Tag Archives: Archives & Collections

Charles Rennie Mackintosh

This blog is to remember the 90th anniversary of the death of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who died 10 December 1928.

There’s a wonderful illustrated letter [1] in Archives & Collections in the Gaskin collection, MS 2945, from Joseph Southall about a visit he and Arthur Gaskin made to Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald in about 1905.

Dearies, [2] both of you

Tis so pleasant to get your letters in the morning & to hear that you feel better. Well I am having a busy time here but very interesting & of course it is flattering to hear that one is well thought of including you my dear — all this in fact we seem looked upon as one.

We went for a game this morning such pretty links I did not shine with borrowed clothes & club tho’ I put my man 5 down.

Well last night we went to call on the Mackintoshs. Now Mackintosh & his wife are the inventors of the Glasgow School. She that is Mrs Mac is a most charming young lady – I was quite gone. I assure you. I also think that you would like her. Let me see if I can draw you the room.

Letter illustrated with a drawing of two women either side of a fireplace [Ref MS 2945/1/2/79]

Mrs Mac (rather early 60s. beautiful hair)           Mrs Newby (aesthetic, intense)

The room is tones of white.

Two pipe racks in fender. Smoked and signed by more or less notable people. Your’s ‘umbly for instance.

Drawing of two men smoking pipes, in a room with stained glass and a chandelier [Ref MS 2945/1/2/79]

They are interested in your work & she is to my mind especially charming. He is rather stout and jovial but their art has such a queer mad look though they are both extremely able.

Ta ta lots of love to you both

[Joseph Southall]

This archive collection is a joy to look at, with many illustrations in Southall’s letters to Gaskin. Many of these illustrate Gaskin playing golf – obviously a hobby he enjoyed, and was teased about.

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The Southern Cross – The Journal of the 1st Southern General Hospital R.A.M.C.T. Birmingham

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham is now well-known as the home of the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine providing specialist care for wounded members of the armed forces. The treatment of war casualties in Birmingham has a long history dating back to the First World War when wounded servicemen from all over the world were treated here.

One of the largest war hospitals in the city, and the first to open, was the First Southern General Hospital which was housed in the buildings of the University of Birmingham in Edgbaston. Following the declaration of war on 4 August 1914, the Royal Army Medical Corps Territorial Unit received orders to mobilise and the following day beds and mattresses began to arrive at the University buildings. The first convoy of 120 sick and wounded men arrived on 1 September, and by the end of 1914 the First Southern General had 800 beds and had received 3,892 patients.

First cover of The Southern Cross, Issue No. 1. January 1916. [Ref. MS 2046 (1985/093)]

The Southern Cross was a monthly journal produced by patients of the hospital, with the first edition being published in 1916.  Through written articles, illustrations and anecdotal jokes, the journal proved to be a reflection of the day to day life in the hospital and to act as a ‘reference in years to come when it is wished to refresh memories – pleasant but possibly not untinged with sadness – of what the reader or his friends did for their country in the greatest war the world has ever seen’ (MS 2046 (1985/093)).

Caricature ‘Till the Boys Come Home’ from The Southern Cross, Issue No. 8 p. 173. [Ref. MS 2046 (1985/0930)]

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Coughs and Colds

As it draws towards the season of the perpetual runny nose, here are some remedies from our Early & Fine Printing and Archives collections.

The New Family Herbal, by William Meyrick, 1790, is set out alphabetically by plant, provides visual description, and details their medical usage and preparation. There is also an index at the back by complaint, and closing the volume are some beautiful illustrations of a number of the plants covered.

The index page beginning with ‘C’, lists catarrhs, colds, and coughs. Highlighting the desire for remedies are the number of plants listed as useful treatments.

Index, The New Family Herbal [EFP 07.2 PEA]

Some of the suggestions are familiar, such as lemon and acacia. Looking to one of the first listed alphabetically, on page 7, for a cold I found the delightfully named ‘alehoof’ (it was used to flavour beer).

Entry for ‘alehoof’ in The New Family Herbal [EFP 07.2 PEA]

The page over suggests:

A conserve made of the young tops in the spring, or the juice made into a syrup, is excellent for colds, coughs, and shortness of breath : and a strong infusion drank in the manner of tea, is serviceable in all complaints of the breast and lungs.

Alehoof seems a good all-rounder then!

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Creative responses to First World War archives: Men Beat the Walnut Trees

On Friday 14th September 2018, here in Archives & Collections at the Library of Birmingham, we held a Creative Writing workshop using First World War archives.

This was a free hands-on Creative Writing session hosted by Birmingham historical novelist and biographer, Fiona Joseph, and Corinna Rayner, the Archives & Collections Manager. Archive material at the Library of Birmingham had been specially selected by Fiona and Corinna to inspire the writers, and it provided a unique opportunity to explore some of the many archival treasures themed around Women at War (Home Front, Industry) and Conscience at War (Quakers, patriotism and pacifism). We had so much material out, including family letters, photographs, posters, postcards, news items and memorabilia from the period which participants could use as a springboard for their own creative responses. Writers at any level, including beginners, were welcomed. For this year’s Explore Your Archives week we thought we’d share some of the wonderful creative responses to the archives which were produced as a result of this session.

First up is Men Beat the Walnut Trees by Lindsay Martin, inspired by a photograph of women working in a munitions factory from MS 4616 War Collection (Local Studies) and a collection of letters in the Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends archive (SF) from Birmingham Quakers about their varied experiences during the First World War. You can listen to a recording of Lindsay’s piece here and the transcript is available here.

We’ll share another contribution with you on Wednesday!

Living with Buildings – Preparing for an exhibition

One of the joys of living and working in a city like Birmingham is being able to look at all the different architectural styles and buildings found side-by-side throughout the city. Examples range from the Neo-Classical Town Hall, to more contemporary buildings such as The Cube and the Library of Birmingham. Buildings play such a role in our daily lives that they can contribute to our physical and mental health in positive and negative ways. A great example of a location where buildings have contributed positively to the health of the community in Birmingham is Bournville.

Earlier on in the year, a request for a loan came through from the Wellcome Collection to borrow some of our Bournville Village Trust documents. As a conservator, this is one of the parts of my job that I enjoy the most as it is an opportunity for these documents to be seen by a wider audience. It also allows people to learn about the history of Bournville and see how revolutionary this model village was and still is.

Once the initial request had come through specifying which documents the Wellcome wanted to borrow, I assessed each item on whether it needed conservation treatment, what environmental conditions it needed to be displayed at, what the lighting level should be, whether it was to be in a display case or framed and making sure that the Wellcome’s exhibition space was secure and would meet our standards for Exhibition and Loan. Once this had been agreed with the Wellcome, I was then able to commence conservation treatment and prepare the documents for display.

Before and after conservation treatment and mounting [MS 1536/ Box 5/Correspondence of George Cadbury- Letter to Lloyd George, February 17th 1916, Page 2]

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The Legacy of War

The First World War signified a change in the conduct of war. War was now waged on an unprecedented scale against both military forces and civilian populations. The mass mobilisation of military firepower led to untold devastation on the battlefields, campaigns which left millions dead.

Emerging from this ‘total war’ were cases of shell shock, soldiers psychologically affected by the harsh reality of 20th century warfare. Still a relatively new diagnosis, the first use of the term shell shock was believed to have been recorded in the Lancet in 1915 when Charles Myers, Captain in the Royal Army medical Corps, published his article ‘A Contribution to the Study of Shell Shock. Being an Account of Three Cases of Loss of Memory, Vision, Smell and Taste, Admitted into the Duchess of Westminster’s War Hospital, Le Touquet.’

Order for the Reception of a Dangerous Lunatic Soldier. [HC AS]

There are only a handful of surviving records from the psychiatric hospitals in Birmingham dating from the First World War. In the records of All Saints Hospital are reception orders for those admitted to the hospital. These include ‘Service’ patients who were members of the armed forces who had experienced attacks of a psychological kind that had left them with symptoms including those of hallucinations, apathy, loss of memory or understanding, restlessness and the inability to answer simple questions.  In some cases, these men already had pre-existing conditions. In 1917 one soldier, whose cause of attack was unknown, was described as ‘… deluded imagining his food is poisoned. He told me that he was surrounded by enemies who wished to take his life.’ [MS 344/15/14]. We don’t know the full details of this soldier’s condition, however the effects of war seem to be obvious.

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Spring Gardens

Spring Gardens, opened by Samuel Fallows on the corner of Floodgate Street and Ann Street, appeared in Birmingham Trade directories1 from 1785 until 1801.

From Bisset 1800

(Left) John Snape’s Plan of the Parish of Birmingham taken in the Year 1779 [Ref MAP/45209] and (Right) Thomas Hanson’s Plan of Birmingham, 1785 [Ref MAP/72831]

Occupying the eastern corner of plot 723 on John Snape’s Plan of the Parish of Birmingham, 1777,2 the  gardens were still not shown on the Plan of Birmingham survey’d by Thomas Hanson, 1785.3 Although several later authors 4 & 5 mistakenly describe the house as backing onto the river it is apparent from both John Kempson’s Town of Birmingham, 1808 and from John Piggot-Smith’s more detailed survey of 1824-1825 7 that the property was on the opposite side of Floodgate Street.

(Left) John Kempson’s Town of Birmingham, January 1st 1808 [Ref MAP/384604] and (Right) John Piggot-Smith’s Map of Birmingham engraved from a minute trigonometrical survey made in the years 1824 & 1825, 1828 [Ref MS 3700/13/1/1/1]. 

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