A “Virtual” Tour of The Back to Backs – part 29




A Virtual Tour of the Back to Backs – part 29

Birmingham is frequently referred to as the “Town (or City) of a Thousand Trades”. In fact, in a report written for the Board of Trade in 1849 by a Robert Rawlinson, he counted 2,600 different trades in the growing town. This diversity of trades and occupations was bought about by the lack of guilds in the town. Guilds existed in many towns across Britain, and their aim was to promote and protect a particular trade. That is why Walsall was known for leather-work, and in Coventry it was lace. But here there was no control over who could set up their business so Birmingham grew to become the “Workshop of the World”. It was this diversity in trades that allowed the town to prosper when others failed or stagnated. If one type of trade was failing there would still be hundreds of others that would prosper.

We’ll just take a look at another trade in Court 15. In the 1850s we would have found at No 52 Inge Street, Thomas Williams and his family. Thomas is a tailor using No 52 as his house and shop. Like the Levys the Williams were Jewish. Then ten years later we would have found James Williams, probably a relation living next door at No 50. This house was larger than No 52 and the extra space would have been useful as James had, living with him his wife Ann and six young children: William, Gwen, James, John, Maud and Jessie.

They had it seemed taken over the house next door, No 48, they were probably living in one and using the other for their expanding tailoring business.

By the 1861 census we will find that James and Ann had two more children, Lydia and Joseph, but they served only to replace the couple’s youngest two daughters who had died in infancy. By 1871 James Williams had died and Ann seemed to be carrying on the tailoring business, and looking after the four remaining children, the eldest having by now married and moved away.

An aerial view of Birmingham c1890
Tailors’ shears
A traditional tailors’ workshop