Category Archives: Guest Bloggers

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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The Navigation Boarding School GR:SP053872

John Snape’s 1779 Plan of the Parish of Birmingham (left) and John Pigott Smith’s map of 1824-1825 (right) (Ref MAP/45209) 3

On 27 September 1769 Richard Hawkins leased approximately one acre of land, land that had formerly been part of Rotton Park fronting to Ladywood Lane, to William Round, a Birmingham toymaker, with an agreement that he would build upon it a ‘dwelling house’ for a public house or inn.

When William Round, in return for a loan of £400, assigned the lease of the same property to the executors of the will of Elizabeth Burton on 7 November 1770 Round had built a public house called the Navigation Coffee House with outbuildings, a bowling green and ale gardens.

Although no mention of the Birmingham canal, which opened on 6 November 1769, is made in any of the deeds associated with this property it was obviously the reason for William Round’s choice of the site and for the choice of name for his public house.

In various property transactions relating to the same property on 31 January 1775, 23 February 1775, 25 March 1778, 3 & 5 October 1778 and 5 September 1782 the building is referred to as the Navigation Coffee House.1

 The Birmingham Poor Rate Levy Book entries for the poor law year 1771-1772 until the year 1776-1777 have the entries Cooper & Jones, Navigation Coffee House. (There is no entry for the year 1770-1771). In 1777-1778 the rates are paid by Jones alone, in 1778-1779 no name is entered and in 1779-1780 & 1780-1781 they are paid by Edward Kelly or Kenny.2

John Snape’s 1779 Plan of the Parish of Birmingham (see top left image) shows little evidence of the buildings (a comparison of plots with John Pigott Smith’s map of 1824-1825 (see top right image) suggest that the Navigation Coffee House lies in bottom right-hand corner of plot 130).3

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The Kings Norton Fifty Club

Leaflet advertising a meeting for new women voters, 1st May 1929 (MS 2371/2/2/1)

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. However, this meant a considerable number of women – and men- were still excluded, and had to wait until 1928 when all persons over 21 became entitled to vote.

In 1929, the Kings Norton Fifty Club (MS 2731) decided to hold a public meeting to make sure that women in particular were informed about their new right to vote, and the responsibilities that entailed.

What was the Kings Norton Fifty Club?

The following comes from the Minutes of the Club [MS 2731/2/2/1] (Acc.2009/068):

On December 14th and 21st 1922, a small committee, called together by Miss Viccars, met to discuss the possibility of forming a local club for the purpose of spreading information and getting discussion on affairs of public interest. Miss Jordan, Mrs H. Norman, Mrs Impey and Miss Viccars comprised the committee….

A tentative list of speakers included Miss Dewar (The Birmingham Settlement), Dame Ethel Shakespeare (Citizenship), Mr Woulston Lee (The W.E.A.), Miss Ethel Trent (Labour & Employment), Mr Horace Alexander (League of Nations), Mr Ted Bigland (Social Work amongst boys), Miss Backhouse (Camp Fire Girls), Mrs H. L. Wilson (Maternity), Miss Bennett (Cripples), Miss F. Barrow (Poland), Dr Shakespeare (Physics), Mr Totham (Jamaica – Population – Trade).

A number of names for the club were discussed, ‘The Forward Relief Workers’, ‘Hopeful’, ‘Excelsior’, ‘Drawing Room’,. ‘The Fifty Club was provisionally adopted in 1923, January 22nd.

Membership was limited to fifty persons, which would allow gatherings of the dimensions of a drawing room [in large houses, obviously!].

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