Showell's Dictionary of Birmingham (Extract)

Project Gutenberg extract – 1 – Showell's Dictionary of Birmingham
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by Thomas T. Harman and Walter Showell

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Title: Showell's Dictionary of Birmingham

A History And Guide Arranged Alphabetically

Author: Thomas T. Harman and Walter Showell

GUTENBERG EXTRACT FOR THE GLASS-STUDY.COM { circa 1885 some complete entries, others are partial indicated by: text (Part of entry)}

Project Gutenberg extract – 2 – Showell's Dictionary of Birmingham

Chamber of Commerce.

In 1783 there was a "Standing General Commercial Committee," composed of the leading merchants and Manufacturers, who undertook the duty of looking after the public interests of the town (not forgetting their own peculiarly private ditto). That they were not so Liberal as their compeers of to-day may be gathered from the fact of their strongly opposing the exportation of brass, and on no account permitting a workman to go abroad.

Chamber of Manufacturers.

When Pitt, in 1784, proposed to tax coal, iron, copper, and other raw materials, he encountered a strong opposition from the manufacturers, prominent among whom were Boulton (Soho), Wilkinson (Bradley), and Wedgwood (Potteries), who formed a "Chamber," the first meeting of which was held here in February, 1785. The Minister was induced to alter his mind.


Many beautiful works of art have been manufactured in this town, which, though the wonder and admiration of strangers, receive but faint notice here, and find no record except in the newspaper of the day or a work like the present. Among such may be ranked the superb brass chandelier which Mr. R.W. Winfield sent to Osborne in 1853 for Her Majesty, the Queen. Designed in the Italian style, this fine specimen of the brassworkers' skill, relieved by burnishing and light matted work, ornamented with figures of Peace, Plenty, and Love in purest Parian, masks of female faces typical of night, and otherwise decorated in the richest manner, was declared by the late Prince Consort as the finest work he had ever seen made in this country and worthy to rank with that of the masters of old. Not so fortunate was Mr. Collis with the "Clarence chandelier" and sideboard he exhibited at the Exhibition of 1862. Originally made of the richest ruby cut and gilded glass for William IV., it was not finished before that monarch's death, and was left on the maker's hand. Its cost was nearly £1,000, but at the final sale of Mr. Collis's effects in Dec. 1881 it was sold for £5.


Excluding textile fabrics and agricultural produce, Birmingham supplies almost every article necessary for the comfort of man's life, and it is therefore not surprising that some little attention has been given to the construction of the "casket" which is to enclose his remains when dead. Coffins of wood, stone, lead, &c., have been known for centuries, but coffins of glass and coffins of brass must be ranked amongst the curiosities of our later trades. Two of the latter kind polished, lacquered, and decorated in a variety of ways, with massive handles and emblazoned shields, were made here some few years back for King Egbo Jack and another dark-skinned potentate of South Africa. "By particular request" each of these coffins were provided with four padlocks, two outside and two inside, though how to use the latter must have been a puzzle even for a dead king. The Patent Metallic Air-tight Coffin Co., whose name pretty accurately describes their productions, in 1861 introduced hermetically-sealed coffins with plate glass panels in the lid, exceedingly useful articles in case of contagious diseases, &c., &c. The trade in coffin "furniture" seems to have originated about 1760, when one ingenious "Mole" pushed it forward; and among the list of patents taken out in 1796 by a local worthy there is one for "a patent coffin," though its particular speciality could not have met with much approval, as although some thousands of bodies have been removed from our various sepultures nothing curious or rarer than rotten boards and old lead has been brought to light.

Project Gutenberg extract – 3 – Showell's Dictionary of Birmingham

Exhibitions. (Part of entry)

It has long been matter of wonder to intelligent foreigners that the "Toyshop of the World" ("Workshop of the World" would be nearer the mark) has never organised a permanent exhibition of its myriad manufactures. There is not a city, or town, and hardly a country in the universe that could better build, fit up, or furnish such a place than Birmingham; and unless it is from the short-sighted policy of keeping samples and patterns from the view of rivals in trade — a fallacious idea in these days of commercial travellers and town agencies — it must be acknowledged our merchants and manufacturers are not keeping up with the times in this respect. Why should Birmingham be without its Crystal Palace of Industry when there is hardly an article used by man or woman (save food and dress materials) but what is made in her workshops? We have the men, we have the iron, and we have the money, too! And it is to be hoped that ere many years are over, some of our great guns will see their way to construct a local Exhibition that shall attract people from the very ends of the earth to this "Mecca" of ours. As it is, from the grand old days of Boulton and his wonderful Soho, down to to-day, there has been hardly a Prince or potentate, white, black, copper, or coffee coloured, who has visited England, but that have come to peep at our workshops, mayor after mayor having the "honour" to toady to them and trot them round the back streets and slums to where the men of the bench, the file, and the hammer have been diligently working generation after generation, for the fame and the name of our world-known town. As a mere money speculation such a show-room must pay, and the first cost, though it might be heavy, would soon be recouped by the influx of visitors, the increase of orders, and the advancement of trade that would result. There have been a few exhibitions held here of one sort and another, but nothing on the plan suggested above. The first on our file is that held at the Shakespeare rooms early in 1839, when a few good pictures and sundry specimens of manufactures were shown. This was followed by the comprehensive Mechanics' Institute Exhibition opened in Newhall Street, December 19th, same year, which was a success in every way, the collection of mechanical models, machinery, chemical and scientific productions, curiosities, &c., being extensive and valuable; it remained open thirteen weeks. In the following year this exhibition was revived (August 11, 1840), but so far as the Institute, for whose benefit it was intended, was concerned, it had been better if never held, for it proved a loss, and only helped towards the collapse of the Institute, which closed in 1841. Railway carriages and tramcars propelled by electricity are the latest wonders of 1883; but just three-and-forty years back, one of our townsmen, Mr. Henry Shaw, had invented an "electro-galvanic railway carriage and tender," which formed one of the attractions of this Exhibition. It went very well until injured by (it is supposed) some spiteful nincompoop who, not having the brain to invent anything himself, tried to prevent others doing so. The next Exhibition, or, to be more strictly correct, "Exposition of Art and Manufactures," was held in the old residence of the Lloyd's family, known as Bingley House, standing in its own grounds a little back from Broad Street, and on the site of the present Bingley Hall. This was in 1849, and from the fact of its being visited (Nov. 12) by Prince Albert, who is generally credited with being the originator of International Exhibitions, it is believed that here he obtained the first ideas which led to the great "World's Fair" of 1851, in Hyde Park. — Following the opening of Aston Hall by Her Majesty in 1858, many gentlemen of position placed their treasures of art and art manufacture at the disposal of the Committee for a time, and the result was the collecting together of so rich a store that the London papers pronounced it to be after the "Great Exhibition" and the Manchester one, the most successful, both as regarded contents and attendance, of any Exhibition therebefore held out of the Metropolis. There were specimens of some of the greatest achievements in the arts of painting, sculpture, porcelain and pottery, carving and enamelling; ancient and modern metalwork, rich old furniture, armour, &c, that had ever been gathered together, and there can be little doubt that the advance which has since taken place in the scientific and artistic trade circles of the town spring in great measure from this Exhibition. — On the 28th of August, 1865, an Industrial Exhibition was opened at Bingley Hall, and so far as attendance went, it must take first rank, 160,645 visitors having passed the doors.

Exhibitions of 1851 and 1862.

Even as Birmingham may be said to have given the first idea for the "Great Exhibition" of 1851, so it had most to do with the building thereof, the great palace in Hyde Park being commenced by Messrs. Fox, Henderson & Co., July 26, 1850, and it was finished in nine months at a total cost of £176,031. In its erection there were used 4,000 tons of iron, 6,000,000 cubic feet of woodwork, and 31 acres of sheet glass, requiring the work of 1,800 men to put it together. 287 local exhibitors applied for space amounting to 22,070 sup. feet, namely, 10,183 feet of flooring, 4,932 feet of table area, and 6,255 feet of wall space. The "glory" of this exhibition was the great crystal fountain in the centre, manufactured by Messrs. Osler, of Broad Street, a work of art till then never surpassed in the world's history of glass-making and glass cutting, and which now pours forth its waters in one of the lily tanks in Sydenham Palace. Many rare specimens of Birmingham manufacture besides were there, and the metropolis of the Midlands had cause to be proud of the works of her sons thus exhibited. Fewer manufacturers sent their samples to the exhibition of 1862, but there was no falling off in their beauty or design. The Birmingham Small Arms trophy was a great attraction.

Project Gutenberg extract – 4 – Showell's Dictionary of Birmingham

Fires. (Part of entry)

At Hawkes's looking-glass manufactory, Bromsgrove Street, January 8, 1879; £20,000 damage. — At Hinks and Sons' lamp works, January 30, 1879; £15,000 damage.

Gas. (Part of entry)

The glassworks of Jones, Smart, and Co., of Aston Hill, were lit up by gas as early as 1810, 120 burners being used at a nightly cost of 4s. 6d., the gas being made on the premises from a bushel of coal per day.


In the reign of Henry VI. the commonest kind of glass was sold at 2s. the foot, a shilling in those days being of as much value as a crown of today. The earliest note we can find of glass being made here is the year 1785, when Isaac Hawker built a small glasshouse behind his shop at Edgbaston Street. His son built at Birmingham Heath on the site now occupied by Lloyd and Summerfield. In 1798 Messrs. Shakespeare and Johnston had a glasshouse in Walmer Lane. Pressed glass seems to have been the introduction of Rice Harris about 1832, though glass "pinchers" (eleven of them) are named in the Directory of 1780. In 1827 plate-glass sold at 12s. per foot and in 1840 at 6s., ordinary sheet-glass being then 1s. 2d. per foot. There was a duty on plate-glass prior to April 5, 1845, of 2s. 10-1/2d. per foot. The "patent plate" was the invention of Mr. James Chance, and Chance Brothers (of whose works a notice will be found in another part of this book) are the only manufacturers in this country of glass for lighthouse purposes — See also "Trades," &c.

Project Gutenberg extract – 5 – Showell's Dictionary of Birmingham

Guild of the Holy Cross.

Founded in the year 1392 by the "Bailiffs and Commonalty" of the town of Birmingham (answering to our aldermen and councillors), and licensed by the Crown, for which the town paid £50, the purpose being to "make and found a gild and perpetual fraternity of brethren and sustern (sisters), in honour of the Holy Cross," and "to undertake all works of charity, &c., according to the appointment and pleasure of the said bailiffs and commonalty." In course of time the Guild became possessed of all the powers then exercised by the local corporate authorities, taking upon themselves the building of almshouses, the relief and maintenance of the poor, the making and keeping in repair of the highways used by "the King's Majestie's subjects passing to and from the marches of Wales," looking to the preservation of sundry bridges and lords, as well as repair of "two greate stone brydges," &c., &c. The Guild owned considerable portion of the land on which the present town is built, when Henry VIII., after confiscating the revenues and possessions of the monastic institutions, laid hands on the property of such semi-religious establishments as the Guild of the Holy Cross. It has never appeared that our local Guild had done anything to offend the King, and possibly it was but the name that he disliked. Be that as it may, his son, Edward VI., in 1552, at the petition of the inhabitants, returned somewhat more than half of the property, then valued at £21 per annum, for the support and maintenance of a Free Grammar School, and it is this property from which the income of the present King Edward VI.'s Grammar Schools is now derived, amounting to nearly twice as many thousands as pounds were first granted. The Guild Hall or Town's Hall in New Street (then only a bye street), was not quite so large as either our present Town Hall or the Council House, but was doubtless considered at the time a very fine building, with its antique carvings and stained glass windows emblazoned with figures and armorial bearings of the Lords right Ferrers and others. As the Guild had an organist in its pay, it may be presumed that such an instrument was also there, and that alone goes far to prove the fraternity were tolerably well off, as organs in those times were costly and scarce. The old building, for more than a century after King Edward's grant, was used as the school, but even when rebuilt it retained its name as the Guild Hall.

Project Gutenberg extract – 6 – Showell's Dictionary of Birmingham


When the news of Admiral Rodney's victory was received here, May 20, 1792, it was welcomed by a general illumination, as were almost all the great victories during the long war. The Peace of Amiens in 1802 was also celebrated in this way, and the event has become historical from the fact that for the first time in the world's history the inflammable gas obtained from coal (now one of the commonest necessities of our advanced civilisation) was used for the purpose of a public illumination at Soho Works. (See "Gas.") In 1813 the town went into shining ecstacies four or five times, and ditto in the following year, the chief events giving rise thereto being the entry of the Allies into Paris, and the declaration of peace, the latter being celebrated (in addition to two nights' lighting up of the principal buildings, &c.), by an extra grand show of thousands of lamps at Soho, with the accompaniment of fireworks and fire-balloons, the roasting of sheep and oxen, &c. Waterloo was the next occasion, but local chroniclers of the news of the day gave but scant note thereof. From time to time there have been illuminations for several more peaceable matters of rejoicing, but the grandest display that Birmingham has ever witnessed was that to celebrate the marriage of the Prince of Wales, March 10th, 1863, when St. Philip's Church was illuminated on a scale so colossal as to exceed anything of the kind that had previously been attempted in the illumination by gas of public buildings upon their architectural lines. Situated in the centre, and upon the most elevated ground in Birmingham, St. Philip's measures upwards of 170-ft. from the base to the summit of the cross. The design for the illumination — furnished by Mr. Peter Hollins — consisted of gas-tubing, running parallel to the principal lines of architecture from the base to the summit, pierced at distances of 3 in. or 5 in., and fitted with batswing burners. About 10,000 of these burners were used in the illumination. The service-pipes employed varied in diameter from three inches to three-quarters of an inch, and measured, in a straight line, about three-quarters of a mile, being united by more than two thousand sockets. Separate mains conducted the gas to the western elevation, the tower, the dome, the cupola, and cross; the latter standing 8 ft. above the ordinary cross of the church, and being inclosed in a frame of ruby-coloured glass. These mains were connected with a ten-inch main from a heavily-weighed gasometer at the Windsor Street works of the Birmingham Gas Company, which was reserved for the sole use of the illumination. It took forty men three days to put up the scaffolding, but the whole work was finished and the scaffolding removed in a week. It was estimated that the consumption of gas during the period of illumination reached very nearly three-quarters of a million of cubic feet; and the entire expense of the illumination, including the gas-fittings, was somewhat over six hundred pounds. The illumination was seen for miles round in every direction. From the top of Barr Beacon, about eight miles distant, a singular effect was produced by means of a fog cloud which hung over the town, and concealed the dome and tower from view — a blood-red cross appearing to shine in the heavens and rest upon Birmingham. As the traveller approached the town on that side the opacity of the fog gradually diminished until, when about three miles away, the broad lines of light which spanned the dome appeared in sight, and, magnified by the thin vapour through which they were refracted, gave the idea of some gigantic monster clawing the heavens with his fiery paws. All the avenues to the church and the surrounding streets were crowded with masses of human heads, in the midst of which stood a glittering fairy palace. The effect was heightened by coloured fires, which, under the superintendence of Mr. C.L. Hanmer, were introduced at intervals in burning censers, wreathing their clouds of incense among the urns upon the parapet in the gallery of the tower, and shedding upon the windows of the church the rich tints of a peaceful southern sky at sunset. The several gateways were wreathed in evergreens, amongst which nestled festoons of variegated lamps. So great was the sensation produced throughout the town and surrounding districts, and such the disappointment of those who had not seen it, that the committee, at a great expense, consented to reillumine for one night more, which was done on the 13th. The last general illumination was on the occasion of the visit of Prince and Princess of Wales, Nov. 3, 1874.

Project Gutenberg extract – 7 – Showell's Dictionary of Birmingham

Iron. (Part of entry)

Iron pots were first tinned in 1779 by Jonathan Taylor's patented process, but we have no date when vessels of iron were first enamelled, though a French method of coating them with glass was introduced in 1850 by Messrs. T.G. Griffiths and Co.

Murder and Manslaughter. (Part of entry)

William Toy, a glasscutter, was killed in the Plasterers' Arms, Lupin Street, July 20, 1878, in a drunken row.

Noteworthy Men of the Past. (Part of entry)


The foremost name of the days of Reform, when the voice of Liberal Birmingham made itself heard through its leaders was that of Thomas Attwood. A native of Salop, born Oct. 6, 1783, he became a resident here soon after coming of age, having joined Messrs. Spooner's Bank, thence and afterwards known as Spooner and Attwood's. At the early age of 28 he was chosen High Bailiff, and soon made his mark by opposing the renewal of the East India Co.'s charter, and by his exertions to obtain the withdrawal of the "Orders in Council," which in 1812, had paralysed the trade of the country with America. The part he took in the great Reform meetings, his triumphant reception after the passing of the Bill, and his being sent to Parliament as one of the first representatives for the borough, are matters which have been too many times dilated upon to need recapitulation. Mr. Attwood had peculiar views on the currency question, and pertinaciously pressing them on his fellow members in the House of Commons he was not liked, and only held his seat until the end of Dec., 1839, the last prominent act of his political life being the presentation of a monster Chartist petition in the previous June. He afterwards retired into private life, ultimately dying at Malvern, March 6 1856, being then 73 years of age. Charles Attwood, a brother, but who took less part in politics, retiring from the Political Union when he thought Thomas and his friends were verging on the precipice of revolution, was well known in the north of England iron and steel trade. He died Feb. 24, 1875, in his 84th year. Another brother Benjamin, who left politics alone, died Nov. 22, 1874, aged 80. No greater contrast could possibly be drawn than that shown in the career of these three gentlemen. The youngest brother who industriously attended to his business till he had acquired a competent fortune, also inherited enormous wealth from a nephew, and after his death he was proved to have been the long un-known but much sought after anonymous donor of the £1,000 notes so continuously acknowledged in the Times as having been sent to London hospitals and charities. It was said that Benjamin Attwood distributed nearly £350,000 in this unostentatious manner, and his name will be ever blessed. Charles Attwood was described as a great and good man, and a benefactor to his race. His discoveries in the manufacture of glass and steel, and his opening up of the Cleveland iron district, has given employment to thousands, and as one who knew him well said, "If he had cared more about money, and less about science, he could have been one of the richest commoners in England;" but he was unselfish, and let other reap the benefit of his best patents. What the elder brother was, most Brums know; he worked hard in the cause of Liberalism, he was almost idolised here, and his statue stands not far from the site of the Bank with which his name was unfortunately connected, and the failure of which is still a stain on local commercial history.

Pens. (Part of entry)

The question as to who made the first steel pen has often been debated; but though Perry and Mason, Mitchell and Gillott, and others besides, have been named as the real original, it is evident that someone had come before them; for, in a letter written at least 200 years back (lately published by the Camden Society), the writer, Mary Hatton, offered to procure some pens made of steel for her brother, as "neither the glass pens nor any other sort was near so good."

Project Gutenberg extract – 8 – Showell's Dictionary of Birmingham

Trades and Manufactures. (Part of entry)

Artificial Eyes and Limbs (Part of entry)

... There are half-a-dozen makers of "eyes," human and otherwise, the chief being Messrs. Pache and Son, Bristol Street, and Mr. Edward Hooper, Suffolk Street, who hold the almost unique position of being the sole known makers of artificial human eyes anywhere. Few people would imagine it, but it is said that there are at least 1,500 persons in Birmingham who carry glass eyes in their head; while the demand from foreign countries is something enormous, the United States taking the lead as they fain would do in everything. But there is no part of the civilised world, from Spitzbergen to Timbuctoo, where Birmingham made eyes are not to be seen, even the callous "heathen Chinee" buying them in large quantities. Naturalists and taxidermists find here eyes to match those of any creature that has lived and breathed, and "doll's eyes" are made by the ton.

Buttons. (Part of entry)

The earliest record of button-making we have is dated 1689, but Mr. Baddeley (inventor of the oval chuck), who retired from business about 1739, is the earliest local manufacturer we read of as doing largely in the trade, though sixty or seventy years ago there were four or five times as many in the business as at present...

..."Maltese buttons" (glass beads mounted in metal) were, in 1812, made here in large quantities... ....— There are 265 button manufacturers in Birmingham, of whom 152 make pearl buttons, 26 glass, 8 horn and bone, 14 ivory, 12 gilt metal, 3 wood, and 5 linen, the other 45 being of a mixed or general character, silver, brass, steel, wood, and papier maché, being all, more or less, used. Nearly 6,000 hands are employed in the trade, of whom about 1,700 are in the pearl line, though that branch is not so prosperous as it was a few years back.


The art of painting, &c. on glass was brought to great perfection by Francis Eginton, of the Soho Works, in 1784. He supplied windows for St. George's Chapel, Windsor, Salisbury and Lichfield Cathedrals, and many country churches. The east window of St. Paul's, Birmingham, and the east window of the south aisle in Aston Church, are by Eginton. One of the commissions he obtained was from the celebrated William Beckford, Lord Mayor of London, for windows at Fonthill, to the value of £12,000. He was not, however, the first local artist of the kind, for a Birmingham man is said to have painted a window in Haglev Church, in 1756-57, for Lord Lyttelton, though his name is not now known. William Raphael Eginton (son of Francis) appeared in the Directory of 1818, as a glass-painter to the Princess Charlotte, but we can find no trace of his work. Robert Henderson started in the same line about 1820, and specimens of his work may be seen in Trinity Chapel; he died in 1848. John Hardman began in Paradise Street about 1837, afterwards removing to Great Charles Street, and thence to Newhall Hill, from which place much valuable work has been issued, as the world-known name well testifies. Engraving on glass is almost as old as the introduction of glass itself. There is a beautiful specimen in the Art Gallery. Glass flowers, fruit, &c., as ornamental adjuncts to brassfoundry, must be accredited to W. C. Aitken, who first used them in 1846. American writers claim that the first pressed glass tumbler was made about 40 years back in that country, by a carpenter. We have good authority for stating that the first pressed tumbler was made in this country by Rice Harris, Birmingham, as far back as 1834. But some years earlier than this dishes had been pressed by Thomas Hawkes and Co., of Dudley, and by Bacchus and Green, of Birmingham. No doubt the earliest pressing was the old square feet to goblets, ales, jellies, &c. Primitive it was, but like Watt's first engine, it was the starting point, and Birmingham is entitled to the credit of it. It is very remarkable that none of the samples of Venetian glass show any pressing, although moulding was brought by them to great perfection. It would not be fair to omit the name of the first mould-maker who made the tumbler-mould in question. It was Mr. James Stevens, then of Camden Street, Birmingham, and it is to him, and his sons, James and William, that the world is greatly indebted for the pressing of glass. The older Stevens has been dead some years, and the sons have left the trade. Previous to this mould being made for tumblers, Mr. James Stevens made some pressed salt-moulds to order for an American gentleman visiting Birmingham. Some of the most beautiful works in glass fountains, candelabra, &c., that the world has ever seen have been made at Messrs. Oslers, Broad Street, whose show rooms are always open to visitors.


Messrs. Hawkes's, Sromsgrove Street, is the largest looking-glass manufactory in the world, more than 300 hands being employed on the premises. A fire which took place Jan. 8, 1879, destroyed nearly £12,000 worth of stock, the turnout of the establishment comprising all classes of mirrors, from those at 2. a dozen to £40 or £50 each.


The following short list of local people of interest may not be an unacceptable addition to the many whose names appear in various parts of the preceding work:—

EGINGTON, F., an eminent painter on glass, died March 25, 1805, aged 68.