Tag Archives: Birmingham

Empire of Guns: The Violent Making of the Industrial Revolution by Priya Satia

For Black History Month, this week’s blog post is a review of a recent addition to our holdings:  Empire of Guns: The Violent Making of the Industrial Revolution by Priya Satia published this year by Duckworth Overlook.

At the heart of this studious discourse rests an argument which provides a new appraisal of the forces which drove Britain’s place at the forefront of the industrial revolution in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The central premise of the tome is that the real cause of economic and imperial expansion was due to an exceedingly lucrative military contracting the production of guns and other weaponry which kept the nation in an almost constant state of production and warfare. This revisionist view of the genesis of the industrial revolution places conflict and Britain’s global expansionist desires very much at the forefront of the country’s change to an industrialised nation.

The book is thoroughly researched as evidenced by the extensive footnotes and bibliography, but it also contains an emotional core – in the preface the author describes how a family conflict over a bequeathment heightened to a standoff which involved a gun and the ease with which the trigger can easily be pulled. From this episode the author expands upon and explores further some of the legacy issues brought about by British colonial expansion in the Indian Sub  – Continent which may have contributed as factors in the family turmoil.

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Sporting Heritage: A Victorian Baths

National Sporting Heritage Day, held on 30th September, was established to highlight sporting heritage post the 2012 Olympics. More information can be found on the National Sporting Heritage website.

As an enthusiastic swimmer, and occasional dipper in its pool, Woodcock Street Baths, now called The Sir Doug Ellis Woodcock Sports Centre, seemed an ideal subject to investigate in recognition of the day for the Iron Room.

Frontage, Woodcock Street, Public Baths Photos [Acc. 2012/146]

Woodcock Street Baths opened in 1860, the second baths to open in the city after Kent Street in 1851. Their formation was prompted by the Baths Act of 1846, whereby local authorities were obliged to provide bathing and washing facilities for residents.

The original architect of Woodcock Street Baths was Edward Holmes, who designed and built the baths for £12,000. At their opening they consisted of an engineer’s quarters, swimming baths, and private washing baths for men and women, each with their own plunge pool. In 1902, the building was completely renovated and a First Class Swimming and Baths were added.

Plan of Woodcock Street Baths [BCC 200]

This above ‘proposed’ plan is by Holmes. If it was for the initial construction, it suggests that originally the two pools were intended for men only. I’m unclear without additional research if this is what was actually built as much of the literature suggests that first class swimming and baths were added in a 1902 renovation, and that women had swimming facilities from the outset.

Plan of Woodcock Street Baths, 1920s [in Souvenir Programme of Gala Baths, LP 25.12]

In 1926, the washing facilities were again revamped and this time, a gala baths was added for events.

Programme 1929 [LP 25.12]

This programme above from 1929 highlights how events at the Gala Baths attracted local, national, and international competitors—a Miss Joyce Cooper of London, and two competitors from Holland, Miss Marie Braun, and Miss Marie Baron, who all took part in the non-local events, including relay races, 100 yards back-stroke, 100 yards free-style, 200 yards breast-stroke, plus an ‘Education Exhibition of Correct Strokes’ and ‘Ornamental, Scientific and Trick Diving’.

Programme 1959 [LP 25.12]

The Gala Baths held many different championships, including water polo tournaments and also ‘Speed Swimming’ contests as this programme from 1949 demonstrates. Improvements were also made to the lighting, as in 1948 under-water lighting was added to aid both swimmers and to help display the swimmers’ abilities for the audience.

Gala Baths, Woodcock Street, Public Baths Photos [Acc. 2012/146]

Many more modernisations of the baths have been made in the subsequent years, for example in the 1980s the Gala pool was covered over and turned into an assembly/sports hall. The most recent changes I’m aware of took place in 2010 when the complex was again refurbished (bringing a hiatus to my attending a very pleasant aquafit class!)

Swimming baths, Woodcock Street, Public Baths Photos [Acc. 2012/146]

As I understand, only the Second Class Baths from 1902 still remain. They are, however, beautifully restored.

Rachel Clare, Senior Archives Assistant

Further reading:

History of the Corporation Vol II, Bunce [BCOL 31 HIS]
The City of Birmingham Baths Department, 1851-1951, Moth. J [L45.33 MOT]
BCC Baths Committee [BCC 1/BN/1/1/1-]

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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Handsworth Shakespeare Reading Society

Shakespeare Reading Society reference book [Ref. MS 4907]

One of the many exciting collections to be added to Archives and Collections in 2017 was the records of the Handsworth Shakespeare Reading Society (MS 4907). The society began in 1880 when a group of women in Handsworth Wood decided to meet for a literary afternoon. As the name suggests, this developed in to a society for women which met regularly to read plays by Shakespeare. Membership was by personal invitation only and in 1887 rules were drawn up which specified that there should be nine meetings a year with eight of the nine meetings dedicated to reading Shakespeare plays and the ninth to work by another author.

The archive holds fascinating groups of records that tell us more about the running of the group through the years. Included are annual reports, minute books and the society’s reference book. The reference book includes a dated list of plays read and members who played the principal parts. Minute books in the archive cover the period from 1884-2001 beginning at the group’s 49th meeting and annual reports cover the period 1902-1999.

MS 4907 List of programmes in the Society’s reference book

Over the years group members carried out their own research in to the history of the group and these notes form part of the archive. They discovered that in 1903 the ladies went on, what is thought to be, their first theatre visit to the Stratford Theatre. They met at Snow Hill station, had lunch at the Shakespeare Hotel and then attended a matinee showing of ‘Everyman in his Humour’ by Ben Johnson. The archive contains programmes from some later performances attended by the group.

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Heritage Research Area familiarisation session

As part of Birmingham Heritage Week, Archives & Collections are offering the opportunity to get to know the sources available in the Heritage Research Area on level 4 of the Library of Birmingham.

At this free event, staff will guide you through 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 and pre-booking is essential. To book, click here.

Saturday 15 September 2018, 11 am – 1 pm.

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

Roses in the Archives

It’s summer, the time for roses to bloom in all their glory: and roses are abundant in Archives and Collections, from botanical illustrations to mechanical sprayers, via metalwork, valentines, songs, poems, theatre and – of course – chocolates.

‘Rosa rubra plena spinosissima’, the Moss Provence rose [F0961760, Vol. II, Plate CCXXI, opp. p.147]

Let’s start with our first illustration, of the ‘Rosa rubra plena spinosissima’, the Moss Provence rose, from the ‘Figures of the most beautiful, useful and uncommon plants described in the Gardener’s Dictionary’, by Philip Miller, London, 1760. [F096/1760, Vol. II, Plate CCXXI, opp. p.147]

Miller (1691 – 1771) was one of the most important horticultural writers of 18th century and was gardener to the Society of Apothecaries at Chelsea Hospital for nearly fifty years, from 1722. His one volume ‘Gardener’s Dictionary’, was first published in 1731, and there were eight editions during his lifetime.

Another beautifully illustrated volume from that period is the ‘Temple of Flora’ (1807) by Robert James Thornton (1768 – 1837), physician and botanist. Two of his ‘heroes’ had strong West Midlands connections, Thomas Beddoes of Bristol (for whom Boulton & Watt manufactured breathing apparatus), and Erasmus Darwin (Watt’s doctor for a while and a member of the Lunar Society). Thornton (c. 1765 – 1837) was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, and taught at Guys Hospital, London.  His beautifully illustrated volume has roses as the frontispiece, and of the rose, Thornton writes:

Nature has given her a vest of purest white, and also imperial robes of the brightest scarlet; and that no rude hand should tear her from her rich domain, she is protected by a myriad of soldiers, who present on every side their naked and sharp swords against the daring invader.

He aimed to connect the scientific aspects of Linnaean botany with the arts of painting and engraving, and all dedicated to the royal family. Sadly, the volume, which appeared in a serial form, was never completed and Thornton ran out of money. The copy at the Library of Birmingham is a reprint from 1951, ‘no. 206 of a limited edition of 250 copies, on hand made paper, with plates faithfully reproduced from the original engravings and the work described by G. Grigson, with biographical notes by H. Buchanan, and botanical notes by W.T. Stearn’. [F 096/1951]

These aren’t the earliest references to roses in Archives and Collections. There’s a bill from Thomas Wright to Walter Gough of Perry Hall for plants, roses and trees in 1745 [Gough 274/46]. They owned much land in the Midlands, including property in Wolverhampton, and there are several bills for various repairs to the White Rose [Inn] in Lichfield Street, Wolverhampton, from 1749 to 1762 [Gough 279, 281 and 310].

Watercolour of the design of the Colonnade room at Aston Hall for James Watt jr, c.1819, showing the north wall decorated with roses  [MS 3219/9/5/2/67]

There’s another ‘White Rose’, in the Watt Family papers. A letter to James Watt (Soho) from Lord Dundas (Upleatham, Northallerton), 13 December 1805, begins ‘I do not know whether your Workmen at Soho will stoop to so trifling a thing as a Front for a Soldier’s Cap’, and goes on to explain that while he was in Weymouth with his Regiment, the North Yorks, that summer, the King was,

….graciously pleased to express his approbation of the Regiment, and give it the Badge of the White Rose of York, to be wore in the Colours, and on the Caps, – I have made a sketch of a Rose , Crown and Lion, for the Front of a Cap, but must own that it does not please me……if you would be so good as to get some of your ingenious men to exert their Genius and send me sketches of their ideas I shall be much obliged to you – .

Watt, who was then retired from business, redirected the letter to Matthew Robinson Boulton. A sketch survives and a note saying that if any of the designs are thought suitable the plate for the badge could be made for two shillings [MS 3219/4/47/13].

Other references to roses in the ‘Archives of Soho’ include a letter to James Watt jr. (Soho) from Josiah Wedgwood jr., at Stoke, near Cobham, Surrey, 29 April 1798, which mentions that ‘the nightingales sing day and night and there are moss roses in bud’ [MS 3219/6/2/W/183].

At Matthew Boulton’s funeral in 1809, the 17 horses had ‘crape roses’ on headbands. The charges for these are on George Lander’s bill to Matthew Robinson Boulton, 18 August 1809 [MS 3782 /13/149/51].

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Interesting discoveries

As you may have seen in a previous post, cataloguing is a part of our role within archives; we do this in order to make clear what we have in our collections and to make documents accessible to members of the public for use in research and family history. Once in a while, however, something within the archive being catalogued can surprise you. The document below is one such surprise!

Copy inspeximus of Roger de Northbrook concerning the endowment of the vicarage of Aston, 1327 [Finding Number: [DV 362] 394018]

 The document comes from the Ecclesiastical Parish Records of St Peter and Paul in Aston (EP 41) and it is interesting in that it is a 19th century transcript of a 14th century copy of a 13th century original document, pertaining to the Vicarage of Aston. It comprises a short introduction from the incumbent Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield, followed by the Transcript of the 1254 original and below that the Bishop writes again that he puts his seal to the original document after he has looked through it. He has dated the inspection 1327.

Copy inspeximus of Roger de Northbrook concerning the endowment of the vicarage of Aston, 1327 [Finding Number: [DV 362] 394018]

Endowment of the Vicarage of Aston, Birmingham – 1254

To all the sons of the Holy Mother Church to whom these present Letters shall come Roger by Divine permission Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield health to him who is a true health to all Know ye all that we have inspected certain Letters of Roger sometime Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield of faithful memory our predecessor upon the ordination of the Vicarage of Aston in our Diocese made and sealed with his seal in these Words […]

To all the sons of the Holy Mother church to whom in their present writing shall come We Roger by Divine Mercy Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield send health Everlasting in the Lord to all of you Because our beloved in Christ the Prior Convent of Newport Pagnel in the Diocese of Lincoln have freely submitted the church of Aston in our Diocese with the Chapel of Bromwich and all other their appertenances /the right of Patronage is acknowledged to belong to them/ to our ordination by their letters patent as well of the Prior as the Convent under their seal promising that they would ratify and confirm whatever we should think fit to ordain concerning the church and chapel aforesaid with their appertenances the as well for the Honor of Religion as Hospitality attending to the charity which the said Prior and Convent say they are able to perform and likewise to the poverty of those who have suffered much in the cause of Religion and we desireing with great earnestness an increase in Divine Worship in our Church of Lichfield with this consideration that the said church of Aston with its appertenances ought not to be defrauded of its rights with the convent of our beloved in Christ Ralph Dean and the Chapter of Lichfield having God before our eyes have thus thought fit to decree concerning the same viz- that upon the departed or death of Mr Wm. Kelkennye Rector of same church the aforesaid Prior and Convent and their successors shall have for Ever to their own use the Church of Aston with the Chapel of Bromwich and all their appurtenances saving to the vicar in the same church the under written portions consisting viz- in the whole alterage with the Tithe of Hay, of mills principal Leganes, Tithe of Wool and Lamb, Sheaves increasing in and gardens tilled with the foot and in all other obventions and small tithes arising within the whole Parish with the House which Mr Ralph De Crophill sometime vicar of the said church of Aston possessed. Moreover the Prior and Convent aforesaid and their successor shall pay annually at Lichfield Twenty Marks viz, on the feast of the ascension of our Lord Ten Marks, and  on the feast of Saint Andrew the apostle Ten Marks and they shall procure and present a proper person to the archdeacon and to the said vicarage when it shall become vacant but the vicar of the said Church for the time being  shall personally minister in the same church and shall sustain of his own charges one Chaplain and on Deacon honest and fit in the said church and one chaplain and one clerk honest and minister in the chapel of Bromwich and he shall pay the Synodals but the in Chancil Books and Ornaments of the Church shall be provided and that sufficiently as well by the aforesaid Prior and Convent as by the Vicar aforesaid shall contribute to the Extraordinary burthens in equal portions. In Testimony and in confirmation of this our ordination we have put our seal to the present writing reserving to ourselves and our successors in the Church, the Pontifical and Parochial right and the Dignity of our Churches of Coventry and Lichfield. Dated at Breivode on the eve of Saint Cecilia the Virgin [21 November] Anno Dui 1254 in the presence of our Beloved sons in Christ Mr Ralph, Dean, Ralph, Treasurer, Mr R de Lakots, Walter de Perton, Alexander Blound, William de Eccleshall Nicholas de Lega, Canons of Lichfield.

Copy inspeximus of Roger de Northbrook concerning the endowment of the vicarage of Aston, 1327 [Finding Number: [DV 362] 394018]

Inspected by Roger De Northbrook (Northburgh) afterwards Bishop 1327In testimony of our inspection we Roger aforesaid have put our seal to the presents – Dated at Sallow 4th Mones of May Anno Dui 1327.

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