Tag Archives: Library of Birmingham

St Mary’s Convent: A Historic Aspect of Irish Handsworth

St Patrick’s Day will be celebrated in Handsworth, as it is across Birmingham, on 17th March 2017.  Indeed, celebrations commenced last weekend and many Irish from Handsworth joined in or watched Birmingham’s St Patrick’s Parade in Digbeth on 12th March.  Amongst those enjoying the Parade were Religious Sisters from St Mary’s Convent, Handsworth and they represent an ongoing Irish connection with this part of north Birmingham.

Handsworth today is rightly famous for its diverse communities and rich religious mix and it has long had a strong Irish element, not least in the post-war period as represented by Clare Short, a daughter of Irish parents who grew up in Handsworth and became Member of Parliament for the adjacent Ladywood Constituency (1983-2010).  Clare Short also represents a connection with an older Irish tradition in Handsworth, centred on St Mary’s Convent, Hunter’s Road.  Like so many second generation Irish in the area, Clare attended St Mary’s Catholic School (later called St Francis’ School), which was next to and supported by St Mary’s Convent.  From 1841 this convent has served the local Catholic and wider communities and has always had an Irish dimension, even in its early days when Handsworth was a semi-rural location with no distinctly Irish presence.

Catherine McAuley. Taken from Commemorating the Past, Commitment to the Future. [MS 4627]

St Mary’s Convent was established from Dublin by the Sisters of Mercy, who had been invited to Birmingham by Thomas Walsh, Catholic Vicar Apostolic for the Midlands.  Walsh wanted to harness the devotion and energy of the Sisters of Mercy in order to alleviate the suffering of Birmingham’s burgeoning poor.  Many of these were Irish, crammed into slums in central Birmingham such as John Street, as described by Thomas Finigan in his journal, now kept at the Library of Birmingham [MS 3255].  Originally founded in 1831 by Catherine McAuley, the Sisters of Mercy were a new departure for female Religions.  They led an active life in service to the poor and needy and attracted women who wanted to serve God in a practical way. In just ten years, the Sisters of Mercy spread across Ireland, were introduced to England and had laid the foundations of what would become a global ministry.

Journal of Thomas Finigan: Missionary – Birmingham Town Mission 1837 – 1838 [MS 3255]

Whilst Bishop Walsh’s focus was on inner Birmingham, practical considerations resulted in the Sisters of Mercy being established some distance away in leafy Handsworth, then on the outskirts of the town.  Funds were tight and a site was provided in fields opposite the home of the principal benefactor John Hardman [whose business records are held at the Library of Birmingham at MS 175].  St Mary’s Convent was designed for this site by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, leading light in the Gothic Revival.  However, when the Sisters arrived from Dublin, they did not represent a Catholic return to medieval notions of service and worship.  From the outset, they visited the poor and destitute in their homes and places of work.  176 years later, it may be difficult to envisage how radical this was.  The sight of overtly religious women, robed in the distinctive habit of the Sisters of Mercy and walking the streets was both novel and a dramatic visual representation of solidarity with the poor.  The practical need to walk from outlying Handsworth to the slums, combined with the social shock of (in the language of the time) ‘respectable’ women working with marginalised people ensured that the Sisters of Mercy were noticed.  Their high visibility was also unsettling to many at a time when Catholics were still largely discreet about their religious affiliations.

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Birmingham Children of War

September 12 2016 saw the official launch of Birmingham Children of War. This six month project, run by the Friends of Birmingham Archives and Heritage (FoBAH), with funding from the Heritage Lottery through their ‘First World War: then and now’ grants programme, was established to explore the experiences of children born or living through the First World War in Birmingham.

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Hall of Memory, Broad Street, Birmingham. Plaque (last of three) William Bloye. 1925.

The launch in the Wolfson Centre in the Library of Birmingham identified some initial archive and library resources to help us to learn more about children’s lives during this tumultuous period. A small selection of resources had been chosen to illustrate some of the themes that the project hoped to investigate in more depth with the help of volunteers and in partnership with other organisations.

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The Enduring Eye

Open from Friday 20th January, in the floor 3 Gallery at the Library of Birmingham, is an exhibition marking  the centenary of The Endurance expedition, led by Sir Ernest Shackleton, across the Antarctic, 1914-17. The Enduring Eye features Frank Hurley’s photographs, documenting the epic and harsh journey faced by the crew as they navigated across the unforgiving ice, both before and after their ship became stranded and then sank.

More details about the exhibition can be found here: http://www.libraryofbirmingham.com/blog/News/enduringeye

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Benjamin Stone Collection [MS 3196 Box 664/21-2]

Searching through our collections for references to Shackleton, I came across the above image of him, posed outside the Houses of Parliament in 1909. Featured alongside him is Arthur Balfour, 1st Earl of Balfour, a former Prime Minister.  This image was taken some five years before the crew of The Endurance faced their epic journey, by Birmingham East’s own MP, Sir John Benjamin Stone.  Upon entering Parliament, Stone had been passionate about recording its people and buildings, but photography was forbidden within Westminster. However, as the rules relaxed, he eventually became one of the first photographers to record inside. This determination and passion to document seems a feeble link to make compared to the hardships faced by the members of The Endurance crew, however, having the opportunity to glimpse into the past through Hurley and Stone’s images is one of immeasurable value for modern viewers.

 

LGBT History Month 2017

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February 2017 marks LGBT History Month. The archive of the project Gay Birmingham Remembered (MS 2788) held here at the Library of Birmingham contains material relating to the history of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans people in the city. The focus of the project was to collect material and memories from Birmingham citizens about gay life. The project culminated in the transfer of the records to the Library so that gay people’s lives in the city could be documented for the future and made available.

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Badges from the Gay Birmingham Remembered collection. [MS 2788]

As well as the colourful campaign badges featured in the photograph above, a number of LGBT newspapers and newsletters circulated in the West Midlands in the 1980s and 1990s feature in the archive. In the Pink: West Midlands free Lesbian and Gay newspaper is one of these and we hold copies dating from late 1980s. The newsletters are important because they record developments in the history of LGBT rights and are a reminder that legislation and attitudes taken for granted now were by no means commonplace in the 1980s.

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In the Pink from the collection of Gay Birmingham Remembered [MS 2788]

Here are some snapshots from the newsletters:

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Holocaust Memorial Day

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Every year, Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27th focuses on a different theme and this year, the theme is survivors. At the heart of Holocaust Memorial Day is a dedication to ‘learn something new about the past’.

How do people react in the immediate aftermath of unimaginable suffering? How can life be rebuilt after such trauma? Is justice after genocide possible? What role do we in the UK have towards individuals, communities and nations who have survived
genocide?
Holocaust Memorial Day is not only about commemorating past genocides and honouring those who died, but about standing with those who survive.

Holocaust Memorial Day Trust

This desire to learn is embodied in Zoe Josephs. Born in Manchester in 1915, Zoe moved to Birmingham and graduated from the University of Birmingham before marrying Dr. Harry Josephs in 1939. Zoe Josephs was the founder and leading personality, up until her death in 1998, of the Birmingham Jewish Historical Research Group. Between 1980 and 1998, she conducted research with the group on locally related Jewish history. Her research was acknowledged as extending the account of the Jewish population in England beyond London and into the provinces, and providing larger public access to these stories.

The papers of Zoe Josephs were deposited by the Birmingham Hebrew Congregation and are accessible by appointment in Archives and Collections at the Library of Birmingham. Many of the papers in the collection relate to the research for her book Survivors which includes a dedicated chapter of case studies, following the lives of refugees from the Holocaust (BCol 19.8, floor 4, Library of Birmingham). An extract of her book can be found on the Birmingham Images website, along with an article which describes her book as ‘a remarkable personal history of 89 refugees’. The full catalogue for the Zoe Josephs papers (MS 2524) can be accessed online through the Connecting Histories website, and for details of how to make an appointment to view items from the collection, please visit the Library of Birmingham website .

It seems only fitting that this year we remember Zoe Josephs, who worked so hard to remember the survivors.

New Year, New Additions

We haven’t updated you all for a while but we have some new additions to our Birmingham Collection printed bookstock. We hope you enjoy them!

New additions to our Birmingham Collection

New additions to our Birmingham Collection

BIRMINGHAM COLLECTION

1.Arthur, Valerie.
A History of Selly Oak Hospital. (2015).
BCOL 46.324 SEL, Level 4 & L 46.324 SEL, Level 5.

2.Cawood, Ian & Upton, Chris. (Ed.)
Joseph Chamberlain, International Statesman, National leader, Local Icon. (2016).
BCOL 78.1 CHA, Level 4 & L 78.1 CHA, Level 5.

3.Chinn, Carl & Dick, Malcolm.
Birmingham, The Workshop of the World. (2016).
BCOL 71 CHI, Level 4 & L 71 CHI, Level 5.

4.Coleman, Peter. (Ed.)
George Walton, 1796 – 1874. The Journal & Diary of a Rifleman of the 95th who fought at Waterloo. (2016).
BCOL 78.1 WAL, Level 4 & L 78.1 WAL, Level 5.

5.Gazey, Glynis.
Dear Wife ….. yours ‘til the end, Frank xxx. A Letter Journey Through World War 1. (2015).
L 78 HEF, Level 5

6.Hallam, David.
Challenging the Patriarchs : Women Candidates in the West Midlands for the 1918 General Election. (2015).
LF 76.8 HAL, Level 5.

7.Horizon Midlands.
Travel brochures and miscellaneous materials, c 1968 – c 1993.
Birmingham Trade Catalogue Collection

8.James, Pete.
Reference Works : The Library of Birmingham Photography Project. (2013).
BCOL 25.69, Level 4 & LF 25.69, Level 5.

9.Myers, Kevin.
Struggles for a Past. Irish and Afro – Caribbean Histories in England, 1951 – 2000. (2015).
L 21.85 MYE, Level 5.

10.Reekes, Andrew.
Speeches that Changed Britain : Oratory in Birmingham. (2016).
L 76.9 REE, Level 5.

11.Satre, Lowell, J.
Chocolate on Trial : Slavery, Politics & the Ethics of Business. (2005).
L 66.53 SAT, Level 5.

12.Sharp, Robert.
The Hoard and its History : Staffordshire’s Secrets Revealed. (2016).
BCOL 70.6 SHA, Level 4 & L 70.6 SHA, Level 5.

13.Thomas, Denise. (Ed.)
The Autobiography and Library of Thomas Hall B.D. (1610 – 1655). (2015).
L 78.1 HAL, Level 5.

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A Project we like

I love finding out about interesting projects that reinterpret and bring archives to light in imaginative ways. One local project that I am enjoying following is the work of Sarah Moss the artist in residence at Winterbourne House and Gardens.

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Sarah is currently working on a series of linocuts depicting moments from the life of the Nettlefold family who built Winterbourne and lived there in the early twentieth century. John Sutton Nettlefold was a member of the prominent local manufacturers Nettlefold and Co. (later Guest, Keen and Nettlefold) as well as being the managing director of the ammunition manufacturer Kynoch Ltd for many years. He was also a local councillor concerned with social reform and urban planning; in his role as first chairman of the local housing committee he extended the slum clearance programme and established the Moor Pool Estate in Harborne. John and his wife Margaret (nee Chamberlain) were part of the interconnected group of Unitarian families in Birmingham at the time. The family archive which is housed at Winterbourne is a rich resource for understanding domestic and personal experiences of life in a middle class Edwardian family.

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