‘A Union of Adult Schools in the Midland Counties’

William White (at the podium) and Class I Severn Street Men’s Adult School (MS 703 2/2)

On the evening of 14th February 1884, Alderman William White of Birmingham and John Blackham, of Hill Top, West Bromwich, welcomed representatives of the Adult Schools in Birmingham and the neighbouring towns to a meeting at the Friends Severn Street Adult School. These schools provided reading and writing classes based on the Bible to adults on Sundays, and were non-denominational. Present were 14 representatives from Severn Street School and its branch schools, 19 representatives from 11 other Adult Schools in Birmingham, and 33 representatives from schools in neighbouring towns including Bilston, Bloxwhich, Brierley Hill, Coventry, Oldbury, Smethwick, Tipton, Walsall, West Bromwich, Wednesbury, Willenhall and Wolverhampton. In total, these schools had 11, 000 scholars between them. The purpose of the meeting was to form ‘a Union of Adult Schools in the Midland Counties’ (MS 272/I/1).

William White (MS 703 box 2/2)

White (1820 – 1900), a Quaker book seller and publisher, had been a Birmingham town councillor since 1873. He chaired several of Birmingham Corporation’s committees and was chair of the Birmingham Coffee House Company. He was also a magistrate, and in 1893 became Lord Mayor of Birmingham.  Involved in the Adult School Movement since 1848, when he became teacher of Class I at Severn Street (the first Adult School in the city, established by the Quaker, Joseph Sturge in 1845), White remained teacher of this class until his death in 1900. You can read more about Severn Street Adult School here. White was instrumental in the expansion of the Adult School Movement amongst Quakers both in Birmingham and across the country, and his work inspired Methodist, Congregationalist and Church of England leaders to establish their own Adult Schools.

John Blackham (1834 – 1930), a draper, book seller and publisher was Senior Deacon of Ebenezer Congregational Church, West Bromwich, and in 1870 had established the first Adult School in the region outside Birmingham. In 1875, he founded the ‘Pleasant Sunday Afternoon Movement’ a non-denominational Sunday afternoon meeting of religious instruction for adults, accompanied by a more popular form of religious service for those were not attracted by the Adult School movement.

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The Kings Norton Fifty Club

Leaflet advertising a meeting for new women voters, 1st May 1929 (MS 2371/2/2/1)

The Representation of the People Act finally received Royal Assent on 6 February 1918. This meant that women over thirty who were householders, wives of householders, occupiers of property of £5 or more annual value, or University graduates, could now vote. However, this meant a considerable number of women – and men- were still excluded, and had to wait until 1928 when all persons over 21 became entitled to vote.

In 1929, the Kings Norton Fifty Club (MS 2731) decided to hold a public meeting to make sure that women in particular were informed about their new right to vote, and the responsibilities that entailed.

What was the Kings Norton Fifty Club?

The following comes from the Minutes of the Club [MS 2731/2/2/1] (Acc.2009/068):

On December 14th and 21st 1922, a small committee, called together by Miss Viccars, met to discuss the possibility of forming a local club for the purpose of spreading information and getting discussion on affairs of public interest. Miss Jordan, Mrs H. Norman, Mrs Impey and Miss Viccars comprised the committee….

A tentative list of speakers included Miss Dewar (The Birmingham Settlement), Dame Ethel Shakespeare (Citizenship), Mr Woulston Lee (The W.E.A.), Miss Ethel Trent (Labour & Employment), Mr Horace Alexander (League of Nations), Mr Ted Bigland (Social Work amongst boys), Miss Backhouse (Camp Fire Girls), Mrs H. L. Wilson (Maternity), Miss Bennett (Cripples), Miss F. Barrow (Poland), Dr Shakespeare (Physics), Mr Totham (Jamaica – Population – Trade).

A number of names for the club were discussed, ‘The Forward Relief Workers’, ‘Hopeful’, ‘Excelsior’, ‘Drawing Room’,. ‘The Fifty Club was provisionally adopted in 1923, January 22nd.

Membership was limited to fifty persons, which would allow gatherings of the dimensions of a drawing room [in large houses, obviously!].

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A partial victory: Catherine Osler and Votes for Women

The Representation of the People Act finally received Royal Assent on 6 February 1918. This meant that women over thirty who were householders, wives of householders, occupiers of property of £5 or more annual value, or University graduates, could now vote. In March 1918 the Women Workers, Quarterly Magazine of the Birmingham Branch of the National Union of Women Workers included an article by Catherine Osler, President of the Birmingham Women’s Suffrage Society (BWSS).[1] Titled ‘At Last!’, Catherine reflected on the campaign to secure votes for women, something she had been closely involved with since her parents formed the BWSS in 1868. Catherine became President of the organisation in 1901. While it was certainly an achievement to be celebrated, the conditions of qualifying were ‘not all that could be desired – far from it! They do not fulfil the original and unaltered demand of suffragists for “the vote on the same terms as it is or may be granted to men”. It leaves still unrepresented classes of women who are among the worthiest, most indispensable workers for their country and for their fellows’.

Catherine Courtauld Osler (1854–1924) by Edward Steel Harper II, 1917-18 © Birmingham Museums Trust

Catherine also considered the wider campaign and the sacrifices that many women had made; ‘some, indeed, have dared infinitely more than this – have courted and endured gross insult, maltreatment, torture, death itself, in the determination to draw the world’s attention to women’s wrongs… the startling campaign of the militant section… has now become as a nightmare memory, but one which will survive in history’.

Birmingham had seen some very serious militant incidents carried out by suffragettes from 1909 onwards, including arson (most notably the destruction of Northfield Library), church disturbances, window smashing and the slashing of a painting. It was also where the first cases of forcible feeding of suffragettes took place, at Winson Green Gaol in September 1909 after a number of women were arrested for their protest during a visit to the city by Prime Minister Asquith. In the article, Catherine also acknowledged the campaign’s well-established roots, going back to the 1860s, stating that ‘it was not because on grounds of reason and common sense suffrage was “bound to come” but because the nation had for 50 years been patiently and unceasingly educated to the conviction of its justice and righteousness, that the conditions of war enabled its advocates to make the final effort which brought victory… a great dividing barrier has disappeared from the ranks of women themselves, and that henceforth we may go forward shoulder to shoulder’.[2]

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Belgian Refugees 1914 – 1918

Archives & Collections was recently contacted by Amsab-ISG, the Institute of Social History at the University of Ghent. We were reminded of a project they did which took place a couple of years ago to document the experiences of Belgian refugees that came to the UK during the First World War. In support of the project, Archives & Collections assisted their researchers in accessing the records of MS 652, the War Refugees Fund (Birmingham and District). Although only a small collection, it does include a Belgian Refugee Register 1914 – 1918. This volume lists the name, age and occupation of the refugees, the place they were sent to and the town of origin.

Belgian Refugee Register 1914 – 1918
[MS 652/6]

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Jethro Anstice Cossins

On 5 December 2017 I attended a fascinating talk by Stephen Price, retired museum curator and author, with George Demidowicz, of Kings Norton: a History (2009). The subject of the talk was the tale of four of the leading lights of the Birmingham Archaeological Association, founded at the Birmingham and Midland Institute in 1870, at the instigation of Samuel Timmins.

St. Martin’s Church from Notes on Warwickshire Churches by Cossins
[MS 3414/5]

One hundred years previously, on 5 December 1917, one of these men had collapsed and died, aged 87, on his way to a meeting of the Society. His name was Jethro Anstice Cossins and he was by profession an architect. The other ‘lights’ discussed were brothers Oliver and Harold Baker, sons of the artist Samuel T. Baker, and Allen Edward Everitt, artist and art dealer, based on New Street.

These four men have left a wealth of watercolours, engravings, drawings, notebooks, correspondence and photographs which provide a rich archive for the investigation of buildings and churches in Birmingham and Warwickshire, often captured just before major structural alteration, or even as they were actually being demolished or rebuilt, in the last decades of the 19th century. Oliver Baker was an artist and antiques dealer who eventually moved to Stratford-upon-Avon to settle; his brother Harold was a woodcarver and a major photographer in Birmingham, with his ‘Electric Light Studio’.

Ansley Church
[MS 3414/1]

Images from the wonderful collection of watercolours by Everitt, now held at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, the notebooks of J. A. Cossins held at Archives and Collections, Library of Birmingham, which include many sketches of buildings, and the correspondence and illustrated notebooks of the Baker family, now at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, provided a rich visual accompaniment to the talk.

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Closed Week Update

During our closed week in December 2017, we were very busy indeed working on adding material to the Archives collections (accessioning!)… and to give you flavour of the material we have taken in, we thought we’d highlight a few!

MS 4881 (2017/026), Stories & Games: A documentary on Bangladeshi urban and rural heritage, 2017. This is a documentary DVD containing a video of the games events and the oral history interviews of members of the local community both in English and Bengali. The Bengali interviews have been transcribed, and English subtitles appear on the video.

Image provided by New Hope Birmingham.


SF Additional (2017/027), Minutes and essays of the Friends Essay Society, 19th – 20th cent. The Friends Essay Society was a group of members of the Religious Society of Friends who met at each other’s houses one evening a month to read out essays which they had previously written anonymously, either on a subject given to them or, more often, on a subject of their own choice. The evening started with tea, and after each member had read aloud someone else’s essay, they had supper. You can see the catalogue for this material online here.

And here’s a fabulous box that the collection came in…


MS 4924 (2017/057), Membership register of the Birmingham and Midland Hairdressers’ Academy and Philanthropic Society, 1892-1927. We rather liked this – it is the only item we have relating to this organisation though – so we don’t know very much about it!



MS 4907 (2017/058), Handsworth Ladies Shakespeare Reading Society, 1884-2008. The Handsworth Shakespeare Reading Society began in 1880 when a group of ladies in Handsworth Wood decided to meet regularly in each other’s houses. The society had a list of rules by 1887. The group was for women only and new members were recruited by personal invitation. Meetings were devoted to reading plays by Shakespeare and other authors. It continued to hold meetings during the First and Second World Wars, however the number of meetings dropped to four meetings during the First World War and meetings were suspended during the winter months of the Second World War. Continue reading

New Year, New Additions

Birmingham Collection in the Heritage Research Area, floor 4, Library of Birmingham

The following is a list of selected highlights of additions to our printed bookstock collections since December 2016, we hope you enjoy!


1. Ed. Archer – Parre, Caroline & Dick, Malcolm.
John Baskerville, Art and Industry of the Enlightenment. (2017).
BCOL 87.1 BAS, Level 4 and L 78.1 BAS, Level 5.

2. Armstrong, Eric.
Birmingham’s War : Voices of the Second World War. (2016).
BCOL 75.8 ARM, Level 4 & L 75.8 ARM, level 5.

3. Brazier, Corinne & Rice, Steve.
A Fair Cop : Celebrating 100 years of policewomen in the West Midlands. (2017).
L 42.21 BRA, Level 5.

4. Carter, Terry.
Birmingham in the Great War : Mobilisation & Recruitment, the first eighteenth months of the war. (2016).
BCOL 75.7, Level 4 & L 75.7 CAR, Level 5.

5. Dicks, Brian & Gardner, Andrew.
Edwardian Enterprises : The Untold Origins of Midland Red. (2017).
LF 47.63 MID, Level 5.

6. Flack, Fenella.
God’s Back Garden : A History of Immanuel Church, Kings Norton, Birmingham. (2014).
BCOL 14.57, Level 4 & L 14.57, Level 5.

7. Goodman, Ruth. Helping Britain Prosper.
From industrial revolution to digital revolution. A social history of Britain and Lloyds Bank. (2015).
LF 63.21 LLO, Level 5.

8. Hewston, Norman.
A History of Moseley Village. (2009).
Moseley  – Birmingham Collection, Level 4 and L 92.1, Level 5.

9. Hill, Lewis. (ed) Kirk, Pauline.
Thinking of You Always – The Letters of Cpl. Hill, 1941 – 1945. (2016).
L 78.1 HIL, Level 5.

10. Library of Birmingham Discovery Season Brochure. (2013).
LP 53.31, Level 5.

11. Meads, Catherine & Pennant, Mary & McManus, James & Bayliss, Sue.
A systematic review of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender health in the West Midlands region of the UK compared to published UK research. (2009).
LF 22.85 MEA, Level 5.

12. Mussett, Nigel. J., (Compiled by).
George Albert Ravenhill, VC. (2017).
LP 78.1 RAV, Level 5.

13. Pieper, Antje. Music and the Making of Middle – Class Culture.
A Comparative History of Nineteenth – Century Leipzig and Birmingham. (2008).
L 55.5, Level 5.

14. Phillips, Jess.
Everywoman – One Woman’s Truth About Speaking the Truth. (2017).
BCOL 78.1 PHI, Level 4 and L 78.1 PHI, Level 5.

15. Reid, Adam.
The Chemical Activities of the Lunar Society, c 1765 – 1800. (2004).
LF 50.6, Level 5.

16. Reekes, Andrew.
Two Titans, One City : Joseph Chamberlain and George Cadbury. (2017).
L 78 REE, Level 5.

17. Rennie, Paul.
Safety First : Vintage Posters from RoSPA’s archive. (2015).
LF 45.62, Level 5.

18. Roberts, Stephen.
Joseph Gillott and Four Other Birmingham Manufacturers, 1784 – 1892. (2016).
BCOL 64.1, Level 4 & L 64.1 ROB, Level 5.

19. Roberts, Stephen.
Birmingham 1889 : One Year in a Victorian City. (2017).
BCOL 73.4 ROB, Level 4 &  L 73.4 ROB, Level 5.

20. Robson, Geoff.
Dark Satanic Mills :  Religion and Irreligion in Birmingham and the Black Country. (2002).
L 10 ROB, Level 5.

21. Rudge, Ted & Clenton, Keith.
Changing Nechells. (2015).
Nechells – Birmingham Collection, Level 4 and L 91.4, Level 5.

22. Slater, Terry.
‘The Pride of the Place’ : The Cathedral Church of St. Philip, Birmingham, 1715 – 2015. (2016).
BCOL 14.13 SLA, Level 4 & L 14.13 SLA, Level 5.

23. Smith, Douglas H.
From Tramways to Trenches : The story of the men of Birmingham Corporation Tramways who gave their lives in the First World War. (2014).
LP 47.621, level 5.

24. Swani, Balwant K.
Hello England. (2017).
BCOL 78.1 SWA, Level 4 and  L 78.1 SWA, Level 5.

25. Woods, Gary, W.
Out & About : Mapping LGBT Lives in Birmingham. (September 2011).
LP 22.85 WOO, Level 5.

26. Walters, Graham.
Sir William Mills and the Standard Golf Company, 1895 – 1939. (2016).
LF 25.16 WAL, Level 5. Continue reading