Monthly Archives: May 2012

At School No.14: Disease and Cleanliness

One former teacher reminisced on the state of the children at Floodgate Street in the 1920s:

“It was a very nice school but the children were very dirty. I remember they all had to have a bath unless they passed the cleanliness standard.” [MS1497/3/1 Miss Barton]

The first use of the new bathing facilities at Floodgate Street in 1905 gained a similar reaction:

“Commenced to use new bath yesterday… Some of the boys were so dirty that it took a half hour + in one or two cases 40mins to get them clean, the date of the last bath being so remote that the boys had forgotten it” [S68/2/1 29.6.1905]

This is not particularly a surprise considering the Birmingham School Board had to authorise extra cleaning in 1897 for Floodgate Street  School as the surrounding area was so dirty. [SB/1/1/1/13 27.2.1897] Sometimes the children used to be sewn into their winter clothes by their parents, and those supervising the baths would have to cut them out. [MS 1497/3/1 Miss Barton Oral History]

This general lack of hygiene for many of the children meant that illness and vermin were rife.

“Floodgate Street School had a building erected in the playground. Kids who’d got scabies used to go twice a week for sulphur baths. There used to be a nurse there and when it came to your head, she’d pick them up with big tweezers to get rid of the scabies…”

[Arthur Evans Oral History MS 1497/3/1]

 The bathing centre at Floodgate Street School was used by the surrounding schools too, and the Hygiene sub-committee of the School Board often had to deal with issues surrounding it.

THe Hygiene Sub-committee discussed ringworm at Floodgate Street School. BAH: BCC 1/BH/10/1/1/2 record 561

On several occasions Floodgate Street was closed in order to stop the spread of Measles, Chicken Pox and Influenza. Sometimes an illness could catch the teachers off guard:

“Today at 4 o’clock, just as children were being dismissed, a little girl was suddenly taken ill. She made strange gurgling noises in the throat, said she was sleepy and then became quite unconscious.”

[S68/1/1 6.9.1926]

It was discovered a few days later that the child had Diphtheria, a disease which Tinkers Farm School, at least, recorded inoculating for in 1938.

Small Pox vaccination attempts caused some controversy in 1874. GP B/29/1/1.

Yet vaccination for Small Pox originally met with opposition, as recorded by the Birmingham Poor Law Union Vaccination Committee minutes of 1874-5. This sentiment had evidently changed enough by 1938 for the Birmingham School Board to inoculate for Diphtheria.

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At School No.13: Charity

Two Boys in Sutton Park with Collection Boxes c.1898. BAH: WK/B11/441.

The distress of poverty for the children at Floodgate Street School needed a constant response from charities and institutions. There were several clothing schemes, including a Birmingham Daily Mail sponsorship. Christmas time often encouraged charity as well. The Noel Society distributed presents to the children as well organising “games and singing” in the place of normal lessons. [S68/1/1 18.12.03]

With children often arriving at school unfed something also needed to be done about breakfast. One Birmingham Daily Mail journalist conducted a surprise visit in 1909 to one breakfast mealtime at Floodgate Street School, and reported in vivid detail what they saw:

“As each child hands the ticket to the teacher it is given two thick slices of bread, between which is a layer of jam and margarine. Then when the cup of cocoa, drawn in a bucket from a churn and placed into tin mugs – much worn by constant use – is distributed the recipients consume this food in whatever manner seems best to them. The Smaller toddlers seat themselves upon the form by the wall, and munch contentedly between sips. The more robust and

School Dinners at Floodgate Street. SB 1/11 p.26

active swallow the liquid at a gulp and rush out, refreshed and yelling, into the playground to rejoin others who have shared in the repast. I was struck by the air of cleanliness and order which pervaded the room where the breakfasts were doled out…

every crumb is preserved with great care. Many of the children have to make the food they receive in the morning last them through the day, and to that end they put one of the slices by to make a show of having something to eat at lunch-time.” [B’ham Daily mail 20.1.09]

Floodgate Street school logbook records that a donation of food from G. Hookham fed 165 children for breakfast [S68/2/1 22.1.1901]. This is presumably the electric company businessman of Chamberlain & Hookham, an early 20th Century Birmingham business.

The Davos Courier reports on the home for sick children. BAH: HC/BCH/6/3/2 p.1.

Birmingham’s lesser-known chocolate maker Christian Kunzle (1879-1954) was born in Switzerland, and used to send children recovering from TB to his home for sick people in Davos to recuperate in the clean air. The factory used to be situated on Fiveways at the end of Broad Street. Floodgate Street logbook also recorded the generosity of a Mr Kunzle who sent the school “a huge parcel of chocolate” in 1933. [S68/3/1 1.6.1933] The children were each given a bag of chocolate when they left for the summer holidays.

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Displaced Childhoods: Oral History Society annual conference

This year’s Oral History Society annual conference, Displaced Childhoods: Oral history and traumatic experiences, will be held at Southampton Solent University, 13th to 14th July.
This multidisciplinary conference will showcase how oral history is increasingly being used to explore the impact of traumatic events such as war, evacuation, conflict and growing up in care has on children and their adult selves. There will be an exciting line up of speakers from both the UK and overseas, presenting papers on a range of topics around displaced childhoods, as well as on methodological and ethical issues. The conference will be of interest to all those working in the field of oral history.
Key themes of the conference include:
  • Internal migration and the global movement of children from Spain, India, the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda
  • The ‘Forgotten Children’ forcibly migrated to Australia
  • Childhood experience of civil disasters
  • The effects of growing up in care and long-term hospitalisation
  • The development of therapeutic environments for children and young people with emotional, social and behavioural disorders.
Keynote speakers:
Dr Joanna Sassoon , project manager of the Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants oral history project at the National Library of Australia; and
Professor Lynn Abrams, author of The Orphan Country: Children of Scotland’s Broken Homes and Oral History Theory
For more information go to

At School No.12: Child Poverty

Many of the previous logbook blogs have hinted at the underlying poverty of the schools’ scholars. Whether it was because they were working in the build up to Christmas [S68/2/1 18.12.1891] or did not have the appropriate clothing, the poverty of families stopped children from being able to attend school. Often the children would attend school unequipped. 132 children in one half day were judged by the head teacher as either having no boots, “or such poor ones as to be absolutely useless in the wet.” [S68/2/1 8.3.1901]

Summer Lane in Birmingham, c.1920. BAH: WK/B11/2332a

There were also occasions where lack of money stopped those bright enough from climbing higher up the educational ladder:

“One boy has left school in order to attend Handsworth Grammar School, having obtained a free place. Seven other children passed the examination but none is leaving this school owing to inability to pay the required fees.” [S68/3/1 26.8.24]

Poverty was also a problem for the running of a school, with children turning up without having had breakfast. [S68/2/1 14.10.1892] Lance Tudor attended Floodgate Street School in the 1910s, where this was still an issue:

“In the morning the school yard was open for children to come and have a big slice of bread and jam and a mug of tea.”  [MS1497/10 Lance Tudor Oral History]

Poor Children of Birmingham. BAH: WK/S17/98.

Arthur Evans attended Floodgate Street School in the 1920s when children used to queue outside the Typhoo shop in Deritend for food:

“Such was the poverty at that time that at closing time every night a crowd of kids would gather outside and when the people came out there was kids saying “got any sandwiches left?”  [MS 1497/3/1 Oral history of Arthur Evans]

One former pupil also remembered the kindness of teachers who would let her have some of the leftovers from their dinner. [MS 1497/12 Mrs France Oral History]

Overall there was a great deal of poverty, particularly within Floodgate Street School. Fortunately the efforts and donations of individuals and charities helped to ease the distress a little, even if the situation was severe enough for the head teacher at Floodgate Street to record that such organisations appeared to be overwhelmed. [S68/3/1 9.12.1921]

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What’s Your Earliest Memory?

Children’s Lives explores the lived experiences of children from the 18th century to the present day. Now Birmingham Archives & Heritage would like you to share your memories! On Saturday May 19th we will have a film-maker available to record your story for the archive so please come along and tell us about your childhood.

Children’s Lives Childhood Memory Day

Saturday 19th May 2012, 11am-3pm, Gas Hall, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

Booking not required. £4 exhibition entrance fee (reduced rates available)

Enquiries: 0121 303 1966


At School No.11: Corporal Punishment

The Story of… The School Board and Unusual Punishment

A Birmingham School Cane.

In 1896 Floodgate Street School’s head teacher was forced to change how he administered corporal punishment.

A Mrs Timms called and complained that a blister had been raised on her son’s hand. Enquired into it, found that boy had been persistently troublesome + that Mr Allen gave him one stroke on hand with cane. The boy moving his hand away was caught on side of finger by top of cane. Case was reported. Mr Allen summoned to meet committee. [S68/2/1 16.10.1896]

This incident and the summoning of Mr Allen to the Board’s committee led to Mr Sturge of the Board visiting to instigate the rule of the Board on Corporal Punishment. A Report into this had been released in February of the same year, and highlighted School Regulation no.20:

“Corporal Punishment of any kind is absolutely prohibited in infants’ schools. In Boys’ and Girls’ schools the Head Teacher only is permitted to use corporal punishment, which must be confined to strokes with a cane. This form of punishment should only be used for cases of persistent disobedience, or serious offences, and every such case must at once be entered in the Punishment Book provided for the purpose. Any teacher, except the Head Teacher, using corporal punishment of any kind, or in any way, is liable to dismissal.” [SB/B 1/1/13 p.284]

The Head Teacher’s later logbook entry betrays his dissatisfaction with the detrimental outcome of this:

“Teachers are keeping the corporal punishment regulation very well but the order is not nearly so good.” [6.11.1896]

 Yet there were often complaints that in the end were not grounded in truth. The story of the boy in Class IVa demonstrates the Head Teacher having to step in and calm an angry mother:

Finding this impossible, he advised her to take what steps in the matter appeared to her to be best and as her attitude was disorderly, ordered her from the premises. [S68/2/1 24.2.1919]

There is no recorded end to this dispute, but the lack of a further entry suggests that the Head was satisfied that the injuries had been sustained outside of school, and not by the accused teacher.

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