswick Buildings, upon each house of which Mr. Haines's monogram, "S.H.," appears in an ornamental scroll.
The Town Hall had been opened three years. The Paradise Street front was finished, and the two sides were complete for about three-fourths of their length; but that portion where the double rows of columns stand, and the pediment fronting Ratcliff Place, had not been built. The whole of that end was then red brick. Prom the corner of Edmund Street a row of beggarly houses, standing on a bank some eight feet above the level of the road, reached to within a few yards of the hall itself, the space between them and the hall being enclosed by a high wall. On the other side, the houses in Paradise Street came to within about the same distance, and the intervening space was carefully enclosed. The interior of the hall was lighted by some elaborate bronzed brackets, projecting from the side, between the windows. They were modelled in imitation of vegetable forms; and at the ends, curving upwards, small branches stood in a group, like the fingers of a half-opened human hand. Each of these branchlets was a gas burner, which was covered by a semi-opaque glass globe, the intent being, evidently, to suggest a cluster of growing fruits. Some of the same pattern were placed in the Church of the Saviour when it was first opened, but they, as well as those at the Town Hall, were in a few years removed, greatly to the relief of many who thought them inexpressibly ugly.
Nearly opposite the Town Hall was a lame attempt to convert an ugly chapel into a Grecian temple. It was a wretched architectural failure. It was "The School of Medicine," and, as I know from a personal visit at the time, contained, even then, a very various and most extensive collection of anatomical preparations, and other matters connected with the noble profession to whose use it was dedicated. From the Town Hall to Easy Row the pathway was three or four feet higher than the road, and an ugly iron fence was there, to prevent passengers from tumbling over. On this elevated walk stood the offices of a celebrated character, "Old"—for I never heard him called by any other name—"Old Spurrier," the hard, unbending, crafty lawyer, who, being permanently retained by the Mint to prosecute all coiners in the district, had a busy time of it, and gained for himself a large fortune and an evil reputation.
Bennetts Hill was considered the street of the town, architecturally. The Norwich Union Office then held aloft the same lady, who, long neglected, looks now as if her eyes were bandaged to hide the tears which she is shedding over her broken scales. The Bank of England has not been altered, though at that time it was occupied by a private company. Where the Inland Revenue Offices now stand, was a stone barn, which was called a news-room. It was a desolate-looking place, inside and out, and it was a mercy when it was pulled down. At the right-hand corner, at the top, where Harrison's music shop now stands, there was, in a large open court-yard, a square old brick mansion, having a brick portico. A walled garden belonging to this house, ran down Bennetts Hill, nearly to Waterloo Street, and an old brick summer-house, which stood in the angle, was then occupied by Messrs. Whateley as offices, and afterwards by Mr. Nathaniel Lea, the sharebroker. At the corner of Temple Row West was a draper's shop, carried on by two brothers—William and John Boulton. The brothers fell out, and dissolved partnership. William took Mr. R.W. Gem's house and offices in New Street, and converted them into the shop now occupied by Messrs. Dew; stocked it; married a lady at Harborne; started off to Leamington on his wedding tour; was taken ill in the carriage on the way; was carried to bed at the hotel at Leamington, and died the same evening. His brother took to the New Street shop; closed the one in Temple Row; made his fortune; and died a few years ago—a bachelor—at Solihull.
The present iron railings of St. Philip's Churchyard had not then been erected. There was a low fence, and pleasant avenues of trees skirted the fence on the sides next Colmore Row and Temple Row. I used to like to walk here in the quiet of evening, and I loved to listen to the bells in St. Philip's Church as they chimed out every three hours the merry air, "Life let us Cherish."
A few weeks before my arrival, a general election, consequent upon the dissolution of Parliament by the death of the King, took place. The Tory party in Birmingham had been indiscreet enough to contest the borough. They selected a very unlikely man to succeed—Mr. A.G. Stapleton—and they failed utterly, the Liberals polling more than two to one. The Conservatives had their head-quarters at the Royal Hotel in Temple Row. Crowds of excited people surrounded the hotel day by day and evening after evening. One night something unusual had exasperated them, and they attacked the hotel. There were no police in Birmingham then, and the mob had things pretty much their own way. Showers of heavy stones soon smashed the windows to atoms, and so damaged the building as to make it necessary to erect a scaffold covering the whole frontage before the necessary repairs could be completed. When I first saw it, it was in a wretched plight, and it took many weeks to repair the damage done by the rioters. The portico now standing in front of the building—which is now used as the Eye Hospital—was built at this time, the doorway up to then not having that protection.
From this point, going towards Bull Street, the roadway suddenly narrowed to the same width as The Minories. Where the extensive warehouses of Messrs. Wilkinson and Riddell now stand, but projecting some twelve or fifteen feet beyond the present line of frontage, were the stables and yard of the hotel. On the spot where their busy clerks now pore over huge ledgers and journals, ostlers were then to be seen grooming horses, and accompanying their work with the peculiar hissing sound without which it appears that operation cannot be carried on. Mr. Small wood occupied the shop at the corner, and his parlour windows, on the ground floor, looked upon Bull Street, the window sills being gay with flowers. It was a very different shop to the splendid ones which has succeeded it, which Wilkinson and Riddell have just secured to add to their retail premises.
The Old Square had, shortly before, been denuded of a pleasant garden in the centre, the roads up to that time having passed round, in front of the houses. The Workhouse stood on the left, about half way down Lichfield Street. It was a quaint pile of building, probably then about 150 years old. There was a large quadrangle, three sides of which were occupied by low two-storey buildings, and the fourth by a high brick wall next the street. This wall was pierced in the centre by an arch, within which hung a strong door, having an iron grating, through which the porter inside could inspect coming visitors. From this door a flagged footway crossed the quadrangle to the principal front, which was surmounted by an old-fashioned clock-turret. Although I was never an inmate of the establishment, I have reason to believe that other quadrangles and other buildings were in the rear. The portion vouchsafed to public inspection was mean in architectural style, and apparently very inadequate in size. From this point I do not remember anything worthy of note until Aston Park was reached, in the Aston Road. The park was then entire, and was completely enclosed by a high wall, similar in character to the portion remaining in the Witton Road which forms the boundary of the "Lower Grounds." The Hall was occupied by the second James Watt, son of the great engineer. He had not much engineering skill, but was a man of considerable attainments, literary and philosophical. His huge frame might be seen two or three times a week in the shop of Mr. Wrightson, the bookseller, in New Street. He was on very intimate terms of friendship with Lord Brougham, who frequently visited him at Aston. The favourite seat of the two friends was in the temple-like summer-house, near the large pool in Mr. Quilter's pleasant grounds. The village of Aston was as country-like as if located twenty miles from a large town. Perry Barr was a terra incognita to most Birmingham people. Erdington, then universally called "Yarnton," was little known, and Sutton Coldfield was a far-off pleasant spot for pic-nics; but, to the bulk of Birmingham people, as much unknown as if it had been in the New Forest of Hampshire.
Broad Street was skirted on both sides by private houses, each with its garden in front. Bingley House, where the Prince of Wales Theatre now stands, was occupied by Mr. Lloyd, the banker, and the fine trees of his park overhung the wall. None of the churches now standing in Broad Street were at that time built. The first shop opened at the Islington end of the street, was a draper's, just beyond Ryland Street. This was started by a man who travelled for Mr. Dakin, the grocer, and I remember he was thought to be mad for opening such a shop in so outlandish a place. The business is still carried on by Mr. D. Chapman. Rice Harris then lived in the house which is now the centre of the Children's Hospital, and the big ugly "cones" of his glass factory at the back belched forth continuous clouds of black smoke. Beyond the Five Ways there were no street lamps. The Hagley Road had a few houses dotted here and there, and had, at no distant time, been altered in direction, the line of road from near the present Francis Road to the Highfield Road having at one time curved very considerably to the left, as anyone may see by noticing the position of the frontage of the old houses on that side. All along the straightened part there was on the left a wide open ditch, filled, generally, with dirty water, across which brick arches carried roads to the private dwellings. "The Plough and Harrow" was an old-fashioned roadside public-house. Chad House, the present residence, I believe, of Mr. Hawkins, had been a public-house too, and a portion of the original building was preserved and incorporated with the new portion when the present house was built. Beyond this spot, with the exception of Hazelwood House, where the father of Rowland Hill, the postal reformer, kept his school, and some half-dozen red brick houses on the right, all was open country. Calthorpe Street was pretty well filled with buildings. St. George's Church was about half built. Frederick Street and George Street—for they were not "Roads" then—were being gradually filled up. There were some houses in the Church Road and at Wheeleys Hill, but the greater portion of Edgbaston was agricultural land.
The south side of Ladywood Lane, being in Edgbaston parish, was pretty well built upon, owing to its being the nearest land to the centre of the town not burdened with town rating. There was a very large and lumbering old mansion on the left, near where Lench's Alms-houses now stand. Mr. R.W. Winfield lived at the red brick house between what are now the Francis and the Beaufort Roads. Nearly opposite his house was a carriage gateway opening upon an avenue of noble elms, at the end of which was Ladywood House, standing in a park. This, and the adjoining cottage, were the only houses upon the populous district now known as Ladywood. At the right-hand corner of the Reservoir "Lane" was the park and residence of Mr. William Chance. Further to the east, in Icknield Street, near the canal bridge—which at that time was an iron one, narrow and very dangerous—was another mansion and park, occupied by Mr. John Unett, Jun. This house is now occupied as a bedstead manufactory. Still further was another very large house, where Mr. Barker, the solicitor, lived. Further on again, the "General" Cemetery looked much the same as now, except that the trees were smaller, and there were not so many monuments.
Soho Park, from Hockley Bridge, for about a mile on the road to West Bromwich, was entirely walled in. The old factory built by Boulton and Watt was still in operation. I saw there at work the original engine which was put up by James Watt. It had a massive oak beam, and it seemed strange to me that it did not communicate its power direct, but was employed in pumping water from the brook that flowed hard by, to a reservoir on higher ground. From this reservoir the water, as it descended, turned a water-wheel, which moved all the machinery in the place. It is not, perhaps, generally known that the same machine which was employed here in 1797 in making the old broad-rimmed copper pennies of George the Third is still at work at Messrs. Heaton's, coining the bronze money which has superseded the clumsy "coppers" of our forefathers.
Coming towards the town, from Hockley Bridge to the corner of Livery Street, many of the houses had a pretty bit of garden in front, and the houses were mostly inhabited by jewellers. It was in this street that I first noticed a peculiarity in tradesmen's signboards, which then was general through the town, and had a very curious appearance to a stranger. Few of the occupiers' names were painted on the faciae of the shop windows, but in almost every case a bordered wooden frame, following the outline of the window, was fixed above it. Each of these frames stood upon three or four wooden spheres, generally about the size of a cricket ball, and they were surmounted by wooden acorns or ornaments. The boards were all black, and the lettering invariably gilt, as were also the balls and the acorns. This, however strange, was not inconsistent; but there were hundreds of frames in the town stretched across the fronts of houses, and fixed to the walls by iron spikes. Every one of these signboards, although altogether unnecessary for its support, had three gilt balls underneath. There was another peculiarity: the capital letter C was invariably made with two "serifs"—thus, C—and for a long time I invariably read them as G's.
Coming up Livery Street, which then was filled on both sides of its entire length by buildings, it was pointed out to me that the warehouse now occupied by Messrs. T. Barnes and Co. was built for a show-room and warehouse by Boulton and Watt, and here their smaller wares had been on view. Where Messrs. Billing's extensive buildings now stand, was an old chapel, built, I believe, by a congregation which ultimately removed to the large chapel in Steelhouse Lane. It was used as a place of worship until about 1848, when Mr. Billing bought it, pulled it down, and utilised its site for his business. The whole area of the Great Western Railway Station was then covered with buildings, and one, if not more, small streets ran through to Snow Hill. Monmouth Street was very narrow. Where the Arcade now is, was the Quakers' burial ground. Opposite was the warehouse of Mr. Thornley, the druggist, who had a small and mean-looking shop at the corner, fronting Snow Hill. At the opposite corner was a shaky-looking stuccoed house, used as a draper's shop, the entrance being up three or four steps from Steelhouse Lane.
Mr. George Richmond Collis had recently succeeded to the business, at the top of Church Street, of Sir Edward Thomason, who was dead. It was then the show manufactory of Birmingham. The buildings—pulled down seven or eight years ago—were at that time a smart-looking affair; the parapet was adorned with a number of large statues. Atlas was there, bending under the weight of two or three hundred pounds of Portland cement. Hercules brandished a heavy club, on which pigeons often settled. A copy of the celebrated group of the "Horses of St. Mark" was over the entrance. Several branches of Birmingham work were exhibited to visitors, and it was here I first saw stamping, cutting-out, press-work, and coining.
There were then I think only ten churches in Birmingham. Bishop Ryder's was being built. The Rev. I.C. Barrett had just come from Hull to assume the incumbency of St. Mary's; the announcement of his presentation to the living appeared in Aris's Gazette, October 8th, 1837. I was one of his first hearers. The church had been comparatively deserted until he came, but it was soon filled to overflowing with an attentive congregation. There was an earnest tone and a poetical grace in his sermons which were fresh to Birmingham in those days. His voice was good, and his pale, thoughtful, intelligent face was very striking. He was a fascinating preacher, and he became the most popular minister in the town. The church was soon found to be too small for the crowds who wished to hear, and alterations of an extensive nature were made to give greater accommodation. Mr. Barrett had then the peculiarity in his manner of sounding certain vowels, which he still retains—always pronouncing the word "turn," for instance, as if it were written "tarn." I remember hearing him once preach from the text, 1 Cor., iii., 23, which he announced as follows: "The farst book of Corinthians, the thard chaptar, and the twenty-thard varse." Although still hale, active, and comparatively young-looking, he is by far the oldest incumbent in Birmingham, having held the living nearly forty years.
St. George's Church then looked comparatively clean and new. A curious incident occurred here in May, 1833, an account of which I had from the lips of a son of the then churchwarden. Birmingham was visited by a very severe epidemic of influenza, which was so general that few households escaped. Nor was the epidemic confined to mankind; horses were attacked, and the proprietor of "The Hen and Chickens" lost by death sixteen horses in one day. So many of the clergy and ministers were ill, that some of the places of worship had to be closed for a time. St. George's, which had a rector and two curates, was kept open, although all its clergy were on the sick list. It was feared, however, that on one particular Sunday it would have to be closed. Application had been made to clergymen at a distance, but all, dreading infection, were afraid to come to the town, so that aid from outside could not be had. A consultation was held, and one of the curates, although weak and ill, undertook to conduct the devotional part of the service, but felt unable to preach. An announcement to be read by the "clerk" was written out by the rector, and was, no doubt, properly punctuated. At the close of the prayers, the next morning, the clerk arose, paper in hand, and proceeded to read as follows, without break, pause, or change of tone: "I am desired to give notice that in consequence of the illness of the whole of the clergymen attached to this church there will be no sermon here this morning 'Praise God from whom all blessings flow.'"
John Angell James was then at the head of the Nonconformists of the town, and was in the prime of his intellectual powers. He was very popular as a preacher, and the chapel in Carrs Lane was always well filled. Mr. Wm. Beaumont, the bank manager, acted as precentor, reading aloud the words of the hymns to be sung and the notices of coming religious events. Mr. James had a powerful voice and an impressive manner, and occasionally was very eloquent. I remember a passage, which struck me at the time as being very forcible. He was deprecating the influence which the works of Byron had upon the youthful mind, and, speaking of the poet, said: "He wrote as with the pen of an archangel, dipped in the lava which issues from the bottomless pit." Mr. James was not a classical scholar; indeed, he had only received a very moderate amount of instruction. He was intended by his parents for a tradesman, and in fact was apprenticed to a draper at Poole. I believe, however, that the indentures were cancelled, for he became a preacher before he was twenty years of age. For myself, I always thought him an over-rated man. There was a narrowness of mind; there was a want of sympathy with the works of great poets and artists; and there was an intense hatred of the drama. There was, too, a dogmatic, egotistic manner, which led him always to enunciate his own thoughts as if they were absolutely true and incontrovertible. He was not a man to doubt or hesitate; he did not say "It may be," or "It is probable," but always "It is." He was a good pastor, however. During his long and useful ministerial career of more than half a century, he had but one fold and one flock. He was a firm disciplinarian; was somewhat of a clerical martinet; but his people liked him, and were cheerfully obedient; and he descended to the grave full of abundant honour.
Timothy East, of Steelhouse Lane Chapel, was a man of far greater mental capacity and culture. His sermons were clear, logical, conclusive, and earnest. It is not generally known that he was a voluminous writer. He was a frequent contributor to some of the best periodicals of his time. He wrote and published, under the titles, first of "The Evangelical Rambler," and afterwards of "The Evangelical Spectator," a series of exceedingly well-written essays, the style of which will compare favourably with that of the great standard works of a century before, whose titles he had appropriated. His son, the present Mr. Alfred Baldwin East, inherits a large share of his father's literary ability. Those who had the pleasure, a few years ago, to hear him read his manuscript of "The Life and Times of Oliver Cromwell," had a rare intellectual treat. Some of its passages are worthy of Macaulay. I wish he would publish it.
Of the newspapers of that time, only two survive, at least in name—Aris's Gazette and The Midland Counties Herald. The latter had just been started. For a short time it was called The Birmingham Herald, but this was soon altered to its present title. It was published on the premises now occupied as Nock's refreshment bar, in Union Passage. It had four pages then, as now, but the paper altogether was not much larger than the coloured cover of The Graphic. The Journal, although its name is lost, still lives and thrives as The Weekly Post. The two others are defunct long ago. One, The Philanthropist, was published in Bull Street by Mr. Hudson; the other was The Birmingham Advertiser, which, on the purchase of The Journal by the Liberals, had been started in 1833 by Mr. Hodgetts, in the Tory interest. It was edited by Mr. Thomas Ragg. It ceased to be published in 1846.
The Grand Junction Railway, from Birmingham to Liverpool and Manchester, was opened July 4th, in the year I am writing of (1837), and on this line, in October of that year, I had my first railway trip. The "Birmingham terminus" of those days is now the goods station at Vauxhall, and it was here that I went to "book my place" for Wolverhampton. I entered a moderate-sized room, shabbily fitted with a few shelves and a deal counter, like a shop. Upon this counter, spread out, were a number of large open books, the pages of each being of different colour to the others. Each page contained a number of printed forms, with blank spaces to be filled up in writing. On applying to the clerk in attendance, I had to give my name and address, which he wrote in two places on the blue page of one of the books; he then took the money, tore out a ticket, some four inches by three, and left a counterpart in the book. I was then shown to my seat in the train, and on inspecting at my leisure the document I was favoured with, I found that in consideration of a sum of money therein mentioned, and in consideration further of my having impliedly undertaken to comply with certain rules and regulations, the company granted me a pass in a first-class carriage to Wolverhampton. I returned to Birmingham by omnibus after dark the same evening, and passing through the heart of the Black Country, made my first acquaintance with that dingy region—its lurid light, its flashing tongues of intercessant flame, and its clouds of stifling, sulphurous smoke.
Such, rapidly sketched, were my impressions of the place which was destined to become my future home. It is very different now. From the large and populous, but ugly town of those days, it is rapidly becoming as handsome as any town in England. Situated as it is, locally, almost in the centre of the country, it is also a great centre commercially, artistically, politically, and intellectually. From the primitive town of that time, governed by constables and bailiffs, it has become a vast metropolis, and may fairly boast of having the most energetic, far-seeing, and intelligent Municipal Council in the kingdom. Its voice is listened to respectfully in the Senate. Its merchants are known and honoured in every country in the world. Its manufactured products are necessities to nearly every member of the vast human race; and it seems destined, at its present rate of progress, to become, before many years, the second city of the Empire.
THE BULL RING RIOTS, 1839.
On Sunday, the 14th of July, in the year 1839, I left Euston Square by the night mail train. I had taken a ticket for Coventry, where I intended to commence a business journey of a month's duration. It was a hot and sultry night, and I was very glad when we arrived at Wolverton, where we had to wait ten minutes while the engine was changed. An enterprising person who owned a small plot of land adjoining the station, had erected thereon a small wooden hut, where, in winter time, he dispensed to shivering passengers hot elderberry wine and slips of toast, and in summer, tea, coffee, and genuine old-fashioned fermented ginger-beer. It was the only "refreshment room" upon the line, and people used to crowd his little shanty, clamouring loudly for supplies. He soon became the most popular man between London and Birmingham.
Railway travelling then was in a very primitive condition. Except at the termini there were no platforms. Passengers had to clamber from the level of the rails by means of iron steps, to their seats. The roof of each of the coaches, as they were then called, was surrounded by an iron fence or parapet, to prevent luggage from slipping off. Each passenger's personal effects travelled on the roof of the coach in which he sat, and the guard occupied an outside seat at one end. First-class carriages were built upon the model of the "inside" of the old stage coaches. They were so low that even a short man could not stand upright. The seats were divided by arms, as now, and the floor was covered afresh for each journey with clean straw. The second-class coaches were simply execrable. They were roofed over, certainly; but, except a half-door and a low fencing, to prevent passengers from falling out, the sides were utterly unprotected from the weather. As the trains swept rapidly through the country—particularly in cuttings or on high embankments—the wind, even in the finest weather, drove through, "enough to cut your ear off." When the weather was wet, or it was snowing, it was truly horrible, and, according to the testimony of medical men, was the primary cause of many deaths. There were no "buffers" to break the force of the concussion of two carriages in contact. When the train was about to start, the guard used to cry out along the train, "Hold hard! we're going to start," and 'twas well he did, for sometimes, if unprepared, you might find your nose brought into collision with that of your opposite neighbour, accompanied by some painful sensations in that important part of your profile.
I arrived at Coventry station at midnight. A solitary porter with a lantern was in attendance. There was no lamp about the place. The guard clambered to the roof of the carriage in which I had travelled, and the porter brought a long board, having raised edges, down which my luggage came sliding to the ground. The train passed on, and I made inquiry for some vehicle to convey me to "The Craven Arms," half a mile away. None were in attendance, nor was there any one who would carry my "traps." I had about a hundred-weight of patterns, besides my portmanteau. I "might leave my patterns in his room," the porter said, and I "had better carry my 'things' myself." There was no help for it, so, shouldering the portmanteau, I carried it up a narrow brick stair to the roadway. The "station" then consisted of the small house by the side of the bridge which crosses the railway, and the only means of entrance or exit to the line was by this steep stair, which was about three feet wide. The "booking office" was on the level of the road, by the side of the bridge, where Tennyson
"Hung with grooms and porters,"
"Waited for the train at Coventry."
Carrying a heavy portmanteau half a mile on a hot night, when you are tired, is not a pleasant job. When I arrived, hot and thirsty, at the inn, I looked upon the night porter as my best friend, when, after a little parley, he was able to get me a little something, "out of a bottle o' my own, you know, sir," with which I endeavoured, successfully, to repair the waste of tissue.
The next day, having finished my work in Coventry, I started in a hired conveyance for Coleshill, and a pleasant drive of an hour and a half brought me to the door of "The Swan" in that quaint and quiet little town. The people of the house were very busy preparing for a public dinner that was to come off on the following day, and as the house was noisy, from the preparations, I took a quiet walk in the churchyard, little recking then, as I strolled in the solemn silence of the golden-tinted twilight, that, only ten miles from where I stood, at that moment, a crowd of furious men, with passions unbridled, and blood hot with diabolic hate, held at their mercy, undisturbed, the lives and property of the citizens of an important town; that several houses, fired by incendiary hands, were roaring like furnaces, and lighting with a lurid glare the overhanging sky; that women by hundreds were shrieking with terror, and brave men were standing aghast and appalled; that two of my own brothers and some valued friends were in deadly peril, and that one at that very instant was fighting for very life. It was the night of the great Bull Ring riots of 1839.
When I arose the next morning I saw a man on horseback come rapidly to the house, his features wild with excitement, and his face pale with terror. His horse was covered with foam, and trembled violently. From the man's quivering lips I learned, by degrees, an incoherent story, which accounted for His strange demeanour. He was a servant at the inn, and had been to Birmingham that morning, early, to fetch from Mr. Keirle's shop, in Bull Street, a salmon for the coming dinner. On arriving at the town, he had been stopped at a barrier by some dragoons, who told him that he could go no further. Upon the poor fellow telling how urgent was his errand, and what a heavy blow it would be to society if the dinner at "The Swan" should be short of fish, he was allowed to pass, but was escorted by a dragoon, with drawn sword, to the shop. Here having obtained what he sought, he was duly marched back to the barrier and set at liberty, upon which he started off in mortal terror, and galloped all the way home, to tell us with tremulous tongue that Birmingham was all on fire, and that hundreds of people had been killed by the soldiers.
A small group had gathered round him in the yard to listen to his incoherent, and, happily, exaggerated story. In a minute or two the landlady, who had in some remote part of the premises heard a word or two of the news the man had brought, came rushing out in a state of frantic terror, prepared evidently for the worst; but when she heard that James had brought the salmon, her face assumed an air of satisfaction, and with a pious "Thank God! that's all right," she turned away; her mind tranquil, contented, and at perfect ease.
After the passing of the Reform Bill in 1832, there was a political lull in England for a few years. The middle classes, being satisfied with the success they had achieved for themselves, did not trouble themselves very much for the extension of the franchise to the working classes. So long as trade remained good, and wages were easily earned, the masses remained quiet; but the disastrous panic of 1837 altered the aspect of affairs. Trade was very much depressed. A series of bad harvests having occurred, and the Corn Laws not having been repealed, bread became dear, and so aggravated the sufferings of the people. Wages fell; manufactories in many places were entirely closed, and work became scarce. Naturally enough, the working men attributed their sufferings to their want of direct political influence, and began to clamour for the franchise. Feargus O'Connor, a violent demagogue, fanned the flame, and the excitement became general. In the year 1838 some half-dozen Members of Parliament united with an equal number of working men in conference, and drew up a document, known afterwards as "The People's Charter," which embodied what they considered the rightful demands of the working class. It had six distinct claims, which were called the "points" of the charter, and were as follows: 1. Universal suffrage. 2. Vote by ballot. 3. Equal electoral districts. 4. Annual Parliaments. 5. Abolition of property qualification for Members of Parliament. 6. Payment of Members. This programme, when promulgated, was enthusiastically received throughout the country, immense meetings being held in various places in its support. In Birmingham, meetings were held every Monday evening on Holloway Head, then an open space. On the 13th of August, 1838, there was a "monster demonstration" here, and it was computed that 100,000 persons were present. A petition in favour of the charter was adopted, and in a few days received nearly 95,000 signatures. The former political leaders—G.F. Muntz, George Edmonds, and Clutton Salt—became all at once exceedingly unpopular, as they declined to join in the agitation. Torchlight meetings were held almost nightly in various parts of the country, and a Government proclamation was issued prohibiting them. Some of the leaders of the movement were arrested. There was evidently some central organisation at work, for a curious system of annoyance was simultaneously adopted. In all parts of the country the Chartists, in large and well-organised bodies, went, Sunday after Sunday, as soon as the doors were opened, and took possession of all the seats in the churches, thus shutting out the regular congregations. I was present at a proceeding of this kind at Cheltenham. I was staying at "The Fleece," and on a Saturday evening was told by the landlord that if I wished to go to church the following morning, I had better be early, as the Chartists were expected there, and the hotel pew might be full. Dr. Close, the present Dean of Carlisle, was then the rector, and was a very popular preacher. I had long wished to hear him, and accordingly went to the church, with some other hotel guests. Soon after the bells had begun to chime, several hundreds of men filed in and took possession of every vacant seat and space. The aisles were so occupied that no one could pass, and there were probably not thirty of the regular worshippers there. There was not a female in the church. The men were very quiet, orderly, and well-behaved, and joined in the responses in a proper manner. The prayers over, Mr. Close ascended the pulpit, and took for a text, 1 Sam. xii., 23: "God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you; but I will teach you the good and the right way." The eloquent rector was quite equal to the occasion; he gave them a thoroughly good dressing, and his extempore sermon lasted for two hours and a half! I watched, during the sermon, the impatient glances of some of the men; but they stayed the sermon out, and went away, hungrier certainly, if not wiser, than when they came.
All through the winter of 1838 there was much excitement in the country. Many meetings were held, at which Feargus O'Connor distinctly advised his hearers that they had a legitimate right to resort to force to obtain their demands. Birmingham, however, remained tolerably quiet until the beginning of April, 1839. On the 1st of that month, and again on the 3rd, large meetings were held, at which Feargus O'Connor, a Dr. John Taylor, "delegates" named Bassey, Donaldson, and Brown, made violent and inflammatory speeches. Meetings more or less numerously attended were held almost nightly. Upon the representation of the shopkeepers that their business was greatly hindered, the Mayor and magistrates, on the 10th of May, issued a notice forbidding the holding of the meetings. Of the twelve gentlemen whose signatures were attached to this notice, only two survive—Dr. Birt Davies and Mr. P.H. Muntz.
On the 13th of May, a number of delegates from various parts of the country, calling themselves "The National Convention," assembled in Birmingham. Their avowed object was to frighten Parliament into submission to their demands. They recommended a run for gold upon the savings banks, an entire abstinence from excisable articles, and universal cessation from work. Their proceedings at this conference added fuel to the fire, and the people became more audacious. Threats were now openly uttered nightly, and people began to be alarmed, particularly as it was rumoured that a general rising in the Black Country had been arranged for a certain day. Hundreds of pikes, it was said, were already forged, and specimens were freely exhibited of formidable weapons known to military men by the name of "Caltrop" or "Calthorp," intended to impede the passage of cavalry. They consisted of four spikes of pointed iron, about four inches long, radiating from a common centre in such a manner that, however thrown, one spike would be uppermost. Like the three-legged symbol of the Isle of Man, their motto might be "Quoqunque jeceris stabit." There was a perfect reign of terror, and people were afraid to venture out after nightfall. On Friday, the 29th of June, the Mayor, Mr. William Scholefield, met the mob, and in a short and friendly speech tried to induce them to disperse, promising them, if they would refrain from meeting in the streets, they should have the use of the Town Hall once a week for their meetings. This proposal was received with shouts of derision, and the mob, by this time greatly increased in numbers, marched noisily through New Street, Colmore Bow, Bull Street, and High Street, to the Bull Ring. On the following Monday, July 1st, there was a large crowd in the Bull Ring, where Mr. Feargus O'Connor addressed them, and advised an adjournment to Gosta Green, to which place they accordingly marched, and O'Connor made a violent speech. In the meantime the troops were ordered out, and a large body of pensioners, fully armed, were marched into the Bull Ring. Finding no one there, the Mayor ordered the troops back to the barracks, and the pensioners were dismissed. After the meeting at Gosta Green was over, the people marched with tremendous cheering back to the Bull Ring. They met again on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, but no mischief, beyond a few broken windows, was done. On Thursday evening, about eight o'clock, the mob was in great force in the accustomed spot, with flags, banners, and other insignia freely displayed. Suddenly, without a word of notice, a large body of London police, which had just arrived by train, came out of Moor Street and rushed directly at the mob. They were met by groans and threats, and a terrible fight at once commenced. The police with their staves fought their way to the standard bearers and demolished the flags; others laid on, right and left, with great fury. In a short time the Bull Ring was nearly cleared, but the people rallied, and, arming themselves with various improvised weapons, returned to the attack. The police were outnumbered, surrounded, and rendered powerless. Some were stoned, others knocked down and frightfully kicked; some were beaten badly about the head, and some were stabbed. No doubt many of them would have been killed, but just at this time Dr. Booth, a magistrate, arrived on the spot, accompanied by a troop of the 4th Dragoons, and a company of the Rifle Brigade. The Riot Act was read, and the military occupied the Bull Ring. The wounded police were rescued and carried to the Public Office, where Mr. Richards and some other surgeons were soon in attendance, and dressed their wounds. Seven had to be taken to the hospital. One was found to have been stabbed in the abdomen, and another in the groin, in a most dangerous manner. The troops, and such of the police as were able, continued to patrol the Bull Ring, and they succeeded in arresting about a dozen of the rioters, who were found to be armed with deadly weapons, and their pockets filled with large stones. The mob continued to increase until about eleven o'clock, when they suddenly started off for Holloway Head, where they pulled down about twenty yards of the railing of St. Thomas's Church, arming themselves with the iron bars. They then proceeded to "The Golden Lion," in Aston Street, where the "convention" held its meetings. Dr. Taylor addressed them, and upon his advice they separated and went home. Taylor was arrested at his lodgings the same night, and was brought before the magistrates about one o'clock in the morning, when he was ordered to find bail, himself in L500, and two sureties of L250 each.
On the following morning, by nine o'clock, the rioters again met at Holloway Head. Mr. Alston, with a body of Dragoons, immediately went there, and the Riot Act was again read. The mob did not disperse; the soldiers charged them, and one fellow was felled to the ground by a sabre cut on the head from one of the soldiers. During the whole of this day the shops in High Street and the Bull Ring remained entirely closed. The magistrates and military patrolled the town, and were pelted with stones, but nothing very serious occurred, and for a few days afterwards the town was comparatively quiet.
On Friday, the 12th of July, the House of Commons was asked by Mr. Thomas Attwood to take into consideration the prayer of a monster petition, which, on behalf of the Chartists, he had presented on June 14th. This petition asked the House, in not very respectful terms, to pass an Act, whereby the six points of the Charter might become law. It was signed by 1,280,000 persons. A long debate ensued, and Mr. Attwood's proposition was negatived.
When the news arrived, on Saturday, the Chartists were furious, and a large and noisy meeting was held at Holloway Head in the evening, but no active disturbance took place either on that or the following day.
On Monday, the 15th, some of the leaders who had been arrested were brought before the magistrates at the Public Office. A Carlisle man, named Harvey, and two others named Lovett and Collins, were committed for trial by a very full Bench, there having been present the Mayor, Messrs. Thomas Clark, W. Chance, C. Shaw, P.H. Muntz, S. Beale, and J. Walker. The crowd, which had assembled in Moor Street and the Bull Ring, upon hearing the result, quietly dispersed, and for a few hours the town appeared to be in a perfectly tranquil condition. The soldiers retired to the barracks; the police remained at the Public Office, with instructions from the magistrates not to act without direct magisterial orders. The Mayor went to dinner, and the magistrates, without exception, left the Public Office, and went home.
Unfortunately, this was only the lull before the coming storm, for that night was such as few can remember now without a shudder.
About two hours after the magistrates had left the Public Office, the Bull Ring was very full, but nearly all who were there seemed present from motives of curiosity only. They were so orderly that no attempt was made to disperse them. The crowd became so dense that the shops were closed in apprehension that the windows might be accidentally broken by the pressure. About eight o'clock, however, a cry was raised, and an organised gang, many hundreds in number, armed with bludgeons, bars of iron, and other formidable weapons, came marching up Digbeth. They turned down Moor Street, and without any parley, made an attack upon the Public Office, demolishing in a few seconds every window in the front of the building. There was a strong body of police inside, but they were powerless, for they had received definite orders not to interfere without fresh magisterial directions, and all the magistrates had left. The mob soon started back towards the Bull Ring, where they fell upon a respectable solicitor named Bond, who happened to be passing, and him they nearly killed. He was removed in an insensible and very dangerous condition to the George Hotel. Meanwhile, an attack was made with iron bars, used battering-ram fashion, upon the doors of many of the shops, the rioters "prodding" them with all their might. Messrs. Bourne's shop, at the corner of Moor Street, was the first to give way, and the men quickly gained admittance. A large number of loaves of sugar were piled near the windows, and these were passed rapidly into the street. There, being dashed violently to the ground, and broken to pieces, they formed dangerous missiles, with which the crowd soon demolished all the windows within reach. As the crowd of rioters increased, their weapons became too few, and the iron railings of St. Martin's Church were pulled down. With these very dangerous instruments they wrenched from Nelson's monument the massive bars of iron which surrounded it. These being long, and of great strength, proved to be formidable levers, with which to force doors and shutters. In a short time the entire area of the Bull Ring was filled with a mob of yelling demons, whose shouts and cries, mixed with the sounds of crashing timber, and the sharp rattle of breaking glass, made a hideous din. It was getting dark, and a cry was raised for a bonfire to give light. In a few moments the shop of Mr. Leggatt, an upholsterer, was broken open, and his stock of bedding, chairs, tables, and other valuable furniture was brought into the roadway, broken up, and fired, amid the cheers of the excited people. One man, more adventurous than the rest, deliberately carried a flaming brand into the shop and set the premises on fire. The sight of the flames seemed to rouse the mob to ungovernable fury. Snatching burning wood from the fire, they hurled it through the broken, windows in all directions. Rushing in to Bourne's shop, they rolled out tea canisters by dozens, which they emptied into the gutters, and then smashed to pieces. They then deliberately collected the shop paper around a pile of tea chests, and fired it, the shop soon filling with flames. The mob, now vastly increased in numbers, broke up into separate parties, one of which, with great violence, attacked the premises of Mr. Arnold, a pork butcher. He, however, with prudent forethought, had collected his workmen in the shop and armed them with heavy cleavers and other formidable implements of his trade, and so defended he kept the mob at bay, and eventually repulsed them. The shop of Mr. Martin, a jeweller, whose window was filled with watches, rings, and other costly articles, had its front completely battered in, and the valuable stock literally scattered in the road and scrambled for. Mr. Morris Banks, the druggist, had his stock of bottles of drugs smashed to atoms. A curious circumstance saved these premises from being set on fire. The mob had collected combustibles for the purpose, but in breaking indiscriminately the bottles in the shop, they had inadvertently smashed some containing a quantity of very powerful acids. These, escaping and mixing with other drugs, caused such a suffocating vapour that the miscreants were driven from the shop half choked. Other tradesmen whose places were badly damaged were Mr. Arthur Dakin, grocer; Mr. Savage, cheesemonger; Mrs. Brinton, pork butcher; Mr. Allen, baker; Mr. Heath, cheesemonger; Mr. Scudamore, druggist; and Mr. Horton, silversmith. Mr. Gooden, of the Nelson Hotel, which then stood upon the site of the present Fish Market, was a great sufferer, the whole of the windows of the hotel being smashed in, and some costly mirrors and other valuable furniture completely destroyed. The large premises of William Dakin and Co.—now occupied by Innes, Smith, and Co., but then a grocer's shop—were hotly besieged for nearly half an hour, but were, as will be fully described a little further on, most bravely and successfully defended. At nine o'clock many of the shops were on fire, and heaps of combustibles from others were thrown upon the blazing pile in the streets. The shops were freely entered and robbed. Women and children were seen running away laden with costly goods of all kinds, and men urged each other on, shouting with fury until they were hoarse.
The work of destruction went on undisturbed until nearly ten o'clock, when suddenly, from the direction of High Street, a troop of Dragoons, with swords drawn, came at full gallop, and rushed into the crowd, slashing right and left with their sabres. They had been ordered to strike with the flats only, but some stones were thrown at them, after which some of the rioters got some very ugly cuts. Simultaneously the mob was taken in flank by a body of a hundred police, which came, headed by Mr. Joseph Walker and Mr. George Whateley, from Moor Street. Such of the mob as could get away fled in terror, but so many arrests were made that the prison in Moor Street was soon filled. In less than a quarter of an hour not one of the rioters was to be seen, and the peaceful inhabitants came trembling into the streets, to look upon the wreck, and to convey their women and children to some safer locality. Some ladies had to be brought from upper storeys by ladders. Tradesmen took their account books away, for fear of further troubles. The fire engines were brought, and vigorous help was soon obtained to work them. By one o'clock in the morning the fires were all extinct, but at that time all that remained of the premises of Messrs. Bourne and Mr. Leggatt were the black and crumbling walls.
I have mentioned the attack upon the premises of W. Dakin and Co. My own brother was manager there, and was in the very thick of the fray. From him at the time, I had a very graphic account of the affair, and in order that this little sketch might be as accurate as possible, I made a special visit to his house, nearly 150 miles from Birmingham, to refresh my memory; and the following account of the attack upon Dakin's, and the robbery at Horton's, is in his own language:
"Remember it? Yes, I was confidential manager to Messrs. W. Dakin and Co., tea merchants, at No. 28, High Street, where they had large premises facing the street, and carried on a very extensive business, having about twenty assistants living on the premises.
"It was the custom every Monday evening to remove all the goods from the windows, so that the porters might clean the glass the following morning, and this had been done on the night of the riots, so that the windows were empty. There was a great crowd in the street that evening, and I ordered the place to be closed earlier than usual, and kept everybody on the alert. About eight o'clock, amid increasing uproar in the street, there came a cry of 'Fire,' and on proceeding to an upper floor I saw the glare of fire reflected in the windows of the opposite houses. I at once collected all the assistants and porters, and proceeding to the shop, we lighted the gas and mustered all the 'arms' in the house. They consisted of an old sword and a horse pistol, the latter of which we loaded with ball. The front door was a very wide one, and here I planted one of the porters with a large kitchen poker. In one of the windows I placed a strong man with a crowbar, and in the other an active fellow with the sword. Presently we heard our upper windows smashing, and simultaneously, an attack was made upon our front door and windows by men armed with railings they had taken from Nelson's monument. These heavy bars were evidently wielded by men of great strength, for one of the earliest thrusts broke through a strong shutter, smashing a thick plate of glass inside. By holes through the bottom of the shutters, the men, using the bars as levers, wrenched the shutters out. There was a strong and very massive iron shutter-guarding bar about half-way up. They pulled at the shutters, jerking them against this bar until they broke them in two across the middle. They then pulled them away and smashed the whole front in, leaving us bare and completely open to the street. This did not take place, however, without a struggle, for as often as a hand or an arm came within reach, my doughty henchman with the sword chopped at them with great energy and considerable success. Others collected the metal weights of the shop and hurled them in the faces of our assailants. I, myself, knocked one fellow senseless by a blow from a four-pound weight, which I dashed full in his face. In return we were assailed by a perfect shower of miscellaneous missiles, including a great many large lumps of sugar, stolen from other grocers' shops. Finding themselves baffled, a cry was raised of 'Fire the —— place'. One of the men then deliberately climbed lamp-post opposite, and with one blow from a bar of iron knocked away the lamp and its connections, upon which the gas from the broken pipe flared up two or three feet high. From this flame they lighted a large number of combustibles, which they hurled amongst us and through the upper windows. I thought our time was come, but my men were very active, and we kept our ground. The young man with the pistol came to me and asked if he should fire. 'Certainly,' said I, 'and mind you take good aim.' He tried two or three times, but the thing wouldn't go off; we found afterwards that in his terror he had omitted to 'cock' it. Spite of this disaster, we fought for about twenty minutes, when there came a sudden lull, and we were left alone. Looking cautiously through the broken window, I saw that the mob had complete possession of the shop of Mr. Horton, a silversmith, next door, and were appropriating the valuable contents. Men and women, laden with the spoil, were running off as fast as possible. The women were the worst, and they folded up their dresses like aprons, and carried off silver goods by laps-full.
"All at once there was a cry, a roar, and a sound of horses' hoofs. A moment afterwards we saw a troop of Dragoons come tearing along, with swords drawn, slashing away on all sides. Some of the rioters were very badly cut, and the affrighted ruffians fled in all directions, amid groans, cries, curses, and a horrid turmoil. Several houses were on fire, and the whole place was lighted up with a lurid glow.
"Our premises inside presented a curious sight. Each floor was strewn with missiles thrown by the mob. Large lumps of sugar, stones, bits of iron, portions of bricks, pieces of coal, and embers of burning wood were mixed up with silver teapots, toast racks, glass cruets, and plated goods of every kind. Aloft in the gasalier we found a silver cruet stand and a bunch of three pounds of tallow candles. The whole place was in a frightful state of ruin and confusion. Our list of killed and wounded was, fortunately, a light one. I was the only one seriously hit. I had a heavy blow in the face which spoiled it as a picture, both in 'drawing' and 'colour,' for some time, but it eventually got well. One of our fellows, we found, had retired to his bed-room during the fight; he said he was 'demoralised.' Another, a porter, had hidden himself in a place of great sweetness and safety—the dung-pit of the stable yard. Our premises, however, though damaged, were not destroyed, and our stock had not been stolen. We were warmly congratulated on the success of our defence, and 'Dakin's young men' were looked upon as heroes for a time."
The magistrates, having been all summoned, remained in consultation at the Public Office during the whole night, and most energetic measures were determined upon. Barriers, guarded by soldiers, were placed at the entrances to all the streets leading to the centre of the town. It was resolved that no more than three persons should be allowed to collect at any point. To enforce these orders the whole of the special constables—2,000 in number—who were already sworn in, were called into active service. Arrangements were made to increase the number to 5,000. Messengers were sent to the authorities of the three adjoining counties, requesting the immediate assistance of the Yeomanry Cavalry. An "eighteen-pounder" piece of field artillery was placed on the summit of the hill in High Street, and another on Holloway Head. The suburbs of the town were to be patrolled continuously by the Dragoons, and the centre was to be under the protection of the special constables. A guard of the Rifle Brigade was to be stationed at the Public Office, and the remainder was to be kept in reserve for emergencies. The sittings of the magistrates were to be continuous day and night, and other precautionary measures were resolved upon.
The town, the next morning, presented a most dismal appearance. The shops in all the principal streets were closed, and remained so during the day. Prom Moor Street to about a hundred yards beyond New Street there was scarcely a pane of glass left entire. Most of the doors and shutters were literally in splinters; valuable goods, in some of the shops from which the owners had fled in terror the night before, were lying in the smashed windows, entirely unprotected, and of the still smoking and steaming ruins of the premises of Messrs. Bourne and Mr. Leggatt nothing was left standing but the walls. The west side of the Bull Ring, from "The Spread Eagle" to New Street, was in a similar condition, but there had been no fires there. The whole area of the Bull Ring was strewn with a strange medley of miscellaneous items. Some one of the specials or police who had been on guard there during the night, in a spirit of grim humour, had stuck up a half-burnt arm-chair, in which they had placed, in imitation of a sitting figure, one of the large circular tea-canisters from Messrs. Bourne's, which, in its battered condition, bore some rough resemblance to a human form. They had clothed it with some half-burned bed ticking; had placed a shattered hat upon its summit; and, having made a small hole in that part which had been the neck, had stuck therein a long clay pipe. It had a very droll appearance. Feathers were flying about, and fragments of half-consumed furniture were jumbled up with smashed tea-chests and broken scales. The ground was black with tea, soaked by the water from the fire-engines. The railings of St. Martin's Church were in ruins, and Nelson's Statue was denuded of a great portion of its handsome iron fence. The whole place looked as though it had undergone a lengthened siege, and had been sacked by an infuriated soldiery.
There is good reason for thinking that the riots were premeditated, and had been arranged by some mysterious, secret conclave in London or elsewhere. On this morning—the day after the riots, be it remembered—a letter was received by Messrs. Bourne, bearing the London post-mark of the day before, of which the following is a copy, in matter and in arrangement:
FAMINE, &c. The people shall rise like lions and shall not lie down till they eat the prey, and drink the blood of the slain, under JESUS CHRIST!! Taking vengeance upon all who disobey THE GOSPEL! ECCE, GLORIA DEI. REX MUNDI. EXEUNT OMNES. SELAH. BLOOD. FIRE, &c.
During the day preventive arrangements were actively put in practice. Captain Moorson, R.N., who was in command of the special constables, organised a system by which the several detachments into which he had divided them could be concentrated, at short notice, upon any given spot. Guardrooms were engaged at the principal inns, which were open day and night, and the specials were on duty for specified portions of each day. Each of the detachments had an officer to control their movements. Provisions of a simple nature were amply provided, and every arrangement was made for the comfort of the specials while on duty. In a day or two troops of Yeomanry marched in, and were quartered in the houses of the residents in the suburbs. Meanwhile, great indignation was openly expressed at what was thought the neglect of proper precaution on the part of the magistracy; and on Tuesday—the day after the fires—a meeting was held, at which the complaints were loudly and angrily discussed. A memorial was drawn up, numerously signed, and forwarded by the same night's post to Lord John Russell, who was then Home Secretary. It brought heavy charges of neglect against the local rulers, and finished as follows: "Feeling that the Mayor and Magistrates have been guilty of gross dereliction of duty, we request your Lordship to institute proceedings to bring them to trial for their misconduct, and, in the meantime, to suspend them from any further control or interference."
On the Wednesday morning, the London papers had long and special reports of Monday night's proceedings, and The Times gave publicity to two statements which I cannot find corroborated in any way. It stated that on Monday morning the town was placarded with an announcement that Mr. Thomas Attwood was expected in the town during the day, and would address the people; and it mentioned that about the middle of the day a man with a bell was sent round to announce that a meeting would be held upon Holloway Head at half-past six that evening, and that Mr. Attwood would be there. So far as I can discover by diligent search, neither of these statements was correct. They were, however, made the text of violent attacks, in the Press and in both Houses of Parliament, upon the magistrates, and upon Lord Melbourne's Ministry, which had appointed them. The virulence of these attacks was very remarkable even in those days, and was almost beyond what the present generation will believe possible. One of the speakers in the House of Lords did not hesitate to say that he held the "Palace favourites" liable to the country for having knowingly appointed violent demagogues and known disloyal persons to the magisterial bench. Lord Melbourne, in a long and eloquent speech, rebutted the charge, and read to the House a long and very able letter from Mr. William Scholefield, the Mayor, giving a full and fair history of the whole matter. Government, however, consented to institute a full inquiry; and Mr. Maule, the Solicitor to the Treasury, was sent down, and held sittings at the Hen and Chickens Hotel. His inquiries, however, were only preliminary to the full and exhaustive investigation made afterwards by Mr. Dundas, who, in his report to Parliament (presented October 26, 1840), fully absolved the Mayor and magistrates from blame.
Upwards of sixty of the rioters having been apprehended, the magistrates had a busy week of it, and large numbers of prisoners were committed for trial. A Special Assize was opened at Warwick, on August 2nd, before Mr. Justice Littledale. Three men, named respectively, Howell, Roberts, and Jones, and a boy named Aston, were found guilty of arson, and condemned to death. The jury recommended them to mercy, but the judge told them, that as to the men, he could not support their appeal. The Town Council, however, petitioned for remission, and a separate petition of the inhabitants, the first signature to which was that of Messrs. Bourne, asked for mercy to the misguided convicts. They were ultimately transported for life. Of the many others who were found guilty, the majority were released upon their own recognisances, and others, to the number of about a dozen, were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment with hard labour.