Bostin Austen at Soho House

Now in it’s third year, Jane Austen Day is celebrated each summer at Soho House museum and this year’s celebration took place just over a week ago. Although Austen herself never visited Boulton’s home, the Georgian property provides the perfect setting to bring the world of her novels to life.

Austen was a novelist whose works earned her a place as one of the most widely read writers in English literature. Georgian society is the backdrop of all of Austen’s novels. Set during the reign of George III, they describe everyday lives, social hierarchies, gender roles, marriage, and the pastimes of well-off families. They provide an insight to the English society of this period.

group soho jane austen day

Staff and volunteers at Soho House on Jane Austen Day

Austen lived her entire life as part of a close-knit family located on the lower fringes of the English landed gentry. The support of her family was critical to her development as a professional writer. Her father was a clergyman and after his death, she, her mother and unmarried sister Casandra went to live in a cottage on her brother’s estate. Cassandra was Austen’s closest friend and confidante throughout her life. It was in these later years Austen successfully published four novels which were generaly well-received: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Emma. These works were published anonymously and brought her little personal fame. Austen’s most famous work remains Pride and Prejudice. In this novel her most beloved heroine Elizabeth Bennet must navigate the complexities of life as a young woman of limited dowry. During Jane Austen Day Pattern 23 performed famous scenes from Austen’s books, including Mr. Collins ill conceived marriage proposal to Elizabeth.

Pattern 23 performing proposal scene from Pride and Prejudice.

Pattern 23 performing Mr. Collin’s/Elizabeth Bennett proposal scene from Pride and Prejudice.

When Jane Austen’s characters talk about buying a dress, it means in fact that they are going to buy the necessary fabric, which they will then give to a dressmaker who will make a dress to their specifications. Patterns for dresses in the latest London fashion were found in all the women’s fashion newspapers. In ‘Emma’ Harriet Smith buys muslin cloth with this intention. For Jane Austen Day I asked a friend to make a Regency gown for me to wear. During the day there were also period hair and make-up demonstrations carried out by Julie Stevens.

georgian hair and make up

Period hair and make-up demonstrations

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Period dress I wore on Jane Austen Day.

Austen’s plots, though fundamentally comic, highlight the dependence of women on marriage to secure social standing and economic security. A woman would have belonged in the first instance to her father and later her husband. She would have been legally subordinate to him, without rights and would not even have even been able to choose where she lived.

All members of the Lunar Society, who regularly met at Soho House, were committed to the idea of education, but what that meant for daughters and wives tended to be different from what it meant for sons. The subjects both Jane Austen and Matthew Boulton’s only daughter, Anne studied formed the main elements of the typical middle-class young woman’s curriculum. While away at school, Anne studied English, French, drawing, history and geography. Later, she learnt music from a Mr Harris in Birmingham, botany from Boulton’s friend Dr William Withering, and embroidery from Mary Linwood, a celebrated embroiderer of so-called ‘needle paintings’. Austen has been described by biographers as an accomplished seamstress and was very fond of dancing. These education topics were highlighted during Austen Day, with embroidery and dancing demonstrations for visitors to take part in.

Visitors learning Regency dance steps.

Visitors learning Regency dance steps.

textile group

Asian Women’s Textile Group are a community group based at Soho House.

Jane Austen acquired the remainder of her education by reading books, guided by her father and her brothers and had unlimited access both to her father’s library and that of her uncle. Like all gentry of the day, letter writing was a favoured and necessary past-time. In an uncharacteristic letter, the usually kind Anne Boulton is scathing about an expected visitor (in tone similar to Austen’s much-loved character Emma Woodhouse):

‘She is neither young, or handsome, has what some people call a pleasing cast with one eye, talks a great deal and would be glad to be thought young, notwithstanding wrinkles and grey hair begin to appear, but with all these perfections and imperfections she is I am told a sensible and entertaining woman.’

 Anne Boulton's writing desk at Soho House.

Anne Boulton’s writing desk at Soho House.

Unlike Austen, Anne was not dependent on the kindness and charity of her brother and relations after the death of her father in 1809. Boulton laid his plans well: ‘I propose to set apart, in my lifetime, as much money, land, stock or good securities as will be sufficient to support my daughter handsomely and comfortable’

Boulton left Anne a combined fortune of £34,000, enabling her to move from Soho in 1818 to a house of her own after her brother married. At Thornhill she kept a very comfortable but modest home. Upon her death in 1829 she left each of her servants one years wages, plus a further £20 each for the two longest-serving. Land she had purchased and the remainder of her fortune she left to ‘my dear brother to whom I now bid a long and last farewell.’

Jane Austen continues to be a huge influence on popular culture and this year’s celebration at Soho House was a great success. Staff, volunteers and visitors had fun immersing themselves in Austen’s stories, etiquette, interests and wit.

Louise Deakin,
Visitor Services Assistant,
Soho House

Quotes: The Hardware Man’s Daughter by Shena Mason, published by Phillimore & Co Ltd, 2005.

Volunteering at Aston Hall

Hello I’m Connie, one of the volunteers at Aston Hall and I have been volunteering as a House Guide since the start season. In this blog I will explain why I chose to volunteer at Aston Hall and I will include some of my favourite stories that I share with visitors.

Connie, a volunteer at Aston Hall

Connie at Aston Hall

Aston Hall is one of Birmingham’s most historic buildings and is Grade I listed Jacobean house. Aston Hall has played a large part in not just Birmingham’s individual history as a city but is part of England’s wider history as a country. The Hall was involved in the Civil war after being damaged after an attack by Parliamentary troops in 1643.

I choose to volunteer at Aston Hall for all the reasons mentioned above, but mostly for the experience and a chance to work in a place completely different to anywhere else I have ever worked. I am currently doing a history and politics degree at Lancaster University and Aston Hall is the perfect place to get some experience in history. The Hall is rich with historical significance and it’s great to work in such an amazing place and be surrounded by such amazing artwork, artefacts and architecture. Aston Hall is conveniently located in the heart of city and a great piece of local history. It’s a great way to get some experience in your local area and find out what part your city played in history.

Aston Hall

Aston Hall

Aston Hall’s famous connections makes it stand out as one of the most significant buildings in the city. The house was owned by James Watt Junior, the son of the important Victorian inventor James Watt. Sir Thomas Holte, 1st Baronet was the original owner of Aston Hall, the Holte family were a wealthy family of some importance in Warwickshire. Thomas Holte was known for his great temper with famous disputes with his son and neighbours, such as he sued his neighbours for accusing him of splitting his cook’s head in two with a cleaver! Aston Hall has also housed Charles I in 1642 and Queen Victoria first came to visit when she was on a tour of the country with her mother, she later visited again in 1858 to open Aston Hall as a public museum.

Sir Thomas Holte

Portrait of Sir Thomas Holte, the original owner of Aston Hall

The house is not only for history lovers but due to its extensive range of paintings is also has its interests for art historians, having minored in art history in my first year at university it was amazing to be surrounded by such works of art. Particularly impressive paintings are ‘King Charles I and his family’ by Remy van Leemput and ‘Lucy Loftus’ by Peter Lely. Lely was a Dutch painter who became the dominant portrait painter to the court in England. There are a few portraits of Charles I such as the one in the world room of Charles on the left, and his wife, Henrietta Maria on the right. When being on post in the Long Gallery, the portrait of Marchioness of Rockingham (d.1761) by Godfrey Kneller has always got a lot of attention. People always ask who the woman is in the painting as it creates a large impression due to its grandeur and size so I’m always ready to answer. Mary, Marchioness of Rockingham being the wife of Charles Watson-Wentworth a British Whig statesman and known for his two terms as Prime Minister of Great Britain. Edmund Burke, the famous philosopher, became his private secretary and would remain a lifelong friend, political ally and advisor until Rockingham’s premature death in 1782. She was very active in the political scene as she contributed to the parliamentary management of the Rockingham whigs and it was her positive influence upon her husband that was her most significant contribution to politics.

Mary, Marchioness of Rockingham (d.1761) by Godfrey Kneller

Mary, Marchioness of Rockingham by Godfrey Kneller

Another story I like to tell is prompted by the portrait of Edward Holte, Thomas Holte’s son. Edward, had gained a position in Charles I household. In his service Edward met and married Elizabeth King, Thomas did not give his permission for the marriage but Edward went ahead with the wedding. As a result Edward was entirely cut out from his inheritance. Charles I pleaded with Thomas himself to reinstate Edward as his heir but Thomas refused. Edward died on military service in 1643 having never reconciled with his family. It was rumoured Thomas locked up a daughter because she refused to marry her father’s choice of husband, the rumour suggests she starved to death.

Portrait of Edward Holte

Portrait of Edward Holte by Cornelis Janssens van Ceulen

Aston Hall’s significance is further emphasised by its architecture as it is one of the last great Jacobean houses to be built in Britain and its location in Britain’s second biggest city. Much of the architecture is original 17th-century plasterwork that has been maintained and the house remains relatively unchanged.

Interior of Aston Hall

Interior of Aston Hall

Aston Hall also manages a wide range of events across the year including ‘Make and Take Craft’ which are craft days every Wednesday in the holidays for children. There’s also historic days organised to explore the English Civil War with a living history re-enactment. Birmingham Tours Museum Heritage Bus also takes visitors around other historic sites in the area such as Soho House and Blakesley Hall. The events are a great way to get children more involved and interested in history, which I think is extremely important and a great active day out away from the classroom which is always needed! Aston Hall takes a lot of visits throughout the year from nearby school children and they are given a special tour. Volunteers are encouraged to get involved and events are organised to keep volunteers up to date with information, also there are fun ideas to get us more involved such as picnic days and tour guide training.

The engagement with the customers is always a great chance to get to hear other people’s views of the Hall. Many visitors have returned to the house having been years ago when they as a child at school. Other visitors have come again for a second or a third time to bring family and friends. Many are amazed by the long gallery, my favourite room and one of the most spectacular rooms in the house. Hands down an extremely different place to work and hope to work in other places like Aston Hall in the future.

The Long Gallery  at Aston Hall

The Long Gallery at Aston Hall

Connie,
Volunteer at Aston Hall

If you’re interested in volunteering for Birmingham Museums Trust then find out more at: www.bmag.org.uk/support-us/volunteer

#Staticstilllife – Share your still life artworks

Here at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG) we are all excited about the opening of our latest exhibition ‘STATIC: Still Life Reconsidered’. The exhibition explores the art of still life so we want to see your still life creations!

Whether through photography, paint or sculpture, whether you’re a budding artist or a professional, we want you to share your still life artwork with us! Simply snap an image of your very own still life and post it with the hashtag #staticstilllife on Twitter or @STATIC_STILL_LIFE on instagram!

Selected work will then be featured on the plasma screen to the entrance of Waterhall throughout July to September for all our visitors to see. You can check out your piece as well as many others at @BM_AG and @thinktank.

Flowers and a Jug by William George Scott.

Flowers and a Jug byWilliam George Scott.
© 2014 William Scott Foundation / Photo © Birmingham Museums Trust.

The ‘STATIC: Still Life Reconsidered’ exhibition is on at the Waterhall Gallery, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, from the 26th July- 31st December. For more information visit; www.bmag.org.uk/events?id=3304

We look forward to seeing your still life creations!

Charlotte Dunn,
Marketing Officer

Images hashtagged #staticstilllife will be featured in the slide show. The still lives featured will be chosen by the marketing team at Birmingham Museums. No correspondence will be entered into about the choice of the Still Lives featured.

The entries to the slideshow will be chosen from twitter and Facebook at the end of each month. We may also feature entry images on the BMAG Pinterest page. You retain all rights in, and are solely responsible for, the content you post. When you send your images to Birmingham Museums, it still belongs to you but we can show it to people and others can share it on different social media platforms.

For more details see full terms and conditions.

 

 

First World War – Private Fred Andrews

We have been preparing for an exhibition about Birmingham men who served in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment during the first world war. I had the opportunity to follow up some of these individuals during my recent trip to Northern France. It’s hard to believe that the gentle countryside of the Somme has been the scene of death and destruction, but the reminders are everywhere, not only in the form of military cemeteries but also road signs indicating the front line at various dates during the Somme campaign. This is the first of two blog posts in which I will look at the stories of three men who lost their lives in this area.

Private Fred Andrews

Private Fred Andrews

Private Fred Andrews

Private Fred Andrews served with the 1/6th battalion of the Royal Warwicks and took part in ‘the big push’ on the Somme in July 1916. He came from a working-class family in Ladywood, Birmingham. He was an officer’s servant. In our collection we have a set of letters written by Fred to his mother and sister, which give an insight into Fred’s life on a training camp on Salisbury Plain and later as part of the British Expeditionary Force in France.

Letter written by Fred

Letter written by Fred

On Easter Monday 1916, Fred writes: ‘Dinner time we had biscuits instead of bread. We shall have them every Monday and Thursday. They are hard, but very nice, I can eat them all right. One man has put his wife’s address on one and a 1d stamp, on one side, and on the other he put, This is what they give us on Easter Monday, at Salisbury Plain. He sent one just the same last year from the trenches. If I was the post man I should eat it’.

Fred only writes two letters once he reaches France as part of the British Expeditionary Force. In one he says: ‘The Officers, and N.C.O’s [non-commissioned officers] are very good to us here. We can get two green envelopes a week, so you will get the letters pretty quick. Dear Mum, Will you please give Ollie [Fred’s girlfriend] my love, and address when you see her. They are a very nice lot of chaps that I am with now. And we get plenty of food to eat. I will close now with very Best Love to you all, and Ollie. Do not worry I hope the war will soon be over now. Things are looking up here. Love to all, Fred xxx’. The last letter from Fred was received by his mother on 30 June 1916.

Letter written by Fred's mother to Fred

Letter written by Fred’s mother

The final letters in the series are from Fred’s mother. She writes to him repeatedly during July 1916, pleading with him to write to her: ‘oh son I do hope you are all right I have not had a line for nearly three weeks the last I had you wrote the 30 of June and now it is the 19 of July my own dear boy I am quite sure it is not your fault I do not know what is preventing you from writing if I could only get a line in your hand writing I should feel better’. Mrs Andrews’ letters are returned to her, the envelopes marked ‘missing’.

Fred Andrews Graves Registration Card

Fred Andrews Graves Registration Card

Fred had been killed on the very first day of the battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916. He was 21 years old. Mrs Andrews eventually received this photograph of his grave (see image above). Fred still lies in Serre Road Cemetery No. 2 at Beaumont-Hamel, but he now has a permanent headstone.

Fred's permanent headstone

Fred’s permanent headstone

I visited Fred’s grave in June 2014. Serre Road is one of the many Commonwealth cemeteries designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. It was completed in 1934. The Commonwealth cemeteries are now maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and are beautiful and peaceful places to visit.

Serre Road cemetery

Serre Road cemetery

During the 1920s and 30s many relatives of the dead visited their graves in France, some with the assistance of veterans’ associations. We do not know whether Fred’s family ever had the opportunity to do this.

Our exhibition ‘Soldiers’ Stories: Birmingham and the Royal Warwickshire Regiment 1914 to 1918’ opens on 19 July 2014.

 

Henrietta Lockhart
Curator (History)

Anchors Aweigh!

Hello, I’m Louise Deakin and I work at Soho House museum as a Visitor Services Assistant. Soho House was the elegant home of industrialist and entrepreneur Matthew Boulton from 1766 to 1809.

Portrait of Matthew Boulton by Lemuel Francis Abbot, 1801-03

Portrait of Matthew Boulton by Lemuel Francis Abbot, 1801-03

The other week I was lucky enough to attend the Birmingham Hidden Spaces photography exhibition at Curzon Street Station. Opened in 1838 as a link from London to Birmingham, the station has Grade I listed status and has been closed to the public since 1966.

Curzon Street Station

Curzon Street Station

Amongst the photographs on display were those of the Birmingham Assay Office on Newhall Street, in the Jewellery Quarter. Opened in 1773 it initially operated from three rooms in the King’s Head Inn, managed by four staff and only operating on Tuesdays. Upon opening, it’s first customer was industrialist and entrepreneur Matthew Boulton, who had led the campaign for its establishment in 1773. It later moved to it’s own office on Little Canon Street in 1815. Finally making it’s home on Newhall Street in 1877, it is the largest Assay Office in Europe and a fine example of Birmingham’s industrial heritage and Boulton’s determination.

Birmingham Assay Office on Newhall Street

Birmingham Assay Office, Newhall Street

Matthew Boulton thrived on charming his way through society, presenting goods to the aristocracy and encouraging them to place orders. Renowned for Silverware and Sheffield plate (silver-plated copper) the Soho Factory brought fancy tableware to the new middle classes. Frustrated by the time delays on sending silver pieces for hall marking in Chester or London (then the only Assay Offices in the country), Boulton campaigned successfully for over two years, laying the foundations for the growth of the Jewellery Quarter.

Paving stone on Frederick Street, Jewellery Quarter with the inscription 'Matthew Boulton. He raised the profile'

Paving stone on Frederick Street, Jewellery Quarter with the inscription ‘Matthew Boulton. He raised the profile’

Many people are confused by the Birmingham Anchor hallmark, as we are situated so far from the coast. However, the decision was made while Boulton was staying at the ‘Crown and Anchor Tavern’ in London, to discuss the possibility of the office. The rumour goes that the choice was made on the toss of a coin which resulted in Birmingham winning the Anchor and Sheffield with the Crown (later changed to a rose).

Birmingham Anchor hallmark (image credit from Birmingham Assay Office)

Birmingham Anchor hallmark (image from Birmingham Assay Office)

The office’s silver collection contains over 1,400 pieces of Birmingham craftsmanship, showing the many different styles over the centuries. There is also an archive library that houses rare books, including ones owned by Boulton himself. Today the Jewellery Quarter is Europe’s largest concentration of businesses involved in the jewellery trade, producing 40% of all jewellery made in the UK, hallmarking around 12 million items a year.

Matthew Boulton lived to the grand age of eighty, succeeded by his son Matthew Robinson and his life’s work. The Soho Factory stood for one hundred years and some of the silver it produced can been seen on display at Soho House.

The Matthew Boulton silver collection at Soho House

The silver collection at Soho House

Louise Deakin,
Visitor Services Assistant,
Soho House

Spitfire Club

Did you know that Birmingham produced over 50% of all Spitfires in the War? Between 1940 and 1945, the Castle Bromwich factory was rolling out an average of 40 new planes a week! We need your help to build a lasting memorial to these magnificent machines and the men and women who built them.

spitfireBirmingham Museums is delighted to have received support from both the Heritage Lottery Fund and the DCMS Wolfson Galleries and Improvement Fund to radically reinterpret the Spitfire and Hurricane aircraft on display at Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum. To do this, a 50m₂ gallery will be constructed on the Mezzanine floor, where visitors will be at eye level with the aircraft.

The gallery will enable visitors to find out about the history and evolution of the Spitfire through four themed sections: Design, Manufacture, Use and Legacy. Not only will the gallery look at the technical achievements of the planes, but also look at the human stories of the people who made them at the Castle Bromwich factory.  The science of flight will also be explained through the interpretation.

We are thrilled the gallery is over 80% funded; however, we do need some help to fulfill that extra 20%! That is why we are inviting you the join our exclusive ‘Spitfire Club’.

Join the Spitfire Club

For a one-off £75 donation, you will receive a certificate of membership, three updates from Lis Chard-Cooper, the Science and Industry Curator, on the progress of the project and an exclusive invitation for you and a guest to see the completed gallery before it opens to the public! You will also be acknowledged online as being an ‘oppo’ (that’s RAF slang for friend!) of the gallery.

If you are interested, please send a cheque made out to ‘Birmingham Museums Trust’ to:
The Spitfire Club, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Chamberlain Square, Birmingham, B3 3DH.

Alternatively, you can call Jenna Nicholas, Development Officer, on 0121 348 8292.

Joseph Chamberlain: a Birmingham icon

July 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the death of one of Birmingham’s most famous personalities. Joseph Chamberlain transformed Birmingham during the 1870s when he was the town’s Mayor. He later went on to represent Birmingham in Parliament and to serve in the cabinet as Colonial Secretary. He was a controversial figure during his lifetime and continues to be so today. This is a series of snapshots from Chamberlain’s career, based upon objects in our collection.

Ceremonial Trowel

Ceremonial Trowel given to Joseph Chamberlain, 1874

Ceremonial Trowel given to Joseph Chamberlain, 1874

As Mayor of Birmingham, Chamberlain ran the town like a business, taking utilities like gas and water into public control. He improved the health of the population through better sanitation. One of his most controversial acts was the demolition of large swathes of ‘slum’ housing which made way for the commercial centre of Corporation Street; this enhanced the business environment but many people were displaced and not re-housed. On 17 June 1874 Chamberlain laid the foundation stone of the new Council House, which still stands at the heart of Birmingham. This trowel commemorates the event.

Postcard of Joseph and Mrs Chamberlain

Postcard of Joseph and Mrs Chamberlain

Postcard of Joseph and Mrs Chamberlain

Chamberlain’s personal life was beset by tragedy. His first and second wives, cousins Harriet and Florence Kenrick, both died in childbirth. At the age of 52, Chamberlain found happiness with 23 year old American Mary Endicott. Images of Chamberlain usually portray him as looking severe, but in this postcard we get a rare glimpse of him smiling.

Satirical Drawing of Joseph Chamberlain

'Dogs of war', satirical drawing of Joseph Chamberlain by Sir John Tenniel, 1899

‘Dogs of war’, satirical drawing of Joseph Chamberlain by Sir John Tenniel, 1899

In the 1890s the British government was keen to keep South Africa within the British Empire rather than see it become a Boer republic. In 1899 Chamberlain, now Colonial Secretary, was preparing for war against the Boers. In this caricature, Chamberlain pretends to ‘Oom Paul’, the President of the South African Republic, that ‘the dogs of war’ (a quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar) are just going for a walk. This cartoon was published in Punch.

Wooden Folder Presented to Joseph Chamberlain

Wooden folder presented to Joseph Chamberlain in Cape Town, South Africa, 1903

Wooden folder presented to Joseph Chamberlain in Cape Town, South Africa, 1903

The Boer War came to an end in 1902, and in the following year Chamberlain toured South Africa to promote reconciliation between the British and the Afrikaners. He was broadly welcomed, and persuaded the Prime Minister John Gordon Sprigg to hold elections. This elaborate wooden blotter was presented to him by the South African Progressive Association. It is lined inside with blotting paper and was used to blot letters to ensure that the ink was dry.

Satirical Postcard of Joseph Chamberlain

Satirical postcard of Joseph Chamberlain, around 1905

Satirical postcard of Joseph Chamberlain, around 1905

In his early career Chamberlain was a radical reformer, but later he became increasingly imperialist. This satirical postcard pokes fun at a variety of policies that Chamberlain ‘juggled’ as Colonial Secretary. One of his last campaigns was for the imposition of tariffs upon trade with countries outside the British Empire, in order to favour imperial trade. He became notorious for using two loaves of bread as visual aids during a speech in Birmingham, arguing that a loaf baked under tariff reform would be no more expensive than one baked under free trade. The phrase ‘Birmingham bred’ is a pun on this.

Souvenir Booklet

Souvenir booklet from Joseph Chamberlain's 70th birthday celebrations, 1906

Souvenir booklet from Joseph Chamberlain’s 70th birthday celebrations, 1906

Despite his mixed fortunes as a national politician, Chamberlain was always a popular figure in Birmingham. Throughout his career he used a monocle and wore an orchid in his buttonhole, and his instantly recognisable image was reproduced on countless souvenirs. His 70th birthday in 1906 was marked by huge celebrations and a parade through the city centre was attended by thousands. This souvenir programme cost threepence.

To see more objects from our Chamberlain collections, visit ‘Birmingham: its people, its history’ on the third floor of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, or see our Chamberlain Flickr page.


Henrietta Lockhart
Curator (History)

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