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What are we up to during Birmingham Heritage Week?!

We’ve got a variety of things for you to do with us here in Archives & Collections during Heritage Week (which starts on Thursday), and we’d love you to join in!


Behind the Scenes: Conservation in the Archives

Friday 8th September, 2pm (booking essential)

Venue: Wolfson Centre for Archival Research, Level 4, Library of Birmingham, Centenary Square B1 2ND

Ever wanted to know what the Conservator gets up to in the Archives? Ever wondered what is in the gold part of the Library of Birmingham building? You can find out by coming along to this talk about how we look after Birmingham’s most treasured documents, with a behind the scenes tour of the stores and Conservation Studio!

Spaces are limited to 12 people – so book early to avoid disappointment!


Introduction to Archives & Cataloguing Skills Workshop

Saturday 9th September, 11-1:00 (booking essential)

Venue: Wolfson Centre for Archival Research, Level 4, Library of Birmingham, Centenary Square B1 2ND

This workshop will provide an introduction to Birmingham’s Archives, with a particular focus on how you can add to the collections through e.g. your heritage project. It covers the following: What does the Archives & Collections Service do? What are Archives? (with a chance to view and handle original archive material from the 12th to the 20th centuries!); Getting your collection into the Archives; and a practical introduction to cataloguing your Archive.


The Reality of Partition: Hand-over of Project Archive to Archives & Collections

Monday 12th September, 12-2pm (drop-in)

Venue: Wolfson Centre for Archival Research, Level 4, Library of Birmingham, Centenary Square B1 2ND

This project has focused on the heritage of the immigrant population that came to Great Britain in the first months and years after Partition, an event which marks its 70th anniversary in 2017.

What impact did Partition have on the Indian and Pakistani population already in Britain, and on those who decided to take up residency when independence was declared?  What do today’s British Asian population know about the history of the decision, how it took place, and the effect it had on their own families. Similarly, what does the wider British population know about this?  These are all questions the project has sought to address, especially since most of these stories are shared only amongst an intimate family group or other small number of people within a particular community.

The project archive will be deposited (handed-over) to Birmingham Archives & Collections between 12 and 2pm on the 12th of September – why not come along and observe, talk to the project managers, and watch the film –  ‘The Reality of Partition – Real stories told by Birmingham & Black Country residents’.


Heritage Research Area Familiarisation Session

Saturday 16th September, 11am-1pm (booking essential)

Venue: Heritage Research Area, Level 4, Library of Birmingham, Centenary Square B1 2ND

Would you like to learn how the Heritage Research Area on level 4 could benefit your genealogical research?

Meet experienced staff at this free event which will act as a general beginners’ guide to resources such as maps, electoral and parish registers as well as digital resources on Ancestry Institution and software for reading local newspapers. Spaces are limited to 12 people per session. Please email or speak with a member of staff on level 4 to make a reservation. Please note this session is not aimed at answering specific genealogical enquiries.


Let’s Play Traditional Bangladeshi Games!!

Saturday 16th September, 11am-1pm (drop-in)

Venue: Heritage Learning Space, Level 4, Library of Birmingham, Centenary Square B1 2ND


Traditional games are part of the intangible heritage and a symbol of the cultural diversity of our societies. Played for hundreds of years by children and adults in rural and urban Bangladesh, traditional games brought here by first generation immigrants are on the verge of disappearance. These toys and games are representative of Bengali culture and psyche. They signify our people’s creativity and imagination as well as the fun-loving spirit of family bonding. Having recently deposited our documentary oral history recordings from our Stories & Games project with Archives & Collections at the Library of Birmingham, we now invite you to come along to the Archives on the 16th of September to learn about and play these games!


Booking: A couple of activities are drop-in, and for others booking is essential via  – see above for details!


Directions and maps:


There is so much going in Birmingham Heritage Week this year! Find out more here:



Francis William Aston

Francis William Aston
Born 1st September 1877 in Harborne, Birmingham,
Died 20th November 1945 at Trinity College, Cambridge.


During its long history Birmingham has played host to many famous scientists such as Matthew Boulton and James Watt (Steam engines) and John Roebuck (Lead chamber process for making sulphuric acid) among others, but Francis William Aston is one of the lesser known members of the scientific community in Birmingham.

Mason College, later University of Birmingham

Although Francis William Aston is best known for his work in the area of Physics, he initially began his university career studying Chemistry and Physics at Birmingham University where he studied the optical properties of organic acids; he wrote a paper on this subject which was published in 1901.

After a short break from the academic world during which he worked as a chemist for a brewer, he returned to academia, being awarded a scholarship to study at Birmingham University where he began building vacuum pumps to investigate the properties of gases in evacuated tubes.

In 1908 he moved to Cambridge under the tutelage of J.J Thompson at the Cavendish Laboratory.

Whilst he was working at the Cavendish Laboratory he obtained definite evidence of the existence of two Isotopes(1) of the noble(2) gas Neon.

(1) The six noble gases are found in group 18 of the periodic table. These elements were considered to be inert gases until the 1960s when it was found that Xenon formed a Fluoride; since then chemical compounds have been formed with most of the noble gases with the possible exception of Helium.

(2) An Isotope is any of two or more forms of a chemical element, having the same number of protons in the nucleus, or the same atomic number, but having different numbers of neutrons in the nucleus or different atomic weights. There are 275 isotopes of the 81 stable elements in addition to over 800 radioactive isotopes and every element has known isotopic forms. Isotopes of a single element possess almost identical properties.

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Remembering the Victims of Birmingham’s Pub Bombings

21st November 1974 is a date seared into the collective memory of Birmingham.  A double bombing killed twenty one, maimed or injured hundreds more, ruptured community relations and revealed judicial failings whose consequences are still felt.  The victims, their families, friends and relatives never forget that date and this fortieth anniversary will be a poignant time for many across the City.

Who are those victims?  Today, it is clear that all those affected by the bombings are victims.  They are the bereaved and those coping with injury or loss; the traumatised police, fire and medical crews and ordinary members of the public who brought aid and comfort to the dying and wounded that night; those members of the City’s Irish community ostracised and demonised because of their origin, politics or religion; the self-respect of Birmingham’s community relations.

In 1974, some people saw the situation in much simpler terms and unjustified recriminations against a whole community continued for many years, but slowly a general improvement in relations has occurred. Today a more realistic understanding exists about the events of forty years ago.

This passage of time has however had a consequence. A whole generation of Birmingham people now have no personal experience of, or knowledge about, the circumstances of 1974.  The pain and raw emotion that remains a reality for some does not directly affect others in the City. They may empathise with but cannot fully appreciate the human stories of this critical moment in Birmingham’s history.  This imbues the official Memorial to the Twenty One Victims with great significance.  Located in Saint Philip’s Churchyard, it provides a focal point to honour the deceased.  It also bears witness to the circumstances by which they lost their lives.  In common with all such memorials, it provides both a reminder of past tragedy and a prompt for those who want to understand more about what is being commemorated.

For those wishing to find out more about the historical context and circumstances of the Birmingham Pub Bombings, resources are available in the Library of Birmingham.  A range of newspapers and published works are complemented by personal testimonies from some of those who lived through the bombings and their aftermath.  The library also continues to seek records about what are [in archival terms] comparatively recent events and for which a comprehensive record does not yet exist.

The Pub Bombings formed part of a wider campaign in Birmingham, across Britain and Ireland which spanned decades.  People in many places remember victims and have significant anniversaries.  In all these locations, libraries and archives have a role in remembrance and in providing people with the opportunity to learn and understand.  The Library of Birmingham takes its responsibility seriously. All victims of the Pub Bombings are remembered.



BCC Birmingham Watch Committee (for references to pre 1974 bombings)

Birmingham Post, Birmingham Evening Mail, Sunday Mercury; Microfilm & cuttings albums

MS 1611 ‘Banner Theatre’ Research Notes

MS 4237 ‘Records relating to Birmingham Irish Association and Predecessor Bodies’


Further Reading

  1. Gibson ‘The Birmingham Bombs’ (1976) ISBN 0859920704
  2. Moran ‘Irish Birmingham. A History’ (2010) ISBN 9781846314742
  3. Mullin ‘Error of Judgement – The Truth about the Birmingham Bombings’ (1986)

ISBN 0905169921

  1. Reilly ‘An Account of 150 Years of Policing Birmingham’ (1989) ISBN 0951515209








Stories from the Mill

I used to think I had the best job in the world, education & outreach officer at Birmingham Archives & Heritage; a sublime mix of delving into the past through archival documents and photos and working with young people and community groups to document their lives and our changing city.


Then in January I answered the call for volunteer millers at Sarehole Mill.  Suddenly every waking thought was about millstones and wheel revolutions, about chutes, tuns, hoppers and damsels and I found myself in a new world of the old.  Now of course it all makes sense; a seamless path from researching and recording stories about Birmingham’s history to real life hands on experience.

I am part of a team of volunteers learning how to operate the mill following it’s major  £450,000 restoration and refurbishment project.  Sarehole Mill is one of only two surviving working watermills in Birmingham ( the other is New Hall Mill) and there have probably been millers doing what we have started to learn to do since the Tudor period, although our existing building has only (!) been here since about 1750. 


Standing alongside the wheel pit, feeling the fineness of the flour as it descends the chute from the stones above, recording the highs and lows of the milling day, at the same desk that the miller recorded his own log, puts you in touch with millers of the past (though we can only look on in admiration at their production  in comparison to our paltry offerings).


I like to think that millers from the past had the same rush of excitement I feel, each time the inner sluice gate opened and the water flooded onto the wheel with a loud roar, to power the stones and the grain hoist and remind everyone that there is proper business at work in the mill.

But it is the stories in the mill that are my greatest joy: Standing by the flour chute or next to the hopper, watching the grain feed into the stones, you are an open invitation for people to chat to you about what they see and feel and remember.  This has been a powerful and fascinating experience.  Many people have recollections of the mill from long ago; stories of playing there, wading up the stream to it, and of the derelict building.  I have spoken to a woman visibly moved by the renovation and the actual working of the mill and heard stories of a man’s grandfather’s mill in India producing chapati flour.

Sarehole Mill is an immersive archive experience.  The archives have been essential in the mill restoration, in developing a team of millers who appreciate the history of this particular mill, and in inspiring and enthusing a new audience.

The Birmingham Cat Show

Birminghm Cat Show

Catalogue for the 1875 Birmingham Cat Show (MS 4209-3-5)

And now, something to delight the heart of any cat-lover, or indeed cat-liker; catalogues for the Grand National Cat Show. There are two in Birmingham Archives & Heritage; for the first in Birmingham in 1873, and for the third, in 1875. (If you are a dog-lover please look at the end of this blog).

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Young People’s Archive

Artwork collected from Four Dwellings High School for the project

Artwork from Four Dwellings High School for the Children's Lives project.

Our Outreach and Eduction team have recently been working with children and young people on the Young People’s Archive, a segment of the larger Children’s Lives project, with the University of Birmingham and Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery. The project explores the history of children’s lives from the eighteenth century to the present day and, in particular, reflects upon the presence and intervention of adults in the lives of children and young people.

The Young People’s Archive project has aimed to record and document the stories and lives of young people today, and to introduce young people’s voices into the archives and into the Children’s Lives exhibition at the Gas Hall. The project engaged with two schools, in different areas of the city; Four Dwellings, Quinton, and Waverley School, Small Heath.

Specific task-driven working groups were established, designed to give the participating pupils insights into different skills and professions:

  • Recorders Group – to record oral histories, undertake interviews and produce social documentary photography
  • Curators Group to curate, plan and organise the exhibition
  • Archives Group – to catalogue material for the project archive
  • Communications Group – to support in the writing of a blog; inform the wider body of pupils at their respective schools about the project, and how they might get involved or contribute; write speeches for assemblies and for the exhibition’s launch event

Aside from the clear importance of the activities with participating pupils, what was clear was the huge learning curve for professionals and services when undertaking a project like this. Projects like this offer opportunities for significant step-change in professional learning and development, enabling future projects and activities to borrow massively from the expertise developed. The best ideas, creativity and work come about through engagement, whether with people or with the issues themselves. Relevance, inspiration and innovation all come through direct contact.

Big thanks to the wider service for their continued support!

Izzy Mohammed
Outreach Officer

Learning in the Archives

Archives Outreach and Education Work
Birmingham Archives & Heritage’s recent outreach and education activities.

For quite some time Birmingham Archives & Heritage has been leading the way in outreach and education work within the heritage sector. We have been working towards greater inclusion and representation for a number of years. Some might remember Black Pasts, Birmingham Futures (1999-2007), still talked about today. ‘Black Pasts’, as it was affectionately known, in partnership with Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery and the University of Birmingham, was at the cutting edge of heritage and broader cultural engagement.

The work we currently do, in outreach and education, is part of that tradition and a continuity that goes back even earlier, with the service’s mobile history van! However, it’s difficult to assess the value of the work we are engaged in, as there are few opportunities to reflect and share thoughts, ideas and practices with colleagues both within the service and across the sector. We understand that this is crucial for enabling us to develop and shape what we do to meet demand, to be relevant, and even to lead the way… Continue reading