Discover some of Birmingham's interesting victorian buildings by following our City Trails.
These three city trails around Birmingham City Centre were compiled by the Birmingham & West Midlands Group in 1998 and published by The Victorian Society as a booklet (ISBN 0901 657 31X) available to buy at £4.99. Copies can be obtained by writing to any of those officers listed in the ‘Contact Details’ section. It is reproduced here free as an aid to appreciating Birmingham’s fine Victorian & Edwardian built heritage.
In the years between 1837 and 1914, which are those relevant to the Victorian Society, Birmingham changed from a small provincial town into a large and thriving City. A population of about 170,000 in 1837, on the accession of Queen Victoria, had increased threefold, to 522,204 in 1901, at her death, and both its industrial capacity and its perimeters had expanded proportionately. In the second half of the 19thC. the centre of Birmingham was re-built, on a large scale, and with great confidence. Chamberlain Square and the space which became Victoria Square, were formal piazzas surrounded by civic buildings focused on the monuments to Joseph Chamberlain and later to Queen Victoria. Under the energy and foresight of Chamberlain many of the vast improvements had been brought about. The squalid, congested and unhealthy buildings of the City centre around New St. and Bull St. were demolished and new boulevards constructed.
The passing of the Municipal Corporations Act in 1835 allowed towns like Birmingham to apply for a Municipal Charter and by 1842 a new council was formed. In the 1869 local elections, Joseph Chamberlain was elected as a liberal councillor, and was elected mayor four years later. Under his guidance the Corporation’s finances were reorganised which enabled the Corporation to municipalize gas, water and electricity, and public safety, housing, education, sanitation and town planning were all tackled by Chamberlain. George Dawson, who was a teacher and preacher, concerned with a new way of thinking about the nature and the function of municipal government becoming known as the “Civic Gospel” had a strong influence on the thinking of Chamberlain and many other civic councillors of the time.
In 1889 Birmingham became a City, and in 1890 an American observer described it as “the best governed city in the world”. Birmingham can indeed claim that it played a significant part in influencing urban reorganisation and transformation in the nineteenth century.