150 years ago today the Sultanganj Buddha, one of the most important objects in Birmingham’s collection, was offered to the Corporation of Birmingham. On 7 October 1864 Samuel Thornton, a former mayor of the city, wrote to Birmingham Borough Council offering:
“…the colossal figure of Buddha, and the large marble one, to the town, to be placed in the Art Museum, now being erected, where they may be duly and properly located for the free inspection of the inhabitants of Birmingham…”
Samuel Thornton’s main business was as a railway ironmonger but he also had an interest in ancient India. Following its discovery by engineers constructing the Indian Railway in 1861, he paid £200 to have the two-metre tall copper Buddha transported to England.
In 1867 the Buddha went on display in the ‘Corporation Art Gallery,’ a room in the Central library. In 1885 it went on display in the newly built Museum and Art Gallery. Today the statue is displayed in the Buddha Gallery. Offerings of flowers are frequently left at the feet of the statue by Buddhist visitors. To commemorate the 150th anniversary, the statue will be blessed by monks from the Birmingham Buddhist Vihara at a public ceremony on Wednesday 8 October between 11am and 1pm.
Curator of World Cultures
In 1596 William Shakespeare began to write his tragedy Romeo & Juliet, inspired by a narrative poem which had been popular while the Bard was still a boy in Stratford upon Avon. In nearby Birmingham a remarkably similar tale was being lived out between two prominent families: the Smalbrokes and the Colmores.
The problems between the Capulets and the Montagues were, in the original story, based merely upon mutual envy. Shakespeare escalated the grudge into a full-scale feud, which mirrored the running battles and hatred which divided the townsfolk of sixteenth century Birmingham into two camps – those who supported William Colmore and his sons, and those who favoured the brothers Richard and Thomas Smalbroke.
The origins of the feud concerned libel actions; accusations of usury and nepotism; disputes over wills and even a disputed marriage settlement: Thomas Smalbroke’s wife Elizabeth was the sister of William Colmore and of Ambrose Colmore who was a joint defendant against a charge of embezzlement brought by his brother against him and Richard Smalbroke.
A complicated web of suspicion and lies which led eventually to the Court of Star Chamber – the highest in the land – and even to an armed stand-off at Blakesley Hall in Yardley.
Blakesley Hall is the house which Richard Smalbroke built in 1590 on land which he had inherited from his father. Richard divided his time between his main residence The Ravenhurst at Bordesley and Blakesley Hall which was also the matrimonial home of Richard’s only son Robert.
On 1st July 1604, at Bordesley Thomas Smalbroke was attacked with a hunting staff by William Colmore’s son Thomas. Colmore then tried, unsuccessfully, to shoot his enemy who ran for safety to the house.
When Thomas Smalbroke rode to Packington for a warrant for the arrest of his attacker, Colmores waited to intercept him on his return along the Coventry Road. Richard got to him first and the pair made it to Yardley. Later that evening Thomas set off again for his home at the top of the Bull Ring but was met by one of his sons who told him to go back to Yardley where the brothers watched from the top floor window of Blakesley Hall as young Colmore and his servant, both armed with pistols, sought a Smalbroke to shoot.
The town was not safe for any of the Smalbrokes that night. William Colmore was ‘most irreligiously and profanely swearing and protesting many times by the blood of God that he would his son had well boxed Smalbroke’ – that he ‘would to God he had sped him’.
Thomas Smalbroke told the Town Constable to arrest Thomas Colmore, but it was only by the intervention of Sir Thomas Holte of Aston that the writ was finally served.
Also sheltering in the house at the time of the siege were Richard’s son and daughter-in-law and their eight-year old daughter Barbara who would, two years later, inherit Blakesley Hall and all its lands on the death of her father. Her mother Elizabeth would then re-marry. Her new husband was that same Thomas Colmore! Had he and Elizabeth known each other before she married Robert? Had he been waiting in the wings for a second chance to claim his bride and were they the real-life star-crossed lovers with an altogether different ending. Who was the true target for the Colmores on that July evening in 1604?
A final twist to this saga. In 1614 Richard’s granddaughter Barbara married Henry Devereux of Castle Bromwich Hall. Her new mother-in-law, Lady Devereux, was formerly Catherine Arden – a kinswoman of Shakespeare’s mother Mary Arden whose family seat was Park Hall, Castle Bromwich. Did William Shakespeare get all of his inspiration for his play from that poem? Or did his mother tell him about the goings-on in Birmingham?
As one of Blakesley Hall’s team of visitor-friendly volunteers, I hope that the embellishments to the above true record of sixteenth-century events sound plausible enough to claim, if not a possible Shakespeare connection, then at least a parallel with one of his most loved plays. Yardley may not be a substitute for Verona, but beautiful Blakesley Hall, in old age, remains inspirational.
The plot thickens! Since writing this blog post I have found out that Robert Smalbroke died from natural causes in 1603, so it seems that Thomas Colmore’s errand to Blakesley in 1604 was not to murder him but a failed attempt to elope with his widow.
Volunteer at Blakesley Hall
I am lucky enough to be a volunteer at Blakesley Hall, the dearest little Tudor gem out in Yardley surrounded by its own garden oasis, just bliss.
Here at Blakesley Hall we have all sorts of events going on for children, from Totstime Tuesday to Crafty Thursday. But the one that appealed to me above all was held on National Play Day 6th August and that was ‘Teddy Bears parachuting Picnic’ complete with a teddy bear hospital. I begged to be allowed to come in to help on that day as it sounded such fun and oh I love teddies. I was so very pleased to take part that I jumped at the chance when asked to become Nurse Teddy in charge of the teddy bear hospital. Here is my account of a happy sunny day enjoyed by the Blakesley Hall team.
I arrived early (as all good volunteers should), the sun was already high in the sky and everybody scurrying around, tables being moved outside and teddy parachute wire in place. My position of choice was in the corridor that leads to the outside world but also looks down on the reception area so good vantage point to say hello to teddies and minders. My table was set up with Maddies help and I donned my ‘uniform’, an apron covered in teddy bears and a mini teddy bear as a ‘fob watch’ and finally my official museum name badge of course. I had bought with me my teddy sick bed complete with pine bed, bedding and ‘sick’ rabbit to use as a conversation piece. I had travelled by bus with all this with much hilarity (one bus driver asked if I was leaving home). I straightened the bedding, checked my badge machine was in place and doctors kit by my side then a quick nod and thumbs up from Kim and we were open for business.
Within moments the children, Mums, Dads and assorted adults were flooding in complete with regulation teddies, dollies, dinosaurs, monkeys and all sorts of wonderful furry shaped objects. The sun had put a smile on everyone’s face and the children charged out into the fresh air looking for the hidden teddies in the grounds or eager for their own loved furry to fly. One or two shy ones hung back and it was then I was able to tell them the secret of the rabbit sitting in the teddy bed pretending to be a teddy (but don’t tell anyone).
For a little while I was only saying hello and explaining that after teddy had ‘flown’ do come and get him checked out. But very soon they were flooding back to have ted examined. If you want to examine a teddy for any injuries this is how you do it. Reassure owner, lie teddy, monkey etc. on back flex arms and legs, check eyes and head for bumps however this can altered, reduced or changed if a queue. Pronounce teddy fit or in need of a cuddle or two and then make a ‘Brave Blakesley Bear’ badge and send child on their way. Fortunately we had no serious injuries as everybody knows teddies bounce.
Some funny things did happen during the day. Two woman unconnected bought antique teddies to be examined by me to see if they could be mended in the mistaken belief that we had a fully functioning dolls hospital. With one of the ladies I had this very surreal conversation about not being set up for extensive surgery but eager to please I gave her an overview of how to mend the teds wobbly leg and we decided between us maybe he shouldn’t be flown.
One child insisted on having six plasters on her ted, he could hardly breathe, what is it with plasters and children? Later in the afternoon one three year old carefully dragged the giant panda off that had been sitting in the entrance hall and left her tiny teddy in its place fair swops she thought.
Late into the afternoon when everybody was flagging I had a last minute rush the teddies, plasters, bandages and badges were fairly flying out. I did pause for a moment and think with a longing for home and tea. Then I thought naa this is much more fun out at Blakesley Hall with the team being silly surrounded by sun burnt happy faces!
Volunteer at Blakesley Hall
This is one of our most frequent questions and the response always fills me with great pride. The simple answer is that it was purpose built as a museum and art gallery, and when it first opened its doors on November 28th 1885 it was as full of art as it is today.
Perhaps a broader question would be ‘WHY did Birmingham build a Museum and Art Gallery?”
The answer to this question is best understood as a series of steps beginning in the first half of the Nineteenth Century.
STEP 1 – Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham were competing to become England’s ‘second city’. The Middle Classes began to use art galleries as a means of expressing their identity and to raise the civic profile of the cities they lived in. However, in order for public museums and art galleries to be built local councils and governments had to change their attitudes towards the arts – this was a slow process. Groups of Art Reformers sprung up in Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham. They championed the idea of setting up galleries and had four main aims:
- To provide healthy recreation for the Working Classes
- To improve workers’ satisfaction in pleasurable labour and industrial design by providing objects of study
- To help workers to lead more fulfilling lives by showing them the grace and beauty of the world
- To help audiences see the ugliness created by industrial capitalism and make them change the modern urban environment
STEP 2 – Birmingham School of Design was established in 1843. Those involved with the school wanted an Industrial museum to display objects that would inspire the artisans. They wanted a gallery that would make art accessible to the greatest number of people. Suddenly there was an institution devoted to creating beautiful things but the setting was far from inspiring. The city centre was crowded with filthy slums. Chimneys churned out black smoke and people worked around the clock in unhygienic factories. (For a more fleshed out description of how bad conditions were for the average worker Charles Dickens gives some great descriptions of Birmingham and the Black Country during the 1840s in ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’).
STEP 3 – Birmingham’s local government had a reputation for ‘penny-pinching narrow-mindedness’ (Stuart Davies, ‘By the Gains of Industry Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery 1885-1895’). As evidence of their lack of interest in culture, they failed the Free Libraries and Museums Act when it first came into being in 1845. It was finally passed on the 21st February 1860 and a committee was formed to create a library and Museum and Art Gallery. Around this time leading citizens remade the local government and the city was in a position to embrace some of the ideas advocated by the Art Reformers.
STEP 4 – The Birmingham Midland Institute opened a small exhibition of objects and pictures in 1860. The exhibition included the Bust of David Cox (so I like to think of this as the beginnings of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery!)
STEP 5 – Over the next 15 years the collection grew rapidly. There were numerous successful exhibitions including one of amour and jewellery, which attracted 160,000 visitors in 1868. There were huge donations from Philanthropists such as the Tangye Brothers, which amounted to millions of pounds in today’s money. The Public Picture Gallery Fund was launched in 1871 to collect and commission paintings. Frederick Leighton’s ‘A Condottiere’ was the first to be purchased in 1873. Mayor Joseph Chamberlain gave £1000 of his own money for an industrial museum in 1875. All of this interest meant that the council was under pressure to find a site and funds to build a gallery in the centre of the city.
STEP 6 – Joseph Chamberlain municipalised Birmingham’s failing gas works and made them highly successful.The company grew and had to move out of its offices. The council used the profits from the gas company to build new offices on the land acquired through the Free Libraries and Museums Act and put an art gallery on top. This is why there are so many stairs in the main entrance to the museum, as most of the galleries are on the second floor. Henry Richard Yeoville Thomason won a competition to design the building and Whitworth Wallis was selected to be the keeper. This meant he was responsible for collecting, displaying and securing the collection.
Saturday November 28th 1885 – The permanent Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery was opened with a celebration at the Town Hall and an address by the Prince of Wales (future King Edward VII). It consisted of the main entrance, the Vestibule and Round Room, the ‘long gallery’, the Wedgewood and Italian galleries (no prizes for guessing what was in those) and the Industrial Hall. Nowadays the Italian gallery is the shop, the Wedgewood gallery is the Buddha gallery and the ‘long gallery’ is the Edwardian Tea Room.
I hope this goes somewhere to explaining – in a simplified way – how there came to be such a grand building in the centre of Birmingham and why it is such an important institution to the city and its people. In fact the simple answer to ‘Why did Birmingham build a Museum and Art Gallery?’ is for the people.
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
For more information about the History of BMAG read the previous blog post: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery History Project.
Now in it’s third year, Jane Austen Day is celebrated each summer at Soho House museum and this year’s celebration took place just over a week ago. Although Austen herself never visited Boulton’s home, the Georgian property provides the perfect setting to bring the world of her novels to life.
Austen was a novelist whose works earned her a place as one of the most widely read writers in English literature. Georgian society is the backdrop of all of Austen’s novels. Set during the reign of George III, they describe everyday lives, social hierarchies, gender roles, marriage, and the pastimes of well-off families. They provide an insight to the English society of this period.
Austen lived her entire life as part of a close-knit family located on the lower fringes of the English landed gentry. The support of her family was critical to her development as a professional writer. Her father was a clergyman and after his death, she, her mother and unmarried sister Casandra went to live in a cottage on her brother’s estate. Cassandra was Austen’s closest friend and confidante throughout her life. It was in these later years Austen successfully published four novels which were generaly well-received: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Emma. These works were published anonymously and brought her little personal fame. Austen’s most famous work remains Pride and Prejudice. In this novel her most beloved heroine Elizabeth Bennet must navigate the complexities of life as a young woman of limited dowry. During Jane Austen Day Pattern 23 performed famous scenes from Austen’s books, including Mr. Collins ill conceived marriage proposal to Elizabeth.
When Jane Austen’s characters talk about buying a dress, it means in fact that they are going to buy the necessary fabric, which they will then give to a dressmaker who will make a dress to their specifications. Patterns for dresses in the latest London fashion were found in all the women’s fashion newspapers. In ‘Emma’ Harriet Smith buys muslin cloth with this intention. For Jane Austen Day I asked a friend to make a Regency gown for me to wear. During the day there were also period hair and make-up demonstrations carried out by Julie Stevens.
Austen’s plots, though fundamentally comic, highlight the dependence of women on marriage to secure social standing and economic security. A woman would have belonged in the first instance to her father and later her husband. She would have been legally subordinate to him, without rights and would not even have even been able to choose where she lived.
All members of the Lunar Society, who regularly met at Soho House, were committed to the idea of education, but what that meant for daughters and wives tended to be different from what it meant for sons. The subjects both Jane Austen and Matthew Boulton’s only daughter, Anne studied formed the main elements of the typical middle-class young woman’s curriculum. While away at school, Anne studied English, French, drawing, history and geography. Later, she learnt music from a Mr Harris in Birmingham, botany from Boulton’s friend Dr William Withering, and embroidery from Mary Linwood, a celebrated embroiderer of so-called ‘needle paintings’. Austen has been described by biographers as an accomplished seamstress and was very fond of dancing. These education topics were highlighted during Austen Day, with embroidery and dancing demonstrations for visitors to take part in.
Jane Austen acquired the remainder of her education by reading books, guided by her father and her brothers and had unlimited access both to her father’s library and that of her uncle. Like all gentry of the day, letter writing was a favoured and necessary past-time. In an uncharacteristic letter, the usually kind Anne Boulton is scathing about an expected visitor (in tone similar to Austen’s much-loved character Emma Woodhouse):
‘She is neither young, or handsome, has what some people call a pleasing cast with one eye, talks a great deal and would be glad to be thought young, notwithstanding wrinkles and grey hair begin to appear, but with all these perfections and imperfections she is I am told a sensible and entertaining woman.’
Unlike Austen, Anne was not dependent on the kindness and charity of her brother and relations after the death of her father in 1809. Boulton laid his plans well: ‘I propose to set apart, in my lifetime, as much money, land, stock or good securities as will be sufficient to support my daughter handsomely and comfortable’
Boulton left Anne a combined fortune of £34,000, enabling her to move from Soho in 1818 to a house of her own after her brother married. At Thornhill she kept a very comfortable but modest home. Upon her death in 1829 she left each of her servants one years wages, plus a further £20 each for the two longest-serving. Land she had purchased and the remainder of her fortune she left to ‘my dear brother to whom I now bid a long and last farewell.’
Jane Austen continues to be a huge influence on popular culture and this year’s celebration at Soho House was a great success. Staff, volunteers and visitors had fun immersing themselves in Austen’s stories, etiquette, interests and wit.
Visitor Services Assistant,
Quotes: The Hardware Man’s Daughter by Shena Mason, published by Phillimore & Co Ltd, 2005.
Hello I’m Connie, one of the volunteers at Aston Hall and I have been volunteering as a House Guide since the start season. In this blog I will explain why I chose to volunteer at Aston Hall and I will include some of my favourite stories that I share with visitors.
Aston Hall is one of Birmingham’s most historic buildings and is Grade I listed Jacobean house. Aston Hall has played a large part in not just Birmingham’s individual history as a city but is part of England’s wider history as a country. The Hall was involved in the Civil war after being damaged after an attack by Parliamentary troops in 1643.
I choose to volunteer at Aston Hall for all the reasons mentioned above, but mostly for the experience and a chance to work in a place completely different to anywhere else I have ever worked. I am currently doing a history and politics degree at Lancaster University and Aston Hall is the perfect place to get some experience in history. The Hall is rich with historical significance and it’s great to work in such an amazing place and be surrounded by such amazing artwork, artefacts and architecture. Aston Hall is conveniently located in the heart of city and a great piece of local history. It’s a great way to get some experience in your local area and find out what part your city played in history.
Aston Hall’s famous connections makes it stand out as one of the most significant buildings in the city. The house was owned by James Watt Junior, the son of the important Victorian inventor James Watt. Sir Thomas Holte, 1st Baronet was the original owner of Aston Hall, the Holte family were a wealthy family of some importance in Warwickshire. Thomas Holte was known for his great temper with famous disputes with his son and neighbours, such as he sued his neighbours for accusing him of splitting his cook’s head in two with a cleaver! Aston Hall has also housed Charles I in 1642 and Queen Victoria first came to visit when she was on a tour of the country with her mother, she later visited again in 1858 to open Aston Hall as a public museum.
The house is not only for history lovers but due to its extensive range of paintings is also has its interests for art historians, having minored in art history in my first year at university it was amazing to be surrounded by such works of art. Particularly impressive paintings are ‘King Charles I and his family’ by Remy van Leemput and ‘Lucy Loftus’ by Peter Lely. Lely was a Dutch painter who became the dominant portrait painter to the court in England. There are a few portraits of Charles I such as the one in the world room of Charles on the left, and his wife, Henrietta Maria on the right. When being on post in the Long Gallery, the portrait of Marchioness of Rockingham (d.1761) by Godfrey Kneller has always got a lot of attention. People always ask who the woman is in the painting as it creates a large impression due to its grandeur and size so I’m always ready to answer. Mary, Marchioness of Rockingham being the wife of Charles Watson-Wentworth a British Whig statesman and known for his two terms as Prime Minister of Great Britain. Edmund Burke, the famous philosopher, became his private secretary and would remain a lifelong friend, political ally and advisor until Rockingham’s premature death in 1782. She was very active in the political scene as she contributed to the parliamentary management of the Rockingham whigs and it was her positive influence upon her husband that was her most significant contribution to politics.
Another story I like to tell is prompted by the portrait of Edward Holte, Thomas Holte’s son. Edward, had gained a position in Charles I household. In his service Edward met and married Elizabeth King, Thomas did not give his permission for the marriage but Edward went ahead with the wedding. As a result Edward was entirely cut out from his inheritance. Charles I pleaded with Thomas himself to reinstate Edward as his heir but Thomas refused. Edward died on military service in 1643 having never reconciled with his family. It was rumoured Thomas locked up a daughter because she refused to marry her father’s choice of husband, the rumour suggests she starved to death.
Aston Hall’s significance is further emphasised by its architecture as it is one of the last great Jacobean houses to be built in Britain and its location in Britain’s second biggest city. Much of the architecture is original 17th-century plasterwork that has been maintained and the house remains relatively unchanged.
Aston Hall also manages a wide range of events across the year including ‘Make and Take Craft’ which are craft days every Wednesday in the holidays for children. There’s also historic days organised to explore the English Civil War with a living history re-enactment. Birmingham Tours Museum Heritage Bus also takes visitors around other historic sites in the area such as Soho House and Blakesley Hall. The events are a great way to get children more involved and interested in history, which I think is extremely important and a great active day out away from the classroom which is always needed! Aston Hall takes a lot of visits throughout the year from nearby school children and they are given a special tour. Volunteers are encouraged to get involved and events are organised to keep volunteers up to date with information, also there are fun ideas to get us more involved such as picnic days and tour guide training.
The engagement with the customers is always a great chance to get to hear other people’s views of the Hall. Many visitors have returned to the house having been years ago when they as a child at school. Other visitors have come again for a second or a third time to bring family and friends. Many are amazed by the long gallery, my favourite room and one of the most spectacular rooms in the house. Hands down an extremely different place to work and hope to work in other places like Aston Hall in the future.
Volunteer at Aston Hall
If you’re interested in volunteering for Birmingham Museums Trust then find out more at: www.bmag.org.uk/support-us/volunteer
Here at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG) we are all excited about the opening of our latest exhibition ‘STATIC: Still Life Reconsidered’. The exhibition explores the art of still life so we want to see your still life creations!
Whether through photography, paint or sculpture, whether you’re a budding artist or a professional, we want you to share your still life artwork with us! Simply snap an image of your very own still life and post it with the hashtag #staticstilllife on Twitter or @STATIC_STILL_LIFE on instagram!
Selected work will then be featured on the plasma screen to the entrance of Waterhall throughout July to September for all our visitors to see. You can check out your piece as well as many others at @BM_AG and @thinktank.
The ‘STATIC: Still Life Reconsidered’ exhibition is on at the Waterhall Gallery, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, from the 26th July- 31st December. For more information visit; www.bmag.org.uk/events?id=3304
We look forward to seeing your still life creations!
Images hashtagged #staticstilllife will be featured in the slide show. The still lives featured will be chosen by the marketing team at Birmingham Museums. No correspondence will be entered into about the choice of the Still Lives featured.
The entries to the slideshow will be chosen from twitter and Facebook at the end of each month. We may also feature entry images on the BMAG Pinterest page. You retain all rights in, and are solely responsible for, the content you post. When you send your images to Birmingham Museums, it still belongs to you but we can show it to people and others can share it on different social media platforms.
For more details see full terms and conditions.
We have been preparing for an exhibition about Birmingham men who served in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment during the first world war. I had the opportunity to follow up some of these individuals during my recent trip to Northern France. It’s hard to believe that the gentle countryside of the Somme has been the scene of death and destruction, but the reminders are everywhere, not only in the form of military cemeteries but also road signs indicating the front line at various dates during the Somme campaign. This is the first of two blog posts in which I will look at the stories of three men who lost their lives in this area.
Private Fred Andrews
Private Fred Andrews served with the 1/6th battalion of the Royal Warwicks and took part in ‘the big push’ on the Somme in July 1916. He came from a working-class family in Ladywood, Birmingham. He was an officer’s servant. In our collection we have a set of letters written by Fred to his mother and sister, which give an insight into Fred’s life on a training camp on Salisbury Plain and later as part of the British Expeditionary Force in France.
On Easter Monday 1916, Fred writes: ‘Dinner time we had biscuits instead of bread. We shall have them every Monday and Thursday. They are hard, but very nice, I can eat them all right. One man has put his wife’s address on one and a 1d stamp, on one side, and on the other he put, This is what they give us on Easter Monday, at Salisbury Plain. He sent one just the same last year from the trenches. If I was the post man I should eat it’.
Fred only writes two letters once he reaches France as part of the British Expeditionary Force. In one he says: ‘The Officers, and N.C.O’s [non-commissioned officers] are very good to us here. We can get two green envelopes a week, so you will get the letters pretty quick. Dear Mum, Will you please give Ollie [Fred’s girlfriend] my love, and address when you see her. They are a very nice lot of chaps that I am with now. And we get plenty of food to eat. I will close now with very Best Love to you all, and Ollie. Do not worry I hope the war will soon be over now. Things are looking up here. Love to all, Fred xxx’. The last letter from Fred was received by his mother on 30 June 1916.
The final letters in the series are from Fred’s mother. She writes to him repeatedly during July 1916, pleading with him to write to her: ‘oh son I do hope you are all right I have not had a line for nearly three weeks the last I had you wrote the 30 of June and now it is the 19 of July my own dear boy I am quite sure it is not your fault I do not know what is preventing you from writing if I could only get a line in your hand writing I should feel better’. Mrs Andrews’ letters are returned to her, the envelopes marked ‘missing’.
Fred had been killed on the very first day of the battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916. He was 21 years old. Mrs Andrews eventually received this photograph of his grave (see image above). Fred still lies in Serre Road Cemetery No. 2 at Beaumont-Hamel, but he now has a permanent headstone.
I visited Fred’s grave in June 2014. Serre Road is one of the many Commonwealth cemeteries designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. It was completed in 1934. The Commonwealth cemeteries are now maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and are beautiful and peaceful places to visit.
During the 1920s and 30s many relatives of the dead visited their graves in France, some with the assistance of veterans’ associations. We do not know whether Fred’s family ever had the opportunity to do this.
Our exhibition ‘Soldiers’ Stories: Birmingham and the Royal Warwickshire Regiment 1914 to 1918’ opens on 19 July 2014.
Read the second blog: First World War – Bill Furse and James Rance
July 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the death of one of Birmingham’s most famous personalities. Joseph Chamberlain transformed Birmingham during the 1870s when he was the town’s Mayor. He later went on to represent Birmingham in Parliament and to serve in the cabinet as Colonial Secretary. He was a controversial figure during his lifetime and continues to be so today. This is a series of snapshots from Chamberlain’s career, based upon objects in our collection.
As Mayor of Birmingham, Chamberlain ran the town like a business, taking utilities like gas and water into public control. He improved the health of the population through better sanitation. One of his most controversial acts was the demolition of large swathes of ‘slum’ housing which made way for the commercial centre of Corporation Street; this enhanced the business environment but many people were displaced and not re-housed. On 17 June 1874 Chamberlain laid the foundation stone of the new Council House, which still stands at the heart of Birmingham. This trowel commemorates the event.
Postcard of Joseph and Mrs Chamberlain
Chamberlain’s personal life was beset by tragedy. His first and second wives, cousins Harriet and Florence Kenrick, both died in childbirth. At the age of 52, Chamberlain found happiness with 23 year old American Mary Endicott. Images of Chamberlain usually portray him as looking severe, but in this postcard we get a rare glimpse of him smiling.
Satirical Drawing of Joseph Chamberlain
In the 1890s the British government was keen to keep South Africa within the British Empire rather than see it become a Boer republic. In 1899 Chamberlain, now Colonial Secretary, was preparing for war against the Boers. In this caricature, Chamberlain pretends to ‘Oom Paul’, the President of the South African Republic, that ‘the dogs of war’ (a quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar) are just going for a walk. This cartoon was published in Punch.
Wooden Folder Presented to Joseph Chamberlain
The Boer War came to an end in 1902, and in the following year Chamberlain toured South Africa to promote reconciliation between the British and the Afrikaners. He was broadly welcomed, and persuaded the Prime Minister John Gordon Sprigg to hold elections. This elaborate wooden blotter was presented to him by the South African Progressive Association. It is lined inside with blotting paper and was used to blot letters to ensure that the ink was dry.
Satirical Postcard of Joseph Chamberlain
In his early career Chamberlain was a radical reformer, but later he became increasingly imperialist. This satirical postcard pokes fun at a variety of policies that Chamberlain ‘juggled’ as Colonial Secretary. One of his last campaigns was for the imposition of tariffs upon trade with countries outside the British Empire, in order to favour imperial trade. He became notorious for using two loaves of bread as visual aids during a speech in Birmingham, arguing that a loaf baked under tariff reform would be no more expensive than one baked under free trade. The phrase ‘Birmingham bred’ is a pun on this.
Despite his mixed fortunes as a national politician, Chamberlain was always a popular figure in Birmingham. Throughout his career he used a monocle and wore an orchid in his buttonhole, and his instantly recognisable image was reproduced on countless souvenirs. His 70th birthday in 1906 was marked by huge celebrations and a parade through the city centre was attended by thousands. This souvenir programme cost threepence.
To see more objects from our Chamberlain collections, visit ‘Birmingham: its people, its history’ on the third floor of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, or see our Chamberlain Flickr page.
I have a true penchant for our magnificent city of Birmingham. Even after travelling the world and experiencing the splendour of the South Pacific, Europe and Caribbean I still found my true heart was back in Brum.
Birmingham has so many wonders to be experienced, from our diverse cultural quarters, our proud industrial legacy, our deeply engraved historical heritage, our numerous parklands, our copious canal system, our vibrant social and culinary scene and of course our beloved and cherished museums and art galleries.
I am not the only one with a love for Birmingham though. There are a dedicated group of individuals who unite in their passion for Birmingham and they give up their precious time and resources to volunteer for the various sites of Birmingham Museums Trust (BMT). This band of devoted and fervent volunteers create memorable moments for visitors at BMT sites and they instil a new pride in the city of Birmingham. These volunteers do this selflessly out of enthusiasm and desire for the legacy and future of Birmingham; they ask for nothing in return but the satisfaction that they are making a true difference to the city’s prospects, success and its heritage.
So when Alex Nicholson-Evans (Volunteer Development Officer at Birmingham Museums) decided to formally recognise all the volunteers of Birmingham Museums during National Volunteer Week and celebrate their contribution, it was a real honour.
We were truly treated and indulged to a full tour of Aston Hall, even areas not visited by the public, by Barbara Nomikos (Property Supervisor at Aston Hall) whose knowledge and enthusiasm for the house and resident families was sincerely inspirational, compelling and exhaustive. The indulgence continued with a magnificent picnic washed down with lashings of Pimms! Alas, the event had been planned as a picnic on the lawn but the UK weather had other plans and an onslaught of good old British rain, saw us camped out above the newly renovated stable block. However the weather could not dampen out valiant volunteering spirits and a fabulous time was had by all. To round of such a spectacular day we were subjected to, sorry enjoyed, an amusing and entertaining quiz! All in all a wonderfully memorable and very appreciated day.
So I would like to thank Alex, Rachel, Barbara, the team at Aston Hall and all the volunteers who attended in making us all feel so valued and appreciated. Although we volunteer out of love and passion, this kind of recognition is greatly respected and continues to fire our hunger and desire for volunteering.
Thanks to the dedication of people like Alex who make us all feel special and appreciated, we will keep on standing side by side and continue our volunteer work, ensuring we uphold and endorse Birmingham as the truly magnificent city it is.
For more information about volunteering or to be added to our volunteer list visit: bmag.org.uk/support-us/volunteer