Fellowship, friendship, support and dialogue: the work of FHF


LGBT History Month logo 2016

To mark this year’s LGBT History Month, this week’s blog post takes a look at the history of the Friends Homosexual Fellowship (FHF) (now known as Quaker Lesbian and Gay Fellowship) which supports LGBT Quakers within the Religious Society of Friends.

Quakers first began to consider gay equality with the publication of the booklet, Towards a Quaker View of Sex in 1963. This was the culmination of work begun in 1957 by a small group of British Friends who met to examine issues of sexuality, including homosexuality. The booklet challenged traditional Christian attitudes to sexual morality, causing considerable controversy in the media, and sparking debate within the Religious Society of Friends. The authors took the view that,

An act which expresses (for example) true affection between two individuals and gives pleasure to them both does not seem to us to be sinful by reason alone of the fact that it is homosexual. Rather it should be judged by the same criterion as any heterosexual relationship.

(Heron, Alistair (ed. ), 1963, Towards a Quaker View of Sex, Friends Home Service Committee, http://exhibits.lgbtran.org/exhibits/show/towards-a-quaker-view-of-sex, p.32, accessed 04/02/2016)

Although the booklet was not an official statement by the Society of Friends, it was published by the Friends Home Service to encourage debate and is described as,

…probably the most influential document published by Quakers in Britain in the twentieth century.

(Religious Society of Friends, Quaker View on same sex marriages – updated 2013, http://old.quaker.org.uk/samesexbriefing, accessed 04/02/2016)

It was certainly the first of such documents to be produced by a religious organisation. You can read more about the work of the group which contributed to Towards a Quaker View of Sex, its publication and the response to it in this on-line exhibition of archive documents, which includes a full copy of the booklet.

Friends Homosexual Fellowship

Logo for Friends Homosexual Fellowship (Central Area Meeting Archives, SF (acc. 2014/213) 818)

Following the publication of David Blamires’ book Homosexuality from the Inside by the Social Responsibility Council of the Religious Society of Friends in 1973, a group of Friends gathered in Manchester in September of that year to form the Friends Homosexual Fellowship (FHF). This was an interest group rather than an official structure within the Society of Friends, and was one of the first religious support groups to exist. It was established to counteract the sense of isolation and loneliness many gay Quakers encountered and to provide them with a friendly, understanding, supportive forum in which they could get advice and find friendships. An introductory leaflet compiled for those making enquiries about FHF set out its aims:

To encourage fellowship, friendship and support between members, and, where necessary, to help those who have difficulty in either accepting themselves and others or in being accepted. To this end, the formation of local groups is encouraged.

To promote a dialogue within the Society of Friends at all levels, with a view to achieving a deeper mutual understanding and acceptance.

To liaise with other groups with similar aims, particularly with a religious basis.

(Central Area Meeting Archives, Ref SF (acc. 2014/213) 818)

Continue reading

National Libraries Day

It’s National Libraries Day on Saturday the 6th February, so here at the Library of Birmingham we’re celebrating with a blog about the history of library services in Birmingham.

View towards Archives & Collections, level 4, at the Library of Birmingham

View towards Archives & Collections, level 4, at the Library of Birmingham

Private Libraries

Prior to the involvement of the Town Council in 1860, libraries in Birmingham were in private hands, though some did provide public access, albeit at a cost or through subscription. For instance, a free library was established in 1733 through the will of a Reverend Higgs, though it catered only for Anglican clergy and other privileged people. Books were also ‘hired out’ by one Thomas Warren in 1729. A subscription library was certainly in existence by 1751, run by William Hutton, a bookseller and historian based in Bull Street. A number of others followed, with that of John Lowe charging an annual subscription of between 12s and 1½ guineas by 1776.

The biggest advance was made in 1779, when the Birmingham Library was founded by subscription. Whilst the number of subscribers rose steadily, the number of volumes housed in the library grew from 900 to some 16,000 between 1794 and 1818.

Another  library was maintained by the Birmingham and Midlands Institute, founded in 1854. This organisation was successful as it appealed to both the middle and working class on a broad base of subjects, and attracted other private collections, like that of John Lee and those from other institutions, now defunct, such as the Mechanical Institute and the People’s Instruction Society.

The Free Libraries Act

The Free Libraries Act was passed in 1850. It allowed councils to set up free public libraries, allotting one penny in a pound from the rates to finance this (in pre-decimal currency there were 240 pennies in a pound). Two-thirds of the ratepayers had to agree, but when Birmingham first voted in 1852 the majority was not large enough. In 1860 the second vote was successful, and the Free Libraries Committee was set up.

They decided there should be a central reference library with reading and newsrooms, a museum and art gallery, and four district libraries. The architect E. M. Barry was asked to design the Central Library. His costs overall were too high, so William Martin was asked to design the interior, but Barry’s plans for the exterior were retained. Continue reading

‘I Chose Where To Stand: The Life of Else Rosenfeld’

dont_stand_by_logoThe theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day on 27th January is ‘Don’t Stand By’, reminding us that the Holocaust and later genocides occurred as a result of local populations either actively supporting and taking part in government persecution or remaining silent, whether through fear or indifference, and allowing persecution to take hold and grow.

The story of Else (or Elsbeth) Rosenfeld, recorded by Charles Parker, the BBC documentary radio producer in 1963, is the story of someone who didn’t stand by. Born in Berlin in 1891, to a non-practising Jewish father and a Christian mother, she and her siblings were brought up as Lutheran Christians, and were encouraged to treat everyone equally, irrespective of their beliefs. Her father was a well-liked doctor, practicing in one of the poorer areas of Berlin. As a child, Else often accompanied him when he visited patients, an experience which in later life influenced her decision to train as a social worker, at that time an unusual occupation for a woman. She initially worked in a team which cared for disabled soldiers, and later worked as a social worker rehabilitating inmates in a women’s prison in Berlin.

'The Life of Elsbeth Rosenfeld' from Charles Parker's library (ref MS 4000/4)

‘The Life of Elsbeth Rosenfeld’ ( MS 4000/4)

In 1920, she married Siegfried Rosenfeld, a Jewish lawyer who became a Social Democrat MP in the Prussian Parliament and a civil servant at the Prussian Ministry of Justice in Berlin, but in 1933, her husband was removed from office. Else, despite being Christian, was asked to stop her work in the prison because of her marriage to a Jew.  At the same time, rehabilitation or social work for prisoners was banned by the Nazi regime.

Life became increasingly difficult for the couple and their children, but despite this, they hid Jewish friends in their house until it became too dangerous to do so. In the summer of 1933, they decided to move to the countryside, where they were forced to move villages numerous times over the next few years because of tightening restrictions on what non-Aryans were allowed to do, and increasing intolerance and abuse from the people living around them.

In 1937, out of a desire to help the Jewish community and fight against injustice, Else asked a liberal Rabbi to register her as a member of the Jewish community and provide her with a certificate, though she did not renounce Christianity. She realised that the skills she had gained through social work could be of use in helping to alleviate some of the suffering of the Jews, but without the certificate, it would have been hard for her to be accepted and trusted by the Jewish community at that time. By deciding to stand with the Jews, she was putting herself into a dangerous situation from which her Christian faith could have saved her.

Ghetto gates. Image courtesy of the Wiener Library via http://hmd.org.uk/resources

Ghetto gates. Image courtesy of the Wiener Library via http://hmd.org.uk/resources

The family’s plans to leave Germany fell through after tightened restrictions on the movement of Jews after Kristallnacht in 1938. Knowing that it would soon be impossible to leave the country, they managed to get help from the Quakers so that their children could travel to England. Just before the outbreak of war, when Else’s travel permit failed to arrive, she convinced her husband to leave for England to join their children.

Soup Kitchen in Lodz ghetto.

Soup Kitchen in Lodz ghetto. Image courtesy of the Wiener Library via http://hmd.org.uk/resources

Else was soon travelling to Munich every day to help people in the ghetto. She was responsible for finding housing in the already crowded ghetto for 350 displaced Jews from Baden, and providing them with ration cards, food and clothing. She also supervised three homes for the elderly.

Continue reading

A belated Happy Birthday

Art Gallery and Chamberlain Statue, Birmingham [WK/B11/6402]

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

We had such a busy end to 2015 here at the Iron Room that it was only recently we realised we had forgotten Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery’s 130th birthday!

Birmingham has had its own art gallery since 1867, housed in a room in the Free Library building. From 1877 the room was needed for other purposes and the exhibits were moved to a temporary home, first in Paradise Street and then to Aston Hall. Falling under the remit of the Free Libraries Committee, they were forced to consider the building of a permanent home in the town centre.

The importance of a permanent collection was advocated strongly by brothers George and Richard Tangye (from a prominent Quaker family) in a letter to John Thackray Bunce, then chairman of the Art Gallery Sub-Committee:

“In common with many others, we have long been sensible of the great loss the town sustains in the absence of an adequate Art Collection…We cannot but think if the town and the Council were duly impressed with the vast importance of such a Collection to the trades of the town, the present apathy on the subject would soon cease to exist. It is all very well for critics to exclaim against Birmingham manufacturers and artisans because of their inferiority to their foreign competitors in the matter of design and manufacturers ; but what chances have they of improving in these respects? South Kensington is practically as far away as Paris or Munich, while our competitors on the Continent, in almost every manufacturing town, have access to collections embracing the finest examples of Art, furnishing an endless variety of style and design… – if the Council will agree to make provisions for a permanent Art Gallery, on a scale really commensurate with the necessities of Birmingham, we shall have pleasure in handing over £5,000 to the Free Libraries Committee towards the purchase of Art for exhibition in the gallery….if the gift is met by adequate donations…we will give a further £5,000 for the above-named purpose, making £10,000 in all.”

The Tangye brothers went on to state that while they had brought significant trade to Birmingham, they had also benefited greatly from it and it was their desire to give something back to the town. Continue reading

Meet the team at Archives & Collections

The Iron Room has been going for just over 4 years now and, following a conversation with one of our Archivists late last year, we realised that we have probably never properly introduced ourselves! There have been many changes to the department over the last 12 months so we thought we would wait until the dust settles and then write about the faces you are likely to see in the department…..

RC GB for blog

Rachel and Geoff at the desk in the Heritage Research Area

Our staff work both sides of the ‘counter’ in the Heritage Research Area (HRA) and the Wolfson Centre – we all worked at Central Library although many of us are now in different roles.

KH PD SA for blog

Peter, Kathryn and Saley behind the counter in the Wolfson Centre

Our Archives & Collections Manager is Corinna Rayner, ably supported by the rest of the team – Paul, our Archives & Collections Coordinator (who will be a familiar face to many I’m sure!), Archivists Peter and Nicola, and Project Archivist Eleanor. Rachel, Kathryn and Saley (our newest member of the team) are our Senior Assistants and last but not least, Geoff and  Stephen, our Archives & Collections Assistants.

Eleanor, our Project Archivist

Eleanor, our Project Archivist

Corinna and Nicola processing accessions in the Wolfson Centre

Nicola and Corinna processing accessions in the Wolfson Centre

We will do our best to assist with any queries so if you do visit, please don’t be afraid to ask for help!

Fancy a piece of cake?

Image from the Baskerville Bible. [EFP 255458/1826]

Image from the Baskerville Bible.
[EFP 255458/1826]

Would you be able to decipher the following recipe? Scripture cakes are a bit like a crossword. You need to know what the lines of the Bible refer to in order to work out the ingredients. These cakes were popular in the 19th century in Britain and America and were used to teach young girls how to bake and learn the Bible at Sunday School. This recipe has the actual ingredients followed by the Bible references:

The Home Mission Book of recipes, Printed 1909 [MS 4082,]

The Home Mission Book of recipes, Printed 1909
[MS 4082]

One cupful of butter: Judges, Chapter 5, Verse 25;

3½ cupsful of flour: 1st of Kings, 4-22;

2 cupsful of sugar: Jeremiah, 6-20;

2 cupsful of raisins:  1st of Samuel, 30-12;

2 cupsful of figs: 1st of Samuel, 30-12;

1 cupful of dates: Genesis, 24–17;

1 cupful of almonds: Genesis, 43-11;

6 eggs: Isiah, 10-14;

1 tablespoonful of honey: Exodus, 16-31;

A pinch of salt: Leviticus, 2-13;

Spices to taste: 1st of Kings, 10-10;

2 tablespoonful of baking powder: 1st of Corinthians, 5-6;

Follow Solomon’s advice for making a good boy and you will make a good cake: Proverbs, chapter 23, Verse 14.

Method: proceed as in ordinary rules for cake making: fruits and nuts last of all; raisins should be seeded; figs chopped; almonds blanched and sliced; as well floured to prevent sinking to the bottom.

So if you are not too full of Christmas cake, why not give this a go?!

A New Year Wish

How many of us have made a New Year’s Resolution with the best of intentions to keep it? How many of us have also broken them (often accidentally) within weeks?! Maybe a New Year wish upon a star would be more appropriate….

Whilst having a delve back through the local newspapers for 1916 to see how the New Year began 100 years ago, inevitably the papers were full of news of the war and the traditional list of individuals receiving New Year Honours. Of note in this particular year was a knighthood for ‘Alderman W. H. Bowater, for three years in succession Lord Mayor of Birmingham’.

The Night Sky In January. Birmingham Daily Post 1 January 1916.

The Night Sky In January. Birmingham Daily Post        1 January 1916.


All the news articles were interesting, but what really caught my eye was a fantastic star chart showing the constellations and their position at 10.20pm on 1st January 1916.


I doubt they will print the same again this year, but if you do feel like a breath of fresh air, why not look up to the stars on 1st January 2016 and see if you can spot the constellations (weather permitting!) 100 years on.



Continue reading