Welcome to the Brummagem website. Why Brummagem? Well we Brummies take our name from the dialect word Brummagem. That’s why we are Brummies and not Birmies after Birmingham – and there is more on that elsewhere in the Brummagem. The Name section on this website. In itself the website has arisen from Carl Chinn’s Brummagem Magazine, which was started in 2001 to give an opportunity for Brummies to share their memories and photos of their lives and those of their folk with others.
Throughout my career as Community Historian in the School of History at the University of Birmingham and my other work in the community, my overarching aim has been to push across the belief that each and every person has made their mark upon history and that each and every person has a story to tell – not only about themselves but also about their people who came before them.
I believe passionately that history must be democratised and that the lives of supposedly ‘ordinary’ people matter because the people themselves matter. To these ends my work has focused upon those who too often have been excluded from or marginalised by formal history: the working class, especially the poor; women; and ethnic minorities.
Crucially I feel that people should tell their own stories and not have them mediated through the words of others. Those stories can be told in many ways – whether it be in letters, poems, life stories, creative writing, photographs, paintings, drawings, recordings or videos. I also believe that local, community and family history has a two-fold social purpose in modern society. First, through an awareness of our own past and that of others we can bring people together, recognising the commonality of human experiences through our own lives and stories and those of others who may appear to be different to us. Second, an understanding of the past can provide a vital bond of continuity for young people living in a perpetually changing world, giving them a sense of place and belonging and an appreciation of the fact that the rights we now enjoy were gained through the hardships of those that came before.
For many years now I have been fortunate to receive letters and photos from Brummies across the world. They are gathered now in the BirminghamLives Archive, which contains over 40,000 letters, hundreds of life stories, thousands of interviews, cine film, thousands of photos and a wealth of memorabilia. Together they make up probably the biggest collection of working-class life history for any one place in the world. At present I am in discussions with Birmingham Archives and heritage about handing over this priceless collection to the City - so long as it is made accessible.
I am passionate about Birmingham, its people and its history and my passion wells up from my background. The Chinns have lived in Birmingham since the 1790s and I now live less than half a mile from where my great, great, great grandfather, Henry, farmed in Kings Heath in the 1840s. Henry’s grandchildren were forced by poverty to move to Sparkbrook, where the Chinns lived for almost 100 years and became well known as illegal bookmakers. However I can trace my father’s family back directly to Rowington in 1619, although Chinns are mentioned in the Forest of Arden as far back as the twelfth century.
My paternal grandmother’s family, the Derricks, came to Bilston and Wolverhampton from Ireland in the 1820s and experienced severe hardships. Many were raised or died in various workhouses before also coming to Sparkbrook. My mom’s family, the Perrys, originated from the Top Church area of Dudley but came to Birmingham for work in the mid nineteenth century. They settled in Highgate, where they also lived for around 100 years. My maternal grandmother, Lil, was a Wood. She was one of a large family in Aston that also had it tough in back-to-back and industrial Birmingham, and her mother also came from Ireland whilst her father came from Tewkesbury.
Each month this website will feature excerpts from the latest Brummagem Magazine but also it will include other sections that I hope you will enjoy and find interesting. The Streets of Brum relates to five deeply researched books looking at the origins of many of Birmingham’s street names and bringing to the fore the people associated with them. Together they comprise over a quarter of a million words and 100s of photos. There is an extended article on this topic and each month there will be a Street of the Month.
The Brum and Brummies section refers to four evocative books highlighting the life in the old end, Brummies who have made a positive impact on the lives of their fellow Brummies, the industries of Birmingham, and the sights, sounds and smells of the city. There is also a section on my family and you will be able to find details about how to purchase the Brummagem Magazine as well as my books – if you so wish. So enjoy the website and feel free to send in your memories or photos for inclusion in the Brummagem.