Last night I went to a fantastic show at Birmingham Town Hall…The Classic Rock Concert, showcasing all those classic rock songs from across the years. Admittedly my partner is slightly older than me and was probably around when they were first hits, but he would rather I didn’t mention this! So I was sitting there marveling at this fantastic building before the music started, it is an amazing space. The main hall is beautifully decorated and ornate whilst the exterior is impressive with its Roman influenced architecture. It was built back in 1834 and is quoted as being ‘believed to be the oldest surviving concert hall of its size in the world’. Here I am outside the Town Hall before going in to listen to rock classics ranging from AC/DC (I should have bought ear plugs!) to The Eagles.
I am constantly making connections where I can to the records that I’m finding in our wonderful archive collection and I knew that there was an old book presented in 1924 to the Birmingham and Warwickshire District Union, of the National British Women’s Temperance Association. It was presented to them from the National Executive Committee for their ‘admirable arrangements made in connection with our meetings in Birmingham 20-21 February’ 1924. 7000 free tickets were distributed for this event by the Association!
Apart from the date, the coincidence was also that this Public Temperance Meeting arranged by NBWTA literally 96 years ago to this day was also held in Birmingham Town Hall. So there I had been enjoying a fantastic evening of loud rock music and nearly 100 years ago the same hall was utilised for a temperance event very different from a rock concert!
There was music for sure, but it was the White Ribbon Choir singing, there were speakers who were passionate about the temperance cause and I am sure it would have been a vibrant occasion. We know from our records that the women involved worked tremendously hard to put these events together to promote their message about the benefits to society of abstaining from alcohol. A newspaper quote at the time about the temperance movement states, ‘they were not carrying on temperance propaganda simply to decrease the number of arrests for drunkenness; and the motor incidents…nor simply to increase their efficiency – but because they wanted to give every child a fair chance in life’.
Here is the programme for the event at the Town Hall –
An associated group photograph which includes the President of the NBWTA, Lady Cecilia Roberts sitting front centre –
Other private NBWTA meetings held on 20 and 21st February included ones held at the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists Gallery on New Street (no longer there) and Central Hall on Corporation Street. Here is a view of New Street showing the Portico of the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists on the right and the Town Hall in the distance (c1840).
I wish I could step back in time to experience that meeting back in 1924 as I can only imagine this through reading some of our records. There was obviously a bar open during the evening that I attended the Town Hall and I am happy to report that my experience was of an enjoyable evening, listening to some amazingly talented musicians and everyone was very well behaved. What I wonder would those hardworking women of the NBWTA, passionate about the temperance cause, have thought if they had been able to see a glimpse 96 years into the future, the loud music, the bar!?
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