Tag Archives: Archives & Collections

Simple Directions in Needle-work and Cutting Out

Browsing our Early and Fine Printing Collections is always interesting, especially when something which goes beyond the simplicity of the basic page turns up—such is the focus of this blog. The volume in question is snappily entitled: Simple Directions in Needle-work and Cutting Out; Intended for the Use of the National Female Schools of Ireland, to which are Added Specimens of Work, Executed by the Pupils of The Female National Model School [G 746.4] (1858)The text was published in 1858, in Dublin by Alex Thom & Sons, through the direction of the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland.

Introduction from ‘Simple directions in needlework and cutting out’ [Ref G746.4] (1858)

The Model Schools were formed to aid in the education and thus employment of the impoverished in Ireland. This volume concerning needle work helped to teach female students by not only giving text based direction, but also through the pasted-in physical examples of the work expected to be produced.

Instructions for folding down a hem and hemming paper from ‘Simple directions in needlework and cutting out’ [Ref G746.4] (1858)

The book details the order in which the lessons should progress, beginning with hemming, sewing and stitching; advancing on to darning, marking, knitting, platting, and overcasting.

Handmade buttons from ‘Simple directions in needlework and cutting out’ [Ref G746.4] (1858)

The volume also details how to work with various fabrics and yard goods such as lace and muslin, through to decorative thread-work. It also covers instructions on how to cut-out patterns for different types of garment. At the rear of the volume are the examples of the work—it is these examples which make the volume so attractive.

Embroidery from ‘Simple directions in needlework and cutting out’ [Ref G746.4] (1858)

I admit to being very taken by this tiny little shirt (it only measures about 150mm in length.)  If my sewing skills were up to the task, I’d have a go. Sadly though, even having read through the volume, I’m pretty sure my skills remain at the sewing handkerchiefs level.

Shirt pattern from ‘Simple directions in needlework and cutting out’ [Ref G746.4] (1858)

The volume can be seen by appointment within the Wolfson Centre for Archival Research by emailing the address at the bottom of this page.

Rachel Clare, Senior Archives Assistant


Closed Week Update

During our closed week in December 2017, we were very busy indeed working on adding material to the Archives collections (accessioning!)… and to give you flavour of the material we have taken in, we thought we’d highlight a few!

MS 4881 (2017/026), Stories & Games: A documentary on Bangladeshi urban and rural heritage, 2017. This is a documentary DVD containing a video of the games events and the oral history interviews of members of the local community both in English and Bengali. The Bengali interviews have been transcribed, and English subtitles appear on the video.

Image provided by New Hope Birmingham.


SF Additional (2017/027), Minutes and essays of the Friends Essay Society, 19th – 20th cent. The Friends Essay Society was a group of members of the Religious Society of Friends who met at each other’s houses one evening a month to read out essays which they had previously written anonymously, either on a subject given to them or, more often, on a subject of their own choice. The evening started with tea, and after each member had read aloud someone else’s essay, they had supper. You can see the catalogue for this material online here.

And here’s a fabulous box that the collection came in…


MS 4924 (2017/057), Membership register of the Birmingham and Midland Hairdressers’ Academy and Philanthropic Society, 1892-1927. We rather liked this – it is the only item we have relating to this organisation though – so we don’t know very much about it!



MS 4907 (2017/058), Handsworth Ladies Shakespeare Reading Society, 1884-2008. The Handsworth Shakespeare Reading Society began in 1880 when a group of ladies in Handsworth Wood decided to meet regularly in each other’s houses. The society had a list of rules by 1887. The group was for women only and new members were recruited by personal invitation. Meetings were devoted to reading plays by Shakespeare and other authors. It continued to hold meetings during the First and Second World Wars, however the number of meetings dropped to four meetings during the First World War and meetings were suspended during the winter months of the Second World War. Continue reading

A Very Happy New Year to All

Bell and Nicholson Trade Catalogue, 1933

2017 was another year of moving forward for Archives & Collections.

We have seen the completion of the Birmingham and Warwickshire Quakers cataloguing project, making this wonderful collection fully accessible.

We also launched our Heritage Research Area familiarisation sessions, where members of the public were invited to join us for a tour of the resources available for researching  family history.

As part of Birmingham Heritage Week and Explore Your Archive Week, our Conservator guided visitors through our stores and talked about the different issues that affect the care of our documents.

The most significant achievement for us as a team, however, was becoming an Accredited Archive Service, which demonstrates our commitment to providing the best possible service we can for our users and stakeholders, and our dedication in the care we take in looking after our collections.

The trade catalogue for Bell and Nicholson from 1933 seemed relevant for us today – 2018 will bring a new year and, no doubt,  new demands, but Archives & Collections will be looking forward to the challenges that await!

We wish you all a very prosperous Happy New Year!

Learn more about our Heritage Research Area

Familiarisation session in the Heritage Research Area

Following on from the great success of our previous two events, Archives & Collections are now offering another chance to get to know the sources available in our Heritage Research Area. Would you like to learn how the Heritage Research Area on level 4 could benefit your genealogical research?

At this free event, staff will guide you through our 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 archives.heritage@birmingham.gov.uk or speak with a member of staff on level 4 to make a reservation.

Saturday 6th January 2018

11 am – 1 pm

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

Our Heritage Research Familiarisation Session is now fully booked. If you haven’t managed to book on the session this time, we are planning to offer another one in March, date yet to be confirmed. Please check out the blog, the Lob website and twitter as well as posters located in the library nearer the time for confirmation of the date. 

Winter pastimes: The Ice Slide

The Ice Slide from A Picturesque Representation of the Manners, Customs and Amusements of the Russians, in one hundred coloured plates, with an accurate explanation of each plate in English and French in three volumes [AE 096/1803]

“Sliding down an artificial hill of ice is a favourite diversion of the Russians in the winter. Not a village or a hamlet is without them, particularly during the week of the Carnival. The ice hills at St. Petersburg are built upon a large scale. A scaffolding is made of balks about thirty-five feet high: a staircase of steps which leads to the top of it; on the parts opposite to the stairs, a slanting descent is managed, which forms an angle of about forty-five to fifty degrees with the surface of the ice. Two small doors lead to this descent: the ice is smoothed very carefully in a straight line about one hundred fathoms long and twenty feet wide. At the end of this sliding place another hill of the same size is built, from which the sliding place runs parallel again with the other. Guides are appointed at each hill, who sit upon small sledges of wood, about eighteen inches long, eight or ten inches broad, and a few inches high, with iron shoes or skates under them on each side. The person who wants to take a slide down the hill, sits upon the lap of the guide with his legs close together between those of the guide, who shoves himself forward with his hands to the brink of the precipice, from which he rushes down with great velocity to the end of the sliding place.”

This comes from ‘A Picturesque Representation of the Manners, Customs and Amusements of the Russians, in one hundred coloured plates, with an accurate explanation of each plate in English and French in three volumes’, by John Augustus Atkinson and James Walker. (London, 1803), part of our Early & Fine Printing Collection.

Continue reading

The War Poetry Collection in the Library of Birmingham

Book Plate from the Catalogue of the War Poetry Collection. 1921. L52.31.


The War Poetry Collection was presented to the Birmingham Reference Library in 1921 by an anonymous donor, in memory of William John Billington, 2/24 London Regiment, (Queen’s Hussars), 60th Division, formerly 2/2 South Midlands Field Ambulance, who was killed in action at Abu Tellul Ridge in Palestine  on 9 March 1918.



The donor was William Cross of Rubery, who had assembled an unrivalled collection of 1,233 books and pamphlets of poetry relating to the First World War, written by both soldiers and civilians.

Included are poems in English, Breton, Czech, Danish, French, Gaelic, German (Swiss), Italian, and Latin, by members of the British and Allied Nations. There is poetry which was published in Britain, Canada, Australia, America and Barbados.

Many additions were made to the Collection by the Reference Library, notably in 1938 when a fine collection of over 40 volumes of newscuttings of poetry and verse from newspapers and periodicals of the 1914-1918 period was acquired, which represents many different social attitudes to war from the patriotic to the despairing.

Continue reading

Happy Apple Day!

Pomme D’Api from Pomona Britannica. George Brookshaw. AF 096/1817.



It’s easy to celebrate Apple Day today (October 21st) by plucking a fruit from the James Watt and Family papers as both father and son of that name were serious fruit growers with extensive orchards.




In a letter by Watt, 30 November 1814, to James Davies in Kington, his solicitor for his Wyeside estates he writes:

“My son sending a waggon to Doldowlod, I have taken the liberty of sending you a few trees of good sorts from my nursery, which I am breaking up.
The trees are
2 Canada no. 2 Pomme de Neige
2 Canada no. 3 Bourasson
1 Ribstone
1 Egg Apple, good, great bearer, keeps
1 Eve Apple, baking, great bearer
1 Stoup Ledington, large, bears & keeps well
7 others, names unknown, my gardner having lost the labels, but are  very good sorts
2 pears, nameless

They are packed up in a mat addressed to you to be left at the Radnorshire Arms, Presteign.”

(MS 3219/4/248/49)

In a later letter, Watt mentions that the Canada trees were budded in Montreal. Other correspondence shows that they were shipped to him in 1809 by James Dunlop in Glasgow. Watt also received grafts of apple trees from Thomas Wilson in Cornwall and from relatives in Glasgow. He had an orchard at his house, Heathfield, in Handsworth, and Watt jr. has left notebooks with details of the fruit trees he planted at Aston Hall. They had both established orchards on their Wyeside estates.

Pippins from Pomona Britannica. George Brookshaw. Volume II. AF 096_1817

Fiona Tait