Author Archives: nicolacrews

The Legacy of War

The First World War signified a change in the conduct of war. War was now waged on an unprecedented scale against both military forces and civilian populations. The mass mobilisation of military firepower led to untold devastation on the battlefields, campaigns which left millions dead.

Emerging from this ‘total war’ were cases of shell shock, soldiers psychologically affected by the harsh reality of 20th century warfare. Still a relatively new diagnosis, the first use of the term shell shock was believed to have been recorded in the Lancet in 1915 when Charles Myers, Captain in the Royal Army medical Corps, published his article ‘A Contribution to the Study of Shell Shock. Being an Account of Three Cases of Loss of Memory, Vision, Smell and Taste, Admitted into the Duchess of Westminster’s War Hospital, Le Touquet.’

Order for the Reception of a Dangerous Lunatic Soldier. [HC AS]

There are only a handful of surviving records from the psychiatric hospitals in Birmingham dating from the First World War. In the records of All Saints Hospital are reception orders for those admitted to the hospital. These include ‘Service’ patients who were members of the armed forces who had experienced attacks of a psychological kind that had left them with symptoms including those of hallucinations, apathy, loss of memory or understanding, restlessness and the inability to answer simple questions.  In some cases, these men already had pre-existing conditions. In 1917 one soldier, whose cause of attack was unknown, was described as ‘… deluded imagining his food is poisoned. He told me that he was surrounded by enemies who wished to take his life.’ [MS 344/15/14]. We don’t know the full details of this soldier’s condition, however the effects of war seem to be obvious.

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Women, War and Peace: a West Midlands perspective

The 3rd Chris Upton Memorial Lecture, 12th November 2018

The Speaker is Maggie Andrews, Professor of Cultural History, University of Worcester

The Nell Haynes children, 1917

November 2018 marks the centenary of First World War armistice, which brought to an end four years of conflict and the century of the start of the very first parliamentary election campaign in which at least some women participated as voters and candidates.

In this year’s lecture, inspired by Chris Upton’s commitment to explore the lives of the ordinary people of the West Midlands, Professor Maggie Andrews will look at how the four years of war and the peace that followed affected the women in the region. Life on the home front offered some women new working opportunities or public roles and the new women voters created much excitement on polling day in December 1918.

Worcester munitions workers

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Closed Week Retrospective

Last week was our ‘closed week’ in Archives & Collections which meant the Wolfson Centre was closed to researchers while we carried on working behind the scenes…

Staff of Archives & Collections practicing salvage techniques to save water damaged items.

Having the Wolfson Centre closed meant that staff could attend training on the Disaster Plan. Led by our Conservator, Lucy Angus, the training makes sure that in the case of an emergency, be it fire or flooding in the building or in the stores for example, that staff are aware of the procedures to follow so that minimum losses are incurred. As I’m sure many of you are aware, there have been a number of high-profile disasters in recent years including the collapse of the building housing the archives of Cologne in 2009 and most recently a fire that gutted the National Museum of Brazil. Planning is taken very seriously so that we are prepared to deal with any events that arise and can save as much of the archives as possible, should the unthinkable happen. The training also familiarised staff with where our emergency equipment is stored, which includes hard hats and steel toed boots!

Just some of the disaster and salvage equipment in Archives & Collections.

Elsewhere in the stores, following a very large deposit of court records earlier in the year, staff have been arranging these in date order and this will be followed up by listing them in the future. Given the very high number of volumes received, this is quite a task to be keeping us busy!

Acc 2014/203 Consent under the Substitution Act 1858.

In addition to taking in a new deposit of records from the Birmingham Methodist Circuit on Wednesday, closed week also gives us the opportunity to try to catch up on our accessioning.We still have documents we received back in 2014 which are still waiting to be put in their permanent location within the stores. Amongst those waiting to be re-boxed are a collection of documents from the Charity Commissioner which includes a Consent allowing parishes formerly under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Worcester to be transferred to the Bishop of Birmingham following the creation of the Diocese of Birmingham. The document is dated 15 February 1906 and what this shows is the transfer of the parishes of St. Mary the Virgin, Acocks Green, St. Asaph, Birmingham, St. Luke, Birmingham, St. Mark, Birmingham, St. Matthew, Duddeston, St. Mary, Selly Oak, St. Margaret, Olton and St. Andrew, Bordesley into the newly created Diocese of Birmingham.

Schedule showing the parishes transferred to the new Diocese of Birmingham.

There are plenty more tasks waiting for us during our next closed week at Christmas!

Nicola Crews
Archivist

How to make sure your clothes and books don’t become a pest’s dinner!

A few weeks ago whilst browsing in Lakeland, I was confronted by bottles of moth killer and moth traps. It was a timely reminder that this is the time of year where people (myself included!) try desperately not to become infested and have holes appear in jumpers when taken out of the wardrobe come October. But, did you know that archival documents are just as at threat from pests as is a treasured woollen coat?

The vast majority of the collections held in the archives are made from organic materials such as paper and leather. These provide a great food source for pests. Pests we have to watch out for include silverfish, common book lice, and clothes moths amongst others. These pests survive on eating the surfaces of paper, textiles, books, some adhesives and animal skins, which unfortunately is the majority of our collection! You may be thinking just get some insecticide and kill the damn things. Unfortunately insecticides come with health and safety issues as well as not being very safe for the documents.

An example of where pests have caused damage to one of our documents. The wood and parchment in this document has provided a good food source for a wood-boring insect.

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A partial victory: Catherine Osler and Votes for Women

The Representation of the People Act finally received Royal Assent on 6 February 1918. This meant that women over thirty who were householders, wives of householders, occupiers of property of £5 or more annual value, or University graduates, could now vote. In March 1918 the Women Workers, Quarterly Magazine of the Birmingham Branch of the National Union of Women Workers included an article by Catherine Osler, President of the Birmingham Women’s Suffrage Society (BWSS).[1] Titled ‘At Last!’, Catherine reflected on the campaign to secure votes for women, something she had been closely involved with since her parents formed the BWSS in 1868. Catherine became President of the organisation in 1901. While it was certainly an achievement to be celebrated, the conditions of qualifying were ‘not all that could be desired – far from it! They do not fulfil the original and unaltered demand of suffragists for “the vote on the same terms as it is or may be granted to men”. It leaves still unrepresented classes of women who are among the worthiest, most indispensable workers for their country and for their fellows’.

Catherine Courtauld Osler (1854–1924) by Edward Steel Harper II, 1917-18 © Birmingham Museums Trust

Catherine also considered the wider campaign and the sacrifices that many women had made; ‘some, indeed, have dared infinitely more than this – have courted and endured gross insult, maltreatment, torture, death itself, in the determination to draw the world’s attention to women’s wrongs… the startling campaign of the militant section… has now become as a nightmare memory, but one which will survive in history’.

Birmingham had seen some very serious militant incidents carried out by suffragettes from 1909 onwards, including arson (most notably the destruction of Northfield Library), church disturbances, window smashing and the slashing of a painting. It was also where the first cases of forcible feeding of suffragettes took place, at Winson Green Gaol in September 1909 after a number of women were arrested for their protest during a visit to the city by Prime Minister Asquith. In the article, Catherine also acknowledged the campaign’s well-established roots, going back to the 1860s, stating that ‘it was not because on grounds of reason and common sense suffrage was “bound to come” but because the nation had for 50 years been patiently and unceasingly educated to the conviction of its justice and righteousness, that the conditions of war enabled its advocates to make the final effort which brought victory… a great dividing barrier has disappeared from the ranks of women themselves, and that henceforth we may go forward shoulder to shoulder’.[2]

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Belgian Refugees 1914 – 1918

Archives & Collections was recently contacted by Amsab-ISG, the Institute of Social History at the University of Ghent. We were reminded of a project they did which took place a couple of years ago to document the experiences of Belgian refugees that came to the UK during the First World War. In support of the project, Archives & Collections assisted their researchers in accessing the records of MS 652, the War Refugees Fund (Birmingham and District). Although only a small collection, it does include a Belgian Refugee Register 1914 – 1918. This volume lists the name, age and occupation of the refugees, the place they were sent to and the town of origin.

Belgian Refugee Register 1914 – 1918
[MS 652/6]

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Jethro Anstice Cossins

On 5 December 2017 I attended a fascinating talk by Stephen Price, retired museum curator and author, with George Demidowicz, of Kings Norton: a History (2009). The subject of the talk was the tale of four of the leading lights of the Birmingham Archaeological Association, founded at the Birmingham and Midland Institute in 1870, at the instigation of Samuel Timmins.

St. Martin’s Church from Notes on Warwickshire Churches by Cossins
[MS 3414/5]

One hundred years previously, on 5 December 1917, one of these men had collapsed and died, aged 87, on his way to a meeting of the Society. His name was Jethro Anstice Cossins and he was by profession an architect. The other ‘lights’ discussed were brothers Oliver and Harold Baker, sons of the artist Samuel T. Baker, and Allen Edward Everitt, artist and art dealer, based on New Street.

These four men have left a wealth of watercolours, engravings, drawings, notebooks, correspondence and photographs which provide a rich archive for the investigation of buildings and churches in Birmingham and Warwickshire, often captured just before major structural alteration, or even as they were actually being demolished or rebuilt, in the last decades of the 19th century. Oliver Baker was an artist and antiques dealer who eventually moved to Stratford-upon-Avon to settle; his brother Harold was a woodcarver and a major photographer in Birmingham, with his ‘Electric Light Studio’.

Ansley Church
[MS 3414/1]

Images from the wonderful collection of watercolours by Everitt, now held at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, the notebooks of J. A. Cossins held at Archives and Collections, Library of Birmingham, which include many sketches of buildings, and the correspondence and illustrated notebooks of the Baker family, now at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, provided a rich visual accompaniment to the talk.

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