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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