On the afternoon and evening of Saturday 12th October 1895, a Jubilee Exhibition was held in Bingley Hall to mark 50 years since the opening of Severn Street and Priory First Day Schools by Joseph Sturge. Opened in 1845 and 1848, the schools were the first such schools in Birmingham to provide reading, writing and Bible classes to working class men and women. By the time of the Jubilee, a total of 65470 men and women had passed through their doors and the schools were credited with transforming the social status of ‘the unkempt and uncultivated scholars of fifty years ago to the respectable artisan of today’ (‘Severn Street Jubilee Celebration’ Birmingham Daily Post, 14 October 1895). The schools were described as being ‘among the greatest factors of modern Midland life’ and many of the city’s successful and prominent citizens, alderman and town councillors were ‘…not ashamed to attribute their success in life to the early morning adult schools.’ (‘Birmingham and its adult schools’ The Daily Graphic, 15th October 1895).
The exhibition programme [MS 703 Box 31/204] shows that the venue was divided into a number of different sections. There was a display of working processes used by trades in Birmingham which included knitting machines, lathes to make pearl buttons, glass engraving machines, printing and book-binding, electroplating and gilding, glass spinning and coffee roasting. Members of the Institution for the Blind, Edgbaston demonstrated mat making, brush making and chair seating as well as typewriting from the phonograph (an early record player), a skill which the Institution pioneered in England, so that its members could train as clerks. One of the more spectacular displays included the ‘Fairy Fountain’, lent by Tangye Brothers Limited, comprising an oil engine which supplied power to a centrifugal pump and a dynamo to produce a fountain of water which was lit up in alternating colours with electric lighting.