On Friday 14th September 2018, here in Archives & Collections at the Library of Birmingham, we held a Creative Writing workshop using First World War archives.
This was a free hands-on Creative Writing session hosted by Birmingham historical novelist and biographer, Fiona Joseph, and Corinna Rayner, the Archives & Collections Manager. Archive material at the Library of Birmingham had been specially selected by Fiona and Corinna to inspire the writers, and it provided a unique opportunity to explore some of the many archival treasures themed around Women at War (Home Front, Industry) and Conscience at War (Quakers, patriotism and pacifism). We had so much material out, including family letters, photographs, posters, postcards, news items and memorabilia from the period which participants could use as a springboard for their own creative responses. Writers at any level, including beginners, were welcomed. For this year’s Explore Your Archives week we thought we’d share some of the wonderful creative responses to the archives which were produced as a result of this session.
First up is Men Beat the Walnut Trees by Lindsay Martin, inspired by a photograph of women working in a munitions factory from MS 4616 War Collection (Local Studies) and a collection of letters in the Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends archive (SF) from Birmingham Quakers about their varied experiences during the First World War. You can listen to a recording of Lindsay’s piece here and the transcript is available here.
We’ll share another contribution with you on Wednesday!
Elizabeth Cadbury (1858 -1951), n.d. [Birmingham Portraits Collection]
The Cadbury name is one we all recognise; they are famous across the world as successful business owners and makers of delicious chocolate and confectionery. However the family members behind this colossus of a name may still be somewhat of a mystery to some. For this reason, and for my first blog post, I have decided to delve into the Cadbury family collection at the Library of Birmingham and view the family’s personal papers. I have chosen a letter written by Elizabeth Taylor Cadbury.
Elizabeth Cadbury (nee Taylor) was born on 24th June 1858 to a Quaker company director and stockbroker named John Taylor, her mother was Mary Jane Cash, she was one of ten children. Elizabeth seems to have enjoyed being part of a large family as she married George Cadbury, the son of John Cadbury, who already had 5 children from a previous marriage. They married in 1888, and went on to have 6 children of their own.
George and Elizabeth Cadbury with 2 of their children, Laurence (on George’s lap) and Norman (on Elizabeth’s lap) and George’s 5 children from his first marriage to Mary Tylor: George junior, Edward (standing at the back), Isobel and Eleanor (sitting), and Henry (on the floor in front), 1890 [MS 466]
The letters that I have looked through reflect a large family, full of love and devotion to each other. They seem to enjoy visiting and spending time with each other. The letter that I have chosen discusses visits from family and friends, and an enjoyable Easter spent surrounded by good company in the family home, The Manor House in Selly Oak. In this letter dated Tuesday 17th
April 1934 Elizabeth writes of family members fondly and paints a vivid picture of a few days full of love and adventure.
To celebrate International Women’s Day on the 8th March, I am delving in to the archives to discover some of the ways women’s lives are documented.
MS 1509/5/8, Personal Papers of Rachel Albright
Rachel Albright was a Quaker woman living in Edgbaston in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Her personal papers are held within a collection of records relating to the wider Albright Family.
Originally from Tottenham in north London, she married Arthur Albright in 1848 and they had eight children one of whom died young in 1872. Of interest to an archivist is the way that Rachel documented her life and the records that have survived. The archive includes travel journals, sketches, commonplace books, photographs and poetry which allow us an insight into her life and how it differs from those of women in Birmingham today.
Before Rachel was married, she kept a journal of a four month trip to Falmouth in 1836. Luckily this survived and is one of the items in the archive (MS 1509/5/8/1). In her journal she documents the occupations and pastimes she engaged in on a daily basis.
Here are a few extracts:
5th mo 8th (May 8th) Had my French lesson. In the afternoon went for a nice long walk with Aunt and cousins to Penzance. The rocks I think are very fine and beautiful, the sea dashing beneath them.
5th mo 10th (May 10th)
A very lovely day. Sat out in the garden this morning and prepared some of my French. Went into the town with Aunt and in the afternoon went for a nice walk with Aunt and cousins to Bar Beach where we found a great many shells.
5th mo 20th (May 20th)
Went in to the town after breakfast with Aunt and cousins and afterwards finished our paintings and worked out in the garden and read some of Campbell’s poems- admire them very much. In the evening had a game of chess with Uncle.
Sketching, letter writing and knitting are other pastimes mentioned in the journal and Rachel also records her attendance at Quaker meetings. Continue reading
Bull Street Meeting House exterior (finding no. SF/1516)
Following completion of the Birmingham and Warwickshire Quakers cataloguing project, funded by a cataloguing grant from the National Archives and a bequest from a member of Bull Street Quaker Meeting, the catalogue of Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends is now available to view on our online catalogue and in hardcopy in the Wolfson Centre for Archival Research.
Covering the establishment of Quakerism in the area in the mid-17th century to the present day, the collection includes records of the county’s umbrella organisation, Warwickshire Monthly Meeting and its predecessors, and the records of the regional Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Leicestershire Quarterly Meeting which reported to the head of the Quaker Church, the Yearly Meeting in London. It also includes records of local Quaker Meetings in Birmingham such as Bull Street, Bournville, Cotteridge, Edgbaston, Selly Oak and Kings Heath, as well as those further afield such as Warwick, Coventry, Barnt Green and Redditch, Stourbridge, Solihull, Sutton Coldfield and Walsall. Records for meetings which no longer exist such as Gooch Street, Farm Street, Longbridge, Dudley, Stirchley, Shipston-on-Stour, Baddsley Ensor, Fulford Heath and Wigginshill are also in the archive.
Screenshot of the online catalogue for the Records of the Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (ref SF)
‘Records of the old families and meeting houses belonging to Birmingham Meeting’, compiled by Charles D. Sturge with drawings by William Moseley Baker
Finding no. SF/1038 (alt ref: BN 5K9)
When one of our archivists came across a curious description of a visit by Charles Dickenson Sturge to Monmouth Street (Bull Lane) graveyard, this just screamed Halloween at us! (You can find out more about the cemetery in our blog post The Old Meeting House)
In 1851 Charles Sturge observed…
I also saw a composition one Mary or Eliz, Whitehead the only one of this material legible [.] In the lowest of the three tiers of remains in the part of the graveyard only used before 1750 the skull of a young lady was found with the hair curled all round in a way that it was thought to have been curled after or just before death which in any case must have been sudden as it would have been cut off Tho’ from the position of the grave it must have been buried a century + a quarter the hair, except a little brittleness was just as if fresh cut.
A lock of hair was taken from the graveyard and attached to the page describing the visit to the cemetery.
Lock of hair found in the Burial Ground
Whatever activities await you this All Hallows’ Eve, do be careful in those graveyards in case the owner might come back to claim their hair….
If you dare, click here for some more scary graveyard characters you might encounter (but be warned, you do so at your own risk!).