Category Archives: Guest Bloggers

Christabel Pankhurst and Smethwick

Less than a fortnight after the Armistice of the Great War, a Bill was rushed through Parliament which allowed women to stand for election to Parliament on equal terms with men, ‘ironically allowing those women aged between twenty-one and thirty years to stand for a parliament they could not elect’.[1] The previous year, after disbanding the Women’s Social & Political Union, Emmeline Pankhurst and her eldest daughter Christabel formed the Women’s Party. This new organisation represented their political views which now conflated the winning of the war with the women’s cause. Emmeline explained that women needed a party of their own because ‘men had grown so accustomed to managing the world in the past that it had become rather difficult for women in politics to hold their own if they were associated with men’.[2] Emmeline declined the chance to run for election in favour of her daughter and eventually it was decided that Christabel would attempt to become Member of Parliament for the new industrial working-class constituency of Smethwick. While the views of Emmeline and Christabel had become increasingly jingoistic as the war progressed, and their political tendencies leaned far more towards the right than before, the Women’s Party also ‘advocated equal pay for equal work, equal marriage and divorce laws, equality of parental rights, the raising of the age of consent, equal opportunity of employment, and equality of rights and responsibilities in regard to the social and political service of the nation’.[3]

Election Results from the Birmingham Evening Despatch, 4th December 1918

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Charles Rennie Mackintosh

This blog is to remember the 90th anniversary of the death of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who died 10 December 1928.

There’s a wonderful illustrated letter [1] in Archives & Collections in the Gaskin collection, MS 2945, from Joseph Southall about a visit he and Arthur Gaskin made to Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald in about 1905.

Dearies, [2] both of you

Tis so pleasant to get your letters in the morning & to hear that you feel better. Well I am having a busy time here but very interesting & of course it is flattering to hear that one is well thought of including you my dear — all this in fact we seem looked upon as one.

We went for a game this morning such pretty links I did not shine with borrowed clothes & club tho’ I put my man 5 down.

Well last night we went to call on the Mackintoshs. Now Mackintosh & his wife are the inventors of the Glasgow School. She that is Mrs Mac is a most charming young lady – I was quite gone. I assure you. I also think that you would like her. Let me see if I can draw you the room.

Letter illustrated with a drawing of two women either side of a fireplace [Ref MS 2945/1/2/79]

Mrs Mac (rather early 60s. beautiful hair)           Mrs Newby (aesthetic, intense)

The room is tones of white.

Two pipe racks in fender. Smoked and signed by more or less notable people. Your’s ‘umbly for instance.

Drawing of two men smoking pipes, in a room with stained glass and a chandelier [Ref MS 2945/1/2/79]

They are interested in your work & she is to my mind especially charming. He is rather stout and jovial but their art has such a queer mad look though they are both extremely able.

Ta ta lots of love to you both

[Joseph Southall]

This archive collection is a joy to look at, with many illustrations in Southall’s letters to Gaskin. Many of these illustrate Gaskin playing golf – obviously a hobby he enjoyed, and was teased about.

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Creative responses to First World War archives: For King and Country

 

Our last in the series celebrating Explore Your Archives week again is a creative response from the Creative Writing workshop held in the Wolfson Centre in September. Written by Margaret Lyons, it is inspired by letters received from employees of W. Canning Materials Ltd. who were serving in the Forces during World War One (ref MS 2326/1/19).

 

 

Those pills came yesterday with a note from his mother.

“Dear Kathleen, please find enclosed”- (she’s very proper is Tom’s mother) – “Dear Kathleen, please find enclosed a month’s supply of the tablets I mentioned last week.  He’s to take two a day and I’m happy to send for more- if he finds them agreeable.  Mrs Dawson at church bought some for their Jack and she said he was like a new man after 2 months.”

I looked at the leaflet in the packet; “Out of Sorts? More dead than alive?  Cassell’s tablets for the nervous and wasted – can cure stomach troubles, loss of appetite, loss of flesh, trembling and nervous debilitation, restores strength and fitness.”

I’ve told his mother, it’ll take more than pills to sort Tom out, but she can’t see it, or doesn’t want to.  It makes me that mad; she comes over once a month, sits in the front parlour in her Sunday furs, sipping tea from our best china.  Tom wouldn’t sit down with us last week, made some excuse to keep busy.  She saw my face; “well he always was a restless boy Kathleen… a proper fidget… did I ever tell you about the time…” and she rattled on with some story.  Tom’s a story teller too, stories for his mother, stories for our friends, for the neighbours, about the food, the lice, the rats as big as kittens, how he and the lads used them as target practice.

The truth is, he won’t sit down with the china because he can’t trust his hands not to shake. You never know when it’ll start.  A sudden sound that catches him off guard, the whistle of a train, the hooter for knock off at the cotton mill, even the kids screaming, and they’re only playing…

What did she say to me at the door?  “We’ve got to give him time Kathleen, Tom’s done his duty for King and Country and now we must do right by him.”

We?  She doesn’t see him when he’s raging at the kids or the nights when the terrible dreams come, drenching our bed with his sweat, moaning into his pillow.  He’s only really at peace these days when he’s out the back, digging over the veg patch.

I watch him from the kitchen window but he never sees me.  Sometimes his spade hits the soil so hard, as if he’s giving it all the rage he can muster and then the tears come, for the misery of it all, and I’m glad of that.

Creative responses to First World War archives: a letter to my dear Sister

 

As part of 2018’s Explore Your Archive campaign and following on from Monday’s blog post, another creative response from the Creating Writing workshop was inspired by the letters of Elizabeth Cadbury (MS 466 FN:466/433 (1916)).

 

 

 

Margaret Hale wrote the following:

January 1915

My dear Sister,

I am writing this letter to you while sitting nearly on top of the fire, that is  because the weather here is so very cold and it is trying very hard to snow.

Our new home, which we moved into before Christmas does not seem as warm and friendly as the old one, but I am having a large number of friends visiting probably to be inquiring in a nosey sort of way to tell me their news.

Mrs Freda Smythe called yesterday to tell me that Mr and Mrs George Brown’s son Frederick George Brown, do you remember him? He was at school with our cousin Michael Arthur Jones, they were at Upton together was killed last week. Then Mrs Ursula Thomas came to tell me that her daughter Mary, who you remember married Simon Albert Hall, also at Upton with Michael has had a baby daughter Flora Mary.

I have had a very busy week apart from all the visitors I have been asked to help Chair the Woodlands committee for helping the wounded, Mrs Duncan Cadbury is the Deputy Chairman and the Lord Mayor and the Bishop of Birmingham are also on the committee. The first one was on Monday morning and Mrs Cadbury had to leave us early because her son Edward had come home on sick leave and she wanted to be with him.

At church on Sunday the preacher was the new Curate, the Rev Gordon Harvey-Jones quite an elderly man for a curate I thought, his sermon was good but quite short so John and I walked home in the wintery sun.

John is very busy at the factory going in most days, he had to go to the Ministry in London, and unfortunately the train was slow and late. I think he is missing going to Torquay this year. Our Cousin Ada and her husband Victor, you know the one who talks a lot, wrote to say that the weather is dreadful and most of the hotel has influenza and she was not enjoying it.

I am thinking about colours for the morning room, I have been to Worcester and picked some china that I like and I think it looks quite nice on Mother’s old side board.  Do you remember how we were forbidden to open the drawers and cupboards?

I am still writing Christmas replies as the move has taken up so much time. I have written to our cousin Sarah in Calcutta, her husband Roger Michael Cadwell is now in charge of the plantation and they now have four children, Mollie, Olive, Walter and Freda. It must be lovely to be warm all the time. I have heard from Aunty Beatrice and she says that her sons, Andrew, Arthur and Albert, are all away at war.   Victor, her husband, thinks the War will be over by Christmas this year.

I went to a Concert by the London Symphony Orchestra which was nice, but some people did not stay till the end.

I do hope that you will be able to come and stay with us at Easter, and we can see the spring flowers together in our new garden. I hope that you will be able to have some time off from the hospital.

Your ever loving sister.

Creative responses to First World War archives: Men Beat the Walnut Trees

On Friday 14th September 2018, here in Archives & Collections at the Library of Birmingham, we held a Creative Writing workshop using First World War archives.

This was a free hands-on Creative Writing session hosted by Birmingham historical novelist and biographer, Fiona Joseph, and Corinna Rayner, the Archives & Collections Manager. Archive material at the Library of Birmingham had been specially selected by Fiona and Corinna to inspire the writers, and it provided a unique opportunity to explore some of the many archival treasures themed around Women at War (Home Front, Industry) and Conscience at War (Quakers, patriotism and pacifism). We had so much material out, including family letters, photographs, posters, postcards, news items and memorabilia from the period which participants could use as a springboard for their own creative responses. Writers at any level, including beginners, were welcomed. For this year’s Explore Your Archives week we thought we’d share some of the wonderful creative responses to the archives which were produced as a result of this session.

First up is Men Beat the Walnut Trees by Lindsay Martin, inspired by a photograph of women working in a munitions factory from MS 4616 War Collection (Local Studies) and a collection of letters in the Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends archive (SF) from Birmingham Quakers about their varied experiences during the First World War. You can listen to a recording of Lindsay’s piece here and the transcript is available here.

We’ll share another contribution with you on Wednesday!

Researching the women – local poets in the War Poetry Collection

Over 25 years ago, as part of the Birmingham Library “Meet the Decade” events, I put together an exhibition highlighting the work of several local war poets whose book or pamphlet formed part of the War Poetry Collection in the Central Library. Researching this exhibition had a lasting effect on me. Moved and enthralled by the words of these poets, I always hoped that one day I would have the chance to re-visit their work. Perhaps I might again have the opportunity to publicise the poems and to help the voices of these poets be heard once more.

As part of the World War One centenary events I have been given the opportunity to recreate an exhibition featuring these local poets as one of the community projects displayed in the Voices of the First World War exhibition at the Library of Birmingham. Whilst Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon are synonymous with World War One, others also sought to reflect the war through their verse. Many had written poems throughout their life. For others the events of the war, so unheralded and traumatic, meant searching for a way to come to terms with the experience. Writing poetry enabled them to do this.

Some of the works in the War Poetry Collection, such as “Poems and Drawings” by Henry Lionel Field and “Memoir and Poems of a Soldier” by Clifford Flower, have detailed introductions that provide an outline of the poet’s life. Biographical details are enhanced by quotes from the poets themselves and sometimes from their family, school friends and army colleagues.

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Spring Gardens

Spring Gardens, opened by Samuel Fallows on the corner of Floodgate Street and Ann Street, appeared in Birmingham Trade directories1 from 1785 until 1801.

From Bisset 1800

(Left) John Snape’s Plan of the Parish of Birmingham taken in the Year 1779 [Ref MAP/45209] and (Right) Thomas Hanson’s Plan of Birmingham, 1785 [Ref MAP/72831]

Occupying the eastern corner of plot 723 on John Snape’s Plan of the Parish of Birmingham, 1777,2 the  gardens were still not shown on the Plan of Birmingham survey’d by Thomas Hanson, 1785.3 Although several later authors 4 & 5 mistakenly describe the house as backing onto the river it is apparent from both John Kempson’s Town of Birmingham, 1808 and from John Piggot-Smith’s more detailed survey of 1824-1825 7 that the property was on the opposite side of Floodgate Street.

(Left) John Kempson’s Town of Birmingham, January 1st 1808 [Ref MAP/384604] and (Right) John Piggot-Smith’s Map of Birmingham engraved from a minute trigonometrical survey made in the years 1824 & 1825, 1828 [Ref MS 3700/13/1/1/1]. 

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