Yearly Meeting of Friends, Birmingham, 1908

Yearly Meeting scrapbook, 1908 (ref. SF/2/1/1/16/2/1/2)

Poster for a public meeting,1908 (ref. SF/2/1/1/16/2/1/2)

Next weekend is an important one in the Quaker calendar. From the 27th-30th May it is Yearly Meeting, the annual business meeting of the Quaker church in Britain, attended by Friends from across the country. At this meeting, constitutional decisions are made and policies on areas of work agreed, but it is also a forum at which Friends can teach, learn, be inspired, celebrate together and focus on what it means to be Quaker (Religious Society of Friends, Quaker Faith in Practice, 5th ed. 6.05). 

Yearly Meeting grew out of various regional and national meetings which were held in the 1650s and 1660s, and an annual national meeting has been held each year since 1668. Initially, only male Friends could participate and it was not until 1784 that a separate Yearly Meeting for Women was established. This was laid down in 1907 when women and men were permitted to attend Yearly Meeting together. The majority of Yearly Meetings were held in London but the 20th century saw a move to hold meetings in different areas of the country, with the first of these being held in Leeds in 1905, followed by Birmingham in 1908, where it was held at Central Hall on Corporation Street and at Bull Street Friends’ Meeting House. You can read more about the history of Yearly Meeting here.

Yearly Meeting scrapbook, 1908 (ref. SF/2/1/1/16/2/1/2)

Extract from Yearly Meeting Programme, 1908 (ref. SF/2/1/1/16/2/1/2)

A scrapbook in the Central England Area Meeting Archives, which was compiled by the local organisers of the 1908 meeting contains a programme, posters, flyers, sample forms, invitations and tickets to the numerous meetings, talks and visits taking place over the duration of Yearly Meeting, together with newspaper articles from across the country about Yearly Meeting. It provides us with a snapshot of the wide ranging areas of work the Quakers were involved in at this time. Continue reading

Going from strength to strength

Assay Office

Last week I was very honoured to attend a reception welcoming us to the new home of the Birmingham Assay Office. The Assay Office was founded in 1773 following a successful campaign by Matthew Boulton for an Act of Parliament to allow Birmingham to hallmark precious metals. Up until that point, goods were sent to Chester as the nearest Assay Office, leaving Birmingham businesses at a disadvantage.

Initially, the Assay Office was only allowed to test and hallmark precious metals, however over the years they worked hard to develop their services and have transformed themselves into the ANCHORCERT Group, offering not only their expertise through the work of the Assay Office, but also establishing courses through their AnchorCert Academy and providing accommodation for Birmingham City University’s School of Jewellery and Gemmology Department.

In a brand new building, the Assay Office can continue to grow and provide access to its experts, along with looking after their private collections of printed and manuscript material, and wonderful examples of the goods that have passed through their doors since its opening.

For more details, and a history of the Assay Office, we recommend visiting their website.

Shakespeare’s journey to Birmingham

Everybody knows that the library holds a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio. [You didn’t know?! Well then, you should check out the Shakespeare exhibition on level 3.] But how did it come to be in the possession of the library?  To find out the provenance of this important work, I donned my deerstalker and pipe (unlit) to carry out a bit of detective work using the archival records of the Library Committee of the City Council.

The first step was to find out when the first folio came in to the library’s possession.  Each and every item that came into the library from 1879 onwards was given an accession number sequentially from 1 onwards.  The first folio has the accession number 35470.  Knowing this, I was able to check the Location Books (the closest thing we have to accession registers as the actual registers for this period are not extant).  This tells us that the volume came in around 1881.

Armed with this knowledge, I went to the records of the Free Libraries Committee (reference: BCC/1/AT/1/1/5) held in the Archives and Collections stores knowing that I was looking for a minute referring to the first folio somewhere in 1881.

Minutes of the Library Commitee 1881 [BCC/1/AT]

Minutes of the Free Libraries Committee 1881

And there we have it: the Libraries Committee reported on the 7th of December 1881 that the first folio (and, intriguingly, third folio) were bought together for £310 by a resolution of the Management Committee.   To put this into some context, the chief librarian’s salary at that time was £3 a week [cf. BCC/1/AT/1/1/5, minute 4634].  But where were they purchased?  To dig deeper we go to the minutes of the Management Committee (BCC/1/AT/3/1/1).  Sure enough, the minutes for the 29th of September 1881 tell us:

Minutes of the Management Committee [BCC/1/AT/3/1/1]

Minutes of the Management Committee

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Deciphering Cryptography for Family Historians

Marriage indexes

Birmingham marriage page range tables

Do you often get puzzled, nay perplexed by family history research? If only it were as simple as when shown on the television and wouldn’t we all love a PA answering to our every whim for warming lattes and restorative brioche butties. You agonise, you fret, you convulse over whether great aunt June wasn’t really a member of the KGB because you can’t find any reference to her breathing on the GRO (General Register Office) index and what do all of these esoteric codes and hieroglyphics relating to a marriage in eighteen o’ dreadful actually mean. Well, discombobulate no longer, people of the genealogical fraternity because assistance is at hand, propulsive yet sophisticated like Bond himself in a vintage Aston Martin DB5.

Let me introduce you to the wonders of the GRO Birmingham Marriage page range tables complied by P.L. Loach with assistance from David Fall where credited –

  •  Marriages registered in the Aston Registration District,1837 – 1924.
  • Marriages registered in the Birmingham Registration District, 1837 – 1924.
  • Marriages registered in the Birmingham North Registration District, 1924 – 1932.
  • Marriages registered in the Birmingham South Registration District, 1924 – 1932.
  • Marriages registered in the Kings Norton Registration District, 1837 – 1924.
  • Marriages registered in the West Bromwich Registration District, 1837 – 1932 (includes some north west Birmingham suburbs).

Once you have located the entry for the marriage you seek via the GRO index (which is accessible to view free of charge in Archives & Collections Service via Ancestry) and as long as the event occurred in the period covered by the marriage page range tables as outlined above, you should in theory be able to highlight which church the service took place at, although there are some noticeable exceptions which are identified when inspecting the tables. The tables are primarily arranged in yearly order and then by quarter –  March, June, September and December. The final part of the puzzle you require is the page number from the GRO citation found on Ancestry and all being well, the magical algorithms of the page tables will calculate their way to a revelation of which church the service took place in. You are then at liberty to explore other related resources held in our collections which may lead you to a copy of the parish entry for the marriage.

Quick ReferenceThe page range tables are available to view in the Heritage Research Area’s  Quick Reference section located on Level 4 of the Library of Birmingham at any point during the course of our full service hours of 11 am  – 7 pm Monday & Tuesday and 11 am  – 5 pm Wednesday to Saturday.


Happy espionage every one!

Paul Taylor
Archives & Collections Coordinator


The following items have been added to the various bookstock collections housed in Archives & Collections  –

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Humbly, sir, I thank you.


Here at the Iron Room, we are very happy to report that our pop -up exhibition to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and the opening of our new gallery exhibition was a huge success! 

Over 100 people came up to see us in the Wolfson Centre on Saturday to see some of the delightful (and unusual) references to the name Shakespeare across our collections. We were very honoured to have William Shakespeare himself stop by to say hello and listen to a bit of 20th century Shakespeare!

William Shakespeare - searching for ancestors in the Guild Book of Knowle

William Shakespeare – searching for ancestors in the Guild Book of Knowle


Old meets new. Listening to a radio ballad of Romeo and Juliet from the Charles Parker Archive [MS 4000]

Old meets new. Listening to a radio ballad of Romeo and Juliet from the Charles Parker Archive [MS 4000]

Thank you to everyone who came, it was a fantastic day!

If you missed our pop-up exhibition, you can catch up online through the Birmingham Images website.  A brand new exhibition Our Shakespeare in conjunction with the British Library is now open in the gallery on level 3 and runs until September. Admission is free so why not come along!

It’s almost here!

Our Shakespeare

To mark the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare, the Library of Birmingham will be hosting a family day of activities this Saturday, 23rd April.

A brand new exhibition Our Shakesepeare,  presented in partnership with the British Librarywill be opening on Friday, 22nd April, in the gallery on level 3 of the Library of Birmingham. The exhibition will be running until September and as part of the launch, there will be a range of activities in the Library on Saturday, including our own pop-up exhibition in the Wolfson Centre on level 4.

You can download the Our Shakespeare Family Day leaflet for details of events across the library.

“A hundred thousand welcomes!”

Celebrating 120 years of Balsall Heath Library

Balsall Heath Branch Library, Balsall Heath, Birmingham. 1910. [WK/B3/29]

Balsall Heath Branch Library, Balsall Heath, Birmingham. 1910.

Balsall Heath Library was officially opened 120 years ago on 18 April 1896.

You discover some odd things while looking into the Birmingham Free Libraries Management Sub-Committee minutes, in order to flesh out the first year or so.

In January 1896 it was recommended that ‘noiseless chair pads’ be attached to the chairs at Balsall Heath as they were regarded as very satisfactory in the School of Art.

The first Librarian appointed in October 1895, a Mr Shuttleworth, left within a month to go to Rotherhithe and the post was re-advertised. A Mr Mould was then appointed, previously a librarian at Harborne, aged 23 and a half, with 8 years of service and a good exam result. His starting salary was 30 shillings a week.

The first cleaner appointed in February 1896 resigned within a month on health grounds, and the second, Mr Whittle, appointed in March 1896, also resigned within a month. He already held the job of caretaker at the Wesleyan Chapel, Moseley Road, and the Chapel authorities would not give permission for him to hold another post. A previous candidate, Mrs Annie Smith was therefore appointed at 15 shillings a week, to find all her own materials and necessary assistance. This was 5 shillings less than the sum offered to Mr Whittle.

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