The Great Western Railway station, too, in its making also disposed of some shabby, narrow streets and dirty, pestiferous houses inhabited by people who were not creditable to the locality or the community, and by so doing contributed to the improvement of the town. Further, the erection of two large railway stations in a central district naturally tended to increase the number of visitors to the growing Midland capital, and this, of course, brought into existence a better class of shops and more extended trading. Then the suburbs of Birmingham, which for some years had been stretching out north, south, east, and west, have lately become to a considerable extent gathered into the arms of the city, and the residents in some of the outskirts, at least, may now pride themselves, if so inclined, upon being a part of the so-called “best governed city in the world,” sharing its honours, importance, and debts, and contributing to its not altogether inconsiderable rates.
I do not purpose in these pages to go into the ancient history of Birmingham. Other pens have told us how one Leland, in the sixteenth century, visited the place, and what he said about the “toyshop of the world.” Also how he saw a “brooke,” which was doubtless in his time a pretty little river, but which is now a sewery looking stream that tries to atone for its shallowness and narrowness by its thickness. They have likewise told us about the old lords of Bermingham—whose monuments still adorn the parish church—who have died out leaving no successors to bear for their proud title the name of the “best governed city in the world.”
These other pens have also mentioned the little attentions Birmingham received from Cromwell’s troops; how the Roundheads fired at Aston Hall (which had given hospitality to Charles I.) making a breakage—still unrepaired!—in the great staircase of that grand old Elizabethan mansion. My purpose, however, is not to deal with past records of Birmingham, but rather with its modern growth and appearance.
After the sweeping alterations effected by the construction of the new railway stations in Birmingham, further improvements were for a time of a slow, jog-trot order, although the town, in a commercial sense, was moving ahead, and its wealth and population were rapidly increasing. Small improvements were made, but anything like big schemes, even if desirable, were postponed or rejected. Birmingham, indeed, some thirty years ago, was considerably under the influence of men of the unprogressive tradesmen class—many of them worthy men in their way but of limited ideas. In their private businesses they were not accustomed to deal with big transactions and high figures, so that spending large sums of money, if proposed, filled the brewer, the baker, and candlestick maker with alarm. They were careful and economical, but their care in finance was apt at times to be impolitic, and their economy has in several cases proved to have been somewhat costly.