Tag Archives: Warwickshire

Windrush Strikes Back

Selection of material from the collections consulted by Windrush Strikes Back Decolonial Detectives in the Wolfson Centre, Library of Birmingham, May 2019

The 22nd June marks the anniversary of the arrival of HMT Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks in Essex in 1948, bringing c. 500 people from Jamaica and Trinidad to the UK. Many went on to fill some of the post-war employment shortages, particularly in state-run services.

In the years following the arrival of Windrush, greater numbers of people travelled from the Caribbean and settled in the UK. This included in Birmingham and the surrounding areas, and their experiences, and those of their descendants, have become a significant part of the history of the post-war period. However, although there is some archival material documenting the experiences, many stories of the experiences of British African Caribbean people have yet to be discovered.

Last month we welcomed the Windrush Strikes Back: Decolonising Global Warwickshire project to Archives and Collections. This is a six-month community-engaged project aiming to uncover the hidden histories written by British African Caribbean people in Warwickshire, Coventry, Birmingham and the surrounding areas. Facilitated by the Global Warwickshire Collective, the project intends to,

…inspire community members to take more active ownership of and involvement in the production of our histories, and to challenge the exclusivity of historical scholarship in Britain.


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Catalogue of the Central England Quakers archive now available

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)

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If you missed it last time…

Uncovering Quaker Heritage: pop-up exhibition

Saturday 7th October 2017 1.00-4.00pm

Wolfson Centre, Level 4, Library of Birmingham

Birmingham and Warwickshire have been important centres of Quaker activity since the middle of the 17th century and Quakers have been highly influential in the social, economic, philanthropic and political development of the region.

If you missed our popular ‘Uncovering Quaker Heritage‘ pop-up exhibition which we ran earlier this year (or enjoyed it so much you’d like to see it again!), we’re offering another opportunity for you to find out more about the records we hold and see a selection of original material from the archive of the Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, dating from the 17th century to the 20th century.

There may even be a few additional items on display which have been newly deposited in Archives & Collections during the year…

Entry is free. All are welcome!

This material is made accessible via the Birmingham & Warwickshire Quakers project, a cataloguing project funded by a National Archives Cataloguing Grant and a bequest from a member of Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.


Quakers and the Kindertransport

Holocaust Memorial Day 2015_logo_high_res

10, 000 children, the majority of whom were Jewish, were brought to Britain from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland to escape persecution by the Nazis between 1 December 1938 and 1 September 1939. What came to be known as the Kindertransport was the result of the combined efforts of Jewish and Quaker organisations in successfully persuading the British government, in the days after Kristallnacht in November 1938, to ease its immigration restrictions for refugee children. The children were permitted to enter Britain on temporary visas without their parents if a guarantee of £50 per child were provided to cover the costs of care, education and re-emigration from Britain once the war was over. If the children were over 14, they were to be found work in agriculture or domestic service. The first group of children arrived at Harwich on 2 December 1938 and was accommodated at Dovercourt Camp for Refugee Children until suitable accommodation could be arranged with a host family or in a hostel.

Led by Bertha Bracey, Secretary of the Friends Germany Emergency Committee (later Friends Committee on Refugees and Aliens) in London, the Religious Society of Friends, working with Jewish and other Christian organisations, was involved in all aspects of the Kindertransport.  In Birmingham on 13 December 1938, the Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends agreed that a committee should be set up locally to coordinate relief work for Jewish refugees.

Religious Society of Friends Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting minute book, 13 December 1938.

Religious Society of Friends, Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting minute book 1936-1939, 13 December 1938, minute 581.

The Committee worked with the Friends Germany Emergency Committee and the Birmingham Council for Refugees. Some of its objectives included setting up a clearing house for children from Dovercourt Camp and for other refugees, finding homes for refugees, seeking agricultural and industrial training, raising money to support relief work, and helping Friends House, London by undertaking some of the advisory work it carried out.

Religious Society of Friends Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting Refugees and Aliens Emergency Committee report: list of members, 1939.

By 10 January 1939, the Committee had already been offered the use of Allendale Cottage, Wast Hills by William and Emiline Cadbury which was to be used to accommodate 6 refugee children prior to finding them more permanent housing. An advice bureau was set up at the Library in Bull Street Meeting House and each Thursday 8 volunteer Friends and 6 volunteer refugees provided advice both for refugees in need of aid, and for Friends wanting to offer their services in the relief effort. The principle objective of the bureau was to,

‘penetrate the maze of Refugees organisation and disorganisation, and to master the intricacies of  case preparation for successful approach through the Refugee Committees to the Home Office’ (Warwickshire Monthly Meeting reports relating to minutes, 1939-1943, extract from Refugee and Aliens Emergency Committee annual report, 1939).

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From boxes to trees

Tree WKH5206

Victoria Park, Handsworth, December 1895 (from the Warwickshire Photographic Survey, ref WK/H5/206)

Have you ever wondered when you look at our on-line catalogues or use our paper catalogues in the searchroom how archivists decide to arrange a collection? What do we do when we are faced with shelves and shelves of records which may have been randomly boxed together or may have been re-organised several times by the time they reach us?

Well, without going into too much detail about archival theory, there are a couple of key principles which underpin the work of archivists and which differentiates archival cataloguing from that of library cataloguing. Records derive their meaning from the context in which they were created so when arranging a collection of records, archivists aim to preserve this context. To do so, they follow the principles of provenance and original order. The principle of provenance dictates that records created or collected by an organisation, family or individual should be maintained together and not mixed with records created or collected by another organisation, family or individual. The principle of original order dictates that records should be arranged in the order in which they were created and used.

In practice, this means that for each new organisation, family or individual who deposits records in the archive, a new collection is created. However, identifying the original order can be rather more difficult because this has often been lost over time as records pass from one generation to the next, frequently being organised and re-organised before they are deposited in an archive. This is why one of the first things a cataloguing archivist does is to spend time researching the organisation, family or individual and analysing the records to try to work out how the records would have been created and kept so that this can be reflected in the arrangement of the collection.  The aim is to build up a logical arrangement which maintains the context of the records and helps researchers to easily explore the collection via the catalogue.

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Celebrating minute books

Blue Celebrated

Central England Area Meeting Warkwickshire Quarterly Meeting 1695-1743, list of meetings 1718

Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (2011/029) Warwickshire Quarterly Meeting minute book 1660s-1743, list of meetings 1718.

Minute books often have the perception of being a bit dry, but I’m a big fan of them! Why? Because they contain a wealth of detailed information about all aspects of how an organisation is run which is not necessarily visible from a public standpoint, giving a fascinating behind the scenes glimpse of what issues organisations faced, why decisions were made and how solutions were implemented. This is fortunate as the majority of the records in the Central England Area Religious Society of Friends archives are minute books so I’m going to be working with them in some depth during the Birmingham and Warwickshire Quakers cataloguing project.

For this blog post I’ve selected one of the earliest volumes in the collection. It’s a vellum and leather bound minute book with metalwork, containing the minutes of the Warwickshire Quarterly Meeting, and according to the spine it covers the period 1695 – 1743. The Quarterly Meeting is the highest administrative level in the records we hold (though in recent years the structure of the Society of Friends has changed) and in the early days of the Meeting, it corresponded to the Warwickshire county boundary. Above that at national level is the Yearly Meeting. Below it, at regional level is the Monthly Meeting and under that, at local level is the Preparative Meeting.

Warks QM 1695 meeting hierarchy 2

Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (2011/029) Warwickshire Quarterly Meeting minute book 1660s-1743, list of meetings n.d. [17th century].

This hierarchy is nicely illustrated in the inside cover, where there is a list of the Monthly and Preparative Meetings within the Warwickshire Quarterly Meeting. At this time, Warwickshire had three Monthly Meetings: Brailes, Warwick and Wishaw; and fourteen Men’s Preparative Meetings: Long Compton, Brailes, Radway, Ettington, Warwick, Coventry, Stratford, Southam, Meriden, Birmingham, Baddsley Ensor, Wishaw, Henley-in-Arden and Fulford Heath. This structure, with a few more meetings, is also illustrated in the top image from 1718.

Turning to the first few pages of the minute book, it quickly becomes obvious that the minutes don’t actually start on the first page and the dates the volume covers are considerably earlier than those given on the front cover. First of all there is a list of individuals who in the early 1660s were sent to prison for variously, ‘keeping meeting’, ‘tithes’, ‘refuseing to sweare’. This is what the Quakers called Sufferings and referred to the religious persecution they suffered and of which they were careful to keep detailed records.

‘Edward corbitt & John corbitt & Thomas Walker of brales in t[he] Countie of Warwick where cast into prison for tithes th[e] 10th day of the 6th mongth 1666 & George Weyott was sent to prison upon th[e] sam acompt th[e] 7th day of th[e] 9th in th[e] yeare before mentioned’

Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (2011/029) Warwickshire Quarterly Meeting minute book 1660s-1743.

The above entry reads:

Edward corbitt & John corbitt & Thomas Walker of brales in t[he] Countie of Warwick where cast into prison for tithes th[e] 10th day of the 6th mongth 1660 & George Weyott was sent to prison upon th[e] sam acompt th[e] 7th day of th[e] 9th in th[e] yeare before mentioned

Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (2011/029) Warwickshire Quarterly Meeting minute book 1660s-1743, list of imprisoned Friends

Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (2011/029) Warwickshire Quarterly Meeting minute book 1660s-1743, list of imprisoned Friends.

At this time, the Church of England was the only religion allowed so the Friends were persecuted, not only for holding meetings for worship in their houses but also because they refused to pay church tithes which financed the maintenance of churches. They also refused to swear an oath on the Bible in court, justifying it by claiming that since telling the truth was integral to their way of life, swearing to tell the truth in court was unnecessary. Over the page there is a list of people who ‘suffered 26 weekes imprisonment for meeting together in th[e] worshipe of god’

Further details about Quaker sufferings records can be found on Quaker Strongrooms, the Library of the Society of Friends blog.

It isn’t until quite a few pages further on into the volume that a note in the margin tells us that the first regular meeting was held on 18th day of the 1st month 1695/6 and this indicates that it took a while before the Warwickshire Quakers formalised their business meetings on paper.

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First steps

Going through the boxes2

Checking a box of records from the Central England Area Society of Friends records (2011/029) against the box list.

Faced with 300 years’ worth of Warwickshire Quaker records to catalogue, one of the first things I’ve needed to do since starting the Birmingham and Warwickshire Quakers project is understand how the Religious Society of Friends was and is structured in Birmingham and the surrounding area. Research is a crucial part of all cataloguing projects, since the job of the cataloguing archivist is to gain an understanding of the organisation/family/person and its/their records in order to create a catalogue so that researchers can access and use the records.

Working in an archive which is housed in a large public library means I have ready access to many different resources. For my research, I started with a number of general books and journals about the Quakers and Quaker history so that I had an understanding of how they started and developed over time. I spent some time on-line looking at the Quakers in Britain website, in particular Quaker Faith and Practice which outlines what the Friends believe, their structure as an organisation and the different roles which exist at different levels of meetings. The Central Area Meeting website  has also proved useful to see where Meetings are currently held. Discovering what other archive collections and Local Studies books we hold relating to the Quakers in Birmingham (quite a lot!), means that I will be able to gain a broader insight into how the Quakers played an instrumental role in the development of the city.

Some of the books I have been reading.

Some of the books I have been reading.

In addition, using the National Archives website, I looked at other local authority archives which have Quaker records in their holdings to see how they have been catalogued. These, and my visits to meet the depositor of the collection, have all proved invaluable sources in providing me with some background and will be very useful to refer back to when I get down to cataloguing and describing the collection in detail.

Much of my time has also been spent familiarising myself with the different record types in the collection and trying to identify how they relate to each other, since context is all important in understanding an archive collection. Luckily for me, a box-list (literally a list of what is in each box) has already been made, so by checking each physical item against the box list I’ve been able to get an idea about the contents of the collection fairly quickly, but actually understanding how the records relate to each other is rather more complicated. While the collection itself is not huge (approximately 750 items), the internal organisation of the Religious Society of Friends over the last 300 years is complex and this is reflected in the records they produced.

Mind-map showing the structure of Meetings within the Central England Area of the Society of Friends and its predecessors.

Mind-map showing the structure of Meetings within the Central England Area of the Religious Society of Friends and its predecessors.

There are several layers of administration with their related committees, organisations and associations; the organisation has gone through numerous boundary changes as the numbers of Quakers in the region fluctuated over time and the records themselves cover a large geographical area including Meetings that at various times have been in the counties of Warwickshire, Staffordshire, Leicestershire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire; meeting houses have opened, closed and re-opened, or merged and divided; elements of the administration have been re-named or, most recently, removed from the administrative structure.

Close up of mindmap

Close up of the mind-map showing the different elements of Bull Street Preparative/Local Meeting

To gain a better understanding of what records are in the collection and how they relate to each other, I was inspired by the York: A City Making History blog in which the archivist Justine WB explained how she used mind-mapping software to work out the different functions and relationships of the records within the York City archives. I used the same software (bubbl.us) to plot all of the different Meetings,and their related elements for which records appear in the box-list and having a visual overview of the collection has helped me to start planning a hierarchical structure  which will become the backbone of the catalogue. Continue reading