Birmingham Heritage week is an exciting time in the calendar year for photographers. During this week, buildings open their doors allowing access to areas which are not normally open to the public. Each year in September, I scan the list of venues that are opening their doors to the public and have a look at what is available. The one that looked the most interesting this year was the “History Unboxed” open day at the Birmingham Museum Collection Centre. Several people had visited the collection centre before and their Instagram posts gave a brief insight into what you could see in the Centre. Reading the Birmingham Museum website, they state that 80% of their collection is housed in the Centre.
The Collection Centre is on an industrial site in Nechells Birmingham near to the railway line and the HS2 works. The warehouse is set away from the street and when I arrived, volunteers were on hand to direct visitors. I had walked to the centre from Snow Hill and was pleased that I did not bring my car as the on street parking was limited. At the entrance, there was a queue to enter the building as the event was proving to be very popular. Pre-booking was essential. Reached the welcome desk, a friendly face welcomed me. Steve aka “Mullerbiker” from the BritishTechNetwork, works at the Museum and he filled me in with what happens at the centre. All visitors were given a map showing the four areas of the museum. The first room is the main warehouse which is best described as an IKEA store for museums. There were rows upon rows of items on display. The low light proved tricky for photography but with my Fujifilm x100v set at f/2 and 125s, I was able to get good detailed pictures. My use of the manual focusing at this aperture is critical and most pictures turned out well. The colour balance required constant adjustment as I moved through different levels of light.
I could post countless pictures of different items that I viewed. All were fascinating. The subjects ranged from Roman busts, fairground figures, fish and chip fryers, Chopper bikes and early computers. The diverse nature of the exhibits does keep the attention and I have highlighted my favourite items. The collections centre has an adjacent room that houses several cars and jet engines and other machinery. All of them have a connection to Birmingham.
I enjoyed seeing the Queen Victoria statues that were once part of a re-imagining of the Queen Victoria Statue by Guyanese-British artist Hew Locke. The five statues of Queen Victoria joined with the original statue on a boat were displayed in Victoria square during the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games Festival. The artist has donated the 5 mini statues to Birmingham Museum.
After looking through the main halls, there was a “meet the experts” room and the small objects collection hall. The former had table demonstrations and I was captured by their photographer talking about interesting items. The small objects collection held smaller items which were housed in rows of caged lockers. Behind the door of each locker there were items that once again were so varied that I can only begin to cover what was present. There were Cadbury’s chocolate bars from a closed down shop, old cameras, shoes, clothes, lamps and much more.
Returning to the main hall, I had another look at some of the items that I had missed. The picture of a dental chair is put after the picture of sweets as the dentist will have done a lot of work with patients who had eaten all those Fruit and Nut bars.
The Sir Henry Moor statue looked incongruous. The figure was displayed on its back and was missing a foot. Then again, there was something different seeing the statue displayed in this manner. There are many more pictures and these are as random as I found them in the museum. All with a wonderful history and also each providing a story to the City of Birmingham.
My final two objects are particularly interesting to me. The first is the statue of “Forward together” which was in Centenary Square and suffered an arsonist attack by a member of the public. I remember visiting the square not long after it was finished and viewing this artwork. The second is detail from the head armour of Ozzy the Bull from the Commonwealth Games in 2022. The armour was removed by women chain makers as a symbol of freeing themselves from enslavement. Written on the armour were words of enslavement. The head armour also contains the names of the 21 people killed when bombs were detonated in Birmingham pubs in 1974.
My reflections on my visit to the Collections Centre is that there was just too much to take in. The place is an excellent venue and will require several visits as it is so difficult to view all the items that are on view in one session. I just have to go back again!