One of the interesting accessions received at Archives and Collections, Library of Birmingham, back in 2013 was papers and photographs about William Robert Mackenzie (b. 1920) and his working life at Parkinson Cowan, (formerly the Parkinson Stove Company), later Thorn Gas Appliances Ltd. [Accession 2013/167 MS 4647]
William Robert Mackenzie (left) [MS 4647]
The factory was on Flaxley Road, Stechford, Birmingham, and Mr Mackenzie worked there from 1935 – 1983, beginning as tea boy and finishing as Departmental Manager for the Spares Department and Sheltered Workshop.
Mr Mackenzie was an active member of the Association for Research into Restricted Growth, advising on employment, and he helped to develop a Sheltered Workshop for people at Thorn Gas Appliances Ltd. who became disabled after joining the firm.
Article from the collection recognising the ‘Fit for Work’ award. [MS 4647]
Until last year, I worked with the Photographic Collections in the archives at the Library of Birmingham. I left promising to write a blog post at some point in the future. Over a year later, while meeting with former colleagues, I was reminded of this promise. It was suggested I could perhaps write about my favourite item as part of the ‘Explore your Archives’ week activities. My head was instantly full of potential candidates. You’ll have to be patient with me here, because I cannot help but mention a few of them, at least in passing, so you have some idea of the staggering wealth of choices I faced. For instance, perhaps I would write something about John Blakemore’s beautiful handmade books on the Zone System (MS 2372/C/1-23 and MS 2372 Acc. 2015/088), a system devised by Ansel Adams and used by Blakemore in his photography for many years. Or maybe a post showcasing a little-known collection of cyanotypes (MS 2652) – a stunning example of a very early photographic process.
Then again, perhaps I could write about a collection of 37 photographs taken randomly by a BCC employee, which when arranged in sequence connects up to form a panoramic view from the top of the old (and now vanished) Birmingham Central Library. When last shown, this series of prints prompted a reminiscence from a retiring librarian, of how it used to snow upwards in the well of Paradise Forum, before the glass roof was put on.
Or indeed I could certainly write about the photograph of a Pickford’s heavy haulage vehicle with its crew standing proudly beside it (MS 2726 ). This photograph appeared in so many talks – each time as evidence of something different, each time an integral part of a different narrative – sometimes telling the story of the man who took it, at other times illustrating a wider history of heavy haulage and the vehicles used, now a part of the history of the development of transport systems, and then also part of the social narrative of that particular time.
How was I to choose between them?
One of the aspects of working with Archives & Special Collections that has always interested me, is the impact that they have on people, how they can inspire people, and a brilliant example of this surely has to be the wonderful book of poems and extracts, ‘These Notes Are Out of Order’, by Andy Green.
Front cover of ‘These Notes Are Out of Order’ by Andy Green
Andy worked for many years in library and archive departments, combining heritage research projects with outreach interventions. ‘These Notes Are Out of Order’, Andy’s first collection with Shoestring Press, is directly based on his experience of working in archives and libraries…. “Unearthing lost voices from archive boxes”… exploring “the world in which our memories are housed, using fragments of evidence to ask deeper questions about how the past becomes catalogued, re-written, or erased. Who does our history belong to?”
Andy’s observations of working and researching in archives and libraries will no doubt strike a chord with many people who frequent them in search of answers, as in ‘Room of Sighs’,… and… a favourite, demonstrating evidence of Andy’s thorough use of the catalogues and indexes!, must be ‘Early Occupations’,
Saturday saw us host another wonderful exhibition in the Wolfson Centre as part of the Explore Your Archives campaign! We had many fantastic items on display and this year we would like to say a huge thank you to our researchers for making an exhibition out of themselves! By getting involved and nominating what you love from our collections, you have demonstrated the diversity of archives. We had a lovely turnout, and everyone who gave us feedback said they had learnt something so we couldn’t have asked for more.
Thank you again for helping us open up our collections and we are already starting to plan for next year!
Photographic collections appearing in the exhibition – you can learn more about these later in the week on The Iron Room.
Do keep an eye on the Iron Room this week – Explore Your Archive week is just getting started and if you missed the exhibition, we will be showing highlights over the next few days.
Explore Your Archive week 2016 is nearly upon us! A joint campaign run by the National Archives and the Archives and Records Association, Explore Your Archive runs from 19 – 27 November and aims to promote and encourage the use of local archive services across the UK. For events across the country, why not visit www.exploreyourarchive.org to learn what’s going on near you.
Part of an engine from Boulton and Watt – see the full item on display at our exhibition.
Here at Archives and Collections at the Library of Birmingham, we are having another pop-up exhibition following the great success of last year! This year we are Making an Exhibition out of our Researchers and we have had a great response with items already nominated including a letter from Winston Churchill and a drawing of a Boulton and Watt Engine! There is still time (just about!) to nominate an item and you can download the nomination form here.
So why not come along to our exhibition on Saturday, 19th November in the Wolfson Centre on Level 4. The exhibition will be open 1pm – 4pm and you can find details online on the Library of Birmingham events page.
We will look forward to seeing you!
We are thinking ahead this year to the 2016 Explore Your Archive Campaign in November. It’s a little early but you will soon understand why…
Last year we showcased some of our favourite things from Archives & Collections and this year we would love for you all to get involved by telling us what your favourite item is!
This can be an archive document, a map, a book from the Birmingham Collection – absolutely anything from Archives & Collections! All we ask is that you tell us what it is (reference numbers would be fantastic) and why it’s your favourite item.