Category Archives: News

Where we keep you infomed on service news, reports on the new Library of Birmingham, and articles in the news about Birmingham Archives & Heritage.

Wolfson Centre for Archival Research: closed weeks

It’s another practicalities blog from me I’m afraid. One day I will write one about something interesting in the Archives, or perhaps from our Early & Fine Printing Collection… But, for now it will have to be a blog about closed weeks for the Wolfson Centre (the Archives & Collections reading room).

Here at Birmingham Archives & Collections in the Library of Birmingham, we care for over 6,000 collections dating from the 12th to the 21st century, as well as significant photography collections, the Shakespeare Collection, and a fantastic Early and Fine Printing collection, which we store on more than 12 miles of shelving.

Inside our archive storage areas

Our collections continue to grow and we acquire up to 250 new collections each year. In order to do the collections justice and make them as accessible as we possibly can for you, we occasionally need to be able to focus our staff and resources on collections tasks which can’t happen during our normal open weeks.

Collections work

Our small team operates two busy public counters over six days per week offering a variety of services to our customers, as well as answering over 250 formal enquiries per month, preparing and delivering engagement activities, whilst also ensuring that our collections remain safe and well cared for.

Many archive services across the country use closed weeks to undertake pieces of work that they are unable to accomplish whilst they are open, and we are going to try this too.  We already close during the week between Christmas and New Year, but as of 2017 we will be closing a further two weeks each year.

During this time, staff from across the team will be working together on collections development and preservation activities. This will improve the documentation and access to the collections we look after for you. As such, we hope to keep you updated about what we are up to during these weeks via our blogs so that you can see what we’re up to and how we’re doing!


What weeks will we be closed?

We have used our visitor statistics kept since the opening of the Library of Birmingham in September 2013 to choose the quietest weeks to minimise disruption to our service. The closed weeks then for 2017/18 will be as follows:

w/b 24th April, reopening on Tuesday 2nd May 2017

w/b 4th September, reopening on Tuesday 12th September 2017

w/b 25th December, reopening on Tuesday 2nd January 2018


During these weeks the Wolfson Centre for Archival Research will close, but the Heritage Research Area counter will remain open.  You will still be able to talk to knowledgeable staff about the collections we hold, identify material you wish to consult and make appointments to consult that material.

All the team at Archives & Collections are proud that we are able to continue to collect and make accessible cultural and heritage collections that are representative and reflective of our city and its population. We are excited about the opportunities that having this extra time will afford us and the ways we can use it to continue to care for and make these collections more open and available to everyone who wishes to use them.

Thanks as always for your continued support and understanding.


Corinna Rayner
Archives & Collections Manager
Library of Birmingham

We are five years old!!!


By chance, we recently found an album of images of the old Reference Library including images of the Iron Room, the inspiration for our name.

On Monday, 24th October, The Iron Room turns 5 years old!!!

Our very first blog post on the Pageant of Birmingham was published on 24th October 2011 and to this day is still holding steady as the 4th most looked at post!


Image from the gallery of the Iron Room [L53.31 Photographs: Central Public and Commercial Libraries in Birmingham}


To celebrate our 200th blog, 200 and Counting! back in December 2014, we had a look back at some of our favourite articles and the weird and wonderful items that we found in our collections and wanted to share with you.

The Iron Room is celebrating Our Libraries week so we are posting this a little early but we thought you might be interested in a few statistics from a wonderful 5 years…


  • Number of posts: 316
  • Top blog post: Birmingham Burial Records with 2610 views
  • Number of comments: 334
  • Most active day for comments: 26th September 2013
  • Best views ever in a day: 643 on 31st December 2012
  • Number of visitors: 42,000

We are still going strong with a jam-packed line up of articles to see out the year, not forgetting our 2016 Explore Your Archives campaign which we are launching with an exhibition on Saturday 19th November, and would love you to get involved with!

Thank you for supporting our blog and we hope that you continue to share in our love of our collections and the history of the amazing City of Birmingham.

From all the team behind the Iron Room.

Going from strength to strength

Assay Office

Last week I was very honoured to attend a reception welcoming us to the new home of the Birmingham Assay Office. The Assay Office was founded in 1773 following a successful campaign by Matthew Boulton for an Act of Parliament to allow Birmingham to hallmark precious metals. Up until that point, goods were sent to Chester as the nearest Assay Office, leaving Birmingham businesses at a disadvantage.

Initially, the Assay Office was only allowed to test and hallmark precious metals, however over the years they worked hard to develop their services and have transformed themselves into the ANCHORCERT Group, offering not only their expertise through the work of the Assay Office, but also establishing courses through their AnchorCert Academy and providing accommodation for Birmingham City University’s School of Jewellery and Gemmology Department.

In a brand new building, the Assay Office can continue to grow and provide access to its experts, along with looking after their private collections of printed and manuscript material, and wonderful examples of the goods that have passed through their doors since its opening.

For more details, and a history of the Assay Office, we recommend visiting their website.

A belated Happy Birthday

Art Gallery and Chamberlain Statue, Birmingham [WK/B11/6402]

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

We had such a busy end to 2015 here at the Iron Room that it was only recently we realised we had forgotten Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery’s 130th birthday!

Birmingham has had its own art gallery since 1867, housed in a room in the Free Library building. From 1877 the room was needed for other purposes and the exhibits were moved to a temporary home, first in Paradise Street and then to Aston Hall. Falling under the remit of the Free Libraries Committee, they were forced to consider the building of a permanent home in the town centre.

The importance of a permanent collection was advocated strongly by brothers George and Richard Tangye (from a prominent Quaker family) in a letter to John Thackray Bunce, then chairman of the Art Gallery Sub-Committee:

“In common with many others, we have long been sensible of the great loss the town sustains in the absence of an adequate Art Collection…We cannot but think if the town and the Council were duly impressed with the vast importance of such a Collection to the trades of the town, the present apathy on the subject would soon cease to exist. It is all very well for critics to exclaim against Birmingham manufacturers and artisans because of their inferiority to their foreign competitors in the matter of design and manufacturers ; but what chances have they of improving in these respects? South Kensington is practically as far away as Paris or Munich, while our competitors on the Continent, in almost every manufacturing town, have access to collections embracing the finest examples of Art, furnishing an endless variety of style and design… – if the Council will agree to make provisions for a permanent Art Gallery, on a scale really commensurate with the necessities of Birmingham, we shall have pleasure in handing over £5,000 to the Free Libraries Committee towards the purchase of Art for exhibition in the gallery….if the gift is met by adequate donations…we will give a further £5,000 for the above-named purpose, making £10,000 in all.”

The Tangye brothers went on to state that while they had brought significant trade to Birmingham, they had also benefited greatly from it and it was their desire to give something back to the town. Continue reading

Race Relations Act – 50th Aniversary


On 8th November 1965 the first Race Relations Act was passed. It came in to force one calendar month later on the 8th December 1965.

A report by the General Purposes Committee to the City Council on  7th march 1967 stated: The Act makes it unlawful for the proprietor or manager of any hotel, eating place, place of entertainment, public transport, or public resort maintained by a local or public authority to practice discrimination on the ground of colour, race or ethnic or national origins by refusing or neglecting to afford a person on any of these grounds access to the place or the same facilities or services which are offered to others.

As early as March 1966 the Birmingham Evening Mail was reporting that “New-style community associations with both white and coloured members may be formed soon to assist integration in “fringe” areas of Birmingham with concentrations of immigrant populations.” The Lord Mayor, Alderman George Corbyn Cadbury envisaged a ‘liaison committee’ as advocated by the Act itself, which would consist of members of the City Council, churches, ethnic communities and neighbourhood associations.

In order to deal with any difficulties that might arise out of the new legislation, the Act established the Race Relations Board. Local conciliation committees were set up to deal with contraventions on a local level, although complaints could be referred directly to the Race Relations Board, who reported to the Attorney General. The first eight members of the West Midlands Conciliation Committee were announced in November 1966 and included members of the City Council, members of the University of Birmingham Council and other members appointed from institutions across the Midlands. There was clearly a need for the Conciliation Committee as on its launch, it already had 16 complaints about racial discrimination awaiting their attention.

The newspaper reports can be found in the Ethnic Community newscuttings for 1965 – 1966, available by request on level 4 of the Library of Birmingham.


Birmingham Archives & Collections: New Opening Hours

First of all I want to say thank you to everyone who took part in the consultation we ran during September and October about the opening hours of the Wolfson Centre for Archival Research here in the Library of Birmingham.

We had an amazing response, with so many of you getting in touch via email, in person, and via social media, with responses from a wide range of customers from our weekly visiting local, subject, and family historians, from those who travel a distance, from depositors, from academics, from community groups, and from students, and we are very grateful, too, to those who ensured that our consultation was seen by as many people as possible through their re-posting of the blog piece and the flurries of retweeting that went on. What’s more, we understand from your comments that this change in opening hours is not what many of you would wish for the service, but your understanding of the challenges we are presently encountering, and your sincere concerns for the service and the collections, was evident in the many supportive comments that accompanied the responses you sent in.

From this positive and constructive feedback there was a clear preference in terms of which opening hours option to go for – with 70% of you going for option 3. You can see what these options were here.

Below is a breakdown of the preferences for the three options:

Option 1 Option 2 Option 3 No option selected
17% 12% 70% 1%

56% of you responded via our online consultation, and 44% of you responded using the paper copy version.

So, the new opening hours will come into effect on the week beginning the 16th November, from which point we will be open 3 days per week, with one late night per week, and one Saturday every 4 weeks (so open 4 days on those weeks), as follows:

Tuesday:  11am – 7pm
Wednesday: 11am – 4:30pm
Thursday:  11am – 4:30pm
Saturday (1 in 4): 11am – 4pm

Our Saturday openings will be:

12th December 2015Wolfon Centre
9th January 2016
6th February 2016
5th March 2016
2nd April 2016
30th April 2016
28th May 2016
18th June 2016
23rd July 2016
20th August 2016
17th September 2016
15th October 2016
12th November 2016
10th December 2016

The one caveat to these opening hours, is that on Tuesday the 17th November we’re having our Explore Archives pop-up exhibition, so appointment bookings will be taken until 4pm in the Wolfson Centre, with the event starting at 4:30 – please do come a long and take a look! You can read more about it here.

I know I promised that my second blog would be an interesting one involving something from the collections, and this isn’t it! So, I’ll aim for something in my 3rd blog!

Thanks again for all your support.

Corinna Rayner
Archives & Collections Manager

In Fondest Memory

Picture for Birmingham Forward. Register office. Chris Upton (right) with genealogist John Yates looking through records in the Register Office archive.

Chris Upton (right) with genealogist John Yates looking through records in the Register Office archive.

Here at AHP we are mourning the loss of one of Birmingham’s greatest characters, Dr. Chris Upton, who sadly passed away on 1st October. Chris’s passion for Birmingham and its history was second to none and his students at Newman University had the privilege of seeing his enthusiasm first hand.

Many moons ago, Chris worked in the Local Studies department of Central Library and has remained ‘one of ours’ ever since. Chris was a frequent visitor to AHP and his wife, Fiona, retired from the department earlier this year, so even those of us who didn’t have the opportunity to work with him directly were grateful for the opportunity to get to know him (and learn from him on more than one occasion!).

We all have our own fond memories of Chris that always make us smile and here are just some of them:


He was a major player in the cuddly toy raiding parties between ALL and LSH in the old library. In spite of many ransom demands the bunny still survives!

Chris was known for his verses as well! Only he could have penned a wedding day greeting for us comparing Sue’s home town of Walsall to our honeymoon destination of Venice:

”And how like Walsall Venice is –
The green canals, the funny smells,
The pizza parlours, wines that fizz,
The distant sound of wedding bells.”

Chris’ enthusiasm and passion for local history encompassed so many areas. He was fascinated by all kinds of records – enjoying his visit to the local Register Office (see above).

Sue & John


I’ve got lots of happy memories of him from both in and out of work, but a number of memories of him stand out.  Hearing him speak was an honour as he combined a fearsome intellect with the ability to communicate that intellectual rigour into something that everyone could understand and relate to.  Everyone who heard him speak or read his words will know this, but even now I can give you an analysis of why Bilston suffered a cholera epidemic and Birmingham did not, and this was after hearing him talk briefly once on the subject.  I worked with him on numerous occasions, most recently on a series of events celebrating 50 years of the Ikon Gallery and he gave a highly entertaining and detailed overview of Birmingham in each of the decades from the 1960’s onwards.  No presentation was complete without an overview of his favourite album covers of that decade; as well as history his passion for music was legendary and he had a fine singing voice, demonstrated both in his choir singing and also memorably at a works Christmas karaoke where I duetted “I Got You Babe” with him – surely a finer version than that offered by Birmingham’s finest UB40…

Let us not forget his fine sense of humour, demonstrated with the immortal blog post The Diary of Samuel Pepys aged 13 and three quarters

He loved the past but lived very much in the present, and through his teaching and his writing left a huge legacy for the future.

Rachel M.

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