Author Archives: macgregorrachel

Fred Barnes – Music Hall Star and Queer Pioneer

Lunchtime talk with David Viney (Birmingham LGBT)

Tuesday 11th February 1pm – Heritage Learning Space

fred barnes

Fred Barnes (1885-1938)

To celebrate LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) History Month our regular Tuesday lunchtime local history lecture celebrates the life and times of Birmingham Music Hall Star Fred Barnes who rose from rags to riches and then back again.  Barnes who debuted at the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham in 1906, lived an openly gay life at a time of persecution and hostility and together we’ll be celebrating his life and extraordinary times.

Admission is free but booking is recommended via The Box (tel 0121 245 4455) quoting “Birmingham and its people”.


Explore your Archive

archiveexploredA world without records is a world without memory.

To celebrate Explore Your Archives we invite everyone to come and explore what we have in Archives, Heritage and Photography by looking online or visiting to find out more.

There’s always lots to discover.

Why not come along on Tuesday 19th November at 6.00 pm to find out more about Building Birmingham – booking is essential (use the contact form below)

Or look out for future events and activities on the website such as the talk: “1913: 100 years ago” Tuesday 10th December 12.30-1.30 Room 104 (phone 0121 236 4455 to book).

Exterior view of the Belle Vue Temperance Hotel, Edmund Street WK B11 273

Old stories, new histories


Peter Stanford and Dhani Prem are amongst two Birmingham figures honoured in the new release of Birmingham entries of the Dictionary of National Biography now available in the Library of Birmingham and from elsewhere using a Birmingham Library card ( .

Peter Stanford (1860-1909) was born into slavery in the American state of Virginia and came to England in 1883, originally to raise funds for his church in Canada.  However he stayed in England, eventually moving to Small Heath, Birmingham in 1888 and following his marriage to a Smethwick woman,  settled as minister of Hope Street Chapel in Highgate, Birmingham.  His book “From Bondage To Liberty”, published in 1889,  gives an account of his journey from slavery to freedom and is available on request in Birmingham Archives, Heritage and Photography (ref L78.1).

Dhani Prem (1904-1979) was an Indian-born Birmingham GP and political campaigner.  After qualifying at Edinburgh University and Kings College Hospital in London, Prem moved with his family to Birmingham in 1939 experiencing the growth of Indian and other ethnic communities in the war and post war period.  Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s Prem campaigned tirelessly to support new communities, fight racism and combat discrimination.  Into the 1970’s he continued to campaign for boycotting tours of South Africa in sport, supporting Ugandan Asians and many other organisations, working tirelessly for equality for all.

Other stories will be highlighted in today’s launch event (Monday 28th October) in the Library of Birmingham Studio Theatre at 6.30pm – free and no need to book. Speakers include Dr. Lawrence Goldman from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Dr Chris Upton, Professor Peter Marsh and Dr Sian Roberts.

Biography, History and the Shaping of Birmingham

Monday 28 October 2013
Library of Birmingham, Studio Theatre

The Library of Birmingham and the Dictionary of National Biography are pleased to announce the launch of 70 new biographies of Birmingham people who helped shape the City.

The Reverend Peter StanfordMiss Mary D. Sturge, M.D. Lond.Dr Dhani PremGeraldine Southall Cadbury (1865 - 1941)

How does looking at individual biographies contribute to our understanding of Birmingham’s history? What connections are there between the regional and national story?

Join us for this free event to mark the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography’s release of 70 new Birmingham biographies.  A panel of speakers will reflect on the relationship between individual life stories and the city’s history, and discuss some of the individuals featured in the new release including:

Geraldine Cadbury, social reformer and one of Birmingham’s first women magistrates                                                                                                                                   Dhani Prem, medical practitioner and political activist                                       Reverend Peter Stanford, born into slavery and later a Baptist Minister         Mary Sturge, medical practitioner – one of Birmingham’s first women doctors The men and women of the Chamberlain family                                                             Elihu Burritt, American consul and peace campaigner                                                         Gwen Lally, organiser of the 1938 Birmingham Pageant                                    amongst many others

Speakers include Dr. Lawrence Goldman from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Dr Chris Upton, Professor Peter Marsh and Dr Sian Roberts. The presentations will be followed by an open discussion on the role of biography in telling the story of the city of Birmingham.

This is a free event organised in partnership between the Library of Birmingham and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and all are welcome.

The Oxford DNB is free to use both in the library and at home if you are a library member. Details about this and a list of all the individuals featured in the release can be viewed via the links on the Library of Birmingham website

For further information about the event contact Sian Roberts on or 0121 303 6780.

For further information about the Oxford DNB contact Daniel Parker on or 01865 35 3344.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

It’s been a fine autumn so far for all of us, what with having a new building with its lovely roof gardens (shown here with local celebrity Alys Fowler) and we’re heading back into our collections to inspire us in our gardening endeavours.

Pomona Britannica - George Brookshaw (AF096/1817)

Pomona Britannica – George Brookshaw (AF096/1817)

These lovely illustrations come from the wonderfully illustrated book “Pomona Britannica” by Birmingham-born artist George Brookshaw (1751-1823).    Brookshaw was from an artistic family – his brother Richard became a noted engraver.  For a time George was apprenticed to the japanner Samuel Troughton but eventually George set up in business as a cabinet maker in London and sold painted furniture to the great and the good of London high society, including supplying a commode to the Prince of Wales.

Pomona Britannica - George Brookshaw (AF096/1817)

Pomona Britannica – George Brookshaw (AF096/1817)

Brookshaw’s furniture was the very last word in regency style and they graced the interior’s of the best homes. You can see examples of his work at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Many of his designs were inspired by the artist Angelica Kauffman who was also popular with Matthew Boulton and members of the Lunar Society.

In the  mid 1790’s Brookshaw disappeared from public view, only to re-emerge ten years later with the publication of Pomona Britannica in 1804, dedicated to his erstwhile patron the Prince of Wales. There is speculation that there was some sort of scandal associated with him perhaps linked to his marriage which broke down some time during this period.  Whilst his botanical drawings were widely praised, he never again achieved the heights of success that he had with his furniture.

Rachel MacGregor

Come on in!

Inside the Library of Birmingham

It’s been a long time coming but after packing up and moving 1.5 million books, 24 kilometres of archival collections and 2 million photographs we’ve finally opened up our doors!

We’ve been closed for 9 months but hopefully the wait will have been worth it – from today you can come in and use the Archive, Heritage and Photography Collections, stroll out on the terrace, visit the gallery space to see our major new exhibition Reference Works and relax in the Heritage Lounge.

For you eager archives researchers I’m afraid it’s another week before the Wolfson Centre opens for business on Monday 9th September – we anticipate being very busy in the first few weeks so please bear with us at this time.  If you are planning to access our archive collections don’t forget you’ll need to make an appointment first (email  Don’t forget that the library opening hours will be a little different to normal in the first couple of weeks.

We look forward to seeing you soon!

Rachel MacGregor

We made it!

We’ve been closed for 9 months, but now our re-opening is in sight: the Library of Birmingham opens on 3 September, and the Wolfson Centre for Archival Research opens the following week, on 9 September. So this seems like a good time to bring our readers up to date with the final days of the move from the old Central Library.

The move of all the archive collections began way back at the beginning of May, and finished in mid-August. In that time, 16km of archive material was moved, and you will be pleased to hear that everything seems to have made it safely to its new home – there have been no behind-the-scenes disasters!

Central shelves

Our old shelves.

The shelves in Central Library are now empty and rather forlorn, while our state-of-the-art new shelving has filled up nicely. But don’t worry, there is still space for us to expand our collections with new and wonderful things for our visitors to explore. And the Wolfson Centre is looking lovely, but you’ll have to wait until next week’s post for photos!

Library of Birmingham shelves

Our new shelves!

For us in the Archives, Heritage and Photography team, though, the end of the move is only the beginning of our next phase of work. As well as welcoming our visitors to the Wolfson Centre, we will be undertaking a detailed survey of our new stores, so we can retrieve material for readers quickly and efficiently. We’re also planning how we’ll continue with our work of cataloguing and promoting our material, now that we’re happily ensconced in our new home.

After the years we’ve spent working towards a successful move to the Library of Birmingham it’s hard to believe that we actually did it, but here we are!