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Birmingham - the Workshop of The world -- A book review

#1 by Alice , Sun Aug 15, 2010 4:38 pm

The Workshop of the World – Birmingham’s Industrial Legacy
By Ray Shill ISBN 0 7509-3503-0 published by Sutton Publishing

The book is outstanding in its presentation and content. Its fourteen chapters are packed with factual information, manufacturer’s names, date’s of operation and the address of the factories in Birmingham. There are numerous advertisement’s, illustrations and photographs included in the book with the permission of the various record archives and publishers or from the author’s personal photographs taken of older factories, its machinery and often includes employee’s operating the machinery. It also includes some useful factory or canal map locations where appropriate. At the back of the book there is a sources reference list to enable you to locate the archive or library source of any of the records which may be of interest to you.

A snapshot view of the contents of the fourteen chapters:
1) Sewing Machine Manufacture: Informative section on the development of sewing machine manufacture and the diversification of some firms into bicycle making.

2) Wire and Nails Trade: which includes a graphic description of pin manufacturing at Messrs Thorpe, Latham & Kilminster factory (page 7) and sections on wire drawers, wire weaving, hook and eye, screw and nail and rivet manufacture.

3) The Brass Trade: Gives useful Brass alloys list, details and location of older foundries such as The Beacon Works and Sperryn & Co. There is also a section about modern brass founders and its workers.

4) The Bedstead Trade: This chapter includes a two page listing of the Principal bedstead makers in Birmingham between 1827 to 1959 and gives an interesting description taken from an extract of schedule of fixed plant (page 41) and an inventory of Peyton and Peyton (page 40) and a map of Digbeth showing the main bedstead works dated 1911.

5) The Gas Industry: This explains the growth and manufacture in the commercial gas industry around Birmingham and gives an interesting list of the location of gas works and the period of use, with factual notes about each one.
(page 56)

6) Paints and Varnishes trade: Another very informative chapter with explanations of the varnish and lacquer makers and lists of the uses of each type of varnish. It explores the products that varnish was used on such as advertising signs, car trade, coach building, Japan trade, toy making etc.

7) The Plastics Trade: This chapter gives a detailed explanation about the origins of plastic manufacture and is illustrated with pictures of workers and machinery in Resin Manufacture at the Bakelight works and Extrusion mounding machines.
8) The Chemical Trade: This chapter covers such subjects as Acid Manufacture, the Artificial Manure Trade which many of our boatmen ancestors seem to have been involved in, Charcoal production, Phosphorous Making and Vesta Match manufacture, Soap manufacture to name a few.

9) Beer and Liquor Engine Makers: Although this is a shorter chapter it is filled with detailed explanation of the origins of the trade and how it progressed in Birmingham.

10) The Paper Making Trade: The in-depth explanation of the papermaking trade around Birmingham includes a description of the Aston Manor Paper Mill in Cheston Road and an interesting section on the role of powdered paper mache in the manufacture of buttons and beads and another on the manufacture of paper boxes.

11) The Toy Trade: Unsurprisingly the chapter includes a large section about Chad Valley Toys with a detailed map of the Chad Valley works 1952 (page 120)

12) The Brick and Aggregates Trades: The evolution of Brick making from hand to mechanical means is discussed and an interesting list of brickyard workers wages (1872 – 1889) is included. There is also a detailed list of the amount of bricks made by Fox and barley brick makers and a plan of the Birmingham Brickworks in Bordesley Green.

13) The Aircraft Industry: A very interesting chapter about the development and manufacture of Balloons and airships for commercial and military purposes and the various manufactures that were involved, Airship and Aeroplane manufacture at the Wolseley Motor Co, photographs of the Nuffield Aircraft factory and another of the employees on the factory floor, work plating parts. with impressive photos of the Spitfire fighter plane and the Lancaster bomber

14) Exhibitions of the World: This chapter discussed promoting Birmingham industry in the various trade exhibitions. The trade exhibitions in Birmingham took place in Town hall, Bingley hall and Curzon hall and there is a wealth of information and illustrations including floor plans of the various trade exhibitions with references made right up to the present day.

The author Ray Shill is a member of the Birmingham Canal Navigations Society and is well known for his encyclopaedic knowledge not only about Birmingham’s Industrial Heritage but also for his exceptional in-depth knowledge about the canals and railways. He often gives talks at the Birmingham Canal Navigations Society and has published many books and articles on these subjects.

Book reviewed by Alice McGladdery

Posts: 28
Date registered 08.11.2010

RE: Birmingham - the Workshop of The world -- A book review

#2 by phil ( deleted ) , Sun Aug 15, 2010 5:17 pm


Good review, it makes me want to run out and buy the book, Which I suppose that is what reviews are supposed to do. I'm just trying to work out where I know the name Ray Shill from. It will come to me.

Sometime during the week I will see if I can find a more suitable spot for this thread, because like yourself I believe that a section dedicated to book reviews might be an asset to the forum.


Make Love, Not War

Last edited Sun Aug 15, 2010 5:52 pm | Top

RE: Birmingham - the Workshop of The world -- A book review

#3 by Sheldonboy , Sun Aug 15, 2010 5:41 pm

Well done and thank you Alice for an excellent review.
I can see you are going to be a great asset to our forum as are our current membership who all have one speciality or another. Please stay with us and as Phil said a Book review thread would enhance our site incredibly. SB

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RE: Birmingham - the Workshop of The world -- A book review

#4 by signman ( deleted ) , Sun Aug 15, 2010 5:52 pm

Hear ,Hear, have just read the autobiography of Walker Evans, the most influencial photographer of the early 1930's -1950's, I know it's a
specialist field, but this guys life was amazing.
He was the photographer for the book, LET US NOW PRAISE FAMOUS MEN., by James Agee, a book about the poor tenant farmers in the
southern states of America.


RE: Birmingham - the Workshop of The world -- A book review

#5 by signman ( deleted ) , Sun Aug 15, 2010 5:56 pm

Alice , very good review of the book , let's have more.



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