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Birmingham Museums Trust shines a spotlight on Birmingham manufacturers

Étagère, or what-not, by F & C Osler, bought for the Palace of Mysore, India, 1880sHistoric and iconic items from Birmingham manufacturers, including Cadbury’s, Boulton & Watt and Austin Motors, will be the focus of a new Birmingham Museums Trust project, which will explore the city’s rich manufacturing heritage, following over £87,000 worth of funding from Arts Council England.

The ‘Birmingham Manufactures’ project will identify items in the Birmingham Museums Trust collection that relate to known Birmingham manufacturers and their products, with the oldest objects dating back to the 17th Century.

Birmingham achieved global significance through its leading role in the birth of the Industrial Revolution and the dominance of its products in international trade saw the city recognised as the workshop of the world.

Funded by the Arts Council’s Designation scheme, the investment will be used to recognise this priceless collection of objects and create an easily accessible electronic record of them all. This will be a fully searchable internal database with images of all objects.

Panel by Elkington & Co, displayed at the factory, 1850-1900As the database develops, the aim is to continue to build the knowledge of Birmingham’s historical manufacturers and how they influenced the growth of the city – and to encourage more academic research into the topic.

Running until March 2018, the project will launch in October and create
two new jobs, a research assistant and a documentation assistant based at Museum Collections Centre in Nechells, which holds 80 per cent of Birmingham Museums’ stored collections.

The investment from Arts Council England is part of its Designation Development Fund which recognises the importance of excellent collections and provides funding for projects that ensure their long-term sustainability and maximise their public value.

The Items included showcase the vast breadth of Birmingham manufacturing sector including the Mini Minor, Smethwick engine made by Boulton & Watt, a first world war Lewis machine gun made by BSA, decorative glass exported to India in the 19th century made by F & C Osler, and iconic Bird’s custard.

Tin of Birds Egg PowderPeter Knott, Area Director, Arts Council England, said: “Our Designation Development Funding is about making the most of England’s important museum collections, which is why we’re delighted to be investing in Birmingham Museums Trust’s latest plans. Birmingham’s rich industrial history is woven into our nation’s cultural fabric with many familiar household names created and produced in the city. It will be great to see our funding making these historical collections more widely available for people to enjoy today and in the future.”

Jo-Ann Curtis, History Curator at Birmingham Museums Trust, said: “Manufacturing is at the heart of Birmingham’s heritage as it became an industrial powerhouse in the 18th Century, gaining a worldwide reputation. The items in our collection give a great sense of how manufacturers have influenced and shaped the city, and this funding will help to ensure key information about these companies is preserved and becomes more easily accessible for generations to come.
“We are very grateful to Arts Council England for supporting us to bring this project to life and helping us to keep Birmingham’s manufacturing history alive.”

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