My Recollection of the Night of the Birmingham Pub Bombings by Shelia Gate

This is a written account of one woman’s experience of the night of the Birmingham Pub Bombings in 1974.  Sheila Gate was prompted to write her memories down after the recent 40th anniversary commemorations of the event.

The Birmingham pub bombings were a series of bombings which occurred in public houses on 21 November 1974 killing 21 people and injuring 182 others. A memorial to the people killed in the bombing is in the churchyard at Birmingham Cathedral.

21 November 1974

“After leaving Sparkhill Commercial School in 1954 I regularly met three friends in Birmingham.  On Thursday 21 November 1974 we arranged to meet at 8.00pm in the Wimpy Bar as usual and to bring children’s Christmas present to exchange. The Wimpy Bar was located on the ground floor with The Tavern in the Town pub underneath.

I was concerned as there had previously been bombs and hoaxes in the city, usually on Thursdays.  One friend lived nearby and having heard on the radio about disruption caused by the funeral procession of an alleged IRA bomber in Coventry we decided to travel by train instead of driving.  At the station we learnt all trains had been cancelled.  Instead we caught a bus into the city, making us later than usual.

On arriving it was immediately evident there was trouble.  The atmosphere was very tense, with an acrid smell in the air, emergency services everywhere, people running in a state of shock and panic.   We could see carnage in New Street, glass littering the road and pavements, cars badly damaged, body bags being carried by emergency services.  A policeman calmly advised us to go home.  On asking if we could search for our friends, even by visiting hospitals, he repeated it would be wiser to return home.  We walked out of the city, found a phone box and my friend phoned her husband, who offered to drive into Birmingham to collect us as the transport system had ground to a halt.  First he took their young children to my house where my husband was looking after our children.

Somehow he found us and we arrived at their home in a state of shock and worry about our friends.  Later we ascertained they had made their separate ways home by bus.  They were in the café when the bomb went off underneath.  Flying glass had cut the leg of one friend, fortunately she was wearing long boots the injuries weren’t too severe, but was in a state of shock because of the sight, sounds, and smell and the thought of what might have been…

We were all so fortunate – because of our altered travel arrangements we were late. Had we been on time we would have probably been affected by the blast.  Also we usually sat in the window, but our friends sat in the rear of the café so were saved from serious injury by shattering glass and falling masonry.

We never met in Birmingham again; we have all moved away and seldom meet up but are in regular contact.


Music in Eighteenth Century Birmingham by Martin Perkins


Music in Eighteenth Century Birmingham – The Musicians of St Philip’s

First home to the Birmingham Triennial music festivals, St Philip’s (now Birmingham Cathedral) has a long tradition of as a place of great music.  Many of the musicians associated with St Philip’s in the eighteenth century did not confine their professional activities to that building.  This article explores the life and works of some of these men and other prominent musical figures of the town.

Music in St. Philip’s – right place, right time.“Lovers of mere harmony might receive great pleasure from Metrical Psalmody, in parts, devoid as it is of musical measure, and syllabic quantity, if it were well performed; but that so seldom happens, that the greatest blessing to lovers of Music in a parish-church, is to have an organ in it sufficiently powerful to render the voices of the clerk, and of those who join in his out-cry, wholly inaudible.”

The townsfolk of Birmingham didn’t have to endure the situation described here by Charles Burney, writing in his A General History of Music, volume II.  Even before St Philip’s was built in 1715, the parish church of Birmingham – St. Martin’s, Digbeth – already had an organ, and therefore an organist.  St Philips also didn’t have to rely on unaccompanied psalm-singing in worship because the subscriptions raised for erecting the church also paid for a new organ, built by Thomas Swarbrick and installed in the west gallery.  Birmingham therefore was already an attractive proposition for any budding musician keen to take advantage of a pre-existing appetite for music both sacred and secular. The first organist, however, was the Birmingham-born Barnabas Gunn.

Barnanas Gunn

According to St. Philip’s records, Gunn was appointed in 1715. This position would have been a relatively minor one at the time, and it’s perhaps not surprising that he only stayed 15 years before he moved to Gloucester to become the organist there  – probably tempted by a more prestigious position. However, he returned to Birmingham in 1739 to become organist at St. Martin’s – a smaller church, without a choir, with perhaps fewer responsibilities than Gloucester, but it is possible that he also took overall responsibility for music in the town in general, including at St. Philip’s.
Moving from Gloucester to Birmingham as a Cathedral organist in today’s world would be considered a side-step in career terms, but it was Birmingham’s rising middle class and the opportunities for earning extra income that clearly persuaded Gunn to return. Indeed, he was involved with a variety of non-church music-making during these years.
One might think that composers were at the top of the tree in the profession, but in terms of earning a living, publishing music was more often a way of getting your name out, giving proof of your worth as a musician so that you can attract some wealthy patrons and pupils.
Gunn’s published compositions are very typical of this situation:

2 Cantata’s and 6 Songs (Gloucester, 1736)

Fairest of all the lights above: A lyric Poem (1742)
6 violin sonatas (1745)
6 violin sonatas (1745)
12 English Songs (circa 1749)
6 Setts of Lessons for the Harpsichord (1750)

(Gunn: Twelve English Songs, 1749.)
Barnabas Gunn taught privately, and we have a fascinating glimpse into this world by way of a letter from one of his pupils.  During the late 1740s and early 1750s, he taught one Maria Dolman, who was the cousin of William Shenstone, the famous poet who lived at The Leasowes in Halesowen. Miss Dolman lived not far away in Brome, a village halfway to Kidderminster, from where she penned the following letter to her cousin describing her music teacher and a recent controversy surrounding him.

“I Return you a Multitude of Thanks for the Favour of your last Letter to me. I think you seem to have had as solitary a Winter as we have at Broom. This is the Season a Town Life is vastly preferable to that of the Country; the Country now is only fit for Poachers and Game-keepers. However, we have two Amusements which never fail us, and those are Reading and Music. In order that we may enjoy the latter in a greater Degree.., we have got Mr. Gunn over sometimes, and he says, he’ll make us proficient in the Art of Music presently, provided we will but be diligent. I have sent for the Pamphlet that is wrote against Mr. Gunn’s Compositions. As he’s my Master, I have a Curiosity to it. He says, it pulls him all to Pieces. I can’t tell what Genius he has for composing Music, but certainly he’s a very good Music-Master. As a Companion, I do not much admire him: I think he’s a disagreeable Man; very mercenary; always full of Esteem for himself, and of Contempt for all others; and does not consider, that it is almost as glorious to acknowledge Merit in other Persons, as to have it oneself: but he sets good Lessons, so I’ll bear with him.”

This gives a pretty good idea of Gunn’s character, and ability as a musician. The Pamphlet in question – The Art of Composing Music by a Method entirely New Method Suited to the Meanest Capacity, was written by no less than Dr. William Hayes, professor of music at Oxford University.

It was a very thinly veiled attack on Gunn’s writing style, as exemplified in his 12 English Songs of 1749. Hayes suggests that Gunn composed using a ‘Spruzzarino’, a machine which squirted ink on paper to create notes. 

“Take a Gallipot, put therein Ink of what Colour you please; lay a Sheet of ruled Paper on your Harpsichord or Table; then dip the Spruzzarino into the Gallipot; when you take it out again shake off the superfluous Liquid; then take the fibrous or hairy Part betwixt the Fore-finger and Thumb of your Left-hand, pressing them close together, and hold it to the Lines and Spaces you intend to sprinkle; then draw the Fore-finger of your Right-hand gently over the Ends thereof, and you will see a Multiplicity of Spots on the Paper; this repeat as often as you have Occasion …

(Hayes: The Art of Composing Music by a Method entirely New…, 1751.)

So, what was Gunn’s response? Rather than shrink away from this rather public embarrassment, he responded in a rather humorous way, using Hayes’ made-up ‘Spruzzarino’ to his advantage. The following year, he re-published his collection of songs with the addition of some new songs, including, a new opening song ‘Once more my good friends’ ….
Here’s the new title-page for the collection:

(Gunn: Twelve English Songs … Set to Musick by the New Invented Method of
Composing with the Spruzzarino, 1751)

John Eversmann and Music at Birmingham’s Pleasure Gardens, Balls and Subscription Concerts. 
Gunn died in 1753 and his his replacement at St. Philip’s, was William St. Thunes, who we do not know much about at all. His tenure lasted just over 4 years until John Eversmann was appointed. Eversman, like Gunn was active in the town outside of the church making and continued much of the extra-eccesiastical freelance work this predecessor had enjoyed. Of particular interest is the fashionable pleasure gardens established at Duddeston, later renamed Vauxhall after the famous gardens in London.
By the late 1750s, music was very much part of the attractions at Duddeston. In a notice in Aris’s Birmingham Gazette printed every week during May 1759, we can see that the proprietors were trying to attract visitors from far affield, not just up the road from Birmingham.
“Duddeston-Hall, commonly called Vaux-Hall, near Birmingham, Is now fitted up in a neat and commodious Manner for the Reception of Travellers; it Lies in the direct Road between Liverpool, Warrington, West-Chester, Salop, Stafford, and Lichfield, leading to London through Warwick, Stratford upon Avon, and Oxford; and is much nearer than going through Birmingham. It is conveniently situated for most of the great Roads that pass through Birmingham, and by going this Way, Gentlemen, &c. avoid riding near two Miles upon the Stones: Hands, with Directions, are set up in proper Places.”
The same newspaper also carried separate adverts for the musical attractions at the gardens, and we can see that the concerts were held fortnightly throughout June, July and August of that year.

As the years goes by, we start to see a little more information about these musical events at the gardens in the Gazette adverts. Notably, the phrase ‘A good band of musick’ appears with increasing regularity, which suggests that perhaps some performances weren’t quite up to the standard audiences expected! We sometimes see certain instruments singled out, such as on 6th August 1761 when the concert was to feature ‘French Horns and Kettle Drums’.  Occasionally we see reference to specific pieces performed. For example, on the 16th of August 1764, the final evening’s entertainments for that season, concluded with the Coronation Anthem ‘God Save the King’, and the concert of 18th June 1767 was to conclude with a favourte chorus in Handel’s Acis and Galatea.
Opera stars from the London stage made appearances at the Gardens from time to time. Soprano Signiora Mariana Mazzanti made an appearance during the August performances of 1763, for example. However, it was much more usual for singers from the theatre to perform, than those from the London opera houses; these were actor/singers who were resident for the season at the New Theatre in King Street, performing on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights, and also appearing at Duddeston on Thursdays.
One might expect the gardens to have been a place of refinement for persons of gentle society but evidence is sometimes to the contrary.  The following advertisement is a typical notice for music at the gardens which featured Mr. Kear and Mr. Dorman, both members of Joseph Younger’s company, resident at the New Theatre throughout the 1760s and early 1770s.

(Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, 24 August, 1761)

Eversmann’s name appears in every advert for the entertainments at Duddesdon until his death in 1765. His successor at St Philip’s was Jeremiah Clark who had been appearing in Birmingham concerts for some years already, not as organist, but as a violin soloist; leading bands and playing solos at the gardens and in other concerts.

Jeremiah Clark
Jeremiah Clark is not to be confused with Jeremiah Clarke who was a London musician working at the end of the 17th century alongside Henry Purcell and John Blow. This Clark was a Worcester man: his father was a lay-clerk in the cathedral, and Jeremiah’s musical training started in the choir-stalls alongside father in the early 1750s. He was paid the handsome sum of 4 pounds a year during his years as a chorister.  From 1758 he started appearing professionally alongside his father in benefit concerts in the region – Bridgnorth, Bewdley, Worcester and Stourbridge. In 1763 he published his first collection of songs, and judging by the huge list of subscribers, had by that time acquired plenty of titled and gentry patrons, pupils and friends to support him.

(Jeremiah Clark: Eight Songs with the Instrumental Parts Set to Musick [Op. 1], 1763)
(Jeremiah Clark: Eight Songs with the Instrumental Parts Set to Musick [Op. 1], 1763 – subscribers list)

This publication was certainly a crucial factor in Clark getting the job at St. Philip’s. He moved to Birmingham late in 1765, having been ‘unanimously chose Organist of the New Church in Birmingham’, as an announcement in the Oxford Journal stated on October 10th.  He appears not to have taken over all the extra-church musical roles that Hobbs and Eversmann enjoyed. But it is unclear whether this was because there wasn’t room, or if he was actually too busy with his duties at St. Philip’s, Blue Coat school, and, most interestingly – as a concert violinist.
He undoubtedly was an organist (the role at St. Philip’s demanded it, and he is recorded as having performed concertos in public), but it is as a violinist that we see most evidence of his public music-making. Throughout the next 20 years his name appeared all over the Midlands region as a soloist: Gloucester, Hereford, Worcester, Sutton Coldfield, Derby, Wolverhampton, Lichfield and many other centres. He performed alongside London professionals in the Three Choirs Festival, and promoted his own benefit concerts in Birmingham Assembly Rooms and Duddeston Gardens.
The following typical advertisements from Aris’s Birmingham Gazette featuring Jeremiah Clark date from 1770. The first, the annual St Cecilia concert given by the Lichfield Cecilian Society, would no doubt have featured prominent singers of the City including the celebrated John Saville, one of the Vicars Choral at the cathedral. The second, an example of the many ‘benefit’ concerts promoted by local professionals; this one by the blind organist of St. Peter’s, Wolverhampton, William Rudge. We see here that Jeremiah Clark also performed a ‘Solo’ (i.e. a concerto), and the principal vocal soloist was the aforementioned John Saville of Lichfield.

(Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, 1 October 1770)
(Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, 19 November 1770)

Clark published 2 further sets of songs, including a set with orchestral scoring with horns, clarinets and wind, undoubtedly written for performances at one of his concerts or pleasure gardens evenings. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career as a composer came in 1798 when he offered his services to organise a grand celebratory concert for the recent victories of Lord Nelson and Lord Duncan at Camperdown.  His Constitutional Ode was performed, – sadly only the published concert programme survives.
At the end of his life, Clark returned to Worcester, having secured the position of organist at the Cathedral in 1806. This appointment was short-lived: after directing the Three Choirs Festival that year, he evidently retired, probably on grounds of ill-health, to nearby Bromsgrove, and died there 3 years later.

Hobbs, Bond and the first Oratorio Performances. 
Perhaps the most well-known feature of music in eighteenth-century Birmingham is the establishment of the Triennial Festival and its roots in the churches and musical societies of the town. An important factor in this movement was the public’s appetite for public oratorio performances put on with philanthropic aims in mind. At St. Martin’s (in the Bull-Ring), Digbeth, Richard Hobbs, was making his own mark on Birmingham’s musical scene by introducing its audiences to such oratorios.
Handel’s English Oratorios were extremely popular at the time. The  Old Testament stories that English oratorios were based on had the drama and exoticism of the Italian opera (which had fallen out of favour), and also a clear religious and moral content which meant that it was perfectly acceptable for performances during religious holidays and even in churches.  Handel himself conducted an annual performance of Messiah at London’s Foundling Hospital from the early 1740s, popularising a movement across the land which remains to this day – the charity concert – and it was often in this context that oratorios were performed in the provinces.
Richard Hobbs was the first person to attempt such an event in Birmingham, and this happened on the 10th and 11th of October 1759. Actually, Messiah wasn’t featured in this first event, the two concerts took place in the Theatre rather than a church, and they were performed for Hobb’s own benefit rather than for charity, but nevertheless it whetted the appetite for future performances.

(Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, 1st October 1759)

A close inspection of the advert reveals that the event must have been a huge undertaking, involving performers from London and across the Midlands counties. Thomas Pinto was a London violin virtuoso and leader at theatres and pleasure gardens; Abraham Adcock was a celebrated trumpeter and organ-builder; and the vocal soloists were all prominent names on the scene at the time – Master Carpenter, James Wass (Gentleman of the Chapel-Royal), Price (Gloucester), Mence, Saville and Brown (Lichfield).
Hobbs put on another oratorio meeting the next year, and the following years saw further initiatives by local musicians, most notably, Capel Bond, organist of Coventry. Bond was certainly top dog in the region as a professional musician in the 1760s. He not only promoted his own oratorio concerts but was also called upon to conduct elsewhere in the region.  One curious fact concerning the oratorio performances in the early 1760s is that apart from the two put on by Hobbs in 1759 and 1760 Birmingham itself did not host such events for some time.

In 1767 the following poem appeared in the Birmingham Gazette, 19th October 1767:

“On the Revival of Oratorios in BirminghamIn other towns while oratorios please,Shall we in gloomy silence spend our days?Nor taste of those Enjoyments that impartMelodious Sounds to captivate the Heart?Sons of Apollo, who the Name revereOf Handel, and his Memory hold dear,Let not the circling Seasons pass unsung;And whilst you’ve Power to charm the list’ning Throng,Bid Dulness fly, nor let it e’er be said,Where Arts are cherish’d, Music droops its Head.”

And at the end of October 1767, the revival of these oratorios took place: Handel’s Oratorios of Sampson and Acis and Galatea, at the theatre, and Messiah at St Philip’s. The advert boasted a similar calibre of soloists as in previous years and “a numerous Band, consisting of 16 Violins, 4 Hautboys, 4 Tenors, 5 Violincellos, 4 Bassoons, 2 Double Basses, 2 Trumpets, 2 French Horns, Kettle Drums, Harpsichord and Organ, with a full Chorus of 40 Voices.”
A crucial clue as to the origins of the great Birmingham Triennial Festival can be seen in the review of these performances, also in the Gazette, the following week.

(Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, 26th October 1767)

This public charity turned out to be the General Hospital, which although planned some 10 years earlier had run out of money even before the first brick had been laid.

The 1768 festival was a great success, raising substantial sums for the hospital, and firmly established the link with the hospital. By 1779 the hospital had been opened but the fund-raising concerts continued, and from 1784 the ‘festival’ became a permanent three-year fixture which sowed the seeds for the great Triennial Festival in the 19th century.

Amateur Interlude
The curious fact of music is that unlike other arts, music still has a complicated life after it has been composed. In the age of Enlightenment, music was seen as a very worthy subject to study; not only the rules of harmony and composition, but also the art of performance. As we know, being able to sing and play the harpsichord was an essential skill to have for any daughter aspiring to climb the social ladder, and it was normal for young men to learn instrument too – usually the flute, violin or, cello. Thus, performances could be given by professionals, or amateurs, or both. The role of the amateur in public performance is complicated, but was important.
An example of typical sentence added to advertisements for the musical meetings during this time is as follows:

(Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, 14th August 1768)

It is clear that the ranks of the bands at these concerts were intended to have been filled with these amateur gentry performers; evidence from correspondence and diaries from figures such as John Marsh and William Gardner corroborate strengthens the case.  However, these public concerts were not events that any competent amateur musician could take part in: two very important amateur musician/composers in the region were both in fact members of the clergy.  Richard Mudge, who was rector in the parish of Little Packington (situated off the main Birmingham-Coventry road), and as such, also private curate to the Earl of Aylesford of Packington Hall. Mudge was evidently part of the Aylesfords’ social circle, and certainly took part in musical events which included the Aylesfords, the architect Sanderson Miller, poet William Shenstone and, a clergy colleague of Mudge in Edgbaston – John Pixell.
Pixell was vicar at St. Bartholomew’s Church (now called Edgbaston Old Church), active from the 1750s to 80s. He published two sets of songs, in 1759 and 1775. They are unlike anything published at the time: far from being a uniform set of ’12 songs’ or even pieces of the same theme, they are a real pot-porit of styles, forms and subjects, with lots of arcadian-style cantatas, and songs that would fit well in a Pleasure Garden performances, as well as the more unusual domestic sacred works.

(John Pixell: Odes, Cantatas, Songs, &c, divine, moral, entertaining. Op. 2, 1775)

Joseph Harris
One final figure deserves attention – for being another true professional with a nation-wide reputation. Joseph Harris was not a native of Birmingham; born in Bristol, he gained a B.A. from Oxford in 1773 at the time he was organist at Ludlow. As a virtuoso keyboardist he gained prominence in concerts around the region, appearing in Birmingham several times during the 1770s and early 1780s before gaining the post of organist at St. Martin’s in 1787. Among his pupils was Anne Boulton, daughter of the Birmingham industrialist and Lunar Society member Matthew Boulton.

History Research Projects at Birmingham Cathedral by Jane McArdle, Heritage Manager

As part of our Tercentenary activities we are exploring and sharing the cathedral’s 300 year history.  One activity is archive and family history research.


We’re currently gathering groups of interested volunteers.  No previous archive or research experience necessary just an innate curiosity about the past!  Already a volunteer from the congregation, Gill, has uncovered some fascinating history connected with the memorial of a Sobieska Brookshaw – blog coming soon!  Robin, a guide from the Coffin Works, has created a record of monuments in the cathedral along with their maker and date. He is now concentrating on the life of Edward Thomason, a successful Birmingham manufacturer, whose impressive memorial is in the cathedral too. In addition there will be oral history recording to capture the cathedral’s more recent events and memories.

We are fortunate that the cathedral has a rich archive of material housed at the Library of Birmingham.  It is made up of original building accounts, parish registers, as well as a range of note books, minutes of meetings, photographs and even the original deeds. The material is able to tell us much about the life of St Philip’s – the church that became a cathedral, as well as much about the life of Birmingham – the town that became a city.  To date it has been used by historians and people interested in their family histories, but has not been fully mapped and catalogued. By looking more closely at this material and supplementing with other sources such as local newspapers we hope to be able to find out more.  We’ve learnt that the cathedral was attacked by a suffragette in May 1914, that John Baskerville (a Birmingham printer and atheist) was a church warden in the 18th century and that the first baby baptised  at St Philips on 7 Oct 1715 was named Philip!

This semester, second year history students from the University of Birmingham have carried out research using the cathedral archives. They’ve studied various aspects such as the cathedral in wartime and the cathedral’s civic role. They have had a tour of the cathedral, written essays and are doing a group presentation.

Central to this work is our partnership with the library. In a series of ongoing workshops the archive staff have been sharing their expertise and helping us access and understand the material. They have advised us on collecting current material to keep the archive alive and relevant.


Another intriguing aspect of the cathedral’s hidden history is the churchyard. Amazingly, there are thought to have been over 60,000 people buried here!  Burials ceased in the mid 19th Century and a small number of stones remain. A research project  “In Loving Memory” will uncover the stories behind these stones. Among the people recorded are artists, gun makers, visitors, manufacturers, even a fish curer. A headstone near the entrance records the death of Nanette Stocker ‘The Smallest woman in the Kingdom’.


There is such enjoyment in undertaking these research projects that I am inclined to subscribe to a view by historian David McCullough  “To me, history ought to be a source of pleasure. It isn’t just part of our civic responsibility. To me, it’s an enlargement of the experience of being alive, just the way literature or art or music is.”

If you’d like to join our journey of discovery please get in touch.


Day of Prayer – A Thankyou

DSC_0644 DSC_0041 DSC_0688 DSC_0654

‘Like a taste of heaven’: was the comment of a man who happened to call in during the 24 hours of prayer, at Birmingham Cathedral, Sat 24 – Sun 25 Jan.  He stayed in the cathedral for several hours, deeply moved by the prayer led by Christians of different backgrounds and traditions, united in a common faith in Jesus Christ.

The idea was simple: to start our special tercentenary year with a great wave of prayer and to invite local churches to join in.    Birmingham is home to an incredibly rich Christian expression and we invited people to come and lead prayers for an hour in their own tradition.

We were overwhelmed by the love and care with which people responded.  Prayers were offered with silence, or with great and joyful noise; we sang Taizé chants and prayed the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary; we formed a prayer tunnel to surround one another in prayer and took part in inter-active prayer stations; teenagers prayed through the night in the comfort of onesies and just as we were flagging, at 8.00am the Salvation Army turned up with a nine-piece brass band!

Thank you to everyone who took part and made this possible. Special thanks to the World Prayer Centre and Birmingham Ecumenical Network, to Laurence Sharman and Revd Colin Marsh.  This was a unique, powerful and profound experience. In accepting our invitation, you have blessed us with your presence and your prayer.  We have grown closer in unity and love in Christ. Our hope is that our city, nation and world will continue to be blessed by these prayers and the generous service of so many amazing Christians.

Catherine Ogle, Janet Chapman, Nigel Hand.

Clergy of Birmingham Cathedral

My Family Connections with Birmingham Cathedral, St Philips by Judy Walker


I will start with my maternal Great Great Grandparents William Bennett married Mary Ann Allcock – they went through a wedding service (by Banns) on 18th April 1830 at St.Martins, which was witnessed and recorded in their book of Marriages.  However, written across this record is “NOT MARRIED”!  I do not know the reason.  Then, 3 months later on 11th July 1830 a wedding, again by Banns, is conducted at St.Philip’s, with different witnesses, but all is well !! How intriguing!


In 1841, the Bennett family: William, Mary Ann and children, Charles (aged 14), William (11), James (9), Samuel (7), Lucy (5) was absent on the Census but was born 19th November 1836, and Edwin (aged 2), are recorded as living in Nova Scotia Street. William’s occupation is a Hoop Harrier (part of the barrel making trade). He worked near to and perhaps supplied barrels to the George & Dragon in Nova Scotia Street.   William’s trade is described as barrel hoop maker, hoop harrier, hook shaver and cooper.  This shows the variety of different roles within one trade and the ability to progress through the ranks.

Nova Scotia Street was in the parish of St Philip’s so all the children were baptised here.

Charles (aged 3) and William (aged 1) were baptised together on 19th May 1828.

Their cousin, Susanna (aged 9) daughter of John & Clary Bennett was also baptised on this date. What a wonderful family occasion this may have been!

James (aged 10 months) was baptised on 28th December 1831 and Samuel (aged 11) two years later.

Sadly, a further child Edwin (no.1) born in 1835, died only 8 months old and church records show a burial on 28th January 1836.

By the Census of 1851 the family has moved to 22 Fox Street (still in the Parish of St. Philip’s) and they have had even more children!  Now we come to Edwin (no.2)…I have received a Birth Certificate from Birmingham Registry Office for Edwin born 11th February 1839 at George & Dragon Yard, Nova Scotia Street. However, I have been unable to trace a baptism for this Edwin, but there is a baptism for Edwin Henry Bennett, birth date 6th January 1839, parents William Bennett and Mary Ann baptised on 24th February 1840 at St.Philip’s….are they one and the same? I do not know at present, but trying to obtain a Birth Certificate for this child to confirm parentage and occupation of father.  Younger children Sarah born 17th November 1841 and Walter born 3rd July 1844, were baptised together on 29th July 1844 at St.Philip’s.

The reason for my particular interest in Edwin, is that he is my Great Grandfather!

By 1861 shows William has died and his widow Mary Ann now calls herself Ann, is living with 3 of her children in a back-to-back house in Buck Street.  The children are all working, Edwin (Brass Caster and French Polisher), Sarah (French Polisher) and Walter (German French Polisher). Again this gives a glimpse of the town of a 1000 trades and shows that women are very much part of the industrial progress in Birmingham.

The connections and the illustrations of Birmingham life continue with records of the childrens’ marriages (predominantly at St. Philip’s)

  1. Charles Bennett (now aged 21) and working as a German Silver Polisher marries Sarah Reynolds (18). His father, William, being a Hoop Maker and Sarah’s father a Saw Maker. Marriage date 23rd July 1849 at St.Philip’s.
  1. William Bennett (aged 23) a Spoon Maker, marries Mary Ann Watkins (20). William Snr (still Hoop Maker) and Mary Ann’s father a Shoemaker. Marriage date 12th April 1852, again at St.Philip’s.
  1. Samuel Bennett (aged 21) a Gun Side Filer, marries Mary Ann Trickett (20). William still a Hoop Maker, with Mary Ann’s father a Well Sinker. Marriage date 12th November 1855 at St. Philip’s.
  1. Lucy Bennett (aged 22) marries John Bourne, Carpenter, with William now having promoted himself to the occupation of a Cooper. John’s father is a Farmer. They married at St.Martins on 15th December 1858.
  1. Sarah Bennett (aged 21) married Henry Fitter (a Cabinet Maker), whose father Joseph was also a Cabinet Maker. William is still saying he is a Cooper. This marriage was held at St.Andrews, Bordesley on 23rd February 1862.
  1. Walter Bennett (aged 21) and a Polisher, marries Sarah Whitworth (21). However, William now

reverts to stating his occupation as a Hoop Maker, with Sarah’s father a Caster.  Marriage date 17th September 1866 at St.Philips

It would seem that William Bennett (Snr) is still working in the barrel making trade, forming the metal bands around the barrels when his children marry at St.Philips.   However, when they marry elsewhere he elevates his occupation to that of Cooper.

Grantham Yorke Rector of St Philip’s in 1844 by Dan Wale

grantham Yorke 

Grantham Munton Yorke was born in 1803. The son of an admiral, he entered service in 1826 choosing the army over the navy and retired in 1833 after a relatively short military career, holding the rank of lieutenant.

After taking holy orders he worked in Limerick and Lincoln before arriving in Birmingham, as Rector of St. Philip’s, in 1844. He soon became concerned with the number of poor children in the parish and in 1846, after ascertaining that none of the existing schools in the area would take them, opened a ‘ragged school’ in a disused workshop in Lichfield Street. Such schools derived their name from the state of the children’s clothing and Yorke ensured a good attendance by providing a midday meal as well as later teaching the three R’s.

Within a year it had been renamed St. Philip’s Industrial School and by 1850 it had moved to a purpose built institution in Gem Street. The land had been donated by the governors of King Edward’s Free Grammar School and would remain the school’s home until it relocated to Harborne in 1903.

Yorke’s efforts to improve conditions for the town’s children extended well beyond Gem Street and by 1850 he was also the chairman of the Blue Coat School’s management committee. His philanthropic work was also applied to criminal children and he was involved with the management of Saltley Reformatory when it opened in 1853. Gem Street, itself, received criminal children from 1868 onwards.

Yorke died in 1879 but his educational and reformatory work continues to this day through the Grantham Yorke Trust which supports young people born in the West Midlands.


Remembrance Day at the cathedral

On Armistice Day in 1918 at 11am Birmingham people stopped work and people acknowledged, in their own way, that the war was over. Large crowds gathered in the churchyard at Birmingham Cathedral as a service was being held at midday. So many people wanted to attend the service it had to be conducted three times. In this unique moment the cathedral was a natural space for reflection for so many. This week at 11am on 11th November, we paused again.

On 4 August this year, one hundred years after the outbreak of World War One, a special commemorative event was held at Birmingham Cathedral. There were art displays, readings, music and singing, as well as moments of silence and reflection. The bells were tolled on muffles and people were encouraged to leave messages expressing their thoughts and reflections. The event was attended by a huge range of people some who stayed all evening, some who popped in for five minutes to just to linger and think about the day and its significance.

The messages left range from thoughts on the cruelty of war and the bravery of those who played an active part to more specific events and personal stories. There is reference to the contribution of the scouts who supported the war effort particularly at home, assisting with tasks normally done by men fighting in France. There is mention of the Worcestershire regiment whose immense effort and bravery at Gheluvelt prevented a German breakthrough, the importance of the miners who risked their lives to keep home fires burning, and the Quaker community who objected to the war but provided aid and support in so many other ways.

Names of soldiers are on many of the cards commemorated by proud and loving family members. Two sets of brothers, both killed, are remembered, a war hero who fought at Mons in 1914 and lived to the age of 98, an Uncle Arthur, “a very private man” who never spoke of his experiences, Walter, an ANZAC, a survivor who fought at Galipolli, George who did not live to see his son, and a childhood friend who lost her loved one in France. People talk of precious items that help tell the story of their loved ones, a badge, a letter, a photo that was sent home.

The word “Thankyou” appears frequently as people reflect on the sacrifices made, there are hopes for peace and many comparisons are made with conflicts today. It was a moment for people to pause and a fitting tribute.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.