Author Archives: elenka1

Board of Ordnance, Gun Barrel Proof House, The Tower, Bagot Street, Birmingham

Sandstone block which was part of a wall that once marked the extremity of the Tower site. Author’s image.

For most of the 18th century, muskets ordered from Birmingham contractors by the Ordnance Board were either proof tested to the Tower standard, within the grounds of the gun maker by an Ordnance Board inspector, or taken to London to be proved.1

In 1755, Board of Ordnance viewers were stationed at Birmingham to gauge and view barrels made by contractors for the Ordnance. Those that passed the test were then sent to London for proof. In 1777, with the increase in demand caused by the American War of Independence, the Ordnance in Birmingham established a warehouse to try to ease the selection process, but this caused the Ordnance viewers to become even more discriminating, which made the process even slower. Those barrels that passed selection faced a nine-day journey to London by road and canal and the contractor had to bear the cost of transportation as well as the expense of any rejected barrels.4

Soon after the outbreak of the Napoleonic wars this system was deemed unacceptable as more efficient and less time consuming processing methods were needed.

In 1796 the Board of Ordnance decided that the only way to overcome the situation was to build a proof house at Birmingham.4 The Government purchased land between the Birmingham-Fazeley canal, Walmer Lane (later Newtown Row) and Bagot Street, Birmingham. 2 A state-owned proofing establishment was erected on the site, with the main entrance in Bagot Street.4

While the Ordnance proof house was being built, an agreement was made with the gunmakers Galton, Ketland and Walker, Whately, Grice and Blair for their barrels to be proved at their own proof houses by the Ordnance viewers. 4

The Bagot Street Ordnance proof house opened in 1798 for the purpose of viewing and stamping all new government arms with a ‘Tower’ mark.5

The first Bagot Street proving house, ‘the explosions of which were very terrific to strangers’, 3 was replaced in 1808 by a larger one on the same plot but ‘at a greater distance from the view rooms’. A new View Room was built in 1811.4

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Plastics and their effects on archival documents

You may have noticed that plastic packaging has been hitting the headlines lately. Having watched the BBC’s Blue Planet II series recently, it would be hard for anyone to ignore the devastating effects that plastics are having on our marine life and the environment. However, did you know that plastics (amongst other common office stationery!) also cause long term damage to archival collections?

Common products such as Sellotape®, plastic wallets, plastic covers, comb bindings and ring binders as well as paperclips, bulldog clips, pins, staples, post-it notes, glassine paper and rubber bands have poor aging properties with plastic and rubber based products deteriorating rapidly causing damage to paper and other materials that come in contact with them.

Typical problems I see with documents we hold and accessions that come into the archives are:

Adhesive tape-Sellotape®

Adhesive tape- Sellotape® can quickly degrade, with the plastic part of the tape becoming discoloured and separating from the adhesive, leaving the sticky adhesive on the document. This in turn can cause damage to the document itself and other documents within the same enclosure. The picture above is adhesive tape which has deteriorated and caused yellow staining to the paper support. Continue reading

An Accident Waiting to Happen? The Whittall Street Explosion of 1859

Memorial Card to the victims of the Whittal Street Explosion, 1859 [Ephemera Collection LE/Cards/1]

Come and hear Liz Palmer share the account of the explosion at the Percussion Cap Manufactory, which tragically which took the lives of eighteen young women and one young man.

Birmingham has long been associated with the gun trade, with the gun quarter being focused on the area on the Weaman Estate around Whittall Street. Innovations in the industry in the early mid-19th Century saw the establishment of several percussion cap manufactories as percussion cap weapons replaced flintlocks. The manufactories employed mainly girls and young women whose nimble fingers were suited to the many processes involved in the production of these tiny items.  But the work was extremely dangerous involving several explosive substances including fulminating mercury. Explosions involving loss of life were not uncommon; one of the worst of these was in 1859 at the Pursall & Phillips  Manufactory on Whittall Street itself which resulted in the death of 20 young people – all but one of them female.

From the starting point of an intricate Victorian Memorial card to the victims, most of whom were interred at St Mary Whittall Street, Liz Palmer has used material in Archives, Heritage and Collections together with contemporary newspaper coverage to uncover the events surrounding the catastrophe, the lives of many of the individuals involved and to examine whether this really was ‘an accident waiting to happen’.

This free talk will take place on 19th May 2018, 2pm – 3pm in the Wolfson Centre for Archival Research, Floor 4, Library of Birmingham.

Spaces are limited to 20 people. To make a reservation, please contact FOBAH by emailing fobah@outlook.com.

 

 

 

 

Aston Hall is 400 years old!

Aston Hall, published by T. Simpson and Darling & Thompson in 1798 [Ref. MS 3219/9/5/2/35]

An inscription above the main doorway of the Hall records that it was started in 1618, occupied in 1631 and completed in 1635, Aston Hall was built by Sir Thomas Holte (1571-1654), whose family owned large estates in the parish of Aston and elsewhere, but particularly the three manors of Aston, Duddeston and Nechells.

Thomas Holte was wealthy and well connected. He studied at Oxford and the Inns of Court and paid James I for a Baronetcy in 1611. The family remained Royalists, which proved expensive of both life and property during the Civil War. In a volume of documents relating to Aston Hall and its owners, an anonymous description states that ‘The Ancient deeds and writings of the family being destroyed when Aston House was plundered in the time of the Rebellion in 1641…’ [MS 3152/2 (259648)]

This may explain why there seems to be no real record of building the house surviving in Archives and Collections. There are, however, many other documents, especially title deeds and rentals relating to the Holtes. There is fascinating schedule of household goods and furnishings dating from 1654, part of a counterpart lease for 80 years from Dame Anne Holte, widow of Sir Thomas Holte, to Sir Robert Holte of Aston (her step-grandson), of the Advowson of Aston Parish Church, Aston Hall and Park and all other property of Dame Anne in Aston and Handsworth.

Schedule of household goods and furniture at Aston Hall, 1654 [Ref MS 21/2/2/7, Holte 17]

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Library of Birmingham’s Black History Collection

During the existence of Birmingham Libraries, the Library of Birmingham has, over the years amassed a large collection of books which has been given the designation of the Black History collection. As the name suggests this collection does indeed contain material relating to black history but it also includes other topics including Asian History, Culture, Arts, the Black and Asian experience in the UK, and other diverse topics such as the climate and topography of the Indian sub-continent. The collection currently contains over 9000 books.  The Black History collection has grown from previous collections held within past departments of the library including Central Lending, Information Services and Archives and Heritage, with the library continually adding material to the collection. The collection is currently housed within the Archives and Collections Department of the Library of Birmingham.

This collection covers diverse subject areas including the history of Black footballers, for example Colouring Over the White Line by Phil Vasili [796.33408900] and Pitch Black by Emy Onuora [A796.334089];

Colouring Over the White Line by Phil Vasili [796.33408900] and Pitch Black by Emy Onuora [A796.334089]

and the history of well-known Asian politicians such as Nehru and Ghandi.

India from Curzon to Nehru by Durga Das [964.035 DAS], and an extract showing Ghandi with Lord and Lady Mountbatten

The collection includes Gazetteers, articles on the religions and customs of indigenous peoples and geographical descriptions and illustrations from numerous countries such as Africa, the Caribbean, India and the Indian Sub-continent, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal etc. For example, this illustration from the book Tunis it’s land and people by Ernst von Hesse-Wartegg from 1882 [961.109] shows the harbour of Tunis.

Tunis it’s land and people by Ernst von Hesse-Wartegg from 1882 [961.109] showing Tunis harbour

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On this Day: Tuesday 17th April

Elizabeth Cadbury (1858 -1951), n.d. [Birmingham Portraits Collection]

The Cadbury name is one we all recognise; they are famous across the world as successful business owners and makers of delicious chocolate and confectionery. However the family members behind this colossus of a name may still be somewhat of a mystery to some. For this reason, and for my first blog post, I have decided to delve into the Cadbury family collection at the Library of Birmingham and view the family’s personal papers. I have chosen a letter written by Elizabeth Taylor Cadbury.

Elizabeth Cadbury (nee Taylor) was born on 24th June 1858 to a Quaker company director and stockbroker named John Taylor, her mother was Mary Jane Cash, she was one of ten children. Elizabeth seems to have enjoyed being part of a large family as she married George Cadbury, the son of John Cadbury, who already had 5 children from a previous marriage. They married in 1888, and went on to have 6 children of their own.

George and Elizabeth Cadbury with 2 of their children, Laurence (on George’s lap) and Norman (on Elizabeth’s lap) and George’s 5 children from his first marriage to Mary Tylor: George junior, Edward  (standing at the back), Isobel and Eleanor (sitting), and Henry (on the floor in front), 1890 [MS 466]

The letters that I have looked through reflect a large family, full of love and devotion to each other. They seem to enjoy visiting and spending time with each other. The letter that I have chosen discusses visits from family and friends, and an enjoyable Easter spent surrounded by good company in the family home, The Manor House in Selly Oak. In this letter dated Tuesday 17th April 1934 Elizabeth writes of family members fondly and paints a vivid picture of a few days full of love and adventure.

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Heritage Research Area familiarisation session

Following on from the great success of our previous three events, Archives & Collections are now offering another chance to get to know the sources available in our Heritage Research Area. Would you like to learn how the Heritage Research Area on level 4 could benefit your genealogical research?

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. Please email archives.heritage@birmingham.gov.uk or speak with a member of staff on level 4 to make a reservation.

Wednesday 25 April 2018

11 am – 1 pm

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

Our Heritage Research Familiarisation Session is now fully booked. If you haven’t managed to book on the session this time, we are planning to offer another one later in the year. Please check out the blog, the Lob website and twitter as well as posters located in the library nearer the time for confirmation of the date.