Tag Archives: Social History

The Midland Adult School Spring Conference

Programme for the 1933 Midland Adult School Union Spring Conference on Unemployment [Finding Number MS 272/I/20]

The Midland Adult School Union (MASU), to which Adult Schools across the Midlands were affiliated, offered its members a variety of educational opportunities in different formats. These included weekly classes, educational trips and visits, away weekends with programmes of lectures and discussion groups, a lunch-time workers’ club (see our previous blog post on the Birmingham Sandwich Club) and conferences.

The annual Spring Conference, organised by the Union’s Education Committee, was hosted by Geraldine and Barrow Cadbury at the Friends’ Institute, Moseley Road for many years and consisted of a day of lectures on a particular theme. Speakers who were considered experts in their field were invited to participate. In the early years, the Conferences tended to be somewhat introspective with themes relating to the Adult School movement and its progress, such as ‘The Adult School in the Life of the Community’ or ‘Is the Union fulfilling its Mission?’.  However, from the 1930s onwards, the Conferences began to address subjects which related to wider society, with the aim of providing members with the opportunity to acquire knowledge from experts and offering them a forum for discussion of contemporary issues of the time.

One example of this was the 1933 Conference on Unemployment which concluded that despite the worthwhile efforts being undertaken to help the large numbers of unemployed in this period, what was actually needed was a way of providing the unemployed with an income. As a result of the Conference, the Union established an Unemployment Committee to examine in more depth the causes, extent and effects of unemployment, propose ways of helping and providing paid work to the unemployed and to take any action it deemed necessary.

Continue reading


What’s new in the Archives?!

We had a very varied year in terms of additions to the Archives & Collections holdings here at the Library of Birmingham during 2018, so we thought we’d showcase a few highlights for you!

As you probably know, Archives & Collections is the archives repository for the City of Birmingham and as such we are committed to making your unique and precious collections – written and digital, images, maps, film and other media – accessible and relevant to everyone, and we continue to collect documents, in all forms, that will tell the story of today for people in the future.

To make this possible, we ensure that significant records, whether in traditional or digital format are actively collected and described, are preserved for future generations, are accessible and set in a context that helps us understand them, and, all records received are held for the benefit of the public.

So… in 2018 we took in about 78 cubic metres of new records for permanent preservation here in the Archives!

The first material that came in 2018 were the records of the National Adult School Organisation (NASO), and the last material that came in during 2018 was additional material relating to one of our Photography collections – and included images documenting the development of the city centre during the late 20th cent (MS 2820 Additional).

Over the year we supported a number of community heritage projects, and took  in the material they generated including:

MS 4948 (2018/067): Records of amateur boxing history in Birmingham and the surrounding areas.

The project ‘ Fighting for our Heritage’ was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and aimed to draw together the history of the boxing club and amateur boxing in Birmingham. It ran for about 2 years in 2016 – 2018 during which time the project team researched the history and curated an exhibition at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery entitled ‘Fighting for our Heritage’.

Photograph of Billy Biddles c. 1940s

You can find out more about this project in this blog post which we posted earlier in the year.

MS 4949 (2018/068): The History of Asian Youth Culture Project

The project collected the oral histories and photographs. ‘Asian Youth have played a huge role in shaping the social, cultural and political life of Birmingham and wider Britain. ‘Asian Youth Culture explores the heritage and history of lives and contributions of young  Asian people in three distinct periods: 1950s-1960s, 1970s-1990s, 2000s-2018.

You can find out more about the project here:

Other collections we have added to this year include:

  • Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (SF)
  • Birmingham Civic Society (MS 4751)
  • Lench’s Trust (MS 904)
  • Yardley Wood School (S 221)
  • Birmingham Coroners’ Court (CO)
  • Birmingham Magistrate’s Court (PS B)
  • John Hardman & Co. (MS 175)
  • Dudley Road Hospital (HC DR)

… and many more!

Every year we produce a return of what we have taken in and send it to the National Archives (TNA), and they publish it along with those from other Archive services on an annual basis. Returns for 2018 will be made available here in due course for you to have  a look at (as well as the return of other Archives services across the country)!

Corinna Rayner, Archives & Collections Manager



‘Women Workers’

To celebrate International Women’s Day 2019, I would like to share a fascinating serial which is held in our local studies collection. Women Workers (L 41.2) was the magazine of the Birmingham branch of the National Union of Women Workers. The NUWW was predominantly made up of middle-class women who were involved in charitable work and social and political reforms. The Birmingham branch formed in 1887 to promote “the advancement of the welfare, spiritual, moral and physical, of the women and children of our city” and published a quarterly magazine from 1891. Its aim was to support and share information about the many societies in Birmingham run by women as well as promote the work of the union itself.  At this time the city was a hive of philanthropic activity with 48 different affiliated organisations listed in the first issue working in areas such as education, temperance, poverty and health. All of which were chaired by women, many from prominent industrial families.

Cover of Women Workers

The magazine was issued quarterly until 1924, covering a time period significant for the changing position of women in public life.  The magazine importantly provides insight into the actions and concerns of these women in their own voice. It includes articles on the campaign for equal suffrage, equal pay for equal work and the role of women during and after the First World War including first-hand accounts of attending London suffrage rallies and reports from the Women’s Voluntary Reserve. [1]

Continue reading

In The Pink

A notable recent addition to the Local Studies Collection pertinent to research of LGBT heritage in Birmingham is the November 2018 edition of In The Pink (LBF 22.85), a newspaper for the West Midlands LGBTQ+ community which flourished between 1986 – 1990. The new edition, an artist project by Sean Burns, contains reproductions of listings from the 1980s such as the Birmingham Club Play List June 1989 alongside new essays on topics such as QPOC (Queer People Of Colour).

In the Pink
[LBF 22.85]


The newspaper first appeared as the Birmingham Lesbian and Gay Community Centre newsletter for which Archives & Collections retains holdings for the period between May 1978 – November 1986 before changing its name to In The Pink in late 1986.

In The Pink was published monthly at the Trade Union Resource Centre in Digbeth and then circulated amongst LGBT entertainment venues and organisations in the West Midlands. The content followed a magazine format containing listings and interviews next to more politically and socially aware features. The newspaper was financed by advertising revenue whilst the November 2018 edition is very much a ‘stand – alone public artwork’ funded with support from a public body.

The 2018 edition

Why, might you ask, has a one – off November 2018 edition of In the Pink been published? Well, in its elemental form, it’s an opportunity to reflect on narratives forming LGBT heritage and consider how this influences and reflects the present. It’s a chance to explore how dialogues may proceed in the future and also highlight how the social context has altered somewhat since the newspaper ceased publication in 1990. This edition provides a platform in which individual community voices can examine attitudes contemporary to the original publication and discuss some of the issues prominent in the LGBTQ+ community now. As the Welcome states – ‘It will provoke reflection on how attitudes have changed since 1986 and on how much work there is left to do’.

The diverse range of topics covered in this edition include segregations, nightlife and memories both collective and individual. One of the dominate drives behind this project is to create a more productive and representative platform for LGBTQ+ people. The special edition does not claim to offer a complete history or overview but hopefully will provide a starting point from which to explore the wider LGBTQ+ heritage in the West Midlands.


Paul Taylor


The following is a source list of materials held in the Local Studies Collection relating to a study of LGBT heritage in Birmingham.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Sporting Heritage: A Victorian Baths

National Sporting Heritage Day, held on 30th September, was established to highlight sporting heritage post the 2012 Olympics. More information can be found on the National Sporting Heritage website.

As an enthusiastic swimmer, and occasional dipper in its pool, Woodcock Street Baths, now called The Sir Doug Ellis Woodcock Sports Centre, seemed an ideal subject to investigate in recognition of the day for the Iron Room.

Frontage, Woodcock Street, Public Baths Photos [Acc. 2012/146]

Woodcock Street Baths opened in 1860, the second baths to open in the city after Kent Street in 1851. Their formation was prompted by the Baths Act of 1846, whereby local authorities were obliged to provide bathing and washing facilities for residents.

The original architect of Woodcock Street Baths was Edward Holmes, who designed and built the baths for £12,000. At their opening they consisted of an engineer’s quarters, swimming baths, and private washing baths for men and women, each with their own plunge pool. In 1902, the building was completely renovated and a First Class Swimming and Baths were added.

Plan of Woodcock Street Baths [BCC 200]

This above ‘proposed’ plan is by Holmes. If it was for the initial construction, it suggests that originally the two pools were intended for men only. I’m unclear without additional research if this is what was actually built as much of the literature suggests that first class swimming and baths were added in a 1902 renovation, and that women had swimming facilities from the outset.

Plan of Woodcock Street Baths, 1920s [in Souvenir Programme of Gala Baths, LP 25.12]

In 1926, the washing facilities were again revamped and this time, a gala baths was added for events.

Programme 1929 [LP 25.12]

This programme above from 1929 highlights how events at the Gala Baths attracted local, national, and international competitors—a Miss Joyce Cooper of London, and two competitors from Holland, Miss Marie Braun, and Miss Marie Baron, who all took part in the non-local events, including relay races, 100 yards back-stroke, 100 yards free-style, 200 yards breast-stroke, plus an ‘Education Exhibition of Correct Strokes’ and ‘Ornamental, Scientific and Trick Diving’.

Programme 1959 [LP 25.12]

The Gala Baths held many different championships, including water polo tournaments and also ‘Speed Swimming’ contests as this programme from 1949 demonstrates. Improvements were also made to the lighting, as in 1948 under-water lighting was added to aid both swimmers and to help display the swimmers’ abilities for the audience.

Gala Baths, Woodcock Street, Public Baths Photos [Acc. 2012/146]

Many more modernisations of the baths have been made in the subsequent years, for example in the 1980s the Gala pool was covered over and turned into an assembly/sports hall. The most recent changes I’m aware of took place in 2010 when the complex was again refurbished (bringing a hiatus to my attending a very pleasant aquafit class!)

Swimming baths, Woodcock Street, Public Baths Photos [Acc. 2012/146]

As I understand, only the Second Class Baths from 1902 still remain. They are, however, beautifully restored.

Rachel Clare, Senior Archives Assistant

Further reading:

History of the Corporation Vol II, Bunce [BCOL 31 HIS]
The City of Birmingham Baths Department, 1851-1951, Moth. J [L45.33 MOT]
BCC Baths Committee [BCC 1/BN/1/1/1-]

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