Tag Archives: Quakers

Women’s Lives in the Archives

To celebrate International Women’s Day on the 8th March, I am delving in to the archives to discover some of the ways women’s lives are documented.

MS 1509/5/8, Personal Papers of Rachel Albright

Rachel Albright was a Quaker woman living in Edgbaston in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Her personal papers are held within a collection of records relating to the wider Albright Family.

Originally from Tottenham in north London, she married Arthur Albright in 1848 and they had eight children one of whom died young in 1872. Of interest to an archivist is the way that Rachel documented her life and the records that have survived. The archive includes travel journals, sketches, commonplace books, photographs and poetry which allow us an insight into her life and how it differs from those of women in Birmingham today.

Travel journals

Before Rachel was married, she kept a journal of a four month trip to Falmouth in 1836. Luckily this survived and is one of the items in the archive (MS 1509/5/8/1). In her journal she documents the occupations and pastimes she engaged in on a daily basis.

MS 1509/5/8/1

Here are a few extracts:

5th mo 8th (May 8th) Had my French lesson. In the afternoon went for a nice long walk with Aunt and cousins to Penzance. The rocks I think are very fine and beautiful, the sea dashing beneath them.

5th mo 10th (May 10th)

A very lovely day. Sat out in the garden this morning and prepared some of my French. Went into the town with Aunt and in the afternoon went for a nice walk with Aunt and cousins to Bar Beach where we found a great many shells.

MS 1509/5/8/1

5th mo 20th (May 20th)

Went in to the town after breakfast with Aunt and cousins and afterwards finished our paintings and worked out in the garden and read some of Campbell’s poems- admire them very much. In the evening had a game of chess with Uncle.

Sketching, letter writing and knitting are other pastimes mentioned in the journal and Rachel also records her attendance at Quaker meetings. 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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Catalogue of the Central England Quakers archive now available

Bull Street Meeting House exterior (finding no. SF/1516)

Following completion of the Birmingham and Warwickshire Quakers cataloguing project, funded by a cataloguing grant from the National Archives and a bequest from a member of Bull Street Quaker Meeting, the catalogue of Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends is now available to view on our online catalogue and in hardcopy in the Wolfson Centre for Archival Research.

Covering the establishment of Quakerism in the area in the mid-17th century to the present day, the collection includes records of the county’s umbrella organisation, Warwickshire Monthly Meeting and its predecessors, and the records of the regional Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Leicestershire Quarterly Meeting which reported to the head of the Quaker Church, the Yearly Meeting in London. It also includes records of local Quaker Meetings in Birmingham such as Bull Street, Bournville, Cotteridge, Edgbaston, Selly Oak and Kings Heath, as well as those further afield such as Warwick, Coventry, Barnt Green and Redditch, Stourbridge, Solihull, Sutton Coldfield and Walsall.  Records for meetings which no longer exist such as Gooch Street, Farm Street, Longbridge, Dudley, Stirchley, Shipston-on-Stour, Baddsley Ensor, Fulford Heath and Wigginshill are also in the archive.

Screenshot of the online catalogue for the Records of the Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (ref SF)

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Something a little macabre?

‘Records of the old families and meeting houses belonging to Birmingham Meeting’, compiled by Charles D. Sturge with drawings by William Moseley Baker
Finding no. SF/1038 (alt ref: BN 5K9)

When one of our archivists came across a curious description of a visit by Charles Dickenson Sturge to Monmouth Street (Bull Lane) graveyard, this just screamed Halloween at us! (You can find out more about the cemetery in our blog post The Old Meeting House)

In 1851 Charles Sturge observed…

I also saw a composition one Mary or Eliz, Whitehead the only one of this material legible [.] In the lowest of the three tiers of remains in the part of the graveyard only used before 1750 the skull of a young lady was found with the hair curled all round in a way that it was thought to have been curled after or just before death which in any case must have been sudden as it would have been cut off Tho’ from the position of the grave it must have been buried a century + a quarter the hair, except a little brittleness was just as if fresh cut.

A lock of hair was taken from the graveyard and attached to the page describing the visit to the cemetery.

Lock of hair found in the Burial Ground


Whatever activities await you this All Hallows’ Eve, do be careful in those graveyards in case the owner might come back to claim their hair….

If you dare, click here for some more scary graveyard characters you might encounter (but be warned, you do so at your own risk!).

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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If you missed it last time…

Uncovering Quaker Heritage: pop-up exhibition

Saturday 7th October 2017 1.00-4.00pm

Wolfson Centre, Level 4, Library of Birmingham

Birmingham and Warwickshire have been important centres of Quaker activity since the middle of the 17th century and Quakers have been highly influential in the social, economic, philanthropic and political development of the region.

If you missed our popular ‘Uncovering Quaker Heritage‘ pop-up exhibition which we ran earlier this year (or enjoyed it so much you’d like to see it again!), we’re offering another opportunity for you to find out more about the records we hold and see a selection of original material from the archive of the Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, dating from the 17th century to the 20th century.

There may even be a few additional items on display which have been newly deposited in Archives & Collections during the year…

Entry is free. All are welcome!

This material is made accessible via the Birmingham & Warwickshire Quakers project, a cataloguing project funded by a National Archives Cataloguing Grant and a bequest from a member of Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.


The Ockenden Venture ‘Westholme’

Sometimes when cataloguing an archive collection you come across an item which has no obvious link to the other papers it is with and clues to help you identify the links are few and far between. Such was the case with a small pamphlet with the title ‘Ockenden Venture ‘Westholme’ training and education for refugee boys’ which caught my attention in the records of Bull Street Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. As this week is Refugee Week, when the contributions of refugees to the UK are celebrated and greater understanding about why refugees seek sanctuary is promoted, it seemed fitting that the story of Westholme should be retold.

The Ockenden Venture was established in 1951 by three school teachers in Woking, Surrey. They were concerned about the conditions in which displaced East European teenagers were living and recognised that the educational provision in the camps was insufficient after a group came on holiday from a displaced persons camp in Germany at Ockenden House where Joyce Pearce (1915-1985) ran a sixth form. Pearce, together with Ruth Hicks (1900 – 1986) and Margaret Dixon (1907-2001) housed small numbers of East European teenagers from the camps at Ockenden House and later in houses at Haslemere, Surrey and Donington Hall near Derby and provided for them so that they could complete their secondary education.

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