Tag Archives: Adult Education

Severn Street & Priory First Day Schools Jubilee Exhibition

Medal commissioned for the Jubilee of Severn Street and Priory First Day Schools, sold at the Jubilee Exhibition [MS 703 box 23/11]

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).

Table showing the numbers of Severn Street and Priory First Day School members over the years from 1865 -1895, Jubilee Exhibition Programme  [MS 703 Box 31/204]

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.

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St. Oswald’s Camp, Rubery

St. Oswald’s Camp, 1923 [MS 703 (1961/001)]

This year is the 30th anniversary of the opening of Rubery Community and Leisure Centre, located on Holywell Road, Rubery.  Opened in 1988 after a number of years of fund-raising and renovation of the derelict facilities on the site, the centre offers sports and other activities to the local community. However, the history of the site goes back well beyond the 1980s as the land had been used for recreational purposes since the early years of the 20th century, when it was given to the Mid-Worcester and Class XIV Sub-Union of the Midland Adult School Union (MASU) for use as a weekend holiday centre.

St. Oswald’s Camp, n.d. [MS 703 (1961/001)]

The donors of the land were the brothers, Edward (1873-1948) and George Cadbury Junior (1878-1960), both of whom, like their father George Cadbury (1839 -1922), were active in adult school work with the Class XIV group of schools based in south-west Birmingham and North Worcestershire.  Arthur T. Wallis, secretary of the Mid-Worcester and Class XIV Sub-Union schools, wrote in the  1956 Jubilee Celebration leaflet that when the brothers built their houses in the Lickey Hills, they greatly appreciated returning to the peace and beauty of the countryside after spending the working day at the Cadbury chocolate factory in Bournville.

St. Oswald’s Camp, n.d. [MS 703 (1961/001)]

So that others less fortunate than themselves could also enjoy it, they set aside a seven acre field, a wood and a bathing pool, and arranged for a Dutch barn accommodating 25 people, a kitchen with a cooking range and water boiler, and club room to be built and furnished. The site was named St. Oswald’s Camp, after a monk who is said to have lived there in a stone cell and distributed water from the Holy well, located on the edge of the camp and still in use by local villagers at the time the camp was established. Opened by Edward Cadbury on 6th June 1906, the camp was run by volunteers from the adult school movement,

…to provide, at the most modest charges possible, opportunity for such change from the ordinary routine as will provide full refreshment for body, mind and spirit both for members of the Schools and others who wish to avail themselves of it.

(Jubilee leaflet 1956, MS 703 (1961/001))

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The Birmingham Sandwich Club

Midland Adult School Union (MASU) Sandwich Club 21st birthday card in MASU Sandwich Club Record of Speakers and Meetings 1942 – 1968 (Ref MS 703 box 32/212)

If you work in Birmingham city centre, have you ever wondered how to spend your lunch break? On some days perhaps you like to go for a walk, or browse the shops and perhaps on others you prefer to do some errands or have lunch out in one of the city’s many cafes. For workers during the period 1940 to 1968, another option was to go to the Birmingham Sandwich Club. This informal club was run by members of the Midland Adult School Union (MASU) and provided the city’s workers with a space in which they could bring along their sandwiches, have a cup of tea and listen to talks on a wide variety of subjects, delivered by a range of speakers.

The idea for the Sandwich Club came from Charles Bristow, who as Secretary of MASU had always hoped to be able to hold such a club in the middle of the day. When MASU moved its offices to Priory Rooms, Bull Street in 1938, he was able to put the idea into practice. Together with Robert Woodhead, Bristow arranged the first meeting of 6 men and women on 22nd October 1940. The subject was a debate on ‘the living theatre v. the cinema’, with Woodhead and Bristow taking opposing sides. A further two meetings took place in November and December that year, with regular meetings starting from January 1941 and continuing until 1968.

Meetings were held on Tuesdays from 1-2.15 at the Priory Rooms and were open to anyone who was ‘interested in discussing the problems of the day’. There was no subscription or formal membership. Attendance varied from 20 – 40 people, who came from all walks of life but many worked in business. The Club was non-sectarian and non-political.  Speakers included members of the Church, Members of Parliament, City Councillors, and those involved in education and social work. Continue reading

‘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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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

ms-703-acc-2015-082-christmas-letter

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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