A FREE ENTRY WRITING COMPETITION OPEN TO ALL! Details of the MAY 2016 Creative Writing Competition. The topic for MAY has been set by the winner of the March 2016 competition ‘Lostinwords’ who has…
The Birmingham ratepayers elected their first town council on Wednesday, 26th December 1839. There was a limited electorate because of legislation passed in 1835 which restricted voting to ratepayers of three years standing. Anyone who, for some reason, had not paid their rates during the course of the previous three years was excluded from taking part in the election. As may be guessed, women were not permitted a vote even if they were long-standing ratepayers.
Shown below are the results of Birmingham’s first council election. The candidates were divided between ‘Radicals’ and ‘Tories’. This might appear odd; when I voted today there was a choice of five candidates from very different political parties. In fact, the choice presented in 1838 as controversial then too. In the run up to the election there were some candidates who were not Tories, but equally did not consider themselves to be Radical. In the…
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Brilliant short story from Liam Brown, author of ‘Real Monsters’ and ‘Wild Life’. Shortlisted for 2015 Bare Fiction Prize.
The heroine of my Victorian novel set in Birmingham has been out job-hunting recently. I have been her guide, with the help of an 1839 map, an 1839 Directory of Birmingham and Sheffield, a favourite blog: Mapping Birmingham, a couple of back numbers of Aris’s Birmingham Gazette from the British Newspaper Archive, Edmond Chadwick’s Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Britain and Carl Chinn’s wonderful book ‘Birmingham: The Great Working City’.
My heroine is encumbered by having been involved in a scandal, and by a lack of useful experience other than as a domestic servant. She heads down from Newhall Street, past St Martin’s in the Bullring and the Court of Requests debtors’ prison, along the High Street towards Bordesley. All of this street is lined with shops and small businesses: tea dealers, basket makers, bookmakers, cheese factors, bottle merchants, hardware men, woollen drapers, printers, chemists, brewers hop merchants, seed and corn factors, hatters, confectioners, auctioneers, wine and spirit merchants, glovers, hosiers, lace manufacturers, jewellers, engravers, tobacconists. In a courtyard near Smithfield is a slaughterman’s shed with a crowd of urchins trying to peek through chinks in the wall as a bull is butchered. The 1839 Directory bears evidence to thousands of small businesses jostling for space in the streets of the town – this is the High Street:
My heroine applies for work in a fruiterer’s, a tailor’s and a pin and needle manufactory (relocated for the purposes of my chapter from Bordesley Street) and is turned away. With a sinking heart she finds her way through a slum area to a dairy, an urban cowshed where the TB – ridden cows are fed on brewer’s grains, the atmosphere is rancid with the animals’ excrement and open milk pans are left on the dirty floor (thanks, Mr Chadwick!). It’s not her day.
Carl Chinn’s book was handy for details of factory life in Birmingham and along the way I discovered some nuggets of information that I can’t use in my novel as they happened too late:
Elkington’s – the first industrial electroplaters in the world – had a factory on Newhall Street, Birmingham, which later became the Museum of Science and Industry. One of their early employees was one Joseph Lucas (1834-1902). After leaving Elkington’s, he sold paraffin for lamps from a handcart. He then decided to manufacture oil-lamps and persuaded some of his former colleagues from Elkington’s to join him. Branching out into bicycle lamps and accessories made him successful. His company has become Lucas Aerospace.
Joseph Chamberlain (1836 -1914), MP and mayor of Birmingham, made his money in the screw-making firm of Nettlefold and Chamberlain on Broad Street which turned out 130,000 gross of screws a week. Nettlefold and Chamberlain became part of GKN (Guest, Keen and Nettlefold).
Sam Goldwyn (1879 – 1974) of MGM began life as Samuel Goldfisch, a penniless Polish-Jewish migrant who at an early age travelled from Warsaw to Birmingham. He too had a handcart, in the employment of Charles Henry Whittingham, a manufacturer of safes. He went to America and made his fortune in the Hollywood film industry. Mr Whittingham meanwhile perfected ‘steel fire proof Cinematograph Storage Film Boxes.’
Josh Allen in his post on Birmingham Central Library reflects on a childhood as a library user in Birmingham and how the city’s civic architecture reflects the politics of the age.
‘…the Conservative-LibDem Coalition, so keen to ensure that Birmingham’s Council Tax rises were “amongst the lowest in the country” during the “boom” years, borrowed off the books through a private finance initiative type arrangement to buy the Library of Birmingham. Today the repayments and interest on this deal cost the city £12million a year. Getting a building worth £190million for nearly £500million is a poor deal by any yardstick, and at a time of swingeing budget cuts it becomes unsustainable. According to The Guardian’s Jonathan Glancey refurbishing and modernising the Central Library would have cost no more than £20million. Operating today with a skeleton staff, no events budget and opening hours nearly half what they were upon opening the Library of Birmingham, like cultural provision and local public services in Birmingham more generally, is in a sorry state.’
Today I’m featuring wartime stories. This week is National Short Story Week (16th to 22nd November), an event I look forward to each year. I enjoy reading and writing this form of literature so I want to support this annual event by encouraging readers to dip their toes into short stories.
Several times this week, I’ve featured short stories from a variety authors and genres. Today, as I’ve said, it’s wartime stories. The First and Second World Wars immediately come to mind when anyone mentions wartime and these eras are included here. But, it seems that the world has always been at war and many tales reflect this. So I’ve also included stories from the ancient world and the English Civil War period.
‘Hush’, in the collection, Fall of Poppies – Stories of Love and the Great War, by Hazel Gaynor.
On the eleventh hour of the eleventh…
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Omar Musa interviewed by Damyanti Biswas: ‘Every writer should read and memorise the poem “To Posterity” by Bertolt Brecht. It’s my favourite poem of all time. Every writer should read “The Aleph” by Jorge Luis Borges. If that doesn’t ignite a million poetic fires in your head, nothing will.’
Good luck, Nanos of 2015!