Tag Archives: Local History

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

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Chris Upton Memorial Lecture

On Monday 6th November 2017, the Library of Birmingham will be hosting the second annual Chris Upton Memorial Lecture.

Our speaker this year is George Demidowicz who will be speaking about Eureka Moments. Here is a preview of George’s own Eureka moments that you will be hearing about…

“For me researching and writing about the past is an extremely creative process. My interests are in landscape history, building history and archaeology and much of this involves reconstructing what has been lost, forgotten, misunderstood or distorted by myth and legend. To do what I do most effectively, I have combined work in the field with many visits to the archives. The motivation for the many hours spent in record offices is the reward of discovery – recovering something new or unknown about the past.

I am sure that Chris Upton was inspired by the same urge to discover and recreate the past.

 The process of discovery can be a long and drawn out one, but sometimes there are those moments when everything comes together and the last piece of the jigsaw snaps into place. Using another well-worn cliché, it’s comparable to a light suddenly being switched on, illuminating the darkness in which you had been stumbling, often for some time.

These moments can happen in the archives, when a document that you hoped existed is removed from its packaging or box, or a map or drawing is unrolled and laid out flat on the desk   – and suddenly the hunt is over. I am particularly interested in old maps and plans, as they can immediately provide the information you were seeking, information that would need to fill the equivalent of many, many manuscript pages.

The eureka moment can take place later at home or in the office; you pour over the material  laboriously copied or photographed in the archives, sifting and sorting, and suddenly something clicks into place. Sharing research with colleagues or fellow researchers can have the same result.

Despite these moments of discovery, the obscuring mist is not always lifted from the past and as many questions can be raised as answered. All our history is not recorded in the archives.

I have chosen here a sample of my most exciting breakthroughs in forty years of research and, with a few others, I hope to convey the thrill of the chase…

Lifford Hall, King’s Norton

Lifford Hall, King’s Norton. A gentleman’s residence of the 17th century? Why are there tunnels under the front lawn?


The Coin Cutting Out Room at the Soho Mint 1825

Why was locating this room the key to reconstructing the Mint at this time?


The Saracen’s Head.

How was the lost history of the Saracen’s Head retrieved?


Medieval Rental Rolls

How were the Birmingham medieval rentals discovered? This fragment records ‘in novo vico’,  (in New Street) 1296, its earliest reference.”

George Demidowicz


The memorial lecture will take place at 5:30pm on the 6th November 2017, Room 101, Level 1, at the Library of Birmingham. To book your place at the lecture, please e-mail archives.heritage@birmingham.gov.uk.


In addition this year, The National Archives are coming to present Archives & Collections with our Accreditation certificate. Achieving Accredited status shows that Birmingham Archives and Collections has met clearly defined national standards relating to the care of its unique collections, and the service it offers to its entire range of users. We are really proud of achieving Accredited status and in recognition, the presentation will be from 5pm – with the public lecture starting at 5:30pm.



If you missed it last time…

Uncovering Quaker Heritage: pop-up exhibition

Saturday 7th October 2017 1.00-4.00pm

Wolfson Centre, Level 4, Library of Birmingham

Birmingham and Warwickshire have been important centres of Quaker activity since the middle of the 17th century and Quakers have been highly influential in the social, economic, philanthropic and political development of the region.

If you missed our popular ‘Uncovering Quaker Heritage‘ pop-up exhibition which we ran earlier this year (or enjoyed it so much you’d like to see it again!), we’re offering another opportunity for you to find out more about the records we hold and see a selection of original material from the archive of the Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, dating from the 17th century to the 20th century.

There may even be a few additional items on display which have been newly deposited in Archives & Collections during the year…

Entry is free. All are welcome!

This material is made accessible via the Birmingham & Warwickshire Quakers project, a cataloguing project funded by a National Archives Cataloguing Grant and a bequest from a member of Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.


The Old Meeting House

MS 1061-2-5-1

Copy of a sketch of Bull St. Quaker Meeting House (3rd building from the left) in 1702, n.d. [Ref MS 1061/2/5/1]

It is thought that a small Quaker community established in Birmingham in the 1650s. Initially meetings for worship were held in private houses but in 1681 a house and garden were bought in New Hall Lane for use as a meeting house and burial ground. New Hall Lane became known as Bull Lane (and later Monmouth Street) and was located at the end of what is now Colmore Row. The meeting house was located roughly where the entrance to the Great Western Arcade is today. Unfortunately, no plan of the meeting house has survived in the Central Area Meeting Archives deposited here, but there is a plan of the graveyard, drawn by the banker Charles Lloyd (1748 – 1828), with a key containing a list of names of those buried there.

SF (2014-213) 1262 e

Plan of the Friends’ graveyard in Bull Lane drawn by Charles Lloyd, n.d. [Ref SF (2014-213) 1262]

SF (2014-213) 1262 d

Key to the plan of the Friends’ graveyard in Bull Lane, compiled by Charles Lloyd, n.d. [Ref SF (2014-213) 1262]

The meeting house on Monmouth St. needed frequent repairs, so in 1702, it was decided to build a new meeting house, paid for by members of the meeting. This was on Bull St., on the site of where the current meeting house entrance gates now stand. Land behind the meeting house was used as a burial ground.  Continue reading

Charles Reece Pemberton (1790-1840) ‘Poet, teacher and friend of the poor man; of the working man.’

This is one of those ‘Archives tales’ which shows the way something selected at random can lay trails for the curious; opening doors on, and raising questions about all sorts of subjects. I started with a volume titled ‘Charles Reece Pemberton. Lecturer on Poetry, Eloquence etc. 1790-1840’. I knew nothing about him. The word ‘poetry’ and his dates had drawn me in.

The volume in question, bought for 6 guineas by Birmingham Reference Library in 1888, contains letters, printed pamphlets and notices, newscuttings, an etched portrait and ‘A Sketch of the Life and a few of the Beauties of Pemberton’, written by George Jacob Holyoake of Birmingham, 1842. Holyoake had started work in a foundry in Birmingham aged 8 years. He had attended lectures at the Mechanics’ Institute from 18 years where he discovered the socialist writings of Robert Owen. He became an assistant lecturer and then an Owenite Social Missionary.

Title page of [MS 3022]

Title page of ‘A Sketch of the Life and a few of the Beauties of Pemberton’ [MS 3022]

Holyoake states that Pemberton was born in Pontypool, South Wales, in 1790, and that his father was a mechanic. He was brought to Birmingham and was educated at the Unitarian Charity School in Park Street. Apprenticed to a merchant uncle, he ran away to Liverpool where he was seized by the Press Gang and sent to sea. He spent several years at sea serving in various battles. During his wanderings he became proprietor and manager of several theatres in ‘the East’ and married a lady ‘of talent as extraordinary as his own’. After an ‘unlooked for occurrence’ separated them, he continued ‘a solitary wanderer’ through the world.

Portrait of Charles Reece Pemberton [MS 3022]

Portrait of Charles Reece Pemberton
[MS 3022]

The Dictionary of National Biography gives a little more information, sometimes contradicting Holyoake’s version. It states that Pemberton’s father was a Warwickshire man, his mother Welsh, and they came to Birmingham when he was about 4 years old. He studied under Daniel Wright at the Unitarian school and his uncle to whom he was apprenticed, is described as a brass founder. His naval service was apparently near Cadiz and after the war he became an actor and ran several theatres in the West Indies where he made an unhappy marriage to one Fanny Pritchard, and they soon separated. The DNB records that he returned to England in 1827.

Holyoake continues that Pemberton had acquired the skills of oratory as an actor. He first saw a play in Birmingham and was inspired to act. According to the DNB, on his return to England Pemberton acted the tragic characters of Shakespeare, such as Macbeth and Shylock, in Bath, Hereford, at Covent Garden and in Birmingham. Sergeant, later Sir Thomas Talfourd (1795-1854), judge, politician and author of several plays seems to have been very impressed by his performances; others less so. After a few years Pemberton seems to have abandoned acting and he became a lecturer on Shakespeare, and an author. He gave a lecture on Brutus at Birmingham Mechanics’ Institute and Holyoake said of him: ‘as a Lecturer on Oratory & Poetry he was equally great and instructive and was probably without a living equal. His illustrations, being gathered from the study of men and things in all climes, seldom failed to awaken new and elevated ideas.’  An obituary notice in the Sheffield ‘Iris’ says: ‘Many will remember the thrilling effect which his original and splendid lectures in illustrating the creation of the poet’s [i.e. Shakespeare’s] fancy produced.’

From 1833-1835 he wrote sketches of his life under the title ‘The autobiography of Pel Verjuice’ in the Monthly Repository, London.  In 1838 he fell ill, but thanks to the generosity of Talfourd and many other friends, he travelled to Egypt for two years in the hope of recovering his health. He published a series of letters in the Iris, describing Egypt and the Mediterranean. [If this is the Birmingham literary magazine, Isis, then, sadly, Archives & Collections holds only one volume, for 1830, at L08.2]. Continue reading

Uncovering Quaker Heritage: a pop-up exhibition


Monday 23rd January 2017 4.00-6.30pm

Wolfson Centre, Level 4, Library of Birmingham

Since the middle of the 17th century Birmingham and Warwickshire have been major centres of Quaker activity. Despite being a minority group, Quakers have been highly influential in the social, economic, philanthropic and political development of the region.

To find out more about the records we hold, come and view a selection of original Quaker material dating from the 17th century to the 20th century from the archive of the Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

Made available via the Birmingham & Warwickshire Quakers project, a cataloguing project funded by a National Archives Cataloguing Grant and a bequest from a member of Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

Entry is free. All are welcome!

A parcel for Christmas


Christmas letter sent by members of Moseley Road Men’s Early Morning School to absent class members at the front, December 1915 [MS 703 (2015/082) 247]

During the festive season, we often give a thought to those who are absent and it was no different in December 1915 when scholars of the Men’s Early Morning School and the Men’s Afternoon Bible Class at Moseley Road Friends’ Institute decided to send Christmas parcels to absent members who were contributing to the war effort in the armed forces or as munition workers.

In both the Early Morning School and the Afternoon Bible Class, several collections were made and a number of scholars who were to be awarded prizes for their class work, were asked to give these up in order that the money for the prizes could instead be allocated to providing a Christmas parcel to their fellow scholars at the front.

Barrow Cadbury,  President of the Early Morning School and Institute and teacher of Class XV of the Men’s Early Morning School, offered to contribute a small fellowship hymn book, a copy of the new edition of the adult school song book and a supply of chocolate for each parcel. Class XV decided to send cigarettes while other Early Morning School classes provided other useful items to be added to the parcels. In total, sixty-two parcels were sent to the front, and enclosed in each one was,

…a most unique greeting, consisting of a message from the school, followed by a reproduction of the signatures of practically all our regular attenders.

(Moseley Road Early Morning School minute book (MS 703 (2015/082) 247)

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