Chamber archive series - 1813-1913: The Foundations of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce

Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce

The Birmingham Chamber of Commerce has existed for nearly 210 years and since 1813 has played a huge role in developing industry and commerce in the region, writes Evie Talbot. In 1913, a centenary commemoration was held in honour of its creation, attended by important individuals from across the country as well as receiving a message of appreciation from the King.

The event was one of national importance, demonstrating the role of the Chamber in creating the foundations of industry in Birmingham as well as shaping policies that benefitted the whole country throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Another 100 years on, we continue to work alongside businesses to continue this important legacy.

On the 21 July 1913, the day of commemoration began with a public meeting at the town hall. At midday, over 500 of the most prominent Birmingham businessmen and professionals as well as 200 specially invited guests from throughout the country gathered to celebrate 100 years of the Chamber’s influence.

The King’s message was read, acknowledging the Chamber’s work in supporting the region and naming it “one of the greatest commercial and industrial centres of his dominions” even in 1913.

Speeches were made which told of the significant growth of Birmingham in just 100 years: 8000 acres had become 43,000 acres and the population of the region had increased tenfold. By the 20th century, Birmingham was known as the centre of commerce and industry in Britain and the variety of industries resulted in the name ‘The City of a thousand trades’.

1600 of these businesses were members of the Chambers of Commerce, who were recognised as playing a huge role in the progress that had been achieved over the previous 100 years.

In 1813, the Chamber in Birmingham were one of the first organisations that acknowledged the need to create a central body that worked to build networks between businesses as well as with the government, shaping policy which benefitted the entire industry.

Chronicles of the Birmingham Commercial Society and Centenary Commemoration Reports of Proceedings 1913 from the Chamber Archives

Chronicles of the Birmingham Commercial Society and Centenary Commemoration Reports of Proceedings 1913 from the Chamber Archives

The Birmingham Chamber were the first to suggest the introduction of trademarks which gave businesses greater power over their products and meant they could establish a reputation of quality; it was implemented by the government just 3 years later in 1876.

They worked alongside other chambers to develop the building of canals for transport, fought for greater commercial and technical education and worked as an arbitrator in resolving strikes and disputes peacefully. During the centenary commemoration, the phrase ‘unity is strength’ describes their role perfectly, and they encouraged further businesses to join to benefit themselves as well as the community and create an even more influential age.

The public meeting was followed by a luncheon and a reception and tea led by the Lord Mayor, and the day of commemoration was finished with a banquet in the evening with 420 guests including the Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith.

He made a speech praising the work of the Birmingham Chamber in benefitting the whole community, particularly in acting as an important intermediary between the commercial community and government. He emphasises the ‘personal and friendly relations’ between employers and the workforce in Birmingham as greater than in any other area of the country and attributes this to the work of the Chamber in bringing the community together.

Another 100 years on, the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce continues this legacy, connecting and supporting local businesses across the region. The Chamber continues to play a critical role in shaping local and national policy-making for the benefit of our members and the wider business community, as well as maintaining the friendly nature of relations in Birmingham that have been so central to the region for over 200 years.