‘An Unchristian Traffick’

The Quaker belief that everyone is equal in the eyes of God has meant that the Religious Society of Friends has a long history in campaigning for equality and justice which continues to this day. One of the earliest campaigns the Friends were involved in was the campaign to abolish the slave trade, and they were instrumental in initiating the campaign both in North America and in Britain.

Q094-1698-15 F1764 George Fox A collection of epistles

Birmingham Preparative Meeting’s copy of George Fox’s ‘A collection of Epistles, Letters and Testimonies’ (Early & Fine Printing collection)

Quaker concern for the welfare of slaves has its origins in the 17th century in the early days of the establishment of the Quaker movement. In Birmingham Preparative Meeting’s 1764 copy of ‘A Collection of Many Select and Christian Epistles, Letters and Testimonies’ written by George Fox, the founder of the Religious Society of Friends, there is an epistle he wrote in 1657, ‘To Friends beyond the sea, that have Black and Indian slaves’ in which he highlighted the importance of equality in the Quaker faith. Later, while preaching in Barbados, Fox witnessed the realities of slavery, leading him to call for the better treatment of slaves. This was reproduced in his text of 1676 under the title, ‘Gospel Family-Order, Being a Short Discourse Concerning the Ordering of Families, both of Whites, Blacks and Indians’, which can be seen here. It should be noted that he did not go so far as to question the practice of actually owning slaves.

Opposition to the slave trade in the late 17th and early 18th centuries began amongst a small number of Friends in America but as many of these retained strong links with London Yearly Meeting, the head of the Quaker church both in America and Britain, they were able to pressurize and raise awareness about the slave trade amongst British Quakers.  In 1713 and 1715, Friends in Pennsylvania wrote to the Yearly Meeting requesting that it take a stand opposing the importing of slaves and that it make its position known in all of the plantations. Yearly Meeting took no action at the time, but in 1727, when the slave trade was still a practice which was accepted unquestioningly by the majority of the British population, it did decide that the importing of slaves should not be allowed. Quakers in Birmingham and Warwickshire would have been aware of this as extracts of the most important of the Yearly Meeting minutes were sent out to be read at the Quarterly and Monthly Meetings. In Warwickshire Monthly Meeting’s copy of extracts of the Yearly meeting minutes for 1727, we find the following declaration,


Extract of the Yearly Meeting minute on the importing of slaves, 1727 (Central England Area Meeting Archives, Ref SF-2-1-1-16-1)

About importing of Negroes

The answer given by th[e] Correspondents here to Friends of pensilvenia & the Jerseys  th[e] 17th  [of the] 6 [mo]nth 1713 by th[e] Yearly Meeting & their Answer to th[e] Friends of Pensilvenia th[e] 3[r]d [of the] 8 mo[nth] 1715 both containing the Sence of this Meeting th[at] the Importing of Negroes from their native Country and Relations is not a Commendable nor Allowed Practice w[hi]ch  Answers  and Sense is approved & th[e] Practice censured by the Meeting & this Minute is ordered to be Sent by Benja[min] Bealing to Friends In the Plantations abroad, as well as to th[e] Several Quarterly Meetings at Home.

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Look Inside the Box: Appreciating the Library of Birmingham’s Collections

Library of Birmingham

LoB Official Photograph – Copyright Christian Richters

The Library of Birmingham deserves to have its reputation burnished wherever possible.  Whilst the building is just two years old, it houses a venerable institution whose wonderful collections have been developed and enhanced by archivists, librarians, donors and contributors for 150 years.

MLA Award-2

BCC Additional, Accession 2015/132

Collectively, these collections have been described as the Library’s ‘unique selling point’.[i]   In 2005 this value was officially recognised when the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council [MLA] designated them as a single Outstanding Collection.  The MLA award applied to the Archives, The Birmingham Collection, the Early and Fine Printing Collections, Literature Collections, Music Collections and the Photography Collections.  It did not single out any specific collection, recognising their mutually supportive nature.  For example, the Boulton & Watt Collection contains a rare variant of the iconic photograph of Isambard Kingdom Brunel (James Watt & Co. of Soho, Handsworth, manufactured the screw engines for this ship. They were horizontal & double-acting of 1800 nominal horse-power and 4886 horse-power indicated, and weighed 500 tons).  It seems appropriate that such engineering giants should be linked in this way.  However, the full significance is that Brunel’s image is by the pioneering photographer Robert Howlett and it can be studied alongside the Library’s extensive collections of Victorian photography.

Photograph of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, designer of the Great Eastern, showing anchor chains of the ship, nd. Photographed by Robert Howlett; albumen print, 1857. James Watt & Co. of Soho, Handsworth, manufactured the screw engines for this ship. They were horizontal & double-acting of 1800 nominal horse-power and 4886 horse-power indicated, and weighed 500 tons. This photograph is part of the Archives of Soho, held by Birmingham City Archives [Ref. MS3147/31/1/1]

Photograph of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, designer of the Great Eastern, showing anchor chains of the ship, nd. Photographed by Robert Howlett; albumen print, 1857.
[Ref. MS 3147/31/1/1]

MS 3147/5/149

Arnold Mill Engine [MS 3147/5/149]

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Grand Central Opening

Grand Central 1854. (This was not the blueprint for today’s Grand Central!)

Grand Central has finally opened! I’m sure you’ll  be aware by now that New Street Station has had a make over and whilst we missed the opportunity to take a photo of the new building (despite coming through there every day on our way to work…….) we thought instead some images of the station over the years would be a nice way to commemorate the opening.

A colour depiction of Grand Central Station in the 1800s

Moving forward, a more recognisable New Street Station c.1960s.

Last but not least, the entrance that will be familiar to so many of us.

Why not go along and have a look to see how the station has changed!


Please also remember that we are reviewing how we deliver services and we want to consult with our users to get your views on the opening hours of the Wolfson Centre for Archival Research. Please visit https://theironroom.wordpress.com/2015/09/12/birmingham-archives-heritage-photography-public-consultation/  for details of the consultation and how you can have your say.

Birmingham Archives, Heritage & Photography Public Consultation

Well my first blog for the Iron Room has certainly been a long time coming! And what am I doing? Asking for your help! I will endeavour to do another blog very soon, and make it one that talks about something very special in the collections… you’ll just have to wait and see!

As many of you will know, the Library of Birmingham has undergone some significant changes over the last few months, and in response to those changes we have had to address the way we offer our services because we can no longer do everything we used to do in the way we used to do it.

As such we in the Archives, Heritage & Photography department have been working hard to review what we have offered, and to develop a future service offer that takes into account the challenges facing the Library of Birmingham as a whole. As part of this we are looking at how we deliver services, and at the moment we want to consult with you, our customers and stakeholders, to get your views and achieve the best possible outcome with one particular aspect.

As part of our response to the challenges, the Archives, Heritage & Photography service has, through the recent staffing restructure, been consolidated into one service area operating two public counters on level 4 of the Library of Birmingham: the open access counter in the Heritage Research Area (HRA) and the supervised research room (the Wolfson Centre for Archival Research) where original and rare documents and publications are served.

Just some examples of items from the Early & Fine Printing Colletion that we look after in AHP.

Just some examples of items from the Early & Fine Printing Collection that we look after in AHP.

Since our focus is on developing a long-term sustainable service for our customers and stakeholders that is both fit for the future and is feasible with our present resources, the Archives, Heritage & Photography service area as a whole will remain open for the same opening hours as the rest of the Library of Birmingham.  However, we do not have the capacity to operate both the HRA counter and the Wolfson Centre counter for all of those opening hours, or indeed the opening hours we have had for the Wolfson Centre until now, and this consultation is about which Wolfson Centre opening hours best suit our customers.

Please download the consultation document here and return it to us with your views to the address at the bottom of the page.

You can also complete our online survey to have your say.

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Birmingham Heritage Week

Image of Birmingham Cathedral celebrating its 300th birthday in 2015. [WK/B11/792] 1731 Photographed by William A. Clark. Exterior view, south east.

Image of Birmingham Cathedral, celebrating its 300th birthday in 2015.  1931 Photographed by William A. Clark. Exterior view, south-east. [WK/B11/792]

Don’t forget……Thursday 10th September sees the start of the inaugural Birmingham Heritage Week 2015. Why not have a look at all the great events across the City and discover something amazing about Birmingham? Birmingham Heritage Week runs from 10th – 17th September and please show your support by visiting the website to see what’s on and then go along maybe to one of the tours, open house days, talks or to see the displays that are on show. It coincides with Heritage Open Days (10th – 13th September) which is the UKs biggest Heritage festival. You can search their website for what’s on in your area. Events include tours from Birmingham Cathedral (celebrating 300 years this year) to the Newman Brothers Coffin Works. It’s worth a look!

We would also recommend reading the article by the chairman of Birmingham Heritage Week, Waseem Zaffar, about the importance of Birmingham and its history. You can read it online on the Birmingham Mail website.

Another fond farewell

This image shows what is probably less than 1% of the BCC records Mike has catalogued over the years.

This image shows what is probably less than 1% of the BCC records Mike has catalogued over the years.

Following our recent fond farewell to many wonderful colleagues, last week saw one of our Archivists, Mike, take up the challenge of moving to the higher education sector to work as a Project Archivist.

Mike initially started working at Central Library in 2007 and came on board as the BCC Archivist – cataloguing and making available the records of the City Council. All his hard work over the years culminated in the catalogues going live and available to search online through Calmview under the reference BCC/1. This has made the collection so much more accessible as it can now be searched remotely.

Taking the opportunity to extend his knowledge, Mike was part of the team that delivered the Suburban Birmingham project. Working in collaboration with staff in AHP, Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery, and University of Birmingham Special Collections , Suburban Birmingham ‘explored the histories of Birmingham’s south-west suburban spaces and places, between 1880 and 1960’. Mike’s research looked at the challenges of building new communities, focussing on the Weoley Castle Estate and his fascinating essay Manors From Heaven: the municipal housing boom can be downloaded through the Connecting Histories website.

Suburban Birmingham Project on Connecting Histories

Suburban Birmingham Project on Connecting Histories

Always challenging himself to learn new skills and try out new projects, Mike was soon seconded to a project on the Warwickshire Photographic Survey. This is a collection of photographs documenting Birmingham. What has been a great outcome out of the project is a clearer understanding of the provenance of the collection, how it had developed, and a very detailed history of the survey itself which you can read online.

Above all, Mike as always been so good at sharing his knowledge with colleagues. His depth of knowledge about the records of the City Council has helped not only staff but many researchers with a wide range of subjects from social housing to the environment. Not forgetting all the wonderful blogs Mike has written over the years! (He’s also proved himself to be very good at locating items that found their way to the wrong shelves following the move….)

A much respected colleague, Mike thank you for all your hard work which has helped to take the service forward and we wish you all the very best in your new project, we have every confidence that you will be great!

Best wishes for the future to the human dynamo, from all your friends in AHP.

An educational holiday destination

MS 466/41/box8a/26

Elizabeth Cadbury (standing, right) at the Beeches, December 1938 (MS 466/41/box8a/26)

While researching my last blog post about the work of the Religious Society of Friends in helping the unemployed in the 1930s, a search in our archives catalogue brought up several entries referring to the Beeches Educational Centre, Bournville and included the above photograph of Elizabeth Cadbury at the Beeches in December 1938. Knowing that today the Beeches is a hotel and conference centre, I was intrigued to learn more.

Originally owned by the Cadbury family, in the 1890s Elizabeth Cadbury set up the Beeches as a country holiday home for children living in the impoverished slum areas of industrial Birmingham, and it was later rebuilt in 1908. By the 1920s, the building was used as a girls day continuation school and from November 1933, with agreement from the trustees who included a number of Cadbury family members, it had become The Beeches Educational Centre for unemployed women, offering two week residential educational programmes.

A colleague suggested that Elizabeth Cadbury may well have written about the centre in one of the weekly letters she wrote to her large family recounting her activities and news.  So off I went to look in the numerous boxes of letters for one written in December 1938. Sure enough, on Tuesday 20 December 1938 Elizabeth wrote a letter (MS/466/438(1938))  in which she described the Beeches as follows:

The Beeches, as you will know, was lent by the Trustees to the Government for the purpose of the experiment of giving short intensive terms of teaching Handicraft, Social Civics, and Methods of running clubs, to Women, wives of Unemployed men, from the depressed areas. [….] An excellent local committee helps tremendously.

Other entries in our catalogue referred to a couple of volumes of Beeches committee minutes and press cuttings and a quick look through them told me that the committee was presided over by Prof. H. G. Wood, director of Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre and included Elizabeth Cadbury, Richard Clements, Midland Regional Officer of the National Council of Social Service, Sylvia Pearson, Miss Roberts, Miss Butcher and Mr W. H. Leighton among others.  The centre was funded from a combination of sources: the Trustees, subscriptions and donations, and a grant from the National Social Service Council. Attendance at the centre cost the women a few shillings per week.

Members of the Beeches Education Committee, with the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress at the opening of the new wing of the Beeches, June 1936 (MS 396/2 National Service Council Press cuttings, Birmingham Gazette, 11/6/1936)

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