Tag Archives: Birmingham City Council

Celebrating 120 years of Balsall Heath Library

Balsall Heath Branch Library, Balsall Heath, Birmingham. 1910. [WK/B3/29]

Balsall Heath Branch Library, Balsall Heath, Birmingham. 1910.

Balsall Heath Library was officially opened 120 years ago on 18 April 1896.

You discover some odd things while looking into the Birmingham Free Libraries Management Sub-Committee minutes, in order to flesh out the first year or so.

In January 1896 it was recommended that ‘noiseless chair pads’ be attached to the chairs at Balsall Heath as they were regarded as very satisfactory in the School of Art.

The first Librarian appointed in October 1895, a Mr Shuttleworth, left within a month to go to Rotherhithe and the post was re-advertised. A Mr Mould was then appointed, previously a librarian at Harborne, aged 23 and a half, with 8 years of service and a good exam result. His starting salary was 30 shillings a week.

The first cleaner appointed in February 1896 resigned within a month on health grounds, and the second, Mr Whittle, appointed in March 1896, also resigned within a month. He already held the job of caretaker at the Wesleyan Chapel, Moseley Road, and the Chapel authorities would not give permission for him to hold another post. A previous candidate, Mrs Annie Smith was therefore appointed at 15 shillings a week, to find all her own materials and necessary assistance. This was 5 shillings less than the sum offered to Mr Whittle.

Continue reading


‘Allotments for the unemployed’

WK-M6-49 Moorgreen allotments 1933

Moor Green allotments 1933 (WK/M6/49)

During the inter-war years, when unemployment was rising, one method of support to unemployed men and their families came from the Religious Society of Friends. The ‘allotments for the unemployed’ scheme was set up in South Wales in 1926 to allow unemployed miners to provide fresh vegetables for their families, as well as providing them with a sense of purpose and what Joan Mary Fry, clerk of the Central Friends Allotment Committee described as ‘useful creative interests’ (Report of some of the work of the Society of Friends in distressed areas in Great Britain, 1926-1932).

The scheme proved extremely popular, and supported by a government grant, spread throughout deprived areas of Great Britain. However, in 1931, the scheme came under threat when financial support from the government ceased. The Central Friends Allotments Committee issued an appeal for funds. In December 1931 in Birmingham, in response to the appeal, Hall Green Quaker meeting suggested to the regional Friends Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting that a local appeal could be made via a radio broadcast. The Monthly Meeting asked Florence Barrow (1876 – 1964), a Quaker relief worker who was involved in many social welfare activities in the city in this period, to arrange the radio appeal.

Hall Green PM minutes Dec 6 1931 re allotments

Hall Green Preparative Meeting minute concerning a radio broadcast appeal, 6 December 1931 (SF/3/12/1/1)

In the same month, Alderman Thomas Quinney, a member of the Society of Friends and also chair of Birmingham City Council’s Allotments Committee, proposed to that Committee that they discuss how the council could help unemployed men establish themselves as allotment gardeners. He put forward the idea that ‘an unemployed man should be assisted in connection with his rent for a period or that he might be helped with the provision of tools at a moderate cost’ (Birmingham City Council Allotments Committee minute 2594, 10th December 1931, BCC/1/CA/1/1/4). Continue reading

A belated Happy Birthday

Art Gallery and Chamberlain Statue, Birmingham [WK/B11/6402]

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

We had such a busy end to 2015 here at the Iron Room that it was only recently we realised we had forgotten Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery’s 130th birthday!

Birmingham has had its own art gallery since 1867, housed in a room in the Free Library building. From 1877 the room was needed for other purposes and the exhibits were moved to a temporary home, first in Paradise Street and then to Aston Hall. Falling under the remit of the Free Libraries Committee, they were forced to consider the building of a permanent home in the town centre.

The importance of a permanent collection was advocated strongly by brothers George and Richard Tangye (from a prominent Quaker family) in a letter to John Thackray Bunce, then chairman of the Art Gallery Sub-Committee:

“In common with many others, we have long been sensible of the great loss the town sustains in the absence of an adequate Art Collection…We cannot but think if the town and the Council were duly impressed with the vast importance of such a Collection to the trades of the town, the present apathy on the subject would soon cease to exist. It is all very well for critics to exclaim against Birmingham manufacturers and artisans because of their inferiority to their foreign competitors in the matter of design and manufacturers ; but what chances have they of improving in these respects? South Kensington is practically as far away as Paris or Munich, while our competitors on the Continent, in almost every manufacturing town, have access to collections embracing the finest examples of Art, furnishing an endless variety of style and design… – if the Council will agree to make provisions for a permanent Art Gallery, on a scale really commensurate with the necessities of Birmingham, we shall have pleasure in handing over £5,000 to the Free Libraries Committee towards the purchase of Art for exhibition in the gallery….if the gift is met by adequate donations…we will give a further £5,000 for the above-named purpose, making £10,000 in all.”

The Tangye brothers went on to state that while they had brought significant trade to Birmingham, they had also benefited greatly from it and it was their desire to give something back to the town. Continue reading

Birmingham City Council Collection: Catalogues now LIVE!

New catalogues for the records of Birmingham City Council are now live on our on-line archives catalogue, CalmView.


Chamberlain Square, Birmingham. Photographed by Thomas Lewis, late 19th cent. Showing Council House, Museum & Art Gallery and Clocktower    [MS 2724 WK/B11/278]

As well as collecting records relating to individuals, families, businesses and other corporate bodies with historical links to the city, the Archives, Heritage and Photography Department at the Library of Birmingham is the in-house repository for the historic records of Birmingham City Council.

The vast majority of the records date from the granting of the Charter of Incorporation in 1838 that conferred upon the town the status of municipal borough. A few classes of records, most notably Town Clerks Deeds (Collection BCC/1/AM/D/1/3/1) go back before this date; the earliest surviving title deed for example is written in Latin and dates from the late seventeenth century.

Comprising several thousand entries, the current catalogue still only represents a fraction of the surviving administrative records of local government in our care.

We continue to receive on average about 20 new accruals to the Birmingham City Council archive per year. These deposits can vary in size from a single booklet or framed photograph to whole runs of bulky committee minutes.

In summary, the Birmingham City Council archive comprises the legislative records (minutes, agendas, reports etc) of Birmingham City Council and its committees (1838 to 1974); operational records of council department; operational records of institutions managed by the City Council (i.e. care homes); property deeds; maps and charts (mainly relating to town planning schemes); photographs; building plans.

Pages 40 & 41 from volume ot Housing - Interviewing Sub-committee Minutes, 4 March 1908. [BCC/1/BF/3/1/1]

Pages 40 & 41 from volume of the Interviewing Sub-Committee of the Housing Committee Minutes detailing proceedings of a meeting of 4 March 1908. [BCC/1/BF/3/1/1]

Included here are a couple of digital images of items from the collection to give a flavour of the scope and content of this huge archive.

To search the Birmingham City Council catalogue on-line, simply follow the links to the Library Catalogue at the top right hand corner of the Library of Birmingham website www.libraryofbirmingham.com or link http://calmview.birmingham.gov.uk/CalmView/

1. Click Advanced Search, then add search term BCC to RefNo field then click Search.

2. On next screen click on blue underlined text BCC.

3. The next screen will show the Collection Level record giving a brief summary of the scope and content of the collection and an administrative history charting the key developments in the history of local government in Birmingham prior to and from the establishment of the Corporation in 1838.

4. Click on the blue underlined text BCC again.

5. You can now open and close the relevant sub sections in the tree structure to check the for relevant committee and departmental records by clicking the +/- buttons beside each level of the catalogue tree structure.

6. To search within the BCC Archive for material relating to a specific place, person or subject, click on Advanced Search add search term BCC* in RefNo field and search term (street / place name, personal name, subject etc) into the AnyText or Title field then click Search.

7. Further guidance as regards searching the on-line catalogue is available on the CalmView webpages, following the links above.

The records comprise an information-rich archive of qualitative, quantitative and visual data relating to the provision of local government services in the city of Birmingham.

The collection is heavily used by students, academics and other researchers investigating the history of public policy, particularly education, social care and infrastructural development in Birmingham from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day.

The deposited building plans and planning photographs remain a heavily-used resource amongst our users, from architectural historians to members of the public looking into the history of their property.

BCC/1/AO/D/3/8/1/28 Photo Box 10/28 Irving Street

Irving Street, Birmingham. Photographed by Birmingham City Council Public Works Department in 1965. Showing cleared site and dilapidated housing earmarked for demolition [BCC/1/AO/D/3/8/1/28 Irving Street]

The collection includes fascinating documentation relating to particular streets and places. Much of this is visual, and is particularly rich amongst the Planning and Architecture Photographs and the Town Clerk’s Deeds bundles.

The archive continues to be used by Councillors and local government staff for the purposes of informing retrospective decision making, case work, public planning and meeting the local authority’s legal and democratic accountability as regards Freedom of Information and other legislation. Hence there was a sound business need to improve the documentation of this collection.

With the large metropolitan local authorities in particular now facing crippling cutbacks to staffing and resources, it is perhaps worth reflecting on the historic achievements of Birmingham’s Council, including bringing the city’s gas and water supply under municipal control in 1875 and the construction of 50,000 municipal homes between 1918-1939, in spite of the economic uncertainties of the inter-war years.

All of the main developments, achievements and, indeed, the controversies, are documented across the collection.

Block plan showing drainage by Thomas A. Turner, Architect, Hockley Heath, Birmingham. dated January 1915. Scale: 8 feet to 1 inch. Houses numbered 25 - 29 fronting St Georges Street and houses numbered 1 - 9, 2 washhouses and an ash pit in yard at the back. Part of BCC Town Clerk Deeds bundle BCC 10/BPS/3/1/67 (Numbers 533 - 542).  bcc-10-bps-3-1-67 no 542.

Block plan dated 1915 found amongst Birmingham City Council Town Clerk’s Deeds bundles. Showing houses at 25-29 St Georges Street and houses numbered 1 – 9, including ash pits, washhouses and drainage. [BCC/1/AM/D/1/3/1/542]

Additional historic printed and archival material relating to Birmingham City Council also appears across our other Archive Collections as well as the Local Studies and History Printed Collections. Where possible, related material is listed with full references in the series level descriptions for Council committees and departments as they appear in the on-line catalogue.

Other secondary works relating to the history of local government in the city of Birmingham can be found on the Birmingham Collection shelves in the Heritage Research Area, 4th Floor, Library of Birmingham.

Michael Hunkin, Archivist