Tag Archives: Archives & Collections

World Bee Day 2019

Guide to the 1980 City of Birmingham Bees and Honey Show [L25.46]

As 20th May marks this year’s World Bee Day, it seemed a perfectly good excuse to comb through the collections for some bee themed material.

We have a selection of guides, starting in the 1950s, running to 1982, for the yearly City of Birmingham Bees and Honey Show. The guides provide information on the regulations for exhibitors and also the classes of honey judged, from light to dark. Each year exhibitors could also enter combs of honey, mead, a hive for observation, and also enter the ‘honey cake’ class – the annual recipe for which is provided in the guides.

Warwickshire Bee-Keepers Association, annual report 1940 [L25.46]

Another bee related series of material we hold are the minutes of the Warwickshire Bee-Keepers Association, instituted 1879, our set starting from the 13th Annual Report, in 1909 to, 75th in 1956, plus newsletters from May 1946-1956. The annual reports while providing information about activities also record lists of the branch heads, members, branch rules, plus information on the association accounts. The newsletters provided members with further details on meetings and also apiary advice. Continue reading


What’s new in the Archives?!

We had a very varied year in terms of additions to the Archives & Collections holdings here at the Library of Birmingham during 2018, so we thought we’d showcase a few highlights for you!

As you probably know, Archives & Collections is the archives repository for the City of Birmingham and as such we are committed to making your unique and precious collections – written and digital, images, maps, film and other media – accessible and relevant to everyone, and we continue to collect documents, in all forms, that will tell the story of today for people in the future.

To make this possible, we ensure that significant records, whether in traditional or digital format are actively collected and described, are preserved for future generations, are accessible and set in a context that helps us understand them, and, all records received are held for the benefit of the public.

So… in 2018 we took in about 78 cubic metres of new records for permanent preservation here in the Archives!

The first material that came in 2018 were the records of the National Adult School Organisation (NASO), and the last material that came in during 2018 was additional material relating to one of our Photography collections – and included images documenting the development of the city centre during the late 20th cent (MS 2820 Additional).

Over the year we supported a number of community heritage projects, and took  in the material they generated including:

MS 4948 (2018/067): Records of amateur boxing history in Birmingham and the surrounding areas.

The project ‘ Fighting for our Heritage’ was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and aimed to draw together the history of the boxing club and amateur boxing in Birmingham. It ran for about 2 years in 2016 – 2018 during which time the project team researched the history and curated an exhibition at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery entitled ‘Fighting for our Heritage’.

Photograph of Billy Biddles c. 1940s

You can find out more about this project in this blog post which we posted earlier in the year.

MS 4949 (2018/068): The History of Asian Youth Culture Project

The project collected the oral histories and photographs. ‘Asian Youth have played a huge role in shaping the social, cultural and political life of Birmingham and wider Britain. ‘Asian Youth Culture explores the heritage and history of lives and contributions of young  Asian people in three distinct periods: 1950s-1960s, 1970s-1990s, 2000s-2018.

You can find out more about the project here:

Other collections we have added to this year include:

  • Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (SF)
  • Birmingham Civic Society (MS 4751)
  • Lench’s Trust (MS 904)
  • Yardley Wood School (S 221)
  • Birmingham Coroners’ Court (CO)
  • Birmingham Magistrate’s Court (PS B)
  • John Hardman & Co. (MS 175)
  • Dudley Road Hospital (HC DR)

… and many more!

Every year we produce a return of what we have taken in and send it to the National Archives (TNA), and they publish it along with those from other Archive services on an annual basis. Returns for 2018 will be made available here in due course for you to have  a look at (as well as the return of other Archives services across the country)!

Corinna Rayner, Archives & Collections Manager



Watt 2019: April

2019 marks the bicentenary of the death of James Watt, improver of the steam engine and partner of Matthew Boulton in the engine businesses at Soho, Handsworth. There will be many events commemorating this during the year, in Birmingham and Scotland, and information about these can be found on the James Watt 2019 website.

To help celebrate the richness of the archive of the James Watt and Family Papers [MS 3219], held in Archives and Collections, Library of Birmingham, there will be a monthly blog on a Watt related subject.

Reading with the Watt family

As I was gathering books to take to my reading group last week, I started to wonder what might exist in the Watt family papers to shed light on the reading habits of James Watt and family.

We can learn a little about the reading of the younger members of the Watt family, as the progress of their education was obviously of interest to their father. His sons wrote home often when they were away for instruction. As might be expected at that time, learning to read Latin and the classical authors was important.

James Watt jr. came to Birmingham in October 1775 when he was six and was sent to a school in Winson Green as a boarder. On 13 December 1779 he wrote to his father:

‘I hope my improvement in Latin will please you. I am reading Virgil and have gone through the Eclogues and the first Georgic…’ [MS 3219/4/8/5]

Watt jr. was soon sent abroad to learn French and German fluently to improve his skills for business. He stayed in Geneva for a year and in February 1785 he was reading a translation of Cox’s Travels into Russia; 2 volumes of a translation of Hawkesworth’s (?) account of several voyages around the world; books 4 and 5 of Simpson’s [Elements of] Geometry and Gravesande [Mathematical elements of natural philosophy]. [MS 3219/4/11/12]

‘The Annals of Philosophy or magazine of chemistry, mineralogy, mechanics, natural history, agriculture and the arts’ by Thomas Thomson, London
[Finding Number: MS 3219/4/329]

By mid March he had read the next two volumes of Simpson; the Elements of Physics by Mr Sigaud de Lafond; three volumes of Jan Struys’ Travels into Muscovy, Persia and the Indies and had started the Voyages of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier. [MS 3219/4/11/13]

Continue reading

One a Penny, Two a Penny…Easter at Purus Bakeries!

Purus Bakeries logo from a cake box, n.d. [MS 2645/4/6]

Collection reference MS 2645 is comprised of two boxes of material from the Purus Bakeries Ltd., which was a bakery located in Handsworth, founded in 1899, and which ran for over fifty years in the hands of the Innes family.

Photograph of an Easter window display, 1930s [MS 2645/4/4]

Items of particular interest in the collection are the two bakery journals, which note details on the periods of high production for the bakeries at Christmas and Easter.

In 1939, it seems they had an issue with sales, when ‘the catalogue’ (of egg designs, I presume) was taken out of the premises, and this prompted a series of odd orders. (I wouldn’t have wanted to be ‘No. 12’ that year.) They also investigated Easter novelties—a chicken pen? (I can’t make up my mind if they mean ink pens with chickens on them, chicken-pen shaped treats, or a pen of chickens at the shop—the line about Cadbury’s and Rowntree leaves me to wonder still.)

Bakery Journal no. 2 [MS 2645/3/1/2]

On a more sombre note, the Easter of 1940 marks how rationing and the lack of extra labour available began to really impact upon the production of Easter treats.

Bakery Journal no. 2 [MS 2645/3/1/2]

By Easter 1951, they seem to be on to better times as they are producing Easter Cakes—a rather wily example of remarketing their ‘Xmas Mix’ for Easter. And for those wishing to splash out, Easter Gateaux—very fancy.

Bakery Journal no. 2 [MS 2645/3/1/2]

They did suffer some snags though as they didn’t have enough ‘fancies’.

Bakery Journal no. 2 [MS 2645/3/1/2]

I hope any Easter plans you have go off (no egg pun intended) without a hitch (hatch?).

Happy Easter from Archives & Collections.

Rachel Clare, Senior Archives & Collections Assistant

Forgotten Stories: a Birmingham burial register

The book I’ve chosen to write about this week is titled “SS. Peter and Paul, Aston: Burials 1790 – 1793”, and is located with the parish registers in the Heritage Research Area. It is a facsimile copy of the original register. The original register (Ref: EP 41/2/1/2/5) is held in our stores; however, due to its condition, it cannot be served. Contained within this register is an insight into Birmingham life in the 18th century. This register is special because, uniquely, the cause of death is recorded. This addition allows researchers an insight into the difficulties of 18th century life for the people of Birmingham.

Surrogates of parish registers in the Heritage Research Area, floor 4, Library of Birmingham

Parishes would record information on burials in various ways. By the 1780s, however, there was an attempt to try and make recording more standardised with the production of the ‘Proposed Form of Register for Burials’ which was printed in the year 1781.

Proposed Form of Register for Burials in ‘SS. Peter and Paul, Aston: Burials 1790 – 1793’

The format is a proposed one which seems to have been one of many trial formats. Despite this standardisation attempt, it seems that other parishes in Birmingham did not use this new system during this period, for instance St. Mary’s, Whittall Street. SS Peter and Paul began using the proposed format by about 1784, as seen in the registers.

The proposed format recorded date of burial, name of the deceased, names of parents, age of deceased, supposed cause of death and where buried. This burial register covers the first three years of the 1790s and during that time 550 burials took place within the parish of SS Peter and Paul. Of those 550, 329 were children, equating to 59 – 60% of the register. Of these 329 children (aged between 1 day and 17 years), 49% (163) were under the age of 12 months.

Burial entries of children in ‘SS. Peter and Paul, Aston: Burials 1790 – 1793’

We can clearly see that the infant mortality rate was extremely high during this period, which must have had a significant effect on families.  The causes of death for children ranged from measles to Chincough (whooping cough), and from small pox to consumption. Probably the most unusual cause of death among this group is that of ‘teeth’ or ‘cutting teeth’; it seems unusual to us in the modern world as one would never think of teeth being a cause of death. However it seems that during the 18th century, ‘teeth’ was used as a term for ailments that were seemingly unknown, and which came at a time when new teeth were growing, but also could have been related to the processes by which pain was relieved. It should be noted all 10 entries of ‘teeth’ as cause of death are children between the ages of 7 and 18 months.

There are other types of entry which invite more questions than answers. For example, an entry dated 15th June 1790 for a Mary Bishop.

Burial entry for Mary Bishop, 17 June 1790 in ‘SS. Peter and Paul, Aston: Burials 1790 – 1793’

Her parents’ names are not entered and her cause of death is recorded as ‘Evil’. When I saw this my first thought was why evil? What had she done? I did some further research and discovered information on a disease called Scrofula, a type of tuberculosis affecting the glands. Scrofula was known as the King’s Evil and it was given this name because people believed it could be cured by the King’s touch. A case could be made for Mary Bishop having had Scrofula, and the death was simply recorded as Evil.

Another interesting case is that of Jacob, son of John and Mary Field who died at the age of 5 years and 3 months and was buried on January 4th 1791. His cause of death reads ‘Burned’.

Burial entry for Jacob aged 5, 4 January 1791 in ‘SS. Peter and Paul, Aston: Burials 1790 – 1793’

This is curious. What happened to him? How was he burned? Was there a fire? Was it an accident? Given that no other family members were interred around the same time, does it suggest that there wasn’t a fire or that the rest of his family managed to survive.

There are many others I could mention, for instance on 19 July 1791, Samuel Jones was ‘Killed at Doctor Priestly’s’, aged 24 years old!

Burial entry for Samuel Jones, 19 July 1791 in ‘SS. Peter and Paul, Aston: Burials 1790 – 1793’

It is possible that this gentleman was a victim of the Priestley Riots which took place in Birmingham between the 14th and 17th July 1791. The riots, it seems began as a protest to a dinner that was taking place at the Royal Hotel, to celebrate the 2nd Anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille. Prominent dissenters, (protestants who did not conform to the Church of England) were targeted due to their support of the French Revolution and were seen as a direct threat. Violent acts of looting and burning of dissenter property were seen all over the city. There is a record of one man being killed during the looting of Baskerville House, however it may not be Samuel Jones. More research would be needed to connect this entry definitively to the Priestly Riots, although it would be interesting to do so. Also there is an entry for an unknown man who was found in a cowshed near Vauxhall and died whilst being conveyed to his lodgings. What happened to this man? Who was he?

Burial entry for a travelling man, 23 August 1791 in ‘SS. Peter and Paul, Aston: Burials 1790 – 1793’

To still have access to these stories almost 230 years on is incredible. From records like this we are able to catch a glimpse of what life was like for the people of Birmingham in the 18th century. If you would like to come and view for yourself these stories, and more about the forgotten people of Birmingham, please come to Level 4 of the Library of Birmingham and speak to a member of staff.

Helen Glenn, Senior Archives & Collections Assistant

Turner’s Brass House, Coleshill Street

We know that by 1750 the site  on the corner of Coleshill Street and Leek Street was occupied by ‘Turner’s Brass House.’1

In 1753 it can be seen  to the right of St Bartholomew’s chapel on the East Prospect of Birmingham.2

Samuel Bradford’s Plan of Birmingham 1750

Samuel Buck and Nathaniel Buck. East prospect of Birmingham, 1753.

 In 1754 it was visited by Reinhold Angerstein, who noted:

The brass-works … belongs to Mr Turner and consists of nine furnaces with three built together in each of three separate buildings. The furnaces are heated with mineral coal, of which 15 tons is used for each furnace, and melting lasting ten hours. Each furnace holds nine pots, 14 inches high and nine inches diameter at the top. Each pot is charged with 41 pounds of copper and 50 pounds of calamine. Mixed with [char]coal. Duiring charging I observed that a handful of coal and calamine was first placed on the bottom of the pot, then came the mixture, which was packed in tightly, followed by about a pound of copper in small pieces, and finally again coal and calamine without copper, covering the top. This procedure was said to lengthen the life of the pot both at the top and the bottom. The result of one charge was 75 pounds of brass, with a value of £4.10s per cwt. The calamine comes from Derbyshire,… , but the copper is brought from Wales. The foremans wages were 14 shillings and those of the labourers 9 shillings per week. There are six workers for the nine furnaces and casting takes place twice every 24 hours. The yearly production amounts to 300 tons. The price of the copper is 12d per pound and of the brass 10d per pound. 3 Continue reading

The Kingsway Cinema, Kings Heath

Detail from the building plan of ‘The Kingsway’, showing the front of the building [Ref. BBP 36328]

The Kingsway façade as it stands today [Author’s own photograph, March 2019]

The Kingsway Cinema, described as Super-Cinema of its time, stood as landmark on the High Street of Kings Heath village.  The initial planning of the Kingsway was scheduled in 1913, but due to the intervening World War 1, the completion could not take place till 10 years later.  Premiering with Down to the Sea in Ships, on Monday 2nd March 1925, the Kingsway was publicized as a state of the art cinema of the time, providing ‘high-class amusement tastefully presented’, for the rapidly growing district of Kings Heath, described as ‘one of the finest suburbs of England’s second city’.

Opening night listing, The Kings Heath Observer, Monday 2nd March 1925 [Microfilm 18/7]

‘Grand Opening Night’ programme, Monday 2nd March 1925 [Ref. Birmingham Scrapbook Vol.10]

Residents were assured of ‘a cinema of excellence of design, with the architectural design by Horace G. Bradley, who was also credited for many respected Birmingham cinemas, including the Broadway, Coronet and Lozells. Continue reading