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Birmingham City Council

History of Handsworth

The Digital Handsworth Project has made a huge contribution to recording the history of the area.
Go to www.digitalhandsworth.org.uk for a feast of Handsworth history.



In the Domesday Book, Handsworth was listed as a holding of William Fitz-Ansculf, the Lord of Dudley. It was part of Staffordshire until 1911 when it was incorporated into Birmingham.

The name Handsworth is of Saxon origin, from its Saxon owner Hondes and the Anglo-Saxon word weorthing meaning farm or estate. From the 13th century through to the 18th century, it remained a small village until Matthew Boulton (who lived at the nearby Soho House) set up the Soho Manufactory in 1764 on Handsworth Heath. Accommodation was built for the factory workers, the village quickly grew, and in 1851, there were over six thousand people living in the township. Forty years later over thirty-two thousand were counted at the census of 1881, and by 1911, this had more than doubled to 68,610.

The development of Handsworth was rather sporadic. The result is that many of the roads and streets have a mixture of types and periods of buildings.

Handsworth 1950s - 1990s

During the Second World War, West Indians had arrived as part of the colonial war effort, where they worked in Birmingham munitions factories. Post-war, a rebuilding programme required much unskilled labour and Birminghams industrial base expanded, significantly increasing the demand for both skilled and unskilled workers. During this time, there was direct recruitment for workers from the Caribbean.

The West Indian population in Birmingham numbered over 17,000 by the 1961 census count. In addition, during this time, Indians, particularly Sikhs from the Punjab arrived in Birmingham, many of them working in the foundries and on the production lines in motor vehicle manufacturing.

Although these groups contributed to the local economy, they have suffered much racism and in Handsworth the problems and discontentment escalated in September 1985. As in many parts of Britain, the conflict between black people in Birmingham and the police was a long-standing one. Blanket raids on black meeting places and a stop and search policy increased the tension between the police and the black community.

After the Handsworth riots people came together to work on building community relations and to give a positive voice to the black community. One such organisation, Shades of Black, is still going strongly today and works closely with the community.

Throughout its more recent multicultural history, Handsworth has produced some of the finest musical talent: Steel Pulse, Joan Armatrading, and Ruby Turner.

Handsworth Park has hosted numerous events: The Birmingham Tattoo, The Birmingham Festival (both originally called Handsworth- rather than Birmingham-) and the Flower Show, and in 1967 The Birmingham Dog Show. The Handsworth Carnival grew out of the Flower Show and Carnival; Caribbean style carnivals began in Handsworth Park, in 1984, with a street procession via Hollyhead Road. In 1994 the carnival was held in Handsworth Park for the last time. The following year it was moved from the park out onto the streets of Handsworth, since which time it has been known as the Birmingham Carnival. In 1999, it was again held in a park, but this time in Perry Barr Park.


Handsworth Library
Soho House
The Boulton and Watt Collection
Boulton, Watt and Murdoch
Birmingham Carnival