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Birmingham City Council

Historical views of Birmingham

At the time of the Domesday Survey, Birmingham was only a small village in a woodland clearing on the bank of the River Rea. This is hilly country and the Rea is near its source on Waseley Hill to the north-west of the Lickeys, so is little more than a stream. The first published view of Birmingham is an etching in William Dugdale's Warwickshire, 1656. There are as many trees as houses in the sketch. However Birmingham then grew rapidly. Industry and metalwork were already flourishing. Because it had previously been small Birmingham was exempt from the Five-Mile Act of 1665, and many nonconformists moved there to set up business. By the time of William Westley's map of 1731 and his Prospect of 1732 Birmingham was thriving.

Click on the captions below the thumbnail images to see larger versions and to discover more about the history of Birmingham.

Birmingham from the east in 1732


By 1732 Birmingham had already increased greatly in size. It was the third largest town in Warwickshire after Coventry and Warwick. William Westley, a Birmingham surveyor, explains Birmingham's new importance in the caption to this Prospect:

 Section of Westley Prospect 1732

BIRMINGHAM, a Market Town in the County of WARWICK, which by the art and industry of its inhabitants has for some years past been render'd famous all over the World, for the choice and invention of all sorts of Wares and Curiositys, in Iron, Steel, Brass &c: admired as well for their cheapness as for their peculiar beauty of Workmanship.
William Westley's Prospect of Birmingham, 1732

Ackermann panorama 1847

 St. Martin

Although Birmingham was now the second largest town in the country it had only become a borough officially in 1838, and would not become a city until 1889. The town sprawls across the surrounding hills, but farmland can still be seen fairly close to the centre. This panorama was published by Ackermann & Co, a London firm. The viewpoint was as if from a balloon.
Ackermann Prospect of Birmingham 1847


Bird's Eye View 1886


 Aerial view Birmingham Council House 1886

Birmingham by this time was the City of a Thousand Trades. There was little large-scale industry but there were thousands of small workshops. The many smoking chimneys in the background did not represent pollution then, they signified industry, trade and prosperity. In 1889 Birmingham would change its status from town to city. In the foreground surrounding Chamberlain Square are the new civic buildings of which it was justly proud.
Birds' Eye View of Birmingham 1886

You can find further views and maps of Birmingham through its history on these pages:

Birmingham historical maps
Birmingham or Brummagem
Maps and Map Making - the West Midlands Experience - (Revolutionary Players website)