While researching my last blog post about the work of the Religious Society of Friends in helping the unemployed in the 1930s, a search in our archives catalogue brought up several entries referring to the Beeches Educational Centre, Bournville and included the above photograph of Elizabeth Cadbury at the Beeches in December 1938. Knowing that today the Beeches is a hotel and conference centre, I was intrigued to learn more.
Originally owned by the Cadbury family, in the 1890s Elizabeth Cadbury set up the Beeches as a country holiday home for children living in the impoverished slum areas of industrial Birmingham, and it was later rebuilt in 1908. By the 1920s, the building was used as a girls day continuation school and from November 1933, with agreement from the trustees who included a number of Cadbury family members, it had become The Beeches Educational Centre for unemployed women, offering two week residential educational programmes.
A colleague suggested that Elizabeth Cadbury may well have written about the centre in one of the weekly letters she wrote to her large family recounting her activities and news. So off I went to look in the numerous boxes of letters for one written in December 1938. Sure enough, on Tuesday 20 December 1938 Elizabeth wrote a letter (MS/466/438(1938)) in which she described the Beeches as follows:
The Beeches, as you will know, was lent by the Trustees to the Government for the purpose of the experiment of giving short intensive terms of teaching Handicraft, Social Civics, and Methods of running clubs, to Women, wives of Unemployed men, from the depressed areas. [….] An excellent local committee helps tremendously.
Other entries in our catalogue referred to a couple of volumes of Beeches committee minutes and press cuttings and a quick look through them told me that the committee was presided over by Prof. H. G. Wood, director of Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre and included Elizabeth Cadbury, Richard Clements, Midland Regional Officer of the National Council of Social Service, Sylvia Pearson, Miss Roberts, Miss Butcher and Mr W. H. Leighton among others. The centre was funded from a combination of sources: the Trustees, subscriptions and donations, and a grant from the National Social Service Council. Attendance at the centre cost the women a few shillings per week.