Following the completion of the Midland Adult School Union cataloguing project, generously funded by the Midland Adult School Union, the catalogue is now available to view on our online catalogue under the reference number MS 703.
The Midland Adult School Union was established by a Quaker book seller and publisher, Alderman William White (1820 – 1900) of Birmingham and John Blackham (1834 – 1930), a draper, book seller and publisher, of Hill Top, West Bromwich in 1884 to co-ordinate, support and develop the work which had been going on across the region since the 1860s to provide adult school classes in reading and writing, at a time when many working class adults were illiterate.
Covering the period 1864 to 2010, the collection contains records not only of the Midlands Adult School Union, and its sub-divisions, the Mid-Worcestershire Sub-Union, Smethwick Sub-Union, and Dudley Sub-Union, but also of a number of Men’s and Women’s Adult Schools in the area. These include Severn Street, Moseley Road, the Beehive, Bushmore, Burlington Hall, Nelson Street, Clark Street, Hay Green, Gooch Street, Farm Street, Bristol Street, Woodlands Park, Aston, Allen’s Cross, Bearwood, Bournville, Bilston, Northfield, Selly Oak, Kingswinford, Windsor Street and Walsall. It also contains records of Midlands Adult School Union’s holiday bungalow at Finstall, its guest house at Bewdley and St Oswald’s Camp at Rubery which were used by members of the Adult Schools. Records relating to Midland Adult School Union activities such as the Spring Conferences, Music Festival, and Sandwich Club are also included.
The records consist of school and committee minute books, annual reports, correspondence, attendance registers, financial records, photographs, visitor books, plans, deeds and trust records, adult school song books, lesson handbooks, and ‘One and All’, the adult school magazine.
The collection will be of interest to anyone researching the development of the adult education movement which was initially established to teach reading and writing to the working classes, but then evolved to encompass wider current affairs and subjects of general interest. It will also be relevant to those interested in researching subjects relating to temperance, religious worship or the development of opportunities for recreational and leisure activities for the working classes. For those who are interested in the topic of philanthropy and volunteering, many of the teachers and supporters of the adult school movement came from some of Birmingham’s well-known families, while in some cases, individuals who first started as students, went on to hold leading roles in their school or within the Union. Family historians may also find it of interest if their ancestors were involved in the adult school movement, either as teachers or as students.
It’s that time again when we give you an update on the new additions we’ve made to our local studies collections in the previous 12 months. As usual, in 2018 we continued to accept donations and to make purchases of printed books which have been added to the Birmingham Collection, the Black History Collection and Military History. We have also added to the selection of books available to researchers in the Wolfson Centre. Feel free to browse through the list below:
Barnsley, David & Thompson, Shirley. Against All Odds – The Carlson House Legacy. (2018)
41.34 CAR Birmingham Collection and L 41.34 CAR.
Barton, Gerry & Babb, John. Who Does Want To Kill Anyone? The story of conscientious objectors in Mid – Staffordshire and the Black Country during the First World War. (2018)
75.7 BAR Birmingham Collection and L 75.7 BAR.
Whilst researching local World War One poets whose works are held in the War Poetry Collection of the Library of Birmingham, one of my most unexpected discoveries was a slim volume entitled “Ten Short Poems”, written by Genevieve Gwendoline Webb. Female poets of World War One are far less well known than male ones, but what was particularly surprising about this booklet was that Genevieve had written these poems when she was a child. Her age, precisely recorded at the end of each poem in both years and months, ranges between 12 years 9 months and 14 years 9 months. Thus we can see that Genevieve was still a schoolgirl at the time the verses were written.
Using genealogical resources such as online local baptism records and the 1911 census, it is possible to establish that Genevieve Gwendoline Webb was born on 23rd July 1901. Her parents were Edward Joseph Webb, a sorting clerk at the Post Office and Annie Florence Webb. Interestingly Genevieve’s mother Annie was formerly Annie Le Brocq and she was born in St Helier, Jersey. Genevieve was baptised on 11th August 1901 at St Francis of Assisi Catholic church in Handsworth. The 1911 census shows Genevieve living with her parents at 17 George Street, Lozells. She had 4 siblings, Theresa Annie, Edward De Grunchy, Frances Helen and Josephine Mary. Her grandmother, Catherine Helen Webb, also appears on the census as living with the family.
The earlier verses in “Ten Short Poems” are written when Genevieve was 12 years old. War had not yet broken out, and Genevieve’s writing, whilst somewhat sombre in tone, reflects the usual concerns of a schoolchild with poetic leanings. In “The Lonely Willow” she celebrates the beauty of the natural world whilst at the same time recognising the cruelty that mankind can inflict upon it. In another poem “To a Favourite Teacher” she records her innocent attachment to one of her schoolmistresses and the sadness she feels at their approaching parting. This is because (and note her use of capital letters in the second line of the title!) her teacher is “ABOUT TO BE WED”. Nevertheless the poetess insists,
Though oceans part thee from mine eyes,
I’ll often think of you.
This November, to mark the centenary of the armistice, Voices of War and Peace and the Library of Birmingham collaborated to organise an exhibition showcasing work about the First World War that has been carried out by local community organisations since 2014. Two of the projects displayed in the exhibition researched and presented information about injured and disabled soldiers. In honour of Disability History Month, and as Research Assistant for Voices of War and Peace, it seems appropriate to write about what I have learned about disability and the Great War.
The scale of the First World War was unprecedented and unexpected, putting a massive strain not only those on the front line but also on the home front. The injured soldiers returning home created a huge demand for hospital services. In Birmingham, Rubery Hill War Hospital opened in 1915, and then a second war hospital, Hollymoor, opened shortly after. As the war progressed, these hospitals were not enough to keep up with the need for medical services in the area. Large private houses across the Birmingham area were donated, such as Highbury in Moseley, to become treatment centres. The University of Birmingham buildings were also adapted for the uses of war, becoming the 1st Southern General in September 1914. Aston Webb was appropriated as a hospital, as well as ten other buildings on campus, and tents were also erected on the grounds. You can see archival images of the University and Highbury as treatment centres in the exhibition. By 1919, 125,000 patients from across the globe had been treated in Birmingham. These facts and statistics really give a sense of how many lives must have been completely changed by the war.
By the end of the war, about forty-thousand men had lost their arms or legs, leaving them permanently disabled. Many of them could no longer do the jobs that they had before the war, and some had to completely re-learn how to live independently. Immediately after the war, the war hospitals helped the men recover from their injuries. After serving the war, and literally giving part of themselves to the effort, the returning soldiers expected their country to now look after them in their time of need. Although there were schemes like the ‘Kings National Roll’ (1919) that were implemented by the state, they were mostly unsuccessful. It was charity organisations that provided ‘sheltered’ employment that helped the soldiers rehabilitate themselves. An example of ‘sheltered’ employment would be Thermega, teaching men how to make electric blankets. Another example is training men to be prosthetic fitters at Roehampton. It was charity organisations providing these services that gave these disabled servicemen a second chance after the war.
Less than a fortnight after the Armistice of the Great War, a Bill was rushed through Parliament which allowed women to stand for election to Parliament on equal terms with men, ‘ironically allowing those women aged between twenty-one and thirty years to stand for a parliament they could not elect’. The previous year, after disbanding the Women’s Social & Political Union, Emmeline Pankhurst and her eldest daughter Christabel formed the Women’s Party. This new organisation represented their political views which now conflated the winning of the war with the women’s cause. Emmeline explained that women needed a party of their own because ‘men had grown so accustomed to managing the world in the past that it had become rather difficult for women in politics to hold their own if they were associated with men’. Emmeline declined the chance to run for election in favour of her daughter and eventually it was decided that Christabel would attempt to become Member of Parliament for the new industrial working-class constituency of Smethwick. While the views of Emmeline and Christabel had become increasingly jingoistic as the war progressed, and their political tendencies leaned far more towards the right than before, the Women’s Party also ‘advocated equal pay for equal work, equal marriage and divorce laws, equality of parental rights, the raising of the age of consent, equal opportunity of employment, and equality of rights and responsibilities in regard to the social and political service of the nation’.
Over 25 years ago, as part of the Birmingham Library “Meet the Decade” events, I put together an exhibition highlighting the work of several local war poets whose book or pamphlet formed part of the War Poetry Collection in the Central Library. Researching this exhibition had a lasting effect on me. Moved and enthralled by the words of these poets, I always hoped that one day I would have the chance to re-visit their work. Perhaps I might again have the opportunity to publicise the poems and to help the voices of these poets be heard once more.
As part of the World War One centenary events I have been given the opportunity to recreate an exhibition featuring these local poets as one of the community projects displayed in the Voices of the First World War exhibition at the Library of Birmingham. Whilst Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon are synonymous with World War One, others also sought to reflect the war through their verse. Many had written poems throughout their life. For others the events of the war, so unheralded and traumatic, meant searching for a way to come to terms with the experience. Writing poetry enabled them to do this.
Some of the works in the War Poetry Collection, such as “Poems and Drawings” by Henry Lionel Field and “Memoir and Poems of a Soldier” by Clifford Flower, have detailed introductions that provide an outline of the poet’s life. Biographical details are enhanced by quotes from the poets themselves and sometimes from their family, school friends and army colleagues.
The 3rd Chris Upton Memorial Lecture, 12th November 2018
The Speaker is Maggie Andrews, Professor of Cultural History, University of Worcester
November 2018 marks the centenary of First World War armistice, which brought to an end four years of conflict and the century of the start of the very first parliamentary election campaign in which at least some women participated as voters and candidates.
In this year’s lecture, inspired by Chris Upton’s commitment to explore the lives of the ordinary people of the West Midlands, Professor Maggie Andrews will look at how the four years of war and the peace that followed affected the women in the region. Life on the home front offered some women new working opportunities or public roles and the new women voters created much excitement on polling day in December 1918.