On This Day


‘On This Day’ is an online project currently being run by the Voices of War & Peace WW1 Engagement Centre, based at the Library of Birmingham. Since January 2016 the centre has periodically published extracts of news reports from local papers 100 years on. ‘On This Day’ focuses on how the Great War affected Birmingham citizens, from women left to look after their children single-handedly to conscientious objectors and to munitions workers, and the impact on their daily lives from food shortages to restrictions on lighting in the city and to infant welfare. All of the content has been sourced by University of Birmingham history students, who are undertaking the Professional Skills module in their second year of study. The material has been found by using the British Newspaper Archive. Maeve Scally worked on the entries from 1916, while Gemma Daw has been researching 1917. Here are a few sneak previews into what Gemma has found….

 Birmingham Daily Gazette

Wednesday 24th January 1917


Special precautions are taken in Birmingham to give protection to the policemen on duty at night. The men are provided with white coats, while electric globes, giving a red light, are fixed to the top of their helmets. These constables are shown adjusting their electrical headgear before going on duty.


Birmingham Daily Gazette. Wednesday 24th January 1917.

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Wish you were there?

Horizons Midlands holiday brochure winter 1975-6

Horizon Midlands holiday brochure, winter 1975-6

Now the weather turns chillier, why not cushion yourself in the eventide glow of a Mediterranean clime? How much will this cost me I hear you chime, not a penny dear reader when you experience all that the more climatically forgiving realms of this continent have to offer by perusing a copy of a Horizon Midlands brochure.

The Archives & Collections service recently received a donation of historic brochures and literature from an employee of Horizon Midlands which was an independent travel agents based in Birmingham from the late 1960s through to the early 1990s. The donation, which has been added to our Birmingham trade catalogue collection, also includes a series of annual reports and accounts for the company covering the period from 1975 – 1986 along with paperwork detailing a proposed joint venture with Bass PLC in 1985 amongst other documents. The company appears to have been based originally at 214 Broad Street and ended its days not too far away at 4 Broadway, Five Ways.

Horizons Midlands

Horizon Midlands map of holiday destinations

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Explore Your Archive: Disability History Month 2016

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MS 4647 William Robert Mackenzie

William Robert Mackenzie (left) [MS 4647]

 One of the interesting accessions received at Archives and Collections, Library of Birmingham, back in 2013 was papers and photographs about William Robert Mackenzie (b. 1920) and his working life at Parkinson Cowan, (formerly the Parkinson Stove Company), later Thorn Gas Appliances Ltd.   [Accession 2013/167  MS 4647]

The factory was on Flaxley Road, Stechford, Birmingham, and Mr Mackenzie worked there from 1935 – 1983, beginning as tea boy and finishing as Departmental Manager for the Spares Department and Sheltered Workshop.

Mr Mackenzie was an active member of the Association for Research into Restricted Growth, advising on employment, and he helped to develop a Sheltered Workshop for people at Thorn Gas Appliances Ltd. who became disabled after joining the firm.


Article from the collection recognising the ‘Fit for Work’ award.  [MS 4647]

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Explore Your Archive: Once Upon a Time…

Blue RevealedUntil last year, I worked with the Photographic Collections in the archives at the Library of Birmingham. I left promising to write a blog post at some point in the future. Over a year later, while meeting with former colleagues, I was reminded of this promise. It was suggested I could perhaps write about my favourite item as part of the ‘Explore your Archives’ week activities. My head was instantly full of potential candidates. You’ll have to be patient with me here, because I cannot help but mention a few of them, at least in passing, so you have some idea of the staggering wealth of choices I faced. For instance, perhaps I would write something about John Blakemore’s beautiful handmade books on the Zone System (MS 2372/C/1-23 and MS 2372 Acc. 2015/088), a system devised by Ansel Adams and used by Blakemore in his photography for many years. Or maybe a post showcasing a little-known collection of cyanotypes (MS 2652) – a stunning example of a very early photographic process.

Cyanotype [MS 2652]

[MS 2652]

Then again, perhaps I could write about a collection of 37 photographs taken randomly by a BCC employee, which when arranged in sequence connects up to form a panoramic view from the top of the old (and now vanished) Birmingham Central Library. When last shown, this series of prints prompted a reminiscence from a retiring librarian, of how it used to snow upwards in the well of Paradise Forum, before the glass roof was put on.

Or indeed I could certainly write about the photograph of a Pickford’s heavy haulage vehicle with its crew standing proudly beside it (MS 2726 ). This photograph appeared in so many talks – each time as evidence of something different, each time an integral part of a different narrative – sometimes telling the story of the man who took it, at other times illustrating a wider history of heavy haulage and the vehicles used, now a part of the history of the development of transport systems, and then also part of the social narrative of that particular time.

How was I to choose between them?

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Archi’ve Inspired – These Notes are Out of Order

Blue ConnectedOne of the aspects of working with Archives & Special Collections that has always interested me, is the impact that they have on people, how they can inspire people, and a brilliant example of this surely has to be the wonderful book of poems and extracts, ‘These Notes Are Out of Order’, by Andy Green.

These Notes Are Out of Order by Andy Green

Front cover of ‘These Notes Are Out of Order’ by Andy Green

Andy worked for many years in library and archive departments, combining heritage research projects with outreach interventions. ‘These Notes Are Out of Order’, Andy’s first collection with Shoestring Press, is directly based on his experience of working in archives and libraries…. “Unearthing lost voices from archive boxes”… exploring “the world in which our memories are housed, using fragments of evidence to ask deeper questions about how the past becomes catalogued, re-written, or erased. Who does our history belong to?”

Andy’s observations of working and researching in archives and libraries will no doubt strike a chord with many people who frequent them in search of answers, as in ‘Room of Sighs’,… and… a favourite, demonstrating evidence of Andy’s thorough use of the catalogues and indexes!, must be ‘Early Occupations’,


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Archi’ve Discovered: Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, 1563


One of the items selected by our researchers for our Explore Your Archive pop-up exhibition on Saturday 19th November was a hefty sixteenth century volume created by John Foxe, The Book of Martyrs printed in 1563. As a new member of the team constantly learning more about the collections we hold, I decided to look in to the background of this sizeable work.

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Foxe’s [AF094/1563/3].

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Foxe’s [AF094/1563/3].

The longer name of this work is the Actes and Monuments of these Latter and Perilous Dayes, Touching Matters of the Church by John Foxe. With such a lengthy title, it is understandably often known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. The book gives a detailed history of the Church covering the apostles, a succession of popes, heretical episodes and accounts of martyrdoms running all the way to Foxe’s time. It is particularly well known for its detailed accounts of religious persecutions during the reign of Queen Mary I (1553-1558) and accompanying (somewhat gruesome) illustrations.

The book was very popular and influential. Following Mary’s death Queen Elizabeth I’s Privy Council to the Archbishop’s of York and Canterbury encouraged every parish church to acquire a copy. It would have been used by clergy to provide material for sermons and may also have been viewed by parishioners.

Decoration in a classical style, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs [AF094/1563/3].

Decoration in a classical style, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs [AF094/1563/3].

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Explore Your Archive: Archives Explored!

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Saturday saw us host another wonderful exhibition in the Wolfson Centre as part of the Explore Your Archives campaign! We had many fantastic items on display and this year we would like to say a huge thank you to our researchers for making an exhibition out of themselves! By getting involved and nominating what you love from our collections, you have demonstrated the diversity of archives. We had a lovely turnout, and everyone who gave us feedback said they had learnt something so we couldn’t have asked for more.

Thank you again for helping us open up our collections and we are already starting to plan for next year!


Photographic collections appearing in the exhibition – you can learn more about these later in the week on The Iron Room.

Do keep an eye on the Iron Room this week – Explore Your Archive week is just getting started and if you missed the exhibition, we will be showing highlights over the next few days.

Nicola Crews