Author Archives: John Sawkill

Colmore Estates in the Parishes of Birmingham and Aston in the 1700’s

Some years ago, in the old Birmingham library, I was researching the history of St Paul’s Church when I was handed a list of documents that were thought to be helpful. I was taken by one in particular and so asked to see it. It was a folded document that was difficult to unfold. We had to move to a bigger table and could not get it to lie flat at all. I regarded it as 3 dimensional  and it was rather black in places. It transpired that it was “ Estates in the Parishes of Birmingham and Aston in the County of Warwick belonging to Chas Colmore Esq   Surveyed 176 “  It was a hand drawn map of part of Birmingham with streets named and the plots leased shown with the name of the leaseholder. All plots were 50 yards deep and the frontage yards shown. The yardage determined the amount the leaseholder would have to spend on a house.

It was in the early 1700s one Ann Colmore had taken over the Colmore Estate and in 1746, by a private Act, she had been given permission to grant 120 year leases for building purposes. As a result some 100 acres became available and by 1750 the area near Ann street and Colmore Row was being developed. Eventually Ann retired and her son Charles took over the Estate, most likely by 1760. By 1770 development had reached  Lionel Street and Colmore had agreed to donate some three acres on Harper’s Hill, near Lionel Street, for the building of St Paul’s Church. St Paul’s was consecrated in 1779 and it was in that year that the first plot, with a new Charles lease, was taken up in St Paul’s Square.

Photo 1 shows a corner of the map with the title , as described, and some leaseholders. At the lower middle of the image is shown a red outline of a house. This is believed to be the house that Matthew Boulton moved James Watt to in his early years in Birmingham. Caroline was a daughter of Charles Colmore.

Corner of the map

Photo  2    Not very sharp and little contrast this at least shows the folding.

Shows map folding

Photo 3  To the right, part of Great Charles Street and to the left of the fold junction,  what became known as Little Charles Street, Charles being the name of Colmore’s first son.

Great Charles Street

Photo 4  with Edmund and Coneygreve Streets, Paradise Row and to the far right, New Road

Edmund St, Coneygreve St

Photo 5  A much enlarged St Paul’s Square with the first leaseholder at the junction of Mary Ann street with the Square. He was Thos Robbins and with a 24yard frontage he had to spend £800 on housing. Next to him is Sam Malkin, a Bucklemaker, with two houses in his 16 yards. There are now blue badges on these Houses. Malkin was one of the earliest Churchwardens of St Paul’s One of the conditions in the Colmore Lease was that the cornice of the house to be built had to be the same as the cornice of St Paul’s Church.  Another oddity is Mary Ann Street, but Colmore’s other daughter was named Mary Anne. Wherever her name is used in documents of the time that is how her name is spelt. Whoever produced the map got it wrong and it has remained Ann ever since.

St Paul’s Square

So who did produce the map? It is highly likely to have been George Holloway, Colmore’s Estate Agent. Almost every leaseholder’s name on the map is in the same handwriting. So he could go back to around 1760. Certainly he played a major role, liaising with Colmore, and the trustees, in the building of St Paul’s Church.  Many of the transactions for leases around the Square will have taken place in the 1780s. Holloway died in 1789.

As these photographs were taken some years ago and I tried to use them on my website, but I could not get permission. The rules then were that I could use them on a printed document but not on a website. About a year or so ago I decided to try to get some better photos, but the document could not be unfolded at all and was badly blackened and will need a lot of restoration work. But by now I could use photos on a website. So here they are.

My thanks to Birmingham Library for permission to use these photographs.

A Few Random Photos

I have been “downsizing” my collection of old photographs from various sources and selected a number that I really must keep and hear are five of them.

A Little Beauty

A delightful studio photograph taken in the Handsworth Studio of H Whitlock around 1900. In the early days of photography simple cameras for people to use were simply not viable, so the professional photographer set up a studio and the family went there for photographs, if they could afford it. Whitlock was a notable Birmingham photographer and one of his studios was in Handsworth. Initially exposure times were quite long so smiling was ruled out as it is difficult to keep a straight smiling face. Also small tables were provided for anyone standing to lean on to stop any movement. Here the exposure time must have shortened quite a bit as the children have nothing to support them, but it looks as though smiling was not encouraged although it was not far away.


NY Photographer

A print of a stereo photograph of a photographer taking a stereo photograph high above Manhattan in about 1915 and without seemingly any support. It makes me shudder!




Group Outing

A reproduction from a lantern slide by Marion Silverston in about 1900 that I have entitled “Group Outing”. Almost all the characters have a badge in the left lapel of their coat but I cannot read it. So who they are has not been determined but it has been suggested that the place may be Wenlock Abbey. I think the sharpness of the image and the delicacy of the contrast is quite remarkable. Marion Silverston was a significant Birmingham photographer who set up a studio in Edgbaston and concentrated on photographing children.


Lady Disdain

“Lady Disdain”, so named by Marion Silverston, again an image from a lantern slide. I think that this must have caused quite a stir, with it’s black background and intriguing image..




A Goose Fair

The Goose Fair at Strettle. A small print, date unknown. This is intriguing for me because in the bottom right hand corner there is a small sign which states that “ This is a real photo”!

Nancy Storace and a Birmingham Musical Festival of 1791

Some years ago, while researching the history of St Paul’s Church in Birmingham, I was searching in the Birmingham Library Archives for documents about St Paul’s Church. In a Library list I came across “Birmingham Musical Festival. St Paul’s Chapel For defraying the expenses of a window for an altar piece in the said chapel ( Two programmes , Apr 27,28,1791) duo. 1791.” It turned out to be a small book which had bound in it two 8 page concert programmes and a small piece on the “Form of Consecration of St Paul’s Chapel”.

The concert programmes were a bit stained and, being in a hurry, I snapped them for later study. So it later emerged that one programme was for a concert on Wednesday April 27th 1791 to be held at St Paul’s Chapel, as the Church was then named, and was of sacred music, frontispiece Fig1, whereas the other programme was for a concert on Thursday 28th April 1791 at the Theatre and was “miscellaneous” music, frontispiece Fig 2.

Fig 1

Fig 2

In the programmes no times were given, no prices, just the words of the pieces to be sung and the names of the soloists. Among the soloists in both concerts was one Signora Storace. Intrigued by this name, I made enquiries and was informed that this was the professional name of Nancy Storace, an English soprano, whose main claim to fame seemed to be that she sang the role of Susanna at the first night of Mozart’s “ The Marriage of Figaro” in Vienna on 1st of May 1786”. What an achievement and yet later she had sung at St Paul’s Chapel. I could not understand it, but did not follow it up, until now.

In recent times her name has really been revived, firstly through the publication of Jane Glover’s “Mozart’s Women” and then in 2017 by the publication in France of Emmanuelle Pesque’s book “Nancy Storace–muse de Mozart et de Haydn” On February 4th 2018 Ex Cathedra, with the CBSO, held a concert in Symphony Hall, Birmingham, based on “Mozart’s Women” and it included a piece written by Mozart for Nancy Storace. As recently as March 7th Bampton Classical Opera held a concert at St John’s Smith Square in London on “Songs for Nancy”.

It was obviously time to revisit what we knew about Nancy and the 1791 Birmingham Musical Festival. It was in 1768 that the first big Musical Festival in Birmingham was held. A group of inhabitants got together to raise money to build a hospital. They decided to do so by holding a music festival. The basic pattern used for it was sacred music at St Philip’s Church in the mornings, and miscellaneous music at the Theatre in New Street in the evenings for a few days and possibly a Ball to conclude. It was a great success but oddly enough nothing much happened afterwards and, surprisingly, it was to be another ten years, in 1778, before something similar took place. At this time St Paul’s Chapel was being built, but raising funds was a problem, as it always had been. A small group of the trustees at St Paul’s decided to approach the Hospital trustees about organising together another festival, and sharing the proceeds. They agreed and it took place on September 2nd 3rd and 4th 1778. There was sacred music at St Philip’s Church in the mornings and miscellaneous music at the Theatre in the evenings, and again it proved to be a great success. It took another six years, apparently, to September 1784, before the Birmingham Triennial Musical Festivals are said to have got under way, raising funds for the Hospital. Although not a Triennial, and the proceeds not for the Hospital, I did expect to be able to latch on to this 179l festival. It was not to be. The only modern reference I can find about it is in Pesque’s book, where she lists every concert Nancy sang in. Under “Saison 1790-1791” there is:-

Birmingham, chapelle St Paul 30/03/1791, 31/03, concert mus. sacree (Mrs Second, Saville)

Birmingham T 30/03/1791, 31/03, concert (Mrs Second, Saville)”

The two names are known and they were probably the only other professional singers. Emmanuelle Pesque has confirmed that the dates shown here are incorrect and that the April dates stand.

I had found that some key parts of the story were covered by J A Langford in his book “A Century of Birmingham Life or A Chronicle of Local Events” published in 1870 and they will be used here.The story really starts in 1785 when the records show that St Paul’s Vestry announced on March 9th that they were commissioning an “Altar-Piece consisting of a Window of Stained Glass to be executed by Mr Francis Eginton from a design by Mr B West on the Subject of the Conversion of St Paul” They also “Resolved that Mr F Eginton be requested to procure the Assistance of Mr Wyatt to inspect the Architecture of the said Altar-piece”. And finally they “Resolved that a Subscription be entered into and forwarded to raise the Money to defray the necessary Expences…”. At this point St Paul’s Chapel would have had a simple wooden altar, with probably only a Crucifix on it, and a large window of plain glass behind it. Inside this window a new window was to be built, as an Altar-Piece. Furthermore, Eginton would not be using conventional coloured glass, but painted glass, that is painting on glass and then firing it to produce a type of adherent enamel, the best way to reproduce a painting. They were to use the Venetian style, a main window and a smaller one each side. It is little wonder that Mr Wyatt, a leading architect of Birmingham, was to be consulted on this new structure. It should be mentioned here that externally the chapel looked very different from now, it was without a steeple. It was to be 1823 before a steeple was built.

Benjamin West painted his designs for three windows on the subject “The Conversion of St Paul” and over a period sent them to Francis Eginton who copied them for his work and returned them to West. St Paul’s Chapel did not buy the paintings but rented them at a cost that has been thought to be 80 Guineas. I cannot find any quotation by Eginton.

According to Langford an announcement was made by St Paul’s Committee on January 10 1791, almost six years after their decision to proceed, that said…” we have pleasure in announcing to the public the completion of that masterly performance of a window in stained Glass, intended for the altar-piece of St Paul’s chapel, in this town, designed by B. West, Esq., and executed by Mr Francis Eginton, for the sum of 400 Guineas; a consideration by no means adequate to its value…….A subscription was commenced four years ago and about the sum of 250 Guineas was then subscribed. Further subscriptions will be solicited …”

On March 28th1791 there followed another announcement…..” It is with great pleasure we can now with certainty announce to the patrons of the Arts, and to the public in general, that the much admired window of stained glass, representing the Conversion of St Paul (executed by Mr. Francis Egginton,of Handsworth, near this place) and intended for St Paul’s Chapel, will be opened in the ensuing Easter Week, on which occasion select pieces of sacred music will be performed on Wednesday and Thursday mornings. It is also in contemplation to have two Grand Miscellaneous Concerts at the Theatre in the evenings of the same days, and we are authorised to say that the committee, appointed to conduct this musical celebrity, are determined to spare neither pains nor expense to render it highly acceptable to the public. Amongst other principal vocal performers already engaged, are Signora Storace, Mrs Second and Mr Saville;……………..An organ, made by one of the most eminent builders, for the use of St Paul’s Chapel, will likewise be opened on the above festivalIt almost begins to read like a festival to celebrate the window rather than to raise funds for it.

Just a few weeks ago in Birmingham Archives I discovered what can best be described as an advertisement for the Festival in the weekly “Aris’s Birmingham Gazette” ( Issue No.2581 of Saturday April 23rd ) this date being just four days before the event was due to start. It is shown in Fig 3.

Fig 3 (Original)

thumbnail of Fig3

Fig 3 – A Typed Version

There is the full programme for a concert at St Paul’s Chapel on the Wednesday morning in Easter week, including some detail on Signora Storace’s participation, and apart from some small changes in order it is the same as in the concert programmes we had found earlier. It was Handel’s Messiah at St Paul’s Chapel on the Thursday morning. (The Messiah was a favourite for performances at St Phillip’s Church for other Musical Festivals.) For the two evening concerts there are no details other than a comment that Signora Storace “…will introduce some of the most favourite Songs, for which she has received such universal applause at the Concert of Ancient Music and at the Theatre Royal Covent Garden” Note that at the bottom of the advertisement it was stated that a rehearsal was to start that evening at the Chapel. All a bit difficult if you did not read the weekly paper until the Sunday.

The songs Nancy sang in the two programmes we already had, have been brought together in Fig 4 and it is worthwhile elaborating on two songs at the Theatre. One is from “The Haunted Tower” and the other from “No Song No Supper”.

thumbnail of Fig4

Fig 4 – A Typed Version

As mentioned above Nancy had received “universal applause” at concerts. Emmanuelle Pesque has described her as a “very huge star—an instant hit with London audiences when she sang in the King’s Theatre, at the Handel Commemoration Concerts at Westminster Abbey and in the very exclusive ‘Concerts of Ancient Music’, concerts, oratorios, festivals etc.” Nancy’s brother Stephen was a composer and in 1789 he wrote the music for a Comic Opera at Drury Lane entitled “The Haunted Tower”. Nancy was hired by Drury Lane at £10/night and played one of the main roles. It was a Box Office sensation selling out for a total of 50 nights. This was followed by another Box Office sensation, the Comic Opera “No Song No Supper”. Birmingham really was getting the star singer of the day singing the star songs of the day!

Going back to the Festival which took place Langford now writes:-

Everyone will regret to learn that this event was unsuccessful. In May this notice appeared

The painted window in St Paul’s Chapel may be seen at any Time by applying to Mr Cobbe, the clerk, near the sign of the Britannia St Paul’s-square.

As the late Musical Performances, intended to defray the Expenses incurred by this Undertaking, were unproductive, it is hoped that those Gentlemen who are desirous of encouraging the Arts and patronizing Merit will generously come forward, unsolicited, and leave their Subscriptions with the Printers; there being at this time more than 200 Guineas wanted to complete the Committee’s engagement with the Artist and to defray the other unavoidable Expences”

That must have been a shock. I have not seen any information on the finances of the festival nor on how the problem was settled. My view is that raising money for a Chapel’s debt is not exactly an attractive cause and such short notice of the Festival programme cannot have helped. The Birmingham Riots were just three months away in July, but there is no evidence of troubles beforehand that might have affected the size of the audiences.

Emmanuelle Pesque’s own translation of what she wrote on p198 of her book includes “Amidst this alternation of opera productions in Drury Lane, the singer had many opportunities to appear in concerts. During Easter week, she even found time to go support a charity concert in Birmingham, to the benefit of a new stained-glass window for the St Paul Chapel.” So it being Easter week, was there a special reason for her participation in this festival? In the description of the joint 1778 Festival for the Hospital and St Paul’s, among the “Principal Instrument Performers” was the name Storacci. He was Nancy’s brother, a Double Bass player regarded as “the first performer of his time” on this instrument. Was it because of this that Nancy came to Birmingham? Whatever the reason it remains that father played in a festival to help, in part, the building of St Paul’s Chapel and daughter sang in a festival hoping to help pay for the new window in St Paul’s Chapel.

During the research for more information on this event a number of interesting connections were found. The artists involved in the window project were Benjamin West and Francis Eginton. While I was writing an article on the window for this web site I became quite interested in West and his works. I was quite taken with the comments by Ronald Russell in his book “Discovering Antique Prints” to the effect “ West was a prolific painter but a better businessman, aware that his work could only benefit from being engraved and that encouraging and working with the engravers was good policy” I think it highly likely that West was quite concerned about the situation Eginton was in. One of West’s engravers had been one John Hall some years earlier. Hall became a very significant figure in the Society of Artists and in reading about him it transpired that he was a godfather of Nancy and Stephen Storace. The Hall and Storace families would have known each other very well. So could there have been a West—Hall—Storace link that persuaded Nancy to take the offer?

From the point of view of St Paul’s Church there is one final twist to all this. John Hall had two daughters and a son. They were Julia, Mary, and George. George became Master of Pembroke, Oxford in 1809. Mary married Stephen Storace. Stephen died in 1796, aged 34. In 1801 Mary married again, a Revd John Kennedy, a curate near Leicester, and a cousin of the Revd Rann Kennedy Then Julia married the Revd Rann Kennedy in Birmingham in 1803. A very learned man, from 1797 he had been a curate at St Paul’s Chapel and in 1807 became in addition the Second Master at King Edward’s School. In 1817 he became the incumbent at St Paul’s Chapel, a position he held until 1847.

The Storace/Hall link has been explained, but what about Hall/Kennedy. George Hall was born in 1770 and went to Oxford. Rann Kennedy was born in 1772 and went to Cambridge. After graduating they both took Holy Orders. Did they overlap and meet? Is this the missing link?

Nancy retired in 1808 and died in 1817. One obituary of Nancy states”She died a rich woman having contributed greatly to the art of singing in Comic Opera and having been well rewarded in the process.”

So if you find yourself in St Paul’s Church, and not many people do these days, just stand in front of the West/Eginton Window on the Conversion of St Paul and say to yourself:


Footnote:- I am very grateful to Margaret Richards for help with this research.

Figures 1, 2, and 3 are Reproduced by permission of the Library of Birmingham.

I am very grateful to Emmanuelle Pesque for her observations on my original article. Thanks to her comments this is a new version, a more accurate account of that occasion in 1791.

Photographing Light

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Photographing Light

Examples of different techniques for photographing light.


Sir George Pollock, the distinguished photographer, has a website with many different types of abstract photograph and all grouped under the heading “Photographing Light”.

One of his early types was the Vitrograph, an abstract colour photograph using coloured light shone through rough pieces of glass. I was really impressed by them, to the extent that I bought one, entitled “Nebula”, an act which seriously stretched my pocket.
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Francis Eginton’s Window at St Paul’s Church Birmingham

Under an Act of Parliament of 1772 two new chapels, and their chapelyards, were to be built in Birmingham. The first one, St Mary’s, was consecrated in 1774 but there were then real problems in raising the money for the second, St Paul’s Chapel. After omitting a spire on the way St Paul’s was consecrated on June 2nd 1779 with only the bare essentials, and almost certainly no stained glass. It was to take another 6 years, 1785, for a proposal for a stained glass window to be raised. The Vestry Minute Book for March 9th 1785 records:-

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The Thomas Underwood Gallery

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The Thomas Underwood Gallery

Selected reproductions from Thomas Underwood's "The Buildings of Birmingham Past and Present Sketched and Described” Published in 1866 and 1869.

Birmingham Buildings Past and Present – The Thomas Underwood Gallery

The Origin of the Thomas Underwood Gallery

A selection of Thomas Underwood sketches of scenes around New Street and the High Street.


In my research into the history of St Paul’s Church in Birmingham, one of the most useful documents was Henry Kempson’s Notebook. Henry was a surveyor who often worked with George Holloway, Charles Colmore’s agent, on the leasing of Colmore land. Continue reading

Birmingham Buildings Past and Present – The Thomas Underwood Gallery – Part 2

The remaining sketches.


Ten Inns and the first Hotel in Birmingham.

The first selection of Thomas Underwood sketches for the gallery consisted of scenes around New Street and the High Street. This second selection includes the ten remaining Inns in the collection and another Hotel, the first Hotel in Birmingham.


Shops from around Birmingham.

In addition to the shops in the New Street and High Street section the the Thomas Underwood collection also has the shops shown here. The range of goods goes from buttons and shirts to tripe, vinegar, coffee and peppers and to hats and coats with one unidentifiable product. Then there are some houses with adverts that make it look like one large billboard.

This group includes the well known print of “The North prospect of St Philips” and a rather unusual perspective of Pinfold Street. It was a narrow street, as some maps indicate, but appears here as a wide open space. The top half of prints No7 and No 8 represented the houses as they stood in 1865, and were threatened with demolition, and the bottom half the buildings in the street that were demolished for the railway developments. The particular attraction of print No 4 is the name of the carrier!

Remaining Sketches

The remainder of the sketches from the Thomas Underwood Gallery.

Two of the Sketches, the South West Prospect and the East Prospect of Birmingham, are too big for my scanner, so I have limited both of them to the middle part of the Sketch.

Birmingham – A poem by Harry Howells Horton 1851

Tucked away in a box of old books, it looked just like a modern notebook, size 16cm x 10 cm, a black cover, thin, but then I realised it was a book. I was amazed to read the title page, Fig 1. A poem about Birmingham? Yes, in two parts, in rhyming couplets, a total of 100 pages, dated 1851, and written by Harry Howells Horton, dedicated to William Scholefield M.P., Fig2. There is a note in the preface which states “The Author had prepared a brief historical sketch of the town, which he intended to have introduced here, but he finds there will not be room-at least in this edition.” A search for this book reveals that there was a second edition, with an appendix, dated 1853. Copies of this edition appear to be readily available, but not the first, 1851, edition. It is beginning to look as though this is a first edition and that it might be relatively rare! Continue reading