Monthly Archives: November 2011

Emma Barton

Emma Barton (1872-1938) was born in Birmingham in 1872. Her parents lived in back-to-back housing in Aston before moving to Camp Hill in 1877. Emma’s father died in 1885; her mother re-married in 1890 to Edgar Birchley, who brought Emma into contact with photography – he had been brought up in a photographic studio run by his parents in Deritend, Birmingham.

BA&H: MS 2396

Birmingham Archives & Heritage owns a selection of Barton’s photographs, which she began taking in the mid-1890s (MS 2396). Throughout her career she focused on portraits, producing these using simple equipment usually taken somewhere within her own home or garden. Her models were her family and friends and she regularly photographed her own children from infancy to young adulthood.

To learn more about Emma Barton and her work see Sunlight and Shadow: The Photographs of Emma Barton 1872-1938, eds. Peter James, Tessa Sidey and John Taylor (Birmingham Libraries & BMAG, 1995)


Birmingham Children’s Homes Project

BA&H: MS 466 F/5

Ginger, A Story (MS 466 F/5) was an imaginary tale was written to promote the work done by the Middlemore Emigration Homes for young children living in poverty. 

Ginger was an illegitimate boy living in the slums of Birmingham. His father had died in WW1 leaving his mother, who worked as a barmaid and then a cleaner, to support Ginger. They lived in the back-to-backs, small houses built around a communal courtyard; we learn that ‘the landlord provided three w.c.s and one tap for the 58 inhabitants . . . in summer the court smelt as only a slum court can smell’ (p.5). Living in the city meant that Ginger began to get into trouble, his mother unable to keep an eye on him, which resulted in appearances at the Children’s Court. Eventually it was decided to put Ginger into the Middlemore Homes, where ‘he was well fed and comfortable, and for the first time in his life he had a proper bath and slept alone in a bed’ (p.9). Ginger was then sent to Australia to live on a farm; the booklet ends with a letter sent by Ginger to his mother.

BA&H: MS 466

Between 2009 and 2010 a small team, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Birmingham City Council, set about creating a history and archive of Birmingham’s Council-run children’s homes between the years 1949 and 1990.

Appointments to view material held by Birmingham Archives & Heritage can be made via email at: or by telephone on 0121 303 2468.

Chimney Sweeps

The nineteenth century was notorious for employing children in various industries, most notably in factories and mines and as chimney sweeps. Master sweeps would take apprentices from around age 6, usually boys from the workhouse but also girls, and train them to climb chimneys.

From the late eighteenth century there was concern for the health and safety of chimney sweeps. A series of laws attempted to regulate working conditions and increase the age of sweeps. The Chimney Sweepers and Chimneys Regulation Act of 1840 made it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to sweep, although the Act was widely ignored.

MS 466/253 A Few Extracts from Memory, to the Association for the Suppression of Climbing Boys

BA&H: MS 466-253

This pamphlet was written in the 1840s by Richard Bennett of 23 Allison Street, Birmingham, for the Association for the Suppression of Climbing Boys, a campaign led by John Cadbury (1801-1889).

Born in 1816, Bennett had been a climbing boy and later became a master sweep.

In the pamphlet, he reveals the hardship experienced by climbing boys:

The sufferings I endured then and subsequently I would not again repeat for any amount of wealth. I was forced up chimneys in a state of complete nudity, sometimes two or three times a day, and my bed for those ten years consisted of straw and soot-bags.

Bennett became his own boss at the age of 19 and took on two apprentices. In 1841, he purchased chimney sweeping machinery from Mr Russell, a master sweeper from Cheltenham; the following year the 1840 Act of Parliament, the Chimney Sweepers and Chimney Regulation Act, came into being, and so Bennett let his apprentices go. A mechanical brush had been introduced in 1803 to replace climbing boys, although it was resisted by sweeps until later in the century; Bennett remarks that

in reference to the mode of cleaning chimneys by machines, that I can truly assert that they are worth more than their weight in gold.

Reform eventually took effect after the 1875 Chimney Sweepers Act, which required chimney sweepers to be authorised by the police to carry on their businesses in the district, therefore providing the legal means to enforce all previous legislation.

Appointments to view material held by Birmingham Archives & Heritage can be made via email at: or by telephone on 0121 303 2468.

Suggested Rules of Health

Birmingham Archives & Heritage holds the Bournville Village Trust Estate archive, MS 1536.

In the 1920s George Cadbury (1839-1922) compiled a pamphlet titled ‘Suggested Rules of Health’, which was given to every new resident of BournvilleVillage. The pamphlet you can see here, ‘Suggested Rules of Health and Other Information for Youths at Bournville’, 1924 (MS 1536, box 5), was based on Cadbury’s original publication but was given to every youth under 21 years of age who worked at Bournville.

BA&H: MS 1536

Some of the suggested rules included:

Every morning take a cold bath.

To breathe is to live. To breathe deeply is to live a healthy life.

Aim at reading good books.

If you frequent the picture palace or theatre, remember that yours is the responsibility to decide whether it is beneficial and instructive or degrading or harmful.

Never spend money for the sake of spending it

Aim at making thoughtful allowance for others and always adopt a manly attitude

What rules of health would you suggest?!

Appointments to view material held by Birmingham Archives & Heritage can be made via email at: or by telephone on 0121 303 2468.

Young People’s Archive

The Young People’s Archive part of the Children’s Lives project is now up and running. Do have a look at the blog and see what great work our group of Year 8’s are getting up to!

Royal School for Deaf Children

BA&H: l-46.02_2

Birmingham’s Royal School for Deaf Children was established as a result of a lecture given to the Birmingham Philosophical Society in 1812 by Dr Jean Gabriel Marie De Lys, a physician who practised at the Birmingham General Hospital. The General Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb began as a day school with 15 pupils in Birmingham in 1814. A residential school opened in 1815 on Church Road, Edgbaston, part of the Calthorpe Estate. It was renamed the Royal Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb in 1887 and in 1929 as the Royal Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf. It became known as the Royal School for Deaf Children in 1935. A nursery and infants department opened at Laughern House, Martley near Worcester in 1942. The school closed in 1984.

BA&H: MS 1060-47_2

In 1880 the Milan First World Congress to Improve the Welfare of the Deaf and Blind voted to implement lip-reading as the sole method of teaching. This resulted in the rejection of sign language as a method of teaching and communication for deaf pupils. Photos from around 1900 held by Birmingham Archives & Heritage show the use of both methods but it seems that there was a gradual decline in the use of sign language after the Congress.

A quote from a pupil who attended the school in the 1920s confirms that sign language was actively prevented:

we were never allowed to sign in class at school . . . one day my teacher caught me signing to my friend under the desk. She was angry and said that I shouldn’t use sign. She said that I looked like a little monkey. That’s what they used to call us when they caught us signing, little monkeys.

Out of Sight: The Experience of Disability 1900-1950, Steve Humphries & Pamela Gordon, p. 84

As a result, campaigns were launched to reintroduce sign language and by the mid-1970s the Deaf Rights movement was established. In 2003 British Sign Language was officially recognised as a language in its own right by the British Government. The decision made by the Milan Congress was formally denounced in 2010 at the 21st International Congress for Deaf Education in Vancouver.

Birmingham Archives & Heritage holds the archive for the Royal School for Deaf Children, MS 1060. Appointments to view material can be made via email at: or by telephone on 0121 303 2468.