About

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I have just started researching for a PhD in Modern History at the University of Birmingham, under the supervision of Professor Carl Chinn and with financial support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

There is still only a working title for my thesis, but the proposal is a case study of Birmingham and its administration between 1838-1852. This time frame falls within a period of immense change in British politics and society as the impact of industrialisation and urban growth became starkly visible. This was an age of sweeping political reform and immense social upheaval. Life appears to have been running at an ever increasing pace. Birmingham was one of a small number of towns at the forefront of this dynamic change, bursting at the seams with a population that was technologically innovative, culturally motivated and politically radical.

The period under consideration for this research was chosen as one which really represents the frontier between old and new styles of approach to local administration. This is an area which I hope to explore in more detail in my thesis. I am particularly interested in the interface between the ‘public’ and local authorities. I want to understand the extent to which public demand influenced reform at a local level and how local demands might have impacted on changes to national policy as well as consideration of how these new approaches to social management impacted on real lives. Another ambition for the thesis is to move away from the traditional ‘grand narrative’ approach of class conflict, so often applied to nineteenth-century Birmingham,  considering instead the rather more ordinary interactions of daily life. I have discovered that the minute books of both the Town Council and the Street Commissioners reveal an incredibly vivid insight into how Birmingham developed materially during the first half of the nineteenth century. Not through any poetic description or fanciful musings, but through planning applications, petitions of complaint and bye-laws. Such a vibrant and real image of the town emerged from these ‘mundane’ interactions that I thought it would be useful to share them. Hence this blog on an occasional history of the mundane.

Birmingham’s early Victorian history has too often been overshadowed by the towering presence of the later administration of Joseph Chamberlain. It has been written off as a time of civic stagnation. I want to contest this perspective by bringing to the fore the dynamic and often bold actions taken by Birmingham’s early civic leadership.

The majority of evidence sourced for this blog can be found archived at the Library of Birmingham, which offers a HUGE quantity of archival material for anyone interested in the history of Birmingham – and it’s not at all mundane!

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11 thoughts on “About

  1. Hi Donna, I have read your article regarding the murder which took place in The White Hart in Paradise Street. I hadn’t realised that it led to the first execution in Winson Green Prison. My interest in The White Hart goes back to the 1960’s when I used the pub.I worked just opposite in Daimler House. When in August 1965 the area was redeveloped, I contacted Mitchells and Butlers and they agreed that I could have the sign from above the pub if I could persuade the foreman in charge of demolition to take it down carefully and ‘give him ‘a few bob for his trouble.’ I still have the sign, it is displayed proudly in the sun lounge at the bottom of my garden in Hampshire. I have written a chapter about it myself. Thank you for the research you have done, it will add to the enjoyment I get from sitting beneath the sign with a pint in my hand and lots of great memories. Regards, Ivan Taylor.

      • Hi Donna
        I’m sorry for the delay. Here’s the chapter below as requested.
        Kindest regards
        Ivan Taylor

        —————————————–

        The White Hart

        I could see them both from the window of my office overlooking Paradise Street in Birmingham City Centre. To my right was the Town Hall and to my left The White Hart public house. These two venerable old buildings played a large part in my social life in the mid-sixties. The Corinthian-style Town Hall was built in 1834 and modelled on the temple of Castor and Pollux in Rome. It was designed by Joseph Hansom, the same man who invented the Hansom cab. This is where I first saw Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Julie Felix, The Dubliners, The Corries, Humphrey Littleton and many more. For the Dylan concert a young girl at our office queued all night to get tickets for me and John Legge. It was in the middle of February, and the queue wound itself several times around the building with everyone wrapped in blankets and sleeping bags, but we did pay for her ticket in return.
        Just 50 yards away was The White Hart, a tiny, two-room, Victorian pub, which at one time had been an Inn, but it dropped that part of its name when it ceased to take lodging guests. Tony Capewell, John Legge and I spent many hours supping mild beer in the smoke room, which only held about 20 drinkers at any one time. The landlord, whose name I never did know, was in his late sixties. He would suddenly appear through a trap-door in the floor behind the bar, emerging from the cellar with a tray of sandwiches balanced precariously on his bald head.
        I met some lovely, genuine Brummie people in this pub. In the sixties, people still lived close enough to the city centre to walk in for a drink, that was before most of the houses were demolished to make way for the hotels and restaurants which are there today. One evening I sat with a jolly old couple and talked for hours. The man’s face was bright red and his skin pulled taut across his plump features, no trace of hair, he said that he never had to shave. He’d spent his entire working life in front of a raging open furnace, in a small iron foundry in Hockley. He had just two weeks holiday each year, taken in Weston-Super-Mare, and 50 weeks, from 8am until 5pm, in searing heat, stoking the roaring flames which smelted the iron, to form the tools that made Brum. What an awful life that seems to have been, but both he and his wife were very happy.
        But by 1965 it had been decided to re-develop the whole area around Paradise Street. In August of that year we bade farewell to The White Hart, The Woodman and The Hope and Anchor pubs, whose cellars all joined together on three sides of a square. I watched from my window as each day the scaffolding teams spun a giant web around the buildings, trapping them, before one by one they disappeared forever. Dozens of men crawling all over them, wielding huge hammers and sending decades of history crashing to the ground in great clouds of dust. Lifetimes of memories, wheel-barrowed onto the backs of lorries, then taken away and dropped into a hole, somewhere miles away out in the countryside.
        However one building remained, and so did the occupant. Each morning I looked out to see the landlord of The White Hart, standing forlornly beneath the scaffolding, in the rubble-strewn doorway of his home, smoking a cigarette. He had nowhere yet to go, and until he had, he was staying put. But one morning he didn’t appear, and by lunchtime the two upper floors had gone, bashed and clouted to the ground, just like its neighbours. I could still see the sign bearing its name, stretching the 20 feet across the width of the building. On impulse I decided that I wanted that sign, and rang Mitchells and Butlers the brewers who owned the building. Going through numerous departments, I eventually found a man who told me to go and seek out Gerry, an Irishman in a red woolly hat. He was the foreman of the workers on the site, and if I gave him a ‘few bob’, and told him I’d spoken to M&B, he would probably let me have it.
        Dashing across Paradise Street, I found Gerry and explained that I wanted the sign. He looked at me in total bewilderment, but on seeing my proffered ten shilling note, he thought no more about it and agreed to take it down, telling me to come back later in the day and remove it. I watched from the office, as ‘my trophy’ was levered from the wall and gently lowered to the ground. Then I raced across the road and stared down in horror at what my ‘ten-bob’ had just bought. It was a 20-feet-long plank of painted wood, the back of which was half-eaten away and encrusted with spider webs, most of which were still occupied. But the four-inch-high lettering was intact and made of brass, inlaid with bright yellow enamel, two things Birmingham was famous for producing. I could do something with this, it had possibilities.
        A 20-foot piece of wood does not look very long when viewed from below, but on the ground it is very different, it was huge. I carefully grasped it in the middle, praying that it wouldn’t snap in half, and proceeded to weave and wobble my way through the busy traffic and into Royal London House opposite, where I somehow managed to manoeuvre it into the basement. That evening I persuaded my father, who thought I was entirely mad, to come into town, collect my plank of wood, and carry it home the two-mile to South Road in Hockley where we lived.
        Shortened to the ten feet that held the lettering, it found its new home above the small bar which I’d built in my bedroom. The paint renewed and the letters carefully cleaned, it stayed there until Pam and I got married and I left home. Sadly, it then spent the next 30 years being moved from loft to loft wrapped in an old blanket. On arriving in Southampton, I decided that it was time it should be displayed in a position of importance once again.
        The small wooden sun-house at the bottom of our garden in North Baddesley, is now known as The White Hart, and has a handsome 170-year-old sign proudly announcing its name to the neighbourhood.

      • Ivan, this is brilliant! Thank you so much for sharing. What a lot of memories you have. I had no idea that so many great names had played at our Town Hall. Hope you’re well.

      • Thank you as well Donna for researching all about the murder in The White Hart. I knew that this had taken place but nothing at all about the murderer, his victim and the background to it.
        I have taken a copy of your paper and fixed it to the back of the sign so that hopefully the story will remain with it for future generations.

        Ivan Taylor

  2. Hello,

    I hope you don’t mind my contacting you this way. I am an interested amateur and am trying to find somewhere to read more about a particular period in Birmingham history – the election in 1819 of Sir Charles Wolsely as Birmingham’s “legislatorial representative” during a meeting of reformers at Newhall Hill. I’d love to find out anything more about the background, who was involved in running the meeting, and what happened or was discussed there. Do you know of any resources? I’ve not been able to find anything so far. If you’re able to help at all, I’m on email – willdyoung@gmail.com.

    Thanks in advance for any help or advice you can offer,

    Will.

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