A Couple of Swell Pickpockets

From the Daily Post, Friday 26th February 1858

A Couple of Swell Pickpockets.- For some time recently Bull Street has become a more than usual resort of daring and successful conveyancers of the above line, and the Chief Superintendent has caused extra attention to be paid to this locality by his officers. To-day, two very well dressed persons were placed at the bar, giving the names of James Powell and Eliza Allsop. Detective Spokes stated that on the preceding evening he saw and watched the two accused for some time in Bull Street. Going to various shop windows where ladies stood by, the female got close to them and he distinctly saw her, (Powell, standing near) put her hand under a lady’s shawl; but when she had withdrew her hand she had not succeeded in taking anything. She made subsequent visits to other groups of females, and at this time, going into the Coach Yard, Spokes caught the eye of the male prisoner, who came to see who it was. The officer then took him into custody, and Powell shouted out “Eliza” (Allsop) and Spokes soon after took her. At first they denied all knowledge of each other, but subsequently admitted they were acquainted, and it has been found that for some time past this pair has been living together in Park Street as man and wife. Detective Kelly stated that a few days previously he had seen the two prisoners in company in Bull Street, and they then followed the same course as just described by Spokes. Seeing him (Kelly), they quickly made off. The girl had been up before; but Powell, her mate, had hitherto kept himself off that. The Court said there was not the slightest doubt of their object being picking pockets, as detailed by Spokes, and they must go to the House of Correction for six weeks each. From their dress and appearance generally (both young) they would not readily be suspected as bad characters. A second woman, Mary Smith, who was in Allsop’s company was also taken, but she was discharged. 


Parliaments, Politics and People seminar: Martin Spychal, ‘One of the best men of business we had ever met’: Thomas Drummond, the boundary commission and the 1832 Reform Act

The History of Parliament

At our last ‘Parliaments, Politics and People’ seminar, Martin Spychal, holder of an AHRC collaborative doctoral award with the History of Parliament and Institute of Historical Research, gave a paper on Thomas Drummond and the 1832 Reform Act. Here Martin gives an overview of his paper…

Thomas Drummond (c) The University of Edinburgh Thomas Drummond (c) The University of Edinburgh

Thomas Drummond is best known for his invention of a portable limelight device (which would illuminate the world of nineteenth-century theatre) and his tireless efforts as Under-Secretary for Ireland between 1835 and 1840, which would contribute to his premature death at the age of 43. Comparatively less is known about his work supervising the English and Welsh borough boundary commission for the Grey ministry between August 1831 and September 1832. This is something of an anomaly given that so much historical ink has been spilled over Britain’s first Reform Act. Whereas Whig reforms to the…

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Factory Act prosecutions 1873

At the Birmingham Police Court, Friday February 21st 1873:

Before Messrs. T.C.S. Kinnersley (stipendiary), S. Thornton, G. Goodrick and C. Sturge

Factory Act prosecutions: – Messrs. Newey Brothers, hook and eye manufacturers of Brearley Street, were summoned at the instance of Mr. Hoare, inspector of factories, for employing a young woman named Elizabeth Brown, without having required a surgical certificate from her. A second summons charged the defendants with employing Sarah Galleford without having registered her name. Mr. Rutter for the defendants pleaded guilty and a fine of 20s and costs was imposed in each case. – Messrs. Fulford and Beddows, printers, Newhall Street, were summoned for employing a boy named John Jones for more than six and a half hours per day. Mr. Bowling, factory inspector, proved that on the 13th inst. the boy, who was twelve years of age, worked from 8:30 a.m. until 7 p.m.  The defendants, who pleaded guilty, were fined 20s and costs. The father of the boy was ordered to pay costs for neglecting to send his son to school. – Messrs. Barr and Sons, umbrella furniture makers of Edmund Street, appeared in answer to seven summonses charging them with employing children without surgical certificates. The defendants pleaded guilty, but urged in extenuation, that manufacturers should not be put to the expense of obtaining surgical certificates for their employees, and further that a fresh certificate should not be required every time a boy obtained a new situation. Defendants were fined 20s and the costs of four of the cases, and ordered to pay the costs in the others.  Joseph Griffiths, father of one of the boys, was ordered to pay the costs for neglecting to send his child to school.

‘The library was now the property of the citizens’: Bloomsbury Branch Free Library: 1892-2013


In 2013 Birmingham City Council announced the closure of Bloomsbury library because of a difficulty with the heating system.  I found this particularly sad because it was a favourite haunt of my childhood and youth. It now appears to have been the thin edge of a wedge of library closures. While there is currently a focus on the slashing of services at the new Library of Birmingham (and rightly so), the loss of local libraries should also be of concern to all of us.  It is good to know that Bloomsbury library is listed, so the building should survive in some form or another, but hopefully it won’t be sold to the planners and might continue in providing the service for which it was built.

The introduction of free libraries in the nineteenth century was a source of much civic pride and a great asset to the people of Birmingham across all classes.  Bloomsbury library was opened on June 4th, 1892. The site had been carefully chosen, situated on the tram routes for Nechells and Saltley it was very accessible. The architects were Cossins and Peacock, who were responsible for other buildings in the town, including the library in Moseley and the Ear, Nose and Throat hospital. I remember the library well, but really like this description from a report on its opening in the Birmingham Daily Post:

Built at a cost of £3700, it embraces a lending library, a small reference library and a cheerful and well lighted reading room. This room is fitted in a most approved style, the furniture and fittings being of Oregon pine

In his opening speech, the Mayor expressed his hope that the library  might be of great value to the inhabitants of that district (it was!) and that in the words of the late George Dawson he would remind them that the library was now the property of the citizens, and ask them to protect it and use it, not alone for their own benefit but for the advantage of the public at large.  In closing his speech, he revealed that  further libraries were soon to be opened at Spring Hill (also now closed), Small Heath, Harborne and, when land could be acquired, Balsall Heath. These were in addition to six free libraries already opened. Surely,  added the Mayor, no intelligent and unselfish ratepayer would think that the excess of the rate over a penny in the pound was an extravagance. Such institutions conferred on the community a benefit which it was very difficult to calculate, and it was especially to the poorer inhabitants that the benefits accrued. 

In a further speech, that is worth reiterating here, in the light of current cuts, Councillor Coombs added that there was no work connected with the life of the town that deserved greater attention than that of providing good books for the people. It was one of the means of bridging over the gulf between rich and poor, helping the struggling artisan and developing to the very highest extent those abilities with which a man or a woman was endowed. The love of books was a great blessing.

Please support our local libraries in any way you can. Once they’re gone, they’re lost forever.  Follow @FoLoB on Twitter for updates on proposed cuts to the Library of Birmingham. 

Birmingham Letter: the Peaky Blinder

On February 5th, 1898, the Leamington Spa Courier carried an item on notorious Birmingham gang the ‘peaky blinders’. The article is written by a ‘correspondent’ and anyone familiar with the television series of the same name will recognise the article was written with tongue very much in cheek. The gang were a great nuisance in Birmingham for decades, from the last decade of the nineteenth century through to the mid-war period of the twentieth. They were divided into rival gangs, fighting amongst themselves as well as with another notorious local gang known as ‘the sloggers’. The ‘peakies’ were particularly notorious for their assaults on local police: in 1897 one officer was killed. In the same year, the Sheffield Evening Telegraph reported that during the second quarter of 1897, there had been no less than 169 assaults on Birmingham police officers, many of these by gang members. Given the apparent intensity of street violence at this time, the sentence for Blackwell’s assault may have appeared pretty lenient.

The Leamington Spa Courier and Sheffield Evening Telegraph are available by subscription to British Newspaper Archives.

Birmingham Letter
[By our own correspondent]

I had always imagined Birmingham to be a very musical town, but if the authorities intend to continue the persecutions of inoffensive musicians, I am afraid people will find it necessary to alter their good opinion. A great deal has been said about the Birmingham rough known commonly known here as “peaky blinder”, and people had come to hold quite a bad opinion of him. It would seem, however, that he is not such a hopeless character after all, since no one possessing a soul for music can be utterly bad. Tired, no doubt, with the desire to elevate themselves above the sordid cares of life, the “peakies” formed themselves into classes, somewhat unkindly described by the policeman as gangs, and paraded Cheapside, discoursing sweet music on their mouth-organs. On being rudely requested by the policeman to stop, the leader of the orchestra, named Blackwell, remonstrated with him in the Birmingham dialect, but finding that words were of no avail, in an outburst of noble indignation, hurled his instrument at the head of the policeman and fled. Upon the policeman pursuing the musician, he encountered various obstacles, in the shape of brushes and bricks, but finally succeeded in capturing his quarry. On being brought before the court, Blackwell denied the soft impeachment of being the leader of the Cheapside orchestra and, as a proof of his words, desired that his eyes might drop out if such were the case. Unfortunately, however, the days of trial by ordeal are over, so that the Bench was unable to put him to the test, and failing further evidence to the contrary, sent him to prison for six weeks with hard labour.