Artefacts blog

We are using this page for a number of purposes.
During the pandemic, when the Birmingham Museums are physically closed and we cannot gather together, this can be another place where we can try out new ideas. It is also a testing ground for future Artefacts pieces.

Coronavirus Thoughts

What does the Friends do under the Government’s instructions to minimise social contacts? This is a particularly onerous instruction for us in light of the sociable nature of our organisation.

– Explore Art UK and other online resources –  there are lots to find. Google for “Stay at Home Museum” and you will be offered a range of opportunities. The Van Eyck is a particular star. There are local online shows, too. An especial delight is that from our friends at the RBSA. Go to RBSA blog to see their current show.
– Make contact with members who have booked events that we can no longer deliver – absolutely essential for supporting morale.
– Sort out the financial records to prepare formal reporting when it’s possible – making a virtue out of a necessity.
– Review our resilience plans – yes.

In the medium and longer term, what we do will depend in large measure on precisely how the government’s distancing controls are changed. It may also be affected by how much our members’ own attitudes have evolved.
It is possible that some of them may be reluctant to meet together. Until widespread vaccination or effective treatment against the novel coronavirus is available, some people may not want to trust the social distancing rules to keep them safe. They may want to continue self-isolating.
As time goes by and experience develops, they may be more prepared to risk infection.
Those who have reason to believe that they have immunity, will be happy to resume gatherings.
What do our members want?

(created by David Foster, updated 26/4/20)

The Jewellery Quarter Cemeteries Project

There is a chance to share your memories of the historic Jewellery Quarter cemeteries by collaborating with others with complementary memories.

Key Hill and Warstone Lane cemeteries have been part of people’s lives in the Jewellery Quarter for generations, and lots of people have memories to share. The Jewellery Quarter Cemeteries Project is calling out for people who have a connection to the cemeteries to share their personal recollections which will form part of an exciting event.
From residents and people who work or study in the Quarter, to others who have simply visited for a stroll, event or tour; the project is on the lookout for anyone that has a special connection to these unique spaces.

You may think that your memory of the cemeteries isn’t unusual, but every recollection is important because it adds to the picture of what Key Hill and Warstone Lane mean to the community. So far the project has heard from relatives who visit to bring flowers, local workers who nip in to eat their lunch on sunny days, volunteers and council staff with many tales to tell; and even an author who used names from the gravestones as inspirations for characters in a novel.

The project is gathering recollections, stories and images of the cemeteries online over the coming months and hope to learn many more on the day. They want to know why these historic cemeteries are special to you, what your memories of them are and how you hope they will be used in the future.

If you would like to share a memory or photo of the cemetery, please email, use the hashtag #JQCemeteryMemories on social media.

The collective memories gathered throughout the campaign will then be used to inspire a new piece of poetry by Birmingham Poet Laureate Richard O’Brien. The poem will be unveiled at the end of the restoration work, due to be completed in Summer 2020.

(adapted by David Foster from originator’s material,  8/4/20)

Changing Birmingham – its people and places
Birmingham Town Hall

With building work being completed and the Town Hall coming back to its full glory it felt like a good time to look at its history both as a building and a venue.

The development of the Town Hall is inextricably linked with the Triennial Music Festival (1784-1912), the funds from which helped support the Birmingham General Hospital. Venues such as St Phillips were becoming too small for the festival so the organisers asked the Town Commissioners for a venue to hold 3000 people at an estimated cost of £20,00. In 1830 a design competition was launched with Hanson & Welch chosen as architects and Thomas  Kendal as builders. The actual cost was £25,000 far exceeding the original estimates, causing Thomas Kendal to go bankrupt, an event that has a very contemporary ring to it.
The exterior of the building is based on a three quarters scale reproduction of the Temple of Castor and Pollux in the Roman Forum, with republican overtones reflecting the radical politics of Birmingham at the time. During its construction two workers were killed and are buried in the grounds of St Phillips, marked by a pillar base. The interior has been modified a number of times, with major changes in 1927, but the recent renovation has largely restored it to its original layout.
For further information there is an excellent insight into the architecture involved in the Town Hall by Andy Foster in the Pesvner guide.
Opening in 1834 our next most significant date is 1846 and the association of the Town Hall with Mendelsohn and his choral work Elijah. Mendelsohn was commissioned by the Festival organisers and paid 200 guineas for the work and it put Birmingham on the national music map. Reviewed by the Times: ‘The last note of Elijah was drowned in a long continuous unanimous volley of plaudits, vociferous and deafening’. The work was performed at every festival from that date and continues to have a strong association with the City, the original score was purchased by the Council in 1991.
Coming into the early twentieth century we start the period of Elgar’s dominance in producing work for the Festival. His first commission was for a choral piece based on Cardinal Newman’s poem The Dream of Gerontius. Despite a poor first performance due to chaotic preparations it received great critical claim home and abroad. He went onto produce three further pieces, conducting The Apostles himself at the Town Hall in 1903, and becoming a well-known public figure with a knighthood in 1904.
Whilst music has always been at the centre of the Town Hall programme, it has hosted a wide range of other events since 1834. Continuing our connection with the Sturge family, the niece of Joseph and Sophia Sturge features in a significant event at the start of the campaign for women’s suffrage. The Birmingham Women’s Suffrage Society had been formed in in 1861 and Eliza Sturge became the secretary in 1869. In 1872 Millicent Fawcett, whose statue is in Parliament Square, addressed a large meeting on women’s suffrage at the Town Hall, and representing Birmingham. Eliza made a speech which was reprinted as pamphlet titled ‘On Women’s Suffrage’. She went on to be elected to the Birmingham School Board where she proved to be a valuable member. The current exhibition “Power to the People” provides some more interesting artefacts related to this topic, well worth a visit.
From Dickens to Black Sabbath, Paul Robeson to David Bowie, the Town hall has provided an inspiring venue for performers over the years and continues to do so, holding a special place in Birmingham people’s memories.
Let us know about your memorable experiences at the Town hall on our Facebook page

Below is some suggested reading if you wish to explore further.

Nicola Gauld Words and Deeds Birmingham Suffragists and Suffragettes 1837 -1918,WestMidlands History.
Ann Elliot The Music Makers . BCC 2008
C.Gill History of Birmingham Vol 1 OUP 1952
Andy Foster Birmingham Pevsner Architectural Guides YUP

(written by James Wells, 1/4/20)