‘Developing our own gifts and those of others’: the educational role of the Warwickshire North Women’s Conferences, 1895-1960

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Among the large collection of records of Central England Quakers are the minutes of the Warwickshire North Women’s Monthly Meeting beginning in 1729. They provide a fascinating insight into the mental and emotional worlds of Quaker women in Birmingham over several generations, and illustrate the concerns that were foremost in their minds.

The nature of the Women’s meetings and the records that relate to them changed in the late nineteenth century. In May 1889, a proposal from the men’s monthly meeting was put to the women, suggesting that they should hold joint monthly meetings in advance of their separate meetings. Women Friends agreed to trial this for twelve months. In October 1890, as most business was now done in the joint meeting they decided to hold women’s meetings four times a year, rather than monthly, and the role of the meeting changed. From 1897 three women’s Monthly Meeting ‘Conferences’ were held each year – in the spring to prepare for Yearly Meeting, in the summer to review and read papers from Yearly Meeting, and in November ‘to consider some General subject of interest to women’. In this piece I will be concentrating on this last conference in the period from the 1890s to the 1950s.

Notice of a Conference on 'The Child's Point of View', 1908 (ref SF/2/1/1/2/1/9)

Notice of a conference on ‘The Child’s Point of View’, 1908 (ref SF/2/1/1/2/1/9)

The subjects deemed to be of interest by the women ranged widely, from theological questions, women’s ministry and Quaker history, to the social and political issues of the day. Women Friends presented papers followed by a discussion, and external speakers were occasionally invited to present on particular subjects. The Conferences were well attended, and could attract anything from 50 to 150 women depending on the popularity of the theme. Many of the subjects, particularly in the early years, are those that we might consider to be traditional women’s subjects and we see the Conference functioning as a space of formal and informal education in very practical knowledge that was relevant to middle class wives and mothers.

There is a considerable interest, for example, in motherhood and the upbringing of children and in particular how children and young people should be nurtured in Quaker ways and beliefs. On 12 February 1895 when 70 women were present, the session focused on ‘Woman’s influence over Children and Young People in the Home’. Catharine Wilson spoke of the influence of Christian nurses and governesses working with the mother for the good of the children, a reflection of the class and socio-economic circumstances of many of the more prominent women in the meeting. Caroline Gibbins read ‘a valuable paper’ on the ‘Discipline of Younger Children’ which emphasised ‘moral suasion’ rather than ‘physical force’ and the wise mother’s role in avoiding conflict.

The People's Free Kindergarten, Greet, 1904 (ref MS 4095)

The People’s Free Kindergarten, Greet, 1904 (ref MS 4095)

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Birmingham Children of War

September 12 2016 saw the official launch of Birmingham Children of War. This six month project, run by the Friends of Birmingham Archives and Heritage (FoBAH), with funding from the Heritage Lottery through their ‘First World War: then and now’ grants programme, was established to explore the experiences of children born or living through the First World War in Birmingham.

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Hall of Memory, Broad Street, Birmingham. Plaque (last of three) William Bloye. 1925.

The launch in the Wolfson Centre in the Library of Birmingham identified some initial archive and library resources to help us to learn more about children’s lives during this tumultuous period. A small selection of resources had been chosen to illustrate some of the themes that the project hoped to investigate in more depth with the help of volunteers and in partnership with other organisations.

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Charles Reece Pemberton (1790-1840) ‘Poet, teacher and friend of the poor man; of the working man.’

This is one of those ‘Archives tales’ which shows the way something selected at random can lay trails for the curious; opening doors on, and raising questions about all sorts of subjects. I started with a volume titled ‘Charles Reece Pemberton. Lecturer on Poetry, Eloquence etc. 1790-1840’. I knew nothing about him. The word ‘poetry’ and his dates had drawn me in.

The volume in question, bought for 6 guineas by Birmingham Reference Library in 1888, contains letters, printed pamphlets and notices, newscuttings, an etched portrait and ‘A Sketch of the Life and a few of the Beauties of Pemberton’, written by George Jacob Holyoake of Birmingham, 1842. Holyoake had started work in a foundry in Birmingham aged 8 years. He had attended lectures at the Mechanics’ Institute from 18 years where he discovered the socialist writings of Robert Owen. He became an assistant lecturer and then an Owenite Social Missionary.

Title page of [MS 3022]

Title page of ‘A Sketch of the Life and a few of the Beauties of Pemberton’ [MS 3022]

Holyoake states that Pemberton was born in Pontypool, South Wales, in 1790, and that his father was a mechanic. He was brought to Birmingham and was educated at the Unitarian Charity School in Park Street. Apprenticed to a merchant uncle, he ran away to Liverpool where he was seized by the Press Gang and sent to sea. He spent several years at sea serving in various battles. During his wanderings he became proprietor and manager of several theatres in ‘the East’ and married a lady ‘of talent as extraordinary as his own’. After an ‘unlooked for occurrence’ separated them, he continued ‘a solitary wanderer’ through the world.

Portrait of Charles Reece Pemberton [MS 3022]

Portrait of Charles Reece Pemberton
[MS 3022]

The Dictionary of National Biography gives a little more information, sometimes contradicting Holyoake’s version. It states that Pemberton’s father was a Warwickshire man, his mother Welsh, and they came to Birmingham when he was about 4 years old. He studied under Daniel Wright at the Unitarian school and his uncle to whom he was apprenticed, is described as a brass founder. His naval service was apparently near Cadiz and after the war he became an actor and ran several theatres in the West Indies where he made an unhappy marriage to one Fanny Pritchard, and they soon separated. The DNB records that he returned to England in 1827.

Holyoake continues that Pemberton had acquired the skills of oratory as an actor. He first saw a play in Birmingham and was inspired to act. According to the DNB, on his return to England Pemberton acted the tragic characters of Shakespeare, such as Macbeth and Shylock, in Bath, Hereford, at Covent Garden and in Birmingham. Sergeant, later Sir Thomas Talfourd (1795-1854), judge, politician and author of several plays seems to have been very impressed by his performances; others less so. After a few years Pemberton seems to have abandoned acting and he became a lecturer on Shakespeare, and an author. He gave a lecture on Brutus at Birmingham Mechanics’ Institute and Holyoake said of him: ‘as a Lecturer on Oratory & Poetry he was equally great and instructive and was probably without a living equal. His illustrations, being gathered from the study of men and things in all climes, seldom failed to awaken new and elevated ideas.’  An obituary notice in the Sheffield ‘Iris’ says: ‘Many will remember the thrilling effect which his original and splendid lectures in illustrating the creation of the poet’s [i.e. Shakespeare’s] fancy produced.’

From 1833-1835 he wrote sketches of his life under the title ‘The autobiography of Pel Verjuice’ in the Monthly Repository, London.  In 1838 he fell ill, but thanks to the generosity of Talfourd and many other friends, he travelled to Egypt for two years in the hope of recovering his health. He published a series of letters in the Iris, describing Egypt and the Mediterranean. [If this is the Birmingham literary magazine, Isis, then, sadly, Archives & Collections holds only one volume, for 1830, at L08.2]. Continue reading

The Enduring Eye

Open from Friday 20th January, in the floor 3 Gallery at the Library of Birmingham, is an exhibition marking  the centenary of The Endurance expedition, led by Sir Ernest Shackleton, across the Antarctic, 1914-17. The Enduring Eye features Frank Hurley’s photographs, documenting the epic and harsh journey faced by the crew as they navigated across the unforgiving ice, both before and after their ship became stranded and then sank.

More details about the exhibition can be found here: http://www.libraryofbirmingham.com/blog/News/enduringeye

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Benjamin Stone Collection [MS 3196 Box 664/21-2]

Searching through our collections for references to Shackleton, I came across the above image of him, posed outside the Houses of Parliament in 1909. Featured alongside him is Arthur Balfour, 1st Earl of Balfour, a former Prime Minister.  This image was taken some five years before the crew of The Endurance faced their epic journey, by Birmingham East’s own MP, Sir John Benjamin Stone.  Upon entering Parliament, Stone had been passionate about recording its people and buildings, but photography was forbidden within Westminster. However, as the rules relaxed, he eventually became one of the first photographers to record inside. This determination and passion to document seems a feeble link to make compared to the hardships faced by the members of The Endurance crew, however, having the opportunity to glimpse into the past through Hurley and Stone’s images is one of immeasurable value for modern viewers.

 

I chuse thee now, my Valantine.

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MS 3101/C/D/83/1

In honour of Valentine’s Day, we have been searching the archives for a little romance.

Amongst the papers of the Galton Family (MS 3101) we found a curious verse addressed to ‘Howard’ – in this case John Howard Galton.

Howard, – long I’ve sigh’d for thee_!!!
Thou no Love has breath’d to me;_
Give me thy Love_ I’ll give thee mine;
I chuse thee now, my Valantine!
How long, alas! _ I’ve secret pined;
Thy graceful image fills my mind;
I’ve envied oft, that witching smile
Neglected whilst I sat the while;
Oft have I tried to catch thy glance;
I’ve watcht thee thro’ the mazy dance;
More favord Nymphs were always nigh,
And I was passd neglected by!!!_
I wish thee not to see me now;
My griefs o’ercast my sadden’d brow
My eyes, alas, are dim’d with tears,
My face, like Niobis, appears;
Give me thy vows!_ thoult see me then,
Array’d in all my charms again!_
My head with garlands all adorning,
I’ll meet thee then, dress’d like May morning!_
I’ll count my charms!_ I’ll tell each grace!_
That thou mayst know thy true-Love’s face;
Neglectful pass it not, again;
The Cynosure to other men!_!

The verses continue over four pages but sadly we don’t know whether true love blossomed as the sender remains unidentified.

For more inspiration for your Valentine’s Day, why not visit our Valentines galleries.

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

LGBT History Month 2017

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February 2017 marks LGBT History Month. The archive of the project Gay Birmingham Remembered (MS 2788) held here at the Library of Birmingham contains material relating to the history of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans people in the city. The focus of the project was to collect material and memories from Birmingham citizens about gay life. The project culminated in the transfer of the records to the Library so that gay people’s lives in the city could be documented for the future and made available.

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Badges from the Gay Birmingham Remembered collection. [MS 2788]

As well as the colourful campaign badges featured in the photograph above, a number of LGBT newspapers and newsletters circulated in the West Midlands in the 1980s and 1990s feature in the archive. In the Pink: West Midlands free Lesbian and Gay newspaper is one of these and we hold copies dating from late 1980s. The newsletters are important because they record developments in the history of LGBT rights and are a reminder that legislation and attitudes taken for granted now were by no means commonplace in the 1980s.

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In the Pink from the collection of Gay Birmingham Remembered [MS 2788]

Here are some snapshots from the newsletters:

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Uncovering Quaker Heritage: A retrospective

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Visitors to ‘Uncovering Quaker Heritage’, in the Wolfson Centre, 23rd January 2017

Having spent the last 2½ years cataloguing the records of the Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, and with still more records being deposited, I was keen to uncover some of the treasures from the archive for the public to see. After all, the reason archivists catalogue archive collections is so that archives can be made available to the public. And while blog posts are one way of highlighting some of the records in a collection, nothing quite brings the past alive as being able to see and touch documents created several hundred years ago.

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A selection of material relating to adult education and a plan of Moseley Road Friends’ Institute (SF)

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