Collections Close-up: ‘Glorious Suburbs’

Henrietta Lockhart, Winterbourne’s Collections Officer, looks at the topic of her recent lecture on Birmingham’s Glorious Suburbs.

‘Glorious suburbs!  Long may ye remain

To bless the ancient town, whose crown ye are;

Rewarder of the cares of those who toil

Amid the din and smoke of iron-ribbed,

And hardy Birmingham.

And may ye long be suburbs, keeping still

Business at distance from your green retreats.”

This anonymous poem appeared in print in 1882, in a publication called ‘Edgbastonia

Screen shot of Edgbastonia

Screen shot of Edgbastonia

This monthly magazine faded into obscurity once it closed down in the 1920s, but in late Victorian Edgbaston, where Winterbourne is located, anybody who was anybody would have been familiar with it.

Edgbastonia was only circulated to ‘élite’ households.  The Nettlefolds would certainly have received it. As the poem suggests, Edgbaston was seen as a haven for those who had made their money in Birmingham’s flourishing industries, and wanted to live in a rural setting within easy reach of their places of business.  Edgbaston was developed as a ‘suburb’ from the late 18th century, and quickly became one of the most desirable addresses in Birmingham.

Edgbastonia gives us a unique ‘snapshot’ of life among middle-class Edgbastonians, and of their responses to changes in their environment and in society.  How should they react to new technologies like trams and overhead telephone wires?  What on earth were women up to, and should they even show their ankles, let alone get the vote?

A few years ago, I made an extensive study of the Edgbastonia magazine, and linked it with archival documents from the period and objects from Birmingham Museums Trust’s collection.  There were other research projects carried out too, which delved into aspects of the rich history of Birmingham’s suburbs.  You can see the results on line – just follow this link: to find an exciting range of essays, and galleries featuring over 300 objects and documents.

Screen shot of Suburban Birmingham website page

Screen shot of Suburban Birmingham website page

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