Tag Archives: Local History

Windrush Pioneers: learning more about the experiences of Caribbean migrants

One Of Henry Gunter’s publications on racial inequality ‘A Man’s A Man’ 1954 (ref MS 2165/1/3)

2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks in Essex in 1948. The ship brought around 500 people from Jamaica and Trinidad to the UK. Many of the new arrivals were employed in state services such as the NHS and public transport filling post-war employment gaps. An article from the Birmingham Mail from the day that the Windrush landed is available to view online.

The Windrush has come to represent the beginning of greater numbers of people from the Caribbean moving and settling in the UK. This is an important part of the history of Birmingham and we see this legacy today in the make-up of the city.

In our archive collections at the Library of Birmingham we hold material which sheds light on the experiences of those newly arrived in the UK between the 1940s and 1970s. In this blogpost I will focus on two collections but there is more to be explored in the archives.

Campaigning against the colour bar

Henry Gunter was born in Jamaica but moved to the UK in 1950 which was only two years after the Empire Windrush arrived. Gunter, as a campaigner against racism and injustice, was at the forefront of issues black people making a new life in Birmingham were facing. Fortunately for us his writings were a key part of his campaigning activity, so these issues are documented in his archive (MS 2165).

Continue reading

Advertisements

Queen Victoria opens Aston Park, 15 June 1858

Illustration from the Illustrated Times in ‘Scrapbook of Queen Victoria’s visit to Warwickshire’, [ref MS 3441]. Caption reads: Arrival of Her Majesty at Aston Hall

Queen Victoria’s visit to Warwickshire in 1858 brought her to Birmingham to open Aston Hall and Park to the public.

The Hall had been the residence of James Watt jr. until his death in 1848. Afterwards it seemed under threat of encroachment by the town and there was a feeling that the Hall and Park should be ‘saved’. Birmingham town council had no funds to enable this, so a scheme was suggested by William Henry Reece, a solicitor, that the hall and park should be purchased by the people of Birmingham and area, by means of small shares, as a recreation ground for the public. The scheme was launched in 1857. The owners offered to sell hall and the 42 acres of land for £35,000; a prospectus was issued, and a company formed for raising the money by issuing 40,000 shares at a guinea each. At a public meeting presided over by George Dawson, a committee was appointed to aid the scheme, later joined by members from the town council, and a deposit of £3,500 was paid, the purchase to be completed by April 1860. The campaign was successful, and with some larger donations from richer citizens of Birmingham to assist, the purchase of hall and park was completed. Continue reading

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

Continue reading

An Accident Waiting to Happen? The Whittall Street Explosion of 1859

Memorial Card to the victims of the Whittal Street Explosion, 1859 [Ephemera Collection LE/Cards/1]

Come and hear Liz Palmer share the account of the explosion at the Percussion Cap Manufactory, which tragically which took the lives of eighteen young women and one young man.

Birmingham has long been associated with the gun trade, with the gun quarter being focused on the area on the Weaman Estate around Whittall Street. Innovations in the industry in the early mid-19th Century saw the establishment of several percussion cap manufactories as percussion cap weapons replaced flintlocks. The manufactories employed mainly girls and young women whose nimble fingers were suited to the many processes involved in the production of these tiny items.  But the work was extremely dangerous involving several explosive substances including fulminating mercury. Explosions involving loss of life were not uncommon; one of the worst of these was in 1859 at the Pursall & Phillips  Manufactory on Whittall Street itself which resulted in the death of 20 young people – all but one of them female.

From the starting point of an intricate Victorian Memorial card to the victims, most of whom were interred at St Mary Whittall Street, Liz Palmer has used material in Archives, Heritage and Collections together with contemporary newspaper coverage to uncover the events surrounding the catastrophe, the lives of many of the individuals involved and to examine whether this really was ‘an accident waiting to happen’.

This free talk will take place on 19th May 2018, 2pm – 3pm in the Wolfson Centre for Archival Research, Floor 4, Library of Birmingham.

Spaces are limited to 20 people. To make a reservation, please contact FOBAH by emailing fobah@outlook.com.

 

 

 

 

100th Anniversary of the RAF

Royal Air Force Birmingham wireless telegrapher appeal, a recruitment appeal for ‘Young Men, 17 1/2 years and upwards’(MS 2966/3/1).

The 1st of April 2018 marks the 100th Anniversary of the Royal Air Force (RAF), when the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps merged to become the first independent airforce in the world, following the passing of the Air Force (Constitution Act) 1917.  In this week’s blog post, I thought I’d take a look at some of the varied sources we hold here in Archives & Collections at the Library of Birmingham, relating to the RAF.

To start with, some of the earliest material I found comes from a collection called ‘Circulars relating to recruitment, fund raising and coal rationing from the First World War, 1917-1919’ (MS2966).  These circulars were sent from various sources to the Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham for the purpose of supporting the war effort.  It is likely that they were displayed in a number of Birmingham’s Catholic churches. You can see some examples of these in the image at the top of this blog post and below.

Birmingham Royal Air Force recruitment appeal to the men of Birmingham to keep up the bombing campaign against Germany by volunteering at the RAF Reception Depot, Paradise Street, 1918 (MS 2966/3/2)

Continue reading

Humphrey Repton (1752 – 1818)

Detail from the title page of ‘The Landscape Gardening and Landscape Architecture of the late Humphrey Repton, Esq.’ by J.L.C. Loudon, 1840, [Ref JL22]

24 March, 2018 marks the bicentenary of the death of Humphrey Repton, the first person to use the title of ‘Landscape Gardener.’

Matthew Boulton wrote ‘Landskip Gardener’ on the docket of a letter from Repton dated 21 September 1789 [Ref. no. MS 3782/12/34/17/1].

Portrait of Repton in ‘The Landscape Gardening and Landscape Architecture of the late Humphrey Repton, Esq.’ by J.L.C. Loudon, 1840, [Ref JL22]

Repton had visited Boulton’s estate at Soho, Birmingham, and seen how the steam engine of the Soho Manufactory was being employed to raise water to flood areas to create pools and to water trees in Boulton’s gardens. He asks Boulton for information on the quantity of water which could be delivered by a steam engine at any given height from 10 to 20 yards, and the probable expense of erecting such a machine:

This sort of general idea is very necessary for me to be acquainted with as Great Men are very apt to ask what it will cost?

There are a couple of other letters from Repton to Matthew Robinson Boulton in 1795. On 6 December 1795, he wrote from his home at Hare Street by Romford, explaining that he had been absent from home for some weeks so had not been available to receive the copying press which had obviously been reserved for him: Continue reading

The Navigation Boarding School GR:SP053872

John Snape’s 1779 Plan of the Parish of Birmingham (left) and John Pigott Smith’s map of 1824-1825 (right) (Ref MAP/45209) 3

On 27 September 1769 Richard Hawkins leased approximately one acre of land, land that had formerly been part of Rotton Park fronting to Ladywood Lane, to William Round, a Birmingham toymaker, with an agreement that he would build upon it a ‘dwelling house’ for a public house or inn.

When William Round, in return for a loan of £400, assigned the lease of the same property to the executors of the will of Elizabeth Burton on 7 November 1770 Round had built a public house called the Navigation Coffee House with outbuildings, a bowling green and ale gardens.

Although no mention of the Birmingham canal, which opened on 6 November 1769, is made in any of the deeds associated with this property it was obviously the reason for William Round’s choice of the site and for the choice of name for his public house.

In various property transactions relating to the same property on 31 January 1775, 23 February 1775, 25 March 1778, 3 & 5 October 1778 and 5 September 1782 the building is referred to as the Navigation Coffee House.1

 The Birmingham Poor Rate Levy Book entries for the poor law year 1771-1772 until the year 1776-1777 have the entries Cooper & Jones, Navigation Coffee House. (There is no entry for the year 1770-1771). In 1777-1778 the rates are paid by Jones alone, in 1778-1779 no name is entered and in 1779-1780 & 1780-1781 they are paid by Edward Kelly or Kenny.2

John Snape’s 1779 Plan of the Parish of Birmingham (see top left image) shows little evidence of the buildings (a comparison of plots with John Pigott Smith’s map of 1824-1825 (see top right image) suggest that the Navigation Coffee House lies in bottom right-hand corner of plot 130).3

Continue reading