1849 Birmingham UK – Exhibition of Local Manufactures and Natural History

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1849, Birmingham

Name:Exhibition of Local Manufactures and Natural History – colocated with
the British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting
Dates:3 Sep – 15 Dec 1849, 10am – 10 pm
Days:c 104 days
Visitors:> 100,000 – Admission cost 1 shilling (5p) or 5 shillings (25p) for a season ticket.
Legacy:In 1850 a permanent exhibition centre was opened – Binglay Hall

Many have suggest this otherwise little-remembered event was a significant forerunner of, and inspiration for, the Great Exhibition of 1851. It was an industrial and a cultural exhibition, at this time these were perceived as closely interrelated. Birmingham was then known as the city of a thousand trades which made the venue appropriate.

The Birmingham Mechanics’ Institute ran an exhibition of manufactured goods in the grounds of Bingley House on Broad Street in central Birmingham. It was organised as a cooperation between The British Association for the Advancement of Science and its Mechanics’ Institute.

Temporrary building for the venue

A temporary two-storey purpose-built wooden buildingwas erected for this event, offering some 10,000 sq ft of exhibition space, set out as 131 tables and stands. It was ‘the first building in the country intended solely for the purpose of an exhibition of manufactures’. It was adjacent to Bingley House, the former residence of the Lloyd family, on Broad Street. Its location put it literally on the doorstep of Birmingham’s manufacturing hub. The siting of obelisks and cast-iron vases along its approach afforded it some substance. Carriages were sited next to the exits to present Birmingham’s coach-building skills.

The goal had been to attract foreign exhibitors too, but this was not achieved, most products exhibited were from the West Midlands. Charles Sallandrouze de Lamornaix of Paris was the main foreign contributor. He was the organiser of the Hanover Square exhibition and would also serve as a juror for the Great Exhibition. He exhibited hand-made tapestry carpets, chairs, and a clock representing the Rape of the Sabines modelled by order of the Emperor of Russia. Prince Albert is reported as remarking the difference between our own goods of the same class, and those manufactured on the continent, arose from the latter employing artists.

Its opening was timed to coincide with other cultural events: the Society of Artists exhibition of modern artwork, the prestigious Triennial Music Festival at the Town Hall and a soiree where Professor Michael Faraday gave a talk on the electric lights and batteries. A Birmingham Journal advertisement referred to the events as ‘the great Festivals of Music and Science’.

Lace vied with guns for the attention of visitors, other popular exhibits included a knitting machine by Whitworth of Manchester, Thomas Edwards 5 hp steam engine, Siemen’s Electric Telegraph that used a needle to point to the letters rather than Morse code, a lithographic printing press by Underwood of Birmingham, a 6m (20 ft) high candelabrum, stained glass windows, a model of a saw mill, Cadburys exhibited raw materials and processes, showing cocoa (nuts, nibs and shells), chicory and chocolate (ground, paste, and flake and eating chocolate, which was still relatively novel and a luxury item due to the then high import taxes on cocoa beans.

Illustration of the Birmingham event

The show had some famous visitors including Prince Albert and Charles Darwin and the celebrated engineer Robert Stephenson, son of George.

Prince Albert visited the event on 17 Nov, catching a train in London, and reached Birmingham
in only two hours then took a carriage to the exhibition. He was escorted by Mr. William Westley Richards
who was both chairman of the exhibition, and, since 1840, the possessor of a Royal Warrant as gunmaker
to Prince Albert.

The press marvelled that Prince Albert showed so much knowledge of manufacturing, and it was noted that he spent a long time at the stall of the Westley Richards firm. It is suggested by some that the prince did gain some of his ideas for the Great Exhibition from this visit.

The Exhibition’s success led to the permanent Bingley Hall being built on the site the following year, replacing the temporary building and the old House. Its internal structure was adaptable and it was in use for different types of events until it was demolished after being damaged by fire in 1984/

(Source for much of the above: Jo Prinsen, www.historywm.com)

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