New Year, New Additions

We haven’t updated you all for a while but we have some new additions to our Birmingham Collection printed bookstock. We hope you enjoy them!

New additions to our Birmingham Collection

New additions to our Birmingham Collection


1.Arthur, Valerie.
A History of Selly Oak Hospital. (2015).
BCOL 46.324 SEL, Level 4 & L 46.324 SEL, Level 5.

2.Cawood, Ian & Upton, Chris. (Ed.)
Joseph Chamberlain, International Statesman, National leader, Local Icon. (2016).
BCOL 78.1 CHA, Level 4 & L 78.1 CHA, Level 5.

3.Chinn, Carl & Dick, Malcolm.
Birmingham, The Workshop of the World. (2016).
BCOL 71 CHI, Level 4 & L 71 CHI, Level 5.

4.Coleman, Peter. (Ed.)
George Walton, 1796 – 1874. The Journal & Diary of a Rifleman of the 95th who fought at Waterloo. (2016).
BCOL 78.1 WAL, Level 4 & L 78.1 WAL, Level 5.

5.Gazey, Glynis.
Dear Wife ….. yours ‘til the end, Frank xxx. A Letter Journey Through World War 1. (2015).
L 78 HEF, Level 5

6.Hallam, David.
Challenging the Patriarchs : Women Candidates in the West Midlands for the 1918 General Election. (2015).
LF 76.8 HAL, Level 5.

7.Horizon Midlands.
Travel brochures and miscellaneous materials, c 1968 – c 1993.
Birmingham Trade Catalogue Collection

8.James, Pete.
Reference Works : The Library of Birmingham Photography Project. (2013).
BCOL 25.69, Level 4 & LF 25.69, Level 5.

9.Myers, Kevin.
Struggles for a Past. Irish and Afro – Caribbean Histories in England, 1951 – 2000. (2015).
L 21.85 MYE, Level 5.

10.Reekes, Andrew.
Speeches that Changed Britain : Oratory in Birmingham. (2016).
L 76.9 REE, Level 5.

11.Satre, Lowell, J.
Chocolate on Trial : Slavery, Politics & the Ethics of Business. (2005).
L 66.53 SAT, Level 5.

12.Sharp, Robert.
The Hoard and its History : Staffordshire’s Secrets Revealed. (2016).
BCOL 70.6 SHA, Level 4 & L 70.6 SHA, Level 5.

13.Thomas, Denise. (Ed.)
The Autobiography and Library of Thomas Hall B.D. (1610 – 1655). (2015).
L 78.1 HAL, Level 5.


A Project we like

I love finding out about interesting projects that reinterpret and bring archives to light in imaginative ways. One local project that I am enjoying following is the work of Sarah Moss the artist in residence at Winterbourne House and Gardens.


Sarah is currently working on a series of linocuts depicting moments from the life of the Nettlefold family who built Winterbourne and lived there in the early twentieth century. John Sutton Nettlefold was a member of the prominent local manufacturers Nettlefold and Co. (later Guest, Keen and Nettlefold) as well as being the managing director of the ammunition manufacturer Kynoch Ltd for many years. He was also a local councillor concerned with social reform and urban planning; in his role as first chairman of the local housing committee he extended the slum clearance programme and established the Moor Pool Estate in Harborne. John and his wife Margaret (nee Chamberlain) were part of the interconnected group of Unitarian families in Birmingham at the time. The family archive which is housed at Winterbourne is a rich resource for understanding domestic and personal experiences of life in a middle class Edwardian family.


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Uncovering Quaker Heritage: a pop-up exhibition


Monday 23rd January 2017 4.00-6.30pm

Wolfson Centre, Level 4, Library of Birmingham

Since the middle of the 17th century Birmingham and Warwickshire have been major centres of Quaker activity. Despite being a minority group, Quakers have been highly influential in the social, economic, philanthropic and political development of the region.

To find out more about the records we hold, come and view a selection of original Quaker material dating from the 17th century to the 20th century from the archive of the Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

Made available via the Birmingham & Warwickshire Quakers project, a cataloguing project funded by a National Archives Cataloguing Grant and a bequest from a member of Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

Entry is free. All are welcome!

It’s Behind You!

Happy New Year!! From all of us here at The Iron Room, we would like to wish you all a very peaceful and prosperous New Year.

The festive holiday may  be nearing its end, but traditionally the theatre will still be busy performing pantomimes up until the end of January to the delights of children everywhere (young and older!).

Pantomimes perforemd at the Theatre Royal, Birmingham in 'The Theatre Royal, Birmingham 1774 - 1924: A Short History' by R. Compton Rhodes. [BCol 28.1]

Pantomimes performed at the Theatre Royal, Birmingham in ‘The Theatre Royal, Birmingham 1774 – 1924: A Short History’ by R. Compton Rhodes. [BCol 28.1]

The tradition of theatrical performances over the Christmas period is decades old. The Theatre Royal in Birmingham was performing pantomimes at least as far back as 1840-41 with Harlequin and the Knight of the Silver Medal, with a performance of The Dragon of Wantley in 1844.

Theatre Royal Play Bills, 1844. [MS 2899]

So if you are still feeling festive, why not see if there is a pantomime near you!

Happy New Year!

We Wish You a Merry Christmas!


Christmas design from the Tony Fisher collection. © Fisher Estate. [MS 4856 Acc 2016/053]

It’s been another busy year for the Iron Room blog. In 2016 we published 66 articles (this being number 67) and we have already begun planning for 2017! We would like to say thank you so much for your support and contributions – we really couldn’t (and wouldn’t want to) do it without you.

Archives and Collections at the Library of Birmingham has also been busy and amongst the new accessions taken in this year, the highlight, at least for me, has been the Tony Fisher archive (MS 4856).

Educated at the Moseley School of Arts & Crafts, Tony went on to become a print designer, a lecturer at the Bournville School of Art & Design and eventually Senior Graphic Designer at the BBC, Birmingham.


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A parcel for Christmas


Christmas letter sent by members of Moseley Road Men’s Early Morning School to absent class members at the front, December 1915 [MS 703 (2015/082) 247]

During the festive season, we often give a thought to those who are absent and it was no different in December 1915 when scholars of the Men’s Early Morning School and the Men’s Afternoon Bible Class at Moseley Road Friends’ Institute decided to send Christmas parcels to absent members who were contributing to the war effort in the armed forces or as munition workers.

In both the Early Morning School and the Afternoon Bible Class, several collections were made and a number of scholars who were to be awarded prizes for their class work, were asked to give these up in order that the money for the prizes could instead be allocated to providing a Christmas parcel to their fellow scholars at the front.

Barrow Cadbury,  President of the Early Morning School and Institute and teacher of Class XV of the Men’s Early Morning School, offered to contribute a small fellowship hymn book, a copy of the new edition of the adult school song book and a supply of chocolate for each parcel. Class XV decided to send cigarettes while other Early Morning School classes provided other useful items to be added to the parcels. In total, sixty-two parcels were sent to the front, and enclosed in each one was,

…a most unique greeting, consisting of a message from the school, followed by a reproduction of the signatures of practically all our regular attenders.

(Moseley Road Early Morning School minute book (MS 703 (2015/082) 247)

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Christmas at the Asylum


L0000640 The twelth night entertainment Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images The twelth night entertainment in Hanwell Lunatic Asylum. 1848 Illustrated London News Published: 1848 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

L0000640 The twelth night entertainment
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
The twelth night entertainment in Hanwell Lunatic Asylum.
1848 Illustrated London News
Published: 1848
Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

One of the best parts of researching archives is discovering unusual accounts where they are least expected, and Christmas festivities are no exception. I recently came across this description of Christmas celebrations in All Saints Lunatic Asylum in the mid Victorian period, shortly after Dickens published ‘A Christmas Carol’ in 1843.

Birmingham Borough Lunatic Asylum, later known as Winson Green and All Saints Asylum, opened in June 1850. Within a year there were 263 occupants, and by 1870 this had grown to 599. Treatment at the Asylum in the mid nineteenth century was based on ‘moral management’, treating ‘lunatics’ humanely. The days of chaining lunatics were over. Occupation, work and recreation were important parts of treatment of patients, who were strictly segregated into male and female areas.

Patients enjoyed some entertainment from the opening of the asylum, including annual picnics. From 1851, some men and women were allowed to meet for music, singing and dancing, which Thomas Green, the medical superintendent, thought ‘really form a very interesting feature on the management of the institution’[1]. These were continued the following year;

‘The weekly concerts and ball have been kept up with the usual spirit, and these meetings have continued to form a valuable aid in the moral treatment. On Christmas Eve a party was given on a larger scale, and on this occasion, for the first time since the Asylum opened, the partitions of the hall were removed. It was tastefully decorated with flags, and festoons of shrubs interspersed with artificial flowers, whilst the walls were ornamented with a variety of fancy designs. Most of this was the work of Patients and executed in the short space of a fortnight. The ‘tout ensemble’ was striking, and displayed to great advantage the fine proportions of the noble room.

89 males and 106 females, more than three fourths of the whole number were present. To quote the language of a Patient who wrote a description of the entertainment, ‘nearly two hundred of God’s erring and deeply afflicted children, called lunatics, assembled clean, neat, quiet with at least a passing smile on their careworn and in some cases half conscious countenances; a decided cheerfulness, nay merriment on some, and on others an expression of pleasing astonishment’.

Tables being arranged all around the room they sat down to tea at 5 o’clock, and after tea, by way of grace, they rose in a body and sang ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow’. The conjoint effort of so many voices, from persons under such circumstances, uniting with ‘one mind and one mouth’, to thank the great creator for his gifts was most interesting and impressive.

Oranges were distributed in the course of the evening and supper was served at 8 o’clock. Music, singing, dancing and some Xmas games were kept up with great spirit and enjoyment until nine, when all departed quietly to bed’[2].

Christmas entertainments continued throughout the 1860’s, and the community contributed to these.  In 1868 eighty five patients were invited to the Christmas Pantomime by Mr Simpson, the lessee of one of the theatres[3], and in 1869 Mr Miller, the father of a patient, exhibited Fantoccini, Italian string puppets like Punch and Judy, and ‘performed feats of conjuring and leger de main’, with ‘customary music, songs and dancing’[4].

Attitudes to patients in asylums were at their most benevolent in this period. Conditions deteriorated from the 1870’s as asylums became overcrowded and attitudes to people with learning disabilities hardened, but this account of the enjoyment of the early patients in the asylum at Christmas in the early 1850’s, in the early optimistic period, appears genuine and demonstrates that, at the beginning at least, having fun at Christmas was part of asylum life

Alison Laitner

[1] HC/AS, Medical Superintendents’ Reports, 14 January 1852.

[2] HC/AS, Medical Superintendents’ Reports, January 12th 1853.

[3] HC/AS, MS 344/2/2, Medical Superintendents’ Reports, 21 February 1868.

[4] HC/AS, MS 344/2/2, Medical Superintendents’ Reports, 27 December 1869.