In 1838, having spent a year in France to learn the language, George Dixon moved from Leeds to Birmingham to join his elder brother Abraham, working with the export merchants, Rabone Bros.. Their premises were situated at the intersection of Broad Street and Bridge Street. This rather grainy photograph was taken before the site was totally destroyed by a German bomb in 1941, taking with it the family records and making the task of writing a biography of George Dixon rather more difficult.
The second photograph depicts the site in the immediate aftermath of the bombing. Its historical importance has often been overlooked. In the 1840s the premises were too large for the needs of Rabone Bros., and an area was set aside for the use of Cadbury’s, which had been evicted from its previous location by a railway company. Until the rapidly expanding chocolate company moved to Bournville, George Cadbury was one of George Dixon’s tenants. Cadbury was an enthusiastic non-denominational Sunday school teacher, and in the absence of any surviving correspondence between the two, it can only be a matter of conjecture as to the extent to which Dixon’s views were influenced by Cadbury’s beliefs.
After Cadbury’s moved to Bournville, Dixon converted the premises at his own expense and made it available to the Birmingham School Board, of which he was Chairman from 1876 to 1896. The Seventh Grade Technical School in Bridge Street was the first of its kind in the country.
Today, the site is occupied by the House of Sport and is situated opposite the new Library of Birmingham. There is a certain irony in the situation, for the wheel has come full circle, with the West Midlands’ most prestigious library being located so close to the ‘birthplace’ of what is today called ‘secondary education’. Also close by is the Boulton, Watt and Murdoch Statue. The business of Rabone Bros. no doubt prospered over the years from the export of goods with which the names of these three gentlemen were associated.