Chamberlain: Father of Modern Birmingham

York Membery recalls one of the great statesmen of late Victorian and Edwardian Britain.

Joseph Chamberlain
Joseph Chamberlain

On July 13th, 1906, Joseph Chamberlain was struck down by a stroke that left him paralysed down one side of his body. And so, at one swipe, ended the career of one of the leading political figures of the age who was still at the height of his powers.

The centenary is being marked in his adopted city of Birmingham (he was born in London) by a special opening of Highbury, the mansion in Kings Heath where he lived from 1880 until his death in 1914. The magnificent twelve-bedroom house, with its vaulted hall, was designed for Chamberlain in the Venetian Gothic style by the architect John Henry Chamberlain (no relation), while its extensive grounds were specially landscaped.

Money was no object to Chamberlain, who by then had sold his stake in the Birmingham screw manufacturing business of Nettleford and Chamberlain (founded by his uncle and father), a move that allowed him to throw all his energies into politics. Some eighteen gardeners tended the estate while an army of servants ran the house which played host to many a lavish weekend party lasting from Friday evening until Monday morning.

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