The last two known remaining volumes of "The Building's of Birmingham Past and Present", the first published in 1866 and the second published in 1869 were this year purchased from a London rare books dealer and have now been safely brought back to Birmingham and secured wholly intact for prosperity. Last year when I first became aware of these wonderful sketches that had been made by the well known Thomas Underwood, it was to sadly see the remains of one volume, (1866) being stripped down so that the plates could be sold on the antique prints market. It seems ironic that the very reason the volumes were created in the first place was at the request of many at that time who had long desired that the sketches taken of many of Birmingham's less important buildings even earlier in that century should not remain in private hands, but they should be accessible to the many who like to describe to their children or their friends how old Birmingham looked many years before. Samuel Timmins, writing under the pseudonym of "Este", notes in the introductory essay from 1866, in the first volume, that "the public buildings are always sure to be frequently sketched and published ...but the ordinary street architecture is considered too common-place to be preserved in any form; and a century or two hence it will be impossible to recall what sort of places our modern towns now are".
Indeed he was accurate in his predictions; many of the buildings captured in sketch form by the celebrated Thomas Underwood featured in the original volumes disappeared when the railway companies extended their railways to the heart of the town during the 1840's. Buildings in the unsavoury "Froggary" district, a network of courts and alleys, were demolished. Entire streets such as Peck Lane, Colmore Street and King Street disappeared, at the same time one of the most frequented public houses, the Hen and Chickens on New Street was torn down. Many more buildings disappeared later in the 19th century following Joseph Chamberlain's "Improvement Scheme" that saw many new streets being cut with rows of Victorian Building's replacing many of the older Georgian buildings. More than a century on from that change "modern day" glass faced skyscrapers tower over what would be a totally alien and unrecognisable Birmingham to both Thomas Underwood and Samuel Timmins. This publication includes all of the original sketches from both volumes of "The Buildings of Birmingham Past and Present", digitally re-mastered and art worked.
The descriptive, poignant and captivating poems especially created for this publication by Ian Henery, poet laureate for Walsall, add a rich and sometimes nostalgic dimension. In addition there are rare maps such as the recently acquired Survey of the Birmingham Canal Navigations 1864 and period town plans that feature many of the buildings captured in sketch, and a collection of elegant and fascinating manufacturing trade plates, ensuring that the original request - all those years ago, is fulfilled for our future.