Edgbastonia

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Date:May 1881

Description:Edgbastonia Title Page, 1881

‘The contents will be of local interest, or local production, and […] they shall be of a healthy moral tone, and be altogether non-political and unsectarian’. So says the editor of Edgbastonia in May 1881.

Today, it is generally acknowledged that any publication will inevitably have its political and ideological bias. However, in 1881 when Edgbastonia was launched to its exclusive public, Eliezer Edwards, editor until 1889, made this statement in all sincerity. The views expressed in Edgbastonia were assumed to be the norm, and it is with hindsight that we recognise in the early editions of this magazine a compendium of late Victorian middle-class values and attitudes. As one historian puts it, Edgbastonia had a ‘forty-year career of turgid writing’;<small><sup>1</sup></small> but whatever its literary merit, Edgbastonia gives us an insight into the way Edgbaston residents viewed the spaces in which they lived.

Edgbastonia was typically around 16 to 20 pages long, with advertisements for businesses and services accounting for about another 20 pages. The circulation was initially 2,500, the magazine being delivered free to ‘each house in Edgbaston of the apparent value of £40 a year’,<small><sup>2</sup></small> but not to the older farms and cottages that existed alongside the Victorian development. Also excluded would have been the many lower-middle class and working-class people living in the area, whose homes would have been of a much lower value. Servants were under strict instructions to pass it onto their masters and not to retain it for themselves.<small><sup>3</sup></small> Most of the contributors remained anonymous; there was no perceived need to identify the authors, in order to understand, as we might put it, ‘where they were coming from’.

The illustrations on the cover tell us much. Edgbaston Old Church underlines the ‘healthy moral tone’ of a deeply religious community which takes pride in its philanthropy; King Edwards School represents a commitment to education and self-improvement; the memorial to Joseph Sturge highlights the fact that every edition celebrates ‘Edgbastonians Past and Present’, selecting heroes (and the occasional heroine) whose achievements are proudly claimed on behalf of Edgbaston; and an elegant mansion epitomises the quality of the residential development. The rustic style of the lettering locates all of this in an idealised rural context.

The development may have been ‘the conversion of a village of farms, fields and country lanes into one of the most beautiful and pleasant of English suburbs’,<small><sup>4</sup></small> and yet the loss of those farms and fields was already being lamented.

‘Farmers and farms existed in those days, even thus near the town, and one well-known agriculturalist, Mr. James Sadler, until lately stuck to the farm-house in which he was born eighty-one years ago [...] But though he looks wonderfully well and hearty, his farm has been sliced away until there is now no land left unbuilt upon for him to till, if he had any occasion or desire to till it’.<small><sup>5</sup></small>

People whose fortunes were made in the town wished to live an artificial rural life, while enjoying modern conveniences, and to that end farmland was eroded to make way for residences and gardens.


<font color="#666633"><small><sup>1</sup> Terry Slater, Edgbaston: A History (Chichester: Phillimore, 2002), p.54
<sup>2</sup> Edgbastonia (August 1881)
<sup>3</sup> Edgbastonia (June 1881)
<sup>4</sup> Edgbastonia (May 1881)
<sup>5</sup> Edgbastonia ( July 1881)