Recently the RBSA has begun an exciting new project investigating the past of the Gallery it is based in at number 4 Brook Street. As a volunteer much of the research has involved a range of detailed sources including: archival deeds/documents, tithe maps, local history platforms and more. This research has been hugely beneficial in developing my skills. Furthermore, I have found the process very interesting and think that it has added more meaning to the building.
The Colmore Family
Through utilising local history websites, it became clear that during the 1500s onwards the noblest family in Birmingham, the Colmores, owned land covering the St Paul’s area and other parts of the City Centre. Originally French, they made their fortune in the clothes industry and gained further land when they aqcuired St Paul’s priory following the dissolution of monasteries by Henry VIII (1491 –1547) in 1536. Earlier ventures additionally included William Colmore’s (the younger) building of a mansion upon New Hall overseeing their surrounding land. It is speculated that the first building at 4 Brook Street was created after Ann Colmore was granted permission to develop their land through a private act of parliament during 1746. Thus the Colmores produced buildings to lease to others, expanding their endeavours into real estate.
Aston button manufacturing
Another process involved in researching the building was visiting the Birmingham City Archives in order to analyse primary documents concerning Brook Street. This was at times difficult due to archaic writing on certain deeds proving hard to interpret alongside false leads (another street in Ashted Row often featured). Yet it proved rewarding in providing first-hand writings about the building.
The most relevant source I discovered was an indenture by the Colmores detailing everyone who leased their property in 1872. According to their records since 1787, Samuel Aston (1754 – 1820) used the premise as a ‘manufacturer.’ The document omitted what in particular was produced, but as a starting point it proved useful in detailing one of the uses of the building and aided me in further enquiries. Indeed, by researching Samuel Aston further via family history websites a more detailed picture emerged.
Samuel Aston’s employment consisted of button production within the firm ‘Samuel and Thomas Aston of St Paul’s Square’ which was owned by him and his brother Thomas (1758-1810). After his death in 1820 this was continued by his sons William (1787 -1845), Thomas (1789 -1855), and John (1803 -1882). ‘William left’ in 1823 and ‘Thomas’ in 1833 respectively. This meant that John led the business successfully, especially after producing three-fold linen buttons from 1841. The business was continued  by his sons, Thomas and George – although more research is needed into the running of the business under their guidance. Again, these findings reiterate the importance of the gallery as it was once part of Birmingham’s famous button trade.
Sam Currier and Sons
Concerning more modern history, a breakthrough was made by responses to a social media post requesting public information concerning the building. Two respondents noted that between the 1950s and 1970s the building traded in the print industry as engravers under the name Sam Currier and Sons. This reinforces the significance of the RBSA’s location because it demonstrates how the building is part of public memory and has been involved in the centre of commerce for many years. By researching these oral testimonies further – via the Birmingham Daily Gazzette online archival resource – it was exciting to find that this business existed as ‘early as 1942’ . The business was eventually liquidated in 1984 in another location.
What else is needed?
There are many gaps within the time-span of information concerning the gallery so far. Hopefully this will change through further research of more resources. I have greatly enjoyed exploring the various archive materials and hope that another volunteer will be able to use my findings to continue this work.
By Charlie Lomas (Archive volunteer, 2017)
 W.Dargue, ‘The Newhall estate, Newhall Hill and city centre’, A history of Birmingham places & placenames from A to Y (2009), https://billdargue.jimdo.com/placenames-gazetteer-a-to-y/places-n/the-newhall-estate-city-centre/
 Library of Birmingham, Deeds relating to the property in Ludgate Hill and Water Lane Archives, Colmores, MS 93/15 – 36, Deeds/abstracts of title 10th July 1872
 Anon, ‘Businesses’, Birmingham Daily Gazette, 12th November 1942 found at British newspaper archive, ‘Archive’, Genes reunited (2014), http://www.genesreunited.co.za/searchbna/results?memberlastsubclass=none&searchhistorykey=0&keywords=paul%20brooke&county=west%20midlands%2C%20england&from=1900&to=1949
Anon, ‘Appointment of liquidators’, London Gazette 1984, found at https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/49962/page/17179/data.pdf
Anon, ‘Businesses’, Birmingham Daily Gazette, 12th November 1942 found at British newspaper archive, ‘Archive’, Genes reunited (2014), http://www.genesreunited.co.za/searchbna/results?memberlastsubclass=none&searchhistorykey=0&keywords=paul%20brooke&county=west%20midlands%2C%20england&from=1900&to=1949
Cardinal.J, ‘John Aston’, Meredith of Herefordshire (2012), http://winters-online.net/MerH/g1/p8.htm#i372
Cardinal.J, ‘Samuel Aston’, Meredith of Herefordshire (2012), http://winters-online.net/MerH/g1/p21.htm#i1022
Cardinal.J, ‘Thomas Aston’, Meredith of Herefordshire (2012), http://winters-online.net/MerH/g1/p21.htm#i1024
Cardinal.J , ‘William Aston’, Meredith of Herefordshire (2012), http://winters-online.net/MerH/g1/p21.htm#i1026
Dargue.W, ‘The Newhall estate, Newhall Hill and city centre’, A history of Birmingham places & placenames from A to Y (2009), https://billdargue.jimdo.com/placenames-gazetteer-a-to-y/places-n/the-newhall-estate-city-centre/
Foley.E, ‘RBSA gallery building’, Facebook (2016), https://www.facebook.com/groups/brumpictures/search/?query=rbsa
Zoffany.J, Bridgeman Art Gallery, The Colmore Family, (Undated), giclee, found in Art, ‘Group portrait of the Colmore Family’, http://www.art.co.uk/products/p14185281-sa-i2954769/johann-zoffany-group-portrait-of-the-colmore-family.htm