Category Archives: Recommended

In Concert

In Concert is the new blog from the Music Library at the Library of Birmingham. It allows you to get a flavour of the music collections here – quirky, practical, historical, and contemporary. Often, there is a local connection as well, beyond the fact that it is part of the collections here.

A recent post, Souvenirs? looks at two different scores (from Norway and Canada) and wonders how they came to be part of our collections. The one before, Songs from across the centuries 2 looks at how two individuals from Acocks Green published a song during WW1 to raise money for the war effort.

We can highly recommend it! 

Pavel Brázda Is Here

The Library of Birmingham is welcoming the first UK exhibition by leading contemporary Czech artist Pavel Brázda. 

The exhibition is organised by the Embassy of the Czech Republic, Birmingham City Council and the Ikon Gallery and will be open to the public from Friday, 2 June, and will run until 1 July 2017.

The exhibition presents a selection of works from the artist’s colourful Human Comedy cycle, in celebration of a career which spans more than seven decades.

The Human Comedy cycle is a parable in images – a testament to the world we live in, to human joys and predicaments – and in the series, good and evil get equal treatment. The primary theme is the age-old discord between masculinity and femininity. Although autobiographical, the parables are universal. The artist deals with intimate themes from his own life, yet with a detached perspective.

Pavel said: “This series is structured into individual chapters, each with a beginning and end. It all begins with birth and youth. Then it spans across a range of erotic themes to more dramatic and existential topics – such as old age or death.”

In the 1940s, the artist invented his own art movement called “Hominism”, which he defined as ‘art about people and for people’.

Further details can be found on the Library of Birmingham website.

This got us thinking here at The Iron Room about how many references we had in our collections to Czechoslovakia and there are a few!

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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

A Project we like

I love finding out about interesting projects that reinterpret and bring archives to light in imaginative ways. One local project that I am enjoying following is the work of Sarah Moss the artist in residence at Winterbourne House and Gardens.


Sarah is currently working on a series of linocuts depicting moments from the life of the Nettlefold family who built Winterbourne and lived there in the early twentieth century. John Sutton Nettlefold was a member of the prominent local manufacturers Nettlefold and Co. (later Guest, Keen and Nettlefold) as well as being the managing director of the ammunition manufacturer Kynoch Ltd for many years. He was also a local councillor concerned with social reform and urban planning; in his role as first chairman of the local housing committee he extended the slum clearance programme and established the Moor Pool Estate in Harborne. John and his wife Margaret (nee Chamberlain) were part of the interconnected group of Unitarian families in Birmingham at the time. The family archive which is housed at Winterbourne is a rich resource for understanding domestic and personal experiences of life in a middle class Edwardian family.


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The Markets of Birmingham

This week Birmingham welcomes back the Frankfurt Christmas Market, and this year marks 50 years of partnership between our two cities!

In celebration of this significant anniversary a number of events have been planned jointly with the City of Frankfurt and Frankfurt based organisations, and a calendar of events marking this special year can be found here.

The Christmas market, the biggest of its kind outside Germany and Austria, came to Birmingham for the first time in 1997 when it consisted of 11 stalls in Victoria Square. It returned in 2001, since which time it has become an annual fixture in the Birmingham calendar. The stallholders all come from Frankfurt and surrounding areas and their offer here in Birmingham mirrors that in Frankfurt – in fact some of the stalls look almost identical! If you want to find out more about the history of the Frankfurt Market you can find out more here.

The history of markets in Birmingham, however, goes back a little further… and what follows is a hop, skip, and a jump through time, courtesy of the chapter ‘Markets and Fairs’ [in Stephens, W. B. (ed.), VCH Warwickshire, Vol. VII, the City of Birmingham (London, 1964)], and showcasing some of the photographs we have here in Birmingham Archives & Collections.

In 1166 Peter de Bermingham, then lord of the manor of Birmingham, was granted a Royal Charter to hold a weekly market every Thursday. In 1251 the township was allowed to hold a fair lasting four days beginning every Holy (Maundy) Thursday. The market quickly flourished, and artisans and tradesmen began to gradually settle in the area. Economic activity was probably stimulated by the fact the settlement still bore the status of a manor, as opposed to that of a medieval borough, which allowed trades to be practiced free from the restrictions of the medieval craft guild system that existed in most boroughs.

 “The lack of any large market place meant that as trade grew the markets spread into many of the streets in the centre of the town. By 1553 the Cornmarket, the Welsh Market and the English Market were all apparently separate places.  Westley’s map of 1731 shows the corn market in the Bull Ring, with the shambles above it and the beast market in the High Street… The cheese market was moved to the Welsh Cross in 1768. A Monday cattle market, which was later discontinued, was opened in Deritend in 1776. The main cattle market continued to be on a Thursday, which remained one of the chief market days throughout the 19th century, although various goods were increasingly sold on other days. In 1791 a hay and straw market was established on Tuesday in Ann Street. The fish market in Dale End was apparently started at about the same time.” (VCH p. 251).

Entrance gates and railings at the fish market, Birmingham. 1912 [WK/B11/520]

Entrance gates and railings at the fish market, Birmingham. 1912

“In the early 19th century the street commissioner cleared the Bull Ring and moved the general market there from the High Street in 1806. In 1817 they opened the Smithfield market on the site of the manor house moat. This absorbed the former markets for hay and straw as well as for cattle, horses, sheep, and pigs.” (VCH p. 251).


Exterior view of Smithfield Market, n.d. [c1887] [WK/B11/367]

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It’s nearly time to Explore Your Archives

Orange ExploredExplore Your Archive week 2016 is nearly upon us! A joint campaign run by the National Archives and the Archives and Records Association, Explore Your Archive runs from 19 – 27 November and aims to promote and encourage the use of local archive services across the UK. For events across the country, why not visit to learn what’s going on near you.


Part of an engine from Boulton and Watt – see the full item on display at our exhibition.

Here at Archives and Collections at the Library of Birmingham, we are having another pop-up exhibition following the great success of last year! This year we are Making an Exhibition out of our Researchers and we have had a great response with items already nominated including a letter from Winston Churchill and a drawing of a Boulton and Watt Engine! There is still time (just about!) to nominate an item and you can download the nomination form here.

So why not come along to our exhibition on Saturday, 19th November in the Wolfson Centre on Level 4. The exhibition will be open 1pm – 4pm and you can find details online on the Library of Birmingham events page.

We will look forward to seeing you!

The Chris Upton Memorial Lecture, 7th November 2016

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 MacGregor, friend and colleague.

At 5:30pm on the 7th November 2016, Birmingham Archives & Collections will be hosting the first Chris Upton Memorial Lecture in Room 101, Level 1, Library of Birmingham.



It has been a year since the passing of Dr Chris Upton of Newman University, friend, colleague and advocate of archives and heritage organisations across the region.

While numerous obituaries and accolades have been published about Chris, here at the Library of Birmingham together with Newman University, Birmingham University, Birmingham Conservation Trust, the Black Country Living Museum and many other organisations, there has been a strong desire to commemorate this clever and generous man. Generous, in the sense of sharing the breadth and depth of his knowledge freely and openly, he had a disarming ability to talk to anyone, conveying complex ideas and theories with simplicity and insightful clarity. He was also a model customer of the Archives & Collections reading room, the Wolfson Centre for Archival Research at the Library of Birmingham… but then he had worked in Archives and Local Studies many moons ago! He also frequented all the record offices and archive services in the Midlands to research an enormous range of subjects and areas of interest.

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