11 December 2017

Map of the Hundreds of Staffordshire, c. 1650

Map of the hundreds of Staffordhire, by Hollar, c. 1650s.


Although this is a map of Staffordshire, the town of Birmingham can be seen at its borders on the left, but north is to the right (one of the enlargements - below - is tilted with north at the top). It was produced in about the 1650s by Wenceslaus or Wenceslas Hollar, a Czech etcher, who made several images in the British Isles, and died in London in 1677. The original is 19 by 26 cm, and part of the Wenceslaus Holler Collection at the University of Toronto (see here).


2 October 2016

Freeth's Coffee House & the Society Feasts


Freeth's Coffee House was a tavern (more formally known as the Leicester Arms) on Bell Street, a lost street which would have stood under the complex of the new Bull Ring Shopping Centre. It was run by John Freeth (sometimes John Free), a local poet and political commentator, often known as Poet Freeth and printing publications such as The Political Songster. As with many coffee houses in the eighteenth-century, it was a meeting place, not just of people, but of ideas. Most well-known are the meetings of the Jacobin Club, a group of political radicals including James Bisset (toy-maker and museum keeper) and James Sketchley (printer and auctioneer). In his obituary in 1808 it was noted that Freeth would sing his poems and 'delight a large company with original songs, composed from subjects of a public nature, replete with wit and humour'.

The pub was the site of a number of dinners where the radical politics and current affairs of the day could be discussed. The call to these feasts was frequently through a few lines of poetry, printed in letterpress onto small cards. Here are some examples:

Click on the cards to enlarge.





Poet Freeth (John Freeth).
1730-1808.

26 September 2016

James Watt's Workshop



A short video by History West Midlands, taking us inside the workshop of James Watt, which existed at Watt's home, Heathfield Hall, in the late eighteenth-century. The workshop is now reconstructed at the Science Museum in London.

3 September 2016

The Swan Hotel in Pictures

Swan Hotel in 1829.

The Swan Hotel was a large and dominant coaching inn on the High Street throughout the eighteenth-century and before. According to Joseph Hill it was an ancient tavern, the land of which stretching across the corner of High and New Streets, and belonged to a family called Rastell during the reign of Henry VIII. Between 1666 and 1688 the landlord of the Swan was Edward Crank, who demolished the old tavern, and built another set back from the street, with a large yard in front for carriages, and erected a row of five smart town houses along the street (seen on the left of the trade card, above).* The Swan was a haunt of Samuel Johnson, who writes in 1755 'I was extremely pleased to find that you have not forgotten your old friend, who yet recollects the evenings which we have passed together at Warren's and the Swan'. Johnson resided in Birmingham in the early 1730s, initially with Edmund Hector (to whom he writes above) at Thomas Warren's bookshop situated opposite the Swan at that time (Warren's shop moved about).

Contemporary colouring of the 1829 card.

In the 1730s, as the notice below announces, you could catch a stage-coach to London at the Swan at six on a Monday morning, and return 'if God permit' on the Saturday. Take a journey on the Birmingham to London stage-coach here.



The hotel survived until the late 1950s, but was demolished before 1961 to make way for the new Rotunda. The photos below were taken in 1932 by William A. Clark.

The swan over the door. 
The entrance door with the swan over, looking up
Swan Alley. Note Fred Burn on the right.
Poor image of the alley from the other direction. Not taken by Clark.
Landing of the Swan Hotel.

There was another entrance to the Swan around the corner on New Street (see below, far left). The street on the right of the trunk manufacturer is Worcester Street, and when the Rotunda was built, this became Worcester Passage, which was covered and cut underneath the building.

New Street (left) at the corner of Worcester Street (right).

1 August 2016

John Baskerville's House and Something Unexpected in the Garden

Baskerville's house at Easy Hill.

John Baskerville was a japanner, letter cutter, type founder and printer in Birmingham in the mid eighteenth-century. Japanning was his initial, and also very prosperous, trade, which enabled him to build himself a grand house on the outskirts of Birmingham in 1745, at Easy Hill. By the 1770s the Birmingham Canal and its wharf had encircled the house, and the town was encroaching nearer and nearer (see map below).

1778 map highlighting the house at Easy Hill, with a long tree lined drive
garden, and possible orchard. Birmingham is expanding onward.


Baskerville died in 1775, and the house was lived in by his widow and daughter, and his daughter owned it until 1788 when it was bought by John Ryland, who had the images below produced. They give some interesting detail of the ornamentation, and if anyone knows what the statues are, please let me know in the comments.

Easterly front of Baskerville's house.

Southerly front of Baskerville's house.

Close-up of the statues.
The house is thought to have been demolished in about 1795, and the land utilised for manufacture, and by a canal wharf, the construction of which, in the 1820s, unearthed Baskerville's corpse, which he had asked to be buried in a catacomb built especially for the purpose in the garden. Below is a drawing of said corpse, produced by Thomas Underwood in 1829, after the body had been on display. It says something about Baskerville's fame and renown that this seemed acceptable. 



30 July 2016

Birmingham's First Book (Probably)

A Sermon Preached, p. 1.

Above is the title page of what is probably the first book printed in Birmingham, produced by Matthew Unwin, whose press was near St. Martin's church. The book is not dated, which suggests that it was printed in the same year as the sermon was preached, 1716. Unwin also printed two other known books in Birmingham; A Loyal Oration (see below) and The Martyrdom of King Charles the First, both in 1717. The Martyrdom of King Charles was written by 'J. B.', thought to be the Reverend John Bridgeman, who was Master of King Edward's School on New Street between 1705 and 1714. A Sermon Preached [...] (title page above, and continued below) was written by Thomas Southall, the vicar at Harbourne, so these were both local works. 

Like most Birmingham booksellers and printers, Unwin worked near St. Martin's church, but he didn't seem stay long in Birmingham; he probably married Frances Bourne at St. Mary's in Handsworth in 1717 (30 Apr), but by 1722 a Matthew Unwin is recorded as a bookbinder in Leicester, taking on a Humphrey Haywood as an apprentice,* and continues to print a number of books in the town, before being buried there in 1749.**

Some more of the pages of A Sermon Preached [...] are below, AND some of A Loyal Oration are further down.

A Sermon Preached, p. 2.

A Sermon Preached, p. 3.

A Sermon Preached, p. 4.

A Sermon Preached, p. 5.

A Loyal Oration
A Loyal Oration, imprint 1717.
In the third section (above) is a reference to the Rector of the newly built St. Philip's church who had apparently been 'displeas'd and nettl'd' with such a 'scurrilous Discourse'.

A Loyal Oration, p. 5.

Birmingham's next major printer was Henry Butler (more a printer of ephemera rather than books). Then came Thomas Warren, who printed extensively in the town.

..................................................................................................

* 4 March 1772, and listed as a bookbinder.
** Exposition of Common Prayer ('Mr Unwin, Printer at Leicester' (1737)), A Catalogue of Books. In Divinity, History, Law, Physick, Mathematicks, Poetry, Classicks ('Matthew Unwin, printer and bookbinder' (1743)). Some note that this Matthew Unwin is not the same as at Birmingham, but in 1741 (20 Aug) 'Frances, wife of Matthew Unwin' was buried at St. Martin's in Leicester aged 49. In relation to the marriage to Frances Bourne near Birmingham, this would suggest that both are the same man. Unwin dies in Leicester in 1749 (buried 14 March at St. Martin's) and leaves a will (proved 1750-not seen).

20 April 2016

Birmingham Artisans: The Samuel Pembertons (Silversmiths)

Samuel Pemberton silver toothpick case, 1793.
Held at Birmingham Assay Office.

There are at least three generations of Samuel Pemberton's working as jewellers and toymakers in Birmingham in the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-centuries. The first lived from circa 1704 to 1784, the second from 1738 to 1803, and the third from circa 1771 to 1836. It is the two latter whose silver survives in museums and private collections (see more of their silver on Pinterest). The name Pemberton was long established as a name in both precious and non-precious metal trades in Birmingham; a Thomas Pemberton was working as a goldsmith in the 1600s (will dated 1640), and another Thomas Pemberton became a very wealthy iron founder from the late 1600s, and lived in a grand house on what is now Colmore Row.

From the mid 1770s to at least the 1820s their workshops were on Snow Hill, the heart of the jewellery and toy making district at that time, before (what is now) the Jewellery Quarter came into being.
Samuel Pemberton nutmeg grater, 1798-9.
Held at the V&A.

From about 1812 to 1821, the third Samuel and his son (possibly Thomas) partnered with Roger Mitchell. At this time they were described as 'jewellers, silversmiths, and watch and time-piece makers' at Snow Hill.  

4 November 2015

Looking Through Windows #2: Ornament & Things Inside


In the last Looking Through Windows post, I looked at Greenery in the 'Slums', and explored how the words 'slums' was a top-down term which didn't really reflect the life that was woven into the homes that were being photographed. With a desire to knock down these houses, the photographers took pictures of buildings with cracks in the walls and broken windows, but didn't always notice the little things, that can be found, now, by zooming into the old Victorian photographs. 

This Looking Through Windows explores the things that people owned that can be seen in the shadows inside the homes (some door peeking as well as window peeking was necessary). 























I felt that this house-proud lady needed her home displayed a little more........