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.



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. 

Expenses of the Watch: 1848

At a general meeting of the Town Council held on February 1st, 1848, the Watch Committee presented the following account of their annual expenses from the previous year. At the opening of the report there was also a table showing the current ‘strength of the police force’, according to rank. The numbers presented were:

69 first class officers
69 second class officers
69 third class officers
61 fourth class officers
9 preparatory officers
5 detectives

The committee also confirmed that ‘the station and section houses are in good condition’.

There are lots of interesting expenses on the list, maybe we shouldn’t read too much into the Chief Superintendent’s ‘incidental expenses’ and the greatest expenditure appears to be on clothing and stationery. One woman appears on the list. Although it is not known why Mrs. Ford was left in charge of a female prisoner, but she appears to have been paid quite well for her trouble. Also on the list is a payment to cover damages to a ‘car’. This may have been a cab.

The table has been drawn up from original material taken from the Town Council minute books, which can be viewed at the Library of Birmingham, Archives, Heritage & Photography.  The staff are very helpful & infinitely knowledgeable. And of course the minutes in their original form are available to view free of charge. Because of recent cuts to this important service, visits are by prior appointment only. But do go and look at them, they’re fascinating. Reference number for this volume is BCC1/AA/1/1/2

I hope the format is easy to read. Payments are written in the form £,s,d (pounds, shillings & pence)

Payee Service/goods Payment (pounds, shillings & pence)
John Tonks Printing £20,,14,,0
Hunt & Sons Printing £18,,1,,0
Watts & Williams Surgeons 7s, 6d
J.W. Davies Surgeon 5s,, 0d
J.V. Solomon Surgeon £ 3,,10,,0
Dolans & Co. Clothing £194,,0,, 6
Thomas Evans Boots £153,,10,,0
W. & G. Ashford Stocks 18s,, 0d
Pashby & Plevins Repairs £11,,15,,9
Smith & Hawkes Repairs £1,,14,, 6
B. Burgess Repairs 7s,, 2d
Chief Superintendent ‘Incidental expenses’ £13,,1,,5
Inspector Glossop ‘Incidental expenses’ £1,,17,,3
W. E. Bayldon Apprehending a prisoner £  3,,8,,0
Mrs Ford Taking charge of a female prisoner 13s,,6d
Dawson & Son Printing &c. £19,,10,,0
Mr. Talbut Repairing locks 12s,,7d
Mr. Farmer Repairs 12s,,6d
J.E. Hornblower Preparing plans in support of an indictment £2,,2,,0
Superintendent Roberts Expenses in endeavouring to apprehend a prisoner £1,,15,,0
Allen & Son Stationery &c. £10,,12,,6
J.W. Showell Stationery &c. £4,,9,,9
John Holt Brushes &c. £1,,6,,6
Mr. Parkes Damage done to a car by a prisoner in custody of police £1,,6,,6
D. R. Hill Plans, specifications and estimate of cost of new police station £21,,0,,0

Report from Samuel Jones, Inspector of Smoke Nuisance


Birmingham had a very different landscape to that other great product of the Industrial Revolution, Manchester.  There were few of those great ‘satanic mills’ that came to characterise  early nineteenth-century Northern England in the popular imagination. Nevertheless, this was a town of remarkable innovation and mass production and Birmingham certainly did have a problem with smoke pollution. When the French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville visited in 1835, he described a town where everything is black, dirty and dark, although every moment breeds gold and silver (‘Journeys to England and Ireland’).

The dirt and the smoke that blighted Birmingham came from the numerous steam engines that drove the town’s metal rolling mills, glass houses and numerous furnaces. In 1818 the Street Commissioners received a letter from Walter Hopper Esq., complaining that the smoke from steam engines at the New Union Mill was exposing his estate, near Five Ways, to ‘volumes of smoke’ which rendered the land ‘quite disagreeable’. When looking through the Street Commissioners minutes this appears as a perennial complaint across several decades and across the town.

By the 1840s there was an increasing interest in issues of health and personal comfort and the Street Commissioners appointed a full time inspector of steam engine smoke in 1844. Jones was responsible to the Steam Engine Committee and would present official reports annually. There doesn’t appear to have been a formal system for measuring smoke at this time, other than timing the emissions and inspecting the engines. This report is taken from the original minute books of the Birmingham Street Commissioners, which can be viewed by appointment at Birmingham Heritage, Archives and Photography at the Library of Birmingham, reference MS 2818/1/8 (please be aware that, as a result of severe staff cut backs, opening times for the archives is now restricted, I would recommend phoning first)

Report of Samuel Jones to the Commissioners of the Birmingham Street Act
February 5th 1849

‘When I commenced my duties in 1844 there were 173 steam engine chimneys, large and small, with 225 furnaces. Several parties had at that time applied means for consuming smoke but they were very seldom used, there being 111 chimneys that emitted dense black smoke from 16 to 35 minutes within every working hour, others varying from 6 to 16 minutes per hour. At the present time there are 224 steam engine chimneys, with 297 furnaces and 2 more now in course of erection. Which makes an increase in the last five years of 57 chimneys and 72 furnaces, the nominal power of the various engines amounting to about 3500 Horse Power. The quantity of fuel used for working of this power alone amounts to about 300 tons per day and most of it of the very commonest description. There are 17 of these chimneys, including some with flues from muffles in them that emit dense black smoke from 12 to 18 minutes within the hour, and 50 others though greatly improved since first under inspection, are still indifferent, they smoke from causes that may be avoided from 6 to 10 minutes within the hour, the others vary from 2 to 6 minutes per hour. There are 50 chimneys used exclusively for muffles, annealing pots and stoves – 22 for puddling and tube furnaces, 6 for glass houses, 2 for gas works – making a total of 304 chimneys (exclusive of smiths forges) from which such a quantity of dense smoke would arise as would envelop the whole town were it not for the many and excellent means adopted for its consumption. This shews that the nuisance is greatly abated but it is not to the extent it could be, as I am convinced that all steam engine proprietors ought to be in such a position, for their own advantage, as would enable them to work their engines without making so much smoke as would either injure the health of or be a nuisance to the Public’

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.”

A humble petition


A couple of weeks ago I signed an on-line petition that was calling for a change in a certain government policy. On reaching 100,000 signatures the petition was then presented for debate in Parliament and the response made public. All British citizens can take part in petitioning the government on any subject that they feel strongly about, it is a tradition that goes back hundreds of years and was particularly popular in the early part of the 19th century, the so called ‘Age of Reform’. Petitions from Birmingham during this time included one in 1812 demanding an end to trade embargos  (as a result of Orders in Council) that were having a negative impact on the town’s trade with America and another around the same time calling for the repeal of the East India Company’s charter. Other large manufacturing and port towns, such as Manchester, Liverpool and Bristol, also petitioned and as a result both policies were repealed. Petitioning could be a powerful political tool, especially when combined with outbreaks of popular unrest.

Petitions then were, of course, hand written and signed. On a recent archive trip I was lucky enough to see an example of an original petition.

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1828 Birmingham petition (Donna Taylor)

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1828 Birmingham petition (Donna Taylor)

As you can see it was quite a chunky scroll, but with the exception of a few holes along the paper between the signatures, is in great condition. It was fascinating to see. This particular petition can be dated to 1828, because the first signature is that of ‘Charles Shaw, High Bailiff’. Bailiffs were elected annually and Aris’s Birmingham Gazette published their names around the same date each year, so it was pretty easy to trace.

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1828 Birmingham petition (Donna Taylor)

There’s something rather special about seeing a person’s signature, I always feel it’s as close as I can get to a handshake with the past. Although it was not possible to unroll the whole scroll, it was possible to see that it comprised several petitions attached together. This makes sense, because it was likely that petitions were left in multiple locations to attract plenty of signatures.  In parts it looked as though sheets were glued together, but there was also evidence of stitching:

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1828 Birmingham petition (Donna Taylor)

This is a great resource. But why is it in Birmingham, and not tucked away in a Parliamentary archive? Well, in 1828 there was an attempt in the House of Commons to have the Nottinghamshire constituency of East Retford disfranchised (that is, they would lose their MP) following decades of alleged electoral corruption. There was a suggestion that one of the big industrial towns that did not have an MP could instead be given the East Retford seat; the two towns primarily tipped for the transfer were Manchester and Birmingham – and Birmingham set about gathering signatures requesting that it be given the Parliamentary seat. In the end, East Retford retained its MP for another few decades, while Birmingham and Manchester would have to wait until 1832 to realise their ambition of representation. As a result, the petition was never delivered to the House.

The Birmingham petition can be found at Birmingham Archives, Heritage and Photography, Library of Birmingham – reference MS 3097 (1 of 2) 


If you are interested in current Parliamentary petitions, the official website is here:

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)

Sarah Cox, a young thief sentenced to the reformatory

Tuesday September 9th 1884

Birmingham Police Court

Before Messrs. Kynnersley (stipendiary), Harris, Goodman, Payton and Goodrick

A young thief._ Sarah Cox (aged 12), living with her parents in Adam Street, was charged on remand with stealing 1s 6d from the till of Sarah Watkins, shopkeeper, Great Lister Street._ The prosecutrix stated that on the 1st September she went into the shop and saw the prisoner drawing her hand away from the till. She asked the girl what she wanted, and the latter replied that she wanted a pennyworth of tobacco. Prosecutrix went to the till, and missed 1s 6d. She caught hold of the prisoner, and a shilling fell out of her sleeve to the floor. She was given into custody and charged with the offence, when she replied that she would give the prosecutrix a penny if she would let her go._ Prisoner, who had twice been previously convicted, was sentenced to fourteen days imprisonment and five years in a reformatory

At this same hearing, directly after young Sarah had been sentenced, the ‘incorrigible’ serial inebriate William, ‘Billy’ Poole also made his 116th appearance before the magistrates – this time being fined 20 shillings for being drunk whilst in charge of a horse in the Bull Ring two days earlier.

This report was found in Birmingham Daily Post, September 10th 1884. This paper can be viewed by subscription to the British Newspaper Archives  and all of Birmingham’s 19th century newspapers can viewed free of charge at the Local Studies Centre, Library of Birmingham. 


The Public Works Committee: 1852

In late 1851 a new Improvement Act made the Birmingham Street Commissioners defunct, and powers of managing and maintaining the town were handed to the town council. Many changes were brought into effect under the new system and the town councillors were keen to introduce what they believed to be a far more efficient system of administration. The minute books of the town council from around this time are really interesting, as they go into great detail of how this re-organization took shape. Below is an extract from a committee report of January 1852. The town council had only been handed full control in December of the previous year, so, although there were still some issues to be sorted out, they must have moved with great efficiency.

Report of the Public Works Committee (January 2nd, 1852)

Proposed system for conducting the business of the department:

For the efficient maintenance, cleansing and watering of public thoroughfares, the borough  divided into 4 districts, viz.

The North District The East District The South District The West District

  • 21 men assigned to each district, including a foreman to keep their time and direct them and 5 cleansing machines and 9 watering machines (all of which are in stock) with 10 horses and a proper proportion  of 26 gravel and mud carts which were also in stock
  • Hours of labour to be from 6am to 6pm  (except the men employed in cleansing the streets) ‘who are to be at their work at any hour, day or night, as the weather and circumstances may require, allowing one hour for breakfast and one hour for dinner excepting the months of November, December, January and February when the hours will be from 7 to 6, the men breakfasting before commencing work during these months’

Stations assigned to the districts:

North District     the yard in Shadwell Street
East District        no yard yet fixed
South District    the yard in Holliday Street
West District               do.

  • The Sewer Department will consist of 7 men including one foreman
  • Flagging and Paving Department for repairs only will consist of 8 men, 2 stone masons and their 2 labourers, 2 paviours and their 2 labourers
  • For keeping the watering machines, the bodies of the gravel carts and for jobbing work, two carpenters will be employed.

All works such as paving and flagging (except repairs) should be done by tender and contract, as well as the supply of rag stone and materials, horse provender etc.

Committee not yet prepared to report on the removal of night soil or on the plans of proposed new sewers

Number of men employed  Details of Men to be Employed Weekly Wages Annual Wages
84 Road and cleansing men, wages averaging each 19/- £79,,16s
1 Inspector of Cleansing Machines £1,,10
1 Porter for Holliday Street yard £1,,5
2 Attending machines, feeding horses, cutting chaff, beams etc., 18/- £1,,16
1 Yard Man for North District Station 18s
1 do.  for South District Station 18s
90 Total £86,,3 £4479,,16
Sewer Department
1 Foreman £2
6 Men  @ 18/- £5,,8
7 Total 7s/8d £384,,16
Flagging Department
2 Masons  4s/6 each £2,,14
2 Labourers 3/- each £1,,16
2 Paviours 4s/6 each £2,,14
2 Labourers 3/- each £1,,16
8 Total £9 £468
2 Carpenters £2,,16 £145,,12
Borough Surveyor’s Office
Office Clerk £1,,10 £78
Office Boy 8s £20,,16
Char Woman 15s £39

At the end of their report, the committee expressed regret in reporting the death of Edward Day, a young labourer employed in the maintenance of Birmingham’s sewers. During a great storm, Edward had been washed into the River Rea and had drowned. The public works committee requested a gratuity of £5 for Edward’s mother, who was ‘entirely destitute’ to cover the expense of his funeral. The minutes do not make clear whether this sum was granted.

The town council minute books are available to view in their original form at Birmingham Archives, Heritage and Photography,  Wolfson Centre, Library of Birmingham  – reference for this copy BCC/1/AA/1/1/2  

Access to Birmingham’s world-class archives is currently limited as a result of spending cuts. Please lend your support to our local archives in any way that you can – follow @FoLoB on Twitter for updates

‘The Birmingham Rat’: Freeth’s cheese and workhouse dripping

Those who have been fortunate enough to visit the Birmingham History gallery at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BM&AG) will be familiar with the wonderfully presented ‘Freeth’s Coffee Shop’, where it is possible to take a step back in time and hear the words of Birmingham’s famous  balladeer, John Freeth and read a little of his place in local history. If you’ve not been, I can highly recommend a visit (and better yet, it’s free entry!). Freeth was proprietor of the Leicester Arms, on the corner of Bell Street, in the latter years of the eighteenth century and the early years of the nineteenth. He died in 1808. The pub was also a coffee house and it became generally known as Freeth’s Coffee House when he ran it. At this time, coffee houses had become important centres for debate on national political issues of the day, as well as local affairs. They were less exclusive than the French salons and, in commercial centres like Birmingham,  they would attract local tradesmen and small business owners. John Freeth turned many of these debates into ballads that became popular beyond Birmingham, eventually being published.  It should be remembered that those could be dangerous times for sharing political ideas and the government regularly introduced  legislation to try and curb any hint of political dissent.



But back to BM&AG – in their recreation of Freeth’s Coffee Shop, there is an interactive table on which you can see some of the ballads and also hear them as they would have sounded when sung. It’s a lot of fun! On my last visit I was particularly interested in a ballad that referred to ‘The Birmingham Rat’ – someone, as yet not identified, who had stolen cheese from the workhouse. My photograph is not very good, but I hope you can get the gist of the words:



And the ballad is helpfully interpreted by a further image on the interactive table:



This was interesting to me, because just a couple of weeks before the visit I had spent another wonderful day in the archives at the Library of Birmingham, collecting names of Guardians of the Poor from their minute books,  for my research. Because I’m so nosey,  it was impossible to just scan for names  (the professional thing to do) and I ended up reading through the minutes (running out of time to complete my list of names!). There were a few mentions of ‘prevarications’ amongst the workhouse staff, although the minutes seemed to fall short of actually calling it ‘theft’. It was enlightening to discover, through seeing the ballad at BM&AG, that the local community were aware of these ‘corruptions’ and keen to see the perpetrators ‘named and shamed’.

The following extract is taken from the minute books of the Guardians of the Poor (who had responsibility for the workhouse). There are many volumes of these minute books, all available to view in their original form at Archive, Heritage & Photography, Library of Birmingham – this volume, reference: GP/B12/1/2 (1809-1826). 

A couple of notes – the Overseers were annually elected representatives of the parish who worked alongside the Guardians. The term ‘perquisite’ (I had to look it up) is ‘a benefit one enjoys or is entitled to on account of one’s job or position’ – perk of the job!

At the Public Office, March 17th, 1818
Report of the Investigating Committee

In the kitchen department your committee found that system of perquisites had been established by custom and carried on to an extent unknown by the Guardians and Overseers. The quantity of kitchen grease and dripping solde every week for some time past upon the average has been from 25 – 28 lbs at from 1 ½ to 6d per lb and though these facts have been confirmed by the testimony of some respectable Housekeepers, yet your committee are sorry to state that during the investigation they observed a great deal of prevarications and falsehood among the servants united with an evident wish to conceal and extenuate. Your committee are so deeply impressed with the infurious tendency and the great abuse to which perquisites of any kind are liable that they most urgently press it on the attention of this meeting to abolish the system entirely and afford every steward in the house fair and proper wages.’

The report suggested that the kitchen be placed under a new management and added that ‘through the whole of this laborious investigation it was not in their power to trace a single parcel of the large quantity of goods taken out of the clothes room although some must necessarily be of large dimensions. Such a manifest neglect of duty in those who occupy responsible situations is criminal and calls for immediate redress’.  – This is the part that Freeth’s cheese reminded me of!

edit: The lovely people at BM&AG have told me that ‘The Birmingham Rat’ is available on SoundCloud, so if you’d like to hear how a rendition in Freeth’s Coffee Shop might have sounded, check this out:

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is open to the public free of charge, including the world class Birmingham History Gallery:

Please see their website for opening times and special events:

Original minute books available to view, by appointment (and at no cost) in the Wolfson Centre, Library of Birmingham – PLEASE SUPPORT OUR ARCHIVES, CURRENTLY UNDER THREAT AS A RESULT OF CUTS TO THE LOCAL FINANCES – ONCE THEY’RE GONE, THEY’RE GONE FOREVER.