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18th May 2015

Birmingham: The development of a city of migrants, as told by Richard Trengrouse

We have a bucolic view of the rural village; cottages around a duck pond, clean air, working the soil and community spirit, but our urban view of the village is an illusion framed by late eighteenth and nineteenth century European literature. Remember the French Queen Marie Antoinette playing shepherdesses in Petit Trianon, her mock village in the grounds of the palace of Versailles, while real shepherdesses beyond the Palace walls starved. Historic Village life was brutal, harsh and unrelenting, characterised by the constant threat of starvation, often violence and the autocracy of the priest and the gentry. You knew your place, did the job your father and grandfather had done and accepted you lot and your life was brutish and short. The same is true of the nineteenth century villages of England and Ireland as would be true of the present day villages of Kashmir, Somalia and parts of Eastern Europe.

Cities and towns provided an alternative where you could find paid employment, better yourself and your family, live longer and think freely. From the late eighteenth century nowhere fitted the bill better than Birmingham, with its burgeoning industries, its ever improving transport links and an ever increasing demand for both skilled and unskilled labour. This was coupled to the amazing cauldron of ideas and innovation generated by the Unitarians, Quakers and other free thinkers, brought together in the Lunar Society  who dominated the town still unfettered by the reactionary trappings of a bishop and all powerful clergy and restrictive craft guilds  gave the nascent town its competitive edge.

This was because at the time Birmingham was sufficiently small not to fall under the Five Mile Act. The Five Mile Act prevented any Non-conformist clergymen from approaching within five miles of a corporate borough, and was a way of restricting the influence of Quakers and stopping their views spreading. Whilst Birmingham was small enough not to be a corporate Borough, its ‘manufacturers were a busy and thriving race’ and Birmingham was at its dawn as a mighty manufacturing city.

History of the Lloyd family: Eliot Walker 2003

Towns and cities are never static they are dynamic and ever-changing. They absorb new migrants and as those migrants grow in prosperity that fuels the expansion of the town into the surrounding countryside as they look for new homes and better living conditions for their families . That expansion normally takes place along the major roads and in Birmingham’s case the highway leading to Stratford and on then to Oxford and London marked one of the first expansions out from the original core of the original town. As early as 1767 Henry Bradford laid out a grid iron of streets on his father’s estate adjoining the River Rea for both residential and industrial use, the present day Bradford Street and Cheapside, this was a very limited success although one of his very fine town houses survived until the late 1970’s at the junction of Bradford Street and Camp Hill. In the 1900’s it was a dentists where my Great Uncle experiences a particularly gruesome extraction.

In the 1880s the expansion of the town really took off with the development of the Lloyds estate in Sparkbrook as an upmarket suburb. The Lloyds, a family of Quaker bankers and industrialists, had purchased a sixty acre farm in the 1760s when had moved to Birmingham from North Wales. Their house still stands in Sparkbrook Park, but sadly the Farm itself was demolished in the late 1990s. To this day the fine houses and wide roads built by the Lloyds survive and they are recollected in the street names Dolobran Rd after their estate in Powys, Sampson Rd, many of their first born of the family were named Sampson and Farm Rd after the avenue that led to their farm. By the early 1900s when my maternal grandmother used to go to the family florists on Farm Rd,  the Miss Lloyds still drove down Farm Rd in their carriage, but their up market suburb was rapidly becoming an area of rooming and Lodging House being taken up by new arrivals to the City.

In the early 1930’s my maternal  grandparents took over the family shop in Farm Rd opening a dress shop, a chip shop and an ironmongers in adjacent premises. From this vantage point they were first hand observers of the population transition and movement over 50 years until the late 1970’s. As with all Brummies’ they were themselves migrants, my grandmother of Dutch background and my grandfather from Staffordshire.

My aunt and her husband ran the shop with them from the 1940’s, moving first to Sparkhill and then to Hall Green as the profits from the shop increased, and then finally to Evesham when they gave up the shop in the 1979. The migration fuelled their wealth. They talked of the lesser known migrant group, the Jewish refugees in the 1930’s, the Scottish, like the Irish drawn to Birmingham by the building boom of the 1950’s and 60’s.They also talked of the sex industry which inevitably was attracted by the large numbers of single men living in the area. Claremont Rd a notorious and dilapidated red light area was just behind their shops and they talked fondly of a number of the women who shopped with them.

Over the years they saw new migrants enter into the area, starting with the West Indies populations and ending with the Kashmiri and Mirpuri communities in the 70’s. Although they have now left the area, Sparkbrook still welcomes a whole new host of migrants, such as the Somali community, and I suspect that it will do for many decades to come.

Richard Trengrouse

Aunt Kits Shop Farm Rd


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