Birmingham City Council

Early Printing Collection: Parish Libraries

Important Update July 2011 - At the present time access to this collection is closed to allow for preparation of stock in readiness for the move to the new Library of Birmingham in 2013. Find out more about the changes in Central Library

Early and Fine Printing Collection,
Early Printing:Collection and Parish Libraries
Fine Printing:Presses and Illustrated and Miniature Books and Two Birmingham Printers

The early printing collections also contain two local parish libraries of the seventeenth century, that of Thomas Hall of King Norton (1610 - 1665) and Thomas Bray, Rector of Sheldon (1656 1730).

Kings Norton Grammer School

Thomas Hall

Thomas Hall first taught at the Grammar School at King Norton (pictured left), where he so raised the standards as to attract students from all over England. He was appointed curate in 1640, but became a Presbyterian during the Commonwealth period. An implacable Puritan, he refused to conform to the Act of Uniformity in 1662, and so was ejected from his living.

In his will Hall left the best of his books to the ibrary at Birmingham possibly that of King Edward School. The rest of the books were to remain in King Norton parish for the use of the minister and schoolmaster. There they stayed, in cupboards in the old Grammar School building in the churchyard, until in 1892 they were deposited in the Birmingham Reference Library.

The Thomas Hall Library contains about 1140 volumes, mainly seventeenth century theological works of a surprisingly wide range of persuasions, and some rare foreign treatises. There are some incunabula, including a rare copy of De tribus puellis, attributed to Ovid, and printed by Cornelius de Zierikzee in Cologne about 1500, and some interesting original bindings, including one bearing a panel with the Tudor rose and royal arms, together with the trademark of John Reynes, stationer, who bound books for Henry VIII.

BBC Restoration

The Old Grammar School and the medieval house known as the Saracen's Head were the winners of the BBC2Restoration series in 2004. Twenty-one properties competed, including three for the Midlands heat, the others being Newstead Abbey, Ravenstead, home of Lord Byron and Bawdsey Radar Station at Felixstowe. For more details, please see the BBC Restoration Series 2 website.

Thomas Bray

Thomas Bray


Thomas Bray, Rector of Sheldon from 1690 to his death in 1730, is best known for his successful schemes to provide parochial libraries throughout England and Wales and in the mission field, notably in North America. His work developed into the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. In his Essay towards promoting all necessary and useful knowledge (1697) and Bibliotheca Parochialis (1707) he gives instructions for the setting up of parish libraries and details what they should contain.

Bray bequeathed his own library or the use of the Rector of Sheldon forever and it is this which is now deposited here. It contains about 370 items, a few of which were acquired after Dr Bray death, and some still bear the library distinctive ownership stamp. The books are predominately theological in subject matter, but varied in standpoint.

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