The Birmingham Civic Society celebrates its 100th birthday today, 10 June 2018!

‘A Picture Map of the Park of Sutton Coldfield in the County of Warwick’ by Bernard Sleigh in Work of the Birmingham Civic Society from June 1918 – June 1946, by William Haywood, pp. 45-6 [Ref L20.053]

For 100 years, the members of Birmingham Civic Society have worked as volunteers to make Birmingham a better place for everyone, engaging with communities and schools to promote pride in the city.

The Society was started in 1918 with the aim of improving the appearance of the city, acting as an advisory body to the city council on issues of town planning and heritage.

From the beginning, it raised funds to buy land to create or add to parks and gardens in the city, to provide open spaces for recreation for all. The first was Daffodil Park in Northfield. The Society also published beautifully illustrated guides to, for example, the Lickey Hills and Sutton Park.

In 1923 and again in 1934, it helped to save the Birmingham Repertory Theatre from closure, by campaigns to boost audiences, and then by setting up the Barry Jackson Trust to preserve the theatre for the citizens of Birmingham.

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International Archives Day

International Archives Day, 9th June 2018. Archives: Governance, Memory and Heritage.

9th June is International Archives Day which aims to promote the role of archives and archivists. In the spirit of the day I am going to shed light on some of the hidden aspects of an archivist’s job.

Managing information about collections

One of the most important things that we do is manage information about our collections. This means the catalogues and indexes that give us and our users a way in to what we hold. Without these, using the archives in any way would be almost impossible.

In the past this information was produced in hardcopy format such as ledgers or index cards (some of which we still use). Nowadays archivists use catalogue databases and publish finding aids online.

Archivists all over the world deal with issues around collections information such as the challenge of converting old hardcopy catalogues in to electronic catalogue records and creating information on archives where no catalogues exist. There are international standards for archive cataloguing that archivists must follow when creating new records. Continue reading

A learning curve – my first attempt at cataloguing!

Screenshot of part of the completed catalogue for EP 12 on our cataloguing database

Cataloguing and updating  the online catalogue is an important part of what the archives team here at the Library of Birmingham does. We do this work to ensure that the collections in our care are publicised and made accessible for researchers. Being new to the team, I was given one of the extensive Ecclesiastical Parish collections to work on, which already had a list, but wasn’t properly catalogued. So this blog is about what I have learned about cataloguing  a parish collection!

The Ecclesiastical Parish records (EPs) are the records from parish churches around the city and some from the surrounding areas. Birmingham as a city covers a much larger area than you might think, and the city limits have contracted and expanded over time. The records cover the running of the churches, meetings, charities, day schools, and records of baptisms, marriages and burials, as well as many other things. These records can be invaluable to researchers and family historians.

In many cases the records have come into the Archives at different times, and sometimes form different sources. Each ‘deposit’ is given an ‘accession’ number to differentiate it from other deposits, but pulled together to form one collection – and all of the ecclesiastical parish collection references begin ‘EP’.

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Board of Ordnance, Gun Barrel Proof House, The Tower, Bagot Street, Birmingham

Sandstone block which was part of a wall that once marked the extremity of the Tower site. Author’s image.

For most of the 18th century, muskets ordered from Birmingham contractors by the Ordnance Board were either proof tested to the Tower standard, within the grounds of the gun maker by an Ordnance Board inspector, or taken to London to be proved.1

In 1755, Board of Ordnance viewers were stationed at Birmingham to gauge and view barrels made by contractors for the Ordnance. Those that passed the test were then sent to London for proof. In 1777, with the increase in demand caused by the American War of Independence, the Ordnance in Birmingham established a warehouse to try to ease the selection process, but this caused the Ordnance viewers to become even more discriminating, which made the process even slower. Those barrels that passed selection faced a nine-day journey to London by road and canal and the contractor had to bear the cost of transportation as well as the expense of any rejected barrels.4

Soon after the outbreak of the Napoleonic wars this system was deemed unacceptable as more efficient and less time consuming processing methods were needed.

In 1796 the Board of Ordnance decided that the only way to overcome the situation was to build a proof house at Birmingham.4 The Government purchased land between the Birmingham-Fazeley canal, Walmer Lane (later Newtown Row) and Bagot Street, Birmingham. 2 A state-owned proofing establishment was erected on the site, with the main entrance in Bagot Street.4

While the Ordnance proof house was being built, an agreement was made with the gunmakers Galton, Ketland and Walker, Whately, Grice and Blair for their barrels to be proved at their own proof houses by the Ordnance viewers. 4

The Bagot Street Ordnance proof house opened in 1798 for the purpose of viewing and stamping all new government arms with a ‘Tower’ mark.5

The first Bagot Street proving house, ‘the explosions of which were very terrific to strangers’, 3 was replaced in 1808 by a larger one on the same plot but ‘at a greater distance from the view rooms’. A new View Room was built in 1811.4

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Plastics and their effects on archival documents

You may have noticed that plastic packaging has been hitting the headlines lately. Having watched the BBC’s Blue Planet II series recently, it would be hard for anyone to ignore the devastating effects that plastics are having on our marine life and the environment. However, did you know that plastics (amongst other common office stationery!) also cause long term damage to archival collections?

Common products such as Sellotape®, plastic wallets, plastic covers, comb bindings and ring binders as well as paperclips, bulldog clips, pins, staples, post-it notes, glassine paper and rubber bands have poor aging properties with plastic and rubber based products deteriorating rapidly causing damage to paper and other materials that come in contact with them.

Typical problems I see with documents we hold and accessions that come into the archives are:

Adhesive tape-Sellotape®

Adhesive tape- Sellotape® can quickly degrade, with the plastic part of the tape becoming discoloured and separating from the adhesive, leaving the sticky adhesive on the document. This in turn can cause damage to the document itself and other documents within the same enclosure. The picture above is adhesive tape which has deteriorated and caused yellow staining to the paper support. Continue reading

An Accident Waiting to Happen? The Whittall Street Explosion of 1859

Memorial Card to the victims of the Whittal Street Explosion, 1859 [Ephemera Collection LE/Cards/1]

Come and hear Liz Palmer share the account of the explosion at the Percussion Cap Manufactory, which tragically which took the lives of eighteen young women and one young man.

Birmingham has long been associated with the gun trade, with the gun quarter being focused on the area on the Weaman Estate around Whittall Street. Innovations in the industry in the early mid-19th Century saw the establishment of several percussion cap manufactories as percussion cap weapons replaced flintlocks. The manufactories employed mainly girls and young women whose nimble fingers were suited to the many processes involved in the production of these tiny items.  But the work was extremely dangerous involving several explosive substances including fulminating mercury. Explosions involving loss of life were not uncommon; one of the worst of these was in 1859 at the Pursall & Phillips  Manufactory on Whittall Street itself which resulted in the death of 20 young people – all but one of them female.

From the starting point of an intricate Victorian Memorial card to the victims, most of whom were interred at St Mary Whittall Street, Liz Palmer has used material in Archives, Heritage and Collections together with contemporary newspaper coverage to uncover the events surrounding the catastrophe, the lives of many of the individuals involved and to examine whether this really was ‘an accident waiting to happen’.

This free talk will take place on 19th May 2018, 2pm – 3pm in the Wolfson Centre for Archival Research, Floor 4, Library of Birmingham.

Spaces are limited to 20 people. To make a reservation, please contact FOBAH by emailing fobah@outlook.com.

 

 

 

 

Aston Hall is 400 years old!

Aston Hall, published by T. Simpson and Darling & Thompson in 1798 [Ref. MS 3219/9/5/2/35]

An inscription above the main doorway of the Hall records that it was started in 1618, occupied in 1631 and completed in 1635, Aston Hall was built by Sir Thomas Holte (1571-1654), whose family owned large estates in the parish of Aston and elsewhere, but particularly the three manors of Aston, Duddeston and Nechells.

Thomas Holte was wealthy and well connected. He studied at Oxford and the Inns of Court and paid James I for a Baronetcy in 1611. The family remained Royalists, which proved expensive of both life and property during the Civil War. In a volume of documents relating to Aston Hall and its owners, an anonymous description states that ‘The Ancient deeds and writings of the family being destroyed when Aston House was plundered in the time of the Rebellion in 1641…’ [MS 3152/2 (259648)]

This may explain why there seems to be no real record of building the house surviving in Archives and Collections. There are, however, many other documents, especially title deeds and rentals relating to the Holtes. There is fascinating schedule of household goods and furnishings dating from 1654, part of a counterpart lease for 80 years from Dame Anne Holte, widow of Sir Thomas Holte, to Sir Robert Holte of Aston (her step-grandson), of the Advowson of Aston Parish Church, Aston Hall and Park and all other property of Dame Anne in Aston and Handsworth.

Schedule of household goods and furniture at Aston Hall, 1654 [Ref MS 21/2/2/7, Holte 17]

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