Tag Archives: Photographs

The Markets of Birmingham

This week Birmingham welcomes back the Frankfurt Christmas Market, and this year marks 50 years of partnership between our two cities!

In celebration of this significant anniversary a number of events have been planned jointly with the City of Frankfurt and Frankfurt based organisations, and a calendar of events marking this special year can be found here.

The Christmas market, the biggest of its kind outside Germany and Austria, came to Birmingham for the first time in 1997 when it consisted of 11 stalls in Victoria Square. It returned in 2001, since which time it has become an annual fixture in the Birmingham calendar. The stallholders all come from Frankfurt and surrounding areas and their offer here in Birmingham mirrors that in Frankfurt – in fact some of the stalls look almost identical! If you want to find out more about the history of the Frankfurt Market you can find out more here.

The history of markets in Birmingham, however, goes back a little further… and what follows is a hop, skip, and a jump through time, courtesy of the chapter ‘Markets and Fairs’ [in Stephens, W. B. (ed.), VCH Warwickshire, Vol. VII, the City of Birmingham (London, 1964)], and showcasing some of the photographs we have here in Birmingham Archives & Collections.

In 1166 Peter de Bermingham, then lord of the manor of Birmingham, was granted a Royal Charter to hold a weekly market every Thursday. In 1251 the township was allowed to hold a fair lasting four days beginning every Holy (Maundy) Thursday. The market quickly flourished, and artisans and tradesmen began to gradually settle in the area. Economic activity was probably stimulated by the fact the settlement still bore the status of a manor, as opposed to that of a medieval borough, which allowed trades to be practiced free from the restrictions of the medieval craft guild system that existed in most boroughs.

 “The lack of any large market place meant that as trade grew the markets spread into many of the streets in the centre of the town. By 1553 the Cornmarket, the Welsh Market and the English Market were all apparently separate places.  Westley’s map of 1731 shows the corn market in the Bull Ring, with the shambles above it and the beast market in the High Street… The cheese market was moved to the Welsh Cross in 1768. A Monday cattle market, which was later discontinued, was opened in Deritend in 1776. The main cattle market continued to be on a Thursday, which remained one of the chief market days throughout the 19th century, although various goods were increasingly sold on other days. In 1791 a hay and straw market was established on Tuesday in Ann Street. The fish market in Dale End was apparently started at about the same time.” (VCH p. 251).

Entrance gates and railings at the fish market, Birmingham. 1912 [WK/B11/520]

Entrance gates and railings at the fish market, Birmingham. 1912

“In the early 19th century the street commissioner cleared the Bull Ring and moved the general market there from the High Street in 1806. In 1817 they opened the Smithfield market on the site of the manor house moat. This absorbed the former markets for hay and straw as well as for cattle, horses, sheep, and pigs.” (VCH p. 251).


Exterior view of Smithfield Market, n.d. [c1887] [WK/B11/367]

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Album 31

Sir John Benjamin Stone

Sir John Benjamin Stone


Sir John Benjamin Stone (1838 – 1914) was an Aston-born industrialist and politician. He was also a prolific amateur documentary photographer and collector of photographs. The Library of Birmingham’s Benjamin Stone Collection contains more than 20,000 photographs and 50 photo albums, with subjects ranging from the people and places of the many countries he visited, to British folk customs and traditions.


I first became aware of Album 31 last year when it was used as the inspiration to an exhibition by artists Sophy Rickett and Bettina von Zwehl. The album is a collection of “miscellaneous” photos which didn’t fit into any of Benjamin Stone’s existing albums or series, but which he considered interesting enough to want to keep and to present as part of the album. There is no clear structure to the way the photos are organised making for some strange and surprising discoveries.


MS 3196 Album 29, P13: Fiji

MS 3196 Album 29, P13: Fiji


It turns out that there are actually four albums of miscellaneous photos, dated 1862 – 1879. Album 29, like other parts of his collection, documents Stone’s travels around the world, in this case taken on board an Austrian ship on an expedition around the Arctic Circle in 1872. Another recurring theme in Stone’s collections is portraits of people from around the world in traditional dress; this album features people from Fiji and Japan in traditional dress.


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Grand Central Opening

Grand Central 1854. (This was not the blueprint for today’s Grand Central!)

Grand Central has finally opened! I’m sure you’ll  be aware by now that New Street Station has had a make over and whilst we missed the opportunity to take a photo of the new building (despite coming through there every day on our way to work…….) we thought instead some images of the station over the years would be a nice way to commemorate the opening.

A colour depiction of Grand Central Station in the 1800s

Moving forward, a more recognisable New Street Station c.1960s.

Last but not least, the entrance that will be familiar to so many of us.

Why not go along and have a look to see how the station has changed!


Please also remember that we are reviewing how we deliver services and we want to consult with our users to get your views on the opening hours of the Wolfson Centre for Archival Research. Please visit https://theironroom.wordpress.com/2015/09/12/birmingham-archives-heritage-photography-public-consultation/  for details of the consultation and how you can have your say.

Birmingham Heritage Week

Image of Birmingham Cathedral celebrating its 300th birthday in 2015. [WK/B11/792] 1731 Photographed by William A. Clark. Exterior view, south east.

Image of Birmingham Cathedral, celebrating its 300th birthday in 2015.  1931 Photographed by William A. Clark. Exterior view, south-east. [WK/B11/792]

Don’t forget……Thursday 10th September sees the start of the inaugural Birmingham Heritage Week 2015. Why not have a look at all the great events across the City and discover something amazing about Birmingham? Birmingham Heritage Week runs from 10th – 17th September and please show your support by visiting the website to see what’s on and then go along maybe to one of the tours, open house days, talks or to see the displays that are on show. It coincides with Heritage Open Days (10th – 13th September) which is the UKs biggest Heritage festival. You can search their website for what’s on in your area. Events include tours from Birmingham Cathedral (celebrating 300 years this year) to the Newman Brothers Coffin Works. It’s worth a look!

We would also recommend reading the article by the chairman of Birmingham Heritage Week, Waseem Zaffar, about the importance of Birmingham and its history. You can read it online on the Birmingham Mail website.

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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Clara and Corneille Quested: Victorian Photographers [Slowly] Discovered

MS 4256 vol 8 Portrait by Clara Quested

MS 4256 vol 8 Portrait by Clara Quested

This double portrait is by the Quested Studio of 44 Graham Street, in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. Unfortunately, the sitters are not identified but the photographer is believed to be Clara Quested, active in Birmingham between 1890 and 1906, initially at 263 Icknield Street and from 1895 at Graham Street.

Clara Quested (nee Clifton) was born around 1861 in Walworth, Surrey (now Greater London) and by 1881 had a photographic practice in Finsbury, London. In about 1887 Clara married and moved to Birmingham. Not only did Clara establish a photographic studio here, but her daughter Corneille also became a photographer at Graham Street, prompting the thought as to which C. Quested actually took the photograph. By 1911 Clara had moved to Valley Road, Lye near Stourbridge.

This is the sum total of my knowledge of Clara and Corneille Quested and it has been gleaned from three main sources: the carte de visite from which this image is taken, a typescript list of Birmingham’s photographers and various on-line records. Six weeks ago I knew absolutely nothing about the Questeds and my learning experience has prompted some thoughts about ‘archival discovery’: a term which is currently fashionable and which can at its best indicate fresh new research but which more commonly becomes an inaccurate label for a new personal experience of the research and effort previously undertaken by others. Such experience in itself can also be positive by giving a new lease of life to earlier collecting, recording and researching activities and I hope that my showcasing of Clara will be judged in this way. However, such activity should not be promoted as equivalent to true discovery of new, unrecognised or previously lost records; nor the formulation of genuinely new insights based on archives. The process by which I learned about Clara Quested is outlined below to illustrate my point.

I have recently listed the photographers represented in a collection of cartes de visite produced in Victorian and Edwardian Birmingham. These are contained in eleven folders and reflect many years’ collecting by Harry Wills, a noted photo-historian. Just one card exists for C. Quested (in Volume 8) which gives no indication of the photographer’s gender. This key fact emerged when I checked the spelling of the elaborately printed surname ‘Quested’.

MS 4256 vol 8 studio name for Clara Quested

MS 4256 vol 8 studio name for Clara Quested

Joe McKenna’s list ‘Birmingham’s Professional Photographers 1842-1914’ shows C. Quested as Clara and provides her studio addresses and dates of operation. This additional information spurred me to check census information, to understand more about Clara and led me to learn about Clara’s previous photographic career and the female photographic ‘dynasty’ which emerged in Birmingham. I will incorporate such learning into the archive catalogue where appropriate and I hope to learn more about the Questeds as time allows.

Extract from joe Mckenna's 1977 list

Extract from Joe Mckenna’s 1977 list

Professional Photographers in Bham

Professional Photographers in Birmingham

However, in no way have I discovered anything that was not known before. The most I can claim is that I have re-appraised previously identified information and presented it in a contemporary manner which might reach a wider community of interest than previous researchers may have been able to. I have benefitted from the hard work done in the last fifty years or so, by Harry Wills researching Birmingham’s photographers and painstakingly seeking out examples of their work and later by Joe McKenna, a former librarian at Birmingham Central Library. In 1977 he produced the typescript list referred to above, which was compiled from trade directories, magazines and newspapers. Ten years later he collaborated with C.E. John Aston and Michael Hallett to publish ‘Professional Photographers in Birmingham 1842-1914’ which incorporated further research into the subject. Twenty seven years after that, I have been able to publicise their work and offer a further glimpse of women’s role in the City’s photographic heritage.

If you wish to undertake your own ‘archival discovery’ in its pure form, I offer two suggestions, which are not mutually exclusive.

Firstly, Birmingham’s women photographers deserve more consideration. Out of 34 listed in McKenna’s 1977 survey, details and photographic output of only a few are currently known of in Library collections. Secondly, strengthening the representation of all Birmingham photographers in the collections is important. Even with Harry Wills’ prodigious effort, his collection only reflects the work of a fifth of the photographers (male and female) listed by McKenna. The Library of Birmingham will welcome the product of your work in seeking out examples of such work.

Finally, I would be delighted to receive more information about the Questeds or about the sitters in the photograph.

Jim Ranahan 09/10/2014
MS 4256 The Harry Wills Collection
LP25.69 ‘Professional Photographers in Birmingham 1842-1914’
C.E. J. Aston, M. Hallett & J. McKenna (1987)
Handlist ‘Birmingham’s Professional Photographers 1842-1914’
J. McKenna (1977)

Further Reading
‘Coming to Light: Birmingham’s Photographic Collections’ P. James (1998)
ISBN 0-7093-0228-2
‘Camfield Harry Wills, Photographic Historian 10th June 1921 – 13th August 2011’
Obituary in The PhotoHistorian 164 (Autumn 2012) ISSN 0956-1455






Observations: Sir Benjamin Stone in Brazil 1893

In recent months the 2014 World Cup provided people in the UK with a televisual view of modern-day Brazil and a fleeting insight into the country’s history.  For many their first visual encounter with the country was provided by Sir Benjamin Stone, a wealthy Birmingham industrialist, Member of Parliament, obsessive collector and amateur scientist, who made a series of over 250 photographs of Brazil a little over 120 years ago.  Working in partnership with the Brazilian Embassy and Lucid-ly, the Library of Birmingham is now presenting a selection of 50 of these extraordinary images which record a journey into Brazil at a critical and fascinating moment in its history.

Sir Benjamin Stone, Solar Eclipse Station, Paracuru, Brazil, 1893

Sir Benjamin Stone Collection MS 3196, Solar Eclipse Station, Paracuru, Brazil, 1893

Stone’s journey to Brazil was undertaken as part of one of two Royal Astronomical Society expeditions to observe and photograph the total eclipse of the sun predicted for 16th April 1893. Before sending their team to South America, the Society made applications to the Brazilian Government ‘for land to put up their instruments and for other facilities’. This ‘was most kindly accorded.’

Sir Benjamin Stone, Visitors to the Eclipse Station, The Day of the Eclipse, Parra Curu, Brazil, 1893

Sir Benjamin Stone Collection MS 3196, Visitors to the Eclipse Station, The Day of the Eclipse, Parra Curu, Brazil, 1893

Following a two-week sea voyage the advance party –  Mr. A. J. Taylor and his fellow astronomer Mr Shakeleton –  arrived on the Brazilian coast in late March 1893, where they were subsequently joined by Sir Benjamin Stone.  During the days before and after photographing the actual eclipse, Stone made a very different series of observations. Using his trusty whole-plate camera he documented life on the beaches and ports along the coast and in the streets and market places of towns such as Ceará, Maranham, Pernambuco, and Paracuru. Adventuring further afield Stone took a series of images recording life in the forests that lay on the margins of these urban centres and completed his travels by documenting an extraordinary journey by steam boat up the mighty Amazon River.

Sir Benjamin Stone, On board the River Amazon steam boat Brazil, Brazil 1893

Sir Benjamin Stone Collection MS 3196, On board the River Amazon steam boat Brazil, Brazil 1893

Stone’s conspicuous whole-plate camera often attracted large crowds in these locations. He exposed a large number of negatives recording groups clustered around key members of the local community and others in which representatives of foreign governments took centre stage. In the streets and market places his camera had a particularly magnetic effect on children from the migrant and indigenous populations who both knowingly and innocently presented themselves before his lens.  He also seems to have shown a particular interest in recording the key buildings and infrastructure in the towns, contrasting these with a series showing the homes of former slaves located on their margins.  After photographing the eclipse, Stone undertook a 1,450 km journey on the river boat S.S. Carnetta to Manaus in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. During the long voyage he recorded the flora and fauna along the riverbanks, the small settlements set up as supply stations, the homes and families of British citizens living in more established urban centres, and the industries, including distilling and rubber making, which had drawn them  to these remote locations.

Sir Benjamin Stone, In the Market, Caera, Brazil, 1893.

Sir Benjamin Stone Collection MS 3196, In the Market, Caera, Brazil, 1893

Sir Benjamin Stone, Portuguese emigrant children, S.S Trent, for Brazil, 1893.

Sir Benjamin Stone Collection MS 3196, Portuguese emigrant children, S.S Trent, for Brazil, 1893

In common with all the other members of the expedition, Stone did not limit his collecting activity to photographic work. He purchased samples of fabrics, fishing equipment and cultural artefacts made by the indigenous communities.  He also purchased photographs made by local commercial photographers, including scenes of a revolution, forest houses, and studio portraits of tribesmen and women.  All these objects eventually found a place in his vast collection of objects, images and documents at his home, the Grange, in Birmingham.  A keen observer of people and customs in England, his images convey the different stories of Brazil, from recently freed African slaves and indigenous tribes of the Amazon to the European settlers, both the wealthy and the dispossessed, who ventured to this land in search of a promising future.

ir Benjamin Stone, Women Lacemakers, Forest Dwelling, Brazil, 1893web

Sir Benjamin Stone Collection MS 3196, Women Lacemakers, Forest Dwelling, Brazil, 1893

The exhibition is an invitation to travel back in time and see Brazil on the eve of modernisation.  In 1893 Brazil was a marked by a unique contrast between the untouched wilderness of the Amazon, and the relentless pace of industrialisation, flourishing in cities like Manaus – where England played their first game during their ill-fated World Cup campaign – capital of the rubber trade at the start of the twentieth century.

This exhibition, produced with the generous support of Jaguar Land Rover, shows Brazil at a critical moment in its history and reveals Stone’s interests – mirrored in his other photographic activity – in people, places, architecture, customs, social, political and economic structures and natural phenomena.  At the same time, while showing us Brazil from an outsider’s perspective, in looking at these pictures it is clear that during his encounters in Brazil Sir Benjamin Stone was both simultaneously the observer and the observed.

Sir Benjamin Stone in Brazil, 1893: Observations is at

Sala Brasil, Embassy of Brazil, 14-16 Cockspur Street, London SW1Y 5BL.

September 11 – November 7, 2014

11am – 5.00pm

Free admission.


The Photographic Team, Library of Birmingham