Tag Archives: West Midlands

‘Developing our own gifts and those of others’: the educational role of the Warwickshire North Women’s Conferences, 1895-1960


Among the large collection of records of Central England Quakers are the minutes of the Warwickshire North Women’s Monthly Meeting beginning in 1729. They provide a fascinating insight into the mental and emotional worlds of Quaker women in Birmingham over several generations, and illustrate the concerns that were foremost in their minds.

The nature of the Women’s meetings and the records that relate to them changed in the late nineteenth century. In May 1889, a proposal from the men’s monthly meeting was put to the women, suggesting that they should hold joint monthly meetings in advance of their separate meetings. Women Friends agreed to trial this for twelve months. In October 1890, as most business was now done in the joint meeting they decided to hold women’s meetings four times a year, rather than monthly, and the role of the meeting changed. From 1897 three women’s Monthly Meeting ‘Conferences’ were held each year – in the spring to prepare for Yearly Meeting, in the summer to review and read papers from Yearly Meeting, and in November ‘to consider some General subject of interest to women’. In this piece I will be concentrating on this last conference in the period from the 1890s to the 1950s.

Notice of a Conference on 'The Child's Point of View', 1908 (ref SF/2/1/1/2/1/9)

Notice of a conference on ‘The Child’s Point of View’, 1908 (ref SF/2/1/1/2/1/9)

The subjects deemed to be of interest by the women ranged widely, from theological questions, women’s ministry and Quaker history, to the social and political issues of the day. Women Friends presented papers followed by a discussion, and external speakers were occasionally invited to present on particular subjects. The Conferences were well attended, and could attract anything from 50 to 150 women depending on the popularity of the theme. Many of the subjects, particularly in the early years, are those that we might consider to be traditional women’s subjects and we see the Conference functioning as a space of formal and informal education in very practical knowledge that was relevant to middle class wives and mothers.

There is a considerable interest, for example, in motherhood and the upbringing of children and in particular how children and young people should be nurtured in Quaker ways and beliefs. On 12 February 1895 when 70 women were present, the session focused on ‘Woman’s influence over Children and Young People in the Home’. Catharine Wilson spoke of the influence of Christian nurses and governesses working with the mother for the good of the children, a reflection of the class and socio-economic circumstances of many of the more prominent women in the meeting. Caroline Gibbins read ‘a valuable paper’ on the ‘Discipline of Younger Children’ which emphasised ‘moral suasion’ rather than ‘physical force’ and the wise mother’s role in avoiding conflict.

The People's Free Kindergarten, Greet, 1904 (ref MS 4095)

The People’s Free Kindergarten, Greet, 1904 (ref MS 4095)

Continue reading


Uncovering Quaker Heritage: a pop-up exhibition


Monday 23rd January 2017 4.00-6.30pm

Wolfson Centre, Level 4, Library of Birmingham

Since the middle of the 17th century Birmingham and Warwickshire have been major centres of Quaker activity. Despite being a minority group, Quakers have been highly influential in the social, economic, philanthropic and political development of the region.

To find out more about the records we hold, come and view a selection of original Quaker material dating from the 17th century to the 20th century from the archive of the Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

Made available 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.

Entry is free. All are welcome!

The Best of Friends


MS 3782_12_76_189 First page

Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Dr. William Small, 1775, page 1 [MS 3782/12/76/189]

It was reported by Fox News on 5 July 2016 that a letter written by Thomas Jefferson in 1815 had been found by a family in the U.S.A. among papers in their attic. It was put up for sale at a price of $325,000.

You do not, however, have to pay anything like that sum to see a letter from Jefferson, as one exists in Birmingham, within the Papers of Matthew Boulton [MS 3782/12/76/189] and it is free to view!

This letter, dated 7 May 1775, accompanied three dozen bottles of Madeira which Jefferson was sending by ship to Dr. William Small in Birmingham.

‘I hope you will find it fine as it came to me genuine from the island and has been kept in my own cellar eight years.’

Jefferson continues with news of continuing warfare between British troops and the fighters for American independence and with the failure of peace negotiations.

He finishes:

‘…but I am getting into politics tho’ I sat down only to ask your acceptance of the wine & express my constant wishes for your happiness…….I shall still hope that amidst public dissension private friendship may be preserved inviolate, and among the warmest you can ever possess is that of…..Th. Jefferson.’

MS 3782_12_76_189 Second page

Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Dr. William Small, 1775, page 2 [MS 3782/12/76/189]

Unfortunately, the letter and gift arrived after Small’s death, which had occurred on 25 February 1775, and of which Jefferson was unaware.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom (adopted 1785). He was the third President of the United States, 1801-1809. How did he know Dr Small? Continue reading

The early history of the West Midlands’ Association of Women Solicitors


Documents from the West Midlands Association of Women Solicitor’s [MS 4825]

It all began on a warm summer afternoon in 1983.  Sara, Lisa, Louise and I agreed that we would explore the idea of starting an association for women solicitors in the Midlands. 

We publicised our intention to hold a meeting at the Birmingham Law Society’s premises in Birmingham on 24 October 1983.  To our astonishment, at least 50 women came.  Certainly they wanted an association.  We were so overwhelmed by volunteers wanting to participate that our first committee comprised 18 members, including Sara as first secretary.  I was appointed the first chairman.

The National Association of Women Solicitors was already in existence.  This had been established in 1923 following the admission of Carrie Morrison, the first woman solicitor to be admitted to the Roll. We affiliated to the national association, which kindly gave our Association a grant of £25 towards the cost of setting up the group.  And so we began.

In our first year we had 71 members.  We offered honorary membership to men.  Our initial annual subscription was £2 and our members were expected to contribute a further £2 to the national association.

We held eight events in our first year, including two one-day events, which were well attended.  Speakers in that first year included a representative from the Equal Opportunities Commission and talks on care proceedings, women in custody and the work of the Tribunal Unit.  We arranged a visit to HM Prison Drake Hall.  A one-day training course on income maintenance on marital breakdown was attended by 30 women.

We also held a one-day conference on part-time and locum working.  This stimulating day was attended by 64 women.  It led us to decide to create a register of women who wished to undertake part-time or locum work and to try to help them find jobs.  To our surprise, we were contacted by a number of firms of solicitors who were seeking such help.  Demand was greater than the supply of solicitors wishing to register.  But our letter to the Law Society’s Gazette describing the scheme, and which we hoped would attract more women to register, was not published.  We decided that the cost of advertising would be excessive.


Files of records that have been donated to the Library of Birmingham [MS 4825]

At our first AGM, in January 1985 we agreed to maintain a mix of social events and talks and conferences on legal topics.  The Association enjoyed some very successful years, offering women professional development, support and networking possibilities at a time when there were relatively few women practising and women suffered from thick glass ceilings.  Over the years, with new chairmen and other officers, and enthusiastic members, the Association maintained its early success.

Continue reading

Race Relations Act – 50th Aniversary


On 8th November 1965 the first Race Relations Act was passed. It came in to force one calendar month later on the 8th December 1965.

A report by the General Purposes Committee to the City Council on  7th march 1967 stated: The Act makes it unlawful for the proprietor or manager of any hotel, eating place, place of entertainment, public transport, or public resort maintained by a local or public authority to practice discrimination on the ground of colour, race or ethnic or national origins by refusing or neglecting to afford a person on any of these grounds access to the place or the same facilities or services which are offered to others.

As early as March 1966 the Birmingham Evening Mail was reporting that “New-style community associations with both white and coloured members may be formed soon to assist integration in “fringe” areas of Birmingham with concentrations of immigrant populations.” The Lord Mayor, Alderman George Corbyn Cadbury envisaged a ‘liaison committee’ as advocated by the Act itself, which would consist of members of the City Council, churches, ethnic communities and neighbourhood associations.

In order to deal with any difficulties that might arise out of the new legislation, the Act established the Race Relations Board. Local conciliation committees were set up to deal with contraventions on a local level, although complaints could be referred directly to the Race Relations Board, who reported to the Attorney General. The first eight members of the West Midlands Conciliation Committee were announced in November 1966 and included members of the City Council, members of the University of Birmingham Council and other members appointed from institutions across the Midlands. There was clearly a need for the Conciliation Committee as on its launch, it already had 16 complaints about racial discrimination awaiting their attention.

The newspaper reports can be found in the Ethnic Community newscuttings for 1965 – 1966, available by request on level 4 of the Library of Birmingham.


We Will Remember the Fallen

Remember the Fallen

Remember the Fallen

Three years ago we featured the Remember the Fallen website on the Iron Room – the result of the hard work of one woman, Sandra Taylor, dedicated to ‘bringing to life’ the names on local war memorials.

Today, the number of war memorials and rolls of honour on the website now total 574, with a total of 22,254 names:

  • 533 Worcestershire
  • 14 Shropshire
  • 10 Gloucestershire
  • 9 Warwickshire
  • 4 Herefordshire
  • 3 Birmingham
  • 1 Staffordshire

Of the three memorials in Birmingham, one is the Austin Motor Company WW1 Roll of Honour No 1 which is now in Northfield Royal British Legion Club and records 197 names which are listed on the Remember the Fallen website.

A new improved website will be launching soon so please do have a look and show your support.

(The Library of Birmingham does not hold records of the Austin Motor company, but please do enquire with the Heritage Motor Centre.)


Occupational centres and land schemes: ‘…the great need of the moment’

MS 396-2 Newscuttings Bham Gazette 17-4-1935- Public school boys help unemployed

School boys help at the Friends’ Land Scheme for the Unemployed at Doe Bank, Barr Beacon (MS 396/2 National Council of Social Service Midlands Office Press Cuttings, Birmingham Gazette 17/4/1935)

One of the great curses of unemployment is the feeling of isolation which grows upon the victim. He feels that no one cares about him, and for the want of something to occupy his mind, he broods and imagines the whole world against him.

(MS 396/2 National Council of Social Service, Midlands Office press cuttings, The Value of Occupational Centres Evening Standard 22/11/1936)

So wrote an anonymous contributor in a letter to the Evening Standard on 22 November 1936, in which he expressed his gratitude to the Bank Officers Guild, the Society of Friends and other organisations involved in running a number of non-denominational, non-political occupational centres which had been established in Birmingham during the 1930s to help the unemployed. The grateful contributor, having been unemployed for five years, after a period of twenty years in employment, found his attendance at the Lench Street Occupational Centre removed his sense of isolation and enabled him to learn new skills, such as furniture making and boot mending.

During the inter-war years, unemployment in Birmingham, while not as high as in other parts of the country, had risen from 51, 361 in 1921 to 62, 000 in 1931 (Upton, C. 1993 A History of Birmingham, p.197). In 1932, the Unemployment Committee of Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends was becoming increasingly concerned, describing the situation as ‘very critical’ and ‘quite unprecedented in its extent and gravity’. Friends were particularly aware of the need to prevent the spread of a ‘growing sense of isolation and bitterness’ (SF/2/1/1/1/2/10 Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting Reports, Unemployment Committee report, March 1932). Having visited a number of allotment clubs, the Moor Green Lane Unemployment Allotment Scheme, and an Occupational Centre in Deritend, they were impressed by the positive effects such schemes had for the participants’ levels of morale and sense of hope.

WNMM minute book - minute 109A 12 July 1932 - unemployed - Moseley Road Northfield Coventry

SF/2/1/1/1/1/32 Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting minute book, 1932-1935, minute 109A, 12 July 1932

By July 1932, Friends’ premises at Moseley Road, Northfield and Coventry Meetings were already being used as occupational centres and there were plans for additional centres to be set up elsewhere. One of these was to be on the new housing estate at Perry Common. In September 1932, the Unemployment Committee reported that sections of the building were being constructed by members of the Moseley Road Institute Occupational Centre and then transported to Perry Common and assembled on the site by unemployed men from the area (SF/2/1/1/1/2/10 Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting reports, Unemployment Committee report, 21 September 1932).

Continue reading