Catalogue of the Midland Adult School Union archive now available

Following the completion of the Midland Adult School Union cataloguing project, generously funded by the Midland Adult School Union, the catalogue is now available to view on our online catalogue under the reference number MS 703.

The Midland Adult School Union was established by a Quaker book seller and publisher, Alderman William White (1820 – 1900) of Birmingham and John Blackham (1834 – 1930), a draper, book seller and publisher, of Hill Top, West Bromwich in 1884 to co-ordinate, support and develop the work which had been going on across the region since the 1860s to provide adult school classes in reading and writing, at a time when many working class adults were illiterate.

Covering the period 1864 to 2010, the collection contains records not only of the Midlands Adult School Union, and its sub-divisions, the Mid-Worcestershire Sub-Union, Smethwick Sub-Union, and Dudley Sub-Union, but also of a number of Men’s and Women’s Adult Schools in the area. These include Severn Street, Moseley Road, the Beehive, Bushmore, Burlington Hall, Nelson Street, Clark Street, Hay Green, Gooch Street, Farm Street, Bristol Street, Woodlands Park, Aston, Allen’s Cross, Bearwood, Bournville, Bilston, Northfield, Selly Oak, Kingswinford, Windsor Street and Walsall. It also contains records of Midlands Adult School Union’s holiday bungalow at Finstall, its guest house at Bewdley and St Oswald’s Camp at Rubery which were used by members of the Adult Schools. Records relating to Midland Adult School Union activities such as the Spring Conferences, Music Festival, and Sandwich Club are also included.

The records consist of school and committee minute books, annual reports, correspondence, attendance registers, financial records, photographs, visitor books, plans, deeds and trust records, adult school song books, lesson handbooks, and ‘One and All’, the adult school magazine.

The collection will be of interest to anyone researching the development of the adult education movement which was initially established to teach reading and writing to the working classes, but then evolved to encompass wider current affairs and subjects of general interest. It will also be relevant to those interested in researching subjects relating to temperance, religious worship or the development of opportunities for recreational and leisure activities for the working classes. For those who are interested in the topic of philanthropy and volunteering, many of the teachers and supporters of the adult school movement came from some of Birmingham’s well-known families, while in some cases, individuals who first started as students, went on to hold leading roles in their school or within the Union. Family historians may also find it of interest if their ancestors were involved in the adult school movement, either as teachers or as students. 

Eleanor, Archivist

Travelling into the Chinese New Year

Helen Caddick’s passport [MS 908/A/9]

Helen Caddick was born in 1845. She had a long-term interest in education, travel and anthropology. Throughout her travels, she kept detailed diaries of the places she visited and people she met on the way. Beginning in 1889, her diaries record her travels to Palestine, Egypt, Canada, Japan, South Africa, USA and New Zealand, to name a few, and continue until 1914. In 1909, and in her early 60s, Helen was in China for Chinese New Year, travelling on the ‘Matilde’ and arriving in Hong Kong on 10th January before continuing to Canton.


JAN. 22. Chinese New Year – Crackers were going all night long. They were to finish at 9 a.m. so I went out at 8.30. Saw one of the long Crackers go off from top story, & banged away the whole way up. At another house a regular fusillade of crackers kept up for 5 minutes – No one could pass. The streets a thick mass of red and green paper. – Went through China Town, every stall cleared away and only quantities of rubbish left in the streets. All shops closed – All the Chinese in lovely new silk suits looking very nice. The children were as bright as possible – Green coats, scarlet & blue & caps with gold and scarlet & all colours. Several Tikka Gharries, imported for the occasion I should think, & open carriages, jinrickshas & chairs, all filled with well dressed Chinese going out calling – Saw some more long crackers, reached from top of a 4 storied house to the ground – A thick rope of red Crackers with large coloured ones sticking out every few inches, the end lighted and when once started it kept on burning. They lowered it from the top as it burned, lasted quite 5 minutes, and ended with a sort of Catherine Wheel, then they threw down bunches of lighted Crackers that exploded as they fell & then started another long cracker! Continue reading “Travelling into the Chinese New Year”

New Year, new additions

Part of the Birmingham Collection in the Heritage Research Area, Archives & Collections

In the last 12 months, we have continued to add a range of recently published titles to the Birmingham Collection, the Black History Collection and Serials. All these titles are available to view in the Heritage Research Area. We hope you enjoy the selection!


1. Andrews, Maggie & Edwards, Emma.

Bovril, Whisky and Gravediggers : The Spanish Flu Pandemic comes to the West Midlands, 1918 – 1920.


BCOL 46.01, Level 4 & L 46.01, Level 5.


2. Ballard, Phillada.

Highbury Park Historic Landscape Appraisal.


LF 27.3 HIG, Level 5.


3. Bayer, Olaf; Herring, Peter; Lane, Rebecca and Roethe, Johanna.

Digbeth and Deritend, Birmingham, West Midlands : Outline Historic Area Assessment.


LF 91.5 DIG, Level 5.


4. Bengalis in Birmingham.

Celebration of Durga Puja in Birmingham.


LP 21.85, Level 5.


5. Bloomfield, Jon.

Our City : Migrants and the Making of Modern Birmingham.


BCOL 21.85, Level 4 & L 21.85 BLO, Level 5.


6. Boot, Richard.

Ten Heroes, One City At War : Ten servicemen from Birmingham awarded the Victoria Cross in the First World War.


LP 75.7 BOO, Level 5.


7. Brown, David Lewis.

The Elan Valley Clearance.


L 45.31, Level 5.


Continue reading “New Year, new additions”

The Birmingham Temperance Society

The Drunkards Tree, detail. From ‘A Selection of tracts and handbills published in aid of the Temperance Reformation’, 1839 [Ref. L41.9/26067].
As the festivities of Christmas and celebrations of the New Year have drawn to a close, many people give up drinking alcohol for the month, in what has recently become known as ‘Dry January’. The annual campaign promotes the many health benefits of abstaining, in turn highlighting the negative impacts. There have been many organisations in history which have promoted moderation and abstinence in the use of alcohol, most notably The Temperance movement which arose at the beginning of the 19th century. Did you know that one of the first British temperance societies was formed in Birmingham?

The Birmingham Temperance Society was founded in 1830, acting as a movement against the widespread, destructive drinking of the time. Death rates greatly outnumbered birth rates, with ill heath, crime and poverty prevalent. During the 1820’s, alcohol usage was widespread among all social classes, if not more so among the social groups who could least afford it. Water, when it was accessible, was unsafe and so alcoholic beverages became a primary thirst quencher, even administered by hospitals to patients.

Initially, they did not promote total abstinence, rather objecting to the abuse of hard, potent spirits that were rife at the time, deeming the social use of beer and ciders acceptable, and seen as ‘temperance drinks’. Later on, a vow of total abstinence of any alcoholic drink was adopted by the movement.

William Collins, founding publisher of Collins, Sons & Co. Ltd. and temperance activist, arrived in Birmingham on business, and was disturbed by the heavy drinking of strong spirits prevalent within the ‘Gin Palaces’ of the time. He voiced his concerns during a meeting held on August 30th, 1830, in the Offices of the Mendicity Society which was attended by leading businessmen and Churchmen of the time. The suggestion of forming a Temperance Society was welcomed, and following the signing of a declaration, The Birmingham Temperance Society was formed.

The core beliefs and ideologies of the society are printed in ‘A Manual for Temperance Societies’ [Ref. LS 11/8/28/63233] along with the standard pledge, which all members would sign up to:

‘I do voluntary promise, that I will abstain from Ale, Porter, Wine, Cider, Ardent Spirits, and all other Intoxicating Liquors; and I will not give [out] to others, except as Medicines, or in Religious Ordinance; and I will endeavour to discountenance the causes and practice of Intemperance’ – [Seventh Chapter. The pledge]

The first public reference to the society, in a report of the 1st Annual Meeting, recorded in Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, September 5th 1831.

‘Temperance Reformation; A Selection of Tracts and Handbills’ [Ref. L 41.9] is an insightful collection of temperance literature, sourced from pamphlets, leaflets, and posters, promoting the ideologies and beliefs of the society. One of the items in this volume, ‘The Wonderful Advantages of Drunkenness stated in 30 Maxims Worth Remembering’, takes on a satirical tone, listing us through the many ill effects of alcohol:

‘If you wish to be always thirsty, be a Drunkard; for the oftener and more you drink of intoxicating liquors, the oftener and more thirsty you will be.

If you would wish to blunt your senses, be a Drunkard; and you will soon be more stupid than an ass.

If you are determined to be poor, be a Drunkard, and you will soon be ragged and pennyless.     

If you would wish to starve your family, be a Drunkard; for that will consume the means of their support.

If you would be a dead weight on the community, be a Drunkard; for that will render you useless, helpless, burdensome and expensive.’

‘The Wonderful Advantages of Drunkenness’ in ‘A Selection of tracts and handbills published in aid of the Temperance Reformation’, 1839. [Ref. L41.9/26067]
In a handbill entitled ‘The Public House’ we are warned of the destructive environments held within:

‘Keep away from the public house – you will derive no advantage from its company. There the drunkard holds his detestable revels – there the gambler entices to the waste of property – there the blasphemer utters his horrible imprecations – there those who are ripe for destruction tempt others to imitate their crimes, and lead the unwary to their ruin.’    

‘The Temperance Tree / The Drunkard’s Tree’ from ‘A Selection of tracts and handbills published in aid of the Temperance Reformation’,1839 [Ref; L41.9/26067].
An intricate engraving portrays ‘The Temperance Tree’, symbolising the blessings which spring from total abstinence:

‘Abstinence from all intoxicating drinks purifies the blood, preserves beauty, increases strength and assists reason, it intends to make man moral, is an angel to his soul a friend to his pocket, his wife’s joy & his children’s blessing, it elevates man in the scale of society, prepares for the reception of the truths of religion which will make him happy here, everlastingly happy hereafter, he is a friend to his race, who prays for others good health & seeks to preserve his own.’

On the opposite side is illustrated ‘The Drunkard’s Tree’, depicting the many evils which wreak from drunkenness:

‘Drunkenness corrupts the blood, defaces beauty, diminishes strength, weakens the brain & destroys reason, it hardens the hear, is a devil to the soul, a thief to the purse, the beggars companion, the wife’s woe & the children’s sorrow, it degrades man below the level of the brute and exposes him hereafter to divine displeasure, eternal damnation, he is a self-murderer who drinks to others good health and robs himself of his own.’

The society prospered with increased membership, moving premises from Bennetts Hill to the Temperance Hall in Temple Street. The ‘Women’s Temperance League’ branch was formed, as well as ‘The Birmingham Temperance Society Philharmonic Choir’, to promote the social activities of the society.

Tom Kennedy, Archives & Collections Assistant


Glad Tidings We Bring


Image of page 7 of Grandpapa’s Tales. Parker Collection of Children’s Books. Large pamphlet sequence 1875-1880, Ap Q087.1/1875

It has been another busy year for us at The Iron Room, and we wanted to end 2019 by wishing all our readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year with a few festive images from the Parker Collection of Children’s Games and Books (Ref 087.1).

Image taken from The Little-One’s Own Coloured Picture Paper (No. 67-78, 1888-1890). Parker Collection B087.1/1890

Mr and Mrs J F Parker were avid collectors of objects relating to social history and created their own Folk Museum at their home at Tickenhill Manor near Bewdley. They collected curios and relics of the past including tools of the old country crafts but they also developed an interest in books and games, being particularly interested in children’s books published from 1830 to 1900.

Image of page 9 of Mother Goose. Parker Collection of Children’s Books. Large pamphlet sequence 1890-1907, Ap Q087.1/1890

Continue reading “Glad Tidings We Bring”

Watt 2019: December

This is the last in our series of monthly blog posts marking the bicentenary of the death of James Watt. We’d like to thank our contributors for delving into the James Watt and Family Papers [MS 3219] over the last 12 months to share with you the richness of the archive. 

The Watts in Winter

Winter conjures up cold. Warm clothes and shoes are needed, to compete with snow and ice. There is also that lack of light, and the feeling that really we should all be hibernating, warm and asleep. It was no different in the late 18th/early 19th centuries. Here are a few responses from that time found in the Papers of James Watt and Family.

Joseph Black (Edinburgh) writes to James Watt (—–) on 28 January 1769 about arranging to meet at Kinneil to look at the Newcomen steam engine Watt was trying to improve there for John Roebuck:

 ….and I am persuaded the ride [to Kinneil] will do you good – that is if you can take care to keep yourself warm a horseback especially your feet which tho I believe it difficult may be effected by cloathing – I am getting a pair of boots of sufficient capacity to contain two legs and six stockings…..

[MS 3219/4/127/36]

It was considerably colder in Newfoundland, where Watt’s friend and relative by marriage was stationed as a military surveyor for the British Army. He, John Marr, and his wife Agnes, wrote to her sister, Betty Miller in Glasgow on 15 November, 1774:

 We have been busy as can be this afternoon in laying in Vegetables for our Winter’s Stok to prevent our paying a greater price for them two Months hence, for we see no probability of leaving this Barren Country before the Month of April………In order to Save cura spusa from breaking her Bones on the Ice, I propose to have her feet well  Armed with Caulkers within three Weeks Time on Condition that she promises not to throw them at my Head in any of her Pettish Humours, none of which she has shown hitherto.

[MS 3219/4/280/2]

The theme of warmth and practicality continues. Watt writes to his friend Joseph Black, the lecturer in Chemistry at the University in Edinburgh on 5 December 1790:

….your health, the present state of which makes me very uneasy….have you tried the comforts of the fleecy hosiery, it is much recommended here.

[MS 3219/4/127/36]

Watt also recommends that Black find someone else to read his lectures to the students the next winter; that he come to England in the summer and in harvest time head to the continent and possibly winter at Nice or in the Southern part of Italy, and that he return Northwards as soon as the heat becomes troublesome:  ‘by which means you will enjoy 3 Scotch summers running’, which he thinks will beneficial to Black’s health.

Continue reading “Watt 2019: December”

The Royal School for Deaf Children

Drawing of premises in Edgbaston: woodwork shop, domestic science room, office block, new school building, etc.
[MS 1060/68]
This week’s blog falls during the annual UK disability history month. One of the chief aims of UK Disability History Month is to challenge socially constructed barriers and discrimination faced by disabled people. In particular within the school system, fighting for inclusion of all children however ‘severely’ disabled in one, mainstream, education system. In light of this I thought it would be a good time to highlight the records of the Royal School for Deaf Children (our reference MS 1060). The school itself was the first provincial school of its kind and was established following a lecture given by Dr. Jean Gabriel Marie de Lys, a physician who practised at Birmingham General Hospital, to the Birmingham Philosophical Society. It opened its doors to 15 pupils in 1814 with a residential school opening on site of the Calthorpe Estate, Church Road, Edgbaston. After going through several name changes and expanding to include a nursery school in Martley, the school finally closed in 1984.

Continue reading “The Royal School for Deaf Children”