Tag Archives: The Religious Society of Friends

‘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


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

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.]

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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).

Continue reading

The Old Meeting House

MS 1061-2-5-1

Copy of a sketch of Bull St. Quaker Meeting House (3rd building from the left) in 1702, n.d. [Ref MS 1061/2/5/1]

It is thought that a small Quaker community established in Birmingham in the 1650s. Initially meetings for worship were held in private houses but in 1681 a house and garden were bought in New Hall Lane for use as a meeting house and burial ground. New Hall Lane became known as Bull Lane (and later Monmouth Street) and was located at the end of what is now Colmore Row. The meeting house was located roughly where the entrance to the Great Western Arcade is today. Unfortunately, no plan of the meeting house has survived in the Central Area Meeting Archives deposited here, but there is a plan of the graveyard, drawn by the banker Charles Lloyd (1748 – 1828), with a key containing a list of names of those buried there.

SF (2014-213) 1262 e

Plan of the Friends’ graveyard in Bull Lane drawn by Charles Lloyd, n.d. [Ref SF (2014-213) 1262]

SF (2014-213) 1262 d

Key to the plan of the Friends’ graveyard in Bull Lane, compiled by Charles Lloyd, n.d. [Ref SF (2014-213) 1262]

The meeting house on Monmouth St. needed frequent repairs, so in 1702, it was decided to build a new meeting house, paid for by members of the meeting. This was on Bull St., on the site of where the current meeting house entrance gates now stand. Land behind the meeting house was used as a burial ground.  Continue reading