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.