Employment of Disabled Ex-Servicemen

As a result of the effects of combat during the First World War, the lack of available employment for disabled ex-servicemen led to Henry Rothband (d. 1940) proposing, in 1917, a scheme named the King’s National Roll Scheme (KNRS), whereby, ‘every company in England and Wales with over ten employees (had) to ensure that no less than 5 per cent of their workforce comprised disabled ex-servicemen’.

The government was initially reluctant to implement the KNRS, but towards the end of 1918 they realized that employment problems were worsening, and a large number of disabled ex-servicemen were set to remain unemployed. This encouraged the state to establish the scheme in September 1919.  The scheme was voluntary, but employers were encouraged to take part by its advertisement as a way of honouring those who had served for their country. It became very successful, with around 89,000 men finding employment through it within a year and continued to be a success until 1944, when the compulsory Disabled Persons’ Employment Act took over.

Attempts to make the scheme compulsory, thus leading to greater employment of disabled ex-servicemen, were always overruled by the War Cabinet. It was, nevertheless, a beneficial way of encouraging employment and enabling disabled ex-servicemen to become more integrated into society.

Birmingham Corporation set up a Sub Committee of the General Purposes Committee  to consider  action on the employment of disabled ex- servicemen. At a meeting of the Sub Committee held on Friday 15 October 1920, consisting of the Rt. Hon. The Lord Mayor (Alderman W.A. Cadbury), Alderman Lloyd and Councillor Lancaster, a return from the General Purposes Committee was examined which showed the percentage of disabled men employed by the various Corporation departments in relation to the total number of male and female employees.


Minutes of the General Purposes Committee, Special Sub-Committees. October 1920. [BCC/1/AG/38/1/7]

Where departments had a very low percentage, as in the Asylums, Markets and Fairs, and Health departments, the Mayor felt that they should be asked to engage a sufficient number of disabled men to bring the proportion up to the 5% minimum.

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From boxes to trees

Tree WKH5206

Victoria Park, Handsworth, December 1895 (from the Warwickshire Photographic Survey, ref WK/H5/206)

Have you ever wondered when you look at our on-line catalogues or use our paper catalogues in the searchroom how archivists decide to arrange a collection? What do we do when we are faced with shelves and shelves of records which may have been randomly boxed together or may have been re-organised several times by the time they reach us?

Well, without going into too much detail about archival theory, there are a couple of key principles which underpin the work of archivists and which differentiates archival cataloguing from that of library cataloguing. Records derive their meaning from the context in which they were created so when arranging a collection of records, archivists aim to preserve this context. To do so, they follow the principles of provenance and original order. The principle of provenance dictates that records created or collected by an organisation, family or individual should be maintained together and not mixed with records created or collected by another organisation, family or individual. The principle of original order dictates that records should be arranged in the order in which they were created and used.

In practice, this means that for each new organisation, family or individual who deposits records in the archive, a new collection is created. However, identifying the original order can be rather more difficult because this has often been lost over time as records pass from one generation to the next, frequently being organised and re-organised before they are deposited in an archive. This is why one of the first things a cataloguing archivist does is to spend time researching the organisation, family or individual and analysing the records to try to work out how the records would have been created and kept so that this can be reflected in the arrangement of the collection.  The aim is to build up a logical arrangement which maintains the context of the records and helps researchers to easily explore the collection via the catalogue.

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200 and Counting!

Here at The Iron Room, we are celebrating our 200th blog post today! The first post on The Iron Room was on 4 October 2011 and was an introduction to what we hoped to achieve with the blog – to highlight events and exhibitions, to showcase our collections and to provide advice for researchers.

We have continued to follow this ethos to this day and are proud to have supported important issues, as we are doing here with Disability History Month.  This year is of particular significance as Disability History Month examines the theme of War and Impairment: The Social Consequences of Disablement as the First World War led to an unprecedented number of soldiers returning with a disability.

The Gymnasium. Birmingham Hospitals, Highbury, First World War.

The Gymnasium. Birmingham Hospitals, Highbury, First World War.

The Voices of War and Peace programme of events includes a First World War Study Day this coming Saturday (6th December), examining the war in relation to injury, medicine and disability.  For further details and to make a booking for this free event, which is held at the Library of Birmingham, please visit the Voices of War and Peace website or the Library of Birmingham website.

The Voices of War exhibition also addresses the issues of disability in Birmingham as a result of the First World War and includes fascinating exhibits relating to the employment of disabled servicemen.

World War 1 poster asking employers to employ or train an ex-service man suitable for commerce of the professions

Poster asking employers to employ or train an ex-service man  [MS 4383]

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In These Times

On 31 October I attended an enthusiastic and stimulating talk by Jenny Uglow about her new book: In These Times: Living in Britain through Napoleon’s Wars, 1793 – 1815.

This fascinating account of the lives of people in Britain during nearly twenty years of  warfare has been gathered from their surviving diaries and letters and arranged as Jenny Uglow does so well into an entertaining highly readable narrative full of interesting details about daily life, individuals and their families around the country.

For Birmingham, she has made use of the letters of the Galton family, particularly those of Samuel Galton and his wife Lucy and their children in MS 3101 (see our online catalogue for details)

Birmingham’s archives are rich in correspondence for this period, for example, in the Papers of James Watt & family (MS 3219); the Russell Family’s papers and diaries (MS 3450); the Hutton papers (MS 3597); and, of course, in the Papers of Matthew Boulton and family (MS 3782).

Two sections of the catalogue of that collection which are very relative to the Napoleonic Wars are MS 3782/18 and MS 3782/19, and are briefly described here.

Records of the 1st Battalion, Loyal Birmingham Volunteers [MS 3782/18/1]

Records of the 1st Battalion, Loyal Birmingham Volunteers [MS 3782/18/1]

MS 3782/18.  Records concerning the founding, organisation and activities of the 1st Battalion, Loyal Birmingham Volunteers, 1794 – 1805, in which Matthew Robinson Boulton was an officer. All his papers relating to the Battalion were kept in a large red box referred to as the ‘Birmingham Volunteers’ box, with the following list of contents fixed inside the lid:

‘Tactics; Orders; Correspondence and regimental Communication; Interior Economy of the Battallion; Government Regulations relative to the Volunteer Corps.; Establishment and organisation of the Birmingham and other Volunteer Corps.’

Bundles of papers relating to all of these headings exist. While the battalion itself was founded in 1803, Boulton collected various papers relating to the formation of previous battalions for reference. Continue reading

Press Ganged! Birmingham Gangs in the Victorian Press.

Birmingham as a city has a colourful and exciting heritage. One aspect of this is its criminal underworld and activities. Ever since I first heard about the gangs of Birmingham past, especially the notorious ‘Peaky Blinders’, I have had an interest in this side of the city. Some books have been written about the gangs, many tales told about them and the newspapers had a field day in the late Victorian era documenting this savagery. The streets of Birmingham in the late Victorian period were a ruthless and intimidating place to be. With the increase in population, plenty of work due to the industrial boom and the availability of ‘disposable’ income, communities were finding a new way of defining themselves. From about the 1870s young men were forming groups, fraternities, or as the newspapers would sensationalise ‘gangs’.

The role of the media in this instance was to showcase the brutality and in true Victorian style, the drama and horrors of the streets. They used the reports of the gangs to bring to life the monsters of Birmingham’s streets. They also used it as an opportunity to showcase the police and magisterial services in the city. References were given of the sentences passed, quotes of magistrates putting their foot down and the example set by the police to the rest of the country. All this despite the honest police getting attacked themselves for breaking up the fights, and of course nothing to clarify the speculation that some police were in the pockets of these gangs!

The origins of the most notorious gangs in the Birmingham area stemmed from the ‘Sloggers’ of Aston. These were gangs of men, locally known by the streets or districts they came from, but were grouped under the term ‘Sloggers’. Sloggers got their name from the boxing and bare knuckle fighting they did as either a social past time or to settle old scores. As communities spread, the needs to define their areas lead to turf wars. The height of such gangs reached its peak in the 1890s. The Sloggers were known to police and the press for their brutal attacks, murders, vandalism and disturbances at the local fairs. They often exercised control over the local fairs – intimidating stall holders, taking a cut of the finances, running their protection rackets and seeing off rivals.

The Onion Fair at Hockley Brook, a common location to find 'gangs' [WK/B11/5260]

The Onion Fair at Hockley Brook, a common location to find ‘gangs’. c.1874 [WK/B11/5260]

From about the 1890s the Aston Sloggers encountered a high profile, stylish rival in the neighbouring area of Birmingham – the Peaky Blinders. These gangs started life fighting as sloggers and also extended their criminal arm to illegal gambling, protection rackets and trading in unlicensed goods. Between the two gangs the city of Birmingham was covered from the neighbouring district of Aston, the Jewellery Quarter and Gun Quarter in the centre, to Small Heath just outside of town.

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Remembering the Victims of Birmingham’s Pub Bombings

21st November 1974 is a date seared into the collective memory of Birmingham.  A double bombing killed twenty one, maimed or injured hundreds more, ruptured community relations and revealed judicial failings whose consequences are still felt.  The victims, their families, friends and relatives never forget that date and this fortieth anniversary will be a poignant time for many across the City.

Who are those victims?  Today, it is clear that all those affected by the bombings are victims.  They are the bereaved and those coping with injury or loss; the traumatised police, fire and medical crews and ordinary members of the public who brought aid and comfort to the dying and wounded that night; those members of the City’s Irish community ostracised and demonised because of their origin, politics or religion; the self-respect of Birmingham’s community relations.

In 1974, some people saw the situation in much simpler terms and unjustified recriminations against a whole community continued for many years, but slowly a general improvement in relations has occurred. Today a more realistic understanding exists about the events of forty years ago.

This passage of time has however had a consequence. A whole generation of Birmingham people now have no personal experience of, or knowledge about, the circumstances of 1974.  The pain and raw emotion that remains a reality for some does not directly affect others in the City. They may empathise with but cannot fully appreciate the human stories of this critical moment in Birmingham’s history.  This imbues the official Memorial to the Twenty One Victims with great significance.  Located in Saint Philip’s Churchyard, it provides a focal point to honour the deceased.  It also bears witness to the circumstances by which they lost their lives.  In common with all such memorials, it provides both a reminder of past tragedy and a prompt for those who want to understand more about what is being commemorated.

For those wishing to find out more about the historical context and circumstances of the Birmingham Pub Bombings, resources are available in the Library of Birmingham.  A range of newspapers and published works are complemented by personal testimonies from some of those who lived through the bombings and their aftermath.  The library also continues to seek records about what are [in archival terms] comparatively recent events and for which a comprehensive record does not yet exist.

The Pub Bombings formed part of a wider campaign in Birmingham, across Britain and Ireland which spanned decades.  People in many places remember victims and have significant anniversaries.  In all these locations, libraries and archives have a role in remembrance and in providing people with the opportunity to learn and understand.  The Library of Birmingham takes its responsibility seriously. All victims of the Pub Bombings are remembered.



BCC Birmingham Watch Committee (for references to pre 1974 bombings)

Birmingham Post, Birmingham Evening Mail, Sunday Mercury; Microfilm & cuttings albums

MS 1611 ‘Banner Theatre’ Research Notes

MS 4237 ‘Records relating to Birmingham Irish Association and Predecessor Bodies’


Further Reading

  1. Gibson ‘The Birmingham Bombs’ (1976) ISBN 0859920704
  2. Moran ‘Irish Birmingham. A History’ (2010) ISBN 9781846314742
  3. Mullin ‘Error of Judgement – The Truth about the Birmingham Bombings’ (1986)

ISBN 0905169921

  1. Reilly ‘An Account of 150 Years of Policing Birmingham’ (1989) ISBN 0951515209








A Curious Curate

Orange ExploredQuite some time ago, a regular researcher in the Wolfson Centre showed me a parish register with a curious name in it. It was a marriage register for St. John, Perry Barr, and the officiating minister in this particular entry was recorded as Harold J. Scott, St. Leonards Church, Barbados, B.W.I.

Marriage Register St. John, Perry Barr [EP 18/2/3/81]

I was intrigued by who this person was and I remember looking in the Diocesan Directory for any clues at the time, but nothing was forthcoming. Even a search of the parish magazines made no mention of a visiting clergyman from Barbados and as the trail went cold, I put it to one side with the intention of exploring further at some point.

Many months later, inspired by the Explore Your Archives campaign, and after a couple of gentle reminders from said researcher, I decided to try again. Remembering little of when the name appeared, I started at the beginning of the volume and worked through until I could establish the dates of when he was at St. John’s.

Over the space of 5 months from July 1939 to December 1939, the name appeared 7 times – sometimes officiating at ceremonies for just one day, sometimes for weeks on end.

The titular vicar of St. John’s was C. Harold Tye, who had been the vicar at Perry Barr since 1928. It didn’t take long to notice that he was not the only clergyman conducting services (other than Harold Scott) from as early as 1936, when this particular register started. Between 29 August 1936 and 26 December 1939 I counted a total of 17 different clergy conducting marriages, which even to me seemed like a large number! Even more interesting was where these visiting clergy came from. Many were local – curates from St. Luke’s Kingstanding featured frequently, but also from Aston, Handsworth, Great Barr, and St. Mary, Aston Brook. There were even two ministers from outside Birmingham – one coming from Lyonshall, and another from St. Mark’s Walthstow [sic].

The Diocesan Directories proved invaluable in identifying the local clergy who appeared in the register. It also recorded those given special licence to work in the City, along with ministers who were ordained at Birmingham Cathedral. In the end, only a handful of clergy still remained unidentified, other than their name as written. Sadly this included Harold J. Scott, but I can’t image that any of them were from further afield than Barbados!

This is, of course, from just one register and it would be fascinating to see if this was the normal state of affairs. The church minutes suggest there was a shortage of ministers across the whole Diocese, which could explain the presence of so many different visiting clergy if they travelled to neighbouring parishes as needed.

Returning to our vicar from Barbados, if anyone has come across this name and can shed any light on who he was, we would love to hear from you!

Nicola Crews, Archivist.