A well-made Birmingham man of the old school has passed away in Mr. James Barwell, the founder of the firm of church bell-makers and brass casters that bears his name. Mr. Barwell, who was in his 81st year, and had long ceased to take an active part in business, died on Tuesday at his house in Ampton Road. In him the city has lost a good citizen, commerce a shrewd man and indefatigable worker, and philanthropy an open-handed giver and energetic supporter. Born and educated in Birmingham, Mr. Barwell spent by far the greater part of his life within the confines. He began the serious business of life at an early age, depending entirely for success on his business tact and faculty for hard work. For some years he was a traveller in the employ of the now dead firm of Jennings and Bettridge, japanners, of Constitution Hill, and on the collapse of that house he laid out the money he had saved in the purchase of a small business at 39 and 40, Great Hampton Street. The vendor, a man named Fiddian, was a maker of brass candlesticks and other articles in the same metal. Mr. Barwell went to work with a will, and if, as Johnson says, genius is an indomitable capacity for hard work, then he assuredly possessed it.
The man of today who labours his ten or twelve hours can form no idea of the intense devotion with which young James Barwell gave himself up to his life pursuit. He added to the business of his predecessor the craft of bell-making. In those days there was a great demand for cow bells for the Australian market. Fences were unknown in the great Colonial farms at that early period, so the cattle were made to tell their whereabouts by means of a bell which they wore round the neck. Mr. Barwell set himself to meet this demand and his business steadily developed, and the manufacture of church bells followed on the humbler form of enterprise.
Married some-time in the forties to Sarah Ann, daughter of John Palmer, pen manufacturer, of Birmingham, he became the father of twelve children, ten of whom, five sons and five daughteers are still living. A staunch believer in the virtue of industry, Mr. Barwell did not spoil his children, and Edward and Arthur H. Barwell, who succeed to the Great Hampton Street business, were early indoctrinated into his Spartan belief.
A second venture calling forth Mr. Barwell’s energies was the chandelier business, which he established in Clement Street some 20 years ago, and which is now carried on by his sons. F.H. Barwell and Hubert Barwell, and Mr. Kimberley, who was formerly manager, as partner.
It is the pride of the work-people at Great Hampton Street to be the first body of artisans in Birmingham to contribute a penny a week per head to the funds of the General Hospital. Men are still employed in the business who have paid their weekly penny with unbroken continuity for 45 years. Whether the idea of the Levy was Mr. Barwell’s we cannot say, but he certainly sanctioned and encouraged it. Indeed, in a purely private capacity, he was a strong supporter of that institution, and the Children’s Hospital also numbers him as one of its earliest practical upholders.
A strong churchman and Conservative, he was ever-ready to assist when either Church or party needed his help. he attended St. Barnabas’ Church in Ryland Street for many years from its opening; the Church Pastoral Aid Society found in him an earnest adherent, and the Church Missionary Society and Church Extension Society never appealed for his practical interest in vain. But the institution to which he devoted most of his leisure time was the Blue Coat School. For five-and-twenty years he was vice-chairman of the Board of Governors, old Mr. James Cartland being the chairman during the whole of that long period. Somewhat of a martinet in discipline, Mr. Barwell was kindhearted and generous, and those who deserved well of him never had reason to complain of want of recognition. Essentially a man of action, literature had little attraction for him, but he read his morning paper as though it was his oracle.
Source: Weekly Mercury April 2 1892