The Shakespeare Collection: Everything to Everybody

Archives and Collections have over 6000 collections. These collections range in sheer physical size (our Local Studies collection contains 60,000 items alone!) and in the materials that are contained within them, including but not limited to paper, books, photos, parchment and seals. One of our collections which has been in the local news recently is the Shakespeare Collection.

Consulting the Shakespeare Collection in the Shakespeare Memorial Library

The Birmingham Shakespeare Memorial Library (you can visit the actual Victorian library itself on floor 9!) is one of the West Midlands’ most internationally impressive and long-standing cultural institutions, founded more than a decade before the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. Its importance is reflected in the value and variety of its holdings, including the only First Folio in the world “acquired specifically for a public institution as part of a vision of working-class education”, about 70 further rare and early editions, “Pavier” quartos, and a near complete set of eighteenth and nineteenth century English language editions, as well as books in 93 languages from Abkhazian to Zulu.

The Shakespeare Collection contains more than 40,000 volumes, 17,000 production photographs, 2,000 music scores, hundreds of British and international production posters, 15,000 performance programmes, 10,000 playbills, and large collections of illustrations, scrapbooks, annotated scripts, promptbooks, television and radio adaptations, and newspaper cuttings, as well as unique material relating to the greatest Shakespeareans from Ellen Terry to Lawrence Olivier, and remarkable works of art such as Salvador Dalí’s Macbeth illustrations. It is one of the biggest collections that we hold. Continue reading


Severn Street & Priory First Day Schools Jubilee Exhibition

Medal commissioned for the Jubilee of Severn Street and Priory First Day Schools, sold at the Jubilee Exhibition [MS 703 box 23/11]

On the afternoon and evening of Saturday 12th October 1895, a Jubilee Exhibition was held in Bingley Hall to mark 50 years since the opening of Severn Street and Priory First Day Schools by Joseph Sturge. Opened in 1845 and 1848, the schools were the first such schools in Birmingham to provide reading, writing and Bible classes to working class men and women. By the time of the Jubilee, a total of 65470 men and women had passed through their doors and the schools were credited with transforming the social status of ‘the unkempt and uncultivated scholars of fifty years ago to the respectable artisan of today’ (‘Severn Street Jubilee Celebration’ Birmingham Daily Post, 14 October 1895). The schools were described as being ‘among the greatest factors of modern Midland life’ and many of the city’s successful and prominent citizens, alderman and town councillors were  ‘…not ashamed to attribute their success in life to the early morning adult schools.’ (‘Birmingham and its adult schools’ The Daily Graphic, 15th October 1895).

Table showing the numbers of Severn Street and Priory First Day School members over the years from 1865 -1895, Jubilee Exhibition Programme  [MS 703 Box 31/204]

The exhibition programme [MS 703 Box 31/204] shows that the venue was divided into a number of different sections. There was a display of working processes used by trades in Birmingham which included knitting machines, lathes to make pearl buttons, glass engraving machines, printing and book-binding, electroplating and gilding, glass spinning and coffee roasting. Members of the Institution for the Blind, Edgbaston demonstrated mat making, brush making and chair seating as well as typewriting from the phonograph (an early record player), a skill which the Institution pioneered in England, so that its members could train as clerks. One of the more spectacular displays included the ‘Fairy Fountain’, lent by Tangye Brothers Limited, comprising an oil engine which supplied power to a centrifugal pump and a dynamo to produce a fountain of water which was lit up in alternating colours with electric lighting.

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A review – ‘The Useful Knowledge of William Hutton: Culture and Industry in Eighteenth-Century Birmingham’ by Susan E. Whyman

‘The Useful Knowledge of William Hutton’ by Susan Whyman (2018), Birmingham Collection, L 78.1 HUT

For those of an inquisitive or mildly curious disposition regards the history of Birmingham, the name of William Hutton is often synonymous with the publication of the first recorded history of a town which some seventy or so years after its initial publication in 1781 carried the titles of the workshop of the world and the town of a thousand trades.

In Susan Whyman’s biography of Hutton – The Useful Knowledge of William Hutton, the author provides a profile of a man who according to his own accounts was born into abject poverty in 1723, but who through a combination of entrepreneurial zeal, an autodidactic drive and sheer hutzpah managed to achieve wealth, purchase property and obtain literary fame by the time of his death in 1815. Hutton was the author of fifteen books, many now unknown apart from his history of Birmingham. Titles are diverse and include topics such as the battle of Bosworth Field, a history of Blackpool and an account of his infamous trek across Hadrian’s Wall whilst in his ninth decade.

In his early days in Derby, with assistance from his sister, Catherine Perkins, the young Hutton taught himself the noble art of bookbinding and then with financial support from a retiring minister moved to Birmingham in 1750. With a mind pre – set for business, Hutton established an early circulating library and subsequently sold cheap grades of paper. But I hear you cry : ‘Why choose Birmingham?’, when the assumption would have been more attractive and well established literary and print trade networks already existed in places such as London. Whyman suggests Hutton’s success was intermeshed, somehow symbiotic with the development of Birmingham’s economic and cultural prowess. Birmingham in the latter half of the eighteenth century was at the forefront of two significant forces of economic and societal change – the Industrial Revolution and the Enlightenment which together created an unprecedented level of opportunity and mobility for those such as Hutton who were in a position to take a risk, make a gamble.

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New Year, New Additions

Nicola Gauld. Words and Deeds : Birmingham Suffragists and Suffragettes, 1832 – 1918. (2018) 22.7 GAU Birmingham Collection

It’s that time again when we give you an update on the new additions we’ve made to our local studies collections in the previous 12 months. As usual, in 2018 we continued to accept donations and to make purchases of printed books which have been added to the Birmingham Collection, the Black History Collection and Military History. We have also added to the selection of books available to researchers in the Wolfson Centre. Feel free to browse through the list below:


Barnsley, David & Thompson, Shirley.
Against All Odds – The Carlson House Legacy. (2018)
41.34 CAR Birmingham Collection and L 41.34 CAR.

Barton, Gerry & Babb, John.
Who Does Want To Kill Anyone? The story of conscientious objectors in Mid – Staffordshire and the Black Country during the First World War. (2018)
75.7 BAR Birmingham Collection and L 75.7 BAR.

Brown, Joe.
Birmingham & West Midlands Railway Atlas. (2016)
47.39 Birmingham Collection & LF 47.39.

Chey, Katy.
Multi – Unit Housing in Urban Cities From 1800 to Present Day. (2018)
L 41.8 CHE.

Clifford, Naomi.
The Murder of Mary Ashford. The Crime That Changed English Legal History. (2018)
42.021 Birmingham Collection and L 42.021.

Cooper, Nancy.
Down to Earth : Memories of a young woman joining the Women’s Land Army in 1943. (2017)
75.8 COO Birmingham Collection and L 75.8 COO.

Crosskey, Sheila.
John Henry Chamberlain, the Birmingham architect and two of his grandsons.
LP 78.1 CHA. Level 5.

Crosskey, KSM.
The Story of Thomas Henry Moon, 1866 – 1944.
LP 78.1 MOO.

(ed.) Dick, Malcom & Mitchell, Elaine.
Gardens and Green Spaces in the West Midlands since 1700. (2018)
58.8 Birmingham Collection; L 58.8, Level 5 and 712.6 Wolfson Centre

Fisher, Michael.
Guarding the Pugin Flame : John Hardman Powell, 1827 – 1895. (2017)
78.1 POW Birmingham Collection and LF 78.1 POW.

Gauld, Nicola.
Words and Deeds : Birmingham Suffragists and Suffragettes, 1832 – 1918. (2018)
22.7 GAU Birmingham Collection; L 22. GAU, Level 5 and 324.623094 GAU, Wolfson Centre.

(ed.) Geater, Jacqueline. (ed).
Birmingham Wills and Inventories, 1512 – 1603.
Dugdale Society Vol. 49. (2016). B 942.48.

Gunn, Simon.
The public culture of the Victorian middle class – ritual and authority in the English industrial city, 1840 – 1914. (2007)
L 50 GUN.

Hall, Michael.
Bourne College, Quinton, The Story of a School. (2011)
L 18.31.

Hunt, Karen.
Staffordshire’s War. (2017).
942.46083 Midland Topography & L 96.

Johnson, Neil.
The Labour Church, The Movement and Its Message. (2017)
L 41.23 JOH.

(ed.) Lerwill, John & Haylor, Pete.
Billesley and Surrounds. (2018)
LF 92.7 BIL.

Llewellyn, Sheila.
Walking Wounded. (2018)
L 51.3 LLE.

Loach. P.L.
Marriages in the West Bromwich Registration District, 1837 – 1932 : GRO Page Range Table. (2017 Edition)
Quick Reference Shelves and LF 40.2.

Morley, Christopher.
Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, Inspiring Musicians since 1886. (2017)
55.1 Birmingham Collection & LF 55.1.

National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies.
Record of Church Furnishings – The Parish Church of St. Mary, Moseley, Birmingham. (2015)
LF 14.54 NAT.

Dr. Newson, John.
Solar Pioneers of Bournville. (2017)
LP 92.3.

(ed.) Noakes, Amanda.
What A Life! Peter Hollingworth. (2018)
78.1 HOL Birmingham Collection & L 78.1 HOL.

Phillips, Julie.
Birmingham at War, 1939 – 1945. (2018)
75.8 PHI Birmingham Collection and L 75.8..

(Sir) Price, Frank.
Being There. (2002)
L 78.1 PRI.

Reekes, Andrew.
The Birmingham Political Machine : Winning Elections for Joseph Chamberlain. (2018)
76 Birmingham Collection and L 76.

Roberts – Pichette, Patricia.
Great Canadian Expectations : The Middlemore Experience. (2016)
41.31 Birmingham Collection; LF 41.31 Level 5 and 362.732 Wolfson Centre.

Roberts, Stephen.
James Whateley and the survival of Chartism. (2018)
L 78.1 WHA.

Roberts, Stephen.
Recollections of Victorian Birmingham. (2018)
L 73.2.

Russell, Ben.
James Watt – Making the World Anew. (2014)
L 78.1 WAT, Level 5 and 621.1092, Wolfson Centre

Ryeland, Kenneth C.
Time Well Spent – Memories of a former apprentice motor fitter working for the railways in Birmingham, 1957 – 1963. (2016)
L 78.1 RYE.

Thorne, Stephen.
Birmingham English – A Sociolinguistic Study. (2003)
LF 51.9 THO.

Stephen Bourne. War to Windrush : Black Women in Britain 1939 to 1948. (2018). 305.48896 and A 305.48896.


(ed.) Adair, Christy & Burt, Ramsey.
British Dance : Black Routes (2017)
793.308996 & A 793.308996.

Andrews, Kehinde.
Back to Black – Retelling Black Radicalism for the 21st Century. (2018).
305.896041 & A 305.896041.

Baucom, Ian.
Out of Place – Englishness, Empire and the Locations of Identity. (1999).
305.896041 and A 305.896041.

Bhimji, Fazila.
British Asian Muslim Women, Multiple Spatialities and Cosmopolitanism. (2012).
A 305.48697 Black History Collection.

Birmingham, David.
Trade and Empire in the Atlantic, 1400 – 1600. (2000).
325.34 Black History Collection and A 325.34.

Bourne, Stephen.
War to Windrush : Black Women in Britain 1939 to 1948. (2018).
305.48896 and A 305.48896.

Bourne, Stephen.
Mother Country : Britain’s Black Community on the Home Front, 1939 – 1945. (2015).
940.530899 & A 940.530899.

Bourne, Stephen.
Evelyn Dove : Britain’s Black Cabaret Queen. (2016).
782.42164 & A 782.42164.

(ed.) Donington, Katie, Hanley, Ryan & Moody, Jessica. (2016).
Britain’s History and Memory of Transatlantic Slavery. (2016).
306.362094 and A 306.362094.

Falkenhayner, Nicole.
Making the British Muslim – Representations of the Rushdie Affair and Figures of the War-On-Terror Decade. (2014).
305.697041 & A 305.697041.

(ed.) Hall, Catherine, Draper, Nicholas, McClelland, Keith, Donnington, Katie & Lang, Rachel.
Legacies of British Slave-ownership. (2014).
306.362094 and A 306.362094.

Hussain, Khalad.
Against The Grain. (2012).
305.891412 and A 305.891412.

Malik, Zaiba.
We Are A Muslim, Please. (2011).
297.092 and A 297.092.

Moody –Turner, Shirley.
Black Folklore and the Politics of Racial Representation. (2010).
398.208886 and A 398.208886.

Satia, Priya.
Empire of Guns : The Violent Making of the Industrial Revolution. (2018).


Childs, David.
Growing Remembrance, The Story of the National Memorial Arboretum. (2011).
355.160941 Military Genealogy and A 355.160941.

Delve, Ken.
The Military Airfields of Britain – Wales and the West Midlands. (2007).
358.417094 Military Genealogy and A 358.417094.

Laura A. Millar, Archives – Principles and Practices. (2017) 027 Wolfson Centre.


Aston, Jennifer.
Female Entrepreneurship in Nineteenth – Century England. (2016).
A 330 Wolfson Centre, stack items.

Central England Quakers.
Meeting Houses of Central England Quakers. (2017).
289.642 Wolfson Centre and LF 18.6.

Cressy, David.
Coming Over : Migration and Communication between England and New England in the Seventeenth Century. (2007).
304.874042 Wolfson Centre.

Cressy, David.
Gypsies and English History. (2018).
942.004914 Wolfson Centre.

Millar, Laura, A.
Archives – Principles and Practices. (2017)
027 Wolfson Centre.

James Watt 2019: January

2019 marks the bicentenary of the death of James Watt, improver of the steam engine and partner of Matthew Boulton in the engine businesses at Soho, Handsworth. There will be many events commemorating this during the year, in Birmingham and Scotland, and information about these can be found on the James Watt 2019 website.

To help celebrate the richness of the archive of the James Watt and Family Papers [MS 3219], held in Archives and Collections, Library of Birmingham, there will be a monthly blog on a Watt related subject.


James Watt was born in Greenock on 19 January 1736 to James Watt senior (1698-1782) and Agnes Muirhead (c. 1701-1753). He was their fourth child, but the three before him had all died before the age of two years.

‘A view of Greenock 1768’ lithographed for the Watt Club 1856 by Schenk & McFarlane, Edinburgh, from the original by Robert Paul, Academy Glasgow, 1768, in ‘Memorials of James Watt by George Williamson, 1856’ [MS 3004/6].

Some correspondence relating to James Watt’s mother and father survives, and the following is from a letter to his mother, Agnes, from her mother, also Agnes Muirhead, written 2 April 1730, giving advice on how to cope with the difficulties of breast feeding. Her son Robert had been born on 13 February 1730.

Dear Nanie,

I Recived yours [letter] with the goose last Week for which I Return you many thanks and your letter by Mrs Fork yesterday forenoon and another last night[.] I am sorry to hear that your breast has turned so bad, I consulted with Mrs Muirhead & your Grand Mother and they know nothing so proper as bathing it with Strong master as hott as ye can endure and dip a flannel Cloth in it[.] If this dos not doe try a little Green Cornmill and Green wormwood fryed with a little Sweet oyl and layd to the breast[.] If none of those things doe I recommend the plaister to you of which you gott a Coppy[,] but least you may have lost it[,] I send you another Coppy of it as follows[:]

Take half a pint of ale[,] a Spoonfull of Sweet oyl[,] a ounce of Castile Soap[,] one handfull of Sage[,] half ounce bees wax[,] two Spoonfulls of white wine venigar[,] a little deers Grease[,] a little red lead[,] a spoonfull of flour[.] boyl it haff an hour[.]  I have sent the deers Grease along with the letter least ye should gett none of it with you[.] You know how to apply this plaister your Self and the Child may easilysuck [.] don’t wear your Stays too much Till once you get either a pair fitter for you or your breasts be better for you have certainly got cold with them which has stopped some of the vessels. Cause it suck your breast as much as possible and shake often. As for the Nipples if the skin be of[f] them Gett walnut oyl or a little fine Candle grease or the dripping of pork I know nothing better[.] If they be hacked Gett the Balsom of Peru and stroke it in the hacks with a feather……..

……….from your affectionate Mother, Agnes Muirhead.

[MS 3219/3/124/10]

Unfortunately, we don’t know if she tried this, or if it worked! Robert died aged two and a half months. Continue reading

Lady well

The heart of the eighteenth century Town of Birmingham lay on a north-east to south-west geological fault line, known as the Birmingham fault (see Fig. 1)[1]. To the south-east the bedrock consists of the red–brown marl called Mercian mudstone. To the north-west the bedrock was Helsby sandstone.

Fig. 1 Bedrock Geology. The black circle marks the approximate position of Lady well

The impermeable marl of the Rea valley led to rapid drainage with consequent violent fluctuations in the run-off to the river. Just beyond the fault line, bands of marl within the sandstone prevented deep seepage of rain water and except during unusually dry periods offered a copious supply from natural springs and shallow wells.[2] Water from these surface springs and shallow wells tended to be clear and soft.[3]

 This regular flow provided by Birmingham’s springs and wells provided a sufficient water supply for both domestic and industrial purposes until the mid-nineteenth century.[4] The main public wells were one at the north end of Digbeth, very near St. Martin’s churchyard believed to have been called Holy Well, and another near the old parsonage between Smallbrook Street and Bromsgrove Street, at Ladywell, [5] probably formerly dedicated to the Virgin Mary and fed by two springs. [6] Together they were said to be

‘…. extensive and powerful, that it is stated to be sufficient for the supplying the city of London with water.’ [7]

In 1815 it was said that

‘… numerous people find their advantage in conveying that useful article [soft water] in carts, and innumerable others in carrying it with a yoke and two buckets, to those who want it, which they sell at the rate of from ten to twelve gallons for one penny, according to the distance.’ [8]

Fig 2. Conjectural maps A – 1344-45, Demidowicz,; B – 1553, Hill, [9]

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Genevieve Gwendoline Webb – a schoolgirl poet in the War Poetry Collection

Whilst researching local World War One poets whose works are held in the War Poetry Collection of the Library of Birmingham, one of my most unexpected discoveries was a slim volume entitled “Ten Short Poems”, written by Genevieve Gwendoline Webb. Female poets of World War One are far less well known than male ones, but what was particularly surprising about this booklet was that Genevieve had written these poems when she was a child. Her age, precisely recorded at the end of each poem in both years and months, ranges between 12 years 9 months and 14 years 9 months. Thus we can see that Genevieve was still a schoolgirl at the time the verses were written.

Using genealogical resources such as online local baptism records and the 1911 census, it is possible to establish that Genevieve Gwendoline Webb was born on 23rd July 1901. Her parents were Edward Joseph Webb, a sorting clerk at the Post Office and Annie Florence Webb. Interestingly Genevieve’s mother Annie was formerly Annie Le Brocq and she was born in St Helier, Jersey. Genevieve was baptised on 11th August 1901 at St Francis of Assisi Catholic church in Handsworth. The 1911 census shows Genevieve living with her parents at 17 George Street, Lozells. She had 4 siblings, Theresa Annie, Edward De Grunchy, Frances Helen and Josephine Mary. Her grandmother, Catherine Helen Webb, also appears on the census as living with the family.

The earlier verses in “Ten Short Poems” are written when Genevieve was 12 years old. War had not yet broken out, and Genevieve’s writing, whilst somewhat sombre in tone, reflects the usual concerns of a schoolchild with poetic leanings. In “The Lonely Willow” she celebrates the beauty of the natural world whilst at the same time recognising the cruelty that mankind can inflict upon it. In another poem “To a Favourite Teacher” she records her innocent attachment to one of her schoolmistresses and the sadness she feels at their approaching parting. This is because (and note her use of capital letters in the second line of the title!) her teacher is “ABOUT TO BE WED”. Nevertheless the poetess insists,

Though oceans part thee from mine eyes,
I’ll often think of you.

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