Early Fine Print Collection and 17th Century Occult Philosophy

It is really interesting what you can find when you’re not looking for it.

Whilst searching the library’s Early and Fine Print Collection for Sir Walter Raleigh’s The History of the World, 1614, for an enquiring customer, I came across the two volumes of Robert Fludd’s Utriusque Cosmi, 1614, [AQ094/1617/9A/B] a really beautiful book with over 60 wonderful and intricate engravings.

Frontispiece 1

Frontispiece 1

Frontispiece 2

Frontispiece 2









As well as the images, the text, though in Latin, was also fascinating.  Fludd wrote on a range of topics including music, mathematics, geometry, art, militia, mechanics, astrology, astronomy, alchemy, fortune-telling and the relationship of God and the natural world.


Images of some of Fudd's nasty looking military armaments

Images of some of Fludd’s nasty looking military armaments


He was employed at the court of King James I of England and travelled the continent widely. His beliefs and practices put him in direct conflict with the British medical profession as he prescribed remedies based solely on prayer derived from a theology based on the secret mystical teaching of the Kabbalah.


Fludd’s depiction of the mind


Fludd’s depiction of the mind (above image) placed God, the Son, the Father and the Holy Spirit at the pinnacle of consciousness with conscience, reflection, soul, motive, memory, science and imagination following after.

The writings of Robert Fludd led me to further explore occult practice within our Early and Fine Print collection and found the works of John Dee in ‘Relation of Dr Dee With Some Spirits’, Casaubon, 1659.  [AQ094/1659/3] The book comprised records of Dee’s communications with spirits.

Dee, 1527 – 1608/09 was a mathematician, astronomer, astrologer and alchemist and an advisor to Queen Elizabeth I.  He devoted much of his time to magic and philosophy and attempted to communicate with angels and learn the universal language of creation to establish a unity between God and man.

With his scryer, William Kelley, he worked on communicating with spirits through the use of Christian piety, fasting and prayer. He claimed that angels dictated several books to him in an unknown, yet structured angelic language.


The layout of the ‘Holy Table’ Dee and Kelley used to commune with spirits


Depiction of a communication between Kelley and a spirit

Depiction of a communication between Kelley and a spirit


The text above taken from ‘Relation of Dr Dee With Some Spirits’reads:

Kelley:    Tell me who you are?

Spirit:     I pray you let me play with you a little, and I will tell you who I  am

Kelley:    In the name of Jesus then tell me

Spirit:     I rejoice in the name of Jesus, and I am a poor little Maiden, Madini, I am the last but one of my Mother’s children, I have little Baby-children at home.

Kelley:    Where is your home?

Spirit:     I dare not tell you where I dwell, I shall be beaten

Kelley:   You shall not be beaten for telling the truth to them that love the truth, to the eternal truth all Creatures must be obedient

‘Relation of Dr Dee With Some Spirits’ is a compilation of communications with a range of spirits over several years and has been reprinted many times since.

Each of these volumes are available to be seen by appointment in the Library of Birmingham’s searchroom, The Wolfson Centre. For further details please contact archives.appointments@birmingham.gov.uk.

Phil Burns, Collections Curator



A lesson in good record-keeping from the Quakers

Letter from the Clerk of the Central Offices of the Society of Friends in London to the Clerks of Quarterly, Monthly and Preparative Meetings in Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting reports relating to minutes, 1904-1907, (2011/029).

Letter from the Clerk of the Central Offices of the Society of Friends in London to the Clerks of Quarterly, Monthly and Preparative Meetings in Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting reports relating to minutes, 1904-1907, (2011/029).


Last week, while looking through a volume of reports in one of the 158 boxes containing archives of the Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (1662-c.2000), I came across a 1904 letter from the Clerk of the Central Offices of the Society of Friends in London to the Clerks of Quarterly, Monthly and Preparative Meetings throughout the country about the preservation of their records, a matter deemed of ‘grave importance’. In particular, the Clerk wrote that the Library and Printing Committee had concerns about the durability of ink and paper used in type-written documents. The Clerk explained that having sought the advice from Professor Silvanus P. Thompson (1851-1916), a member of the Friends and ‘a well-known scientist’ (now known for his work in the fields of physics and electrical engineering), it was recommended that Meetings should carefully consider Thompson’s opinions:

‘The purple and green inks in vogue for type-writing are usually made from aniline dyes and are not permanent but will fade after a few years. But the type-written copies made by impressions from a carbon transfer paper are more permanent, and will not fade. Quite of equal importance in my opinion, is the quality of paper. The thick spongy papers so often used in type-writing, are not durable, being often made from wood-pulp, or containing wood pulp. They will go to dust in twenty or twenty-five years. Much to be preferred is a hard-surfaced, thin paper; and if possible it should be a paper guaranteed from linen rags. Cheap papers are almost always made of material that will not last.’

While I was aware that the Quakers are scrupulous record keepers, I had not appreciated that they would also have such forethought in terms of the preservation of their records. From an archivist’s point of view, if all organisations followed the Quaker approach to record-keeping, our work would be a lot easier! Evidence of planned recordkeeping and preservation by record creators is generally unusual in the archive collections we hold and it is particularly unusual to find evidence of this from over a century ago. However, as a result of the persecution they suffered in the 17th century, over time the Quakers developed a clearly defined organisational structure from national to local level and with it they became assiduous record creators, carefully recording the details of their lives because they did not have access to the formal institutions which did this for everyone else. As a result of their careful approach to record creation, recordkeeping and preservation, Quaker records are a rich resource for researchers, and those of the Central England Area Meeting are an important source for the religious, social, economic history of Birmingham and the surrounding areas as well as for anti-slavery campaigns and international humanitarian causes which the Quakers were involved in.


Map showing Quaker Meetings within Warwickshire, Leicestershire and Staffordshire Quarterly Meeting, 1894. From MS 4039 (2008/087) The Lloyd Papers, roll 2, supplement to The Friend, 1894.

Map showing Quaker Meetings within Warwickshire, Leicestershire and Staffordshire Quarterly Meeting, 1894. From MS 4039 (2008/087) The Lloyd Papers, roll 2, supplement to The Friend, 1894.


It seems particularly poignant to have found this document when the Birmingham and Warwickshire Quakers Cataloguing Project funded by a National Archives Cataloguing Grant, has just started. The project aims to catalogue the records of the Central England Area Meeting. The collection includes records of the Quarterly Meeting (the highest organisational level below the national Yearly Meeting) from 1675 onwards. It also includes records of the Warwickshire Monthly Meeting from 1662, which subsequently divides into Warwickshire North, Warwickshire South and Warwickshire Middle Meetings and the records of the local Preparative Meetings, which include among others Baddsley, Coventry, Dudley, Stourbridge, Shipston, Hartshill, Leamington, Warwick, Redditch, Walsall and the numerous Birmingham-based Meetings at Bull Street, George Road, Selly Oak, Bournville, and Moseley among others. In addition, there are records of a number of special committees established to deal with areas of particular concern such as the Anti-slavery, Education, Housing Conditions, and Peace Committees, and records of the Young Friends, the Friends Sunday School Union and the Friends Temperance Association. The records themselves mainly consist of minutes, but there are also reports, records of Sufferings, correspondence, financial records, property records, membership records, and birth and burial records.

Over the next year on the blog, I will be updating you on the project and writing about some of the fascinating records in the collection.

Eleanor Woodward, Project Archivist (Birmingham and Warwickshire Quakers)

With best wishes for the future….

Exterior view of Birmingham Town Hall, 1891 [MS 2724/2/B/816]

Exterior view of Birmingham Town Hall, Ernest Brasier, 1891            [MS 2724/2/B/816]

Our wonderful colleague, Alison Smith, retired last week, after nearly 20 years of working with Archives and Heritage. We couldn’t let this go unrecognised and so we asked Alison for a few fond memories…..

 I joined the archives in 1995 as a volunteer. I had been prompted by a visit to Soho House – then in the process of restoration. I seem to remember a stall manned by archives staff (possibly Nick Kingsley, a former colleague who went to work for the National Archives) with an invitation for volunteers….. and that’s how it all started.

For several years thereafter I worked as a volunteer and then as a member of the supply pool. I recall my first volunteer task, checking the contents of the Boulton &Watt portfolios (the engine drawings)  and then describing the contents – number, type, capacity, etc. Fairly early on in the process I found a misfiled drawing and this was a real thrill as it related to a steam engine housed at a nearby mill ( was it Pebble Mill?) and its emergence delighted a regular researcher!

 I’ve enjoyed working with colleagues in the public service team, not only with my experienced and knowledgeable colleagues but equally with many younger members of staff keen to learn and contribute to the service.

 There have been opportunities to assemble displays of archival material associated with particular events, for example the reopening of the Town Hall and the 200th commemoration of Matthew Boulton’s death, and I have enjoyed such opportunities to explore, choose and display such material.

 I feel fortunate to have spent this time working in this particular public service – the time has flown and the working experience has stimulated my own interest in Birmingham’s life and history.

We also asked colleagues the same question and Judy, one of our Archivists, had very fond memories!

My Friend Alison

We have been buddies for a long time and many of the projects that concerned us both were shared ones.

We both were happy to put together exhibitions on various topics of note in the life of the Archives. We produced the Town Hall Exhibition to mark the renovation of the building in 2010 and were very pleased with the result. A happy shared memory of that project was attending one of the first lunchtime organ recitals after the building was opened again to the public and marvelling at the restored grandeur of the beautiful space.

I also remember with fondness (this may be the wrong word!) the “Gloucester Move”, I don’t know whether Alison thinks the same! This involved a huge logistical movement of our archives back to Central Library from an out store in Gloucester Record Office. So, someone was at the Birmingham end making sure there was space to put the returning boxes, which were hopefully coming off the vans in the right order from the Gloucester end. I was the ‘Gloucester end’ with my team of heavies, (my two girlies!) And Alison was at the other end calmly and efficiently (waving and shouting madly), directing operations.

Well we did it right on schedule and even with time to spare. Who says Thunderbirds aren’t Go! Although I’m not sure who was Mr Tracy and who was Brains ….

Will miss my buddy but I’m sure we will be indulging in some shared mischief in the not too distant future.

Happy retirement Alison!

With Love, Judy


I am sure our regular researchers will join all of us in AH&P in thanking Alison for her dedication over the years and wishing her the very best for her retirement. We will certainly miss working with her, and expect to see her back on the other side of the counter!

Early and Fine Printed Atlases

The move to the Library of Birmingham has given us the opportunity to showcase the extensive and diverse collections we hold. Through a series of public drop-in sessions we have been able to show a range of our rare and beautiful treasures.  Recently this included six beautiful atlases dating from 1522 – 1844, highlighting how our knowledge of the world has changed due to exploration and the opening of trade routes.

Ptolemy, Opus Geographiae. 1522

Ptolemy, Opus Geographiae. 1522

The first atlas on show was Ptolemy’s fantastically vibrant hand painted Opus Geographiae, printed by Laurent Fries in Amsterdam in 1522.  Ptolemy, 90 BCE – 168 BCE was a Greek-Egyptian writer, mathematician, astronomer, geographer, astrologer and poet.  Whilst the coordinators he used to map the world were erroneous, they were still widely used until the sixteenth century.

Within just 140 years our knowledge of the world had grown greatly as the Dutch power and trade increased dramatically with the establishment in 1602 of the Dutch East India Company.

Jansson, Nouvel Atlas Theatre du Monde. 1656

Jansson, Nouvel Atlas Theatre du Monde. 1656

The Dutch East India Company had its own cartographic department and with new trade routes opening up the Dutch became leaders in mapping the known world.  By 1706 atlases had become more precise and Pieter Schenck’s atlas shows Africa accurately depicted and Hollandia Nova (Australia) and Zealandia Nova (New Zealand) appears, though neither in their whole.

Pieter Schenck. 1706

Pieter Schenck. 1706

As France aspired to play a leading role in world affairs they gradually overtook the Dutch as cartographers.  Guillaume Delisle’s atlas of 1739 relied on severe scientific testing prior to publication and his map of Russia was the most precisely produced portrayal of the nation at the time.

As Britain became a global super power and Captain James Cook explored new territories their knowledge of the world grew enormously.  Working in London Kitchen produced a range of books on many subjects including an atlas in 1799 which accurately portrayed Cook’s voyage.  He depicts Australia in its entirety, albeit its southern coastline was still imprecise.

As the want and need for education and knowledge grew the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge produced a range of volumes designed to provide up to date information at affordable prices for those who would otherwise have been deprived of an education.  Whilst the atlas was nowhere near as ornate as its predecessors, it was much more available and enabled the world to be understood and studied by many more people.

Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. 1844.

Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. 1844.

Archives and Special Collections, including the atlases, can be viewed in the Wolfson Centre by prior appointment.  Some of the atlases, including the Ptolemy shown above, will need to have a member of the Conservation Team present due to their age and fragility. Please contact us via archives.appointments@birmingham.gov.uk and we can advise further on how you can access these wonderful resources.

Phil Burns, Collection Curator

Britain Declares War

On Tuesday, August 4th 1914 at 11pm, Great Britain declared war on Germany. In the preceding days, tension across Europe had been escalating and the heightened situation was followed closely by the local papers, reporting extensively on the mobilisation and outbreak of war between Germany, and Russia and France.

The Birmingham Post reported that diplomatic relations had broken down on Monday night between France and Germany. Baron von Schoen, the German Ambassador in France, had declared in an official letter that France had flown over German territory and that Germany considered this an act of war.

Formal Declaration of War, Germany and France Birmingham Post, Wednesday 5th August, 1914

Formal Declaration of War, Germany and France Birmingham Post, Wednesday 5th August, 1914

The article goes on to state:

Before his departure [from Paris] Baron von Schoen handed to M. Malvy a Note declaring that Germany considered a state of war existed between Germany and France.

When Germany demanded to send troops through Belgium into France, Britain protested and called for Germany to respect Belgian neutrality.  The response from Germany was unsatisfactory and an official statement was issued announcing  a state of war between Britain and Germany.

Declaration of War Official Statement by the Foreign Office

Official Statement by the Foreign Office Birmingham Post, Wednesday 5th August, 1914


The need for more men to join the army was clear, and the Birmingham Daily Mail was quick to encourage patriotism amongst the inhabitants of Birmingham. They called for men to do their duty by publishing recruitment notices on their front page.

Birmingham Daily Mail, Wednesday 5th August 1914

Birmingham Daily Mail, Wednesday 5th August 1914

Birmingham Daily Mail Thursday 6th August 1914

Birmingham Daily Mail Thursday 6th August 1914













The mobilisation of British troops had already begun before the formal declaration of war was made, with Reservists and Territorials being called up for service. The Birmingham Mail reported the present mobilisation will make a very considerable demand upon the police forces, the fire brigade, railway employees, tramway servants, the Gas Department, postal officials and commissionaires while most of the manufacturers in Birmingham have Reservists or Territorials in their employ.

The minutes of the Gas Committee for 17th August 1914 (BCC 1/AY/1/1/25) show the effects of war were already starting to impact on the City. Several companies who the Committee had business with were being drawn into war work, not least affecting their supply of leather goods which were being diverted to the army and navy. Also of concern was the disposal of what was presumably the by-products of extracting gas, which had a market across Europe. Understandably these markets were becoming inaccessible, as was the valuable income earned from its sale. Their stocks of fluid for the mantles was shipped in from Germany. As with other departments across the Council, it was agreed that financial help be given to the families of its employees who joined the services. It was also agreed to keep their jobs open for them while on duty, however sadly not all of them would return.

Nicola Crews, Archivist

Following the Accession Trail

I’ve been a little self-indulgent with this week’s blog. We recently had an enquiry from a member of the public about how the Library Service functioned during the First World War, or even if it did remain open and active. It was not something I could have answered with any confidence without looking further, so I went digging.

Amongst the City Council records survives a nice series of Free Libraries Committee, Later Public Libraries Committee, Minute Books dating from 1860 through to 1968, and includes minutes for the war period. Certainly following the initial outbreak of war it was business as usual across the Library Service – an interest over the number of books borrowed was ever present, and the rebuilding of Northfield Library following its destruction by fire featured as a regular report.

What struck me was that the minutes also discussed new gifts, and one that caught my eye was the permanent loan in July 1914 of 41 deeds relating to the Manor of Solihull from the Rev. H. Couchman, a collection that should certainly have made its way into Archives, Heritage and Photography.

BCC 1/AT/1/1/11 Free Libraries Committee Minutes 1914

BCC 1/AT/1/1/11 Free Libraries Committee Minutes 27th July, 1914

From here it was fairly easy to track down which collection this was – the Libraries Newscuttings contained a more detailed report of the collection, which was connected to the Gough Family. Following all the hard work done by our Documentation Team leading up to the move, it took no time at all to find the accession record on CALM (our cataloguing software). On 17th July 1914, Rev. H. Couchman deposited Deeds and related papers concerning the Gough family estates in Edgbaston, Kings Norton, Olton, Solihull, Studley, Yardley and Sussex, 1616-1833. It was given the accession number 1914/021 signifying the 21st accession received that year.

Libraries News Cuttings 1914

Libraries News Cuttings 1914

At that time, all items received by the Library were given a 6-figure reference number so that their origins could be traced (something our regular researchers will be familiar with). These particular documents were numbered 252019-59 with the intention of binding them into volumes titled Deeds Volumes 116 – 118. They were never actually bound, however even to this day we use the finding number DV followed by the volume and 6-figure number to retrieve them. They were given a new collection reference of MS 3145 prior to our move, but sure enough, in the boxes for DV 116 – 118 can be found the Gough deeds.

252058 DV 118 One of the larger indentures from the collection

252058 DV 118 One of the larger indentures from the collection

As I say, a little self-indulgent but it was quite exciting to see in practice how important proper documentation about the  collections is, and that after 100 years this allows us to provide access to these fascinating resources. Not to mention it was a happy couple of hours reading and playing detective!

Nicola Crews, Archivist

You may have seen our recent post on the Voices of War project – as part of the commemorations, there will be a series of interesting talks at the Council House on 3rd August and details are available from the Events page of their website.


All Archives Great and Small

Two years ago when we began the Paganel Archives project and were confronted with a room full of bags of children’s work and boxes of photos and shelves of art and craft projects we were a bit daunted!

Two years later, with our beautifully designed archive room, an online catalogue and a team of year 6 archivists we feel quite pleased with ourselves for the job we have done in creating Paganel Archives, a living school archive that documents its school and community from the school’s opening in 1938, to the present day.  We even have an ongoing archive after school club to keep recording, collecting, archiving and cataloguing http://archiveafterschoolclub.wordpress.com

Paganel School Archives

Paganel School Archives

This week we went to visit The National Archives to see how it compared…… it’s a bit bigger!

We were amazed to discover that they have over 12 million items stored on about 150 miles of shelving – pretty much the distance we travelled from Weoley Castle to visit The National Archives in Kew!  We had a fantastic time being shown round two huge archive stores and followed the journey of a document from its request to its production.  Unlike our archive, where we can just turn round to a shelf and pull it down, the request was generated electronically and even sometimes fetched on a trike!

Exploring the National Archives

Exploring the National Archives

Paganel School Archives

Paganel School Archives Room










There were some similarities though. We noted the two and three letter codes for finding material that we use as well, the use of ties, the archival boxes for storage and the use of gloves for serving photos – all practices that Paganel young archivists are very used to.  We also both have our own branded pencils which we exchanged!

It was great to have a chance to share stories of our archive with Clem, the director of the National Archives, to tell him about our punishment books, our recorded museum of me project and our oral history interviews.

We were tremendously impressed by The National Archives, how helpful everyone was and how much amazing material they have there (we saw Henry VIII’s portrait in the Valor Ecclesiasticus!) and how much they do to conserve it and make it accessible. It was exciting and inspiring and it felt good to be part of a national organisation that is much about capturing heritage and sharing it.

It has to be said though, our myths and legends themed archive room still has the edge on their search room…!

Paganel Archives room is available to visit by appointment by contacting Paganel School office on 0121 464 5040.   More information about the archive can be found at https://sites.google.com/a/paganelschool.net/paganel-archives/home

Information about The National Archives, visiting and their collections  can be found at www.nationalarchives.gov.uk