|The period between 1625 and 1789 saw Birmingham
develop from a small market town to a bustling industrial metropolis.
An indication of the scale of this expansion can be seen by
comparing the estimated population of 2-3,000 in 1625 with that
of 50,000 in 1780. The growth of Birmingham was not, however,
an entirely smooth process. There were several outbreaks of
plague during the first half of the 17th century and, although
the Civil War brought prosperity to the area's gun manufacturers,
the town returned to less affluent conditions when the war ended.
'So great a branch of his
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|After this slightly shaky start, the last third
of the 17th century saw a steady upturn in trade and population.
Evidence of this can be seen in the Hearth Tax returns of the
1660s and 1680s, which show ever-increasing numbers of hearths
and forges in Birmingham and its environs. For example, the
return included here gives the number of hearths in new houses
and smithies surveyed since 29 September 1683. It was probably
drawn up to aid the collection of the next and subsequent payments
of the tax. The letter to Sir Robert Holt reproduced here seems
to indicate that there had been some problems with the collection
of the tax in the past.
What triggered this growth?
Many reasons are put forward as to why Birmingham developed
at such a rapid pace. One factor often mentioned is the relative
religious freedom enjoyed by the inhabitants of Birmingham,
which encouraged the migration of nonconformists to the area.
'Mischief so scandalous and flagrant'
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|During the Civil War Birmingham had exhibited
leanings, and it would appear from the letter to another member
of the Holt family - Sir Charles Holt - shown here that its
reputation as a centre for nonconformity continued after the
war. One reason for this may have been the fact that Birmingham
was not an incorporated
town and so was not subject to some of the strictures of the
- such as the Five Mile Act, which banned nonconformist ministers
from going within 5 miles of corporate towns.
|Recently, however, historians have questioned
the degree to which there was religious freedom in Birmingham
at this time, and its importance in the growth of Birmingham
is very much open to debate. Nevertheless, it is clear that
nonconformist communities continued to grow throughout the 18th
century - as can be seen from the baptism register shown here,
which gives the names of children baptised by Samuel Blyth,
minister at the New Meeting House in Moor Street.
List of baptisms, 1756
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Birmingham Enclosure Bill, 1798
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Canals, banking and steam
Throughout the 18th century Birmingham continued to grow.
Industry was helped by the development of better communications
(the first canal arrived in 1770), improvements in the availability
of credit and capital (the first bank in the town was founded
by John Taylor and Sampson Lloyd in 1765), and ever-increasing
mechanisation (the pioneering work of Matthew Boulton and
James Watt with steam took place in Birmingham). Birmingham's
growth did not continue completely unchecked, however, and
the French and American wars at the end of the century led
to some difficult times as the 19th century dawned.
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