Tag Archives: Social History

Sporting Heritage: A Victorian Baths

National Sporting Heritage Day, held on 30th September, was established to highlight sporting heritage post the 2012 Olympics. More information can be found on the National Sporting Heritage website.

As an enthusiastic swimmer, and occasional dipper in its pool, Woodcock Street Baths, now called The Sir Doug Ellis Woodcock Sports Centre, seemed an ideal subject to investigate in recognition of the day for the Iron Room.

Frontage, Woodcock Street, Public Baths Photos [Acc. 2012/146]

Woodcock Street Baths opened in 1860, the second baths to open in the city after Kent Street in 1851. Their formation was prompted by the Baths Act of 1846, whereby local authorities were obliged to provide bathing and washing facilities for residents.

The original architect of Woodcock Street Baths was Edward Holmes, who designed and built the baths for £12,000. At their opening they consisted of an engineer’s quarters, swimming baths, and private washing baths for men and women, each with their own plunge pool. In 1902, the building was completely renovated and a First Class Swimming and Baths were added.

Plan of Woodcock Street Baths [BCC 200]

This above ‘proposed’ plan is by Holmes. If it was for the initial construction, it suggests that originally the two pools were intended for men only. I’m unclear without additional research if this is what was actually built as much of the literature suggests that first class swimming and baths were added in a 1902 renovation, and that women had swimming facilities from the outset.

Plan of Woodcock Street Baths, 1920s [in Souvenir Programme of Gala Baths, LP 25.12]

In 1926, the washing facilities were again revamped and this time, a gala baths was added for events.

Programme 1929 [LP 25.12]

This programme above from 1929 highlights how events at the Gala Baths attracted local, national, and international competitors—a Miss Joyce Cooper of London, and two competitors from Holland, Miss Marie Braun, and Miss Marie Baron, who all took part in the non-local events, including relay races, 100 yards back-stroke, 100 yards free-style, 200 yards breast-stroke, plus an ‘Education Exhibition of Correct Strokes’ and ‘Ornamental, Scientific and Trick Diving’.

Programme 1959 [LP 25.12]

The Gala Baths held many different championships, including water polo tournaments and also ‘Speed Swimming’ contests as this programme from 1949 demonstrates. Improvements were also made to the lighting, as in 1948 under-water lighting was added to aid both swimmers and to help display the swimmers’ abilities for the audience.

Gala Baths, Woodcock Street, Public Baths Photos [Acc. 2012/146]

Many more modernisations of the baths have been made in the subsequent years, for example in the 1980s the Gala pool was covered over and turned into an assembly/sports hall. The most recent changes I’m aware of took place in 2010 when the complex was again refurbished (bringing a hiatus to my attending a very pleasant aquafit class!)

Swimming baths, Woodcock Street, Public Baths Photos [Acc. 2012/146]

As I understand, only the Second Class Baths from 1902 still remain. They are, however, beautifully restored.

Rachel Clare, Senior Archives Assistant

Further reading:

History of the Corporation Vol II, Bunce [BCOL 31 HIS]
The City of Birmingham Baths Department, 1851-1951, Moth. J [L45.33 MOT]
BCC Baths Committee [BCC 1/BN/1/1/1-]

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St. Oswald’s Camp, Rubery

St. Oswald’s Camp, 1923 [MS 703 (1961/001)]

This year is the 30th anniversary of the opening of Rubery Community and Leisure Centre, located on Holywell Road, Rubery.  Opened in 1988 after a number of years of fund-raising and renovation of the derelict facilities on the site, the centre offers sports and other activities to the local community. However, the history of the site goes back well beyond the 1980s as the land had been used for recreational purposes since the early years of the 20th century, when it was given to the Mid-Worcester and Class XIV Sub-Union of the Midland Adult School Union (MASU) for use as a weekend holiday centre.

St. Oswald’s Camp, n.d. [MS 703 (1961/001)]

The donors of the land were the brothers, Edward (1873-1948) and George Cadbury Junior (1878-1960), both of whom, like their father George Cadbury (1839 -1922), were active in adult school work with the Class XIV group of schools based in south-west Birmingham and North Worcestershire.  Arthur T. Wallis, secretary of the Mid-Worcester and Class XIV Sub-Union schools, wrote in the  1956 Jubilee Celebration leaflet that when the brothers built their houses in the Lickey Hills, they greatly appreciated returning to the peace and beauty of the countryside after spending the working day at the Cadbury chocolate factory in Bournville.

St. Oswald’s Camp, n.d. [MS 703 (1961/001)]

So that others less fortunate than themselves could also enjoy it, they set aside a seven acre field, a wood and a bathing pool, and arranged for a Dutch barn accommodating 25 people, a kitchen with a cooking range and water boiler, and club room to be built and furnished. The site was named St. Oswald’s Camp, after a monk who is said to have lived there in a stone cell and distributed water from the Holy well, located on the edge of the camp and still in use by local villagers at the time the camp was established. Opened by Edward Cadbury on 6th June 1906, the camp was run by volunteers from the adult school movement,

…to provide, at the most modest charges possible, opportunity for such change from the ordinary routine as will provide full refreshment for body, mind and spirit both for members of the Schools and others who wish to avail themselves of it.

(Jubilee leaflet 1956, MS 703 (1961/001))

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Handsworth Shakespeare Reading Society

Shakespeare Reading Society reference book [Ref. MS 4907]

One of the many exciting collections to be added to Archives and Collections in 2017 was the records of the Handsworth Shakespeare Reading Society (MS 4907). The society began in 1880 when a group of women in Handsworth Wood decided to meet for a literary afternoon. As the name suggests, this developed in to a society for women which met regularly to read plays by Shakespeare. Membership was by personal invitation only and in 1887 rules were drawn up which specified that there should be nine meetings a year with eight of the nine meetings dedicated to reading Shakespeare plays and the ninth to work by another author.

The archive holds fascinating groups of records that tell us more about the running of the group through the years. Included are annual reports, minute books and the society’s reference book. The reference book includes a dated list of plays read and members who played the principal parts. Minute books in the archive cover the period from 1884-2001 beginning at the group’s 49th meeting and annual reports cover the period 1902-1999.

MS 4907 List of programmes in the Society’s reference book

Over the years group members carried out their own research in to the history of the group and these notes form part of the archive. They discovered that in 1903 the ladies went on, what is thought to be, their first theatre visit to the Stratford Theatre. They met at Snow Hill station, had lunch at the Shakespeare Hotel and then attended a matinee showing of ‘Everyman in his Humour’ by Ben Johnson. The archive contains programmes from some later performances attended by the group.

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Roses in the Archives

It’s summer, the time for roses to bloom in all their glory: and roses are abundant in Archives and Collections, from botanical illustrations to mechanical sprayers, via metalwork, valentines, songs, poems, theatre and – of course – chocolates.

‘Rosa rubra plena spinosissima’, the Moss Provence rose [F0961760, Vol. II, Plate CCXXI, opp. p.147]

Let’s start with our first illustration, of the ‘Rosa rubra plena spinosissima’, the Moss Provence rose, from the ‘Figures of the most beautiful, useful and uncommon plants described in the Gardener’s Dictionary’, by Philip Miller, London, 1760. [F096/1760, Vol. II, Plate CCXXI, opp. p.147]

Miller (1691 – 1771) was one of the most important horticultural writers of 18th century and was gardener to the Society of Apothecaries at Chelsea Hospital for nearly fifty years, from 1722. His one volume ‘Gardener’s Dictionary’, was first published in 1731, and there were eight editions during his lifetime.

Another beautifully illustrated volume from that period is the ‘Temple of Flora’ (1807) by Robert James Thornton (1768 – 1837), physician and botanist. Two of his ‘heroes’ had strong West Midlands connections, Thomas Beddoes of Bristol (for whom Boulton & Watt manufactured breathing apparatus), and Erasmus Darwin (Watt’s doctor for a while and a member of the Lunar Society). Thornton (c. 1765 – 1837) was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, and taught at Guys Hospital, London.  His beautifully illustrated volume has roses as the frontispiece, and of the rose, Thornton writes:

Nature has given her a vest of purest white, and also imperial robes of the brightest scarlet; and that no rude hand should tear her from her rich domain, she is protected by a myriad of soldiers, who present on every side their naked and sharp swords against the daring invader.

He aimed to connect the scientific aspects of Linnaean botany with the arts of painting and engraving, and all dedicated to the royal family. Sadly, the volume, which appeared in a serial form, was never completed and Thornton ran out of money. The copy at the Library of Birmingham is a reprint from 1951, ‘no. 206 of a limited edition of 250 copies, on hand made paper, with plates faithfully reproduced from the original engravings and the work described by G. Grigson, with biographical notes by H. Buchanan, and botanical notes by W.T. Stearn’. [F 096/1951]

These aren’t the earliest references to roses in Archives and Collections. There’s a bill from Thomas Wright to Walter Gough of Perry Hall for plants, roses and trees in 1745 [Gough 274/46]. They owned much land in the Midlands, including property in Wolverhampton, and there are several bills for various repairs to the White Rose [Inn] in Lichfield Street, Wolverhampton, from 1749 to 1762 [Gough 279, 281 and 310].

Watercolour of the design of the Colonnade room at Aston Hall for James Watt jr, c.1819, showing the north wall decorated with roses  [MS 3219/9/5/2/67]

There’s another ‘White Rose’, in the Watt Family papers. A letter to James Watt (Soho) from Lord Dundas (Upleatham, Northallerton), 13 December 1805, begins ‘I do not know whether your Workmen at Soho will stoop to so trifling a thing as a Front for a Soldier’s Cap’, and goes on to explain that while he was in Weymouth with his Regiment, the North Yorks, that summer, the King was,

….graciously pleased to express his approbation of the Regiment, and give it the Badge of the White Rose of York, to be wore in the Colours, and on the Caps, – I have made a sketch of a Rose , Crown and Lion, for the Front of a Cap, but must own that it does not please me……if you would be so good as to get some of your ingenious men to exert their Genius and send me sketches of their ideas I shall be much obliged to you – .

Watt, who was then retired from business, redirected the letter to Matthew Robinson Boulton. A sketch survives and a note saying that if any of the designs are thought suitable the plate for the badge could be made for two shillings [MS 3219/4/47/13].

Other references to roses in the ‘Archives of Soho’ include a letter to James Watt jr. (Soho) from Josiah Wedgwood jr., at Stoke, near Cobham, Surrey, 29 April 1798, which mentions that ‘the nightingales sing day and night and there are moss roses in bud’ [MS 3219/6/2/W/183].

At Matthew Boulton’s funeral in 1809, the 17 horses had ‘crape roses’ on headbands. The charges for these are on George Lander’s bill to Matthew Robinson Boulton, 18 August 1809 [MS 3782 /13/149/51].

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Celebrating 70 years of the NHS!

To celebrate 70 years of the NHS, we thought we’d do a bit of rundown of the wonderful health and caring-related collections we have here in Archives & Collections at the Library of Birmingham.

Below we cover some of the main archive sources for research in hospitals, health and poor relief. It is a starting point rather than an exhaustive list of collections and further sources will be found by checking the online catalogues, the Wolfson Centre paper catalogues and card indexes, and, you will be able to find printed sources (e.g. annual reports of institutions and charities) in the local studies catalogue.

It is worth remembering that many of these collections are incomplete and the survival of records for particular periods or particular institutions can be patchy – check the catalogues to individual collections for details of survival and access (naturally records of this nature are sensitive and do have access restrictions placed on those of a more recent date).

Guardians of the Poor collections

Six boys standing in Sutton Park, Birmingham, on summer outing provided for poor children by the Birmingham Cinderella Club [WK/B11/445]

Until the nineteenth century poor relief was a function of the parish and documents such as apprenticeship indentures and settlement certificates will be found in these collections – see our separate source guide for Faith and Religious Records here. Continue reading

Windrush Pioneers: learning more about the experiences of Caribbean migrants

One Of Henry Gunter’s publications on racial inequality ‘A Man’s A Man’ 1954 (ref MS 2165/1/3)

2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks in Essex in 1948. The ship brought around 500 people from Jamaica and Trinidad to the UK. Many of the new arrivals were employed in state services such as the NHS and public transport filling post-war employment gaps. An article from the Birmingham Mail from the day that the Windrush landed is available to view online.

The Windrush has come to represent the beginning of greater numbers of people from the Caribbean moving and settling in the UK. This is an important part of the history of Birmingham and we see this legacy today in the make-up of the city.

In our archive collections at the Library of Birmingham we hold material which sheds light on the experiences of those newly arrived in the UK between the 1940s and 1970s. In this blogpost I will focus on two collections but there is more to be explored in the archives.

Campaigning against the colour bar

Henry Gunter was born in Jamaica but moved to the UK in 1950 which was only two years after the Empire Windrush arrived. Gunter, as a campaigner against racism and injustice, was at the forefront of issues black people making a new life in Birmingham were facing. Fortunately for us his writings were a key part of his campaigning activity, so these issues are documented in his archive (MS 2165).

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‘A Union of Adult Schools in the Midland Counties’

William White (at the podium) and Class I Severn Street Men’s Adult School (MS 703 2/2)

On the evening of 14th February 1884, Alderman William White of Birmingham and John Blackham, of Hill Top, West Bromwich, welcomed representatives of the Adult Schools in Birmingham and the neighbouring towns to a meeting at the Friends Severn Street Adult School. These schools provided reading and writing classes based on the Bible to adults on Sundays, and were non-denominational. Present were 14 representatives from Severn Street School and its branch schools, 19 representatives from 11 other Adult Schools in Birmingham, and 33 representatives from schools in neighbouring towns including Bilston, Bloxwhich, Brierley Hill, Coventry, Oldbury, Smethwick, Tipton, Walsall, West Bromwich, Wednesbury, Willenhall and Wolverhampton. In total, these schools had 11, 000 scholars between them. The purpose of the meeting was to form ‘a Union of Adult Schools in the Midland Counties’ (MS 272/I/1).

William White (MS 703 box 2/2)

White (1820 – 1900), a Quaker book seller and publisher, had been a Birmingham town councillor since 1873. He chaired several of Birmingham Corporation’s committees and was chair of the Birmingham Coffee House Company. He was also a magistrate, and in 1893 became Lord Mayor of Birmingham.  Involved in the Adult School Movement since 1848, when he became teacher of Class I at Severn Street (the first Adult School in the city, established by the Quaker, Joseph Sturge in 1845), White remained teacher of this class until his death in 1900. You can read more about Severn Street Adult School here. White was instrumental in the expansion of the Adult School Movement amongst Quakers both in Birmingham and across the country, and his work inspired Methodist, Congregationalist and Church of England leaders to establish their own Adult Schools.

John Blackham (1834 – 1930), a draper, book seller and publisher was Senior Deacon of Ebenezer Congregational Church, West Bromwich, and in 1870 had established the first Adult School in the region outside Birmingham. In 1875, he founded the ‘Pleasant Sunday Afternoon Movement’ a non-denominational Sunday afternoon meeting of religious instruction for adults, accompanied by a more popular form of religious service for those were not attracted by the Adult School movement.

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