Library of Birmingham – The Power House of Research

Ironwork surrounding the Library of Birmingham, representing local industry

Ironwork surrounding the Library of Birmingham, representing local industry

Launched just ten weeks ago and already having welcomed half a million visitors, the Library of Birmingham is rightly proud of its services.  Much popular attention has focused on the distinctive architecture, the visitor experience offered by the terraces, Shakespeare Memorial Room and the ‘added value’ services: Gallery, Mediatheque and much, much more.

The Library (LoB) is also providing access to its world class collections for research.  Such research can take many forms and is available to our entire range of visitors, from first time users of all ages to experienced investigators following structured academic or professional research programmes.  I could highlight any number of collections which may be consulted, but taking my cue from LoB’s ‘Rings of Steel’, I will concentrate on our industrial collections.

Winfield Rolling Mills Ltd. Birmingham [MS 322/169]

Winfield Rolling Mills Ltd. Birmingham [MS 322/169]

The ‘Rings of Steel’ on the Library’s façade provide an iconic brand for LoB.  They derive from and represent Birmingham’s proud industrial heritage, which literally underpins the Library: it is built on the site of Winfield’s Brass-works, which was powered by a Boulton & Watt steam engine.  Today, the Library holds the records of the Winfield Company and Boulton & Watt, as well as very many other manufacturing concerns associated with Birmingham.  A selected list is provided below and this very rich resource supports diverse research agendas.  Historians of technology and economic, social and business historians find such resources invaluable, as do family and local historians.  Researchers of the ‘here and now’ also find inspiration in these collections for art, design and other creative subjects.

Engine drawing from the Boulton and Watt Collection

Engine drawing from the Boulton and Watt Collection [MS 3147/5/169]

Poster: Taylor & Challen machinery [MS 1350]

Poster: Taylor & Challen machinery    [MS 1350]

The nature of the records contained in these collections is as diverse as the products represented in them.  Minute books, engineering drawings, photographs, financial records and publicity material ensure that many research needs can be met.  As with all archives however, these industrial collections can pose challenges for researchers.  Format or physical condition may restrict access to particular records and the sheer size of some collections may impose practical limitations on certain research agendas.  However, please don’t be deterred from checking them out, as many can be easily accessed.  Contact archives.appointments@birmingham.gov.uk for further information.

Please remember that the very richness of these industrial collections fuels the power house of research that is the Library of Birmingham.

Jim Ranahan, Archivist

A Selected List of Industrial Collections at the Library of Birmingham

Archives of Soho:   Engines & an insight to the Industrial Revolution –                 MS 3147    Boulton & Watt;    MS 3782    Boulton Family Papers;                                    MS 3219   Watt Family Papers;

MS 1724    Albright & Wilson:  Chemicals                                                                               MS 1708    Bellis & Morcom:  Engines etc                                                                            MS 1623   Birmingham Mint:  Coins etc                                                                               MS 321       Birmingham Small Arms:  Arms, motor cycles etc                                       MS 466      Cadbury Collection:  Confectionery                                                                 MS 1422    I.M.I. (and Kynoch): Metals, munitions etc                                                 MS 99         Metro-Cammell: Rail and road vehicles                                                         MS 1350    Taylor & Challen:  Engines, presses etc                                                          MS 2680    Webster & Horsfall Ltd: Wire etc                                                                    MS 1441     Wilmott Breeden: Motor Accessories etc                                                   MS 322       Winfield Rolling Mills :  Brass etc

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