An educational holiday destination

MS 466/41/box8a/26

Elizabeth Cadbury (standing, right) at the Beeches, December 1938 (MS 466/41/box8a/26)

While researching my last blog post about the work of the Religious Society of Friends in helping the unemployed in the 1930s, a search in our archives catalogue brought up several entries referring to the Beeches Educational Centre, Bournville and included the above photograph of Elizabeth Cadbury at the Beeches in December 1938. Knowing that today the Beeches is a hotel and conference centre, I was intrigued to learn more.

Originally owned by the Cadbury family, in the 1890s Elizabeth Cadbury set up the Beeches as a country holiday home for children living in the impoverished slum areas of industrial Birmingham, and it was later rebuilt in 1908. By the 1920s, the building was used as a girls day continuation school and from November 1933, with agreement from the trustees who included a number of Cadbury family members, it had become The Beeches Educational Centre for unemployed women, offering two week residential educational programmes.

A colleague suggested that Elizabeth Cadbury may well have written about the centre in one of the weekly letters she wrote to her large family recounting her activities and news.  So off I went to look in the numerous boxes of letters for one written in December 1938. Sure enough, on Tuesday 20 December 1938 Elizabeth wrote a letter (MS/466/438(1938))  in which she described the Beeches as follows:

The Beeches, as you will know, was lent by the Trustees to the Government for the purpose of the experiment of giving short intensive terms of teaching Handicraft, Social Civics, and Methods of running clubs, to Women, wives of Unemployed men, from the depressed areas. [….] An excellent local committee helps tremendously.

Other entries in our catalogue referred to a couple of volumes of Beeches committee minutes and press cuttings and a quick look through them told me that the committee was presided over by Prof. H. G. Wood, director of Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre and included Elizabeth Cadbury, Richard Clements, Midland Regional Officer of the National Council of Social Service, Sylvia Pearson, Miss Roberts, Miss Butcher and Mr W. H. Leighton among others.  The centre was funded from a combination of sources: the Trustees, subscriptions and donations, and a grant from the National Social Service Council. Attendance at the centre cost the women a few shillings per week.

Members of the Beeches Education Committee, with the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress at the opening of the new wing of the Beeches, June 1936 (MS 396/2 National Service Council Press cuttings, Birmingham Gazette, 11/6/1936)

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Occupational centres and land schemes: ‘…the great need of the moment’

MS 396-2 Newscuttings Bham Gazette 17-4-1935- Public school boys help unemployed

School boys help at the Friends’ Land Scheme for the Unemployed at Doe Bank, Barr Beacon (MS 396/2 National Council of Social Service Midlands Office Press Cuttings, Birmingham Gazette 17/4/1935)

One of the great curses of unemployment is the feeling of isolation which grows upon the victim. He feels that no one cares about him, and for the want of something to occupy his mind, he broods and imagines the whole world against him.

(MS 396/2 National Council of Social Service, Midlands Office press cuttings, The Value of Occupational Centres Evening Standard 22/11/1936)

So wrote an anonymous contributor in a letter to the Evening Standard on 22 November 1936, in which he expressed his gratitude to the Bank Officers Guild, the Society of Friends and other organisations involved in running a number of non-denominational, non-political occupational centres which had been established in Birmingham during the 1930s to help the unemployed. The grateful contributor, having been unemployed for five years, after a period of twenty years in employment, found his attendance at the Lench Street Occupational Centre removed his sense of isolation and enabled him to learn new skills, such as furniture making and boot mending.

During the inter-war years, unemployment in Birmingham, while not as high as in other parts of the country, had risen from 51, 361 in 1921 to 62, 000 in 1931 (Upton, C. 1993 A History of Birmingham, p.197). In 1932, the Unemployment Committee of Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends was becoming increasingly concerned, describing the situation as ‘very critical’ and ‘quite unprecedented in its extent and gravity’. Friends were particularly aware of the need to prevent the spread of a ‘growing sense of isolation and bitterness’ (SF/2/1/1/1/2/10 Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting Reports, Unemployment Committee report, March 1932). Having visited a number of allotment clubs, the Moor Green Lane Unemployment Allotment Scheme, and an Occupational Centre in Deritend, they were impressed by the positive effects such schemes had for the participants’ levels of morale and sense of hope.

WNMM minute book - minute 109A 12 July 1932 - unemployed - Moseley Road Northfield Coventry

SF/2/1/1/1/1/32 Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting minute book, 1932-1935, minute 109A, 12 July 1932

By July 1932, Friends’ premises at Moseley Road, Northfield and Coventry Meetings were already being used as occupational centres and there were plans for additional centres to be set up elsewhere. One of these was to be on the new housing estate at Perry Common. In September 1932, the Unemployment Committee reported that sections of the building were being constructed by members of the Moseley Road Institute Occupational Centre and then transported to Perry Common and assembled on the site by unemployed men from the area (SF/2/1/1/1/2/10 Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting reports, Unemployment Committee report, 21 September 1932).

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Cheerio, goodbye

Judy’s farewell cake offerings (@archivecake is a real thing!)

I didn’t really know where to start with this week’s article. It’s been a sad few weeks in Archives, Heritage and Photography as we have seen so many wonderful colleagues leave. It’s not just our department – the whole Library has been affected by the changes but we have certainly felt it keenly in AHP. I wanted to do them all justice on the blog, but then how could I when between them all they have decades of experience and knowledge that they have all been only too happy to share over the years.

I still hope to cajole former colleagues into sharing their reminiscences about their time in AHP but I don’t want to leave anyone out so think of this more as a roll of honour of our department, in celebration of everyone who has contributed to our wonderful service.

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It’s All A Big Hoot

Big Hoot at the Library of Birmingham

Big Hoot at the Library of Birmingham

Birmingham has been invaded by owls! Artistic owls of course. As part of the Big Hoot, 89 owl sculptures have appeared across the City, decorated with many different wonderful designs, each representing a unique theme.

The owls were created by artists for a project run by Wild in Art to bring local schools, businesses and artists together, and form a trail inspired by Birmingham’s culture and heritage. The owls will be perched in the City until 27th September, at which point they will be auctioned to raise money for Birmingham Children’s Hospital.

As part of Big Hoot’s Little Hoot, school children have been creating their own little owlets (120 in all) and you can discover where the owls have nested by downloading the trail leaflet from the Big Hoot website.

See if you can discover where these owls are at the Library of Birmingham

See if you can discover where these owls are at the Library of Birmingham

Despite the Harris Hawk, owls have even taken up residence in the Library of Birmingham. See if you can discover where!

An Angel for the Coffin Works?

Some time ago I went along with some colleagues to the Newman Brothers Coffin Fitting Works on Fleet street for a candlelit tour of the factory. The company itself ceased trading in 1998 after over 100 years on the Fleet Street site, which was built specifically as a manufactory in 1884. The tour was fantastic, and the candlelit ambience made it all the more atmospheric.

Plating shop at Newman Brothers before restoration

Plating shop at Newman Brothers before restoration

Courtyard before restoration

Courtyard before restoration

The tours were a way of raising money to fund the restoration of the Coffin Works which, after some uncertainty over its future, was purchased by Birmingham Conservation Trust in 2010 and from there the project really took off.

Thanks to a lot of hard work the Coffin Works was opened up to the public in October 2014. As a recognition of this hard work, they have been short-listed for the English Heritage Angel Awards for the Best Rescue of a Historic Industrial Building or Site category.

Bring it back for Brum - outside the Coffin Works

Bring it back for Brum – outside the Coffin Works

The Historic England Followers’ and Telegraph reader’s Favourite award is open to the public to decide who wins and this is where Birmingham Conservation Trust needs your help. To vote for the Coffin Works, please visit the Historic England website at and follow the link to place your vote.

This is another example of the passion Birmingham has for its heritage and how important the work of organisations such as Birmingham Conservation Trust is. So why not show your support and vote today!!

Nicola Crews

Something Old, Something New: Birmingham Images

Many of you may be aware of Digital Ladywood, Digital Handsworth and Digital Balsall Heath – three websites that provided images and resources relating to the history of their respective areas. As with any digital platform, however, the servers were in need of upgrading and it was an ideal opportunity to combine all three into Birmingham Images which is a really easy to use site bringing all these fabulous resources into a single place.

It is broadly the same as the old sites, being able to access resources via Theme Explorer which now has easy quick links for people, places, subjects and time periods. We found the Map Explorer function particularly fantastic, being able to overlay modern maps with Ordnance Survey maps from the 1900s and 1940s.

Birmingham Images: Theme Explorer subject areas

Birmingham Images: Theme Explorer subject areas

Although it is a stand alone site, the links to it can be found on The Iron Room (note the tab at the top of the page). Over the coming months, we hope to add more content to our blog site with guides to collections and sources available within our department. These new pages will also appear as tabs across the top of the page so watch this space. (Or rather the space above!)

The Suburban Birmingham website which was a fantastic resource for studying the history of Birmingham’s south-western suburbs has a new home on the Connecting Histories website, which has also undergone a smart upgrade.

Suburban Birmingham on Connecting Histories

Suburban Birmingham on Connecting Histories

Inevitably you might find the odd link that doesn’t work, but overall thank you to the man from the Council that worked hard to keep the sites going, I’m sure you’ll agree they are a fantastic resource which came out of a lot of hard work and collaboration.

More New Additions

Part of the Birmingham Collection, Level 4

The following items have recently been added to AHP’s bookstock collections.Items in the Birmingham collection or located on level 4 or level 3 are available on the open shelves without an appointment. Any items whose reference is prefixed L, LF or LP need to be requested from staff at the customer service desk on level 4.


1.Albutt, Roy.
Stained Glass Window Makers of Birmingham School of Art.
L 54.1 ALB.

2.Clancy, John.
The Secret Wealth Garden : Re-writing Local Government Pension Funds back into Regional Economies.
L 41.71CLA

3.Collins, Fran & Martin.
Bridging The Gap. US Army Rehabilitation Centres in Warwickshire & Worcestershire during World War II.
75.9 Birmingham Collection

4.Collins, Fran & Martin.
Return to Duty. An Account of Brickbarns Farm, Merebrook and Wood Farm U.S. Army Hospitals in Malvern, 1943 – 45.
L 98 MAL

5.Dixon, James.
Out of Birmingham : George Dixon (1820 – 98). ‘Father of Free Education’.
78.1 DIX Birmingham Collection

6.Evans, Karen.
A Grim Almanac of Birmingham.
42.021 EVA Birmingham Collection

7.Grupas, Aldona.
Lithuanian Community in the West Midlands After the Second World War (1947 – 2012).
21.85 GRU Birmingham Collection

8.Harriman, Bill.
Cavendo Tutus – Safety Through Care. A Short History of the Birmingham Gun Barrel Proof House, 1813 – 2013.
LP 65.56 HAR

9.(Ed.) Harrison, Michael.
Lander’s War: The War Diaries of Lt. Charles Herbery Lander, 10th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment.
75.7 LAN Birmingham Collection

10.High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill, Explanatory Notes.
LF 47.34

11.(Ed) Jaffa, Richard.
A Letter from Oggi : The Letters of Olga Franklin.
L 78.1 FRA

12.(Ed.) Jones, Brian.
People, Pens & Production in Birmingham’s Steel Pen Trade.
67.24 Birmingham Collection

13.Lambert, David.
Westbourne Road Leisure Gardens. Report on the Historic Landscape. Vols. 1 & 2.
LP 44.51 LAM

14.Limbrick, Gudrun.
Unlocked. Hidden stories of the lives of Birmingham women 1900 to the present day.
LP22.7 LIM

15.(Ed.) Lockett, Alexandra.
Pigeon Talk : Tales From The Fancy, Birmingham Pigeon Archive. (2013).
L 25.45

16.Mitchell, Elaine.
Duddeston’s Shady Walks & Arbours, Vauxhall Gardens, c 1745 – 1850.
LP 91.4 DUD

17.National Association of Decorative & Fine Arts Societies.
Record of church furnishings at St. Michael & All Angels, Cofton Hackett.
LF 14.44 STM

18.National Association of Decorative & Fine Arts Societies.
Record of church furnishings at St. Peter, Harborne.
LF 14.22 STP

19.Norton, Mark.
Birmingham New Street Station Through Time.
47.35 NOR Birmingham Collection

20.Powell – Read, Finella.
The Shocking Fate of the Street Musician’s Daughter : Being the Untold Story of Selina Powell, Madame Geneive (Female Blondin). (2014).
L 78.1 POW

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