Tag Archives: Newspapers


Birmingham Post 31 July 1917

Today marks 100 years since the start of the Battle of Passchendaele, the Third Battle of Ypres. 

Reporting on the night before the Battle, the Birmingham Post Military Correspondent wrote ‘I cannot help thinking we have not seen the culmination of our effort, which, by the way, is not confined to Flanders.’ Despite the press noticing the increasing intensity of firing on the Western Front, it is doubtful that they could or would have predicted what lay ahead in a battle that ‘became infamous not only for the scale of casualties, but also for the mud.’



On This Day


‘On This Day’ is an online project currently being run by the Voices of War & Peace WW1 Engagement Centre, based at the Library of Birmingham. Since January 2016 the centre has periodically published extracts of news reports from local papers 100 years on. ‘On This Day’ focuses on how the Great War affected Birmingham citizens, from women left to look after their children single-handedly to conscientious objectors and to munitions workers, and the impact on their daily lives from food shortages to restrictions on lighting in the city and to infant welfare. All of the content has been sourced by University of Birmingham history students, who are undertaking the Professional Skills module in their second year of study. The material has been found by using the British Newspaper Archive. Maeve Scally worked on the entries from 1916, while Gemma Daw has been researching 1917. Here are a few sneak previews into what Gemma has found….

 Birmingham Daily Gazette

Wednesday 24th January 1917


Special precautions are taken in Birmingham to give protection to the policemen on duty at night. The men are provided with white coats, while electric globes, giving a red light, are fixed to the top of their helmets. These constables are shown adjusting their electrical headgear before going on duty.


Birmingham Daily Gazette. Wednesday 24th January 1917.

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Moony with a lot of cloud: eclipses in Birmingham

Hello bloggers! (Blog readers?)

This Eclipse Special comes not from one of your regular contributors, but from one of your ‘hide in the shadows’ assistants – get it? I’m a bit of a science geek and was hoping to discover something extra ordinary in offering to write this piece at the last minute.

That said, while I failed to find any arcane happenings in my trawl back through the local newspapers, I did find out that: a) British weather rarely fails to spoil what supposes to be a once in a lifetime experience; b) some people never listen to good advice (i.e., don’t look at the sun, it’s bad for your eyes); c) handmade gismos are awesome; and d) you can travel to the ends of the Earth (well, Cornwall), but never find the experience there has as much value as it does at home. Oh, and people love to speculate on folklore.

Simply, for those unaware, a solar eclipse is when the Moon comes between us (the Earth) and the Sun – the three meeting in a brief alignment. The resulting effect, on the land or water mass directly shadowed by the alignment here on Earth, is that the Sun is essentially blotted out. These events occur due to the near perfect positioning of Earth in relationship to the size and distance of the Moon and Sun. Amazing, is it not?

As regards solar eclipses witnessed here in Birmingham, there have been several nearly complete ones over the last century, the most recent on 11th August, 1999.

The Post and Mail did a wonderful Eclipse Special, which included details about what an eclipse is; the path of totality on that day; how to make a homemade eclipse viewer (very cool!), with a piece about what eclipses were understood to have been from the perspective of historic worldwide cultures. (There was also a reprinted article from the 30th June, 1927, about Edgbaston Observatory which I’ll mention below.) After the eclipse, the newspapers record how shoppers lined New Street for the approximately 95% coverage we had here. It also has reports of scores of people seeking medical advice, suffering dark spots in their eyesight. Sadly, for those Midlanders who’d travelled to Cornwall hoping to see a full corona, (the ring of light around a totally obscured sun) they ended up mainly being greeted by cloud.

From what I’ve gleaned, logged solar eclipses seen from Birmingham in the last century also fell in:  1961, 1954, 1927 and 1925. The Birmingham Evening Mail, 15th February, 1961 records how, ‘Low cloud blots out eclipse over Britain’, leaving the weather forecasters to explain how they got their predictions wrong. In 1954, on the 30th June, again The Birmingham Evening Mail reads, ‘Few see eclipse in the Midlands, but Leamington has a good view’, so it seems like some, at least, managed to get a glimpse that year.

In searching through 1927, I was amused by this advert from the 29th June:

Birmingham Evening Mail 29 June 1927

Birmingham Evening Mail 29 June 1927


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Press Ganged! Birmingham Gangs in the Victorian Press.

Birmingham as a city has a colourful and exciting heritage. One aspect of this is its criminal underworld and activities. Ever since I first heard about the gangs of Birmingham past, especially the notorious ‘Peaky Blinders’, I have had an interest in this side of the city. Some books have been written about the gangs, many tales told about them and the newspapers had a field day in the late Victorian era documenting this savagery. The streets of Birmingham in the late Victorian period were a ruthless and intimidating place to be. With the increase in population, plenty of work due to the industrial boom and the availability of ‘disposable’ income, communities were finding a new way of defining themselves. From about the 1870s young men were forming groups, fraternities, or as the newspapers would sensationalise ‘gangs’.

The role of the media in this instance was to showcase the brutality and in true Victorian style, the drama and horrors of the streets. They used the reports of the gangs to bring to life the monsters of Birmingham’s streets. They also used it as an opportunity to showcase the police and magisterial services in the city. References were given of the sentences passed, quotes of magistrates putting their foot down and the example set by the police to the rest of the country. All this despite the honest police getting attacked themselves for breaking up the fights, and of course nothing to clarify the speculation that some police were in the pockets of these gangs!

The origins of the most notorious gangs in the Birmingham area stemmed from the ‘Sloggers’ of Aston. These were gangs of men, locally known by the streets or districts they came from, but were grouped under the term ‘Sloggers’. Sloggers got their name from the boxing and bare knuckle fighting they did as either a social past time or to settle old scores. As communities spread, the needs to define their areas lead to turf wars. The height of such gangs reached its peak in the 1890s. The Sloggers were known to police and the press for their brutal attacks, murders, vandalism and disturbances at the local fairs. They often exercised control over the local fairs – intimidating stall holders, taking a cut of the finances, running their protection rackets and seeing off rivals.

The Onion Fair at Hockley Brook, a common location to find 'gangs' [WK/B11/5260]

The Onion Fair at Hockley Brook, a common location to find ‘gangs’. c.1874 [WK/B11/5260]

From about the 1890s the Aston Sloggers encountered a high profile, stylish rival in the neighbouring area of Birmingham – the Peaky Blinders. These gangs started life fighting as sloggers and also extended their criminal arm to illegal gambling, protection rackets and trading in unlicensed goods. Between the two gangs the city of Birmingham was covered from the neighbouring district of Aston, the Jewellery Quarter and Gun Quarter in the centre, to Small Heath just outside of town.

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The shadow of war

World War One affected everyone living in Birmingham whether at home or serving on the front line.  Our new exhibition Voices of War looks at the impact the war had on the lives of people from all walks of life, age and background.

Birmingham in the early twentieth century was a booming industrial centre.  It attracted people from many countries for the opportunities for work.  Birmingham had a small but significant Black community which we can see glimpses of in the archives.  We know that in there were groups of African American entertainers who would regularly tour the UK.  Some entertainers made their permanent home in Birmingham where there were plenty of employment opportunities available.

Gaiety Theatre playbill for Monday 28th August 1916

Gaiety Theatre playbill for Monday 28th August 1916

More details about the black community can be frustratingly hard to discover however.  Can you help us add any more information about lives of black people in Birmingham in the early twentieth century or before?

Frederick Johnson and the Small Heath Home Defence Corps, 1917

Frederick Johnson of the Small Heath Home Defence Corps, 1917

Men such as Frederick Johnson of Small Heath would be expected to “do their bit”.  Frederick Johnson served in the Small Heath Home Defence Corps who would be the first line of defence in the event of a German invasion.  Unfortunately we do not know anything else about Frederick other than his name and two photographs of him as part of the Corps.

The First World War brought about great changes in the lives of many women who lived in Birmingham.  opportunities to for paid and voluntary employment opened up as many of the jobs previously held by men were taken on by women.  The workforce of the industrial giants mushroomed: BSA employed around 3,000 workers in 1914 and by 1918 they had 13,000 on the books.  The Austin works at Longbridge employed 2,000 at the outset of the war which went up to an astonishing 20,000 by 1918.  Kynoch, another well-known Birmingham firm, also employed a large workforce – many of whom were women – to feed the demand for armaments.

Birmingham Win The War Day 1918

Birmingham Win The War Day 1918

This image shows a black woman on a Kynoch carnival float taking part in victory celebrations.  Perhaps she was one of the many women who did their bit making munitions for the soldiers at the front.

Birmingham Weekly Mercury 31st October 1914

The contribution of troops from all parts of the Empire was recognised by everyone and reported in the local press.  Over a million Indian troops were involved in the First World War effort – many giving their lives for a country that was not their own.

Birmingham Weekly Mercury 23rd October 1915

The press often relied on stereotypes in their reporting of these contributions.

Children too were a key part of the war effort.  Every child would probably know a family member or teacher who went to fight.  Schools were at the forefront of campaigns to raise funds for the war effort and children were actively encouraged to think about how they could play their part.

This class at Nelson Street School in Ladywood, pictured here in 1913, would have been expected to play a part in raising funds.


Brick League Album, Nelson Street School (MS 2219/2)











These little girls, including the girl on the second to back row who was part of Birmingham’s small but growing black community, would have helped raise money and knit “comforts” (socks, scarves, balaclavas etc) for men at the front.

The Voices of War exhibition looks at a whole variety of experiences of Birmingham’s people in World War One – why not come to the Library of Birmingham Gallery to explore more.  The exhibition runs until the end of December 2014.

Rachel MacGregor, Collections Curator

Birmingham Responds

Nearly two months after the declaration, news of the war dominated the newspapers. Fighting had broken out across Europe and while recruits were still joining up and being mobilised, the first reports of casualties were appearing in not only the local papers, but in local Council records.

Reports of the ‘European War’ appear regularly in Council minutes in late 1914, often being reported in a matter of fact way along with other committee business. The amount of detail varies – from the Libraries Committee that reported 7 men had been called up, to the Public Works Committee that listed individual men who joined the forces, even detailing their rank and which arm of the forces they joined.

List of officials who have joined the colours [BCC 1/AO/1/1/32]

List of officials from the Public Works Department who joined the colours.                       [BCC 1/AO/1/1/32]

The call to arms was answered by all offices within the Council. The Council Proceedings for 8 September 1914 noted receiving the letter of resignation from the Lord Mayor, Alderman Ernest Martineau, who was taking up his rank as Lieutenant-Colonel of the 6th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment. His resignation was duly accepted.

Proceedings of the Council 2.9.2014 L34.31

Proceedings of the Council, 8 September 1914 [L34.31]

From the series of Birmingham Biography News Cuttings (available on floor 4) a report from the Birmingham Post in September 1914 shows the respect the Lord Mayor had for the men serving under him.

 The Lord Mayor (Lieutenant-Colonel Martineau) returned to Birmingham on Saturday and is staying until Wednesday, when he will return to the command of the 6th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment. In the course of an interview, the Lord Mayor said the men under him had made extraordinary progress since they had been mobilised. Wherever they had been billeted they had been spoken of most highly….. The Lord Mayor said the response which Birmingham had made to the call for recruits was really splendid, and he believed the men obtained were very good material.

The Gazette published figures of the number of men who had joined as of 23 September 1914.

Call to Arms - no. of recruits

Call to Arms – number of Birmingham recruits

Sadly, there were also reports of the first losses of Council employees. On 8th October 1914, the Public Works Department Committee Minutes recorded the recent loss of Private H. Tredwell [sic] who worked as a steam-roller flagman for the City. An article appeared in the Birmingham Gazette on 23 September 1914 mentioning a letter found amongst the personal effects of Private Treadwell when he died of wounds. The letter was addressed to his wife, hoping that her and his daughter Lily were in good health, before writing I am in the very best of health. If it is my luck to come back we won’t half have a time of it. The minutes show the War Office granted a pension of 5/- per week for his widow, and 1/6 for his daughter.

Birmingham Gazette, 23 September 1914

Birmingham Gazette, 23 September 1914

While reports of British casualties would prove to be fairly common placed in the local press, it was surprising to find so early in the war a letter written by a German soldier, portraying a vivid picture of war.

Birmingham Gazette 23rd September 1914

Birmingham Gazette, 23 September 1914

His name is not given, and we have no way of knowing whether he survived the war, however it does show that on both sides, there were ordinary men responding to the call to do their duty for their country.

Nicola Crews, Archivist


Britain Declares War

On Tuesday, August 4th 1914 at 11pm, Great Britain declared war on Germany. In the preceding days, tension across Europe had been escalating and the heightened situation was followed closely by the local papers, reporting extensively on the mobilisation and outbreak of war between Germany, and Russia and France.

The Birmingham Post reported that diplomatic relations had broken down on Monday night between France and Germany. Baron von Schoen, the German Ambassador in France, had declared in an official letter that France had flown over German territory and that Germany considered this an act of war.

Formal Declaration of War, Germany and France Birmingham Post, Wednesday 5th August, 1914

Formal Declaration of War, Germany and France Birmingham Post, Wednesday 5th August, 1914

The article goes on to state:

Before his departure [from Paris] Baron von Schoen handed to M. Malvy a Note declaring that Germany considered a state of war existed between Germany and France.

When Germany demanded to send troops through Belgium into France, Britain protested and called for Germany to respect Belgian neutrality.  The response from Germany was unsatisfactory and an official statement was issued announcing  a state of war between Britain and Germany.

Declaration of War Official Statement by the Foreign Office

Official Statement by the Foreign Office Birmingham Post, Wednesday 5th August, 1914


The need for more men to join the army was clear, and the Birmingham Daily Mail was quick to encourage patriotism amongst the inhabitants of Birmingham. They called for men to do their duty by publishing recruitment notices on their front page.

Birmingham Daily Mail, Wednesday 5th August 1914

Birmingham Daily Mail, Wednesday 5th August 1914

Birmingham Daily Mail Thursday 6th August 1914

Birmingham Daily Mail Thursday 6th August 1914













The mobilisation of British troops had already begun before the formal declaration of war was made, with Reservists and Territorials being called up for service. The Birmingham Mail reported the present mobilisation will make a very considerable demand upon the police forces, the fire brigade, railway employees, tramway servants, the Gas Department, postal officials and commissionaires while most of the manufacturers in Birmingham have Reservists or Territorials in their employ.

The minutes of the Gas Committee for 17th August 1914 (BCC 1/AY/1/1/25) show the effects of war were already starting to impact on the City. Several companies who the Committee had business with were being drawn into war work, not least affecting their supply of leather goods which were being diverted to the army and navy. Also of concern was the disposal of what was presumably the by-products of extracting gas, which had a market across Europe. Understandably these markets were becoming inaccessible, as was the valuable income earned from its sale. Their stocks of fluid for the mantles was shipped in from Germany. As with other departments across the Council, it was agreed that financial help be given to the families of its employees who joined the services. It was also agreed to keep their jobs open for them while on duty, however sadly not all of them would return.

Nicola Crews, Archivist