The Chamberlain Family

The Chamberlain Clock  University of Birmingham

Joseph Chamberlain, the eldest son of a prosperous shoemaker, was born on 8 July 1836. As a Unitarian, Chamberlain was forbidden entry to a public school, so he was educated at University College School until he was sixteen. He joined the family business for two years and then moved to Birmingham.

His uncle, J. S. Nettlefold, had decided to introduce steam-powered lathes to his screw-manufacturing business and approached his brother for financial help. The latter agreed on condition that his son should join the firm. Chamberlain's energy and organisational abilities drove out Nettlefold's competitors and in 1874 he was able to retire with a substantial fortune at age thirty-eight.

Chamberlain married Harriet Kenrick in July 1861 and they had a daughter, Beatrice, and a son, Austen. Harriet died suddenly in 1863 and Chamberlain went on to marry one of her cousins, Florence, in June 1868. The eldest of their four children and only son was the future Prime Minister, Neville. This marriage also ended suddenly, with Florence's death in 1875 after she gave birth to another son, who did not survive. Chamberlain dealt with his grief by throwing himself into public work.

In many ways he created the Birmingham we know today. He municipalised Gas and Electricity, making Birmingham Council very wealthy. And he was then able to afford to push through his improvements scheme. This demolished a great deal of slum properties – the worst in the city, and providing Birmingham with an attractive and important shopping boulevard – which we know as Corporation Street.

Father of Neville Chamberlain, later to be Prime Minister, JC’s family were offered Westminster Abbey for his burial, which was turned down, as Joe Chamberlain wished to be buried at Key Hill which was called Key Hill “the most interesting place in the world to a Birmingham man”

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