Tag Archives: Archives

Looking after the golden jewels in the Library of Birmingham’s crown

As one of the UK’s most iconic contemporary buildings (currently being honoured by appearing on a first class stamp no less!) the Library of Birmingham contains some amazing, precious and unique things. Some highlights include Shakespeare’s first folio, Audubon’s Birds of America, a small drawing of a kettle by James Watt, photos of models from Pre-Raphaelite paintings to our oldest surviving document from 1150’s , but have you ever wondered how these items are cared for? What the ‘Gold’ part of the building is? Conservator Lucy Angus explains.

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As part of the Archives & Collections team my job is to care for the archival and special collections. A major part of my role is collections care. Collections care, which is sometimes called preventive conservation, involves any actions taken to prevent or delay the deterioration of cultural heritage. This could be anything from advising people on the handling of original documents, to making sure environmental conditions such as temperature and Relative Humidity (RH) are stable and are at the correct levels, to how something is packaged!

The collections held here are varied and vast containing every material type and size you can imagine! This ranges from miniature books to enormous maps, parchment and seals, photographs, paper and even a sitar! Therefore storage is a very important and vital part of keeping the collections safe for the future.

Watt’s Kettle. One of the priceless treasures held in the archives

 

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Exciting Photography Exhibition in Birmingham!

Virtual reality and Archives? Maybe not so far away – indeed, maybe right here in Brum in the Waterhall of Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery!

An intriguing exhibition, Thresholds, curated by Pete James and Matt Collishaw enables you to experience the exhibition of William Fox Talbot’s photogenic drawings at the Annual Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held in Birmingham at King Edward’s School, New Street in August 1839.

Charles Barry’s drawings of Birmingham Free Grammar School on New Street, Birmingham, 1833.
[MS 575 Acc 2012/013]

Put on the headset and backpack and you’re standing in the school hall, can view the drawings in display cases – and even lift them to look closer, feel the fire, hear and see the Chartist protestors outside the window – amazing. Chartist riots had taken place in the Bull Ring just a few weeks before and Fox Talbot requested that the Birmingham Literary and Philosophical Society acquire the display cases in order to protect his drawings from possible protestors.

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Canada

MS 3219/4/277

On 1 July 2017 Canada celebrated the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation, when Canada became a self- governing dominion within the British Empire.    

Archives and Collections, Library of Birmingham, holds records relating to Canada which are much older, to be found, perhaps surprisingly, in the papers of James Watt and Family (MS 3219).

Aside from the fact that Boulton & Watt provided steam engines for boats of the Hudson Bay Company, there are records more personal to Watt, those of his brother-in-law by marriage, Captain John Marr, military surveyor (d. 1787). He had married Agnes (Nancy)  Millar, sister of his first wife Margaret (Peggy).  Marr was also the son of Watt’s mathematics teacher in Greenock and accompanied Watt to London in 1769, as he was going to train as a naval instructor when Watt was seeking training in mathematical instrument making.

John Marr had served in Canada from 1761. A memorial (petition)to the principal officers of His Majesty’s Ordnance requesting an increased allowance, 20 April 1768, gives details of Marr’s career in Canada to that date [MS 3219/4/275/2]. Marr obviously returned to Scotland some time after that and married. He and Nancy sailed to New York in 1774. A letter from John and Nancy to Betty Millar, another sister, (Glasgow) dated 15 November 1774 informs her that they arrived on 21 October. Nancy had apparently suffered a miscarriage in September, but had recovered. They were laying in stores of vegetables and stocking up for the winter. Nancy wrote that there was only salt fish and rum to be had there. They would not be able to receive mail until they reached Canada. Marr had sent fish to James Watt in Glasgow and he would get caulkers [spikes] for Nancy’s feet to stop her falling on the ice.

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Holdings: Words of the Archive

Definition of ‘record’ from 1696.
[A094/1696/21]

Words, words, words. Archives are packed with them – in record books, in documents, in deeds, in letters, in catalogues, on box labels, on captions, and plenty of other places. But what words do archivists themselves use to talk about what they do? As a lexicographer, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the words associated with archives and archival practice. Like every other field of activity, archiving has its own specialist vocabulary. Sometimes a particular term will be completely unfamiliar to the lay person, though often, as we can see below, a familiar word is simply repurposed in a specific, extended sense.

The word archive itself dates from the mid seventeenth century, ultimately deriving from the Greek word arkheia meaning ‘public records’. Archivist is a slightly later word, coming into English in the eighteenth century. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first recorded use of the word is this, from 1753: ‘Under the emperors the Archivist was an officer of great dignity.’ Happily, in my experience this continues to be the case.

An English Dictionary from 1696.
[A094/1696/21]

My understanding is that most archives, such as those held in the Library of Birmingham, are structured roughly on the following lines. A collection is a whole body of material (letters, documents, photographs, and so forth) held by an institution. The more technical term fonds (borrowed from French) is sometimes used by archivists to describe an entire collection originating from a single source. An accession is one of the individual bodies of material that form part of the collection and that arrived at a particular time, for example as a gift or purchase. A file is a group of documents that are related in some way. And an item is an individual document or other object held in a file.

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The Ockenden Venture ‘Westholme’

Sometimes when cataloguing an archive collection you come across an item which has no obvious link to the other papers it is with and clues to help you identify the links are few and far between. Such was the case with a small pamphlet with the title ‘Ockenden Venture ‘Westholme’ training and education for refugee boys’ which caught my attention in the records of Bull Street Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. As this week is Refugee Week, when the contributions of refugees to the UK are celebrated and greater understanding about why refugees seek sanctuary is promoted, it seemed fitting that the story of Westholme should be retold.

The Ockenden Venture was established in 1951 by three school teachers in Woking, Surrey. They were concerned about the conditions in which displaced East European teenagers were living and recognised that the educational provision in the camps was insufficient after a group came on holiday from a displaced persons camp in Germany at Ockenden House where Joyce Pearce (1915-1985) ran a sixth form. Pearce, together with Ruth Hicks (1900 – 1986) and Margaret Dixon (1907-2001) housed small numbers of East European teenagers from the camps at Ockenden House and later in houses at Haslemere, Surrey and Donington Hall near Derby and provided for them so that they could complete their secondary education.

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Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage

To celebrate International Archives Day on 9th June 2017, with a theme this year of “Archives, Citizenship and Interculturalism”, we wanted to tell you about Utsav and our upcoming exhibition ‘Connecting Stories, Our British Asian Heritage’!

Throughout 2017 Birmingham will be celebrating ‘Utsav, South Asian Culture’ and the contribution that South Asian communities have made to the city. Utsav, meaning festival/celebration, was officially launched on 18 January 2017 and will feature a wide variety of professional and community events and activities throughout the year.
The Library of Birmingham and the British Library have won Heritage Lottery Fund support to stage a major exhibition and public programme celebrating South Asian culture, called ‘Connecting Stories, Our British Asian Heritage’, a partnership project celebrating the important role South Asian culture has played in forming Birmingham’s history and identity, and which will feature archives from the wonderfully rich collections held here in Archives & Collections at the Library of Birmingham and the British Library.
A selection of the material that will feature in the exhibition!

A selection of the material that will feature in the exhibition!

At the heart of the project is a major exhibition, Connecting Stories: Our British Asian Heritage, which will open on the 15th of July at the Library of Birmingham. This will explore Britain’s South Asian heritage, examining the contribution made by South Asian people to Birmingham and the UK, and featuring contributions from local communities as they are invited to share their stories in their own words.

Visitor to the Library of Birmingham being photographed for
BrumPeeps, a digital display presenting the people of Birmingham.

The exhibition will reflect on the political context of Britain’s long relationship with South Asia, recognising turbulent times in our shared history, as well as celebrating the contribution of South Asian culture to the UK’s heritage, with a particular focus on Birmingham. It will explore Britain’s enduring connections with South Asia, from historical trading links stretching back 400 years, to the impact of migration and settlement in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Connecting Stories will focus on the countries of present day India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

The rich and intertwining history of South Asia and the Midlands will be illustrated by photographs, letters, posters, paintings, documents and ephemera, showing how libraries and archives can reveal untold and forgotten stories. Highlights include:

• The first list of subscribers in the earliest East India Company minute book, 1599, the starting point of close connections between Britain and South Asia.

• A letter signed by Mahatma Gandhi and a group of other South Asian people in Britain, pledging their support during World War I.

• Maps of South Asia dating back to the 17th Century.

• A rare 19th century game reflecting Britain’s trading interests in Asia and elsewhere.

• Pictures of South Asian people of all classes who came to Britain, including ayahs (nannies) a Suffragette princess and Sake Dean Mahomed who set up the Hindoostanee Coffee House in London and became Shampooing Surgeon to George IV.

• 1940s police reports on meetings of the Indian Workers Association and India League.

• Community publications and campaigning materials charting the history of South Asians in the UK in the twentieth century.

• Photographs showing protests and counter-protests in 1960s and 1970s Britain.

• Poetry and art of Nobel prize-winner Rabindranath Tagore who visited Birmingham in 1930, the year his work was exhibited at the City Museum and Art Gallery.
Help us to celebrate “Archives, Citizenship and Interculturalism” this year – come and see our exhibition!

Tom Epps, Cultural Partnerships Manager
Library of Birmingham

 

Pavel Brázda Is Here

The Library of Birmingham is welcoming the first UK exhibition by leading contemporary Czech artist Pavel Brázda. 

The exhibition is organised by the Embassy of the Czech Republic, Birmingham City Council and the Ikon Gallery and will be open to the public from Friday, 2 June, and will run until 1 July 2017.

The exhibition presents a selection of works from the artist’s colourful Human Comedy cycle, in celebration of a career which spans more than seven decades.

The Human Comedy cycle is a parable in images – a testament to the world we live in, to human joys and predicaments – and in the series, good and evil get equal treatment. The primary theme is the age-old discord between masculinity and femininity. Although autobiographical, the parables are universal. The artist deals with intimate themes from his own life, yet with a detached perspective.

Pavel said: “This series is structured into individual chapters, each with a beginning and end. It all begins with birth and youth. Then it spans across a range of erotic themes to more dramatic and existential topics – such as old age or death.”

In the 1940s, the artist invented his own art movement called “Hominism”, which he defined as ‘art about people and for people’.

Further details can be found on the Library of Birmingham website.

This got us thinking here at The Iron Room about how many references we had in our collections to Czechoslovakia and there are a few!

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