The Birmingham Temperance Society

The Drunkards Tree, detail. From ‘A Selection of tracts and handbills published in aid of the Temperance Reformation’, 1839 [Ref. L41.9/26067].
As the festivities of Christmas and celebrations of the New Year have drawn to a close, many people give up drinking alcohol for the month, in what has recently become known as ‘Dry January’. The annual campaign promotes the many health benefits of abstaining, in turn highlighting the negative impacts. There have been many organisations in history which have promoted moderation and abstinence in the use of alcohol, most notably The Temperance movement which arose at the beginning of the 19th century. Did you know that one of the first British temperance societies was formed in Birmingham?

The Birmingham Temperance Society was founded in 1830, acting as a movement against the widespread, destructive drinking of the time. Death rates greatly outnumbered birth rates, with ill heath, crime and poverty prevalent. During the 1820’s, alcohol usage was widespread among all social classes, if not more so among the social groups who could least afford it. Water, when it was accessible, was unsafe and so alcoholic beverages became a primary thirst quencher, even administered by hospitals to patients.

Initially, they did not promote total abstinence, rather objecting to the abuse of hard, potent spirits that were rife at the time, deeming the social use of beer and ciders acceptable, and seen as ‘temperance drinks’. Later on, a vow of total abstinence of any alcoholic drink was adopted by the movement.

William Collins, founding publisher of Collins, Sons & Co. Ltd. and temperance activist, arrived in Birmingham on business, and was disturbed by the heavy drinking of strong spirits prevalent within the ‘Gin Palaces’ of the time. He voiced his concerns during a meeting held on August 30th, 1830, in the Offices of the Mendicity Society which was attended by leading businessmen and Churchmen of the time. The suggestion of forming a Temperance Society was welcomed, and following the signing of a declaration, The Birmingham Temperance Society was formed.

The core beliefs and ideologies of the society are printed in ‘A Manual for Temperance Societies’ [Ref. LS 11/8/28/63233] along with the standard pledge, which all members would sign up to:

‘I do voluntary promise, that I will abstain from Ale, Porter, Wine, Cider, Ardent Spirits, and all other Intoxicating Liquors; and I will not give [out] to others, except as Medicines, or in Religious Ordinance; and I will endeavour to discountenance the causes and practice of Intemperance’ – [Seventh Chapter. The pledge]

The first public reference to the society, in a report of the 1st Annual Meeting, recorded in Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, September 5th 1831.

‘Temperance Reformation; A Selection of Tracts and Handbills’ [Ref. L 41.9] is an insightful collection of temperance literature, sourced from pamphlets, leaflets, and posters, promoting the ideologies and beliefs of the society. One of the items in this volume, ‘The Wonderful Advantages of Drunkenness stated in 30 Maxims Worth Remembering’, takes on a satirical tone, listing us through the many ill effects of alcohol:

‘If you wish to be always thirsty, be a Drunkard; for the oftener and more you drink of intoxicating liquors, the oftener and more thirsty you will be.

If you would wish to blunt your senses, be a Drunkard; and you will soon be more stupid than an ass.

If you are determined to be poor, be a Drunkard, and you will soon be ragged and pennyless.     

If you would wish to starve your family, be a Drunkard; for that will consume the means of their support.

If you would be a dead weight on the community, be a Drunkard; for that will render you useless, helpless, burdensome and expensive.’

‘The Wonderful Advantages of Drunkenness’ in ‘A Selection of tracts and handbills published in aid of the Temperance Reformation’, 1839. [Ref. L41.9/26067]
In a handbill entitled ‘The Public House’ we are warned of the destructive environments held within:

‘Keep away from the public house – you will derive no advantage from its company. There the drunkard holds his detestable revels – there the gambler entices to the waste of property – there the blasphemer utters his horrible imprecations – there those who are ripe for destruction tempt others to imitate their crimes, and lead the unwary to their ruin.’    

‘The Temperance Tree / The Drunkard’s Tree’ from ‘A Selection of tracts and handbills published in aid of the Temperance Reformation’,1839 [Ref; L41.9/26067].
An intricate engraving portrays ‘The Temperance Tree’, symbolising the blessings which spring from total abstinence:

‘Abstinence from all intoxicating drinks purifies the blood, preserves beauty, increases strength and assists reason, it intends to make man moral, is an angel to his soul a friend to his pocket, his wife’s joy & his children’s blessing, it elevates man in the scale of society, prepares for the reception of the truths of religion which will make him happy here, everlastingly happy hereafter, he is a friend to his race, who prays for others good health & seeks to preserve his own.’

On the opposite side is illustrated ‘The Drunkard’s Tree’, depicting the many evils which wreak from drunkenness:

‘Drunkenness corrupts the blood, defaces beauty, diminishes strength, weakens the brain & destroys reason, it hardens the hear, is a devil to the soul, a thief to the purse, the beggars companion, the wife’s woe & the children’s sorrow, it degrades man below the level of the brute and exposes him hereafter to divine displeasure, eternal damnation, he is a self-murderer who drinks to others good health and robs himself of his own.’

The society prospered with increased membership, moving premises from Bennetts Hill to the Temperance Hall in Temple Street. The ‘Women’s Temperance League’ branch was formed, as well as ‘The Birmingham Temperance Society Philharmonic Choir’, to promote the social activities of the society.

Tom Kennedy, Archives & Collections Assistant


New Accession Spotlight: Dunlop Dramatic Society

Programme for Dunlop Dramatic Society’s 1953 production of “1066 and All That” [MS 4976 (Bundle 1)]
One of the less visible activities we undertake in Archives and Collections is our regular acquisition of new collections that help record and tell stories about life in Birmingham. This week I thought it would be nice to share a recent donation which has made its way in to our safekeeping.

Earlier this year, we were fortunate to be given a set of records relating to the Dunlop Dramatic Society.  The records were collected by Albert Round who worked for Dunlop for over 30 years, firstly in the Cure section, later in the Latex Development Section and was Technical Manager in the post-war period, retiring in 1961.

Production photograph showing Albert Round in ‘She Passed Through Lorraine’, April 1957 [MS 4976 (Bundle 2)]
Albert was a founding member of the Dunlop Dramatic Society (DDS) and heavily involved in it throughout his time at Dunlop. He produced over 60 productions for the society as well as acting in many more, and eventually became Chair of the society. The DDS was founded in 1933 and was initially a play reading group. It was one of several projects Dunlop organised to promote healthy and creative leisure pursuits as well as develop a sense of community within its workforce.  These were regularly reported on in the ‘Dunlop Gazette’, the in-house magazine for the company.

Review of first public performance “Pygmalion” Evening Despatch April 1934 MS 4976 (Bundle 1)

The first public performance for the society was at Abbey Hall, Erdington in 1934 with a production of George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’ which gained favourable reviews in the local press. Following this, the society continued to produce many plays to the general public. They marked their 50th production in 1953 with an ambitious production of ‘1066 and All That’ involving 27 scene changes and a large cast of players. During this time Dunlop Hall had been built at Fort Dunlop. Originally it had been designed to provide a space for dance bands but following requests from Mr Round and his fellow players the company were persuaded to fund a fully equipped stage. By 1970, the society was celebrating their 100th production.

Cast photograph for the 1953 production of ‘1066 and All That’ printed in The Dunlop Gazette February 1970 [MS 4976 (Bundle 1)]
When Albert retired, he was presented with an album depicting the winners of the H. L. Kenward Trophy. Sir Harold Kenward was Sales Director at Dunlop and also President of the Motor Trade Association. He had attended the society’s first production in 1933 and was a champion of the society. The trophy awarded was in his honour at an annual competition of one act plays in which different divisions within Fort Dunlop competed. The winning play was recorded with a beautiful hand painted image commemorating the victors along with a cast list. Unsurprisingly, Albert features as either actor or producer on many of these posters. Following the success of this competition it expanded to become an inter-factory festival.

Images from the Commemorative Album presented to Albert Round, 1965 [MS 4967]
The commemorative album, along with a large collection of production photographs, programmes and news clippings have now been passed to the Archives and Collections team by Albert’s daughter. This small collection offers us a glimpse into a more domestic and personal side of a famous industrial company. These records are now available for anyone with an interest in the subject to view by appointment in the Wolfson Centre under the reference MS 4976.

Two Newspaper cuttings from an unknown newspaper, reporting on the DDS production of ‘The Fourth Wall’, April 1935 [MS 4976 (Bundle 1)]
Other related collections in our holdings include:

  • Album presented to Dunlop Dramatic Society, when winner of the W. W. Foster Trophy for the promotion of Dramatic Art  (MS 4683)
  • The Dunlop Gazette 1919-1971 (LF 67.6)
  • The Dunlop Art Society exhibition catalogues (L54.6)
  • Records of the Dunlop Rubber Co. (MS 2424)

Kathryn Hall, Archivist

Birmingham boundaries

While watching the recent Tolkien biopic, I was confused by a scene in which a young Tolkien is distraught at being told by his mother that they are moving, from their home near Sarehole mill, “to Birmingham”. I later worked out that, while the mill is now in Birmingham, it didn’t become that way until roughly ten years after the scene in question, and would have been part of Yardley Rural District Council at the time.

Birmingham’s borders have expanded a great deal over the years. In the early 1800’s the boundary of the Town of Birmingham didn’t even reach as far as Deritend.

Map of the town and parish of Birmingham shewing the boundaries as perambulated by [the Commissioners of the Street Acts] in the year 1810. [Ref. MAP/14009]
After the 1832 Reform Act Birmingham became a parliamentary constituency, represented by two MPs. As well as the original town the new constituency included Edgbaston, Bordesley, Deritend, Duddeston and Nechells.

In 1891 Saltley, Harborne and Balsall Heath became part of Birmingham. They also became part of Warwickshire, Harborne having previously been part of Staffordshire, and Balsall Heath of Worcestershire. Quinton was added in 1909.

Map of the City of Birmingham, published by order of the Council. W.S. Till, city surveyor, 1892. [Ref. 114544]
The most dramatic expansion of Birmingham came in 1911 thanks to the ‘Greater Birmingham Scheme’. Yardley, Acocks Green, Hall Green, Sparkhill, Moseley, Kings Heath, Bournville, King’s Norton, Selly Oak, Northfield, Handsworth, Aston Manor, all became part of Birmingham (and of Warwickshire).

Map of Greater Birmingham. c.1911. [Ref. MAP/456336]
Perry Barr was ceded to Birmingham in 1928, and Sheldon and Shard End were added in 1931.

The final expansion came in 1974 when Sutton Coldfield joined Birmingham as part of the creation of the West Midlands.

Ward boundary revisions. 1973.

Geoff Burns, Archives & Collections Assistant

Joseph Chamberlain  –  A Reflection in Postcards

Joseph Chamberlain, MS 4067 (2011/118)

For some time now I’ve been intrigued by the substantial collection of Joseph Chamberlain postcards  – portraits and cartoons we retain in the archive (MS 4067/ Acc 2011/118) which I first stumbled upon nearly twenty years ago when I was a callow youth of a library assistant in the Local Studies & History department in the Central Library. The collection has stayed with me ever since – nothing is known of the provenance of the postcards or who may have made the decision to assemble the postcards into a collection.

Joseph Chamberlain (8 July 1836  – 2 July 1914) is one of Birmingham’s most enigmatic historical figures  –  a man of many guises and epithets : Old Joe, the august champion of tertiary education and the soubriquet under which the Chamberlain Memorial Clock at Birmingham University is sentimentally referred to celebrating his position as the first chancellor at the university. This is in sharp contrast to the firebrand title of Radical Joe, the social reformer mayor and visionary striving to improve the living conditions of the labouring classes in Birmingham. He spearheaded large scale slum clearance of the town centre through the powers of the Improvement Scheme Act in the early 1870s which endeavoured to create a Parisian style boulevard running from New Street to Aston Road which was latterly named Corporation Street. And let’s not forget the Chamberlain Clock in the Jewellery Quarter which was erected by his constituents to commemorate Chamberlain’s visit to South Africa as Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1903. This is an often overlooked part of his political career.

MS 4067 (2011/118)

Continue reading “Joseph Chamberlain  –  A Reflection in Postcards”

The Clive Davies Postcard Collection

New Street, Birmingham; c.1910. A hand painted postcard from an original black and white photograph [MS 2703/B/2/1]. The hand coloured treatment adds a unique style and character to the cards.
On the 1st October 1869, the first postcard was issued in Austria – a plain card with a printed two-kreuzer stamp on one side and a space for a message on the other –  one year later in 1870 they were issued in Britain.  In 1884, British Post Office regulations introduced the half penny postage rate – previously a standard rate of a penny for letters – initiating in a rapid use and circulation of postcards.

Alongside the new reduced cost, the chief appeal lay in the suitability for communication.  Mass produced, postcards were cheap and easy to acquire – and prior to the telephone, they remained the most popular way of communication.  Deliveries took place several times a day, making it possible to send a card and get a card with a reply the same day.

During the 1890s, postcards advanced to featuring a picture on one side, with a divided space on the other to fit an address and message.   By the turn of the century, picture postcards were embraced by the nation, becoming a welcome commodity in everyday life.

A series of postcards taken from the Cannon Hill Park album, [MS 2703/B/2/4]. Donated to the people of Birmingham by Louisa Ryland, the park opened on 1 September, 1873. One of the City’s premier parks, it boasts many facilities, and over the years has been host to a wide variety of events, as illustrated in these cards. Popular attractions of the time included an Avery, bandstand, and fields for sports. A more unusual feature was a giant boulder; also known as ‘The Moon Rock’ or ‘The Meteor’, it was found while excavating the lake and believed to have been deposited by a glacier that ran from the Arenig mountains in Wales 18,000 years ago.
The Clive Davies postcard collection [MS 2703] consists of over 8000 postcards, and provides an illustrated history of Birmingham and surrounding suburbs, and of the production history of post cards, through a series spanning from the late 19th century, through to the 1990s. Continue reading “The Clive Davies Postcard Collection”

Moseley Road Baths to the Rescue

Pool 2 at Moseley Road Baths. (c) MRB OIC.

Moseley Road Baths was opened in 1907 with 2 pools and 46 individual bathing cubicles, known as ‘slipper baths.’ Although only one pool is still open for swimming, this stunning Grade II* listed building, full of stained glass, glazed bricks and cast iron has been at the heart of the Balsall Heath community for nearly 112 years.

There’s something about Moseley Road Baths which draws people in, I have been involved for around three years, first as a student writing a Conservation Plan for the building, then as a campaigner in the Action Group, and now as a trustee of Moseley Road Baths CIO. After a very successful Crowdfunder campaign, in April of 2018 MRB CIO took over the swimming operation and since then we have had a whirlwind 15 months learning how to run a historic swimming pool! Continue reading “Moseley Road Baths to the Rescue”

Windrush Strikes Back

Selection of material from the collections consulted by Windrush Strikes Back Decolonial Detectives in the Wolfson Centre, Library of Birmingham, May 2019

The 22nd June marks the anniversary of the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks in Essex in 1948, bringing c. 500 people from Jamaica and Trinidad to the UK. Many went on to fill some of the post-war employment shortages, particularly in state-run services.

In the years following the arrival of Windrush, greater numbers of people travelled from the Caribbean and settled in the UK. This included in Birmingham and the surrounding areas, and their experiences, and those of their descendants, have become a significant part of the history of the post-war period. However, although there is some archival material documenting the experiences, many stories of the experiences of British African Caribbean people have yet to be discovered.

Last month we welcomed the Windrush Strikes Back: Decolonising Global Warwickshire project to Archives and Collections. This is a six-month community-engaged project aiming to uncover the hidden histories written by British African Caribbean people in Warwickshire, Coventry, Birmingham and the surrounding areas. Facilitated by the Global Warwickshire Collective, the project intends to,

…inspire community members to take more active ownership of and involvement in the production of our histories, and to challenge the exclusivity of historical scholarship in Britain.


Continue reading “Windrush Strikes Back”