Family History


THIS IS SOME INFORMATION i HAVE PICKED UP ON THE GUNMAKING INDUSTRY IN BIRMINGHAM AND THE BLACK COUNTRY IN THE 18TH AND 19TH CENTURIES. THE MARTINS WOULD HAVE BEEN INVOLVED WITH IT IN dARLASTON AND WEDNESBURY BEFORE MOVING TO LONDON AT THE TURN OF THE 18TH CENTURY AND JOSEPH MARTIN'S GRANDSON RICHARD RETURNED TO WORK IN BIRMINGHAM

THIS PAGE IS STILL UNDER CONSTRUCTION. IF YOU HAVE ANY CORRECTIONS OR ADDITIONS PLEASE E-MAIL ME Martis1@hotmail.co.uk

The Birmingham gun trade

Birmingham was a village of manufacturing back to Edward II as there was iron and coal nearby. First gunmakers were probably early 17th century. It supplied arms to the parliamentarians and was helped later by MP Sir Richard Newdgate who organised for a group of Birmingham contractors to supply snaphaunce muskets to the Board of Ordnance starting 1689. It delivered contracts well – sometimes over 200 a month. The suppliers were Jacob Austen, Williamm Bourne, Thomas Moore, John West and Richard Weston . From 1672 Royal African Compnay led to the demand for slave gums – also cheap muskets to give to the African kings. It also supplied components for the Hudson Bay Company. London’s Worshipful Company of Gunmakers tried to hinder its growth. Birmingham also had labour force trained in metal work. Production capabilities were demonstrated in War of Spanish Succession – by 2nd quarter of 18th century it was supplying most arms and components especially locks & barrels for the contractors to the royal ordnance; orders for the War of Austrian Succession, American War of Independence and the expansion of Britain’s empire. There were also the sporting trade and slavery guns. Up to 1750 other provinces had some manuf acturing and bought in components from Birmingham but it then more economical to buy complete arms. Birmingham guns tended to be anonymous or even given London or provincial signatures. Only when a Birmingham manufacturer could afford to make more than his contracts required could he put his name on them. Most contractors never reached this stage of affluence. Also London names had high reputation. In 1813 London gunmakers brought a bill to stop this practice but Birmingham was able to quash it. In 1797 a government t proof and viewing house ‘the towe’ was built but it wasn’t until 1813 that it became an official trade proof house following an act that year which said all barrels had to be proofed. This was evaded by the cheapest guns especially the slave ones

A petition of 1707 to the House of Commons gives the number of gunmakers as 400 workers and their families but this wouldn’t have included barrel or other small work men. A 1767 Birmingham directory list 35 gun & pistol makers; 11 gunlock makers gorgers filers & finishers; 8 gun barrel makers & filers; 5 gun barrel polishers and finishers; 3 gun swivel makers & stockers. The rather small number was probably due to inclusion being by subscription.

Crimea war – old system unable to supply sufficient muskets - eg.g. in procuring 20.000 breaches for the new (1853) pattern musket the tendering process had been very unsatisfactory. Trade made many excuses ‘strikes…difficulty in procuring coal…illness of a skilled artisan…an accident to machinery (report of select committee on small arms, published 1854)

East India Company was satisfied but not such a high standard was required for their arms.. Board of ordnance decided to take whole process into own hands. A visit to Birmingham showed it was very behind with use of machinery – machinery in order to make interchangeable parts was much more advanced in USA mainly due to the lack of skilled artisans there. In manufacturing gunlocks the machinery was old used, such as that used at Braziers, Wolverhanpton. It was recommended that a small Board of Ordnance factory be established to show best practice and use of machinery as an example to contractors and it should be situated at Enfield. 1854-58 machinery bought in from America. A 1859 article in Illustrated London News said 63 components of a rifle at Enfield were manufactured in 719 operations with an output of 1,200 rifles a week from 1.350 employees.

Enfield was initially created in 1818 as a barrel making & inspection site that was capable of accommodating demand and variation. It subsequently had capacity to make 26,000 barrels compared to Birmingham which made 1804-1815 more than 3000,000 a year. It didn’t wish to go to Birmingham because variable quality & problematic customer (government) relations to a manual/craft based industry’. Lovell gained total control of Enfield site 1824 and was later to get all government procurement. Relocation of work s to Enfield could be a problem ‘with workers returning to the sophistication and job mobility of Birmingham from the rural marshland of Enfield in a few weeks’. By 1858 Enfield rifle had achieved interchangeable parts.

Gun consists of lock stock & barrel. Circa 1860 – there was steady annual demand for 100,000 to 150,000 of the flintlock African trade guns being supplied with a beachwood stock, stained black brown or vermillion. In Birmingham military gun trade employed 70000 at peak. 1861 BSA (Birmingham Small Arms Company) built to compete with Enfield, formed by subsidies from large firms in Birmingham. These factories also continued to get orders separately! They got machinery from America but unlike Enfield didn’t need to make all parts from scratch. It was planned to make 1,000 a week. Birmingham now had its own proof house. London Armoury Company was also a competition but it disappeared in 1865, replaced in 1867 by London Small Arms Compnay. This company and BSA formed agreement to regulate competition between themselves.

Other competition came from the National Arms & Ammunitions Co Ltd formed 1872 to make 150,000 Mauser rifles for Prussians. It was purchased by the government in 1882. Development of new cartridges – the boxer – orphaned children often employed in factory manufacturing these.. Goodman said 1874 ‘Till within the last few years locks were entirely the production of hand labour, the several parts were forged on the anvil by men whose wonderful skill became proverbial. They were afterwards put together by filers to be finished by the polisher and hardener. At the present time the steam hammer and stamp are superseding the forge and milling machinery is doing much of the filers work, but in case, even when machinery is carried to the highest perfection can the filer be dispensed with. The locks cannot be put together until all the limbs have passed through his hands to receive the final adjustment’. The use of machinery to allow interchange ability and end of the American Civil War caused the craft in Birmingham to contract and move towards Small Heath and nationally from Birmingham to Enfield

1851 census shows Birmingham having 5167 gunsmiths and workers out of 7731 in England and Wales. A private census taken 1855 has 6840 working there and 500 bayonet makers. In 1863 7000 were in the military arms trade alone, arming both sides of the American civil war and also re-equipping our volunteers force. In 1865 there were 174 gunmakers, 32 barrelmakers, 25 lockmakers, 61 implement makers 600 purveyors of arms. 1871 saw demand from the Franco-Prussian war – 5931 men employed in Birmingham and 1431 London. In 1900 Birmingham had 4091 men and 134 women. Family names with the most engaged were Smith 34; Jones 24; Evans 18; Williams 17; Wilson 16; Probin and Richards 15; Bayliss Griffiths Parsons 14; Brown 13; Adam, Baker Davis Hill 12; Allen and Aston 10.

At first they were spread out but for convenience they became concentrated, at the start of the 18the century Digbeth, by 1740s St Mary,s district and by 1829 three fifths were in the gun quarter which concentrated on St Mary’s and was bounded by Slaney Street, Shadwell Street,, Loveday Street, Steelhouse Lane. Concentration became significant in the second quarter of the 19 century. Locksmithing was still concentrated in Darlaston, Wednesbury, Willenhall and Wolverhampton while barrel making which required water & later steam power was in Aston, Derend, Smethwick, West Bromwich.

The result meant overcrowding in the gyn quarter, large residential houses which had been part used for storage were taken over by workmen when the owners moved out . Workshops were built in the gardens as well ‘ thus grew up behind the three and later two story Georgian facades a conglomeration of workshops tenanted by individual workmen often working for several entrepreneurs at a time. Goods were mainly carried by young boys around the courts at the rear of buildings Each shop consisted of one or two rooms in which various components were made.