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Explore the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter



Thomas Attwood

Samuel Galton jnr









What was Birmingham like in the early 19th century? Who was living in the town then? In 1818, Robert Wrightson of 7 New Street, Birmingham, published his New triennial directory of Birmingham, in which were listed 'the merchants, tradesmen and respectable inhabitants' of the town (or, more precisely, such of them as had thought it worth their while to pay for an entry).  The data presented here, which is not the same as Wrightson's listing (see below), comprises about 5000 entries. Since the population of the town at that time is likely to have been around 67,000, made up of perhaps 13,500 households, it is likely that about one household in three is listed (allowing for the fact that, for various reasons, some people have more than one entry). It is therefore likely that a fairly high proportion of those who were in business on their own account do, in fact, appear in the listing.

By carrying out a number of analyses on the data, we can say something about the economy and town of Birmingham at that time. The main results are summarised here. Detailed results are also provided in linked files, which could form the basis of further research and analysis or help the many users who visit the site in the course of tracing their ancestors. (NB. You will need Acrobat Reader to view the detailed results.)

What were the main occupations?

Click here to view a PDF file listing the top 20 occupations, as judged by the number of directory entries (ie, businesses), and analysed into the three categories: metal working, other manufacturing, and service sector. Metal working and other manufacturing both account for about 1/4 of the top 20 occupations, the remaining half being in the service sector. Whilst this does not imply that the service sector was twice as important economically as metal working, as it takes no account of the size of the businesses, it does indicate that there must have been several thousand people engaged in the service sector, and many hundreds, at least, employed in non-metal manufacturing trades.  

How diversified was the economy?

Extremely so, it would seem. In fact, the data bears out the later description 'city of 1000 trades'.  A listing of the occupations in the directory can be found here. It shows that around 1000 occupations were listed in the directory. Apart from a great diversity of manufacturers, both in metal and other materials, which produced just about everything you could think of, there was, as noted above,  a significant service sector.

How economically important was the gun trade?

It is often suggested that Birmingham's economy was heavily dependent on the gun trade and that, certainly before the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, much of the profits of the gun trade derived from guns sold to slavers. It would be interesting to know if there is evidence to suggest that the gun trade declined significantly after 1807, as such a decline would lend support to the view that the supply of guns to slavers had been important. The data in Wrightson's Directory indicates that in 1818 the gun trade accounted for only 20% of the metal-working businesses in the top 20 occupations and only about 2% of all businesses, suggesting that, unless the gun trade had experienced a significantly greater degree of concentration than other manufacturing sectors, it was not of major economic significance to the town at that time.

Was there a Jewellery Quarter at that time? A Gun Quarter?

In both cases the short answer would seem to be, 'No'.  If we define the Jewellery Quarter of the time as being the area bounded by Great Charles St / Summer Row / Parade / Camden St / Warstone La / Hall St / Great Hampton St / Livery St, then it is true that about half the jewellers, goldsmiths and silversmiths were concentrated in this relatively small area. But even within that area, they made up only a small proportion of the total occupations, nowhere more than 25%, and no more than 10% in most streets.

A similar picture emerges if we look at the Gun Quarter. Taking that quarter as the area bounded by Bull St & Snow Hill / Bath Row & Shadwell St & Princep St / New Town Row & New John St/ Aston Rd & Gosta Grn & Aston St / Stafford St & Dale End, we again find that whilst about half the gun makers were concentrated in that area, they were very much in a minority within it.

What were the main residential areas?

Around 12% of the entries in Wrightson's Directory do not list an occupation. It is clear, from other information, that some of these entries represent the residential addresses of people who had business addresses elsewhere in the town, and since the main purpose of an entry in the directory was to promote one's business, it is reasonable to suppose that most, if not all, such entries gave the residential addresses of the kind of well-to-do people who would spend money on an entry. If we accept that assumption, then the analysis here shows that the desirable addresses of the day were mainly to the west, around Five Ways; to the north-west, around Summer Hill and the western side of the modern Jewellery Quarter; and to the north, in Hockley and Handsworth.

Methodology and health warnings

The starting point for the analysis was an online version of Wrighton's Directory available at, the data from which was taken and transformed in several ways: (1) the entries without occupations, which are omitted from that database, were added back; (2) many of the occupation descriptions were modified to put them into a form amenable to analysis. For example, a black toy maker, gilt toy maker and a steel toy maker are all toymakers, but will not appear together in an alphabetical listing. They have therefore been modified to read 'toy maker (black)', etc. In general, words which appear in parentheses in occupational descriptions have been moved from the beginning of the description, as in the above example; (3) for similar reasons, 'flannel' words such as 'fine' or 'quality' have been deleted; (4) for technical reasons it was necessary to delete all commas within occupational descriptions. In most cases it is clear where this has occurred; (5) there are some inconsistencies in the spelling of street names. In the main, the original spellings are retained, but all instances of 'Wharstone' have been changed to 'Warstone', to ensure that all the entries for Warstone Lane appeared in the same place in an alphabetical listing. Inevitably, in the course of processing over 5,000 entries, some errors and inconsistencies will have occurred. What you have here is therefore not Wrightson's Directory, but a heavily modified version of it, more amenable to analysis. 

Find your ancestors

This modified data has been sorted in a variety of ways, producing PDF files in which the data is displayed in five columns. The first column contains the family name; the second column other names; the third and fourth columns list occupations (many of the subscribers having more than one string to their bow); and the fifth column the street name. The resulting PDFs are as follows: (1) BRUM1818ABC.pdf is ordered alphabetically by the family name column, which may be helpful in finding your ancestors or other people, as the software's version of alphabetical order is a good deal less eccentric than Robert Wrightson's; (2) BRUM1818CDA.pdf is ordered by the first occupation column, so that (for example) all the jewellers listed in that column come together, enabling you to readily see who they were and where they lived, and to count how many of them there were; (3) BRUM1818DCE.pdf is ordered by the second occupation column, and you will need to consult this file as well to get a full picture of any occupation; finally, BRUM1818EDC.pdf is ordered by the street name column, enabling you to see who lived in any street, and the occupations in which the inhabitants of that street were engaged. The analyses of occupations, residential areas, and so forth,  that were referred to above, have all been based on the data in these files. 



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Several of the names mentioned elsewhere on this site can be found in Wrightson's Directory. Thomas Attwood is living at the Crescent, and his bank, Attwoods, Spooner and Goddrington, is listed in New Street. Samuel Galton, the Lunar Society member disowned by his fellow-Quakers for his involvement in the slave trade, to which he supplied guns, had by this time rehabilitated himself by quitting the gun trade in favour of banking. His bank, in Steelhouse Lane, would develop into the mighty Midland Bank. Charles Lloyd, of the other great Birmingham banking dynasty, is living off Broad Street and banking in Dale End under the name of Taylors and Lloyds, the forerunner of today's Lloyds TSB. Matthew's son, Matthew Robinson Boulton, is running the Soho Manufactory and Mint, and jointly with James Watt's son, James Watt junior, the steam-engine building firm of Boulton & Watt. Washington Irving's brother-in-law, Henry van Wart, is listed, as is William Whitmore , with his foundry in Newhall Street; and William Hutton's daughter Catherine is living in Bennett's Hill.

Apart from the bankers mentioned above, a number of household names appear. The Cadburys are ensconced in Bull Street, though not yet making chocolate. Pickford & Co, the carriers, are already established in Fazeley Street. W & T Avery are making scales in Digbeth, where Charles Rabone is making the precision rules for which his firm would become famous.

2007, 2009 Bob Miles