Monthly Archives: October 2011

Child Labour

Birmingham Archives & Heritage has an extensive number of apprenticeship indentures, especially from the 18th and 19th centuries. Indentures were legal documents signed by the apprentice and their master to agree the conditions of apprenticeship. They were originally drafted on a single piece of paper that was cut in half so that the legitimacy of the apprentice could be confirmed by putting the two halves together. Before legislation was introduced to prevent child labour, apprentices were usually children in their early teens, although many were younger, particularly those working in textile manufacturing. In return for cheap labour they were offered board, lodging and training.

BA&H: MS 871-5

MS 871 includes the indentures for five girls under the care of the Guardians of the Poor in the Parish of Birmingham in 1802: Sophia Tonks, aged 14; Maria Stretton, aged 13 ½; Catharine Stretton, aged 11; Ann Woodcock, aged 10 ½ and Maria Downes, aged 8 years old. All five were apprenticed to John Robinson of Nottinghamshire. Robinson’s father, George Robinson, had come to the area in 1737 and, with the help of his two sons, John and James, established a number of cotton mills along the river Leen on a stretch from Pamplewick to Bulwell. Many of the workers in textile mills were children and they were often ill-treated, forced to work long hours and inadequately fed (‘The Leen Mills’, Lenton Times, issue 4, June 1990).

Indeed, children as young as four could be found working in mills, usually as scavengers forced to go under the working machinery to retrieve parts and materials. From around the age of eight they would work as ‘little piecers’, a very dangerous job which involved leaning over the spinning-machines to repair any broken threads. At around age fifteen they would be employed to operate the machinery.

In 1800 there were approximately 20,000 apprentices working in cotton mills. In the same year that the five girls from Birmingham were apprenticed to Robinson, the Factories Act 1802, also known as the Health & Morals of Apprentices Act, was passed to prevent pauper children from working more than twelve hours a day at the mill. In 1819 legislation was introduced which prevented children from under the age of 9 working in cotton mills; this was extended to factories in 1833.

Appointments to view material held by Birmingham Archives & Heritage can be made via email at: or by telephone on 0121 303 2468.


Nursery Rhymes

MS 760/2/29, Volume of coloured sketches of characters from Nursery Rhymes painted by Ivy Harper (1880-1932).

BA&H: MS 760-2-29

Ivy Harper was the daughter of Edward Samuel Harper (1854-1941), who taught Life Drawing at Birmingham School of Art for over thirty years. Ivy had two brothers, Edward Steel Harper (1878-1951) and Guy Harper (1891-1961); all three became artists or art teachers. The family lived in Harborne, Birmingham. 

This charming little sketch book of nursery rhyme characters was presumably drawn by Ivy when she was a young girl – she later became an art teacher at King Edward’s Girls School, Camp Hill.

Appointments to view material held by Birmingham Archives & Heritage can be made via email at: or by telephone on 0121 303 2468.

Benjamin Stone

Birmingham Archives & Heritage holds a vast collection of photographs by Sir Benjamin Stone, many of which feature children. Stone was born in Aston in 1838 and attended King Edward’s School, New Street. He became director of his father’s glass manufacturing business and then a town councillor representing Duddeston Ward from 1869 until 1878. He was Sutton Coldfield’s first mayor from 1886-1890 and was elected Member of Parliament for East Birmingham in 1895, holding the seat until his retirement in 1910. Stone died in 1914.

The following extract comes from

Stone’s considerable income enabled him to travel extensively in Britain and abroad, at a time when foreign travel was still very much the prerogative of the rich. He was in great demand as a lecturer, and began to collect photographs in order to illustrate his lectures and travel books. Dissatisfied with the quality of many of the commercial prints he purchased, Stone decided to master the art of photography himself, employing two men full-time at his house in Erdington, The Grange, to develop and print his plates. Benjamin Stone was one of the first photographers to switch from wet to dry plates, obviating the need to develop the plates on the spot as soon as they had been exposed.

Appointments to view material held by Birmingham Archives & Heritage can be made via email at: or by telephone on 0121 303 2468.

Selly Oak Nursery School

Archival material from the Selly Oak Nursery School in Tiverton Road was recently deposited with Birmingham Archives & Heritage (Acc. No. 2011/036).

The Nursery was formed in 1904 as the Free People’s Kindergarten by Julia Lloyd, a member of the Lloyd banking family. Lloyd’s involvement with nursery schools began in 1888 when she began studying under Miss Bishop of 316 Hagley Road. Bishop had been trained by Miss Schepel at the Pestalozzi-Froebel Haus in Berlin. Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827) was a Swiss education reformer. Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852) studied under Pestalozzi and laid the foundations for modern education based on the recognition that children have unique needs and capabilities.

In 1895 Lloyd spent the year in Berlin at the Pestalozzi-Froebel Haus; she wrote that after her experience there she ‘felt a call or “a concern” in Quaker language, to return to England and open People’s Kindergartens’ (The Beginnings of the Nursery School Movement in Birmingham, Julia Lloyd, p. 11). On her return, Lloyd began working with Miss Bishop at The Froebel College,16 Harborne Road.

A meeting was held in 1903 at the residence of Sir Oliver Lodge (1851-1940), principal of the newly-formed University of Birmingham, to establish the Birmingham People’s Kindergarten Association, later renamed the Birmingham Nursery Schools Association. In a speech given at the 1909 Annual Meeting, Lodge asked

how could we be content to let children grow up in slums, degenerating into vice and feebleness of every description?

For Lodge, the waste of child life was unspeakable, but the waste of child character was still sadder. He further remarked that

these kindergartens were a protest against the idea of the comparative unimportance of childhood’.

The Nursery opened in 1904 in a room donated by Mrs Barrow Cadbury at the back of the Friends’ Institute at 251 Warwick Road, Greet. “Home life” was the basis of activities and the aims of the kindergarten were:

To give natural healthy conditions for children under school age

To lay a foundation for life in the acquisition of habits of order and cleanliness – to build up character by opportunities for mutual helpfulness and through the fostering of life in plant and animal

To train hand-power and develop the muscles at an age when the instinct for action is strong

To give a basis for school instruction by experiences gained in connection with garden and domestic work and the care of pets

To re-act on home life through the training of children to habits of helpfulness and the appreciation of order and beauty

To give girls opportunity to learn practically and theoretically how to provide for the necessities of child nature

A second kindergarten was opened at the Women’s Settlement, 318 Summer Lane in 1907 and in 1918 a third nursery school was opened at Memorial Hall, Farm Road, Sparkbrook (although this closed the following year).

1919 saw the end of the Birmingham Nursery Schools Association. Clause 19 of the 1918 Education Act moved provision of ancillary services like nursery schools to the local education authority (LEA). The Settlement Nursery was closed but re-opened shortly afterwards under control of the LEA. The LEA also gave a grant to the Greet Nursery to allow it to stay open and in 1921 it moved to its present location at 26 Tiverton Road, Selly Oak.

 Appointments to view material held by Birmingham Archives & Heritage can be made via email at: or by telephone on 0121 303 2468.