Author Archives: elenka1

Heritage Research Area familiarisation session

Following on from the great success of our previous  events, Archives & Collections are now offering another chance to get to know the sources available in our Heritage Research Area on level 4 of the Library of Birmingham.

At this free event, staff will guide you through our resources such as maps, electoral and parish registers as well as digital resources on Ancestry Institution and software for reading local newspapers.

Spaces are limited to 12 people per session and booking is essential. Please email or speak with a member of staff on level 4 to make a reservation.

Wednesday 1 August 2018, 11 am – 1 pm.

Please note this session is not aimed at answering specific genealogical enquiries.


Messages from the Ocean Floor

A recent accession to the archives which has piqued interest amongst colleagues and public alike is the Trans – Atlantic Cable Chart  (MS 2680 Acc. 2017/079) from the records of Webster & Horsfall Ltd., now Webster, Horsfall, Latch and Batchelor, the oldest continuously running Birmingham company, manufacturers of spring steel wire who won the contract to supply the telegraph cable in the 1860s.

Background to the laying of the cable

Prior to the 1860s, communication between the UK and the USA was largely made by letter. The popularity of telegrams in the nineteenth century led to developments in laying underwater cables. In the 1850s, the Telegraph Construction & Maintenance  Company was formed by an American businessman, Cyrus Field and a Manchester cotton manufacturer, John Pender in an attempt to lay a cable across the Atlantic. In 1866 after several failed bids, a successful attempt was made with Horsfall & Webster supplying the cable.

Trans – Atlantic Cable Chart, ref MS 2689 (Acc 2017/079)

The Trans  – Atlantic Cable Chart

The chart was published by the Hydrographic Office of the British Admiralty of Deep Sounding and shows the bed of the Atlantic overlaid with daily written accounts of messages sent from the Great Eastern, the vessel responsible for laying the cable, back to Greenwich providing news of progress on completing this perilous task. The chart is believed to be the only one in the UK, the only other copy is held in the papers of Cyrus Field at the Smithsonian Institute in America.


The chart is representative of the technological work taking place in the nineteenth century and the part played by Birmingham and other British cities in engaging with pioneering techniques. The chart also contains a far more human quality in the record of daily messages from the vessel back to Greenwich. One can only imagine how arduous a task it was for those working on the laying of the cable, on work which today has burgeoned into a world of global inter-connectivity.

Continue reading

Birmingham Kynoch Press – Notebook & Diaries

Kynoch Press Notebook and Diaries 1951 – 1963. (Ref MS 1422/62/7/7/24)

Since joining the Library of Birmingham Archives and Collections team back in 2016, I have embraced the opportunity to gain the skills and knowledge of the inside workings of an Archives department, and the diverse range of unique collections held. Having used the services of archives throughout the completion of a Visual Communication degree, I have a particular interest in materials relating to early and fine printing, graphic design, illustration and all printed ephemera.

Kynoch Press NoteBook & Diary 1936
Octavo hardback diary for 1936, 2 pages per week. Additional information specific to printing, paper, editing and postage. Small woodcuts of natural life by Agnes Miller-Parker at head of each week; different illustration for each month. (Ref L07.2/KYN)

For my first contribution to the Iron Room, I decided to take a browse through the Local Studies, Birmingham Printed Books collection for inspiration, where I discovered a series of wonderfully illustrated and designed notebook and diaries, produced by Birmingham’s Kynoch Printing Press.

The Kynoch Press was a Birmingham printing press based in Witton, initially established as the in-house printing team for the large-scale industrial manufacturing group, ICI.  The press also produced printing for a range of external clients, with its high quality printing services gaining it the reputation as ‘one of the foremost British printing houses of the period’, throughout the 1930s and 50s.

Kynoch Press Notebook & Diary 1958, cover, page spread & detail. Illustrated by Robert Tavener, with scenes of Brighton Beach through the seasons. (Ref MS 1422/62/7/7/24)

Continue reading

Celebrating 70 years of the NHS!

To celebrate 70 years of the NHS, we thought we’d do a bit of rundown of the wonderful health and caring-related collections we have here in Archives & Collections at the Library of Birmingham.

Below we cover some of the main archive sources for research in hospitals, health and poor relief. It is a starting point rather than an exhaustive list of collections and further sources will be found by checking the online catalogues, the Wolfson Centre paper catalogues and card indexes, and, you will be able to find printed sources (e.g. annual reports of institutions and charities) in the local studies catalogue.

It is worth remembering that many of these collections are incomplete and the survival of records for particular periods or particular institutions can be patchy – check the catalogues to individual collections for details of survival and access (naturally records of this nature are sensitive and do have access restrictions placed on those of a more recent date).

Guardians of the Poor collections

Six boys standing in Sutton Park, Birmingham, on summer outing provided for poor children by the Birmingham Cinderella Club [WK/B11/445]

Until the nineteenth century poor relief was a function of the parish and documents such as apprenticeship indentures and settlement certificates will be found in these collections – see our separate source guide for Faith and Religious Records here. Continue reading

The Birmingham Sandwich Club

Midland Adult School Union (MASU) Sandwich Club 21st birthday card in MASU Sandwich Club Record of Speakers and Meetings 1942 – 1968 (Ref MS 703 box 32/212)

If you work in Birmingham city centre, have you ever wondered how to spend your lunch break? On some days perhaps you like to go for a walk, or browse the shops and perhaps on others you prefer to do some errands or have lunch out in one of the city’s many cafes. For workers during the period 1940 to 1968, another option was to go to the Birmingham Sandwich Club. This informal club was run by members of the Midland Adult School Union (MASU) and provided the city’s workers with a space in which they could bring along their sandwiches, have a cup of tea and listen to talks on a wide variety of subjects, delivered by a range of speakers.

The idea for the Sandwich Club came from Charles Bristow, who as Secretary of MASU had always hoped to be able to hold such a club in the middle of the day. When MASU moved its offices to Priory Rooms, Bull Street in 1938, he was able to put the idea into practice. Together with Robert Woodhead, Bristow arranged the first meeting of 6 men and women on 22nd October 1940. The subject was a debate on ‘the living theatre v. the cinema’, with Woodhead and Bristow taking opposing sides. A further two meetings took place in November and December that year, with regular meetings starting from January 1941 and continuing until 1968.

Meetings were held on Tuesdays from 1-2.15 at the Priory Rooms and were open to anyone who was ‘interested in discussing the problems of the day’. There was no subscription or formal membership. Attendance varied from 20 – 40 people, who came from all walks of life but many worked in business. The Club was non-sectarian and non-political.  Speakers included members of the Church, Members of Parliament, City Councillors, and those involved in education and social work. Continue reading

Windrush Pioneers: learning more about the experiences of Caribbean migrants

One Of Henry Gunter’s publications on racial inequality ‘A Man’s A Man’ 1954 (ref MS 2165/1/3)

2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks in Essex in 1948. The ship brought around 500 people from Jamaica and Trinidad to the UK. Many of the new arrivals were employed in state services such as the NHS and public transport filling post-war employment gaps. An article from the Birmingham Mail from the day that the Windrush landed is available to view online.

The Windrush has come to represent the beginning of greater numbers of people from the Caribbean moving and settling in the UK. This is an important part of the history of Birmingham and we see this legacy today in the make-up of the city.

In our archive collections at the Library of Birmingham we hold material which sheds light on the experiences of those newly arrived in the UK between the 1940s and 1970s. In this blogpost I will focus on two collections but there is more to be explored in the archives.

Campaigning against the colour bar

Henry Gunter was born in Jamaica but moved to the UK in 1950 which was only two years after the Empire Windrush arrived. Gunter, as a campaigner against racism and injustice, was at the forefront of issues black people making a new life in Birmingham were facing. Fortunately for us his writings were a key part of his campaigning activity, so these issues are documented in his archive (MS 2165).

Continue reading

Queen Victoria opens Aston Park, 15 June 1858

Illustration from the Illustrated Times in ‘Scrapbook of Queen Victoria’s visit to Warwickshire’, [ref MS 3441]. Caption reads: Arrival of Her Majesty at Aston Hall

Queen Victoria’s visit to Warwickshire in 1858 brought her to Birmingham to open Aston Hall and Park to the public.

The Hall had been the residence of James Watt jr. until his death in 1848. Afterwards it seemed under threat of encroachment by the town and there was a feeling that the Hall and Park should be ‘saved’. Birmingham town council had no funds to enable this, so a scheme was suggested by William Henry Reece, a solicitor, that the hall and park should be purchased by the people of Birmingham and area, by means of small shares, as a recreation ground for the public. The scheme was launched in 1857. The owners offered to sell hall and the 42 acres of land for £35,000; a prospectus was issued, and a company formed for raising the money by issuing 40,000 shares at a guinea each. At a public meeting presided over by George Dawson, a committee was appointed to aid the scheme, later joined by members from the town council, and a deposit of £3,500 was paid, the purchase to be completed by April 1860. The campaign was successful, and with some larger donations from richer citizens of Birmingham to assist, the purchase of hall and park was completed. Continue reading