Samuel B. Whitfield

Samuel B. Whitfield, as he was known, was one of the sons of Samuel Whitfield who founded, in 1849, a bedstead, safe and brass foundry business. Originally in Oxford Street this later relocated to Watery Lane. In 1871 the business was divided between the four sons and Samuel B. Whitfield became the owner of the bedstead factory.

In 1859 Samuel Benjamin had married Selina Mary Hannah Ilsley at the New Meeting House and they went on to have seven children. The family lived in “The Hollies” at 183, Coventry Road and later moved to 208, Hagley Road.

Samuel B Whitfield was a Unitarian and during the period from the 1840’s onwards the political impact of Unitarianism was significant in Birmingham. George Dawson, a lecturer, preacher, and political activist, developed an ethos known as the “civic gospel” which resulted in a concerted effort to improve the lives and living conditions of all Birmingham citizens.

Between 1847 and 1867 seventeen members of Dawson’s own Church of the Saviour were elected as Town Councillors and six became Mayor. From 1865 to the 1880’s these civic reformers swept away slums, municipalised utilities, pressured central government to introduce universal education as well as reorganising Birmingham’s finances. The most prominent reformer was Joseph Chamberlain who was Mayor between 1873 and 1876 although he remained as an Alderman until 1879.

Samuel B. Whitfield, as a prominent local businessman and a Unitarian, donated “Memorials of the Tercentenary” to the newly opened Shakespeare Memorial Library, founded by George Dawson, on 23rd April 1868. In 1876 he became a Birmingham Town Councillor for the Bordesley ward and remained so until 1882. This was at the end of Joseph Chamberlain’s period of influence. An analysis of voting patterns in the period from 1878 to 1881, showed that Samuel B. Whitfield was clearly one of Joseph Chamberlain’s political allies. He voted in support of many of his policies and, although he was not seen as politically active or notable, he was one of Chamberlains nineteen strong group of supporters.

The family business was, in the meantime, expanding. Samuel B. Whitfield started to manufacture steel pens in 1878. He had hoped to be as profitable as other local firms but unfortunately it became expensive and nearly ruined him. An Official Receiver was appointed in 1884. Fortunately, the creditors accepted part payment of the debts to avoid bankruptcy proceedings. Samuel B. Whitfield died in 1885. His father, and the bedstead factory, survived him but the pen business was sold off.

Researched by Lindsay Whitlow