Birmingham Freed Men’s Aid Association

Invitation to a meeting of the Freed Men's Aid Association, June 1864 [ref MS 3338]

Invitation to a meeting of the Freed Men’s Aid Association, June 1864 [ref MS 3338/1]

The plight of those freed from slavery by the American Civil War first came to the attention of the Ladies Negro Friend Society for Birmingham and the surrounding area in 1862. It called for contributions to be sent from Britain to provide aid. The scale of the need at that time was not well understood, but by 1864 it had become clear to the Society that there were severe shortages of shelter, clothing, hospitals, medical care and free employment for the hundreds of thousands of emancipated slaves who travelled northwards, leaving vast numbers destitute or dying.

At the 39th anniversary meeting of the Society in May 1864, the chair put forward a proposal from a member of the Erdington branch of the Society,

…that a ship should be freighted with stores and sent to the United States.

(40th annual report of the Birmingham Ladies Negro’s Friend Society,  1865, ref MS 3173/2/3)

which would, as Arthur Albright (1811–1900), leader of the National Freed Men’s Aid Union, later described at the 1867 Paris Anti-Slavery Conference, with reference to the cotton workers who suffered in the  Lancashire Cotton Famine (1861 – 1865),

…pay back… those shiploads of corn and provisions sent from the United States to assist in feeding the pinched and patient artisans of Lancashire…’

(Paper given by Arthur Albright, Anti-slavery Conference Report, Paris 1867, ref 326.4)

Supported by Birmingham’s Mayor, the proposal was approved and a group of the city’s male abolitionist campaigners established the Birmingham and Midland Freed Men’s Aid Association on 12th May 1864. According to Clare Midgley in her book ‘Women against Slavery: The British Campaigns 1780-1870’, it was to become one of the most important Freed Men’s Aid Associations in the country and worked closely with the Ladies Negro Friend Society, helped by the fact that a number of the members were related. The Association was chaired by Edward Gem, with Benjamin H. Cadbury and Charles Felton as secretary. Although it was a non-denominational group, many of its members were Quakers.

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Science and magick in the stores

Book plate for Natural Magick

This stunning front piece is from an earlier English edition of Natural Magick held in Boston Public Library unfortunately our edition does not contain a similar one.

This week’s blog is about a volume that I stumbled across whilst working in the storerooms last week. I was initially going to write about Micrographia which is one of my favourite books in the Early and Fine Printing Collections. Micrographia was written by Robert Hooke in 1665 and was the first book published by the recently formed Royal Society. It revealed a mysterious microscopic world unseen by human eye with its incredibly detailed etchings of plants, insects and mineral and is a wonderful example of the work from the Scientific Revolution when experiments and empirical data began to be seen as essential to understand the world.


Page from Micrographia, Robert Hooke, 2nd edition, 1667 [Ref: AQ094/1667/13]

Engraving of a fly as observed under a microscope from Micrographia. Robert Hooke, 2nd edition, 1667 [Ref: AQ094/1667/13]


When I went to retrieve Micrographia a volume called Natural Magick stored a couple of shelves down caught my eye and intrigued, I took it down to the office to have a look. Natural Magick was originally written in Latin by John Baptist Porta (Giambattista Della Porta) from Naples. Porta  was   born in about 1535 and was  a polymath who wrote on subjects as wide-ranging as cryptography, military engineering, distillation and agriculture as well as writing  seventeen plays.

Magiae Naturalis (Natural Magic) is his most famous work. We have a copy of the expanded edition written in 1559  and first published in English in  1659. Our volume was printed for John Wright next to the sign of the Globe in
Little-Britain [London] in 1669. Continue reading

Behind the scenes at the Shakespeare pop-up exhibition: How to make your very own book cradle- An instructable!

As part of the preparation for the Shakespeare pop-up exhibition book cradles were especially made for a selection of volumes exhibited. This was done to make sure that the books that were displayed were fully supported and not to put undue strain on the open volumes and bindings. Improper display and handling of books can cause irreparable damage! To avoid causing damage to the open volumes each book has a cradle especially made to fit each individual book on the specific page it is opened on!

How to make your very own book cradle

1. Decide what page you want to display your book on.

2. Using a large sheet of paper (bigger than your book!) draw a horizontal line towards the bottom of your sheet of paper.

3. Open your book up to the appropriate page. Stand your book up on your piece of paper with the spine on the horizontal line.

4. Mark on the paper the edges of the boards and the spine.

5. Like dot to dot join up your marks!

6. Measure the lines you have drawn.


7. Pick up your card, mark one end of it to indicate the starting point. Starting a couple of cm along the baseline from the bottom left hand corner, mark on the strip all the points where the line changes direction.

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Birmingham Heritage Week – A Retrospective

The Wolfson Centre returned to normal this morning after hosting not one but TWO pop-up exhibitions in the last three days!

Shakespeare First Folio - on display in the Wolfson Centre on Saturday (under strict supervision by our Conservator!)

Shakespeare First Folio – on display in the Wolfson Centre on Saturday (under strict supervision by our Conservator!)

Saturday was another success for our re-run of the Shakespeare: Infinite Varieties exhibition, which included some fabulous items that were previously on show in the gallery as part of Our Shakespeare. Also on display was the First Folio, giving visitors the chance to get up close (but not touch!) this fantastic volume. Believe it or not, the book that drew even more attention was this one:

German Shakespeareans [132093]

German Shakespeareans

It was given to the Library by  Professor Frederik Augustus Leo in 1878 who had clearly appreciated the help he had received when studying! You can access a digital copy online via the Shakespeare Album website.

Last night was the launch of the Children at War project by the Friends of Archives & Heritage. Visitors were again treated to a wonderful exhibition giving a  rich and varied snapshot of the experience of the child during the First World War. This was only the beginning of the project and they would love to hear from people who would like to volunteer and get involved. For details of the project, please visit their website and get in touch through their Contact page!

A great turn out for the Children at War launch event.

Nicola Crews

Shakespeare: Infinite Variety in Birmingham’s Archive & Collections. A pop-up exhibition for Birmingham Heritage Week!

Back by popular demand for Birmingham Heritage Week 2016 and as part of the Library of Birmingham’s programme of events to mark 400 years of Shakespeare, Birmingham Archives & Collections is hosting a pop-up exhibition on Saturday 10th September (1-4pm) to showcase some of the diverse and surprising items you can expect to find that “relate” to Shakespeare held in the Library’s collections! Themes include:

  • What’s in a name… the Birmingham Shakespeares… (yes there are lots!)


  • Shakespeare’s “Beauties”


  • Miniature Shakespeare


  • Reading Shakespeare … and more!


Staff and our invaluable pop-up volunteers will be on hand to talk to you about the items on display, and you might get to spell your name out in Shakespearean letters…


And… if you missed the ‘Our Shakespeare’ exhibition at the Library of Birmingham, you will be able to see some of the highlights close up! Come along and see what we choose…!


Venue and details : 10th September 2016, 1-4pm in the Wolfson Centre, Level 4, Library of Birmingham. Free event. No Booking required.


Birmingham Children of War

Co-Operative Society May Day Float. 1920. [MS 4614/1]

Co-Operative Society May Day Float. 1920.
[MS 4614/1]

Monday September 12th will see the official launch of Birmingham Children of War. This project, run by the Friends of Birmingham Archives and Heritage (FoBAH) with funding from the Heritage Lottery through their First World War: then and now grants programme, will explore the lived experiences of children born or living through the First World War in Birmingham.

Over the last few weeks FoBAH volunteers have been searching archives and library catalogues identifying resources that will help us to learn more about children’s lives during this tumultuous period. Some of this material will be on display in a pop-up exhibition in the Wolfson Centre from 5 – 6.30pm. It has been chosen to illustrate some of the themes that the project will be investigating in more depth over the next six months with the help of more volunteers and in partnership with schools and other organisations.

Birmingham Civic Recreation League. 1916 - 1920.  [LF 36.99 408343]

Birmingham Civic Recreation League. 1916 – 1920.
[LF 36.99 408343]

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August in the Garden

The Ladies' Flower-Garden of Ornamental Annuals JL58

The Ladies’ Flower-Garden of Ornamental Annuals [JL 58]

31 August 2016 marks the tercentenary of the baptism of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, (1716-1783) in Northumberland. That’s a long way from Birmingham, but there is a connection – Henry Gough, owner of Edgbaston Hall and Park, employed Brown to landscape his Park sixty years later in 1776.

No reference to this, however, has yet been found in manuscript collections at Archives & Collections. Edgbaston Park is now a private golf course, but to admire Brown’s landscape gardens near Birmingham you can venture to Charlecote, Coombe Abbey, Compton Verney or Warwick Castle in Warwickshire; Croome Court in Worcestershire and Trentham Gardens or Weston Park in Staffordshire.

There are numerous other records about gardens and gardening in Archives & Collections, and one of the most interesting is a special collection of the publications of Jane and John Claudius Loudon.

Jane Wells Webb (1807- 1858) was the daughter of Thomas Webb, manufacturer in Birmingham. Her family lived in Edgbaston until the death of her mother in 1819. She and her father then travelled to Europe for a year where she learned German, French and Italian, taking in the culture of those countries.

After their return to Birmingham they lived at Kitwell House, Bartley Green (now demolished), and Jane began to write. Her father died in 1824, after severe financial losses, and writing was to earn her a living. Her second publication, ‘The Mummy’, a pioneering work of early science fiction describing advances in technology, society and fashion was published anonymously in 1827. Jane said it was: “a strange, wild novel,….  in which I had laid the scene in the twenty-second century, and attempted to predict the state of improvement to which this country might possibly arrive…”. Continue reading