Handsworth, West Midlands

Handsworth, West Midlands


The Local Government Act 1894 divided the ancient Staffordshire parish of Handsworth into two urban districts: Handsworth and Perry Barr. Handsworth was annexed to the county borough of Birmingham in Warwickshire in 1911. [ [http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/relationships.jsp?u_id=10278880&c_id=10001043 Vision of Britain on Handsworth] ] Perry Barr UD would survive until 1928 when it was split between Sutton Coldfield and West Bromwich. [ [http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/relationships.jsp?u_id=10291471 Vision of Britain on Perry Barr] ]


The name "Handsworth" originates from its Saxon owner Hondes and the Old English word "weorthing", meaning farm or estate. It was recorded in the Domesday Survey of 1086, as a holding of William Fitz-Ansculf, the Lord of Dudley, although at that time it would only have been a very small village surrounded by farmland and extensive woodland.

From the 13th century through to the 18th century, it remained a small village until Matthew Boulton who lived at the nearby Soho House set up the Soho Manufactory in 1764 on Handsworth Heath. Accommodation was built for the factory workers, the village quickly grew, and in 1851, there were over six thousand people living in the township. Forty years later over thirty-two thousand were counted at the census of 1881, and by 1911, this had more than doubled to 68,610.

The development of the built environment was sporadic and many of Handsworth's streets display a mixture of architectural types and periods - among them some of the finest Victorian buildings in the city. Handsworth has two grammar schools - Handsworth Grammar School for boys and King Edward VI Handsworth Girl's Grammar School. St Andrew's church is a listed building in Oxhill Road which also held Sunday School classes in a small building on the corner of Oxhill Road and Church Lane. It also contains Handsworth Park, which in 2006 underwent a major restoration, the vibrant shopping area of Soho Road, and St. Mary's Church, Handsworth containing the remains of the founders of the Industrial Revolution - Watt, Murdoch and Boulton.

Birmingham historian Dr. Carl Chinn noted that during WW2 the boundary between Handsworth and the outlying suburb of Handsworth Wood marked the line between being safe and unsafe from bombing, with Handsworth Wood being an official evacuation zone, despite being at least ten miles away from any countryside that might now qualify as "green belt" land, and being on the periphery of many "high risk" areas. (ref: Carl Chinn (1996) Brum Undaunted: Birmingham During the Blitz, Birmingham Library Services) During World War II, West Indians had arrived as part of the colonial war effort, where they worked in Birmingham munitions factories. In the Post-war period, a rebuilding programme required much unskilled labour and Birmingham's industrial base expanded, significantly increasing the demand for both skilled and unskilled workers. During this time, there was direct recruitment for workers from the Caribbean and the area became a centre for Birmingham's African-Caribbean community.

The West Indian population in Birmingham numbered over 17,000 by the 1961 census count. In addition, during this time, Indians, particularly Sikhs from the Punjab arrived in Birmingham, many of them working in the foundries and on the production lines in motor vehicle manufacturing, mostly at the Longbridge plant some 10 miles away.

By the early 1960s, there was much racial tension in the country and a great deal of this was being felt in Handsworth, but the biggest problems were yet to come.

Civil unrest

Although these ethnic groups contributed to the local economy, they have fallen victim to a great deal of racism. These problems had started during the 1950s, but the major problems didn't begin until a riot in 1981. Handsworth's most notable rioting took place in September 1985 and also overspilled into neighbouring Lozells. As in many parts of Britain, the conflict between black people in Birmingham and the police was a long-standing one. Blanket raids on black meeting places and a "stop and search" policy increased the tension between the police and the black community.

The 1985 riot claimed the life of a local post office owner, who was killed when a firebomb was hurled through the window of his shop.Fact|date=June 2008

After the Handsworth riots caused a huge publicity shock to world perception of British toleration, the heavy handed approach on the community was slackened. Local government was forced into building new community relations as a way of managing both racial and cultural differences. Encouragement was provided by arts organisation like West Midlands Ethnic Minority Arts Service and private groups such as Shades of Black, which works closely with the community and is still going strong today. There was and still is tension in the mainly Afro Caribbean area which has notably gained press for the local Afro Caribbeans joining together to fight off any left wing nationals, which soon escalated into a dispute with other Afro Caribbeans.Fact|date=June 2008 As a result, there were several members of the community participating in drug dealing and forming street gangs. Conflicts between rival drug dealers led to conflicts between opposing street gangs and violent crime increased. There were 97 crack dens closed down in 1999 in Handsworth which increased to 130 in 2002.Fact|date=June 2008 Many of the houses in the area are terraced houses, constructed in the 19th century in the Industrial Revolution. These houses were targeted by the gangs and drug dealers who then targeted the post-war tower blocks which became hotspots for drug-related crime in Handsworth. Over 2,650 needles were removed from inside and surrounding the estate in 2004.Fact|date=June 2008

Similarly, in 2005, further riots look part primarily on Lozells Road, in Handsworth/Lozells, in which two people were killed, many injured, and countless damage to property, launching the biggest investigation to ever be undertaken by West Midlands Police. The instigation of these riots this time round were because of an alleged rape of a young black girl by a group of Asian youths, although no evidence has ever been found to suggest a rape, and the supposed girl has never come forward despite numerous calls by members of the community at many levels. The failure of the girl to come forward has meant that the police were unable to launch a further investigation. The riots erupted after a community meeting in a church on Lozells Road. Riot police were called out, and it was several days before the rioting was completely stamped out.

Musical legacy

Handsworth has produced some notable musical acts: Steel Pulse, Joan Armatrading, Pato Banton, Benjamin Zephaniah, Swami, Apache Indian, Ruby Turner and Bhangra group B21 and Jamaican musicians such as Mighty Diamonds, Alton Ellis, Burning Spear and Dennis Brown have performed in Handsworth. In addition, Steve Winwood and progressive rock drummer Carl Palmer were born in Handsworth.

Steel Pulse's first studio album "Handsworth Revolution" is named after the area.


Handsworth Park has hosted numerous events: The Birmingham Tattoo, The Birmingham Festival (both originally called Handsworth- rather than Birmingham-) and the Flower Show, and in 1967 The Birmingham Dog Show. The Scouts Rally was another annual event held in the park for many years when scouts from a wide area congregated and paraded. The Handsworth Carnival grew out of the Flower Show and Carnival; Caribbean style carnivals began in Handsworth Park, in 1984, with a street procession via Holyhead Road. Also, the guitarist Richard Michael hails from this area. In 1994 the carnival was held in Handsworth Park for the last time. The following year it was moved from the park out onto the streets of Handsworth, since which time it has been known as the Birmingham International Carnival. In 1999, it was again held in a park, but this time in Perry Barr Park. Handsworth Park also hosts an annual Vaisakhi Mela.

Notable residents

* Francis Asbury, born in Handsworth, bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Churchcite book | title = Who Was Who in America, Historical Volume, 1607-1896 | publisher = Marquis Who's Who | location=Chicago | date = 1963]
* William Murdock (1754 - 1839). Inventor. He was the first to make extensive use of coal gas for illumination and a pioneer in the development of steam-power. In 1777, he entered the engineering firm of Matthew Boulton and James Watt, whose experiment on the distillation of coal and wood first brought gas lighting to a practical stage, illuminating their factory with it in 1803. Presented with the Rumford Medal by the Royal Society. Buried in St Mary's Churchyard.
* Bert Freeman (1885 – 1955), England international footballer was born in Handsworth

See also

* Handsworth Wood

External links

* [http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/handsworth Birmingham City Council's Handsworth Ward pages]
* [http://www.digitalhandsworth.org.uk/ Digital Handsworth]
* [http://www.oomgallery.net/gallery.asp?location=41&c=251 Pogus Caesar OOM Gallery Archive - photographs of Handsworth Riots (1985)]
* [http://www.handsworth-history.org.uk/hhs_early_1.html Handsworth Historical Society]
* [http://www.oomgallery.net / OOM Gallery photographs of Black Audio Film Collective in Handsworth 1985]
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/birmingham/content/articles/2005/06/13/refugee_wrestling_your_community_feature.shtml Handsworth community and sport]
* [http://www.oomgallery.net / OOM Gallery Archive /photos of black musicians]
* [http://www.handsworthhistory.co.uk Handsworth History]
* [http://forums.birminghamhistory.co.uk/index.php?action=profile/ Birmingham History Forums]
* [http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/GenerateContent?CONTENT_ITEM_ID=2379&CONTENT_ITEM_TYPE=0&MENU_ID=10596 Vanley Burke]


*Simon Baddeley (1997), "The Founding of Handsworth Park 1882-1898", Birmingham University
*Carl Chinn (1996), "Brum Undaunted: Birmingham During the Blitz", Birmingham Library Services
*Peter Drake (1998), "Handsworth, Hockley, & Handsworth Wood", Tempus, Stroud, Glos
*Allen E Everitt (1876), "Handsworth Church and its Surroundings", E.C. Osborne, Birmingham
*Frederick William Hackwood (1908), "Handsworth: Old & New: A History of Birmingham's Staffordshire Suburb", (re-published: A & B Books, Warley, West Midlands)
*John Morris Jones (1980), "The Manor of Handsworth: An Introduction to its Historical Geography", with amendments by “"Friends of Handsworth Old Town Hall"” 1969. Handsworth Historical Society
*Handsworth General Purposes & other Committees - "Minute Book 1880A", Handsworth Local Sanitary Board, Birmingham City Council, Central Library Archives, (ref: BCH/AD 1/1/1)
*Handsworth & Birmingham newspaper cuttings collected and arranged by G.H. Osborne between approx. 1870 and 1900, Birmingham City Council, Central Library Archive (ref: L.f30.3)
*Victor J.Price (1992), "Handsworth Remembered", Studley: Brewin Books

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.