From quiet rural settlement to a vital industrial heartland and then a thriving Afro-Caribbean community, Handsworth has seen massive changes over the decades, David Bentley reports in this article for The Birmingham Mail. Follow the link below for the original report and the photo gallery.
The Handsworth area of Birmingham was once a pleasant little village in the county of Staffordshire.
But then pioneering industrialist Matthew Boulton chose Handsworth Heath as the location for his Soho Manufactory, one of the first factories in the world and the first to use an assembly line process.
The attractive rural site had plenty of space for the massive works, powered by an innovative array of pounding steam engines, and allowed for possible expansion in future years.
That expansion led to the Handsworth we know today. Here we look back at the history of the area, including a gallery of images from over the decades.
Handsworth parish church St Mary’s – which dates from at least the 12th century – was caught up in the socio-economic changes as the Industrial Revolution thundered into life across the West Midlands.
In fact, the church became known as the Westminster Abbey of the Industrial Revolution because it commemorates the three local engineers and inventors who were at the heart of it: Boulton, James Watt and William Murdock.
The south-east chapel of the church was added as a memorial to Watt, and contains an 1825 marble statue of the engineer. He is shown sitting down and holding a pair of dividers on a sheet of paper. Watt is best known today for giving his name to the unit of power that we see every day on lightbulbs.
St Mary’s also has a bust of Boulton and another of gas lighting inventor William Murdock. All three are buried in the churchyard.
As noted by William Dargue’s A History of Birmingham Places, by 1800 Handsworth had become a popular rural location for several wealthy entrepreneurs.
Among them, Boulton lived at Soho House, near his factory, and now a museum; Watt at Heathfield House; and Murdock at Sycamore House.
At that time it was still considered to be a “pleasant country village” but after Boulton built homes for his workers, the area began to expand. More houses, roads and amenities were added.
By 1851, there were 6,000 people living there, by 1881 that had grown to 32,000, and by 1911 that had more than doubled. It was in that year that Handsworth became part of Birmingham.
Labourers were shipped over from British colonies in the Caribbean to work in local munitions factories during the Second World War, with more coming to help rebuild the area after the war ended. It led to Handsworth becoming a centre for the Afro-Caribbean community.
Racial tensions spilled over in the Handsworth riots of 1981, 1985, and 1991. Handsworth was also part of the Birmingham riots of 2005, which had also erupted in Lozells, and the more general 2011 England riots triggered by the death of Mark Duggan in Tottenham.
Handsworth Carnival, which began as a Caribbean-themed event in Handsworth Park in 1984, is held every two years (the next one is in 2015) and is now called Birmingham Carnival, with the festival instead taking place in Perry Park since 1999.
Among the famous people from Handsworth are musicians Joan Armatrading, Apache Indian, Pato Banton, Ruby Turner and Steve Winwood.
Princess Diana visited the Culture Centre in Handsworth on December 7, 1982, on what was her first official visit to the West Midlands.
For the original report go to http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/nostalgia/26-images-capture-heart-history-7638262