Goodbye, St. Paul’s School – from a Souvenir Booklet
A Souvenir of St. Paul’s School, Spencer Street, Birmingham, closed 1968, by G. M. S. Badley, the last Head Teacher 1957-1968.
In July, 1968, one of the oldest schools in the City will be meeting for the last time. An attempt has been made to cover a brief history, but records have been most difficult to find.
The year 1863 is the first recorded entry to be found in connection with the school. Education at this period was not compulsory. Since details of the actual origin of the school are shrouded in antiquity, the only concrete source of information seems to be that a small schoolroom was erected by the Reverend Rann Kennedy in the grounds of the Parsonage about the period of 1832. He was the incumbent of St. Paul’s Church, in St. Paul’s Square, having been curate from 1797. He was “one of the most able and popular preachers in Birmingham.” In this schoolroom “the children of the poor were instructed in reading, writing, figuring and the Scriptures.” Since most of the schools of this era were sponsored by religious bodies, that aspect of the children’s training was predominant.
No written accounts can be found of the work done or standards reached. At this period Warstone Lane was still green fields and small gardens on the allotment system. Property was developing in the lower half of Warstone Lane towards the cemetery, and maps of 1840 show a building at the upper end of Hall Street. Birmingham in many ways still had the character of a country town, but, life was changing, industrialisation was bringing in people from the country where life was becoming hard because of the land enclosures. The machine age had come. Factories were springing up, and children were being exploited for cheap labour. This was the picture of Birmingham when St. Paul’s school was born. Education was extremely limited, very few children continuing any form of learning after the age of ten.
Many children were working at the age of seven years. Diverging for one moment from the subject of the school and its history, let us gain a picture of the actual surroundings. To quote an extract from Birmingham Commercial Directory 1818-1820.
“The air of Birmingham cannot be excelled in this climate. The baneful influence of spirituous liquors which have such devastating influence on other manufacturing districts, is almost unknown here.”
Birmingham was not a town in the local sense. Its affairs were managed by the Court Leet, Bailiffs and Street Commissioners.
Envisage the centre of Birmingham and outwards from St. Paul’s Church to be a collection of orchards, gardens, and green fields. Listen to the bells of St. Martin’s Church ringing, hear thousands of spectators cheering as the new Birmingham and London Royal Mail Coach sets out on its journey to London. Mail guards in full uniform and gold ribbons attend the Coach.
On the other hand we see dire poverty and disease, children exploited in such a way as to prick the conscience of right-thinking people. As stated previously, what education there was, was not compulsory, and would have been almost non-existent but for the Sunday Schools!
By this time the area now known all over the world as the famous Jewellery District was growing. The quill pen was still in use. Gillott was experimenting in steel pen nibs which he made by hand at a cost of 2d. each. Later these were produced by machinery at his factory in Graham Street at 2d. per gross box. This factory, an immense brick building, looked like an asylum and employed five hundred people, most of their children attending St. Paul’s School.
To read the rest of this Feature you will need to purchase Issue 1 of Historic Jewellery Quarter