Tag Archives: Newspapers

In Remembrance

Daily Mail Wednesday November 7th 1917

This week saw the 100th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Passchendaele, the Third Battle of Ypres.

Also known as the ‘battle of mud’, over three months, there had been 325,000 Allied and 260,000 German casualties ‘to do little more than make the bump of the Ypres salient somewhat larger’.

As with many battles on the Western Front in the First World War, the decision to not withdraw was controversial. Victory was claimed after British and Canadian forces took control of the village of Passchendaele, only 5 miles from where the offensive had started.

We will remember them.


Sporting Heritage Day 2017

Saturday 30th September is Sporting Heritage Day. It aims to celebrate the UK’s sporting heritage and the Sporting Heritage website brings together a list of all the sporting collections held across the country.

In honour of Sporting Heritage Day, we though we would highlight a very popular source which not everyone may be aware of – the Sports Argus.

Sports Argus, First Edition 6 February 1897

The first edition was published in February 1897 and was a Saturday paper that was available not long after the afternoon football games had been played. Sadly the newspaper ceased publication in 2006. The Sports Argus is available to view on microfilm without an appointment in our Heritage Research Area, and is definitely worth a look if you are researching not only local, but national sporting events. It’s certainly a very popular source in our department!

We also searched to see what archive collections we hold on a sporting theme…

MS 2458 Edgbaston Archery and Lawn Tennis Club (various papers)

MS 4757  Records of Thomas Padmore & Sons, Billiard Table Makers (various papers)

MS 1786 Harborne Lawn Tennis Club:

The club was apparently founded in or shortly before 1883, and at first rented land for courts at the corner of Harborne Park Road and St. Mary’s Road from Sir Henry Wiggin. It later moved to Tennal Road, where an enthusiastic member, Dr. F. W. Aston FRS, provided a site. The club closed in the early 1960s when Dr. Aston’s descendents sold the site for developement.

MS 2569 Anstey College and Anstey Association:

Anstey College of Physical Training was founded by Rhoda Anstey in 1897. It was the second women’s physical training college to be established after Hampstead Training College (later Dartford College) which was founded by the Swedish physical educationalist Madame Bergman Osterberg and was where Rhoda Anstey herself trained in 1893-1895. Anstey’s first location was at the Leasowes, a house in Halesowen, formerly the home of the poet and landscape gardener William Shenstone (1714-1763). In 1907 Rhoda Anstey moved the college to Yew Tree House on the Chester Road in Erdington, where it remained until 1981.

MS 1468 Birmingham Athletics Institute:

The Birmingham Athletic Institute [B.A.I.] was formed in 1889 with the object of promoting physical education and recreation in Birmingham and the surrounding district. A purpose-built building in John Bright Street opened in 1891 and provided the Institute with a gymnasium, lecture room, refreshment room, library and a council room for the use of the Birmingham Athletic Club.

MS 1862 Midland Sailing Club:

The Midland Sailing Club was founded in 1894 and is based at Edgbaston Reservoir (formerly known as Rotton Park Reservoir). Its main object as stated in the first set of rules of 1895 was to ‘encourage and promote racing and cruising by amateurs, in yachts, boats and canoes’ by means of holding lectures, arranging meetings for social purposes and organising races and cruises.

The Club continues to arrange races at Edgbaston and has hosted national yachting competitions, including the Royal Yachting Association/Dunhill Team Championship National Final in October 1977. Social events are still a regular feature of the Club’s activities.

MS 2056 Severn Street Swimming Club:

The Severn Street Swimming Club was founded in 1892 from the Class 17 Adult Division of the First Day School in Severn Street. By 1895 the club had 85 members and included a ladies division. By 1895 the club had also moved to Kent Street baths, moving again in 1977 to those in Monument Road. The Monument Road baths closed in 1992 and the club moved to the Tiverton Road baths. The club itself closed soon afterwards, in 1995.

MS 4835 Let’s Play, a Community Sports Heritage Project [badminton]:

The sport of Badminton has been played in communities over the last 40 years and this project captures people’s life stories and interactions through Badminton at a community level – demonstrating how Badminton has been used in communities where individuals have organised tournaments, clubs, and participated in Badminton related activities. Included is a collection of oral histories which highlight people’s stories of playing Badminton, making friends, and how the sport has been socially empowering individuals, communities and groups.

If any of these collections peak your interest, please do contact us via archives.appointments@birmingham.gov.uk to find out more.

The Sporting Heritage website also has a page listing where sporting collections are held: https://www.sportingheritage.org.uk/content/collections/england-directory/west-midlands.


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