The red-leather bound ‘Rambles by the Moseley Quartette’ have intrigued me ever since I accidentally came across them on the muniment room shelves some months ago and browsed through them, enchanted by the beautiful paintings and sketches inside. Many of my colleagues already knew of these volumes and spoke enthusiastically of their charm, but it was not until I started to read them that I began to fully appreciate them. As a keen walker of the countryside surrounding Birmingham, I was delighted to discover that the volumes describe walks, mainly in Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire, which took place on the last Wednesday of the month between 1868 and 1889 and ended with food, drink and games of whist at one of the members’ houses. Each entry charmingly describes the monthly excursion, frequently with humorous observations, both about the members of the group, the places they visited and the people they encountered, and many are beautifully illustrated. Some of the places described are no longer in the countryside; some were already then becoming built up and some are still places Birmingham residents visit to enjoy a breath of fresh country air.
So who were the Quartette and why the Moseley Quartette? The first entry of volume one tells us that they were George Zair, Samuel Allen Daniel, Thomas Hadley and Howard Shakespeare Pearson. Using a combination of the census returns for each member for 1871 and 1881, with Kelly’s 1868 Directory of Birmingham, White’s 1869 Directory of Birmingham and the 1871 Post Office Directory of Birmingham, it is possible to add a little more detail.
By 1871, a few years after they had set up the Quartette, the four young men were all living in Trafalgar Road, Moseley, hence the name. Three of them worked in industry: Thomas Hadley was a nail manufacturer, Samuel A. Daniel had an engraving factory and George Zair was a whip manufacturer. However, Howard Shakespeare Pearson who initially started off as a paper merchant, became a teacher of English Literature at the Birmingham Midland Institute and was involved in, among other things, the Birmingham City Council Public Libraries Committee. His name also crops up in other collections held in Archives and Heritage such as part of the Warwickshire Photographic Survey (MS 2724) and the Pearson Collection of scrapbooks, as well as books he wrote on local history and archaeology. It comes as no surprise to discover that he is also the author of these volumes, with his role as secretary being to ‘keep correct minutes of happy hours’, ‘pick as much fun out of the rest as he pleases – provided he picks just as much out of himself’ and ‘be as lazy and as much behindhand with the minutes as he chooses’. It is very much an account of happy hours spent with friends that he has left, rather than the more austere image of Victorian gentlemen that is so often portrayed in the archives.
Eleanor, Archives assistant