Birmingham historian Carl Chinn has called on the city council not to neglect the ordinary working man and woman when it markets the city as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution .
The popular historian and teacher has been invited to advise the council on how to take forward its new heritage strategy which aims to cement Birmingham’s identity as the industrial city and ensure that suburbs and districts are not neglected in favour of city centre history.
There was cross-party support as the strategy, compiled by the council’s Heritage Champion Coun Phil Davis and the heritage forum, was adopted unanimously.
Professor Chinn welcomed the strategy and agreed it is important to celebrate Birmingham’s role in the Industrial Revolution. But he warned that while there is much to celebrate in the lives of Lunar Society and great leaders, the role of the workers must not be forgotten.
He said: “It is right that we talk about important men like Matthew Boulton and James Watt, but we must also recognise the role of the men, women and children who worked in the factories and their role in the making of the modern world.”
He added that if the city wishes to market itself to potential visitors from both the UK and around the world it must also reflect the successive migrations of working people through which Birmingham has grown since the 18th Century.
Coun Davis (Lab, Billesley) has outlined two key elements from the strategy. One, as revealed in the Birmingham Post last week is to concentrate heritage tourism marketing efforts on Birmingham as the city of the Industrial Revolution – perhaps linking up with the wider region through institutions like the Ironbridge, Black Country and Potteries museums.
A second will see the history of suburbs and neighbourhoods brought to the fore through a set of ten district heritage champions.
Through this the council has confirmed its commitment to establishing a Birmingham History Week, first recommended last year in the report Birmingham: Where the World Meets, to enable citizens and more importantly school children to find out more about the city’s past.
The district proposal received wide support.
Coun Peter Douglas Osborn (Cons, Weoley) highlighted the issue saying that the Weoley Castle ruins are something people in that area are proud of, but added: “When I talk about Weoley Castle in Sutton Coldfield people tend to glaze over.”
Coun Robert Alden (Cons, Erdington) said: “It surprises me that we have a Walk of Stars, and I ask why are we trying to copy Hollywood when we are not the centre of the film industry when we could have some sort of industrial trail in the city.”
He particularly welcomed the moves to encourage neighbourhood heritage, pointing out that many suburbs had once been towns in their own right before being swallowed up by the growth of Birmingham.
While Coun Stewart Stacey (Lab, Acocks Green) said that while there is much to be proud of in Birmingham’s heritage, there are also a few ‘dirty little secrets’ which we should recognise. He said that the Gun Quarter was a result of Birmingham’s role in the supply of arms into the slave trade.
And Coun Waseem Zaffar (Lab, East Handsworth and Lozells) gave the report his full backing, apart from a key omission pointing out that at least one key historical figure is missing from a list in the strategy, William McGregor.
The Villa supporter was delighted to inform the council that Mr McGregor, whose statue stands at the club’s ground, was not only a leading figure for the football team but a founder of the football league and of national significance.
Coun deputy leader Ian Ward (Lab, Shard End), a Birmingham City supporter, replied: “I wasn’t aware of William McGregor. There are also no doubt others we could add.”