What’s new on the shelves?

Birmingham Collection behind the scenes - titles not available on the open shelves can be requested from staff.

Birmingham Collection behind the scenes – titles not available on the open shelves can be requested from staff.

Yet more fascinating titles have been added to our collections. How to access them? BCOL items are freely available on the open shelves on floor 4 in our Heritage Research Area. All titles that are prefixed with one or two letters need to be requested in advance of a visit from library staff. With the exception of books in the Black History Collection (which is now available on floor 3) , all other publications are also accessible to view on floor 4.

1.Cadbury, Geraldine.
Young Offenders Yesterday and Today.
L 42.1 CAD

2.Chinn, Carl.
The Real Peaky Blinders. Billy Kimber, the Birmingham Gang and the Racecourse Wars of the 1920s.
BCOL 42.31

3.Dale, R.W.
Laws of Christ for Common Life.
L 18.1 DAL

4.Fahey, David(ed.)
E. Lawrence Levy and Muscular Judaism, 1851 – 1932.
L 78.1 LEV

5. Iqbal, Karamat.
Dear Birmingham : A Conversation with my Hometown.
BCOL 21.85 KAR

6.Limbrick, Gudrun.
A Great Day : Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Birmingham.
LF 21.7 LIM

7.Mills, Robert.
From Great Barr Chapel to St. Margaret’s Church : The Story of the Stained Glass Windows.
LP 14.93 MIL

8.Nadin – Snelling, Erica.
Matron At War : The Story of Katy Beaufoy (1869 – 1918).

9.Pringle, Marie.
Brasshouse Language Centre : A Vibrant & Imaginative Affair.
BCOL 48.36

10.Roberts, Stephen.
Dr J.A. Langford (1823 – 1903). A Self – Taught Working Man and the Sale of American Degrees in Victorian Britain.
LP 78.1 LAN

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Birmingham City Council Collection: Catalogues now LIVE!

New catalogues for the records of Birmingham City Council are now live on our on-line archives catalogue, CalmView.


Chamberlain Square, Birmingham. Photographed by Thomas Lewis, late 19th cent. Showing Council House, Museum & Art Gallery and Clocktower    [MS 2724 WK/B11/278]

As well as collecting records relating to individuals, families, businesses and other corporate bodies with historical links to the city, the Archives, Heritage and Photography Department at the Library of Birmingham is the in-house repository for the historic records of Birmingham City Council.

The vast majority of the records date from the granting of the Charter of Incorporation in 1838 that conferred upon the town the status of municipal borough. A few classes of records, most notably Town Clerks Deeds (Collection BCC/1/AM/D/1/3/1) go back before this date; the earliest surviving title deed for example is written in Latin and dates from the late seventeenth century.

Comprising several thousand entries, the current catalogue still only represents a fraction of the surviving administrative records of local government in our care.

We continue to receive on average about 20 new accruals to the Birmingham City Council archive per year. These deposits can vary in size from a single booklet or framed photograph to whole runs of bulky committee minutes.

In summary, the Birmingham City Council archive comprises the legislative records (minutes, agendas, reports etc) of Birmingham City Council and its committees (1838 to 1974); operational records of council department; operational records of institutions managed by the City Council (i.e. care homes); property deeds; maps and charts (mainly relating to town planning schemes); photographs; building plans.

Pages 40 & 41 from volume ot Housing - Interviewing Sub-committee Minutes, 4 March 1908. [BCC/1/BF/3/1/1]

Pages 40 & 41 from volume of the Interviewing Sub-Committee of the Housing Committee Minutes detailing proceedings of a meeting of 4 March 1908. [BCC/1/BF/3/1/1]

Included here are a couple of digital images of items from the collection to give a flavour of the scope and content of this huge archive.

To search the Birmingham City Council catalogue on-line, simply follow the links to the Library Catalogue at the top right hand corner of the Library of Birmingham website www.libraryofbirmingham.com or link http://calmview.birmingham.gov.uk/CalmView/

1. Click Advanced Search, then add search term BCC to RefNo field then click Search.

2. On next screen click on blue underlined text BCC.

3. The next screen will show the Collection Level record giving a brief summary of the scope and content of the collection and an administrative history charting the key developments in the history of local government in Birmingham prior to and from the establishment of the Corporation in 1838.

4. Click on the blue underlined text BCC again.

5. You can now open and close the relevant sub sections in the tree structure to check the for relevant committee and departmental records by clicking the +/- buttons beside each level of the catalogue tree structure.

6. To search within the BCC Archive for material relating to a specific place, person or subject, click on Advanced Search add search term BCC* in RefNo field and search term (street / place name, personal name, subject etc) into the AnyText or Title field then click Search.

7. Further guidance as regards searching the on-line catalogue is available on the CalmView webpages, following the links above.

The records comprise an information-rich archive of qualitative, quantitative and visual data relating to the provision of local government services in the city of Birmingham.

The collection is heavily used by students, academics and other researchers investigating the history of public policy, particularly education, social care and infrastructural development in Birmingham from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day.

The deposited building plans and planning photographs remain a heavily-used resource amongst our users, from architectural historians to members of the public looking into the history of their property.

BCC/1/AO/D/3/8/1/28 Photo Box 10/28 Irving Street

Irving Street, Birmingham. Photographed by Birmingham City Council Public Works Department in 1965. Showing cleared site and dilapidated housing earmarked for demolition [BCC/1/AO/D/3/8/1/28 Irving Street]

The collection includes fascinating documentation relating to particular streets and places. Much of this is visual, and is particularly rich amongst the Planning and Architecture Photographs and the Town Clerk’s Deeds bundles.

The archive continues to be used by Councillors and local government staff for the purposes of informing retrospective decision making, case work, public planning and meeting the local authority’s legal and democratic accountability as regards Freedom of Information and other legislation. Hence there was a sound business need to improve the documentation of this collection.

With the large metropolitan local authorities in particular now facing crippling cutbacks to staffing and resources, it is perhaps worth reflecting on the historic achievements of Birmingham’s Council, including bringing the city’s gas and water supply under municipal control in 1875 and the construction of 50,000 municipal homes between 1918-1939, in spite of the economic uncertainties of the inter-war years.

All of the main developments, achievements and, indeed, the controversies, are documented across the collection.

Block plan showing drainage by Thomas A. Turner, Architect, Hockley Heath, Birmingham. dated January 1915. Scale: 8 feet to 1 inch. Houses numbered 25 - 29 fronting St Georges Street and houses numbered 1 - 9, 2 washhouses and an ash pit in yard at the back. Part of BCC Town Clerk Deeds bundle BCC 10/BPS/3/1/67 (Numbers 533 - 542).  bcc-10-bps-3-1-67 no 542.

Block plan dated 1915 found amongst Birmingham City Council Town Clerk’s Deeds bundles. Showing houses at 25-29 St Georges Street and houses numbered 1 – 9, including ash pits, washhouses and drainage. [BCC/1/AM/D/1/3/1/542]

Additional historic printed and archival material relating to Birmingham City Council also appears across our other Archive Collections as well as the Local Studies and History Printed Collections. Where possible, related material is listed with full references in the series level descriptions for Council committees and departments as they appear in the on-line catalogue.

Other secondary works relating to the history of local government in the city of Birmingham can be found on the Birmingham Collection shelves in the Heritage Research Area, 4th Floor, Library of Birmingham.

Michael Hunkin, Archivist

Sinking of the Lusitania

On 7th May 1915, the Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk off the coast of Ireland with the loss of over 1,100 lives. The Lusitania was sailing to Liverpool from New York when it was attacked at 14:10 by the German U-boat U20.

Controversy would soon surround the sinking of the Lusitania. Questions were asked as to why she had sailed when a warning had been issued by the Imperial German Embassy in Washington stating that any ships flying the British flag, or that of her allies, and who entered British waters would be entering a war zone and be ‘liable to destruction’.

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‘Appalling conditions’ in Birmingham’s slums – Quaker action on housing

Slum housing at 6 - 11, Brass Street, Birmingham

An example of slum housing at 6 – 11, Brass Street, Birmingham, Warwickshire Photographic Survey, MS 2724

At this year’s Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends in Britain this weekend, one of the areas which Quakers will focus on is housing and how to actively respond to the widening inequality in housing provision across the country. As part of their commitment to social justice, the Quakers have long been involved in working to improve housing conditions, both nationally and locally, and this is not the first time the issue of housing has been considered at the Yearly Meeting. In a letter addressed to Friends attending the Yearly Meeting on 25th May 1929, Florence M. Barrow wrote that as a result of a minute of the Warwickshire, Leicestershire and Staffordshire Quarterly Meeting, the Saturday morning sitting of the Yearly Meeting would focus on the question of housing.

Housing Committee letter

Letter to Friends attending Yearly Meeting from Florence M. Barrow, [19/5/1929],  Warwickshire North Housing Committee minutes

The issue of housing was a matter of increasing concern in Birmingham in the inter-war period, both for the city council and for a number of religious and voluntary organisations.  With the help of subsidies under several Housing Acts passed between 1919 and 1925, the city council implemented a programme of house building to counter the housing shortage. However, this did not address the problem of the deteriorating conditions of slum housing which were still prevalent in large parts of the city and totalled 40,000 back-to-back houses. In 1925, the Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting Housing Committee minutes reported that according to the city council’s Medical Officer of Health reports, 4000 people had one room to live in, 12, 600 people had two rooms to live in and 58, 000 people had no separate sanitary accommodation.

A Housing Committee was initially appointed by Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting in November 1925 to consider the proposal put forward by Florence M. Barrow that Friends might assist the newly formed Birmingham (Copec) Housing Improvement Society Ltd. with which she was involved, by offering financial support in the form of shares, loans or donations. It was hoped that this would go some way towards, ‘…alleviating the suffering resulting from life in Birmingham slums’ (Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting minute 941, 10 November 1925). Due to the shortage of new housing, the Birmingham (Copec) Housing Improvement Society Ltd. aimed to purchase slum houses, carry out work to improve the standard of accommodation they provided and rent them out at an affordable rate. This it did very successfully, due to generous contributions, support and involvement from a number of Friends and other benefactors and volunteers. Further details about Copec’s work can be found here and here  and in the sources listed at the end of this post.

Reconstructed housing at numbers 6, 7, 10 and 11 Brass Street, Birmingham

Reconstructed housing at numbers 6, 7, 10 and 11 Brass Street, Birmingham, Warwickshire Photographic Survey, MS 2724

In 1929, another Housing Committee was appointed. One of its aims was ‘to draw public attention to the appalling conditions still prevailing in Birmingham slums’ (Report to Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting, March 1939, Warwickshire North Housing Committee minutes), and it called on Friends, ‘…to acquaint themselves with the deplorable housing conditions which still exist in the City, and do all they can to help their betterment.’ (Report to Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting, n.d. [c.1930-31], Warwickshire North Housing Committee minutes)

To this end, it arranged visits for Friends to see the variable conditions of houses in the slum areas of the city, as well as the new approaches to housing which were being undertaken on the new estates on the outskirts of the city. In 1929, it organised a survey of 500 houses, which highlighted how serious the housing issue was and culminated in a published report in 1930 entitled ‘Five Hundred Birmingham Houses’, which received considerable publicity. It distributed pamphlets and arranged a number of talks and presentations for Friends given by housing specialists, city councillors and others working in the field of housing aimed at raising awareness of the housing problem. Subjects included ‘Personal Experiences of Housing Improvement in London’, ‘Some local Housing Regulations and their Application’ and ‘New Housing and Slum Clearance Act with Special Reference to Birmingham Conditions’.


Invitation to a talk on housing improvement at Bull St. Meeting House, February 1926, Warwickshire Monthly Meeting Housing Committee minutes

It suggested that a conference on housing be held and worked with the Friends Industrial and Social Order Committee to arrange a conference at Friends House in 1929, with additional conferences being arranged at George Rd. meeting house, Edgbaston and also in Manchester in subsequent years.

Conference programme

Housing Conference programme, February 1932, Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting Housing Committee minutes

In addition, it brought the subject of housing conditions to the attention of both Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting and the Yearly Meeting on a regular basis, and called for the Meeting for Sufferings to organise its own special committee on housing (Warwickshire Monthly Meeting, 9 September 1930 minute 764).

WNMM min 764 1930

Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting minute 764, 1930

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Real People, Real Archives: a crucial lesson from ‘Connecting Histories’

‘The Talking Tent’, Birmingham Citizens Day (2005) MS 4786

‘The Talking Tent’, Birmingham Citizens Day (2005) MS 4786

The Connecting Histories Project [CHP] is ten years old this month.  Whilst it formally lasted just two years, its legacy has continued through subsequent projects (Birmingham Stories, Suburban Birmingham) and crucially, through the people it touched.  These included the project team members, but importantly also those members of the public who were encouraged to engage with archives in many, varied ways.[i]

The CHP was a partnership between Birmingham Library & Archives Service and the universities of Birmingham and Warwick.  Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, it set out to engage with communities who were largely marginalised from the cultural / heritage mainstream.  A multi-disciplinary team was assembled, consisting of established and trainee archivists, academics, researchers, outreach officers and a web editor.  It strove to make existing archives more accessible through cataloguing and outreach exercises, whilst demonstrating their relevance to wide ranges of people.  It also sought to make the institution of ‘the archives’ more welcoming to diverse communities, by attracting new collections relevant to them and through greater participation in the archive profession by under-represented groups, as employees and as volunteers.  To this end, the project mentored two cultural / heritage graduates as they studied by distance learning to become archivists, whilst working directly as cataloguers and organising practical sessions with volunteers drawn from community groups.

The Somaliland Diaspora (2007) MS 4786

The Somaliland Diaspora (2007) MS 4786

A major lesson learned early on was the crucial role that archives have in validating peoples’ notion of self-worth – both as individuals and as members of communities (however defined).  Whilst many archivists recognise this at an intellectual level, the pressures and practicalities of daily duties sometimes dull this awareness.  The CHP was forcefully reminded of this key role as we encountered people for whom self-identity was a precious possession.  Migrants and especially refugees often had little to affirm their original cultural identity and they cherished those records, mementoes and memories that survived with them.  The CHP (and its successors) encountered Jewish and Polish refugees from World War Two and its aftermath, as well as refugees from more recent conflicts.

The example of Ahmed reflects this.  As a refugee from Somaliland, he is anxious that his personal story is recorded and understood, as well as that of his community.  As Twenty First Century arrivals in Birmingham, the traditional pattern of archival accruals would not normally reflect this aspect of City life for many years.  Through patient encouragement and dialogue with Ahmed and others, the CHP has addressed this and ensured that the issues relating to a distinctive Somaliland community are recorded.[ii]

One City – Many Stories (2006) MS 4786

One City – Many Stories (2006) MS 4786

Unfortunately, refugee experiences are not confined to any one group of people and Ahmed has worked with CHP to enable diverse communities to share experiences and celebrate their own identities.  A series of events was organised to facilitate community interaction, including ‘Citizens’ Day’ (October 2005); ‘One City – Many Stories’ (March 2006) and ‘Connecting Diasporas’ (November 2006). Overall a range of insights into other communities was provided, but for me personally the whole rationale of CHP was encapsulated at the end of the ‘Connecting Diasporas’ event.  Ahmed presented the delegates with a large, sumptuous cake, baked by members of his community and celebrating his pride in being empowered to record his presence in the City through the archives.  That one gesture confirmed for me that archives are truly rooted in reality, reflecting and affecting real people.

Connecting Diasporas Cake (2006) MS 4786

Connecting Diasporas Cake (2006) MS 4786

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The Elgin Marbles

adjusted elgin006

When last year the British Museum lent the statue of Ilissos, a Greek river god, to the Hermitage in St Petersburg to help celebrate that institution’s 250th anniversary, I was reminded that the ‘Elgin Marbles’ , of which this sculpture is one, had also made an appearance in the Papers of James Watt and Family.

Thadjusted elgin005ee statues have been in the British Museum since 1816, when the British Parliament purchased the collection from Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin and presented them to the Museum. Elgin had removed the sculptures from the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens during his time as Ambassador to the Ottoman court in Istanbul , 1798 – 1812 (Greece was then part of the Ottoman Empire) and arranged their transport to England.

Even before their move to the British Museum, John Henning (1771-1851), a Scottish artist who made portrait medallions and cameos, had visited Burlington house to draw and make copies of the sculptures. He also studied drawings of the sculptures by earlier artists and went on to create slate moulds of the sculptures which he used to reproduce the frieze from the temple as a miniature version two inches high. One copy of the frieze was purchased by William IV for £42 but Henning was unable to obtain a patent and did not profit from his invention. The British Museum has preserved a copy of the frieze and the original moulds. Continue reading

Birmingham’s First Coroner – Dr John Birt Davies

Portrait of Dr John Birt Davies (Ref: Edgbastonia Vol II No. 11. 15 March 1882)

Portrait of Dr John Birt Davies (Ref: Edgbastonia Vol II No. 11. 15 March 1882)

Whilst researching for an upcoming presentation on Coroners Records at Who Do You Think You Are? Live at the NEC in April I found myself being sidetracked  (a common occurrence!) by Dr John Birt Davies – the first Birmingham Coroner.

Born in the, improbably named, village of Nateley Scures, Hampshire in 1799, he studied medicine at Edinburgh graduating in 1822. He moved to Birmingham shortly afterwards and his first hospital role was that of physician to the General Dispensary (MS 1759/1/1/1 Birmingham General Dispensary Committee minutes 1794-1840). He became heavily involved in local politics as a Liberal and this may have been the reason behind his failure to secure a position at the General Hospital. He founded a Fever Hospital at the Bath House, Bath Row where he attended the only case of Asiatic cholera in Birmingham in 1832. In 1839 Aris’s Gazette reports on the presentation of silver plate to Dr Davies by a deputation led by Thomas Pemberton and John Cadbury in recognition of his public service over 14 years . The citation mentions his” zealous attention towards numerous poor patients who have sought and received his gratuitous aid” (Aris’s Birmingham Gazette – Monday 15 August 1836).

His appointment as the Borough’s first coroner was on 15 May 1839 shortly after the Liberals secured the city’s incorporation (BCC/1/AA/1/1/1 Birmingham Borough Council Minutes).

His election was not without controversy as John Welchman Whateley, a local solicitor, was also standing and he had served as County Coroner for Warwickshire covering the Birmingham Division for 20 years.   Birt Davies received 40 votes to Whateley’s mere four – a result which was greeted enthusiastically by the Lancet with the following headline:

Headline from Lancet

Mr Whateley challenged the appointment, although this was partly politically motivated and was intended to test the validity of the Charter of Incorporation. His challenge was ultimately unsuccessful – although he was given a compensation allowance of £117 per annum until his death in December 1874.

There were no specific requirements to be a Coroner other than being a man of some standing but by the early 19th Century it was customary for the office to be held by someone with legal expertise. John Birt Davies brought his medical expertise, some of it gained whilst physician at Queen’s Hospital to the role. He had been a strong supporter of William Sands Cox in his foundation of the Birmingham Royal School of Medicine and Surgery, which became in 1843 the Queen’s College, and he occupied its chair of forensic medicine for many years.

Coroners were required to submit annual reports to the Home Office and  Dr Davies produced detailed analysis of several different types of verdicts. The following table shows his analysis of suicides in 1840:

analysis of suicides in 1840 Birmingham Journal - Saturday 13 February 1841

Analysis of suicides in 1840, produced by Dr Davies (Birmingham Journal – Saturday 13 February 1841)

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