Tag Archives: poverty


In 1881 Thomas Agnew, a Liverpool banker, witnessed the work of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and in 1883 formed his own Society in Liverpool. This spread to form similar branches in other cities, such as London in 1884 and Birmingham in 1888, although it was not collectively known as the NSPCC until 1889.
Having previously used temporary housing around the city, the Birmingham branch had its first permanent offices at 29 Broad Street by 1892. This now demolished building contained a “shelter” room with two beds for children in need. This accommodation was used for children whose parents were awaiting court dates or for children waiting to be removed to new homes.

BA&H: L41.3106

The Annual Reports [L41.3106] are full of child abuse cases and figures for those children helped by the society. In the first 5 years the Birmingham society saw 1,171 cases, 977 of which were true cases of child cruelty and which affected 2,807 children.

The lease on the Broad Street property expired by Christmas 1894 and new premises were found on New Street, albeit without a “shelter” room. By this time the Birmingham branches’ subscriptions had risen to some £543 from £101 in its inaugural year. The inside cover of the 1894 Annual Report recorded:

It has been calculated that if all the children whose sufferings have been alleviated by the NSPCC, during the 9 years of its existence, were to join hands, they would form a complete circle round London; and a procession of them in single file would take twenty-three hours to pass a given point.

More information on the history of the NSPCC nationally is available here

Patrick Haines

Nick Hedges

This week’s post is written by Alison Hall, PhD student at the University of Birmingham, who is currently researching a series of photographs taken by Nick Hedges for the charity SHELTER .

BA&H: MS 2399, 'Two Girls', Notting Hill, London, 1971 ©Nick Hedges

These photographs were taken between 1969 and 1971 by Nick Hedges (MS 2399). They were commissioned by the housing charity SHELTER and were used in their reports and advertising campaigns. In his role as the charity’s in-house photographer, Hedges attempted to record the terrible housing conditions that existed across the UK in the late 1960s. Many of his photographs were taken in cities such as Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Bradford, Leeds, Glasgow and London. SHELTER succeeded in redefining homelessness to include people living in inadequate housing: homelessness was no longer limited to those living on the streets. The photographs reveal the hidden domestic lives of children and their families and were instrumental in changing people’s perception and understanding of homelessness.

Hedges tried to show the positive, as well as the negative, side of homelessness. In the photo above, the girls have been photographed in their one room flat. They are smiling and the room is homely and inviting. However, it is clearly overcrowded (it is possible to see the bed behind the girl on the left).

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

Pentland’s Street Robins

In 1893 Joseph George Pentland, a printer and Vice Chairman of the Birmingham School Board, founded the Bull Ring Mission, which aimed to help slum children. The principles of the Mission were ‘bodily comforts first, and then moral lessons’ [1]. Picnics and trips to the countryside were organised for the children, and frequent appeals were made for money to support such activities. The annual report for 1902-03 states that

in the spirit of sympathy, love and brotherhood we carry our work into the 6,000 courts and slums of the City, seeking to stem the tide of those deadly evils following in the train of dirt, drink, and the devil.


A jubilee for street children was organised every January (in the summer time there was an excursion to Sutton Park). In January 1900, 5,000 of the ‘Street Robins’ processed through Birmingham to gather at the Volunteer Drill Hall on Thorp Street. Almost 400 gallons of tea were drunk, and each child received a piece of currant cake, a fruit bun and a mince pie. In addition to feeding the children, the Mission also gave gifts – 12,000 books, 5,000 toys and 500 pieces of clothing were distributed.

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

[1] ‘Religious History: Protestant Nonconformity’, A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 7: The City of Birmingham (1964), pp. 411-434

Birmingham Children’s Homes Project

BA&H: MS 466 F/5

Ginger, A Story (MS 466 F/5) was an imaginary tale was written to promote the work done by the Middlemore Emigration Homes for young children living in poverty. 

Ginger was an illegitimate boy living in the slums of Birmingham. His father had died in WW1 leaving his mother, who worked as a barmaid and then a cleaner, to support Ginger. They lived in the back-to-backs, small houses built around a communal courtyard; we learn that ‘the landlord provided three w.c.s and one tap for the 58 inhabitants . . . in summer the court smelt as only a slum court can smell’ (p.5). Living in the city meant that Ginger began to get into trouble, his mother unable to keep an eye on him, which resulted in appearances at the Children’s Court. Eventually it was decided to put Ginger into the Middlemore Homes, where ‘he was well fed and comfortable, and for the first time in his life he had a proper bath and slept alone in a bed’ (p.9). Ginger was then sent to Australia to live on a farm; the booklet ends with a letter sent by Ginger to his mother.

BA&H: MS 466

Between 2009 and 2010 a small team, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Birmingham City Council, set about creating a history and archive of Birmingham’s Council-run children’s homes between the years 1949 and 1990.


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