Tag Archives: Parks

Joseph Chamberlain and Sir Benjamin Stone

OXF/1: John Benjamin Stone at The Rollright Stones near Long Compton, Oxfordshire. Photographed by Stone for the Warwickshire Photographic Survey in February 1897

chamberlain joseph

Birmingham Portraits Series: Joseph Chamberlain

Today marks the centenary of the deaths of two prominent citizens and political figures from Birmingham, Joseph Chamberlain and Sir Benjamin Stone.

Both were born around the same time, Chamberlain in 1836, Stone 1838. Both grew up in families that were successful in local business, taking positions in their families’ respective firms before branching into local and national politics once they had built up their fortunes.

Chamberlain was by far the most famous and controversial of the two. As a Liberal Councillor and Mayor of Birmingham, from 1873 ‘Radical Joe’, as he became known, instigated a number of important infrastructural reforms in the city including bringing the gas and water supply under municipal control and the Borough Improvement Scheme, 1875 (see Iron Room blog piece of 30 June 2014). His time in office saw the development of municipal infrastructure, parks and magnificent public buildings, much of which remains to this day.

Despite his radical domestic agenda Chamberlain was also a staunch Imperialist. Following his election as a Liberal Member of Parliament in the mid-1870s, he eventually took a leading role in resistance within the party that helped defeat the passage of Prime Minister Gladstone’s Irish Home Rule Bill in 1885, effectively splitting the party,putting it in the electoral wilderness for the best part of twenty years.

Chamberlain joined the Conservative Party, eventually landing his preferred job of Colonial Secretary. His career in his new party was even more controversial, his stewardship of the Colonies taking place at the exact same time as the notorious Jameson Raid that led to the brutal South African (Boer) War 1899-1902. Chamberlain remained an extremely popular figure in Birmingham however. The future Prime Minister David Lloyd George was almost lynched by a patriotic mob following an anti-war speech he made at Birmingham Town Hall on 18 December 1901, with Lloyd George having to be escorted out of the building in disguise by police!

WK/M6/47: Exterior of Highbury Hall, Moseley, the Chamberlain family residence. Photographed by Thomas Lewis for the Warwickshire Photographic Survey c1890s.

By the 1906 General Election, Chamberlain’s proposal of a policy of economic protectionism favouring Britain’s colonies split the party into free-trade and protectionist factions, leading to a Liberal landslide. Despite his reputation of being possibly the only political figure to effectively split two parties, his actions did nothing to harm the future political careers of his sons nor did it tarnish the reputation of the Chamberlain family brand in his home city. The energy he devoted to municipal politics and the great reforms and infrastructural improvements were amongst his greatest gifts to the city and the nation, hence the affection felt for him by many in the city. Not for nothing was he later referred to as ‘The Uncrowned King of Birmingham’.

WK/E2/114: The library in The Grange, Erdington, home of John Benjamin Stone. Photographed by Stone for the Warwickshire Photographic Survey in 1897.

By contrast, Stone’s political career was relatively quiet – it was in the arena of photography that Stone made his biggest impression. An avid collector of images as well as a keen amateur photographer, Stone built up a huge collection of negatives and photographic prints at his house at The Grange, Erdington, as well as a large library of books, journals and periodicals devoted to the hobby as well as his other myriad academic interests. His photographic work is well represented in the Library of Birmingham’s Photographic Collections.

His own personal archive (Collection MS 3196) comprising tens of thousands of photographic prints, negatives and other papers. The collection has a local, national and international interest, Stone having photographed all over the world. His work is also well represented in the Birmingham Photographic Society (MS 2507) and the Warwickshire Photographic Survey (MS 2724), having been appointed President of both groups. A selection of Stone’s work from his archive and the Warwickshire Photographic Survey is available on the Library of Birmingham Website.

His pioneering work alongside William Jerome Harrison in the Warwickshire Photographic Survey, effectively the first photographic record of the country, inspired him to set up the National Photographic Record Association in 1897. Digitised material from this short-lived organisation is now available on the V&A Website. He also took a series of Parliamentary Portraits of members of the Houses of Commons and Lords. Digitised content is available on the National Portrait Gallery on-line resources, as well as the Stone galleries on the Library of Birmingham Website.

Stone was exceptionally well-travelled, and he was keen to document ancient folk customs and ways of life of all peoples, particularly where rapid economic, social and technological change were transforming everyday life. His portraits of Native American tribes and their leaders were particularly powerful; by the end of the nineteenth century their resistance to the encroachments of white settlers moving west had practically been broken and many were forced to live on reservations.

Travelling could be dangerous, especially on his trip to Brazil in 1890, which he visited on behalf of the Royal Astronomical Society to photograph the solar eclipse. He visited the town of Cerea whilst the country was in the grip of a revolution. His obituary in the Birmingham Mail of 3 July 1914 recounted what happened next:

MS 3196 Box 376 Print 36: The Revolution at Ceara. Brazil 16th Feb. 1892. Prepared for Bombarding (firing out) of the Governor’s Palace. Photographed by John Benjamin Stone.

“It might also be said that the camera proved mightier than the sword. At one point in Cerea a barricade was constructed by the rebels, and cannon were posted that the Governor’s palace might be shelled.

When approached by the photographer the rebels readily agreed to postpone the bombardment for a few minutes that Sir Benjamin Stone might picture the revolution, and stood to their guns posing.”

MS 3196 Box 376 Print 38: Reception Room at the Palace of the Governor after the bombardment (firing out) of the 16th Feb. 1892. Photographed by John Benjamin Stone.

On the 8 July 1906, celebrations were held in Birmingham to mark Chamberlain’s seventieth birthday, who would be in the city to attend the various processions and visits to mark the big day. Photographers from the Warwickshire Photographic Survey, including Stone, were in attendance to capture the festivities for posterity. This print by Stone shows Chamberlain, his wife and other family members meeting locals and civic dignitaries at Ward End Park that day.

Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Chamberlain and Grandchild. His Birthday Celeb

MS 3196 Box 17 Print 16. Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Chamberlain and Grandchild. His Birthday Celebrations. Ward End Park. July 7th 1896. Photographed by John Benjamin Stone.

By 1910 Stone had retired from politics due to ill-health. Despite increasing health problems, Chamberlain continued to represent his constituency as a Conservative-Unionist until January 1914.

On 2 July 1914 Joseph Chamberlain suffered a heart attack and died in the arms of his wife Mary surrounded by his family. He was buried at Key Hill Cemetery following a Unitarian ceremony, in the heart of the town he grew up in, worked and represented as a Councillor, Mayor and Member of Parliament. His family had refused an official order for a burial at Westminster.

Stone died at his home the very same day, his wife tragically passed away just days later. The couple were eventually buried in the parish churchyard at Sutton Coldfield, the borough he too had once represented as Councillor and Mayor, and close to the city he served as an M.P. and the home that, at the time of his death, had become a repository of visual and written records dedicated to his extensive travels and his fascination with photography and other educational interests.

Michael Hunkin, Archivist

Some initial further reading:

1. Elizabeth Edwards, Peter James and Martin Barnes, A record of England: Sir Benjamin Stone & The National Photographic Record Association 1897-1910 (Stockport: Dewi Lewis Publishing, 2006)

2. Peter T. Marsh, Joseph Chamberlain: Entrepreneur in Politics (London: Yale University Press, 1994)


Bloomin’ marvellous!

Botanical Drawings by Luke Linnaeus Pope, c.1825 (Ref: MS 2138)

Botanical Drawings by Luke Linnaeus Pope, c.1825 (Ref: MS 2138)

Spring may have got off to a slow start (brrr!) but now it’s here we in the Iron Room are all getting very excited about gardens and gardening!  First we had fantastic success at the Chelsea Flower Show with Birmingham City Council’s Library of Birmingham themed display “Enlightenment” which won a gold medal.  If you missed it at Chelsea, you can catch it again at the BBC’s Gardener’s World Live event.  If all that wasn’t exciting enough the Library is looking for volunteers to help with the outdoor beds in the new Library’s terrace gardens.  We can’t wait to move to the new Library to enjoy the new outdoor spaces.

Meanwhile we’ve been digging around, if you’ll excuse the pun, to look at some of the many archive collections we have relating to gardens and gardening and one of my favourites is the volume known as “Select Flowers, Vol. III”.  It doesn’t sound much but it contains some exquisite botanical illustrations dating from about 1825.

Botanical Drawings by Luke Linnaeus Pope, c.1825 (Ref: MS 2138)

Botanical Drawings by Luke Linnaeus Pope, c.1825 (Ref: MS 2138)

Botanical Drawings by Luke Linnaeus Pope, c.1825 (Ref: MS 2138)

Botanical Drawings by Luke Linnaeus Pope, c.1825 (Ref: MS 2138)

There are more images from this volume in a previous post

It was created by the Handsworth-based draftsman and botanical artist Luke Linnaeus Pope. Named after the great Swedish biologist and botanist of the eighteenth century Carl LinnaeusBloomin who developed a scientific classification system still used today.

Luke Linnaeus Pope worked for the family nursery which had been established by his grandfather, Luke, in about 1786 and then passed to Luke Linnaeus’ father John Pope (1772-1850).  John’s three sons Luke Linnaeus, Alexander and Leonard were also in the nursery business and at its height sold plants to many prestigious customers including James Watt junior, son of James Watt the engineer, who lived at Aston Hall between 1818 and 1848.  We are lucky enough to be able to trace exactly which plants were bought because of the rich survival of records from the Watt family which are in the archive collections in the Library.

James Watt jnr notebook

James Watt jnr notebook (MS 32196/20-12)

Aston Hall was subsequently acquired by the City and you can now visit the Aston Hall and Gardens and get some garden inspiration for yourself!

aston hall


Rachel MacGregor

Celebrating Tulips!

Tulip Festival, Cannon Hill Park

The Tulip Festival, Cannon Hill Park, 11 May 1968 [Recreation & Parks / Box 4]

To celebrate the arrival of the spring sunshine I thought I would post this uplifting photograph of the Tulip Festival that was held in Cannon Hill Park, Birmingham. As far as I know the festival was extravagant and successful in the 1960s, reportedly drawing crowds of over 20,000 people. However, the celebrations disappeared in the late 1970s to be replaced with other events.

The festival included stunning floral displays, people in Dutch costume, fair ground attractions, a road train, performances. People may remember the windmill in Cannon Hill Park which was built in the 1950s. There was a windmill which was actually a mock mill, it was created with the co-operation with the Dutch and survived until the 1990s. 

There is not a wealth of information about this festival generally available, although Archives and Heritage hold some really interesting material in numerous collections. For example, relating to the strategic organisation and success of the event, in the Council Minute Books. We also hold newspaper coverage, photographs and we have a DVD converted from a cine-film of festivities in 1962.

One of my favourite quotes I have read relating to the festival is It was a little bit of Holland in the centre of Birmingham’.

Amanda Edwards
Digitisation & Outreach

Guest Blogger: For the Love of a Park

Prize Band on the Bristol Road

Prize Band on the Bristol Road, 1912 [WK/N2/216]

Birmingham Archives and Heritage houses copies of thousands of newspapers, and minutes of meetings of councils and their various committees. 

As a regular reader, I have been systematically trawling through these records – the minutes of the Parks Departments of the former Kings Norton and Northfield Urban District Council (KN&N UDC) and the Birmingham City Council, and reading relevant local newspapers (eg. The Birmingham News). 

The Heydays of Selly Oak Park 1896-1911I have been compiling a comprehensive history of Selly Oak Park.  The story starts in 1896 when plans for the park (the first for KN&N UDC) were hatched. 

The early history in a book entitled The Heydays of Selly Oak Park: 1896-1911 has already been published (2010, History Into Print, Brewin Books, Studley). 

The research is continuing, and work, as it progresses, is now shared more widely at: www.thehistoryofsellyoakpark.blogspot.com 

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May Day Celebrations

May Pole Dancing

Maypole Dancing in Aston Park, c.1900 (Ref: Misc Photos/Parks)

I thought people might enjoy this seasonal image taken from the Birmingham Album of dancing around a Maypole in Aston Park from the turn of the last century. We hold a substantial collection of images of local parks and recreational grounds that record over a 100 years of development and use; they show not only the history of the parks and horticulture but give an insight into to changing fashions and social trends.

Amanda Thomas

Is it a bird, is it a plane?

As part of the team making sure our collections are correctly labelled and boxed for the move into the Library of Birmingham, I often have to spend long periods of time in our store rooms looking at rows of rather bland boxes. It is a treat when you have to look inside one of them and are reminded of the range of treasures sitting quietly on the rows of shelving.

The archive collection which I am most fond of certainly cheered me up when I came across it during our surveying. Opening a mysterious box containing photographs of a dare-devil woman apparently risking life and limb underneath a hot air balloon intrigued me.

MS 1575/3/6/2/7

After checking the catalogue back in the office I was delighted to find out her name was Kitty King and she that she worked for Lieutenant George Phillip Lempriére. Lempriére (born 26 February 1854) was a balloonist and aeronaut, who performed and exhibited at a wide variety of events including public, private, and scientific engagements at fetes, galas, shows, and lectures.  He travelled throughout England but lived much of his life in Handsworth, so it is fitting that many of the images are of the local area.

MS 1575/3/6/2/7

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