A recent accession to the archives which has piqued interest amongst colleagues and public alike is the Trans – Atlantic Cable Chart (MS 2680 Acc. 2017/079) from the records of Webster & Horsfall Ltd., now Webster, Horsfall, Latch and Batchelor, the oldest continuously running Birmingham company, manufacturers of spring steel wire who won the contract to supply the telegraph cable in the 1860s.
Background to the laying of the cable
Prior to the 1860s, communication between the UK and the USA was largely made by letter. The popularity of telegrams in the nineteenth century led to developments in laying underwater cables. In the 1850s, the Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Company was formed by an American businessman, Cyrus Field and a Manchester cotton manufacturer, John Pender in an attempt to lay a cable across the Atlantic. In 1866 after several failed bids, a successful attempt was made with Horsfall & Webster supplying the cable.
Trans – Atlantic Cable Chart, ref MS 2689 (Acc 2017/079)
The Trans – Atlantic Cable Chart
The chart was published by the Hydrographic Office of the British Admiralty of Deep Sounding and shows the bed of the Atlantic overlaid with daily written accounts of messages sent from the Great Eastern, the vessel responsible for laying the cable, back to Greenwich providing news of progress on completing this perilous task. The chart is believed to be the only one in the UK, the only other copy is held in the papers of Cyrus Field at the Smithsonian Institute in America.
The chart is representative of the technological work taking place in the nineteenth century and the part played by Birmingham and other British cities in engaging with pioneering techniques. The chart also contains a far more human quality in the record of daily messages from the vessel back to Greenwich. One can only imagine how arduous a task it was for those working on the laying of the cable, on work which today has burgeoned into a world of global inter-connectivity.
2017 was another year of moving forward for Archives & Collections.
Bell and Nicholson Trade Catalogue, 1933
We have seen the completion of the Birmingham and Warwickshire Quakers cataloguing project, making this wonderful collection fully accessible.
We also launched our Heritage Research Area familiarisation sessions, where members of the public were invited to join us for a tour of the resources available for researching family history.
As part of Birmingham Heritage Week and Explore Your Archive Week, our Conservator guided visitors through our stores and talked about the different issues that affect the care of our documents.
The most significant achievement for us as a team, however, was becoming an Accredited Archive Service, which demonstrates our commitment to providing the best possible service we can for our users and stakeholders, and our dedication in the care we take in looking after our collections.
The trade catalogue for Bell and Nicholson from 1933 seemed relevant for us today – 2018 will bring a new year and, no doubt, new demands, but Archives & Collections will be looking forward to the challenges that await!
We wish you all a very prosperous Happy New Year!
Bull Street Meeting House exterior (finding no. SF/1516)
Following completion of the Birmingham and Warwickshire Quakers cataloguing project, funded by a cataloguing grant from the National Archives and a bequest from a member of Bull Street Quaker Meeting, the catalogue of Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends is now available to view on our online catalogue and in hardcopy in the Wolfson Centre for Archival Research.
Covering the establishment of Quakerism in the area in the mid-17th century to the present day, the collection includes records of the county’s umbrella organisation, Warwickshire Monthly Meeting and its predecessors, and the records of the regional Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Leicestershire Quarterly Meeting which reported to the head of the Quaker Church, the Yearly Meeting in London. It also includes records of local Quaker Meetings in Birmingham such as Bull Street, Bournville, Cotteridge, Edgbaston, Selly Oak and Kings Heath, as well as those further afield such as Warwick, Coventry, Barnt Green and Redditch, Stourbridge, Solihull, Sutton Coldfield and Walsall. Records for meetings which no longer exist such as Gooch Street, Farm Street, Longbridge, Dudley, Stirchley, Shipston-on-Stour, Baddsley Ensor, Fulford Heath and Wigginshill are also in the archive.
Screenshot of the online catalogue for the Records of the Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (ref SF)
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.
Copy of a sketch of Bull St. Quaker Meeting House (3rd building from the left) in 1702, n.d. [Ref MS 1061/2/5/1]
It is thought that a small Quaker community established in Birmingham in the 1650s. Initially meetings for worship were held in private houses but in 1681 a house and garden were bought in New Hall Lane for use as a meeting house and burial ground. New Hall Lane became known as Bull Lane (and later Monmouth Street) and was located at the end of what is now Colmore Row. The meeting house was located roughly where the entrance to the Great Western Arcade is today. Unfortunately, no plan of the meeting house has survived in the Central Area Meeting Archives deposited here, but there is a plan of the graveyard, drawn by the banker Charles Lloyd (1748 – 1828), with a key containing a list of names of those buried there.
Plan of the Friends’ graveyard in Bull Lane drawn by Charles Lloyd, n.d. [Ref SF (2014-213) 1262]
Key to the plan of the Friends’ graveyard in Bull Lane, compiled by Charles Lloyd, n.d. [Ref SF (2014-213) 1262]
The meeting house on Monmouth St. needed frequent repairs, so in 1702, it was decided to build a new meeting house, paid for by members of the meeting. This was on Bull St., on the site of where the current meeting house entrance gates now stand. Land behind the meeting house was used as a burial ground. Continue reading