Category Archives: Birmingham History

Stories from Birmingham’s history.

Birmingham Buildings Past and Present – The Thomas Underwood Gallery

The Origin of the Thomas Underwood Gallery

A selection of Thomas Underwood sketches of scenes around New Street and the High Street.
Hen and Chickens Hotel


In my research into the history of St Paul’s Church in Birmingham, one of the most useful documents was Henry Kempson’s Notebook. Henry was a surveyor who often worked with George Holloway, Charles Colmore’s agent, on the leasing of Colmore land. Continue reading

Birmingham Buildings Past and Present – The Thomas Underwood Gallery – Part 2

The remaining sketches.


Ten Inns and the first Hotel in Birmingham.
The Old Ship Inn - Camp Hill

The first selection of Thomas Underwood sketches for the gallery consisted of scenes around New Street and the High Street. This second selection includes the ten remaining Inns in the collection and another Hotel, the first Hotel in Birmingham.


Shops from around Birmingham.
The Cullet  Lichfield St corner of Stafford St.

In addition to the shops in the New Street and High Street section the the Thomas Underwood collection also has the shops shown here. The range of goods goes from buttons and shirts to tripe, vinegar, coffee and peppers and to hats and coats with one unidentifiable product. Then there are some houses with adverts that make it look like one large billboard.

This group includes the well known print of “The North prospect of St Philips” and a rather unusual perspective of Pinfold Street. It was a narrow street, as some maps indicate, but appears here as a wide open space. The top half of prints No7 and No 8 represented the houses as they stood in 1865, and were threatened with demolition, and the bottom half the buildings in the street that were demolished for the railway developments. The particular attraction of print No 4 is the name of the carrier!

Remaining Sketches

The remainder of the sketches from the Thomas Underwood Gallery.
Presbyterian Meeting House 1669

Two of the Sketches, the South West Prospect and the East Prospect of Birmingham, are too big for my scanner, so I have limited both of them to the middle part of the Sketch.

Birmingham – A poem by Harry Howells Horton 1851

Tucked away in a box of old books, it looked just like a modern notebook, size 16cm x 10 cm, a black cover, thin, but then I realised it was a book. I was amazed to read the title page, Fig 1. A poem about Birmingham? Yes, in two parts, in rhyming couplets, a total of 100 pages, dated 1851, and written by Harry Howells Horton, dedicated to William Scholefield M.P., Fig2. There is a note in the preface which states “The Author had prepared a brief historical sketch of the town, which he intended to have introduced here, but he finds there will not be room-at least in this edition.” A search for this book reveals that there was a second edition, with an appendix, dated 1853. Copies of this edition appear to be readily available, but not the first, 1851, edition. It is beginning to look as though this is a first edition and that it might be relatively rare! Continue reading

Drake’s “Picture of Birmingham”

HomeDrake’s “Picture of Birmingham”Drake’s “Picture of Birmingham”
Fig 1 - Cover
Fig 1 - Cover
Fig 2 - Frontispiece
Fig 2 - Frontispiece
Fig 3 - Town Hall
Fig 3 - Town Hall
Fig 4 - Grammar School of King Edward V1
Fig 4 - Grammar School of King Edward V1
Fig 5 - Market Hall from S E
Fig 5 - Market Hall from S E
Fig 6 - St Philips Church
Fig 6 - St Philips Church

There are fewer second-hand bookshops these days which means that scrounging around for good old second-hand books is much more difficult and searching the net is not really the equivalent. The thing to do is to have a good search wherever you find a pile of old books. Continue reading

A Problem with Expenses in Birmingham in 1795

By law, the parish churches of the Church of England could impose an annual levy on the inhabitants of the parish for the recovery of their annual repair costs. Those having to pay would be householders with the house over a certain rateable value. St Martin’s was, and still is, the Parish Church of Birmingham and the levy was determined at the St Martin’s Annual Vestry Meeting.

This meeting was usually held on Easter Tuesday and any inhabitant of the Town could attend. Continue reading

WWI in Birmingham Gallery

HomeWWI in Birmingham GalleryWWI in Birmingham

WWI in Birmingham

World War 1 photographs in Birmingham plus two coloured slides.
Review Canon Hill Park May 1st 1915 - 1


The World War 1 photographic slides in this group were found in the box containing the Marion Silverston slides. The handwriting on the labelling of these slides was not the same as on the Silverston slides, so I don’t know who the photographer is.

In the first Canon Hill Park slide there seems to be a second row of newly enlisted men. I have no idea what the group at Drew’s Lane is about. Can anyone help?

Dent’s “Birmingham Portrait Gallery” of 1880

Dent’s “Birmingham Portrait Gallery” of 1880

HomeDent's "Birmingham Portrait Gallery" of 1880Dent’s “Birmingham Portrait Gallery 1880”
Figure 1

Figure 1

My interest in the history of Birmingham began a few years ago when my wife and I visited an antique shop and found scattered around loads of plastic bags containing what appeared to be magazines. They were due to be sold next day at Birmingham Market for £10 each. It soon became apparent that they were all parts of “Old and New Birmingham”, which we had never heard of. In all there were 27issues. Then in examining them we found under the cover a sheet of tissue paper, and under that a portrait under the heading “Birmingham Portrait Gallery”. Each issue had one so there were 27portraits, all photographs. They were identified as what are called “Woodburytypes” by their chocolate brown colour and the fact that they were mounted on the page, and they were beautiful! Continue reading