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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/8841/a-ramble-round-old-birmingham/

A Ramble ‘Round Old Birmingham

October 24, 2008 by

How did Birmingham manage to attract and to breed such a disproportionate share of Great Britain’s outstanding entrepreneurs, inventors, and skilled artisans? Why, in particular, did it — and not London or Bristol or Sheffield — become Great Britain’s leading center for all kinds of metal work, including commercial coinage? FULL ARTICLE

{ 7 comments }

P.M.Lawrence October 24, 2008 at 11:17 pm

He comes close to the data he needs for the answer but stumbles away from it without noticing its significance.

The secret of Birmingham’s success was location, location, location. Never mind that it had poor natural water resources, why did the canal go there at all? There were poor natural water resources because it was on higher ground than some other places, but the canal had to go there – or somewhere like there – to get to the other side. Not just one canal either, so it became a natural junction dictated by the location of other centres. It was being a hub that did it, nothing to do with freedom at all. If the canal network had intersected elsewhere, that place would have had the same boost.

Ray Spring October 25, 2008 at 2:03 am

I lived in Brum, Hall Green for almost 30 years. My wife lived at Great Barr, Birmingham, North side of town, I was South side. The reason Birmingham was so successful was that it did not have a Cathedral. Noncomformists had to go to church, the Anglican one, unless they were not within a Cathedral area. Hence Birmingham had many nonconformist chapels, including the Cadbury Quakers. So all these competent radical people were stuck in one area and fed off each other. The Lunar Society met in Birmingham. The promise was, walk in to Birmingham, penniless, leave in a Carriage. Some did.
Canals in England started in 1761 with the Bridgewater Canal and an act for the Coventry, Droitwich and Birmingham canals was passed by parliament in 1768. Matthew Boulton, 1728 to 1809, built his Soho factory in 1762. Visit the Science Museum in Newhall Street for quite a bit of information and exhibits.
Note, I would not stay in Birmingham overnight. I suggest Lichfield or Stratford on Avon. Both have good commuter train services. Ray Spring.

Ray Spring October 25, 2008 at 2:03 am

I lived in Brum, Hall Green for almost 30 years. My wife lived at Great Barr, Birmingham, North side of town, I was South side. The reason Birmingham was so successful was that it did not have a Cathedral. Noncomformists had to go to church, the Anglican one, unless they were not within a Cathedral area. Hence Birmingham had many nonconformist chapels, including the Cadbury Quakers. So all these competent radical people were stuck in one area and fed off each other. The Lunar Society met in Birmingham. The promise was, walk in to Birmingham, penniless, leave in a Carriage. Some did.
Canals in England started in 1761 with the Bridgewater Canal and an act for the Coventry, Droitwich and Birmingham canals was passed by parliament in 1768. Matthew Boulton, 1728 to 1809, built his Soho factory in 1762. Visit the Science Museum in Newhall Street for quite a bit of information and exhibits.
Note, I would not stay in Birmingham overnight. I suggest Lichfield or Stratford on Avon. Both have good commuter train services. Ray Spring.

Miklos Hollender October 25, 2008 at 9:36 am

I have the misfortune of living in Brum right now, and I wonder WTF is wrong with this place? Business and industry is all right, but the culture and the people… looks like every tracksuit-wearing obese drunkard with an IQ in the range of mushrooms lives right in this city.

George Selgin October 25, 2008 at 10:49 am

Although Mr. Lawrence is certainly correct to suggest that the arrival of canals in Birmingham contributed to its industrial development, the town was already well on its way to becoming Great Britain’s pre-eminant manufacturing center before construction of the Birmingham Canal, the town’s first, began in 1768, or 6 years after the Soho Factory’s completion.

Joe Shephered October 25, 2008 at 1:54 pm

I wonder if this history is relevant to the modern virtual money found in online virtual worlds like Second Life? They have virtual money that can turn into real life money for those who produce valuable services. The IRS has already tried to clamp down on that activity

P.M.Lawrence October 26, 2008 at 5:04 am

“Canals in England started in 1761 with the Bridgewater Canal…”.

That is not in fact the case. The first navigation canals that were deliberately started as such began around then, but canals actually got going in England about a century earlier, as drainage works and/or water supplies. The two blurred, since a canal designed for one reason often provided function of the other sort as well.

Mr. Selgin misses my point. Certainly, Birmingham had a certain measure of local gain and advance in specialised skills and trades before the canals – but so did many other places like Dunster in the West Country, which has a claim to inventing the self winding watch. Certainly Birmingham’s success could not have happened without those things as well as canals – but without the canal hub it would have been overtaken by whichever centre did get it, and there was no shortage of tradesmen to head for whichever centre turned up (e.g. James Watt, from Scotland). If you like, it was Britain‘s freedom that mattered, not Birmingham’s. Those features like the lack of a cathedral reflected its position as not being important in former times; for every feature that looks like a plus that way, there’s another that works as a minus, like the lack of political representation.

See Disraeli’s Sybil for a fictionalised description of the place in the early 19th century (it’s the place where the lock makers worked).

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