Tag Archives: Archives & Collections

Sporting Heritage: A Victorian Baths

National Sporting Heritage Day, held on 30th September, was established to highlight sporting heritage post the 2012 Olympics. More information can be found on the National Sporting Heritage website.

As an enthusiastic swimmer, and occasional dipper in its pool, Woodcock Street Baths, now called The Sir Doug Ellis Woodcock Sports Centre, seemed an ideal subject to investigate in recognition of the day for the Iron Room.

Frontage, Woodcock Street, Public Baths Photos [Acc. 2012/146]

Woodcock Street Baths opened in 1860, the second baths to open in the city after Kent Street in 1851. Their formation was prompted by the Baths Act of 1846, whereby local authorities were obliged to provide bathing and washing facilities for residents.

The original architect of Woodcock Street Baths was Edward Holmes, who designed and built the baths for £12,000. At their opening they consisted of an engineer’s quarters, swimming baths, and private washing baths for men and women, each with their own plunge pool. In 1902, the building was completely renovated and a First Class Swimming and Baths were added.

Plan of Woodcock Street Baths [BCC 200]

This above ‘proposed’ plan is by Holmes. If it was for the initial construction, it suggests that originally the two pools were intended for men only. I’m unclear without additional research if this is what was actually built as much of the literature suggests that first class swimming and baths were added in a 1902 renovation, and that women had swimming facilities from the outset.

Plan of Woodcock Street Baths, 1920s [in Souvenir Programme of Gala Baths, LP 25.12]

In 1926, the washing facilities were again revamped and this time, a gala baths was added for events.

Programme 1929 [LP 25.12]

This programme above from 1929 highlights how events at the Gala Baths attracted local, national, and international competitors—a Miss Joyce Cooper of London, and two competitors from Holland, Miss Marie Braun, and Miss Marie Baron, who all took part in the non-local events, including relay races, 100 yards back-stroke, 100 yards free-style, 200 yards breast-stroke, plus an ‘Education Exhibition of Correct Strokes’ and ‘Ornamental, Scientific and Trick Diving’.

Programme 1959 [LP 25.12]

The Gala Baths held many different championships, including water polo tournaments and also ‘Speed Swimming’ contests as this programme from 1949 demonstrates. Improvements were also made to the lighting, as in 1948 under-water lighting was added to aid both swimmers and to help display the swimmers’ abilities for the audience.

Gala Baths, Woodcock Street, Public Baths Photos [Acc. 2012/146]

Many more modernisations of the baths have been made in the subsequent years, for example in the 1980s the Gala pool was covered over and turned into an assembly/sports hall. The most recent changes I’m aware of took place in 2010 when the complex was again refurbished (bringing a hiatus to my attending a very pleasant aquafit class!)

Swimming baths, Woodcock Street, Public Baths Photos [Acc. 2012/146]

As I understand, only the Second Class Baths from 1902 still remain. They are, however, beautifully restored.

Rachel Clare, Senior Archives Assistant

Further reading:

History of the Corporation Vol II, Bunce [BCOL 31 HIS]
The City of Birmingham Baths Department, 1851-1951, Moth. J [L45.33 MOT]
BCC Baths Committee [BCC 1/BN/1/1/1-]

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Handsworth Shakespeare Reading Society

Shakespeare Reading Society reference book [Ref. MS 4907]

One of the many exciting collections to be added to Archives and Collections in 2017 was the records of the Handsworth Shakespeare Reading Society (MS 4907). The society began in 1880 when a group of women in Handsworth Wood decided to meet for a literary afternoon. As the name suggests, this developed in to a society for women which met regularly to read plays by Shakespeare. Membership was by personal invitation only and in 1887 rules were drawn up which specified that there should be nine meetings a year with eight of the nine meetings dedicated to reading Shakespeare plays and the ninth to work by another author.

The archive holds fascinating groups of records that tell us more about the running of the group through the years. Included are annual reports, minute books and the society’s reference book. The reference book includes a dated list of plays read and members who played the principal parts. Minute books in the archive cover the period from 1884-2001 beginning at the group’s 49th meeting and annual reports cover the period 1902-1999.

MS 4907 List of programmes in the Society’s reference book

Over the years group members carried out their own research in to the history of the group and these notes form part of the archive. They discovered that in 1903 the ladies went on, what is thought to be, their first theatre visit to the Stratford Theatre. They met at Snow Hill station, had lunch at the Shakespeare Hotel and then attended a matinee showing of ‘Everyman in his Humour’ by Ben Johnson. The archive contains programmes from some later performances attended by the group.

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The Apollo Gardens

Eighteenth century Birmingham was graced, at different times, with two sites called the Apollo Gardens.

John Tomlinson’s Plan of Aston Manor, 1758, reduced in Plans of Birmingham and vicinity, ancient and modern,1884 [Ref. MAP/45209]

Holte Bridgman’s Apollo Gardens are shown on John Tomlinson’s Plan of Aston Manor, surveyed in 1758 [Ref. MAP/45209], on the north-east corner of the junction of Lichfield Road and Rocky Lane. The date when the gardens were first open to the public is not known.

On May 9th 1748 it was reported,

Whereas the Performance of Music and Fire-Works at Bridgman’s Gardens, at the Apollo at Aston, near Birmingham, was to have been on Thursday last, but the Inclemency of the Weather preventing ‘tis postpon’d to next Thursday Evening, when a grand Trio of Mr. Handel’s out of Acis and Galatea, and that favourite Duet of Arne’s call’d Damon and Cloe, will be perform’d by Mr.Bridgman, and a Gentleman of the Town… 1

The concerts were promoted by Barnabas Gunn, the first organist at St. Phillip’s church, who also promoted concerts at Sawyers Assembly Rooms and at the theatre in Moor Street. He was also,

…notable as a composer, producing sonatas and solos for harpsichord, violin and cello, and ‘Two Cantatas and Six Songs’ of 1736 that included George Frederick Handel among its subscribers.2

On Monday July 15th 1751 ‘Eleven of the Gentlemen of the Holte Bridgman’s Club and Eleven of the Gentlemen of Mr Thomas Bellamy’s Club’ met at the Apollo Gardens for ‘the most of three innings, for Twenty-Two Guineas’, the first recorded cricket match to take place in the district.3

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Heritage Research Area familiarisation session

As part of Birmingham Heritage Week, Archives & Collections are offering the opportunity to get to know the sources available in the Heritage Research Area on level 4 of the Library of Birmingham.

At this free event, staff will guide you through 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 and pre-booking is essential. To book, click here.

Saturday 15 September 2018, 11 am – 1 pm.

Please note this session is not aimed at answering specific genealogical enquiries.

Roses in the Archives

It’s summer, the time for roses to bloom in all their glory: and roses are abundant in Archives and Collections, from botanical illustrations to mechanical sprayers, via metalwork, valentines, songs, poems, theatre and – of course – chocolates.

‘Rosa rubra plena spinosissima’, the Moss Provence rose [F0961760, Vol. II, Plate CCXXI, opp. p.147]

Let’s start with our first illustration, of the ‘Rosa rubra plena spinosissima’, the Moss Provence rose, from the ‘Figures of the most beautiful, useful and uncommon plants described in the Gardener’s Dictionary’, by Philip Miller, London, 1760. [F096/1760, Vol. II, Plate CCXXI, opp. p.147]

Miller (1691 – 1771) was one of the most important horticultural writers of 18th century and was gardener to the Society of Apothecaries at Chelsea Hospital for nearly fifty years, from 1722. His one volume ‘Gardener’s Dictionary’, was first published in 1731, and there were eight editions during his lifetime.

Another beautifully illustrated volume from that period is the ‘Temple of Flora’ (1807) by Robert James Thornton (1768 – 1837), physician and botanist. Two of his ‘heroes’ had strong West Midlands connections, Thomas Beddoes of Bristol (for whom Boulton & Watt manufactured breathing apparatus), and Erasmus Darwin (Watt’s doctor for a while and a member of the Lunar Society). Thornton (c. 1765 – 1837) was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, and taught at Guys Hospital, London.  His beautifully illustrated volume has roses as the frontispiece, and of the rose, Thornton writes:

Nature has given her a vest of purest white, and also imperial robes of the brightest scarlet; and that no rude hand should tear her from her rich domain, she is protected by a myriad of soldiers, who present on every side their naked and sharp swords against the daring invader.

He aimed to connect the scientific aspects of Linnaean botany with the arts of painting and engraving, and all dedicated to the royal family. Sadly, the volume, which appeared in a serial form, was never completed and Thornton ran out of money. The copy at the Library of Birmingham is a reprint from 1951, ‘no. 206 of a limited edition of 250 copies, on hand made paper, with plates faithfully reproduced from the original engravings and the work described by G. Grigson, with biographical notes by H. Buchanan, and botanical notes by W.T. Stearn’. [F 096/1951]

These aren’t the earliest references to roses in Archives and Collections. There’s a bill from Thomas Wright to Walter Gough of Perry Hall for plants, roses and trees in 1745 [Gough 274/46]. They owned much land in the Midlands, including property in Wolverhampton, and there are several bills for various repairs to the White Rose [Inn] in Lichfield Street, Wolverhampton, from 1749 to 1762 [Gough 279, 281 and 310].

Watercolour of the design of the Colonnade room at Aston Hall for James Watt jr, c.1819, showing the north wall decorated with roses  [MS 3219/9/5/2/67]

There’s another ‘White Rose’, in the Watt Family papers. A letter to James Watt (Soho) from Lord Dundas (Upleatham, Northallerton), 13 December 1805, begins ‘I do not know whether your Workmen at Soho will stoop to so trifling a thing as a Front for a Soldier’s Cap’, and goes on to explain that while he was in Weymouth with his Regiment, the North Yorks, that summer, the King was,

….graciously pleased to express his approbation of the Regiment, and give it the Badge of the White Rose of York, to be wore in the Colours, and on the Caps, – I have made a sketch of a Rose , Crown and Lion, for the Front of a Cap, but must own that it does not please me……if you would be so good as to get some of your ingenious men to exert their Genius and send me sketches of their ideas I shall be much obliged to you – .

Watt, who was then retired from business, redirected the letter to Matthew Robinson Boulton. A sketch survives and a note saying that if any of the designs are thought suitable the plate for the badge could be made for two shillings [MS 3219/4/47/13].

Other references to roses in the ‘Archives of Soho’ include a letter to James Watt jr. (Soho) from Josiah Wedgwood jr., at Stoke, near Cobham, Surrey, 29 April 1798, which mentions that ‘the nightingales sing day and night and there are moss roses in bud’ [MS 3219/6/2/W/183].

At Matthew Boulton’s funeral in 1809, the 17 horses had ‘crape roses’ on headbands. The charges for these are on George Lander’s bill to Matthew Robinson Boulton, 18 August 1809 [MS 3782 /13/149/51].

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Birmingham Heritage Week 2018

It’s not long now until Birmingham Heritage Week 2018, and we’ve got a wide variety of things going on here at the Library of Birmingham!

8th September

PICTURE BIRMINGHAM

Saturday 8th September 2018, 11:15am-4:15pm

Venue: Heritage Learning Space, Level 4, Library of Birmingham

Booking: Pre-booking essential! To book, click here.   

Birmingham is an ever-changing city, and its changing nature has been documented through Archives in various formats for centuries, a relatively recent format being photography!

This family-friendly workshop is about capturing the city, photographically, on one day (Saturday 8th September 2018) as seen by you.

After a brief introduction by Michael Hallett, an explanation of the activity, and guidance on how to make the most of using your mobile device (mobile phone or tablet – no “proper” cameras!), and a walk around the Gallery where a photography exhibition will be on display, you will be sent out into the city to take photographs that, for you, represent the city or a moment in the city.

You will then return to the Library of Birmingham where we will look at your photos on a screen with all the other people attending to discuss them (so you absolutely must bring the cable you have for your device so that we can connect it to our hardware and download them!). Of the photographs submitted, a selection will be exhibited at the Library of Birmingham in late 2018/early 2019, and deposited in the City’s Archives for permanent preservation.

A Dancer’s Tale

Saturday 8th September 2018, 11:30am-1:00pm

Venue: Library of Birmingham

Booking: Pre-booking essential!  To book, contact Library of Birmingham on 0121 242 4242 or email childrens.library@birmingham.gov.uk

Inspired by Birmingham’s theatrical heritage and the ‘Year of Movement’, we will be offering a creative writing workshop for children aged 12-17. We will be using movement, music and images to spark your imagination and help you to create your dancer’s tale.

14th September

Creative Writing using First World War Archives with Fiona Joseph

Friday 14th September, 11:15am-4:00pm

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

Booking: Pre-booking essential! To book, click here

Join Birmingham historical novelist and biographer, Fiona Joseph, for a hands-on Creative Writing session around the theme of the First World War. Archive material at the Library of Birmingham has been specially selected by Fiona Joseph in conjunction with Corinna Rayner, Archives & Collections Manager. This writing workshop will give 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). You will be able to browse items such as family letters, photographs, posters, postcards, news items and memorabilia from the period and use these as a springboard for your own creative response. Writers at ANY level, including beginners, are welcome. Just bring some writing equipment – pen and paper or laptop.

During the afternoon there will be an opportunity to read your work to the group for reaction and feedback. (Please note that this is strictly optional!) Fiona Joseph will be able to offer professional guidance on shaping and editing your writing. You will also be able to submit your piece for possible publication on the Library of Birmingham Archives & Collections blog.

15th September

Heritage Research Area Familiarisation session at Archives & Collections

Saturday 15th September, 11am-1:00pm.

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

Booking: Pre-booking essential! To book, click here.

Meet staff at this event which will act as a beginners’ guide to resources such as maps, parish registers along with digital resources on Ancestry Institution and software for reading local newspapers.

Spaces are limited to 12 people per session and booking is essential.

There is so much going in Birmingham Heritage Week this year! Find out more by going to the Birmingham Heritage Week website.

Pageant of Birmingham 1938: Costumes

The Pageant of Birmingham 1938, held in July, was planned to mark the centenary of Birmingham’s Borough Charter and the intended Royal visit of George VI and Queen Elizabeth to the city.

The Iron Room Blog has covered the Pageant of Birmingham before. Egbert, the giant smoke breathing dinosaur, plus his smaller companions, Ogbert and Little Sidney, have become the most memorable (perhaps as the largest) of the characters included in the event held 80 years ago.

With such spectacles in mind, it must have been easy to forget the sheer number of costumes created for the multitude of other characters which appeared over the course of the event.

In Archives & Collections we have four volumes of costume designs, designed under the direction of Jean Campbell, who was Mistress of the Robes. The designs include basic sketches, ideas which do not appear to have made the final selection, designs painted in great detail, plus fabric swatches of material intended to be used on the final garments.

Episode I: Prologue

William the Conqueror, Pageant of Birmingham 1938 Costume Designs, Vol 1 SE 7

This episode began with the ‘strange monsters’ (e.g. Egbert,) of the prehistoric times, and passed through eras, to William the Conqueror. Above is the image of his robes – nice cape!

Episode II: The Granting of the Market Charter of Birmingham, 1156

Pageant of Birmingham, Illustrated Souvenir Booklet, shelf ref: BCOL 22.41

The illustrated booklet to the event sets out the scene when King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine visit to confirm the charter. Eleanor of Aquitaine’s outfit and make-up in the design are beautiful – very Disney!

Eleanor of Aquitaine, Pageant of Birmingham 1938 Costume Designs, Vol 1 SE 7

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