Constance Naden - Birmingham's 'most gifted daughter'

Online talk given on 20th August 2020, recorded from Zoom.

When Constance Naden died in 1889, at the age of 31, a friend wrote of 'the sudden and unexpected blow' depriving 'the world of a fine and original thinker, Birmingham of its most gifted daughter, [and] progressive Science of a most distinguished worker'. This talk will introduce the life and works of Naden, a fascinating but little-known poet, philosopher and scientist who was born in Edgbaston and buried in Key Hill Cemetery.

Dr Clare Stainthorp is a researcher and writer interested in nineteenth-century poetry, the history of atheism, and the intersections of literature and science. Her first book, Constance Naden: Scientist, Philosopher, Poet, was published in 2019. She received her PhD from the University of Birmingham and now works at University College London. In January, Clare will be starting a Leverhulme Early Career fellowship at Queen Mary, University of London, where she will be researching the nineteenth-century athiest and secular movement for her next book.

Pet Cemetery - Loving and Losing Animals, 1880-1948

Zoom recording of talk given by Prof Julie-Marie Strange on 23rd September 2020

The commercial pet cemetery was established in the UK by the mid 1880s. Like scale models of municipal burial grounds, pet cemeteries borrowed heavily from long established mourning practices for humans. But if cemeteries for humans evoked reverence and respect, social commentary on the pet cemetery treated it as a sentimental space, an indulgence of mawkish and excessive feeling. This lecture explores why the pet cemetery, and by extension, pet bereavement were treated with disdain and considers how owners of pet graves sought to use the pet cemetery to create an emotional community for the pet bereaved.

Julie-Marie Strange moved to Durham University as Professor of Modern British History in October 2019. Her first book explored Death, Grief and Poverty, 1870-1914 (CUP 2015), a pitch for understanding working-class and marginalised people’s responses to bereavement as complex, nuanced and profound. Her second monograph, Fatherhood and the British Working Class, 1865-1914 (CUP 2015) considered what it meant to be and have a working-class dad in Victorian and Edwardian Britain. Collaborative books include The Charity Market: Humanitarianism in Britain, 18701-1912 (Bloomsbury, 2018) with Sarah Roddy and The Invention of the Modern Dog: Breed and Blood in Victorian Britain (Johns Hopkins, 2018) with Michael Worboys and Neil Pemberton. Her new co-authored book with Jane Hamlett, ‘Pets: A History’ will be out in the next 18 months. Julie-Marie’s new solo project is ‘Love in the Time of Capitalism: Emotion and the Making of the Working Class, 1848-1914’ begins in October 2020.

Link to Goodnight, Friend:

Blue Cross Bereavement Support Services

0800 096 6066

Their Name Liveth For Evermore

Recorded from Zoom online talk given on 22nd October 2020.

Sarah Moody talks about the work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission who work across the  globe to ensure that the 1.7 million men and women from the Commonwealth who lost their lives in the two World Wars are not forgotten. Find out more about the history, the work of the Commission and stories of those they commemorate. Key Hill and Warstone Lane Cemeteries both have War Memorials, plus a number of war graves so this is a topic which is very important to the project. There were some technical issues at the beginning of this talk, so it has been edited slightly to address these in the recording.

Victorian Do-Gooders

Online talk from December 2020 with chair Doug Wilks and vice-chair Louise Deakin from Jewellery Quarter Research Trust, discussing how George Dawson and his associates changed Birmingham for the better and how this influenced social reform on a national scale.

The Jewellery Quarter Research Trust have been working with the Everything to Everybody project, looking at the role of George Dawson in the creation of the Shakespeare Memorial Library and the impact of this resource on the cultural life of the city.

Victorian Do-gooders videos from JQRT can all be found here:

Everything to Everybody project:

Traditions of Death and Burial

Zoom recording of a talk given by Dr Helen Frisby on 28th January 2021.

Death has been a source of grief and uncertainty for humanity throughout history, but it has also inspired a plethora of fascinating traditions. The covering of mirrors to prevent the departed spirit from seeing itself; the passing bell rung to assist the soul to heaven; the 'sin eater' who by eating and drinking absorbed the corpse's sins – all of these were common approaches at one time or another. Taking evidence from history, archaeology and folklore, this talk explores English approaches to death and burial from the Norman conquest to the present day: ancient customs which have long since lapsed, others which have survived relatively unchanged, and new approaches such as eco-burials – and of course the impact of Covid-19 upon our way of dying. Weaving their way through ten centuries of funerary customs, we’ll see again and again the threads of affection and duty which tether the living to the dead, and oblige us to acknowledge our own mortality.

Helen Frisby obtained her PhD on Victorian funeral customs from the University of Leeds in 2009. She’s appeared on the History Channel and BBC Radio, and is the author of Traditions of Death and Burial (Bloomsbury: 2019) upon which this talk is based. Helen’s most recent research, conducted through the University of Bristol with Dr Stuart Prior, investigates the informal occupational culture of frontline cemetery staff. Helen is Secretary of the Association for the Study of Death & Society (ASDS) and a Council Member of the Folklore Society.

Key Hill House: James Watt's 1st Birmingham Home

Online talk given on 4th May 2021, recorded from Zoom.

Key Hill sits on the edge of what remained in the latter part of the 18th century of Birmingham Heath. Its history reflects the history of the heath and of the growing town of Birmingham. Its natural geology has played an important role in its development first by the Guardians of the Poor and then as the General Cemetery. Key Hill House was the first Birmingham home that the Scottish engineer James Watt returned to from Scotland with his young son, James junior. Though the Watts leased the house for only six months it stood for a further 120 years and the subsequent tenants and owners reflect the industrial development of the area and as such are no less interesting.

When George Demidowicz, who has published extensively on the historical geography and archaeology of Birmingham and the West Midlands, and John Townley, an independent researcher with an interest in steam power, realised that they were both researching the same building, Harper’s Hill House, they decided to pool their efforts. What has subsequently emerged is a history of all three of James Watt's Birmingham homes: Key Hill House, New Hall and Harper's Hill House, the homes that he lived in for fifteen years before his final move out the town of Birmingham to Heathfield, in Handsworth.

NB: This talk states that the original document which lead JQRT to believe Key Hill House had been rented to James Watt was from the Soho Archives. JQRT sourced this document via the research papers of Robert Glover, a direct descendant of Joshua Glover. This document along with other Archives from Soho are now held by Library of Birmingham Archives (this document is ref no. MS 3782/12/110/3).

An Island of Peace Among the City Noise

Online talk given on 17th June 2020 for Centre for West Midlands History. Recorded from zoom.

'An Island of Peace Among the City Noise'; the role of the cemetery in Victorian and contemporary Birmingham. A talk by Josie Wall, Activities Programme Manager, Jewellery Quarter Cemeteries Project; doctoral researcher, University of Birmingham.

Birmingham in the 19th century was a place of rapid change. Industrialisation, changing attitudes to death and pursuit of religious freedom influenced the development of new burial landscapes. These beautiful park-like spaces were places for grief and comfort but also for education and leisure. Can we ensure that they continue to fulfil these roles today?

George Shaw - Photographic Pioneer

Online talk given on 21st July 2021, recorded from Zoom.

George Shaw was one of Birmingham's first photographers, and was laid to rest in Key Hill Cemetery. He was a key member of the emerging professional classes in Victorian Birmingham with a wide ranging network which encompassed his work as a patent agent, chemistry professor and his involvement in the arts. In this talk, artist Jo Gane will discuss Shaw's life and work, alongside presenting new photographs she has made which expound upon his story.

Harold Mytum - Burial Ground Memorials, an Under Appreciated Heritage

This talk was recorded live in Birmingham, November 2021, in partnership with Caring for God’s Acre.

Harold Mytum, Professor of Archaeology at University of Liverpool. Harold is a leading expert on the study of graveyard memorials and author of several books and numerous papers.

Josie Wall - From Churchyard to Cemetery, Burials in Birmingham 18th to 20th Century

Recorded live in Birmingham, November 2021, in partnership with Caring for God’s Acre.

Josie Wall is the Activities Programme Manager for the Jewellery Quarter Cemeteries Project and a PhD student at the University of Birmingham. Her thesis is looking at the development of cemetery landscapes and changing monument styles 1800-1914. Josie has worked in Birmingham’s heritage sector since 2014, including 3 years at the Coffin Works Museum.

Colin Fenn - To list or not to list?

Recorded live in Birmingham, November 2021, in partnership with Caring for God’s Acre.

Colin Fenn, Vice chairman of the National Federation of Cemetery Friends opening the discussion around protecting memorials and the role which Historic England listings can play.

Jewellery Quarter Cemeteries Project


This project is possible because of funding from: