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1840 Birmingham.

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Date: 1840 (circa) London

Dimensions: 13.25 x 15.75 (33.7 x 40 cm)

This highly detailed map of Birmingham, England, was published by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, also referred to as SDUK. The map provides a bird’s eye view of the city, which is located in the West Midlands and is the second largest of the UK. It is located near the geographic centre of England at a crossing point of the national railway and motorway systems. Located just 110 miles to the northwest of London, the region is one of the country’s primary industrial and commercial regions, and it acts as an administrative, recreational and cultural centre.   

The map depicts the city as it was in the middle of the 19th century, with boundaries of boroughs and wards colour coded. Open spaces such as greens and parks are coloured green, as is Mill Pool, which dates to the 13th century. Shapes of buildings are indicated, all streets are depicted and named. Along the bottom of the map are images of important architectural edifices which had been built over the years as the city’s wealth increased. Wards are numbered on the map and a guide to their names is found in the lower right quadrant. The upper right quadrant features an inset depicting the city along with its wider environs, with the note that the plan was done with ‘Boundaries taken from the Reform Act’.

History of Birmingham

The Birmingham region has been inhabited for millennia, with its oldest known human artifacts dating to 500,000 BCE. The area was uninhabitable during the last Ice Age, but as it became hospitable to settlement in the Mesolithic era approximately ten thousand years ago, evidence indicates that hunter-gatherers began to clear the land and build semi-permanent shelters. Following this stage of habitation, settlements became increasingly fortified and the oldest man-made structures in the city date to the Neolithic era. Artifacts suggest that Birmingham already had numerous trade links at that time.

The area continued to host various tribes down through the ages, who left evidence of clearing of forested land, with remnants of farmsteads suggesting that animal husbandry was being practiced. Early on in the Roman Era Metchley Fort was built in the southern environs of the city, and evidence of many Roman roads converging on the city are to be found, suggesting its (Birmingham’s) importance to the occupation.

Following Rome’s departure the history of the region is less clear, and there is little archeological evidence, but various tribes and came and went throughout the region and by the late ninth century the area came under the thrall of the Danelaw. Birmingham is officially noted in Domesday in 1086 as a small manor along with its holdings. The Medieval period saw the region’s population increase rapidly as did its economic status. By the early 14th century, Birmingham boasted one of the largest populations in England, with a market based primarily on agricultural produce, but also increasingly in other products such as iron, linen, wool, brass and steel.

By 1700, the city was the fifth largest in England and Wales. Despite its encounters with the plague, the period from the 14th to 17th century saw continuous increases in the number of merchants, craftsmen and production centres in the city. Leather, textile and metals industries sprang up and thrived, and Birmingham became known for its superior steel products, whose development was often accomplished by self-made merchants and manufacturers rather than by local landed overlords.  Birmingham played an exceedingly important role in the explosion of technology known as the Industrial Revolution.

Post-industrial Birmingham was not so fortunate as the city of earlier eras. The collapse of industry resulted in catastrophic unemployment rates and deterioration of standards of living across the board. In response, the city undertook various initiatives to recast itself as a modern city capable of adapting and restructuring its economy to meet modern-day demands. Results of the efforts are impressive, as the city is currently forecasting a very profitable 2023 despite present-day worldwide economic events.

The SDUK was founded in 1828 by Henry Peter Brougham, an idealistic British nobleman. The aim of the society was to promote self-education and egalitarian sharing of knowledge by providing instruments of learning such as maps and various other publications. Despite being affiliated with London University and various major publishing houses, the Society ultimately failed to achieve its goal as the publications were too costly for the targeted middle to lower class echelons of British society. At the same time, its publications were not grand enough or fine enough to appeal to the aristocracy.                                                                                    

Condition: This map is in A condition with partial hand coloring. Trimmed close to the neatline on all four sides.

Inventory #12321

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