Category Archives: Guest Bloggers

The Apollo Gardens

Eighteenth century Birmingham was graced, at different times, with two sites called the Apollo Gardens.

John Tomlinson’s Plan of Aston Manor, 1758, reduced in Plans of Birmingham and vicinity, ancient and modern,1884 [Ref. MAP/45209]

Holte Bridgman’s Apollo Gardens are shown on John Tomlinson’s Plan of Aston Manor, surveyed in 1758 [Ref. MAP/45209], on the north-east corner of the junction of Lichfield Road and Rocky Lane. The date when the gardens were first open to the public is not known.

On May 9th 1748 it was reported,

Whereas the Performance of Music and Fire-Works at Bridgman’s Gardens, at the Apollo at Aston, near Birmingham, was to have been on Thursday last, but the Inclemency of the Weather preventing ‘tis postpon’d to next Thursday Evening, when a grand Trio of Mr. Handel’s out of Acis and Galatea, and that favourite Duet of Arne’s call’d Damon and Cloe, will be perform’d by Mr.Bridgman, and a Gentleman of the Town… 1

The concerts were promoted by Barnabas Gunn, the first organist at St. Phillip’s church, who also promoted concerts at Sawyers Assembly Rooms and at the theatre in Moor Street. He was also,

…notable as a composer, producing sonatas and solos for harpsichord, violin and cello, and ‘Two Cantatas and Six Songs’ of 1736 that included George Frederick Handel among its subscribers.2

On Monday July 15th 1751 ‘Eleven of the Gentlemen of the Holte Bridgman’s Club and Eleven of the Gentlemen of Mr Thomas Bellamy’s Club’ met at the Apollo Gardens for ‘the most of three innings, for Twenty-Two Guineas’, the first recorded cricket match to take place in the district.3

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Roses in the Archives

It’s summer, the time for roses to bloom in all their glory: and roses are abundant in Archives and Collections, from botanical illustrations to mechanical sprayers, via metalwork, valentines, songs, poems, theatre and – of course – chocolates.

‘Rosa rubra plena spinosissima’, the Moss Provence rose [F0961760, Vol. II, Plate CCXXI, opp. p.147]

Let’s start with our first illustration, of the ‘Rosa rubra plena spinosissima’, the Moss Provence rose, from the ‘Figures of the most beautiful, useful and uncommon plants described in the Gardener’s Dictionary’, by Philip Miller, London, 1760. [F096/1760, Vol. II, Plate CCXXI, opp. p.147]

Miller (1691 – 1771) was one of the most important horticultural writers of 18th century and was gardener to the Society of Apothecaries at Chelsea Hospital for nearly fifty years, from 1722. His one volume ‘Gardener’s Dictionary’, was first published in 1731, and there were eight editions during his lifetime.

Another beautifully illustrated volume from that period is the ‘Temple of Flora’ (1807) by Robert James Thornton (1768 – 1837), physician and botanist. Two of his ‘heroes’ had strong West Midlands connections, Thomas Beddoes of Bristol (for whom Boulton & Watt manufactured breathing apparatus), and Erasmus Darwin (Watt’s doctor for a while and a member of the Lunar Society). Thornton (c. 1765 – 1837) was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, and taught at Guys Hospital, London.  His beautifully illustrated volume has roses as the frontispiece, and of the rose, Thornton writes:

Nature has given her a vest of purest white, and also imperial robes of the brightest scarlet; and that no rude hand should tear her from her rich domain, she is protected by a myriad of soldiers, who present on every side their naked and sharp swords against the daring invader.

He aimed to connect the scientific aspects of Linnaean botany with the arts of painting and engraving, and all dedicated to the royal family. Sadly, the volume, which appeared in a serial form, was never completed and Thornton ran out of money. The copy at the Library of Birmingham is a reprint from 1951, ‘no. 206 of a limited edition of 250 copies, on hand made paper, with plates faithfully reproduced from the original engravings and the work described by G. Grigson, with biographical notes by H. Buchanan, and botanical notes by W.T. Stearn’. [F 096/1951]

These aren’t the earliest references to roses in Archives and Collections. There’s a bill from Thomas Wright to Walter Gough of Perry Hall for plants, roses and trees in 1745 [Gough 274/46]. They owned much land in the Midlands, including property in Wolverhampton, and there are several bills for various repairs to the White Rose [Inn] in Lichfield Street, Wolverhampton, from 1749 to 1762 [Gough 279, 281 and 310].

Watercolour of the design of the Colonnade room at Aston Hall for James Watt jr, c.1819, showing the north wall decorated with roses  [MS 3219/9/5/2/67]

There’s another ‘White Rose’, in the Watt Family papers. A letter to James Watt (Soho) from Lord Dundas (Upleatham, Northallerton), 13 December 1805, begins ‘I do not know whether your Workmen at Soho will stoop to so trifling a thing as a Front for a Soldier’s Cap’, and goes on to explain that while he was in Weymouth with his Regiment, the North Yorks, that summer, the King was,

….graciously pleased to express his approbation of the Regiment, and give it the Badge of the White Rose of York, to be wore in the Colours, and on the Caps, – I have made a sketch of a Rose , Crown and Lion, for the Front of a Cap, but must own that it does not please me……if you would be so good as to get some of your ingenious men to exert their Genius and send me sketches of their ideas I shall be much obliged to you – .

Watt, who was then retired from business, redirected the letter to Matthew Robinson Boulton. A sketch survives and a note saying that if any of the designs are thought suitable the plate for the badge could be made for two shillings [MS 3219/4/47/13].

Other references to roses in the ‘Archives of Soho’ include a letter to James Watt jr. (Soho) from Josiah Wedgwood jr., at Stoke, near Cobham, Surrey, 29 April 1798, which mentions that ‘the nightingales sing day and night and there are moss roses in bud’ [MS 3219/6/2/W/183].

At Matthew Boulton’s funeral in 1809, the 17 horses had ‘crape roses’ on headbands. The charges for these are on George Lander’s bill to Matthew Robinson Boulton, 18 August 1809 [MS 3782 /13/149/51].

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The Birmingham Civic Society celebrates its 100th birthday today, 10 June 2018!

‘A Picture Map of the Park of Sutton Coldfield in the County of Warwick’ by Bernard Sleigh in Work of the Birmingham Civic Society from June 1918 – June 1946, by William Haywood, pp. 45-6 [Ref L20.053]

For 100 years, the members of Birmingham Civic Society have worked as volunteers to make Birmingham a better place for everyone, engaging with communities and schools to promote pride in the city.

The Society was started in 1918 with the aim of improving the appearance of the city, acting as an advisory body to the city council on issues of town planning and heritage.

From the beginning, it raised funds to buy land to create or add to parks and gardens in the city, to provide open spaces for recreation for all. The first was Daffodil Park in Northfield. The Society also published beautifully illustrated guides to, for example, the Lickey Hills and Sutton Park.

In 1923 and again in 1934, it helped to save the Birmingham Repertory Theatre from closure, by campaigns to boost audiences, and then by setting up the Barry Jackson Trust to preserve the theatre for the citizens of Birmingham.

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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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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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Humphrey Repton (1752 – 1818)

Detail from the title page of ‘The Landscape Gardening and Landscape Architecture of the late Humphrey Repton, Esq.’ by J.L.C. Loudon, 1840, [Ref JL22]

24 March, 2018 marks the bicentenary of the death of Humphrey Repton, the first person to use the title of ‘Landscape Gardener.’

Matthew Boulton wrote ‘Landskip Gardener’ on the docket of a letter from Repton dated 21 September 1789 [Ref. no. MS 3782/12/34/17/1].

Portrait of Repton in ‘The Landscape Gardening and Landscape Architecture of the late Humphrey Repton, Esq.’ by J.L.C. Loudon, 1840, [Ref JL22]

Repton had visited Boulton’s estate at Soho, Birmingham, and seen how the steam engine of the Soho Manufactory was being employed to raise water to flood areas to create pools and to water trees in Boulton’s gardens. He asks Boulton for information on the quantity of water which could be delivered by a steam engine at any given height from 10 to 20 yards, and the probable expense of erecting such a machine:

This sort of general idea is very necessary for me to be acquainted with as Great Men are very apt to ask what it will cost?

There are a couple of other letters from Repton to Matthew Robinson Boulton in 1795. On 6 December 1795, he wrote from his home at Hare Street by Romford, explaining that he had been absent from home for some weeks so had not been available to receive the copying press which had obviously been reserved for him: Continue reading

A visit to Ireland by William Adlington Cadbury

Map of Ireland, 1900s, annotated with areas visited by William Adlington Cadbury [Ref. MS 466/G/6/1/1]

On Saturday 17 March 2018 the Friends of Birmingham Archives and Heritage are holding their AGM at the Library of Birmingham, Heritage Learning Space, 4th floor, at 12 o’clock.

The meeting will be followed by a talk by Jim Ranahan at 1pm titled “What’s the fuss about? Understanding Birmingham’s Irish Community”.

With this in mind, and since it will also be St Patrick’s Day, a blog with an Irish theme follows:

A visit to Ireland by William Adlington Cadbury

William Adlington Cadbury (1867-1957) was the second son of Richard Cadbury and elder brother of George (founder of Bournville). He started work at Cadbury’s in 1887 and the ‘Cadbury’ name logo is based on his signature. He was Lord Mayor of Birmingham 1919-1921, and afterwards established his Charitable Trust to assist the causes in which he was interested. These included the building of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (first one!) to unite many of the medical facilities from smaller hospitals in the city. He was also extremely generous to both the Birmingham Reference Library, to which a very fine set of historical atlases were donated by him, and to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. His Trust also gave grants to causes in West Africa and Ireland, two places he visited often.

His archives, deposited in Archives and Collections at the Library of Birmingham, include an account of a three week holiday he made, with friends, to Galway and Mayo in 1893.

[Ref. no. MS466G/6/1/2]

Towards the end of May last, three friends, say X,Y,Z, decided to follow the distinguished example of the Marquis of Salisbury and perform what will soon be becoming positively fashionable, namely an Irish pilgrimage…………..X and Z are ornithologists, Y is merely an Englishman out for a holiday.

Their visit began on Athlone Station, then after a brief visit to Galway, they went to Roundstone, where they stayed three days.

The little town of Roundstone looked very well just sheltered from the Atlantic by a low headland on which stands the monastery, the church and barracks, coastguard and schoolhouse and in fact the whole length of the one street is perfectly white and the quiet bay deserted………

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