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.
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’.
Election Results from the Birmingham Evening Despatch, 4th December 1918
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
The Nell Haynes children, 1917
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.
Worcester munitions workers
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.
MS 4760/35 project booklet
The Home Away from Home project archive (MS 4760) documents the personal experiences of women who moved from Mirpur in Pakistan to the Saltley and Washwood Heath areas of Birmingham in the 1960s and 1970s.
The archive is a visual and audio record of these women’s experiences which include happy memories and recollections as well as some of the challenges they faced. It contains oral history interviews recorded with the women, copies of photographs from their own personal collections and a summary booklet giving a useful overview of the project and the interviews.
A number of common themes emerge through the stories and experiences shared in the recordings. One of these is the sense of community the women experienced when they first arrived in the UK which they felt was better in those days than it is now. Life was much more difficult, however, in practical ways such as heating and lighting of houses.
The ladies had some shared experiences, for example several mentioned that they would have liked to learn English when they moved to the UK, but that there were no suitable opportunities or classes for them to go to. A number of the women were also scared of going to hospitals but found that when they did go the staff were kind and helpful and they were able to communicate with each other through gestures.