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|“Remarkable Places”: Industrial Tourism.
Written by JulieW
(6/2/2007 10:23 a.m.)
Reviewing the list of tourist attractions as notes in Chapter 42, one strikes an odd note-the town (as it was then) of Birmingham .
As I hail from that city I feel it incumbent on me to explain a little as to why, as very industrial town it is included in the list of attractions the Gardiners thought it worthwhile to visit on their Northern tour, as ,at first sight, it would seem not to have much in common with the dreaming spires of Oxford, the palace of the Duke of Marlborough at Blenheim and the medieval fortresses that are Kenelworth(sic) and Warwick ;-)
First, it seems likely that JA may have visited all these places on her trip to Stoneleigh Abbey in 1806,: a trip I think was very influential on her writings-as I will describes later in the GR ;-). We know from a letter Mrs. Austen wrote to her daughter in law Mary from Stoneleigh that they did visit Warwick and Kenilworth Castles:
Tomorrow we depart, Hamstall is 38 miles from hence. We have seen the remains of Kenilworth Castle which afforded us much entertainment. I expect still more from the sight of Warwick Castle which we are going to see today.
And here is a section from John Cary’s map of England dated 1802, from his book The Itinerary of the Great Roads of England and Wales etc(Do note this is a large file: if you are on dial up you may not want to click on this link!) which is very useful as it enables you to chart the routes the Austen took.
Secondly ,this is of course the very same route that William Gilpin took in his book Oberservations Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty made in the year 1772 on several parts of England particularly the mountains and Lakes of Cumber land and Westmoreland.
FROM Kenelworth-caftle we proceeded to Coventry. The intervening country is flat.
The tower of Coventry church, is a beautiful object: but constructed of the same kind of mouldering stone, which we took notice of in the ruins of Kenelworth; and which indeed is better adapted to a decayed, than to a compleat pile. The ornamental parts of this tower are just in that state, which one would with in a ruin: they possess a fort of rich mutilation: every part is in some degree defaced and yet the whole so perfect, as to leave room for the imagination to put all together. In a ruin this is enough: but where the parts are intire, we require the ornaments to be so too.
As we leave Coventry, we find red, gravelly clay, covering a brown rock; which bursting here and there from the foil, often makes a picturesque fore-ground. The lanes are close; and the country woody.
Between Coventry, and Birmingham lies Lord Aylsford's, an ancient seat, but now under the hands of improvement. The house is rebuilding, and the grounds are taking a new form, under the taste of Mr. Brown, who seems to be doing all, that a situation, with but few advantages, will allow. The house stands in the midst of a scene rather flat. A rill, running near it, is changed into a river. An elegant approach is conducted over it by a handsome bridge; and a belt, winding about two miles, is the circumference of the pleasure ground: but the country affords few objects to inrich either a fore-around, or a distance.
The rest of the road to Birmingham leads, at first, through an open Country; which afterwards becomes woody and close; and more pleasant, as we approach the town.
The buildings, which you see scattered about the landscape, near Birmingham, are in great profusion, and generally of a reddish hue. For the country is populous; and the houses are built of a kind of brick, which has a peculiar red cast--This tint predominating in a country, as it does here, is very unpleasing..
Near Birmingham we went to see Bolton's hardware manufactory. It is a town under a single roof; containing about seven hundred work people. But notwithstanding it is a scene of industry, utility, and ingenuity, it is difficult to keep the eye in humour among so many frivolous arts; and check it's looking with contempt on an hundred men employed in making a snuffbox.
From Birmingham we left the great road, and passed through a pleasant country to the Leasowes and Hagley, which lie within a few miles of each other.
Thirdly, ,JA may have heard talk of the town from her Cooper oousins, whom she also visited at their home in Hamstall Ridware, Staffordshire in 1806 after she had stayed in Warickshire. Mrs. Lybbe Powys was the mother of Edward Cooper’s wife and left us a treasure in her diaries extracts of which have been published.
So- what exactly was there to see as a tourist in this decidedly industrial town?
Birmingham’s industrial reputation in the late 18th and early 19th centuries largely rested on its importance as a “metal–bashing” town. It manufactured items from brass and iron, which required brute strength to forge and create household goods such as cooking pots or engineered products like the steam engine.
There was, though, another side to Birmingham’s importance, the making of “toys”, small decorative objects from silver, bronze and other metals and Edmund Burke, the MP and philosopher described Birmingham as “The Toyshop of Europe”. Matthew Boulton pioneered the mass production of buttons, buckles and boxes, but manufacturers also produced other highly decorated items for the home and personal use such as caddy spoons and candlesticks.
Here is Mrs. Lybbe Powys’s description of her visit to Birmingham inn1800:
Staffordshire Journal 1800
We lay at Hockley, as wishing to avoid the noise of such an immense town as Birmingham, where we got to breakfast on Tuesday by ten, to Lloyd’s Hotel, which inn quite answered the favourable description Mr and Mrs Atkyns Wright gave us of it.
We set out to walk, upon the very worst pavement I ever saw, to see Mr Bolton’s manufactory, but very unfortunately we could not as the very day before it had been advertised to the newspaper that it would not be shown any more owing to some French emigrants having the week before behaved very unhandsome when admitted there.
However, we went to see the japan manufactory, which I certainly worth going to, but nothing equal to the button manufactory, the process of which is certainly one of the most enlightening I ever saw. I was presented with a most curious specimin( now in my fossil case) of one we saw made from beginning to end, of the most curious workmanship, with a purple stone in the centre.
We after this walked a long time about this immense place, curious certainly to see tho’ its vast extent, crowds of dirty inhabitants, and bad pavements, made the whole not so pleasing.
Here are some buttons as manufactured in Birmingham in the late 18th century, circa 1795, which may be similar to the ones which impresssed Mrs Lybbe Powys:
Here is a picture of the Manufactory that became so famous: you can see the grand carraiges bringing tourists to the site, and also note that it is depicted more as a gentleman’s seat in some of these prints:
And here is a picture of Mathew Boulton whose manufactory it was.
Note the manufactory is shown over this left shoulder, rather as a great house might have been in an aristocratic portrait of the same era.
Again if you compare his portrait to that of Richard Arkwright, below,
you can see that the pride in his inventions and manufactory is evident. Examples of some of his fine wares are shown in this post.
I think it’s interesting to note that theses industrial site were included on the tourist trail of the early 19th century, don’t you agree?
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