Tag Archives: Archives

The Cottage of Content

Henry Parr, the first landlord of the Cottage of Content, Sheepcote Lane, was an active supporter of reformist causes. Following the execution of Louis XVI in January 1792 and the French declaration of War with Britain in the February, any public expressions of support for democratic principles or expressions of concerns of the effects of the war on trade were met with both popular loyalist and Government hostility. In May 1794 James Watt observed that :

‘there are King’s messengers in Birmingham, who have taken up on Parr, who kept a reforming club 1 at his house, and on one or two others. The soldiers were ordered under arms to prevent tumult.’ 2

Birmingham’s reformers are said to have enjoyed a ‘revival of support’ in 1795 and1797.3 Their last incarnation, The Birmingham United Corresponding Society,4 was deemed by loyalist elements to be a ‘Jacobin’ organisation.

At their last recorded meeting, fifteen members gathered at Henry Parr’s Cottage of Content on August 3, 1797 with John Binns,5 a London delegate who had been recently arrested, tried at Warwick and acquitted, present. They were spied upon and disturbed by a gang of drunken loyalists from the nearby White Horse in Friday Street. The rights and wrongs of the meeting and its opponents were debated in a public exchange of letters.6

Concerns, even in the reformist movements, over the increasing authoritarianism and militarism displayed by the French Revolutionary state made any radical cause, especially one opposed to war with France, extremely unpopular. Despite the Society’s claim following John Binns trial that they were ‘daily increasing in numbers’, there is no record of their survival after 1797.7

From left to right: Kempson 180810 , E. Robins 182011, J. Piggot-Smith 1824 – 1825 12 .

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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

Fighting For Our Heritage

In December 2018, we received a deposit of material from the Fighting for our Heritage project, which was run from the Pat Benson Boxing Academy (MS 4948, Acc 2018/067). The project was funded by the National Lottery to document the history of amateur boxing in Birmingham and the collection includes some wonderful photographs of boxers in the 1940s and 1950s, along with promotional material and programmes.

Photograph of Billy Biddles c.1940s (MS 4948, Acc 2018/067)

The Pat Benson Boxing Academy has had many changes of name and locations over the years. Its origins date back to 1931 when it was founded by Stephen Hayden from Kilkenny as the Irish Foresters and operated from The Hen and Chickens, Custard House and Sydenham pubs. Stephen built the foundation of a community club that would retain its Irish roots and identity and over the decades, the club has grown and ‘nurtured talent from the black and minority ethnic communities, mirroring and celebrating Birmingham’s ever more diverse cultural make up’.

On the death of Stephen, his son, Steve, took over the club and moved it to the Hobsmoor pub. When Steve died suddenly in the 1960s, Pat Benson took over as coach, ensuring the future success of the club. In 1967, Pat moved the club to the Harp in Moseley Street and it was around this time that they joined with the Kyrle Hall Boxing Club, becoming the Small Heath Golden Gloves.

For a while, the club was run out of Small Heath Leisure Centre, changing its name to the Small Heath Boxing Club. The club temporarily returned to Small Heath Leisure Centre in 1983 after a fire at their Fazeley Street premises. By this time, the club had many successful boxers and Pat was forced to move them out to other clubs so they could continue to compete. It was also around this time that the Chelmsley Wood Boxing Club and St. Francis Boxing Club were established, with ‘a helping hand and sound advice from Pat’.

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In The Pink

A notable recent addition to the Local Studies Collection pertinent to research of LGBT heritage in Birmingham is the November 2018 edition of In The Pink (LBF 22.85), a newspaper for the West Midlands LGBTQ+ community which flourished between 1986 – 1990. The new edition, an artist project by Sean Burns, contains reproductions of listings from the 1980s such as the Birmingham Club Play List June 1989 alongside new essays on topics such as QPOC (Queer People Of Colour).

In the Pink
[LBF 22.85]


The newspaper first appeared as the Birmingham Lesbian and Gay Community Centre newsletter for which Archives & Collections retains holdings for the period between May 1978 – November 1986 before changing its name to In The Pink in late 1986.

In The Pink was published monthly at the Trade Union Resource Centre in Digbeth and then circulated amongst LGBT entertainment venues and organisations in the West Midlands. The content followed a magazine format containing listings and interviews next to more politically and socially aware features. The newspaper was financed by advertising revenue whilst the November 2018 edition is very much a ‘stand – alone public artwork’ funded with support from a public body.

The 2018 edition

Why, might you ask, has a one – off November 2018 edition of In the Pink been published? Well, in its elemental form, it’s an opportunity to reflect on narratives forming LGBT heritage and consider how this influences and reflects the present. It’s a chance to explore how dialogues may proceed in the future and also highlight how the social context has altered somewhat since the newspaper ceased publication in 1990. This edition provides a platform in which individual community voices can examine attitudes contemporary to the original publication and discuss some of the issues prominent in the LGBTQ+ community now. As the Welcome states – ‘It will provoke reflection on how attitudes have changed since 1986 and on how much work there is left to do’.

The diverse range of topics covered in this edition include segregations, nightlife and memories both collective and individual. One of the dominate drives behind this project is to create a more productive and representative platform for LGBTQ+ people. The special edition does not claim to offer a complete history or overview but hopefully will provide a starting point from which to explore the wider LGBTQ+ heritage in the West Midlands.


Paul Taylor


The following is a source list of materials held in the Local Studies Collection relating to a study of LGBT heritage in Birmingham.

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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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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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St. Oswald’s Camp, Rubery

St. Oswald’s Camp, 1923 [MS 703 (1961/001)]

This year is the 30th anniversary of the opening of Rubery Community and Leisure Centre, located on Holywell Road, Rubery.  Opened in 1988 after a number of years of fund-raising and renovation of the derelict facilities on the site, the centre offers sports and other activities to the local community. However, the history of the site goes back well beyond the 1980s as the land had been used for recreational purposes since the early years of the 20th century, when it was given to the Mid-Worcester and Class XIV Sub-Union of the Midland Adult School Union (MASU) for use as a weekend holiday centre.

St. Oswald’s Camp, n.d. [MS 703 (1961/001)]

The donors of the land were the brothers, Edward (1873-1948) and George Cadbury Junior (1878-1960), both of whom, like their father George Cadbury (1839 -1922), were active in adult school work with the Class XIV group of schools based in south-west Birmingham and North Worcestershire.  Arthur T. Wallis, secretary of the Mid-Worcester and Class XIV Sub-Union schools, wrote in the  1956 Jubilee Celebration leaflet that when the brothers built their houses in the Lickey Hills, they greatly appreciated returning to the peace and beauty of the countryside after spending the working day at the Cadbury chocolate factory in Bournville.

St. Oswald’s Camp, n.d. [MS 703 (1961/001)]

So that others less fortunate than themselves could also enjoy it, they set aside a seven acre field, a wood and a bathing pool, and arranged for a Dutch barn accommodating 25 people, a kitchen with a cooking range and water boiler, and club room to be built and furnished. The site was named St. Oswald’s Camp, after a monk who is said to have lived there in a stone cell and distributed water from the Holy well, located on the edge of the camp and still in use by local villagers at the time the camp was established. Opened by Edward Cadbury on 6th June 1906, the camp was run by volunteers from the adult school movement,

…to provide, at the most modest charges possible, opportunity for such change from the ordinary routine as will provide full refreshment for body, mind and spirit both for members of the Schools and others who wish to avail themselves of it.

(Jubilee leaflet 1956, MS 703 (1961/001))

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