It seems to be taken as a matter of course that Birmingham will go on developing and prospering in the future as it has in the past. And it may be fairly presumed that it will do so. This, however, must not be taken exactly as a matter of positive certainty. There are some indications that there may be a pause in the material prosperity of the city by and by—a limit to its progressiveness. If so, the enterprises of our authorities may not prove so advantageous as has been reckoned upon. Partly owing to high rates and the cost of carriage, manufacturers are removing factories outside the city, and in some cases, where they have a large foreign trade, nearer to the seaboard. If this exodus continues and increases it is easy to see that the effect will be to diminish the population, and this in time will affect the value of property. The manufactures of Birmingham are, however, so numerous and so varied there is reason for hope that any circumstances that may apparently show a standstill condition will only be temporary, and that in all general revivals of trade the city will participate.
Whatever may happen, we know the city in the middle of the next century will come in for a fine heritage of reversions, and it is fair to presume that posterity will greatly benefit by the Improvement Scheme fathered by Mr. Chamberlain. In the meantime the citizens—at least, those who bestow much thought upon such matters—shake their heads at the load of debt Birmingham bears upon its shoulders, and chafe at the high rates. It is, however, pointed out to the malcontents that they live in a healthier place than Birmingham used to be, and, further, that the city, owing to its improved character and appearance, attracts more visitors, and this increases local trade.
Of this latter fact there can be little dispute. The new order of things has led to a new and, in some cases, better class of shops being established, and these attract a better class of customers. At one time residents in the adjoining counties looked down upon Birmingham shopkeepers, and would say rather contemptuously that they never “shopped” in this city, but went to Leamington, Cheltenham, or London to make their purchases. But we do not hear so much of this now. On the contrary, I have heard of people—even aristocratic people—who actually say that they now, for many reasons, prefer to “shop” in Birmingham rather than go to London. Of course this is not an ordinary circumstance—for Birmingham has not yet a Bond Street or Regent Street; still, exceptional though it may be, it indicates a change of feeling and shows that, in one sense at all events, Birmingham is on the rise.
The increased number of large and important shops in central Birmingham has led to the formation of trading establishments and Stores of the latest order of development. There are now large shops of the “universal provider” type, where they sell everything from blacking to port wine, and where you see silk mantles in one window and sausages in another.