Tag Archives: Adult Education

Severn Street camp: ‘a good outdoors holiday’

MS 1040/7 Severn Street camp, n.d. [early 20th cent.]

At this time of year, holidays are in the minds of many of us. If we’re not enjoying a relaxing break by the sea or in the countryside, at home or abroad, it’s likely we’ve been away and are now thinking about our next opportunity for a holiday. Having just spent my summer holiday under canvas, I was delighted to come across the photograph albums of the Severn Street camps showing camping holidays from over 100 years ago.

MS 1040/7 Severn Street camp n.d.  [early 20th cent.]

The Severn Street camps were started in August 1890 by the teachers of the Junior Division of Friends’ Severn Street Adult School who wanted ‘to provide a good outdoors holiday’ for the young men in their classes.  In the late 19th century, annual holidays were something to be enjoyed by the middle classes, and few members of the working classes had the opportunity for a holiday. The Quaker teachers of the adult schools would have been aware of the health problems caused by the housing conditions in which many of their members lived, and they would have shared a belief in the need for healthy recreational activities and time spent outdoors.

With the exception of the years during World War One,  Severn Street camps were held each year until 1929. Each summer, members from the adult schools paid a modest sum (in 1898 it was 13 shillings and 6 pence) for up to a week away. The locations varied and included Shrawley, South Littleton, Nafford, Harvington, all in Worcestershire and Fairbourne, Towyn, and Llanbedr in Wales. In 1902, 106 members participated in the camping trip, while in 1903, this increased to 149, with members coming from 12 adult schools, an increase which was attributed to the seaside location of the campsite at Fairbourne.

MS 1040/9 Severn Street camp marquee at Nafford, n.d. [early 20th cent.]

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From small beginnings: the early days of Severn Street Adult School

Joseph Sturge, author unknown, 1859 (Birmingham Portraits Collection)

On 14th May it is the anniversary of the death of one of Birmingham’s prominent citizens, Joseph Sturge, who died in 1859. A successful Quaker businessman, a generous philanthropist and an active campaigner, he is perhaps best known for his work in the anti-slavery movement and the establishment of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society (now known as Anti-slavery International). However, he was a man of many interests and it is his role in beginning the adult education movement in Birmingham which is the subject of this blog post.

On 12th August 1845, concerned by the behaviour of the men and teenage boys he saw in the city’s streets on Sundays, Sturge invited some of Birmingham’s younger Quakers to his house in Wheeley’s Road, Edgbaston to discuss whether they could establish an adult school for them.  It was to be another 25 years before compulsory primary education would be introduced and many adults at this time had started work as young children so levels of literacy among the working classes remained low.  Sturge had been impressed by a visit in 1842 to what is now seen as being the earliest of the adult schools, established in Nottingham in 1798, and he wanted to set up a similar school in Birmingham. The Nottingham school was run by a Methodist, William Singleton and subsequently taken over by a Quaker, Samuel Fox. Non-denominational classes took place on Sundays, teaching men and women reading and writing classes based on the Bible.

The group of Birmingham Quakers agreed that such a school should be established  for,

‘…those who are not & have not been in the way of receiving any instruction in other schools.’

(Severn Street First Day School minute, 12th August 1845, SF (2016/043) 1524 part 1 of 2).

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A parcel for Christmas


Christmas letter sent by members of Moseley Road Men’s Early Morning School to absent class members at the front, December 1915 [MS 703 (2015/082) 247]

During the festive season, we often give a thought to those who are absent and it was no different in December 1915 when scholars of the Men’s Early Morning School and the Men’s Afternoon Bible Class at Moseley Road Friends’ Institute decided to send Christmas parcels to absent members who were contributing to the war effort in the armed forces or as munition workers.

In both the Early Morning School and the Afternoon Bible Class, several collections were made and a number of scholars who were to be awarded prizes for their class work, were asked to give these up in order that the money for the prizes could instead be allocated to providing a Christmas parcel to their fellow scholars at the front.

Barrow Cadbury,  President of the Early Morning School and Institute and teacher of Class XV of the Men’s Early Morning School, offered to contribute a small fellowship hymn book, a copy of the new edition of the adult school song book and a supply of chocolate for each parcel. Class XV decided to send cigarettes while other Early Morning School classes provided other useful items to be added to the parcels. In total, sixty-two parcels were sent to the front, and enclosed in each one was,

…a most unique greeting, consisting of a message from the school, followed by a reproduction of the signatures of practically all our regular attenders.

(Moseley Road Early Morning School minute book (MS 703 (2015/082) 247)

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The Midland Adult School Movement

I stumbled across the Iron Room Blog after a photograph of a worker at the Bournville Cadbury factory fluttered out of my late Granddads bird watching note books. I searched for the name but instead found the January 12th blog post; Cadbury Trusts’ catalogue now available.

I delved deeper and discovered that in 1859, under the auspices of William White, twenty year old George Cadbury began his life long connection with The Adult School Movement. My own family also have a strong association with Cadburys and the Adult School (AS) so my curiosity was ignited.

It was under the influence of Methodism that the first AS was opened in 1798 by William Singleton in Nottingham. William was subsequently joined by Samuel Fox, a Quaker and grocer who invited his staff, mainly women, to teach at the school.

In Birmingham Joseph Sturge also a Quaker, social reformer and philanthropist established the Severn Street First Day School on October 12th 1845. Joseph recognised the need for an organisation which young men could attend to learn to read (the Bible) and write. More than a hundred attended the first meeting and the numbers grew despite a draughty and uncomfortable environment.  The school members drew working men away from the public houses to improve their ‘lot in life’.

In Birmingham Archives and Collections I come across the original sepia photograph of The ‘Beehive’ AS which opened in a disused public house in 1902. This school was first established in 1901 in a grocers store room in Bishopsgate Street. This was a run down part of Ladywood, Birmingham where it was ‘scarcely deemed safe for one policeman to patrol alone’.

At first glance this photograph, of a crowd of men with pocket watches hanging by chains from their waist coats, appeared to be of The Clark Street School which opened in 1875. However a hand written letter from E.J. Fullwood (former secretary of the National AS Council) confirms that it is the Beehive School:

In a most unexpected place I have at last found the missing Beehive AS original photograph. The seated figures and those standing immediately behind them are the original members of the school. Most of the others are members of the Clark St School…

(MS 703 (2015/082) 15/56)

MS 703 (2015/082) 15/56

The Beehive Adult School, branch school of Clark St. Adult School, photograph taken by F. Nightingale, after Opening Service, September 1902 [Ref MS 703 (2015/082) 15/56]

Closer scrutiny of the photograph reveals that the building on the left hand side is indeed The Beehive Inn! I am delighted to find another letter from my Great Grandad Tom Hill to Lawrence Burton, the secretary of the Midland Adult School at that time. Grandad Tom wrote,

…of all the men present we know nothing; we have no record of all of the good they did, or endeavoured to do, only this photo…

(MS 703 (2015/082) 15/56)

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