About Birmingham's Historical Maps
Some maps are on public display in Archives and Heritage, some are available upon request. They are all indexed, so please ask the staff if you are visiting the library, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
This page shows examples of map series which cover Birmingham from 1731 to 1936.
There are many maps showing different types of boundary, for example county boundaries, parish boundaries, ward boundaries. All of these have changed as the city has grown over the past 150 years. The town of Birmingham was originally in the county of Warwickshire. In 1889 it became a city. The boundary with Worcestershire then lay about two miles to the south of the city centre; the boundary with Staffordshire was about three miles to the north-west. Birmingham had been developing rapidly during the nineteenth century, and needed more land. Between 1891 and 1911 large areas of north Worcestershire and south-east Staffordshire were transferred to Warwickshire, and became part of Birmingham.
The Digital Handsworth web site includes maps, photos and other material about the ancient parish of Handsworth, which covered much of north Birmingham.
The captions below in italics link to a larger version of a map of the area.
Birmingham 1885-1936, 1:2500
There are four editions of Ordnance Survey maps of Birmingham at the 1:2500 scale between 1884 and 1939. 1st edition 1884-1890, 2nd edition 1903-1905, 3rd edition 1915-1919, 4th edition 1936-1939. Local Studies hold copies of most of these editions for most parts of Birmingham.
The small image here shows the second edition, 1904, of the area around Sarehole Mill, which was then in Worcestershire. The author J.R.R.Tolkien lived here as a boy, in one of the cottages next to field number 1427. Click on the image for an enlarged version of this area in the fourth edition map, 1937, of Sarehole. By this time it was in Warwickshire.
Birmingham 1887-1889, 1:500
At this time Birmingham lay in north Warwickshire, although many who worked in the city lived in the pleasant, neighbouring rural areas of north Worcestershire and south-east Staffordshire. Local Studies hold these maps only for the parts of Birmingham which were in the county of Warwickshire as it was at that time. The city was smaller, so does not include towns to the north then separate from Birmingham, such as Sutton Coldfield.
The image shows the parish church of Aston, St. Peter and St. Paul. At the top appears part of the old course of the River Tame. The area was transformed in the early 1970s, when the Aston Expressway was built.
1855-1857 Pigott Smith map
In the first part of the nineteenth century many people moved from the countryside into the town. The towns became densely populated. Sanitary conditions were poor, which led to serious public health problems. In 1849 Sir Robert Rawlinson presented a report to the General Board of Health on the water supply, sewerage, drainage and sanitary condition of Birmingham. Work on these required a detailed map. A ten-feet to the mile survey of the centre of the town was conducted from 1850. This, the Pigott Smith survey, was completed in 1855.
Black-and -white copies of these maps can be seen in Local Studies and History, please ask staff for guidance.
Tithes, a tenth of the farmer's income or produce, had been paid to the church for centuries. In earlier times they were paid in kind. In 1836 the Tithe Commutation Act abolished tithes in kind and substituted rent charges. It was therefore necessary for there to be an accurate map of the country measuring acreage and recording the state of cultivation. However the maps produced were of variable quality. There were five different scales that could be used. Some were simply copies of older maps, rather than fresh surveys. The maps, with the accompanying apportionment schedule, showed who owned and who rented land. The image here shows the village of Northfield in 1840, then in Worcestershire, transferred to Warwickshire in 1911.
Most maps of the area covered by modern Birmingham were produced between 1839 and 1851.
For some places the tithe maps were the first detailed maps. However in addition to the series listed above, there are many individual maps, estate plans and enclosure maps. A number have been copied from books about the history of Birmingham, and are available to view in Local Studies and History. Older maps of central Birmingham include, amongst others, the Pigott Smith map of 1825, and the W. Westley map of 1731. This also gives a few statistics for the town, for example recording that there had been 15032 inhabitants in 1700, and were 23286 by 1731. This map indicates the north but it is not at the top; the scale is ten perch or 55 yards.
To see the entire map select Birmingham in 1731, William Westley map.
The Village Atlas, published by the Village Press in 1989, is a collection of maps showing the development of Birmingham and the West Midlands from 1831-1907.
British Library maps online