The early years, 1874-1895
St Mary's Church of England school was one of the first schools to open in the Birmingham area following the Education Act of 1870. In 1870, the Vicar of St Mary's Church, Revd F.T. Swinburne, moved to provide for the educational wants of the increasing population and obtained a promise of the following guarantees:
Education Department £288
National Society £65
Diocesan Society £115
The site for the school in Broad Road was promised by J.F. Swinburne, JP, but the guarantees asked for were £1,180 and it was not until 1874 that the total sum was raised. The actual cost of the school was £1,595.
Teaching was provided via two schools within the one building, each of which had its own logbook. There was a Boys school, and a Girls school. Both began admitting pupils on 23rd February 1874, although the formal opening ceremony took place on 10th March. A new schoolroom was added in 1879. On 17th November 1884 an Infants department was added. Alfred Fieldhouse was the first Head of the Boys school, and Clara Weaver was Head of the Girls school. The first Girls timetable has been saved by Eunice Bradshaw, the last Head of the school, who worked there for thirty years. This can be found on the Images of St Mary's School page. Some teaching was done by older children, known as Pupil Teachers. The school was fee paying (2d per week), and this undoubtedly caused problems for some families, but in 1891 the fees were reduced, and most children could attend free. Pupils had had to buy their own book and pay 3d per week. In the St Mary's Parish Magazine of February 1974, the Centenary year of the school, Miss Mary Bennett, then 94, was interviewed. This is an extract:
Just before her 12th birthday Miss Bennett's mother was taken ill and she was kept away from school to help in the home. Before long the School Board man appeared to inquire the reason for her absence, and on returning to school the following week the Head Teacher (Miss Louisa Shearman) explained that she had missed the examinations and would therefore have to remain in the lower class. Immediately the young Miss Bennett went to her desk, collected her books together, and then discharged herself from the school. Apparently it was quite usual and allowable for pupils to do this.
The logbooks were given to the City Libraries' Archives by Eunice Bradshaw, and make for fascinating reading. Much of the content is, of course, to do with attendance and inspections but there are occasional entries which give an insight into the changing nature of life in Acocks Green as well as the history of the school. For example boys were sometimes absent for reasons that seem familiar in a way yet point to a very different kind of lifestyle. There were also absences caused by infectious diseases, and some outbreaks involved closure of the school for a while.
22nd-26th June 1874 Several boys away this week and some very irregular owing to their being kept at home while parents are engaged in agricultural pursuits, or engaged in it themselves.
6th February 1877 Many boys away from school owing to the Birmingham Steeple Chases being held at Olton.
14th May 1879 Mrs Harris sent a note to say that her son Benjamin was too unwell to attend school, while I knew from good authority that he was at Hall Green races at the same time.
8th November 1882 Great excitement in the school, owing to a fox being killed by the huntsmen close to the school. Many huntsmen rode up to the school-door.
14th January 1885 many boys away this afternoon watching the Funeral of a lady who had been shot.
As one might expect, the Boys school logbook instances examples of bad behaviour from time to time. There was damage, stone throwing, trespassing, some stealing, and some violence, including from parents.
6th March 1878 Punished Frank Beech for not attempting an examination paper set him.
7th March 1878 Mr Beech came into the school during the Scripture lesson and threatened to thrash me, taking up the cane for that purpose, and using very bad language. The work of the school was stopped for some considerable time. The man appeared like a raving madman.
8th March 1878 Frank Beech left the school.
6th August 1880 I punished Willard Parish for being obstinate and making wilful mistakes in his Reading, time after time…His father came to my house in the evening and struck me a violent blow in the mouth. He also used very bad language, and threatened what he would do when he met me in the street. (Over a week later there was an apology).
6th June 1881 Pupil teacher Herbert Paulin absent, he having been waylaid by Anthony Smith and attacked in a most brutal manner. His face and clothes were one mass of blood.
17th October 1887 The Master received a Solicitor's letter demanding a public apology and expenses for alleged "slander" and "unlawful detention" re case of Perkins (see pages 247-8) (this was about the disappearance of some stamps) and he placed the matter in the hands of his Solicitors.
29th January 1889 Revd J.C. Evans visited the school, and at my request gave a strong caution to the boys about their behaviour out of school, particularly about the habit of interfering with gates of houses, going into gardens, and molesting girls on the way to and from school.
By this time there were over one hundred boys on the register. The Girls and Infants school logbook does not contain records of quite such problems, where bad behaviour seemed to be at the level of disobedience or insolence.
However there is one startling exception to the milder content. In November 1884 a Mrs Esther Jones of Stockfield made the accusation that a girl at the school, Florence Wells, had caused the death of her daughter, also Esther, by striking her in the throat. The police investigated, and a Superintendent Yardley questioned the mother and found no evidence that the death had been caused by a blow: the girl had died of "laryngitis and convulsions".
At the end of 1894 Mr Fieldhouse, who had come back for a second stretch as Head of the Boys school, left, and the school was reorganised as a Mixed Department of Boys, and Girls with Infants. The combined Head was Annie West, who had taken over the Girls and Infants School in 1893. However, a year later a new era started, which was to last three decades. This was the time of Henry Rose and his wife Mabel.