Roland Bevington Gibbins (1885 – 1917)

Roland B. Gibbins [SF/1516, 2 of 2]
During the First World War, Bull Street Quaker Meeting’s Social Union asked absent members of Bull Street Meeting to provide accounts of their war-time experiences which were then typed up by members of the Union and read out at its meetings as a way of sharing the experience with those who remained in Birmingham. Some Friends served in the armed forces, some, as conscientious objectors, were members of the Friends Ambulance Unit (an alternative to military service while still contributing to the war effort), others worked in hospitals, and some were imprisoned for their pacifist beliefs. Some letters were from wives about their husbands, some from mothers about their sons. Today, all of the letters provide us with a valuable insight into the varied experiences of those living during this period. 

Roland Bevington Gibbins, partner in J.E. Sturge Ltd. was one of the Friends who responded to the Social Union’s request for an account of his war-time experiences. He joined the Artists Rifles C.T.C. in October 1915 and became 2nd. Lt. of Royal Warwickshire Regiment in July 1916. In August 1915 he went to France to the 8/8th Battalion and within a week he was in the trenches. These extracts were written in the period October – December 1916, although he continued writing in 1917.

16 October 1916

[…] We are reserve this tour so get considerably more peace. There is also the advantage that there are xxxxxx practically no rats – partly owing to the fact that there is a family of a cat & six grown kittens, all capable of tackling an ordinary rat. In the front line the rats are the very dickens. They go everywhere and eat everything. They trip you up at night and walk over you while you sleep. The men have an awful job with food, especially extra food, for if they put it up on a shelf the rats eat it and if they hang it up, ditto, and if they put it in their haversack or kit-bag as well, – which reminds me that in one of the letters I was censoring this afternoon the man said he’d pack up all his trouble in his old kit bag (as per song you know) but that the rats had eaten a hole in it, so that by the time he had got home to Blighty he wouldn’t have any [sic] trouble’s left. Not bad was it.

29 October 1916

We are back from the trenches in the town where I first joined the battalion. We shall probably be here for a day or two and it is very pleasant to be away from things for a bit.[…] I have got a very good billet with nice people and am looking forward to sleeping between sheets tonight. This afternoon I went across to the hospital and had a jolly good bath. My word it was good, for we had a particularly dirty and trying time in the trenches this last tour. As soon as we arrived we went to the hotel and had a very good dejeuner.

4 November

We are miles behind the firing line and are doing – ‘trek’. It is very good for us to have the marching and I, personally, am enjoying it – and one begins to know how to get settled in one’s new quarters every night after a day or two.

11 November 1916

We are in a pretty little village and the country is beautiful. We are looking forward to proper sort of Sunday – that is – Church Parade and no other Parades. I hope it will be fine so that everyone may enjoy themselves a little.

Later. Church Parade was rather a farce this morning as the Padre never turned up. However, the C.C. to took it more or less and we sang some hymns. Afterwards two or three of us went a jolly little walk across the valley and up on to the hills on the other side. It was awfully pretty especially through the lanes and woods and the views the whole time were fine.

29 November 1916

We are now all in tents pitched in a mud heap. The mud is beastly in itself, of course, as one is always covered with it, but far away the worst is the wet mud on ones’s boots keeps one’s feet so cold and of course fires are not very possible – still we get along very well considering and can find enough clothes to keep warm in bed. I am still keeping very fit and well and have not even a cold. The squelchy mud keeps on squelching. We were all out yesterday as a working party making and loading material for the front line. This is quite a jolly spot or it would be in peace time – now wherever you look are camps, huts, tents, wagons etc, and guns which keep on booming all day and night.

7 December 1916

We are out of line again and in a little wooded valley. We manage to keep a wood fire going, though as the chimney is a makeshift it is sometimes on the smoky side – but after all – what is a little smoke. Behind here we don’t do much in the way of training or parades as being in reserve and fresh we are used for all sorts of odd jobs – sometimes it is unloading trains of stores, sometimes wood cutting and sometimes road-making or cleaning. What we all say is, the great question of the future will not be ”Daddy what did you do in the great war?” but “what did you not do in the great war?”[…]

13 December 1916

Here there is no need or chance to speak French, as there are absolutely no French inhabitants whatsoever – they have all fled and the villages are all smashed up – but on the march I had to do a quite a fair amount settling into billets every night.

22 December 1916

We have had a pretty stiff time in the line, general conditions as much as fighting. All the water had to be carried up a couple of miles so you can imagine there wasn’t any spare for washing. You should have seen me after 5 days without a shave or a wash. my goodness I was a sight and my hands and clothes have not discovered yet – we were very fortunate and had no [sic] casualities and all managed to keep fit and well.

Roland Gibbins was killed in action in 1917. He and his wife, Edith Grace Ritchie (b. 1887), had married in 1916 and had 2 adopted daughters.

Further letters collected by the Bull Street Social Union can be viewed by appointment in the Wolfson Centre and are catalogued under the reference SF/3/4/5/3/5/2.

Eleanor Woodward, Archivist



Creative responses to First World War archives: Men Beat the Walnut Trees

On Friday 14th September 2018, here in Archives & Collections at the Library of Birmingham, we held a Creative Writing workshop using First World War archives.

This was a free hands-on Creative Writing session hosted by Birmingham historical novelist and biographer, Fiona Joseph, and Corinna Rayner, the Archives & Collections Manager. Archive material at the Library of Birmingham had been specially selected by Fiona and Corinna to inspire the writers, and it provided a unique opportunity to explore some of the many archival treasures themed around Women at War (Home Front, Industry) and Conscience at War (Quakers, patriotism and pacifism). We had so much material out, including family letters, photographs, posters, postcards, news items and memorabilia from the period which participants could use as a springboard for their own creative responses. Writers at any level, including beginners, were welcomed. For this year’s Explore Your Archives week we thought we’d share some of the wonderful creative responses to the archives which were produced as a result of this session.

First up is Men Beat the Walnut Trees by Lindsay Martin, inspired by a photograph of women working in a munitions factory from MS 4616 War Collection (Local Studies) and a collection of letters in the Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends archive (SF) from Birmingham Quakers about their varied experiences during the First World War. You can listen to a recording of Lindsay’s piece here and the transcript is available here.

We’ll share another contribution with you on Wednesday!

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))

Continue reading “St. Oswald’s Camp, Rubery”

On this Day: Tuesday 17th April

Elizabeth Cadbury (1858 -1951), n.d. [Birmingham Portraits Collection]
The Cadbury name is one we all recognise; they are famous across the world as successful business owners and makers of delicious chocolate and confectionery. However the family members behind this colossus of a name may still be somewhat of a mystery to some. For this reason, and for my first blog post, I have decided to delve into the Cadbury family collection at the Library of Birmingham and view the family’s personal papers. I have chosen a letter written by Elizabeth Taylor Cadbury.

Elizabeth Cadbury (nee Taylor) was born on 24th June 1858 to a Quaker company director and stockbroker named John Taylor, her mother was Mary Jane Cash, she was one of ten children. Elizabeth seems to have enjoyed being part of a large family as she married George Cadbury, the son of John Cadbury, who already had 5 children from a previous marriage. They married in 1888, and went on to have 6 children of their own.

George and Elizabeth Cadbury with 2 of their children, Laurence (on George’s lap) and Norman (on Elizabeth’s lap) and George’s 5 children from his first marriage to Mary Tylor: George junior, Edward  (standing at the back), Isobel and Eleanor (sitting), and Henry (on the floor in front), 1890 [MS 466]
The letters that I have looked through reflect a large family, full of love and devotion to each other. They seem to enjoy visiting and spending time with each other. The letter that I have chosen discusses visits from family and friends, and an enjoyable Easter spent surrounded by good company in the family home, The Manor House in Selly Oak. In this letter dated Tuesday 17th April 1934 Elizabeth writes of family members fondly and paints a vivid picture of a few days full of love and adventure.

Continue reading “On this Day: Tuesday 17th April”

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 “Women’s Lives in the Archives”

‘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.

Continue reading “‘A Union of Adult Schools in the Midland Counties’”

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)

Continue reading “Catalogue of the Central England Quakers archive now available”