Tag Archives: Local History

Christabel Pankhurst and Smethwick

Less than a fortnight after the Armistice of the Great War, a Bill was rushed through Parliament which allowed women to stand for election to Parliament on equal terms with men, ‘ironically allowing those women aged between twenty-one and thirty years to stand for a parliament they could not elect’.[1] The previous year, after disbanding the Women’s Social & Political Union, Emmeline Pankhurst and her eldest daughter Christabel formed the Women’s Party. This new organisation represented their political views which now conflated the winning of the war with the women’s cause. Emmeline explained that women needed a party of their own because ‘men had grown so accustomed to managing the world in the past that it had become rather difficult for women in politics to hold their own if they were associated with men’.[2] Emmeline declined the chance to run for election in favour of her daughter and eventually it was decided that Christabel would attempt to become Member of Parliament for the new industrial working-class constituency of Smethwick. While the views of Emmeline and Christabel had become increasingly jingoistic as the war progressed, and their political tendencies leaned far more towards the right than before, the Women’s Party also ‘advocated equal pay for equal work, equal marriage and divorce laws, equality of parental rights, the raising of the age of consent, equal opportunity of employment, and equality of rights and responsibilities in regard to the social and political service of the nation’.[3]

Election Results from the Birmingham Evening Despatch, 4th December 1918

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Spring Gardens

Spring Gardens, opened by Samuel Fallows on the corner of Floodgate Street and Ann Street, appeared in Birmingham Trade directories1 from 1785 until 1801.

From Bisset 1800

(Left) John Snape’s Plan of the Parish of Birmingham taken in the Year 1779 [Ref MAP/45209] and (Right) Thomas Hanson’s Plan of Birmingham, 1785 [Ref MAP/72831]

Occupying the eastern corner of plot 723 on John Snape’s Plan of the Parish of Birmingham, 1777,2 the  gardens were still not shown on the Plan of Birmingham survey’d by Thomas Hanson, 1785.3 Although several later authors 4 & 5 mistakenly describe the house as backing onto the river it is apparent from both John Kempson’s Town of Birmingham, 1808 and from John Piggot-Smith’s more detailed survey of 1824-1825 7 that the property was on the opposite side of Floodgate Street.

(Left) John Kempson’s Town of Birmingham, January 1st 1808 [Ref MAP/384604] and (Right) John Piggot-Smith’s Map of Birmingham engraved from a minute trigonometrical survey made in the years 1824 & 1825, 1828 [Ref MS 3700/13/1/1/1]. 

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Women, War and Peace: a West Midlands perspective

The 3rd Chris Upton Memorial Lecture, 12th November 2018

The Speaker is Maggie Andrews, Professor of Cultural History, University of Worcester

The Nell Haynes children, 1917

November 2018 marks the centenary of First World War armistice, which brought to an end four years of conflict and the century of the start of the very first parliamentary election campaign in which at least some women participated as voters and candidates.

In this year’s lecture, inspired by Chris Upton’s commitment to explore the lives of the ordinary people of the West Midlands, Professor Maggie Andrews will look at how the four years of war and the peace that followed affected the women in the region. Life on the home front offered some women new working opportunities or public roles and the new women voters created much excitement on polling day in December 1918.

Worcester munitions workers

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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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The Apollo Gardens

Eighteenth century Birmingham was graced, at different times, with two sites called the Apollo Gardens.

John Tomlinson’s Plan of Aston Manor, 1758, reduced in Plans of Birmingham and vicinity, ancient and modern,1884 [Ref. MAP/45209]

Holte Bridgman’s Apollo Gardens are shown on John Tomlinson’s Plan of Aston Manor, surveyed in 1758 [Ref. MAP/45209], on the north-east corner of the junction of Lichfield Road and Rocky Lane. The date when the gardens were first open to the public is not known.

On May 9th 1748 it was reported,

Whereas the Performance of Music and Fire-Works at Bridgman’s Gardens, at the Apollo at Aston, near Birmingham, was to have been on Thursday last, but the Inclemency of the Weather preventing ‘tis postpon’d to next Thursday Evening, when a grand Trio of Mr. Handel’s out of Acis and Galatea, and that favourite Duet of Arne’s call’d Damon and Cloe, will be perform’d by Mr.Bridgman, and a Gentleman of the Town… 1

The concerts were promoted by Barnabas Gunn, the first organist at St. Phillip’s church, who also promoted concerts at Sawyers Assembly Rooms and at the theatre in Moor Street. He was also,

…notable as a composer, producing sonatas and solos for harpsichord, violin and cello, and ‘Two Cantatas and Six Songs’ of 1736 that included George Frederick Handel among its subscribers.2

On Monday July 15th 1751 ‘Eleven of the Gentlemen of the Holte Bridgman’s Club and Eleven of the Gentlemen of Mr Thomas Bellamy’s Club’ met at the Apollo Gardens for ‘the most of three innings, for Twenty-Two Guineas’, the first recorded cricket match to take place in the district.3

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