When Mr. Chamberlain entered the Town Council the municipal debt stood at some L588,000. When he left it, after about ten years’ service, the debt had mounted up to the neat and imposing sum of L6,212,000. Of course, there were very valuable assets to place against this heavy indebtedness, assets which are likely to improve considerably in value as time goes on—that is, if the city continues to progress and prosper. Still, a good many people were not a little alarmed at the big figures that grew on the debtor side of the Corporation accounts, but more persons applauded the spirit, courage, and enterprise of those who had taken the reins of the town into their hands.
When Mr. Chamberlain and his friends had fairly got hold of the Town Council ropes, they set to work in strong earnest. Sanitary improvements were promoted. The principal streets and their lighting and paving were improved, and the general appearance of the town quickly presented a change for the better. Trees were planted in some of the chief thoroughfares. They did not it is true show much disposition to grow and thrive, but they were planted and replanted, though we may still have to lament that our Birmingham boulevards will not compare favourably with those in some other cities. Mr. Chamberlain, however, was not the man to be content with such trifling reforms as these. He had large and spacious ideas in his mind, and he quickly brought them out to air and grow.
In the year 1873 Mr. Chamberlain was elected Mayor, and in the following year he brought forward his schemes for the purchase by the municipality of the gas and water supplies. His proposals encountered very formidable opposition, principally from those interested in the gas and water companies, whose undertakings he proposed compulsorily to purchase. Some of the shareholders in these prosperous companies were fierce in their denunciations of his schemes. They regarded Mr. Chamberlain’s proposals as nothing short of confiscation. For years they had supplied the town with gas and water. They had found the necessary money in the “sure and certain hope” of having a good and secure investment for their capital, and lo! when they had fairly established their undertakings, it was proposed to blow out their profitable light and dash the refreshingly remunerative water from their lips. It was hard—I don’t mean the water, but the situation! Of course the shareholders were to receive a fair price for their properties, the gas companies practically L1,900.000, the waterworks company L1,350,000. But still they were not happy. They resisted the proposed purchases.
Mr. Chamberlain, however, was not the man to be daunted by the opposition of the gas and water company proprietors. He had made up his mind that it would be for the good of the town for these undertakings to be in the hands of the municipality, and in spite of the Town Council “old gang” and outraged gas and water shareholders, who felt they were being fraudulently despoiled of certain prospective advantages, he carried his point.