At School No.9: Violence and Injuries

The Story of… A Gymnasium Incident

Often the injuries at school were accidents, or the result of hitting and fights. However, Tinkers Farm records one particularly disturbing act of violence at school. [Due to the nature of the event people’s names have been removed]

“This afternoon at about 4.50pm a boy (3c) persuaded a teacher to go up to the gymnasium “where these was a man who wanted to see her!” 

When the teacher was right inside the gymnasium the boy attacked her with a policeman’s truncheon, inflicting severe head wounds – cuts extending several inches – and much haemorrhage. First Aid was rendered – the police and ambulance summoned and she was conveyed to selly oak hospital where she was detained.

The boy was arrested at 1am 14.10.44 on his return to his home, where he intended to spend the night in the lavatory.” [13.10.44]

This extreme violent act has no recorded motive attached to it and left the teacher off school for four months – the first three weeks spent at Selly Oak hospital. The boy went before Birmingham’s Juvenile Court a month later, pleading guilty, and was remanded for 14 days. The court record’s specifically list the need for a doctor’s report. [PS/B/1/1/1/1]

Despite the shocking and morbidly fascinating nature of this case it does not appear to have been reported in Birmingham’s local newspapers. The circumstances leading up to this attack will therefore probably never be known. For instance, where did the boy get a policeman’s truncheon from? Why this teacher? What did the doctor’s report recommend afterwards?

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At School No.8: Violence and Injuries

Most people can remember at least one occasion where either they were hurt at school, or someone else was. Chipped teeth, bloody noses, flying board rubbers: this violence in the form of injuries was and is an inevitable part of the school experience. The Logbooks of Floodgate Street and Tinkers Farm School witness these same experiences in the late 19th and early 20thCentury.

Children Ice Skate in Canon Hill Park. The logbooks record many injuries sustained on ice! BAH: WK/E1/921.

Most of these incidents were evidently accidents. What is worrying is the time it occasionally took for an adult to realise a child was hurt, such as at Tinkers Farm School:

“A child fell on ice before morning school + broke his collar bone. This was not discovered for 3 days when the family doctor sent the boy to Selly Oak Hospital.” [S199/1/1 25.9.1957]

A similar case occurred when a child fell from a ‘chute’ in the playground, with the headmaster recording:

 “It appears that what apparently was a simple bump is a fractured skull + the child is detained in the children’s hospital.” [S199/1/1 22.7.1948]

However, some of these injuries were probably the result of fights, such as the boy whose glasses were smashed cutting his eyelid, or whose eyeball was pierced by another scholar’s pen. [S200/1 1.3.1933 & S68/3/1 15.10.30] Injuries weren’t exclusive to the boys either, with the broken noses of girls being recorded. That the entry records the nose as “broken in the playground” suggests the involvement of others. [S68/3/1 5.10.32]

Hopefully these events also acted as cautionary tales for those who witnessed and experienced them. It is unlikely that the girl who swallowed a pin would ever do it again after having to spend five days in hospital. [S199/1/1 6/12/45] However, the Logbooks do occasionally record genuinely violent events, as will be seen next.

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At School No.7: The World at War

…Staying at School

The Education Committee admitted in 1939 that education for those left in the evacuation areas would not be as good as for those in the reception areas. [BCC 1/BH/1/1/1/38 p.15] Providing suitable education and protection for those that had not been evacuated became essential. Tinkers Farm Road School reopened on a voluntary basis on 26th October 1939, and on a compulsory basis in January 1940. During this time air raid shelters were built. 9 shelters were built at Tinkers Farm at an estimated cost of £1,085.

Air raid shelter figures included accommodation for 850 children at Tinkers Farm. BAH: BCC BH/1/1/1/38.

A later report lists Tinkers Farm protection as accommodating for a maximum of 850 children. [31.5.1940 BCC 1/BH/1/1/1/38 p.252] However, the children did not seem too bothered by these new additions to school life:

“This morning’s + this afternoon’s shifts were given an A.R. practice. The children accepted the rehearsal as an enjoyable experience, being curious to see inside the shelters + not at all nervous.” [S199/1/1 23.1.1940]

Tinkers Farm Senior Logbook records many of the air raid warnings during the 1940s, including one event during morning assembly where a plane and gunfire were heard. [S200/1 5.9.1940] The Head Teacher also recorded the falling of bombs in the neighbourhood. [S200/1 13.11.1940] Birmingham’s surviving air raid maps show a cluster of bombs near Litchfield on this evening.

Birmingham Air raid no.46 fell close to Tinkers Farm Road School (top right). BAH: LS/8/29.

Bombing raids on Birmingham were most prolific during 1940 and 1941. In 1944 evacuees arrived at the local rest centre fleeing from the Flying Bombs, V-1’s, which first hit London on 13th June 1944:

“A number of children from the flying bomb area have had to be admitted today.” [S199/1/128.8.1944]

“112 Evacuees arrived from London.”  [S200/1 31.8.1944]

Yet despite these hardships school continued, and there was even the occasional treat:

“City of B’ham Orchestra (40 players) visited the school this afternoon + played to the whole school. The concert consisted of The Caliph of Bagdad, Seventeen Come Sunday, Dance Macabre, Fingal’s Cave, + Shepherd’s Hey – with introductory remarks by Dr Desond Macmahon, conductor. Everyone was delighted.”[S200/1 6.10.1944]

A National holiday was declared on the surrender of Germany to the allies and the signing of the Armistice on 8th May. The Logbook notes that many children were still off the day after as the celebrations ran late into the night. [S199/1/1 10.5.1945]

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At School No.6: The World at War

…Evacuation and Service

Evacuees at Snow Hill Train Station. BAH: WW2 Home Front/Box 2/Print 15.

Floodgate Street and Tinkers Farm Schools’ Logbooks cover between them both World Wars, yet there is relatively little mention of the Great War whilst much is recorded of events during the Second World War. Perhaps this was due to Birmingham falling victim to sustained air raid attacks during the Second World War. The evacuation of many school children became a priority before Britain officially declared war on Nazi Germany following the invasion of Poland on 1st September 1939:

The press were critical of the fact that more children weren't evacuated. BAH: MS 396/11.

“School opened this morning, Saturday, to prepare for Evacuation Scheme – school open all day – also on Sunday 27th.” [S68/1/1 26.8.1939]

The sudden threat of war led to an ultimatum a few days later from the Education Office:

“Final notice from Education Office that Evacuation of School children to safety should take place on Sept 1st.”[S68/1/1 31.8.1939]

30,000 children were evacuated from Birmingham and the immediate area and schools closed until further notice. However, the Birmingham Post ran an article on the 2nd September 1939, a day after the evacuations, arguing that a further 40,000 children should also have been evacuated.

Children were scattered all across the surrounding country. Floodgate Street Infants Department Logbook records:

“130 children entrained at Bordesley Station at 9.28 am for Ross-on-Wye.” [S68/1/1 1.9.39]

In 1940 two large school camps were set up for senior boys and girls in the midlands area: a boys’ camp at “Shooting Butts”, Pipewood, near Blithbury, Staffs, and a girls’ camp at Penkridge Bank, Cannock Chase. The Education Committee produced a list of items each child should bring with them, and a notice from St. Clement’s C. of E. Primary School, Nechells, survives:

A notice for the Parents of Evacuees. BAH: S157/1/9.

However the onset of the “Phoney War”, a period with no major ground offensives between the warring countries until May 1940, meant that the first raid to target Birmingham was not until the 8th August 1940. By the end of September 1940 the Education Committee extended the evacuation area in consequence of bombing raids. [Education Committee Minutes 27.9.1940 BCC 1/BH/1/1/1/38].

The movement of many children during the evacuation meant that Floodgate Street School was closed for the duration of the Second World War. However, as will be seen in the next blog post, Tinkers Farm re-opened and provides a great insight into schooling during the war.

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At School No.5: Truancy and Criminality

The Story of… Victoria Law Courts

The Victoria Law Courts. BAH: WK/B11/4300.

Reading through some of the logbook entries might give the impression that there were many children running unchecked around Birmingham. The intention of a Logbook to predominantly record unusual or notable events in the school’s life meant that normal behaviour would not be recorded. There were sometimes incidents which led to the offenders appearing at Birmingham’s Magistrates Court, the Victoria Law Courts.

“… the old complaint of truancy cropped up + several boys under the leadership of Welch have been shoplifting rather extensively. I appeared at the Victoria Courts with Welch + Brookes who were charged as being the ringleaders in several robberies. They were remanded to the workhouse for a week.” [S68/2/1 17.11.1893]

The boy Welch seems to have often been in trouble with the courts, being locked up again a few weeks later for smashing shop windows and stealing. [S68/2/1 24.11.1893] Whilst truanting alone could sometimes permit corporal punishment, it was the criminal activities during this time which most often took children to court. Yet these children were sentenced in the same court room as adults, receiving no special care as would be expected for their ages.

In April 1905 Birmingham was groundbreaking in introducing the first Children’s Court in Europe, largely by the efforts of Mr J. Courtnenay Lord and the State Children’s Association. The SCA, formed in 1896, was a pressure group for children’s wellbeing and their campaign led to Birmingham Council setting up a sub-committee with Mr Lord as chair. A 1908 Daily Mail article tells much about the running of Birmingham’s Court.

This Daily Mail article was kept in a book of cuttings by the School Board. BAH: SB B/1/11 p.9

This special Juvenile Court for under 16’s, which was set up to meet on Thursdays at 10 o’clock, saw 25 names in its first session. A Mail article made note that these were all boys, and that the court’s aims were to be “a correctional court, more than a penal court.” [13.4.05 The Mail] For the first time there was an attempt to distinguish the juvenile offender in court from those more serious criminal cases, and to keep the court separate with a degree of anonymity between the children. Birmingham’s example led to a wider adoption of such approaches to child offenders in the UK, and indeed in Europe. These changes came too late for the miscreant Welch.

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At School No.4: Truancy and Criminality

Extract from the School Board Report received at Floodgate Street School 30th June 1892:

“This new school is situated in the midst of one of the roughest and most irregular populations of the town, and presents more than ordinary difficulties in many ways, which have been met with energy and satisfactory success.” [S68/2/1]

 If the attendance was hard to keep up because of the weather, then truancy and criminality made this job even more difficult. The School Board Reports, which

School Board Truancy Figures. BAH: SB/B/1/1/13 p.13.

had to be copied into the Logbooks (See An Introduction to Logbooks), often made reference to the challenging area that Floodgate Street School was in. The Birmingham School Board Appeals Committee dealt with Truancy, and its figures were recorded by the School Board.

Truancy was often linked to poverty and the living conditions of the child at home. Sometimes the children were employed selling goods, such as in 1891 where they were selling “Xmas novelties” [S68/2/1 18.12.1891] Sometimes these children would “Sleep out” at night, often around the market place [S68/2/1 8.4.1892]. There are repeated entries for boys stealing in the market place and being punished for it:

“I have had to recommence my visits to the market as the truant season shews signs of beginning again. I brought in seven on Wednesday afternoon.” [S68/2/1 26.3.1897]

Perhaps due to Floodgate Street School’s close city location, truanting and stealing around the marketplace were evidently a regular part of the school year.

Yet criminality didn’t just take place outside of school. One girl stole a half sovereign from the purse of a teacher after the purse was left on a classroom desk. [S68/2/1 24.10.1902] In this instance the punishment seems to have been a word with the mother. Some crimes also went unpunished, with a regular attack on the toilets:

“Have been unable up to the present to catch the thief who robs the girls’ lavatory.” [S68/2/1 15.5.95]

 On one Christmas the headmaster had to confront two children at the Christmas party:

“I refused to accept Kathleen Coleman at the party as, while under an attendance order, she has not appeared since dec 9thWilliam Griffiths (who has truanted 31 times this term up to date) also arrived on party day after a week of truancy. I put him in my room with some work to do and he escaped through the window.” [S199/1/1 22.12.1942]

Occasionally these misdemeanours were serious enough for a child to end up in front of a judge, and Birmingham’s groundbreaking law courts will be looked at next.

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At School No.3: The Weather and Attendance

Floodgate Street Infant Department’s yearly report for 1983 listed attendance as a major issue for obtaining good work [S68/1/1]. There are obvious reasons for the absence of children from school: illness and truancy. These will be looked into later in this series. Outside of these, one of the biggest factors for school attendance seems to have been the weather and the school building’s inability to adapt to this. A warm summer brought with it unusable classrooms. Classes were dismissed early at Floodgate Street School Infants as the fastened windows and broken fan made the air bad. [S68/1/1 19.10.97] The Coal strike of 1921 also caused problems, the lack of fuel causing the Mixed Department’s Ventilation System to break down by the afternoon. [S68/3/1 25.5.1921]

Children building a snowman, Bissell Street, Quinton, 1962. BAH: WK/Q1/110.

Equally, the colder weather left those in the Mixed Department unequipped to attend:

“The snow and cold has kept a large number of children – who are unfortunately very poor + badly clothed – at home” [S68/2/1 22.1.92]

The failure of heating equipment made winter a problem at Tinker’s Farm Road School too:

“Heat is circulating through the school today but the highest temperature is 48 F + the lowest 46 F.” [S199/1 9.2.1940]

Yet clearly truancy and lack of motivation were issues too, and a little incentive went a long way:

“Had an invitation for children to attend the grand Pantomime on Monday next. I promised to take all the regular children. The improvement in the attendance this week is most marked.” [S68/2/1 21.2.96]

“Took 250 children who had made 40+39 attendances to see the skeleton of a whale…” [S68/2/1 16.12.1892]

Those that didn’t get to see the Pantomime or visit the skeleton of a Whale were often off doing things they shouldn’t have been instead, and these will be looked at next week.

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At School No.2: The Curriculum and Learning

“I scarcely know how to describe. 26 girls had all their sums wrong, 10 had one correct, 7 did two correctly + 1 girl only had 3 right. The sums were not difficult ones, + I was greatly surprised at the utter failure of the girls to do them. The spelling in this class although very weak was certainly better than math.” [S68/2/1 4.5.1900]

Whilst the logbooks do not often record in detail the subjects studied at school, what they sometimes record are anomalies, successes and failures. Floodgate Street School was in a deprived area of Birmingham and often the academic work of the children reflected this. Reading was as big an issue as maths, with over 20 children in one class unable to manage any word more than three letters. [S68/3/1 25.8.26] The examinations are occasionally recorded, such as the words used for spelling tests (Leather, Cotton, Monkey, Snake, Squirrel, Mole…), and often covered broad skills:

Children at their desks, Floodgate Street Board School. BAH: Floodgate Street Board School misc photos.

“Term Examinations in Reading, Composition, Dictation, Arithmetic, + Drawing are being taken in all classes this week.” [S68/3/1 26.4.1921]

Yet what the logbooks also record are those additional activities that were part of a child’s education. Needle work is often recorded as interrupting the normal pattern of lessons at Floodgate Street Infant’s [S68/1/1 6.5.92], and Class IA of the Mixed Seniors even went on a geographical observation to Lickey Hills [S68/3/1 8.6.1932]. In 1896 the Birmingham School Board received a report from the Special Inquiry Committee which calculated that teachers had 22 ½ hours, or 1350 minutes, of teaching hours per week. [SB/B 1/1/13 p.282] They were investigating whether there were too many subjects for the teachers to cover, although ultimately nothing was changed. However, The Board did feel it necessary to issue an 1895 report on handwriting in schools. This report detailed everything from the style of teaching to the shapes of the individual letters. [SB/B 1/1/13 p.137]

The children at Tinkers Farm grew plants as a project. BAH: Tinkers Farm Road School misc photos.

On one occasion the headmaster found it necessary to record a lengthy report on teaching techniques, which emphasised the correction of common mistakes on the blackboard as well as encouraging maths problems that challenged the child to work out not just the answer but also what operations to use [S68/2/1 3.4.1896]. Other staff would also “criticise” subject lessons of training teachers at the schools, providing feedback to help improve lessons. Clearly the adults as well as the children were learning whilst at school.

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At School No.1: An Introduction to Logbooks

As part of the Children’s Lives project blog we will be blogging a series of posts “from the logbooks”. The logbook entries are selected from two Birmingham schools, Floodgate Street School and Tinker’s Farm Road School. These records are now part of the School Records Collection held at Birmingham Archives and Heritage.

A class photograph at Floodgate Street Board School. BAH: Floodgate Street Board School misc Photos

Floodgate Street Board School was built in 1890 and opened on the 9th November 1891, coinciding with the year that elementary education became free. It accommodated some 1,115 children. Originally comprised of an infants and mixed department, in 1931 the school was reorganised into an infants and senior mixed department.

Tinkers Farm Road School. BAH: misc photos, schools, Tinkers Farm

Tinker’s Farm Road Council School opened in 1930 in temporary accommodation for 384 infants. Permanent buildings were opened a year later for 432 junior and infant children, with a senior mixed department opening in the temporary buildings. New senior accommodation was built in 1933 and a new infant block was opened on April 5th 1937.

It was the responsibility of the head teacher to keep a logbook of notable school events. The exact rules and regulations were part of the first pages of Floodgate Street School Infants logbook, S68/1/1.

Instructions for Keeping a Logbook. BAH: S68/1/1

Over the coming weeks the logbooks will give an insight into the lives of those children who studied at these schools, albeit through the eyes of those teachers who taught them. Their entries tell stories of attendance and truancy, criminality and punishment, poverty and disease and of schooling during the World Wars. Some of these tell the story of a whole school and some of those individuals involved, but they all help to further our understanding of Children’s Lives and what it was to study as a child in these schools.

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Not long to go now…

As we’re a little more than a month away from the opening of the exhibition, here is some further information about visiting Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Running from 24 March – 10 June 2012 in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery’s Gas Hall, Children’s Lives will reveal both how the experience of childhood has changed and how it has been understood and constructed by adults over time. It will bring the voice of the child to life and draw the connections between the past and the present into sharper focus.

Children’s Lives will be a fascinating insight into Birmingham’s history, as well as a key resource for understanding the changing nature of childhood locally, nationally and internationally. Photographs, archive documents, costumes, artwork and objects will bring to life more than 300 years of history, with collections drawn from Designated and nationally acclaimed collections held by Birmingham Archives & Heritage (BA&H), BMAG and the Media Archive of Central England.

Children’s Lives will include a creative programme of events and spark debate about the lives of children in today’s Britain. Read more information on the Children’s Lives project.

Admission charges:

Adult: £4
Concession: £3
Children aged 5-16: £2
Family: £10
Unwaged: £2
 
Schools
Self-guided schools (per-head): £2
Birmingham school groups: Free
 

Children’s Lives is a partnership project between the University of Birmingham, BA&H, and BMAG. It is curated by Ian Grosvenor, Professor of Urban Educational History at the University of Birmingham, and Dr. Siân Roberts, Head of Collections Development at BA&H and Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham.

Children’s Lives will be part of Birmingham’s contribution to the Cultural Olympiad programme in 2012 and is supported financially by the Heritage Lottery Fund.