Tracing the Timeline of Partition

One always assumes that politicians and decision-makers will consider the cost of human suffering when resolving conflicts. The monumental decision to carve India and Pakistan into two separate nations caused a colossal wave of migration on both sides. The decision was made without calculating risks of the mammoth shift of human population which triggered riots and caused mass casualties.

I was interested in looking at the file in the Cadbury Collection which contains letters, newspaper cuttings and drafts related to India’s partition. The file also includes correspondence, letters and drafts signed by Elizabeth Cadbury, who made an appeal for a lasting political solution for India’s future in 1936 at the World Congress of the International Council of Women. As a campaigner for international relations she took an interest in the rapidly evolving political situation in India.

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The Birmingham Dolobran Athletic Club

Members of Birmingham Dolobran Athletic Club team, 1906 [LP25.12]

Browsing the sports section of the Local Studies collections in our Archives & Collections stores, it’s obvious from the quantity and variety of material on the shelves that over the last 170 years or so sports clubs and associations proliferated in Birmingham. Some of them, such as Birchfield Harriers Athletics Club (formed in 1877), Edgbaston Archery & Lawn Tennis Society (formed in 1866), the Speedwell Bicycle Club (formed in 1876), and of course the football clubs Aston Villa (formed in 1874) and Birmingham City (formed in 1875), still exist today, but others, such as the Birmingham Dolobran Athletic Club, weren’t so long-lived.

The Birmingham Dolobran Athletic Club was founded in 1883 at Christ Church Sparkbrook, but by 1900 its membership had reached nearly 700 and it required bigger facilities. Its President, the Quaker industrialist and philanthropist, Barrow Cadbury (1862–1958), provided facilities for the club at the Moseley Road Friends’ Hall and Institute. This building had been commissioned by his father, Richard Cadbury (1839-1899) as a centre for adult school, mission and social work, and along with a main hall, lecture hall and 37 classrooms, it also had a gymnasium which became the home of Birmingham Dolobran AC.

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Sports Ephemera Collection

In honour of the Commonwealth Games 2022 being hosted by our fair city, it seems appropriate to have a look through some of our material on a sports related theme. One artificial collection of items is our Sports Ephemera.

The ephemera collections were gathered under assorted topics, as in this case, sports. They are items given to the old Central Library’s, Local Studies and History Department (now under the guise of Archives & Collections); often anonymously. The Sports Ephemera includes an eclectic mix of items, such as fixtures, posters for events, invite cards, etc. Below are a few examples:

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Everything to Everybody: Your Shakespeare, Your Culture Exhibition

Poster for Everything to Everyboody: Your Shakespeare, Your Culture

Everything to Everybody: Your Shakespeare, Your Culture‘ opens on Level 3 at the Library of Birmingham on 22 July and runs until November 2022. Free to visit, the exhibition is a collaboration between the Royal Shakespeare Company and the ‘Everything to Everybody’ Project and is presented by the Birmingham 2022 Festival. 

The exhibition brings to life the Shakespeare Memorial Library with objects from the collection and new responses to Birmingham’s distinctive Shakespeare heritage in film and spoken word. The exhibition challenges visitors to think about what culture means to them today and how they themselves can effect change in the city.

Visitors can learn about the pioneering founders of the Shakespeare Memorial Library, most famously George Dawson, as well as seeing first-hand some of the precious collection of Bard-related items, translations, and programmes. The exhibition will also feature the collection’s rare 1623 Shakespeare First Folio: the first collected volume of Shakespeare’s plays and bought for Birmingham’s public collection in 1881. It is the only copy of this historic book purchased as part of a programme of education and inclusion for the working classes.

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Joseph Priestley FRS

Joseph Priestley FRS
24th of March 1733 – 6th of February 1804

The subject of this blog is Joseph Priestley. A single blog cannot cover the breadth and depth of Joseph Priestley’s life and achievements, therefore I have decided to focus on some of his major scientific discoveries. I hope to cover his other enterprises in a subsequent  blog.

Joseph Priestley was an English chemist, natural philosopher, separatist theologian, grammarian, multi-subject educator, and liberal political theorist who published over 150 works.

Archives & Collections at the Library of Birmingham holds an extensive collection of material relating to the life of Joseph Priestley. The catalogue is available to view through our online catalogue.

One of his most important works was on the different types of “air” in 1781, which he wrote while he was living in Birmingham.

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Digitising Aris’s Birmingham Gazette

Regular readers of the blog may be thinking that conservation activity has been very quiet for a long while and wondered what was happening behind the scenes. Through this perceived quietness it has been busier than ever and over the past couple of years, I have been working on several exciting projects, one of which I am finally ready to share with you.

For a number of years Archives & Collections have been working in collaboration with the British Library and Birmingham City University to digitise our copies of Aris’s Birmingham Gazette newspapers. Aris’s Birmingham Gazette was first printed in 1741 until 1888. This newspaper would become Birmingham’s only newspaper during these years and is widely regarded as one of the most important provincial 18th century papers.

Aris’s Birmingham Gazette was in a poor condition. Editions of the newspapers were bound into the appropriate years in date order but unfortunately the bindings were falling apart, the paper was torn and fragile, and the newspapers were covered in surface dirt (See Fig 1). Unfortunately, when people had tried to repair the newspapers in the past, these repairs were failing due to the use of inappropriate materials such as pressure sensitive tapes. For many years the newspapers would have been stored in unsuitable conditions in bright lights and a damp environment which certainly would have contributed to the newspaper’s deterioration as well as the damage already mentioned. As you can imagine, the newspapers were inaccessible and we sadly could not serve them. They have been on the shelves in storage waiting to be discovered again.

Fig 1. Some of our copies of Aris’s Birmingham Gazette

Due to the newspaper’s importance to Birmingham, the problems with making it accessible in the searchroom and its lack of availability online, money was generously donated to finally make this resource accessible and digital. Due to the sheer amount of material that was to be digitised (every issue from the years 1741 – 1825), we needed to be able to send the newspapers safely off-site to the British library who have the resources to be able to digitise our copies. Before this could happen, I had to undertake a survey (see Fig 2.) which assessed the following:

  • Newspaper issue number
  • Missing pages and missing issues
  • Number of pages
  • Condition notes which included any creases on the page, tears, holes, broken bindings, tight bindings and old repairs
  • Printer issues such as being unable to read text due to light ink, heavy ink, ink blotching or show through from other side of the page
Fig 2. The survey records

As you can imagine, going through each individual page was time-consuming (more than 20,000 pages which would include multiples of the same issues!) but this was a necessary process to see if we didn’t have copies of certain issues, if a better copy could be sourced elsewhere and what conservation issues were present which may have impeded digitisation.

Fig. 3 One of our Senior Archives Assistants measuring up one of the volumes for a bespoke box to be made!

Once the newspapers had been surveyed and assessed, the copies of Aris’s Birmingham Gazette sent were the ones that were the best quality for digitisation purposes. Due to the poor condition of some of the newspapers, the potential risks of transportation could make this damage worse. Once it had been decided which volumes were going to be sent to the British Library, bespoke archival housing was made to ensure that the newspapers would not get damaged en-route (see Fig 3). Once boxed, volumes were put into plastic crates and padded out with bubble wrap so they could not move whilst being transported in the van. Crates were then labelled up and loaded onto the van to travel to the British Library’s Boston Spa site (See Fig 4).

Fig 4. The newspapers have been packed and are ready to go to the British Library

Once the newspapers arrived at the British Library, they got straight to work sorting through the crates that we had sent and determining if any of the individual issues would benefit from conservation treatment to get the best image possible during the digitisation process. Just to give an idea of how much work was involved, here are some statistics below indicating the scale of the work required:

  • The final count of images scanned was 19,539, from 71 volumes, including rescans and duplicate images (to get the best image)
  • Except for missing issues / pages / text, the scans encompass the entirety of the period from the first issue on 16 November 1741 until the end of 1825. This is an 85-year period, although only seven issues for 1741.
  • Some of the material was in fragile condition and the British Library Conservator spent 13 full days completing stabilisation work for digitisation plus 2 days of conservation support to undertake unpacking, contamination assessment and triage of each batch. This is to be expected with 260-year-old content which was designed to be thrown away!
  • If the material was in a condition that was beyond use, an alternative copy was found in most cases. There were 8 issues (32 images) missing from the material that we provided, as well as a further three issues that were incomplete (6 pages missing in total).
  • Whilst most of the text was captured, there is some loss of text on quite a few pages, primarily due to deteriorated page edges, or where the page was trimmed / printed in such a way that text was missing from around the edges. Other issues included marking; holes and tears; articles having been previously cut out (thankfully not very common); poor quality print; and tight bindings.

Once the digitisation process was completed, the digital images of Aris’s Birmingham Gazette were sent to Find My Past for final processing so they can become available online. The final count of images delivered to Find My Past was 17,591. Shortly these will become available online on The British Newspaper Archive so keep a look out for this!

You can find out more about this project at the event ‘The Boulton Family Baskerville Bible’ on Tuesday 26th of July at the University of Birmingham, where I’ll be speaking.

With thanks to Peter Allen, without whom this project would not have been possible.

Lucy Angus, Conservator

Messages from the Ocean Floor – conserving the world’s first transatlantic cable chart

Transatlantic Cable Chart [MS 2689 (Acc 2017/079)]

The Bid

The Hay Mills Foundation Trust Crowdfunding bid to raise £4,000 to preserve the transatlantic chart and return it to its former glory, is now live and runs from 7th July until 10th August 2022. The Trust want to improve the condition of the chart and provide greater accessibility by creating a clear digital copy for future generations. The chart, held at the Library of Birmingham, is at risk of further deterioration if not treated quickly. The time and care required involves a Conservator engaging with highly specialised and labour intensive techniques.

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