An History of Birmingham Part 28

Whether monumental decoration adds beauty to a place already beautiful, is a question. There are three very small and very elegant monuments in this church. Upon one of the south pillars, is that of the above William Higgs, who died in 1733. Upon another is that of William Vyse, the second rector, who died in 1770, at the age of 61. And, upon a north pillar, that of Girton Peak, Esq; an humane magistrate, who died in 1770, aged 48.

Internment in the church is wisely prohibited; an indecency incompatible with a civilized people. The foreigner will be apt to hold forth the barbarity of the English nation, by observing, "They introduce corruption in their very churches, and pay divine adoration upon the graves of their ancestors."

Places of worship were designed for the living, the dead give up their title with their life: besides, even small degrees of putrefaction, confined in a room where the air cannot circulate, may become prejudicial to health: it also ruins the pavement, as is done at St.

Martin's. Our first inhabitants, therefore, lie contented in the church yard, by their unfortunate equals; having private sepulchres appropriated for family use--Perhaps at the last day, no inquiry will be made whether they lay on the in, or the outside of the walls.

It is difficult to traverse the elegant walks that surround this gulf of death, without contemplating, that time is drawing us towards the same focus, and that we shall shortly fall into the centre: that this irregular circle contains what was once generous and beautiful, opulent and humane. The arts took their rise in this fruitful soil: this is the grave of invention and of industry; here those who figured upon the stage are fallen, to make way for others, who must follow: though multitudes unite with the dead, the numbers of the living increase; the inhabitants change, while the genius improves. We cannot pass on without reading upon the stones, the short existence of our departed friends, perusing the end of a life with which we were well acquainted. The active motion that veered with the rude blasts of seventy years, slops in this point for ever.

The present rector, who is the third, is the Rev. Charles Newling, and the benefice something like the following:

A prebendal stall in the cathedral l. s. d.

church of Lichfield, 6 0 0 Eight acres and a half of glebe land, at Long bridge, near Birmingham, 32 0 0 Emoluments arising from the seats of the church, 140 0 0 Surplice fees, 50 0 0 Easter offerings, 10 0 0 An estate at Sawley, in the county of Derby, under lease for three lives, renewable by fine, at the annual rent of 66 13 4 ------------ 304 13 4 Out of which is paid to the rector of St. Martin's, in consideration fees and offerings once appropriated to that church, 15 0 0 ----------- 289 13 4


There are many inducements for an author to take up the pen, but the leading motives, however disguised, seem to be pride and poverty; hence, two of the most despicable things among men, furnish the world with knowledge.

One would think, however, there can be no great inducement for a man to write what he is conscious will never be read. Under this class may be comprehended alphabetical collections, chronological tables, books of figures, occasional devotions, etc. here also I range the lists of officers in Birmingham, the annual sums expended upon the poor, and the present chapter of numbers. These are intended for occasional inspection, rather than for regular perusal: we may consider them as deserts served up for a taste only, not a dinner; yet even this rule may be broken by a resolute reader, for the late Joseph Scott, Esq; founder of the trust before-mentioned, assured me, in 1751, that he had perused Bailey's Dictionary as methodically as he had done Tom Jones; and, though a dissenter, he continued to read the Common Prayer Book from end to end, about twice a year; which is more than, perhaps, the greatest lover of that excellent composition can boast.

I shall, to avoid prolixity in a barren chapter of the two extremes of life, select about every tenth year from the register. Those years at the time of the plague, make no addition to the burials, because the unhappy victims were conveyed to Lady-wood for internment.

These lists inform us, that the number of streets, houses, inhabitants, births, burials, poor's rates, and commercial productions, increase with equal rapidity. It appears also from the register, that there were more christenings lately at St. Martin's, in one day, than the whole town produced in a year, in the 16th century--The same may be found in that of St. Phillip's.

The deaths in Deritend are omitted, being involved with those of Aston.

Year. Births. Burials. Year. Births. Burials.

1555 37 27 1667 146 140 1560 -- 37 1668 113 102 1571 48 26 1681 251 139 1580 37 25 1690 127 150 1590 52 47 1700 172 171 1600 62 32 1719 334 270 1610 70 45 1720 423 355 1623 81 66 1730 449 415 1628 100 96 1740 520 573 1653 -- 47 1750 860 1020 1660 -- 75 1760 984 1143 1665 -- 109 1770 1329 899 1666 144 121 1780 1636 1340


Though charity is one of the most amiable qualities of humanity, yet, like Cupid, she ought to be represented blind; or, like Justice, hood-winked. None of the virtues have been so much misapplied; giving to the _hungry_, is sometimes only another word for giving to the _idle_.

We know of but two ways in which this excellence can exert itself; improving the _mind_, and nourishing the _body_. To help him who _will not _help himself; or, indiscriminately to relieve those that want, is totally to mistake the end; for want is often met with: but to supply those who _cannot_ supply themselves, becomes real charity. Some worthy Christians have taken it into their heads to relieve _all_, for fear of omitting the right. What should we think of the constable who seizes every person he meets with, for fear of missing the thief? Between the simple words, therefore, of WILL NOT and CANNOT, runs the fine barrier between real and mistaken charity.

This virtue, so strongly inculcated by the christian system, hath, during the last seventeen centuries, appeared in a variety of forms, and some of them have been detrimental to the interest they were meant to serve: _Such was the cloister_. Man is not born altogether to serve himself, but the community; if he cannot exist without the assistance of others, it follows, that others ought to be assisted by him: but if condemned to obscurity in the cell, he is then fed by the aid of the public, while that public derives none from him.

[Illustration: _General Hospital_.]

Estates have sometimes been devised in trust for particular uses, meant as charities by the giver, but have, in a few years, been diverted out of their original channel to other purposes.

The trust themselves, like so many contending princes, ardently druggie for sovereignty; hence, _legacy_ and _discord_ are intimate companions.

The plantation of many of our English schools sprang up from the will of the dead; but it is observable, that sterility quickly takes place; the establishment of the master being properly secured, supineness enters, and the young scions of learning are retarded in their growth.

It therefore admits a doubt, whether charitable donation is beneficial to the world; nay, the estate itself becomes blasted when bequeathed to public use, for, being the freehold of none, none will improve it: besides, the more dead land, the less scope for industry.

At the reformation, under Queen Elizabeth, charity seemed to take a different appearance: employment was found for the idle; he that was able, was obliged to labour, and the parish was obliged to assist him who could not. Hence the kingdom became replete with workhouses: these are the laudable repositories of distress.

It has already been observed, that three classes of people merit the care of society: forlorn infancy, which is too weak for its own support; old age, which has served the community, without serving itself; and accidental calamity: the two first, fall under the eye of the parish, the last, under the modern institution of the General Hospital.

The shell of this plain, but noble edifice, was erected in 1766, upon a situation very unsuitable for its elegant front, in a narrow dirty lane, with an aspect directing up the hill, which should ever be avoided.

The amiable desire of doing good in the inhabitants, seemed to have exceeded their ability; and, to the grief of many, it lay dormant for twelve years. In 1778, the matter was revived with vigor; subscriptions filled apace, and by the next year the hospital was finished, at the expence of 7137_l_. 10s. Though the benefactions might not amount to this enormous sum, yet they were noble, and truly characteristic of a generous people. The annual subscriptions, as they stood at Michaelmas, 1779, were 901_l_. 19s. and, at Midsummer, 1780, 932_l_. 8s. During these nine months, 529 patients were admitted, of which, 303 were cured, 93 relieved, 112 remained on the books, only 5 died, and but _one_ was discharged as incurable; an incontestible proof of the _skill_ of the faculty, which is at least equalled by their _humanity_, in giving their attendance gratis.

The rules by which this excellent charity is conducted, are worthy of its authors: success hath fully answered expectation, and the building will probably stand for ages, to tell posterity a favourable tale of the present generation.


Man is evidently formed for society; the intercourse of one with another, like two blocks of marble in friction, reduces the rough prominences of behaviour, and gives a polish to the manners.

Whatever tends to promote social connection, improve commerce, or stamp an additional value upon property, is worthy of attention.

Perhaps, there is not a circumstance that points more favourably towards these great designs, than commodious roads.

According as a country is improved in her roads, so will she stand in the scale of civilization. It is a characteristic by which we may pronounce with safety. The manners and the roads of the English, have been refining together for about 1700 years. If any period of time is distinguished with a more rapid improvement in one, it is also in the other.

Our Saxons ancestors, of dusky memory, seldom stepped from under the smoke of Birmingham. We have a common observation among us, that even so late as William the Third, the roads were in so dangerous a state, that a man usually made his will, and took a formal fare-well of his friends, before he durst venture upon a journey to London; which, perhaps, was thought then, of as much consequence as a voyage to America now.

A dangerous road is unfavourable both to commerce and to friendship; a man is unwilling to venture his neck to sell his productions, or even visit his friend: if a dreadful road lies between them, it will be apt to annihilate friendship.

Landed property in particular, improves with the road. If a farmer cannot bring his produce to market, he cannot give much for his land, neither can that land well be improved, or the market properly supplied.

Upon a well formed road, therefore, might, with propriety, be placed the figures of commerce, of friendship, and of agriculture, as presiding over it.

There are but very few observations necessary in forming a road, and those few are very simple; to expel whatever is hurtful, and invite whatever is beneficial.

The breaking up of a long frost, by loosening the foundations, is injurious, and very heavy carriages ought to be prevented, 'till the weather unites the disjointed particles, which will soon happen.

But the grand enemy is water; and as this will inevitably fall, every means should be used to discharge it: drains ought to be frequent, that the water may not lie upon the road.

The great benefits are _the sun_ and the _wind:_ the surveyor should use every method for the admission of these friendly aids, that they may dispel the moisture which cannot run off.

For this purpose, all public roads ought to be sixty feet wide; all trees and hedges within thirty feet of the centre, be under the controul of the commissioners, with full liberty of drawing off the water in what manner they judge necessary.

The Romans were the most accomplished masters we know of in this useful art; yet even they seem to have forgot the under drain, for it is evident at this day, where their road runs along the declivity of a hill, the water dams up, flows over, and injures the road.

Care should be taken, in properly forming a road at first, otherwise you may botch it for a whole century, and at the end of that long period, it will be only a botch itself.

A wide road will put the innocent traveller out of fear of the waggoners; not the most civilized of the human race.

From Birmingham, as from a grand centre, issues twelve roads, that point to as many towns; some of these, within memory, have scarcely been passable; all are mended, but though much is done, more is wanted. In an upland country, like that about Birmingham, where there is no river of size, and where the heads only of the streams show themselves: the stranger would be surprised to hear, that through most of these twelve roads he cannot travel in a flood with safety. For want of causeways and bridges, the water is suffered to flow over the road, higher than the stirrup: every stream, though only the size of a tobacco-pipe, ought to be carried through an under drain, never to run over the road.

At Saltley, in the way to Coleshill, which is ten miles, for want of a causeway, with an arch or two, every flood annoys the passenger and the road: at Coleshill-hall, 'till the year 1779, he had to pass a dangerous river.

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