Tag Archives: Library of Birmingham

The Birmingham Civic Society celebrates its 100th birthday today, 10 June 2018!

‘A Picture Map of the Park of Sutton Coldfield in the County of Warwick’ by Bernard Sleigh in Work of the Birmingham Civic Society from June 1918 – June 1946, by William Haywood, pp. 45-6 [Ref L20.053]

For 100 years, the members of Birmingham Civic Society have worked as volunteers to make Birmingham a better place for everyone, engaging with communities and schools to promote pride in the city.

The Society was started in 1918 with the aim of improving the appearance of the city, acting as an advisory body to the city council on issues of town planning and heritage.

From the beginning, it raised funds to buy land to create or add to parks and gardens in the city, to provide open spaces for recreation for all. The first was Daffodil Park in Northfield. The Society also published beautifully illustrated guides to, for example, the Lickey Hills and Sutton Park.

In 1923 and again in 1934, it helped to save the Birmingham Repertory Theatre from closure, by campaigns to boost audiences, and then by setting up the Barry Jackson Trust to preserve the theatre for the citizens of Birmingham.

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International Archives Day

International Archives Day, 9th June 2018. Archives: Governance, Memory and Heritage.

9th June is International Archives Day which aims to promote the role of archives and archivists. In the spirit of the day I am going to shed light on some of the hidden aspects of an archivist’s job.

Managing information about collections

One of the most important things that we do is manage information about our collections. This means the catalogues and indexes that give us and our users a way in to what we hold. Without these, using the archives in any way would be almost impossible.

In the past this information was produced in hardcopy format such as ledgers or index cards (some of which we still use). Nowadays archivists use catalogue databases and publish finding aids online.

Archivists all over the world deal with issues around collections information such as the challenge of converting old hardcopy catalogues in to electronic catalogue records and creating information on archives where no catalogues exist. There are international standards for archive cataloguing that archivists must follow when creating new records. Continue reading

A learning curve – my first attempt at cataloguing!

Screenshot of part of the completed catalogue for EP 12 on our cataloguing database

Cataloguing and updating  the online catalogue is an important part of what the archives team here at the Library of Birmingham does. We do this work to ensure that the collections in our care are publicised and made accessible for researchers. Being new to the team, I was given one of the extensive Ecclesiastical Parish collections to work on, which already had a list, but wasn’t properly catalogued. So this blog is about what I have learned about cataloguing  a parish collection!

The Ecclesiastical Parish records (EPs) are the records from parish churches around the city and some from the surrounding areas. Birmingham as a city covers a much larger area than you might think, and the city limits have contracted and expanded over time. The records cover the running of the churches, meetings, charities, day schools, and records of baptisms, marriages and burials, as well as many other things. These records can be invaluable to researchers and family historians.

In many cases the records have come into the Archives at different times, and sometimes form different sources. Each ‘deposit’ is given an ‘accession’ number to differentiate it from other deposits, but pulled together to form one collection – and all of the ecclesiastical parish collection references begin ‘EP’.

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Board of Ordnance, Gun Barrel Proof House, The Tower, Bagot Street, Birmingham

Sandstone block which was part of a wall that once marked the extremity of the Tower site. Author’s image.

For most of the 18th century, muskets ordered from Birmingham contractors by the Ordnance Board were either proof tested to the Tower standard, within the grounds of the gun maker by an Ordnance Board inspector, or taken to London to be proved.1

In 1755, Board of Ordnance viewers were stationed at Birmingham to gauge and view barrels made by contractors for the Ordnance. Those that passed the test were then sent to London for proof. In 1777, with the increase in demand caused by the American War of Independence, the Ordnance in Birmingham established a warehouse to try to ease the selection process, but this caused the Ordnance viewers to become even more discriminating, which made the process even slower. Those barrels that passed selection faced a nine-day journey to London by road and canal and the contractor had to bear the cost of transportation as well as the expense of any rejected barrels.4

Soon after the outbreak of the Napoleonic wars this system was deemed unacceptable as more efficient and less time consuming processing methods were needed.

In 1796 the Board of Ordnance decided that the only way to overcome the situation was to build a proof house at Birmingham.4 The Government purchased land between the Birmingham-Fazeley canal, Walmer Lane (later Newtown Row) and Bagot Street, Birmingham. 2 A state-owned proofing establishment was erected on the site, with the main entrance in Bagot Street.4

While the Ordnance proof house was being built, an agreement was made with the gunmakers Galton, Ketland and Walker, Whately, Grice and Blair for their barrels to be proved at their own proof houses by the Ordnance viewers. 4

The Bagot Street Ordnance proof house opened in 1798 for the purpose of viewing and stamping all new government arms with a ‘Tower’ mark.5

The first Bagot Street proving house, ‘the explosions of which were very terrific to strangers’, 3 was replaced in 1808 by a larger one on the same plot but ‘at a greater distance from the view rooms’. A new View Room was built in 1811.4

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Heritage Research Area familiarisation session

Following on from the great success of our previous three events, Archives & Collections are now offering another chance to get to know the sources available in our Heritage Research Area. Would you like to learn how the Heritage Research Area on level 4 could benefit your genealogical research?

At this free event, staff will guide you through our 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. Please email archives.heritage@birmingham.gov.uk or speak with a member of staff on level 4 to make a reservation.

Wednesday 25 April 2018

11 am – 1 pm

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

Our Heritage Research Familiarisation Session is now fully booked. If you haven’t managed to book on the session this time, we are planning to offer another one later in the year. Please check out the blog, the Lob website and twitter as well as posters located in the library nearer the time for confirmation of the date. 

A partial victory: Catherine Osler and Votes for Women

The Representation of the People Act finally received Royal Assent on 6 February 1918. This meant that women over thirty who were householders, wives of householders, occupiers of property of £5 or more annual value, or University graduates, could now vote. In March 1918 the Women Workers, Quarterly Magazine of the Birmingham Branch of the National Union of Women Workers included an article by Catherine Osler, President of the Birmingham Women’s Suffrage Society (BWSS).[1] Titled ‘At Last!’, Catherine reflected on the campaign to secure votes for women, something she had been closely involved with since her parents formed the BWSS in 1868. Catherine became President of the organisation in 1901. While it was certainly an achievement to be celebrated, the conditions of qualifying were ‘not all that could be desired – far from it! They do not fulfil the original and unaltered demand of suffragists for “the vote on the same terms as it is or may be granted to men”. It leaves still unrepresented classes of women who are among the worthiest, most indispensable workers for their country and for their fellows’.

Catherine Courtauld Osler (1854–1924) by Edward Steel Harper II, 1917-18 © Birmingham Museums Trust

Catherine also considered the wider campaign and the sacrifices that many women had made; ‘some, indeed, have dared infinitely more than this – have courted and endured gross insult, maltreatment, torture, death itself, in the determination to draw the world’s attention to women’s wrongs… the startling campaign of the militant section… has now become as a nightmare memory, but one which will survive in history’.

Birmingham had seen some very serious militant incidents carried out by suffragettes from 1909 onwards, including arson (most notably the destruction of Northfield Library), church disturbances, window smashing and the slashing of a painting. It was also where the first cases of forcible feeding of suffragettes took place, at Winson Green Gaol in September 1909 after a number of women were arrested for their protest during a visit to the city by Prime Minister Asquith. In the article, Catherine also acknowledged the campaign’s well-established roots, going back to the 1860s, stating that ‘it was not because on grounds of reason and common sense suffrage was “bound to come” but because the nation had for 50 years been patiently and unceasingly educated to the conviction of its justice and righteousness, that the conditions of war enabled its advocates to make the final effort which brought victory… a great dividing barrier has disappeared from the ranks of women themselves, and that henceforth we may go forward shoulder to shoulder’.[2]

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Belgian Refugees 1914 – 1918

Archives & Collections was recently contacted by Amsab-ISG, the Institute of Social History at the University of Ghent. We were reminded of a project they did which took place a couple of years ago to document the experiences of Belgian refugees that came to the UK during the First World War. In support of the project, Archives & Collections assisted their researchers in accessing the records of MS 652, the War Refugees Fund (Birmingham and District). Although only a small collection, it does include a Belgian Refugee Register 1914 – 1918. This volume lists the name, age and occupation of the refugees, the place they were sent to and the town of origin.

Belgian Refugee Register 1914 – 1918
[MS 652/6]

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