Charlie Lomas has been investigating the past of the RBSA Gallery building at Number 4 Brook Street, in his role as Archive Volunteer…
Research involved a range of detailed sources including archival deeds and documents, tithe maps, and local history platforms.
“This has been hugely beneficial in developing my skills. Furthermore, I have found the process very interesting – it has added more meaning to the building.”
The Colmore Family
During the 1500s the Colmores, one of the noblest family in Birmingham, 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 acquired St Paul’s Priory following the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in 1536.
Early ventures included William Colmore’s building of New Hall. 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
I visited the Birmingham City Archives to analyse primary documents concerning Brook Street. This was at times difficult: archaic writing on certain deeds proved hard to interpret and there were 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 family firm ‘Samuel and Thomas Aston of St Paul’s Square’ which was owned by Samuel 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).
The business was continued  by his sons, Thomas and George.
These findings underline the importance of the gallery as 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 on the gallery 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 Gazette 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. 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