Hair loss: a caution against ‘violent exercise’

From an advert in Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, February 4th 1839. *Other hair restorers were doubtless available* 

The Hair:- “In cases where total loss of hair takes place, it will be found to originate from various causes, but in particular from violent exercise, for thus the perspirable fluid is secreted in too great an abundance for the healthy condition of the Hair, which becomes gradually destroyed – a relaxation of the beautiful and delicate bulbous roots first occurs; then the acidity, which is natural to the perspirable fluid, injures the medullary or colouring particle of the Hair; a change of hue takes place, and after a short period baldness is invariably the result.” [From the 31st edition of a Treatise on the Hair by Alex. Rowland and given (gratuitously) with each bottle of Rowlands’ Macassar.
Agent:- M. Elmore, Perfumer, &c., 31 Bull Street, Birmingham.



Dr Church’s Steam Carriage


Experiments with steam transport dates back possibly to as early as the 17th century, but it was with the expansion of road links in the later 18th century that interest in developing efficient forms of transport really took off.  I came across the following extract when browsing through Langford’s for information on something totally unrelated, but it is very easy to go off on a tangent when looking through his fascinating, somewhat quirky, account of Birmingham’s history.

Being a town built on manufacture and trade, roads and transport were incredibly important to Birmingham. One of the key reasons for the founding of the town’s first improvement body, the Street Commissioners, was to ensure that roads and byways were kept in order and it was this body that would later oversee the arrival of the railways.  So it is perhaps of little surprise that the minds of Birmingham’s innovative businessmen were absorbed in attempts to perfect modes of transport. If you travel along Broad Street today you will see a gold-coloured statue of three men, all members of the Lunar Society,  contemplating a document. One of those men depicted is William Murdoch, an early pioneer of steam transportation, although the other two men in the statue, Matthew Boulton and James Watt, did try to talk him out of it. Nevertheless, interest in the use of steam in road transportation continued to capture the imagination and in 1835 the London and Birmingham Steam Carriage Company was formed, following the successful patenting of a steam carriage by Dr William Church of Birmingham. The account in Langford’s seems to describe an early outing of his patent – very likely the one in the picture at the top of the page. It must have caused some excitement in the town and I wonder what the Brums thought of it as it trundled along.

Langford’s A Century of Birmingham Life, 1741-1841 was published in two volumes in 1868, and there should be a copy available in the Local History section of the Library of Birmingham. This is taken from volume II.


Birmingham Illuminations: 1814


When I was a child my family used to take an occasional coach trip to Blackpool around October time, to see the lights. We would spend the day at the seaside, maybe one or two rides in the amusement park, a blustery walk along the pier and fish and chips on the front. As a child I rarely got to see the lights. The coach would make its way along the promenade slowly on the way home, so we could take in the spectacle, but I was invariably asleep before we had ventured much further than the car park exit. Nevertheless, there was a sense of excitement about seeing the lights and as a family from Brum on a limited income, we certainly travelled far enough to see them.

In Georgian times, before electricity, there was a similar urban fascination with light displays. London famously had a very large display in April, 1789, to celebrate King George’s recovery from ‘madness’. These early illuminations were created with the use of gas lamps and transparencies. A transparency was usually a piece of paper, often coloured and not actually transparent as we understand it, but sheer enough for light to shine through. I found the following report of an illumination in Birmingham in Aris’s Gazette of June 13th, 1814.  Illuminations were a celebration, so it seems likely that this particular display would have been connected to the recent abdication of Napoleon Bonaparte  in April of that year and the imminent visit to England of the Allied Sovereigns of Europe. Some of the descriptions of the illuminations more than hint at it. Whatever the occasion actually was, it must have been a very lovely sight in the pre-gaslamp streets of Brum. And no coach journey required!

Birmingham Illuminations
“The following description, we fear, will be necessarily imperfect; some of equal interest with those described may possibly have escaped our observation:-

High Street
Mr. Powell, Swan Hotel – A very novel and brilliant display of variegated lamps. In the centre was a transparent likeness of our venerable monarch, with circles of lamps diverging to a considerable height, over which was a square frontispiece, consisting of four pillars and a capital, the pillars wreathed with lamps and by a mechanical contrivance kept in constant motion. At the base the word ‘Peace’ in large characters; the tout-ensemble had a most splendid and striking effect.

Mr. Richards, Silversmith – A large transparency representing, in the upper part, Peace, Justice and Prudence; below them Britannia crowning the bust of Pitt and trampling on the badges of despotism. On the left a cherub guarding the crown and blowing the trumpet of fame over the British Navy. Beneath the emblems of commerce, agriculture and industry.

Messrs. Beilby & Co. – Britannia, her spear and shield upon the ground, in the act of kneeling upon the latter, gratefully receiving the blessings of Peace; a lion at her side couchant and cornucopia. Motto:- ‘The blessings of Peace restored”.

Mr. King – Two transparencies, illustrative of Isaiah

The Castle Inn – Portraits of ‘The Saviours of Europe’, Wellington, Hill, Graham, Platoff and Blucher.

St. George’s Tavern – Several transparencies, with inscriptions, and a brilliant display of variegated lamps.

Nelson Hotel – Several transparencies, with a display of variegated lamps.

O. and H. Smith – A transparency with the word ‘Peace’ very tastefully formed by a combination of agricultural implements, musical instruments, cornucopia, &c.

The report also stated that Nelson’s Statue had been illuminated with ‘at least 500 lamps’ – this is the same statue that can be seen in the Bullring today, just down near Starbucks and Selfridges.

Among the many other displays reported is a rather grand sounding one at Mr. Chandler’s on Dale End, ‘A transparency representing Time bringing Louis XVIII to the throne, in the presence of the Allied Sovereigns, the Duke of Wellington and two prelates; Peace extinguishing the Torch of War; with the genius of Pitt hovering above, bearing a scroll which was inscribed ‘My Country saved’ and ‘England has done her duty’. While over on Bull Street Mr. Henry Evans had on display ‘a gigantic figure of Peace, ten feet high, with her hands extended over the Earth on which she had just alighted. Her benign aspect dissipating the clouds of war and desolation’. A rather less poetic and more pragmatic display could be seen at the bank of Messrs. Coates, Woolley & Co. on Cherry Street – a simple illustration in variegated lamps read ‘Trade Revived’. Well, this was Birmingham after all!

You can read hundreds and hundreds of newspapers online by subscription to The British Newspaper Archive, including Aris’s Gazette. Or you can head to the Library of Birmingham, floor 4 and have a look at them for free on microfilm. Birmingham’s amazing archives are under persistent threat from local government cuts. Please support our local resources in any way you can. Once they’re gone, we can’t get them back. Cheers. 

Dr Dunn’s Wonderful Cures


The following is a notice taken from Aris’s Birmingham Gazette of October 5, 1801, when Birmingham was a rapidly growing Georgian town. It is interesting to note that Dr. Dunn claims his botanical approach to be successful where ‘other remedies have been tried in vain’. The mention of ‘gravel’ refers to kidney stones, ‘King’s Evil’ was scrofula, a glandular disease and ‘secret disorder’ most likely refers to venereal disease.  It is a shame there is not more detail on what vegetation he prescribes – at least not without providing a sample of wee!

Dr. Dunn, by having many years experience in prescribing REMEDIES for some thousands of people afflicted with the most obstinate and painful DISORDERS, can, with great satisfaction to himself, assure the Public that he has performed many WONDERFUL CURES  by Herbs and Vegetable substances only, after all other remedies have been tried in vain; and as his former success has by no means deserted him, those whom he undertakes to cure may be assured of receiving immediate benefit, which will terminate in perfect cure.
He cures all Disorders in the eyes and deafness of many years standing; also pains and giddiness of the head; convulsions, and all other kinds of fits and nervous complaints; likewise windy and all other disorders in the stomach and the bowels; and is astonishingly successful in curing asthma, coughs and consumptions; also the dropsy, leprosy, scurvy, rheumatism and gravel; white swellings, cancers, King’s Evil, wens and fistulas without cutting; likewise piles and ruptures, scald heads and ulcers. He cures debility, or impotency, and all disorders of the genital system; and cures a secret disorder in all its stages without restraint of diet or hindrance of business &c. and as he highly esteems public approbation above the sordid motives of pecuniary emoluments, it is not to be expected that he will undertake to cure any person whom he judges incurable.
Persons applying personally, or sending a statement of the case with their morning urine, may have his advice every day in the week, from nine in the morning until nine at night, at John Fordes’s, Seedsman, No. 26, High Street, opposite New Street, Birmingham.

The British Association for the Advancement of Science: Birmingham, 1849

At a general meeting of the Birmingham Street Commissioners held on September 4th, 1848, exciting news was revealed: the British Association for the Advancement of Science had announced that it would hold its nineteenth annual conference in Birmingham the following year. This was great news for the town, and a strong indicator of a growing cultural reputation. The Association, formally established in 1831, had become an institution of some national importance, holding annual meetings, attracting great scientific minds and, of greater importance, pooling ideas into readily accessible publications.

As was the habit in Birmingham, visiting members of the Association were treated to a warm reception lasting several days. Aris’s Gazette recorded an impressive list of ‘noble and distinguished visitors’  who were entertained by the Mayor. Amongst the names can be seen local gentry and European dignitaries, including Charles Bonaparte, Prince of Canino and nephew of the Emperor, he was also a recognised ornithologist who discovered a new breed of petrel during a trip to America. Other visitors to the conference included easily recognisable names, Charles Darwin, whose grandfather Erasmus had been part of the Lunar Society,  Michael Faraday (also no stranger to Birmingham, he worked with the Chance brothers on improving lighthouse efficiency) and Hugh Edward Strickland, who had just published his groundbreaking work on the anatomy of the dodo.


Frontispiece from Strickland’s ‘The Dodo and its Kindred’ (1848)

The arrangements for the conference had been undertaken with suitably rational organisation, utilising Birmingham’s numerous cultural buildings. The Gazette reported how the Association’s various  groups and committees were accommodated across multiple sites. This is interesting, as it reveals the diversity of the Association and an inkling of how exciting the conference might have been but also really shows an impressive array of cultural institutions in Birmingham; this was not just a dusty town of lodging houses and puddled courts (although there were plenty of those too!):

The most ample accommodation was provided by the Local Committee for the comfort and convenience of the members. Eight departments in the Free Grammar School were devoted to the use of the four sections, A, C, D and G; the Philosophical Institution was set apart for the section of chemistry; section F and the sub-section of Natural History were accommodated in the Queen’s College. The large room of the Society of Arts was converted into a reception room, where every facility was afforded the members for procuring lodgings and obtaining information upon all subjects. The Town Hall was also thrown open, and nearly all the manufactories of the town were accessible to the visitors

For all its culture, Birmingham clearly also kept an eye on the commercial opportunities that such a large and nationally important event might bring.

The British Association for the Advancement of Science still exists, now known as the British Science Association. Their website can be found here :

The minutes of the Birmingham Street Commissioners are available to view by appointment at the Wolfson Centre, Library of Birmingham, the 1848 entries are in MS 2818/1/7  – this is a free service but recent staff cuts means that access is now limited.

Aris’s Gazette is available via subscription to British Newspaper Archives, or free of charge in the Library of Birmingham Local Studies department, floor 4. Again it is perhaps best to check on opening times. Please support our local archives and resources in any way you can. They are a vital part of preserving and understanding our heritage and culture. If we lose them, and the experts who manage them, there is little chance of getting them back. Ta. 

Coffee Break?

From Birmingham Journal , January 16th, 1836

Mocha Coffee, at 2s. per pound

    The superiority of Mocha Coffee over every other description must be acknowledged by everyone who has tried it. Its flavour so perfectly mild and free from any property which is calculated to offend a weak stomach, particularly recommends it to invalids; and were it not for the high price at which this description has hitherto sold, there can be no doubt that its use would have long since superseded the Coffee imported from the West Indies.
At the present moment good Coffee is much enquired for and difficult to procure, unless at an extraordinary high price; this is owing to the scarcity of West India Coffee, the consumption of this article in Great Britain being greater than the Colonies can provide for.
The Mocha Coffee, and in fact every description not grown in the West Indies, pays an extra duty of three-pence per pound.  This duty has hitherto had the effect of limiting the importations to very small quantities, but the high price to which West India Coffee has now advanced, brings the Mocha and East India into the market on nearly the same footing.
I beg to state that I have made a large purchase in Mocha Coffee; of its quality I will leave the public to judge. The price is Two Shillings per pound. I have only to invite a trial, resting assured that a trial will convince every person of its superiority over every other kind imported into this country,
                                                               No. 14, High-Street, Birmingham
The richness of Coffee depends almost entirely on the manner in which it is made. It ought never to be boiled. Boiling water poured over the Coffee gradually is the proper method. But those who are very choice in this article should use “Parker’s Patent Coffee Pot“; the plan is most admirable, it being more properly the essence of the coffee, extracted by steam made to pass through the “grounds” and then condensing; thus preserving the flavour and strength to a perfection unattainable by any other method. Another recommendation is, that it cannot by carelessness or any other cause be made bad. I have one of these Coffee -pots by me, and shall be happy to show it to any person. I do not sell them, but can procure them of any size to order.


A little history of Harborne

I came across this little history of Harborne when I was looking for something else and, as I got drawn into it, thought you might enjoy it too. It’s taken from Showell’s Dictionary of Birmingham, always a delight to rummage through. There’s a copy in the Local Studies Centre at the Library of Birmingham, 4th floor. If you’re there or thereabouts for a visit it’s worth finding out, I believe it’s usually kept on the bookshelf that faces the glass doors into the Wolfson Reading Room. 

Harborne did not become part of Birmingham borough until 1891. Before that it had fallen into the boundaries of Staffordshire County.  Showell’s was published by the Cornish Brothers around 1885.

David Cox ‘Harborne’ (Google Art Project)

“Harborne is another of our near neighbours which a thousand years or so ago had a name if nothing else, but that name has come down to present time with less change than is usual, and, possibly through the Calthorpe estate blocking the way, the parish itself has changed but very slowly, considering its close proximity to busy, bustling Birmingham. This apparent stagnation, however, has endeared it to us Brums, not a little on account of the many pleasant glades and sunny spots in and around it. Harborne gardeners have long been famous for growing gooseberries, the annual dinner of  the Gooseberry Growers’ Society having been held at the Green Man ever since 1815. But Harborne has plucked up heart latterly, and will not much longer be ‘out of the running’. With its little area of 1,412 acres, and only a population of 6,600, it has built itself an Institute, (a miniature model of the Midland) with class rooms and reading rooms, with a library, with lecture halls, to seat a thousand at a cost of £6,500, and got Henry Irving to lay the foundation stone in 1879. A Masonic Hall followed in 1880, and a Fire Brigade Station soon after. It has also a local railway as well as a newspaper. In the parish church, which was nearly all rebuilt in 1867, there are several monuments of olden date, one being in remembrance of a member of the Hinckley family, from whose name that of our Inkley’s is deductible; there is also a stained window to the memory of David Cox. The practice of giving a Christmas treat, comprising a good dinner, some small presents, and an enjoyable entertainment to the aged poor was begun in 1865, and is still kept up.”

Happy Birthday School of Jewellery



Birmingham Daily Post, September 19th 1890

News of the Day

The new branch school which has just been established in Vittoria Street by the Birmingham Municipal School of Art, was formally opened yesterday by the Mayor (Alderman Clayton). Not only will art instruction be given, but a suite of rooms has been fitted up the by Birmingham Jewellers’ and Silversmiths’ Association for the purpose of giving technical instruction in those trades. At the opening ceremony several addresses were delivered and a resolution by Alderman Kenrick M.P. expressed satisfaction at the completion of the school. In the evening the second-grade prizes were distributed to the students attending the Municipal School of Art by Alderman Kenrick M.P. The Mayor presided and the Head Master delivered the address.

Information on how Birmingham City University will be celebrating the 125th anniversary of the School of Jewellery along with a brief history can be found here:

Birmingham’s nineteenth-century newspapers are archived at the Library of Birmingham, Local Studies Centre free of charge (though appointment may be advised as can get busy)

Long to reign over us: coronation celebrations 1838

George Hayter National Portrait Gallery

George Hayter National Portrait Gallery

As Queen Elizabeth celebrates a remarkable attainment, as Britain’s longest reigning monarch, I thought it might be interesting to have find out how Birmingham celebrated the previous record holder’s reign. I found an article in Aris’s, July 2nd, 1838 that reported on local celebrations for Victoria’s coronation and of course, ‘the Coronation was observed in this town in a manner suitable to the occasion’.

On the day of the coronation, Thursday June 28th, ‘the Churches of the Establishment were opened for the performance of divine worship, and appropriate sermons were preached’. Sunday school children from different congregations were treated to a free lunch of ‘good English fare’ after which they all joined together in singing the National Anthem. They then joined with children from the Wesleyan Methodist chapels, around 4,000 all together, and formed a procession to Holloway Head (then an open patch of waste ground) where they were ‘addressed by their Ministers’. The children then ‘to the delight of all surrounders, sung a hymn and God Save the Queen in a very effective manner’.  The children from other Nonconformist chapels appear to have had separate celebrations: ‘The children of Carr’s Lane, Ebenezer and other Dissenting congregations were assembled, addressed and regaled; and the children of the Old and New Meeting congregations were addressed , and afterwards proceeded to a field at Highgate where they had refreshments’. 

The celebrations were not reserved only for the pious and the young. At 1 o’clock ‘the doors of the Market Hall were thrown open and an interesting sight presented itself of tables most judiciously arranged and abundantly provided for dining four thousand of the industrious classes of both sexes, who were admitted by the tickets of subscribers to the fund raised for the purpose.’ It was a feast indeed, and those industrious men and women must have felt a great cordiality towards the Queen for the food given in her honour! ‘The fare consisted of roast beef and plum pudding, with a quart of ale to each guest. The Hall was most tastefully decorated, and too much commendation cannot be bestowed on the zeal and judgement manifested in the arrangements made by the gentlemen of the committee’. As well as the feast, the guests were treated to a band of musicians who played ‘in the intervals of the festive scene’. The Rev. William Marsh said ‘grace’ and at the end of the meal the High Bailiff raised the toast ‘the Queen, God bless her’ at which all in the hall rose and ‘responded most joyously’. Another toast was raised by Mr. Scholefield ‘though a foreigner by birth, she is in heart and feeling an Englishwoman’  and a final toast was given to ‘the Town and Trade of Birmingham’.

There were other feasts provided for the workers of Birmingham: 1500 sat down to dinner at Bindley’s Horse Repository, and ‘various parties of workmen were provided for by their masters’. Food was also distributed to households not partaking in the organised celebrations, while ‘the inmates of the Workhouse and Asylum were suitably entertained’.

At 3pm the public procession began, leading off from the still new Town Hall, and Aris’s reveals the order of that very grand sounding march of local dignitaries:

coronation procession Ariss

British Newspaper Archives

The procession moved through Ann St., Colmore Row, Bull St., High St., Digbeth, Smithfield, Bromsgrove St., the Horsefair, Smallbrook St., Worcester St., New St. and back to the Town Hall – which I think would certainly have walked those big dinners off!

In the evening there was a ‘thinly attended’ ball at the Town Hall  and an ‘Illumination’, I’m afraid I have no clue what this was (would be very grateful of answers though), but which was described as ‘not general, but very good and such as gave life to the town until a late hour’. Other evening events seem to have been largely private affairs, with lots of hotel dinners.

Children and feasting for all appear to have been central to the celebrations – and perhaps we see already here, right at the beginning of the period, what would become a copule of the defining features of the Victorian age, the family and philanthropy. The report on Birmingham’s celebrations ends,

Beyond comparison, however, the most gratifying of all the scenes were those in which, within the limits of the borough, nearly fifteen thousand Children connected with the schools were enabled to partake of the joys of the day, and to unite their voices in imploring blessings on a reign in which their happiness is so especially involved.

I searched Aris’s Gazette using the British Newspaper Archives subscription service. Birmingham newspapers are also archived and can be viewed free of charge at the Local Studies Centre, 4th floor, Library of Birmingham. Our local archives are currently under threat because of financial cuts and many staff have already been lost. Please support our local archives, without them we have no history! 

The correct time of day for clearing out the bog house

The Birmingham Street Commissioners used bye-laws to regulate the town. These were increasingly important as the population expanded through the nineteenth century.  The list of bye-laws was amended as the commissioners deemed necessary, usually in response to complaints or a recognition that everything was not working quite as well as it could be. The following is an extract relating to sanitation, taken from a short list of new bye-laws introduced at the beginning of the nineteenth century. New regulations were placarded in prominent locations of the town and also published in the local paper – this extract is taken from an edition of Aris’s dated October 5th, 1801. The announcement was signed by Arnold & Haines, a local solicitor’s firm that also acted as clerks to the commissioners and opened with the following warning:

Public Office-
Whereas great mischief and inconvenience hath arisen to the Inhabitants of this Town, and others resorting hereto, from Persons acting contrary to and in disobedience of the several clauses contained in three Acts of Parliament passed in the 9th, 15th and 41st years of His present Majesty’s reign, for the better Regulation and Improvement of the Town and for preventing Nuisances and Obstructions therein – the Commissioners therefore, to prevent the same in the future and that no person or persons could plead ignorance thereof, have caused the following clauses to be inserted for the information of the Public.

The new clauses were mostly concerned with obstruction of the highways by carts, wheelbarrows and occupational tools, including ‘butchers’ gallows’. There was also the following clause relating to the disposal of human and animal waste. That the commissioners felt it necessary to include a bye-law for this suggests that it must have been causing some problems –  likely very smelly ones!


Night soil workers collecting waste from the middens

And be it enacted – that no Necessary-house or Bog-house, Pigstye or Dunghole within the said Town shall be emptied at any other Time other than between the Hours of One and Nine in the Morning; and if any Person or Persons shall empty any such Necessary-house or Bog-house at any other Time, such Person shall for every each Offence, forfeit and pay any Sum not exceeding Twenty Shillings, nor less than Ten Shillings. 

Birmingham’s nineteenth-century newspapers are available to view by subscription through the British Newspaper Archives or free of charge at the Local Studies centre, 4th floor Library of Birmingham. Staff and access hours at the Library of Birmingham are currently under threat from local government cuts – please support our local libraries and archives, once they’re gone they’re gone.