An History of Birmingham Part 5

An acquaintance assured me, that in 1756 he could have purchased the house he then occupied for 400_l_. but refused. In 1770, the same house was sold for 600_l_. and in 1772, I purchased it for eight hundred and thirty-five guineas, without any alteration, but what time had made for the worse: and for this enormous price I had only an old house, which I was obliged to take down. Such is the rapid improvement in value, of landed property, in a commercial country.

Suffer me to add, though foreign to my subject, that these premises were the property of an ancient family of the name of Smith, now in decay; where many centuries ago one of the first inns in Birmingham, and well known by the name of the Garland House, perhaps from the sign; but within memory, Potter's Coffee-house.

Under one part was a room about forty-five feet long, and fifteen wide, used for the town prison.

In sinking a cellar we found a large quantity of tobacco-pipes of a angular construction, with some very antique earthen ware, but no coin; also loads of broken bottles, which refutes the complaint of our pulpits against modern degeneracy, and indicates, the vociferous arts of getting drunk and breaking glass, were well understood by our ancestors.

In penetrating a bed of sand, upon which had stood a work-shop, about two feet below the surface we came to a tumolus six feet long, three wide, and five deep, built very neat, with tiles laid flat, but no cement. The contents were mouldered wood, and pieces of human bone.

I know of no house in Birmingham, the inns excepted, whose annual rent exceeds eighty pounds. By the lamp books, the united rents appear to be about seventy thousand, which if we take at twenty years purchase, will compose a freehold of 1,400,000_l_. value.

If we allow the contents of the manor to be three thousand acres, and deduct six hundred for the town, five hundred more for roads, water, and waste land; and rate the remaining nineteen hundred, at the average rent of 2_l_. 10s. per acre; we shall raise an additional freehold of 4,750_l_. per ann.

If we value this landed property at thirty years purchase, it will produce 142,500_l_. and, united with the value of the buildings, the fee-simple of this happy region of genius, will amount to 1,542,500_l_.




We accuse our short-sighted ancestors, and with reason, for leaving us almost without a church-yard and a market-place; for forming some of our streets nearly without width, and without light. One would think they intended a street without a passage, when they erected Moor-street; and that their successors should light their candles at noon.

Something, however, may be pleaded in excuse, by observing the concourse of people was small, therefore a little room would suffice; and the buildings were low, so that light would be less obstructed: besides, we cannot guess at the future but by the present. As the increase of the town was slow, the modern augmentation could not then be discovered through the dark medium of time; but the prospect into futurity is at this day rather brighter, for we plainly see, and perhaps with more reason, succeeding generations will blame us for neglect. We occupy the power to reform, without the will; why else do we suffer enormities to grow, which will have taken deep root in another age? If utility and beauty can _be joined together_ in the street, why are they ever _put asunder_? It is easy for Birmingham to be as rapid in her improvement, as in her growth.

The town consists of about 125 streets, some of which acquired their names from a variety of causes, but some from no cause, and others, have not yet acquired a name.

Those of Bull street, Cannon street, London Prentice street, and Bell street, from the signs of their respective names.

Some receive theirs from the proprietors of the land, as Smallbrook street, Freeman street, Colmore street, Slaney street, Weaman street, Bradford street, and Colmore row.

Digbeth, or Ducks Bath, from the Pools for accommodating that animal, was originally Well street, from the many springs in its neighbourhood.

Others derive a name from caprice, as Jamaica row, John, Thomas, and Philip streets.

Some, from a desire of imitating the metropolis, as, Fleet-street, Snow-hill, Ludgate-hill, Cheapside, and Friday-street.

Some again, from local causes, as High-street, from its elevation, St.

Martin's-lane, Church-street, Cherry-street, originally an orchard, Chapel-street, Bartholomew-row, Mass-house-lane, Old and New Meeting-streets, Steelhouse-lane, Temple-row and Temple-street, also Pinfold-street, from a pinfold at No. 85, removed in 1752.

Moor-street, anciently Mole-street, from the eminence on one side, or the declivity on the other.

Park-street seems to have acquired its name by being appropriated to the private use of the lord of the manor, and, except at the narrow end next Digbeth, contained only the corner house to the south, entering Shut-lane, No. 82, lately taken down, which was called The Lodge.

Spiceal-street, anciently Mercer-street, from the number of mercers shops; and as the professors of that trade dealt in grocery, it was promiscuously called Spicer-street. The present name is only a corruption of the last.

The spot, now the Old Hinkleys, was a close, till about 1720, in which horses were shown at the fair, then held in Edgbaston-street. It was since a brick-yard, and contained only one hut, in which the brick-maker slept.

The tincture of the smoky shops, with all their _black furniture_, for weilding gun-barrels, which afterwards appeared on the back of Small-brooke-street, might occasion the original name _Inkleys_; ink is well known; leys, is of British derivation, and means grazing ground; so that the etymology perhaps is _Black pasture_.

The Butts; a mark to shoot at, when the bow was the fashionable instrument of war, which the artist of Birmingham knew well how to make, and to use.

Gosta Green (Goose-stead-Green) a name of great antiquity, now in decline; once a track of commons, circumscribed by the Stafford road, now Stafford-street, the roads to Lichfield and Coleshill, now Aston and Coleshill-streets, and extending to Duke-street, the boundary of the manor.

Perhaps, many ages after, it was converted into a farm, and was, within memory, possessed by a person of the name of Tanter, whence, Tanter-street.

Sometimes a street fluctuates between two names, as that of Catharine and Wittal, which at length terminated in favour of the former.

Thus the names of great George and great Charles stood candidates for one of the finest streets in Birmingham, which after a contest of two or three years, was carried in favour of the latter.

Others receive a name from the places to which they direct, as Worcester-street, Edgbaston-street, Dudley-street, Lichfield-street, Aston-street, Stafford-street, Coleshill-street, and Alcester-street.

A John Cooper, the same person who stands in the list of donors in St.

Martin's church, and who, I apprehend, lived about two hundred and fifty years ago, at the Talbot, now No. 20, in the High-street, left about four acres of land, between Steelhouse-lane, St. Paul's chapel, and Walmer-lane, to make love-days for the people of Birmingham; hence, _Love-day-croft_.

Various sounds from the trowel upon the premises, in 1758, produced the name of _Love-day-street_ (corrupted into Lovely-street.)

This croft is part of an estate under the care of Lench's Trust; and, at the time of the bequest, was probably worth no more than ten shillings per annum.

At the top of Walmer-lane, which is the north east corner of this croft, stood about half a dozen old alms-houses, perhaps erected in the beginning of the seventeenth century, then at a considerable distance from the town. These were taken down in 1764, and the present alms-houses, which are thirty-six, erected near the spot, at the expence of the trust, to accommodate the same number of poor widows, who have each a small annual stipend, for the supply of coals.

This John Cooper, for some services rendered to the lord of the manor, obtained three privileges, That of regulating the goodness and price of beer, consequently he stands in the front of the whole liquid race of high tasters; that he should, whenever he pleased, beat a bull in the Bull-ring, whence arises the name; and, that he should be allowed interment in the south porch of St. Martin's church. His memory ought to be transmitted with honor, to posterity, for promoting the harmony of his neighbourhood, but he ought to have been buried in a dunghill, for punishing an innocent animal.--His wife seems to have survived him, who also became a benefactress, is recorded in the same list, and their monument, in antique sculpture, is yet visible in the porch.



Perhaps there is not by nature so much difference in the capacities of men, as by education. The efforts of nature will produce a ten-fold crop in the field, but those of art, fifty.

Perhaps too, the seeds of every virtue, vice, inclination, and habit, are sown in the breast of every human being, though not in an equal degree. Some of these lie dormant for ever, no hand inviting their cultivation. Some are called into existence by their own internal strength, and others by the external powers that surround them. Some of these seeds flourish more, some less, according to the aptness of the soil, and the modes of assistance. We are not to suppose infancy the only time in which these scions spring, no part of life is exempt. I knew a man who lived to the age of forty, totally regardless of music. A fidler happening to have apartments near his abode, attracted his ear, by frequent exhibitions, which produced a growing inclination for that favourite science, and he became a proficient himself. Thus in advanced periods a man may fall in love with a science, a woman, or a bottle.

Thus avarice is said to shoot up in ancient soil, and thus, I myself bud forth in history at fifty-six.

The cameleon is said to receive a tincture from the colour of the object that is nearest him; but the human mind in reality receives a bias from its connections. Link a man to the pulpit, and he cannot proceed to any great lengths in profligate life. Enter him into the army, and he will endeavour to swear himself into consequence. Make the man of humanity an overseer of the poor, and he will quickly find the tender feelings of commiseration hardened. Make him a physician, and he will be the only person upon the premises, the heir excepted, unconcerned at the prospect of death. Make him a surgeon, and he will amputate a leg with the same indifference with which a cutler saws a piece of bone for a knife handle. You commit a rascal to prison because he merits transportation, but by the time he comes out he merits a halter. By uniting also with industry, we become industrious. It is easy to give instances of people whose distinguishing characteristic was idleness, but when they breathed the air of Birmingham, diligence became the predominant feature. The view of profit, like the view of corn to the hungry horse, excites to action.

Thus the various seeds scattered by nature into the soul at its first formation, either lie neglected, are urged into increase by their own powers, or are drawn towards maturity by the concurring circumstances that attend them.

The late Mr. Grenville observed, in the House of Commons, "That commerce tended to corrupt the morals of a people." If we examine the expression, we shall find it true in a certain degree, beyond which, it tends to improve them.

Perhaps every tradesman can furnish out numberless instances of small deceit. His conduct is marked with a littleness, which though allowed by general consent, is not strictly just. A person with whom I have long been connected in business, asked, if I had dealt with his relation, whom he had brought up, and who had lately entered into commercial life.

I answered in the affirmative. He replied, "He is a very honest fellow."

I told him I saw all the finesse of a tradesman about him. "Oh, rejoined my friend, a man has a right to say all he can in favour of his own goods." Nor is the seller alone culpable. The buyer takes an equal share in the deception. Though neither of them speak their sentiments, they well understand each other. Whilst the treaty is agitating, the profit of the tradesman vanishes, yet the buyer pronounces against the article; but when finished, the seller whispers his friend, "It is well sold,"

and the buyer smiles if a bargain.

Thus is the commercial track a line of minute deceits.

Chapter end

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