Category Archives: Our Collections

Where we showcase material from our excellent collections.

O’Aargh me hearties!

Tuesday 19th September is officially Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Sadly as we have no actual pirates working in Archives & Collections that we can ask about pirating, we’ve done the next best thing and found some pirate themed treasures to give us some inspiration…

A History of the Lives and Exploits of the most remarkable Pirates, Highwaymen, Murderers, Street Robbers. 1742. [LS SA/2/39 224844]

The Life of Mary Read

Among our printed reference collection, we came across the perfect book to share with you  – A History of the Lives and Exploits of the most remarkable Pirates, Highwaymen, Murderers, Street Robbers etc. by Captain Charles Johnson, published in 1742. The volume contains biographies of many questionable characters, including Blackbeard himself! Also making the cut were women pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read, although as they didn’t command any ships, it seems being a female pirate was enough to warrant inclusion on the list of dastardly individuals.

Engine for H.M. Pluto. [MS 3147/5/1224]

Pirates were not just on the High Seas. We also found numerous references to pirates in the papers of Boulton & Watt, for trying to steal and pirate their patented engine technology! One of their engines was made for H. M. Navy and used for the defence against pirates. Two 50 horse power side lever boat engines were made for the Navy Steamer Pluto in the 1830s.  The engines were made in 1826 but not appropriated to the Pluto until 1830.  In March 1832, Pluto was about to proceed to the African coast, her first service.  According to the Catalogue of Old Engines she was armed with two long 18 pounder guns for the suppression of pirates on the Bahama Banks.  Pluto was broken up in 1861. Continue reading

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Severn Street camp: ‘a good outdoors holiday’

MS 1040/7 Severn Street camp, n.d. [early 20th cent.]

At this time of year, holidays are in the minds of many of us. If we’re not enjoying a relaxing break by the sea or in the countryside, at home or abroad, it’s likely we’ve been away and are now thinking about our next opportunity for a holiday. Having just spent my summer holiday under canvas, I was delighted to come across the photograph albums of the Severn Street camps showing camping holidays from over 100 years ago.

MS 1040/7 Severn Street camp n.d.  [early 20th cent.]

The Severn Street camps were started in August 1890 by the teachers of the Junior Division of Friends’ Severn Street Adult School who wanted ‘to provide a good outdoors holiday’ for the young men in their classes.  In the late 19th century, annual holidays were something to be enjoyed by the middle classes, and few members of the working classes had the opportunity for a holiday. The Quaker teachers of the adult schools would have been aware of the health problems caused by the housing conditions in which many of their members lived, and they would have shared a belief in the need for healthy recreational activities and time spent outdoors.

With the exception of the years during World War One,  Severn Street camps were held each year until 1929. Each summer, members from the adult schools paid a modest sum (in 1898 it was 13 shillings and 6 pence) for up to a week away. The locations varied and included Shrawley, South Littleton, Nafford, Harvington, all in Worcestershire and Fairbourne, Towyn, and Llanbedr in Wales. In 1902, 106 members participated in the camping trip, while in 1903, this increased to 149, with members coming from 12 adult schools, an increase which was attributed to the seaside location of the campsite at Fairbourne.

MS 1040/9 Severn Street camp marquee at Nafford, n.d. [early 20th cent.]

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The Cervantes Collection

Part of the Cervantes Collection

The Cervantes Collection is the second oldest Special Collection in the Library of Birmingham. The original collection of 1,500 books was donated by William Bragge (1823-1884), a highly successful, much travelled and cultured businessman, who, prompted by the setting up of the Shakespeare Library in 1861, gave his Cervantes books, the most important part of his extensive collections, to the city of his birth.

Son of a well-known jeweller, Thomas Perry Bragge, in Birmingham, William Bragge studied mathematics and mechanics and practical engineering, training as an engineer and railway surveyor. He started work at the Birkenhead Railway in 1845 and then spent much of his life in South America, where he built gas-works, railways and waterworks for Buenos Aires and had the Order of the Rose conferred on him by the Emperor of Brazil. He also visited Spain frequently, and it was probably these connections which led to his particular interest in Spanish literature and the writings of Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616).

Smollet’s Edition of Don Quixote

Cervantes was a novelist, playwright and poet and the most celebrated writer in Spanish literature. He created the character of Don Quixote, an elderly gentleman who sets off from his home, La Mancha, with his servant Sancho Panza to undertake chivalrous acts and has many rather ridiculous adventures. Thanks to numerous translations, extensive literary criticism and adaption of the story into art, drama and film, Don Quixote is recognised throughout the world. Continue reading

The Ockenden Venture ‘Westholme’

Sometimes when cataloguing an archive collection you come across an item which has no obvious link to the other papers it is with and clues to help you identify the links are few and far between. Such was the case with a small pamphlet with the title ‘Ockenden Venture ‘Westholme’ training and education for refugee boys’ which caught my attention in the records of Bull Street Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. As this week is Refugee Week, when the contributions of refugees to the UK are celebrated and greater understanding about why refugees seek sanctuary is promoted, it seemed fitting that the story of Westholme should be retold.

The Ockenden Venture was established in 1951 by three school teachers in Woking, Surrey. They were concerned about the conditions in which displaced East European teenagers were living and recognised that the educational provision in the camps was insufficient after a group came on holiday from a displaced persons camp in Germany at Ockenden House where Joyce Pearce (1915-1985) ran a sixth form. Pearce, together with Ruth Hicks (1900 – 1986) and Margaret Dixon (1907-2001) housed small numbers of East European teenagers from the camps at Ockenden House and later in houses at Haslemere, Surrey and Donington Hall near Derby and provided for them so that they could complete their secondary education.

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National Vegetarian Week 15th – 21st May 2017

As it is National Vegetarian Week, I’ve ‘tucked into’ our collections and uncovered some recipes to present you with a delicious veggie friendly menu.

I’m going to put the chive in archives! (I’ll never make it as a comedian.)

For starters (adopts her best waitress voice) we have some mushroom patties. Dear diners, these are seasoned with a little salt and pepper and are served over some beautifully crusty pastry.  No soggy bottoms here.

Mushroom Patties

This recipe is taken from one of a number of cookery books collected by an Emily S. Thomas and Miss Walker. [MS 4082 (Acc 2011/149)]  It comes in particular from The Home Mission Book of Recipes, Vol II, 1909. I like that the recipe is clearly marked up as vegetarian, and the patties sure seem tasty, although, I am unsure about the teaspoon of sugar. Perhaps it’s that old balance of sweetness to salt which will make these savoury delights zing!

Onto mains (readopting her waitressing voice) *coughs* your entrée; I couldn’t resist a nice ‘dole or dholl’ curry. (I tend to spell it dal.) This one originates from a recipe and knitting pattern book collected/written by an unknown person, dated as 19C in our catalogue. [MS 1158/1]

Dole curry

The volume has a number of enclosures and this particular recipe is included in a section based around curries. It also gives instructions on how to boil rice, and, as the below shows, make pillaw [pilaf?] rice – the perfect accompaniments.

Perfect rice

For afters, I’ve chosen something that looks simple enough to bake (no electronic mixing bowls here!) and that would be equally as nice the day after with a cup of tea. The recipe comes from another orphaned book (but one with a fine inscription: ‘Nora with Love from Both, 12 Willow Avenue, Christmas 1937′.) [MS 1170] Anyone have room for a slice of tasty date and walnut cake? Continue reading

From small beginnings: the early days of Severn Street Adult School

Joseph Sturge, author unknown, 1859 (Birmingham Portraits Collection)

On 14th May it is the anniversary of the death of one of Birmingham’s prominent citizens, Joseph Sturge, who died in 1859. A successful Quaker businessman, a generous philanthropist and an active campaigner, he is perhaps best known for his work in the anti-slavery movement and the establishment of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society (now known as Anti-slavery International). However, he was a man of many interests and it is his role in beginning the adult education movement in Birmingham which is the subject of this blog post.

On 12th August 1845, concerned by the behaviour of the men and teenage boys he saw in the city’s streets on Sundays, Sturge invited some of Birmingham’s younger Quakers to his house in Wheeley’s Road, Edgbaston to discuss whether they could establish an adult school for them.  It was to be another 25 years before compulsory primary education would be introduced and many adults at this time had started work as young children so levels of literacy among the working classes remained low.  Sturge had been impressed by a visit in 1842 to what is now seen as being the earliest of the adult schools, established in Nottingham in 1798, and he wanted to set up a similar school in Birmingham. The Nottingham school was run by a Methodist, William Singleton and subsequently taken over by a Quaker, Samuel Fox. Non-denominational classes took place on Sundays, teaching men and women reading and writing classes based on the Bible.

The group of Birmingham Quakers agreed that such a school should be established  for,

‘…those who are not & have not been in the way of receiving any instruction in other schools.’

(Severn Street First Day School minute, 12th August 1845, SF (2016/043) 1524 part 1 of 2).

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Fitting in and Getting Along

Booklet produced as part of the Fitting in and Getting Along project [MS 4831 ]

‘Fitting in and Getting Along’ (MS 4831) is one of the many community archives held at the Library of Birmingham. The archive documents the outcomes of a Heritage Lottery funded project focusing on the personal histories of second generation British Poles growing up in Birmingham in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. These British Poles were brought up in traditional Polish families and involved in Polish cultural organisations in the city, but many did not visit Poland until their early 20s.

The project used oral history interviews with twenty-six volunteers to explore themes such as how British Poles were shaped by their exposure to both Polish and British culture and the extent to which Polish national identity survived in them. A project exhibition was held in 2015 in the Community Gallery at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

Flyer for the exhibition held at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, November 2015. [MS 4831]

The archive features an information booklet, exhibition flyer and recordings of oral history interviews.  The booklet gives information on the project background and themes. It also includes a profile of each of the interviewees summarising the content of their conversations.

The booklet would be an excellent place to start for anyone interested in the archive. I particularly enjoyed the rich visual content of the booklet which includes copies of participants’ personal photographs. The photographs commemorate significant life events such as participation in performances of traditional dance and meetings with Pope John Paul II as well as family portraits.

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