Category Archives: Birmingham History

Stories from Birmingham’s history.

Colmore Estates in the Parishes of Birmingham and Aston in the 1700’s

Some years ago, in the old Birmingham library, I was researching the history of St Paul’s Church when I was handed a list of documents that were thought to be helpful. I was taken by one in particular and so asked to see it. It was a folded document that was difficult to unfold. We had to move to a bigger table and could not get it to lie flat at all. I regarded it as 3 dimensional  and it was rather black in places. It transpired that it was “ Estates in the Parishes of Birmingham and Aston in the County of Warwick belonging to Chas Colmore Esq   Surveyed 176 “  It was a hand drawn map of part of Birmingham with streets named and the plots leased shown with the name of the leaseholder. All plots were 50 yards deep and the frontage yards shown. The yardage determined the amount the leaseholder would have to spend on a house.

It was in the early 1700s one Ann Colmore had taken over the Colmore Estate and in 1746, by a private Act, she had been given permission to grant 120 year leases for building purposes. As a result some 100 acres became available and by 1750 the area near Ann street and Colmore Row was being developed. Eventually Ann retired and her son Charles took over the Estate, most likely by 1760. By 1770 development had reached  Lionel Street and Colmore had agreed to donate some three acres on Harper’s Hill, near Lionel Street, for the building of St Paul’s Church. St Paul’s was consecrated in 1779 and it was in that year that the first plot, with a new Charles lease, was taken up in St Paul’s Square.

Photo 1 shows a corner of the map with the title , as described, and some leaseholders. At the lower middle of the image is shown a red outline of a house. This is believed to be the house that Matthew Boulton moved James Watt to in his early years in Birmingham. Caroline was a daughter of Charles Colmore.

Corner of the map

Photo  2    Not very sharp and little contrast this at least shows the folding.

Shows map folding

Photo 3  To the right, part of Great Charles Street and to the left of the fold junction,  what became known as Little Charles Street, Charles being the name of Colmore’s first son.

Great Charles Street

Photo 4  with Edmund and Coneygreve Streets, Paradise Row and to the far right, New Road

Edmund St, Coneygreve St

Photo 5  A much enlarged St Paul’s Square with the first leaseholder at the junction of Mary Ann street with the Square. He was Thos Robbins and with a 24yard frontage he had to spend £800 on housing. Next to him is Sam Malkin, a Bucklemaker, with two houses in his 16 yards. There are now blue badges on these Houses. Malkin was one of the earliest Churchwardens of St Paul’s One of the conditions in the Colmore Lease was that the cornice of the house to be built had to be the same as the cornice of St Paul’s Church.  Another oddity is Mary Ann Street, but Colmore’s other daughter was named Mary Anne. Wherever her name is used in documents of the time that is how her name is spelt. Whoever produced the map got it wrong and it has remained Ann ever since.

St Paul’s Square

So who did produce the map? It is highly likely to have been George Holloway, Colmore’s Estate Agent. Almost every leaseholder’s name on the map is in the same handwriting. So he could go back to around 1760. Certainly he played a major role, liaising with Colmore, and the trustees, in the building of St Paul’s Church.  Many of the transactions for leases around the Square will have taken place in the 1780s. Holloway died in 1789.

As these photographs were taken some years ago and I tried to use them on my website, but I could not get permission. The rules then were that I could use them on a printed document but not on a website. About a year or so ago I decided to try to get some better photos, but the document could not be unfolded at all and was badly blackened and will need a lot of restoration work. But by now I could use photos on a website. So here they are.

My thanks to Birmingham Library for permission to use these photographs.

The Thomas Underwood Gallery

HomeThe Thomas Underwood GalleryThe Thomas Underwood Gallery

The Thomas Underwood Gallery

Selected reproductions from Thomas Underwood's "The Buildings of Birmingham Past and Present Sketched and Described” Published in 1866 and 1869.

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.


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 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.

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.

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.


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