Ref NoMS 703
TitleRecords of the Midland Adult School Union, previously Midland Adult School Association and affiliated adult schools
Date1867 - 2010
DescriptionThe collection contains records not only of the Midlands Adult School Union, and its sub-divisions, the Mid-Worcestershire Sub-Union, Smethwick Sub-Union, and Dudley Sub-Union, but also of a number of Men’s and Women’s Adult Schools in the area. These include Severn Street, Moseley Road, the Beehive, Bushmore, Burlington Hall, Nelson Street, Clark Street, Hay Green, Gooch Street, Farm Street, Bristol Street, Woodlands Park, Aston, Allen’s Cross, Bearwood, Bournville, Bilston, Northfield, Selly Oak, Kingswinford, Windsor Street and Walsall.

It also contains records of Midlands Adult School Union’s holiday bungalow at Finstall, its guest house at Bewdley and St Oswald’s Camp at Rubery which were used by members of the Adult Schools.

The records consist of school and committee minute books, annual reports, correspondence, attendance registers, financial records, photographs, visitor books, plans, deeds and trust records, adult school song books, lesson handbooks, and ‘One and All’, the adult school magazine.
FormatCubic metres
AccessStatusPartially closed (Content & Condition)
AccessConditionsSome material is closed for 80 years under the Data Protection Act 2018 due to the sensitive personal information contained in some records and some material is closed due to its condition. See individual item level records for details.
AdminHistoryOn the evening of 14th February 1884, Alderman William White of Birmingham and John Blackham, of Hill Top, West Bromwich, welcomed representatives of the Adult Schools in Birmingham and the neighbouring towns to a meeting at the Friends Severn Street Adult School. These schools provided reading and writing classes based on the Bible to working class adults on Sundays and, although based on Christian values, were non-denominational. Present were 14 representatives from Severn Street School and its branch schools, 19 representatives from 11 other Adult Schools in Birmingham, and 33 representatives from schools in neighbouring towns including Bilston, Bloxwhich, Brierley Hill, Coventry, Oldbury, Smethwick, Tipton, Walsall, West Bromwich, Wednesbury, Willenhall and Wolverhampton. In total, these schools had 11, 000 scholars between them. The purpose of the meeting was to form 'a Union of Adult Schools in the Midland Counties' (MS 272/I/1).

White (1820 - 1900), a Quaker book seller and publisher, had been a Birmingham town councillor since 1873. He chaired several of Birmingham Corporation's committees and was chair of the Birmingham Coffee House Company. He was also a magistrate, and in 1893 became Lord Mayor of Birmingham. Involved in the Adult School Movement since 1848, when he became teacher of Class I at Severn Street (the first Adult School in the city, established by the Quaker, Joseph Sturge in 1845), White remained teacher of this class until his death in 1900. He was the first President of the Midlands Adult School Association, a position he held for 17 years. White was instrumental in the expansion of the Adult School Movement amongst Quakers both in Birmingham and across the country, and his work inspired Methodist, Congregationalist and Church of England leaders to establish their own Adult Schools.

John Blackham (1834 - 1930), a draper, book seller and publisher was Senior Deacon of Ebenezer Congregational Church, West Bromwich, and in 1870 had established the first Adult School in the region outside Birmingham. In 1875, he founded the 'Pleasant Sunday Afternoon Movement' a non-denominational Sunday afternoon meeting of religious instruction for adults, accompanied by a more popular form of religious service for those were not attracted by the Adult School movement.

Since 1847, the work of Quakers volunteering at Friends Adult Schools had been co-ordinated by the Friends First Day School Association which required that any school affiliated to the Association held its meetings on Quaker premises and only employed Friends as teachers. With the gradual increase in the number of Adult Schools which were not established or run by Friends, there was a need for a non-denominational organisation which encompassed all the Adult Schools in the local area if the Adult School Movement was to continue developing and expanding.

The Midland Adult School Association as it was then called, was the first of a number of non-denominational county unions to be set up through the 1880s and 1890s which eventually led to the development of a national body in 1899. It aimed ...'to promote mutual intercourse and help amongst the Adult Sunday Schools in the Midlands District; to foster and improve existing Schools, and to increase their number in this and other parts of the country'. (MS 272/I/1).

The Union held two conferences a year, one in Birmingham each March and one in one of the other towns in the district each October, during which reports were read from each of the Adult Schools and discussions were held on subjects relating to the Adult School Movement.

Each Adult School was led by a Superintendent, later President, and then divided into classes, each with its own Teacher and Secretary. There were prizes for good attendance and punctuality, and those who failed to attend were visited at home. The School's appointed Correspondent would collate returns of the number of scholars and teachers with the average attendance and percentage attendance and send them to the Secretary of the Union. The Correspondent was also responsible for: recording the number of books in the school library, and the number of books being borrowed; the number of visits paid to absent scholars, and the mode of visiting them; details of the Benevolent, Provident and Savings Funds operated by the School; providing reports of any religious or special work undertaken by members of the School.

By the 1890s, there were around 200 Adult Schools in Birmingham and the surrounding area which were affiliated to the Union. In 1891, the Association started its own monthly magazine, 'One and All', which reported on adult school activities in the Midlands area. It was later adopted in 1901 by the National Council of Adult School Associations as its official publication, but retained regional editions with the 'One and All Midlands Supplement'. From 1893, a number of districts were introduced, covering Adult Schools in Birmingham and Aston; West Bromwich, Oldbury and Smethwick; Wolverhampton & Walsall and towards the North West and Stafford; Dudley, Kidderminster and towards the South West. These were subsequently known as Sub-Unions and they offered support and helped foster closer ties between Schools within an area.

Over time, standing Committees were established within the Midland Adult School Union to undertake specific areas of adult school work. These included the Women's Committee, Musical Committee, Education Committee, Extension Committee, Young People's Committee, Prison Committee and Guest House Committee. There was also an Executive Committee and a Finance Committee.

As the work of the Union developed, new adult Schools were formed and new activities arranged so not only were Adult Schools providing opportunities for learning, they were also offering a wide range of recreational activities, fellowship and non-denominational religious worship to their communities. Sports activities were available such as athletics, cricket, football, cycling, rambling, swimming, angling. There were libraries, temperance societies, annual flower shows, Bands of Hope (temperance groups for children), first aid classes and photography. Bands and orchestras were created and the Union had its own music festival. The Schools offered coal clubs, sick clubs and mutual aid societies and the Severn Street Christian Society supported Adult School members in starting their own non-denominational Evening Meetings for worship. The Union also provided its members with opportunities to enjoy holidays in the countryside, with a bungalow for women to stay at in Finstall near Bromsgrove, donated to the Union by the Albright family, a campsite known as St. Oswald's Camp, Rubery on land donated by the Cadbury family, and a guesthouse at Bewdley known as the Manor House.

In the interwar years, a number of new Adult Schools were opened as a result of a campaign to expand membership. Additional Adult Schools also opened on the new housing estates which were being built around Birmingham and the surrounding areas. These new Schools marked a shift from the older, more traditional Schools whose lessons continued to use hymns, prayers, Bible readings and a short talk. Instead, they focused on group study and discussion based around the lesson schemes in the National Adult School Organisation Handbook. The Handbook had been introduced in 1911, and each year's edition followed a theme and contained Bible lessons on different subjects which Adult Schools were encouraged to use as the basis for their classes, with the focus on widening knowledge and exploring the world's problems from a Christian perspective. From the 1930s onwards, new activities were introduced by the Union, such as the Arts Circle which offered opportunities for drawing and painting and organised exhibitions, the Midland Music Makers which put on operatic performances, the Sandwich Club in central Birmingham where city workers could bring their lunch and discuss topical subjects, drama clubs, a Drama Festival and a Literature Group which met monthly to discuss books they had read, and at which participants could submit their own writing for discussion.

For many years, the headquarters of the Midland Adult School Union was at Severn Street Schools, but in 1940 it moved to the Priory Rooms, where much of the early Women's Adult School work had taken place in the 19th century. Unluckily, due to damage in an air raid on the first night after moving, the Union had to relocate again, this time to Friends Library in Dr Johnson Passage, off Bull Street, Birmingham. It remained there until 1960, when redevelopment of the area forced it to find new accommodation at George Road Quaker Meeting House. After a number of years of planning and fundraising, new purpose built premises were opened by the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Alderman N. Bosworth, in April 1970. Known as the Midland Adult School Union Centre, it was based at Gaywood Croft, Cregoe Street, Lee Bank. The 1980s saw extension work to the Centre to provide a kitchen area, and this was followed in the 1990s by additional work to provide office space for the National Adult School Organisation which had also moved to the premises. The sale of the building was agreed in 1999.

Membership of the Union reached a peak in 1910 with 25, 195 members and two years later, there were 211 Men's Schools and 77 Women's Schools affiliated to the Midlands Adult School Union, with a total membership of 20, 0842. During World War One, many of the Schools faced a decline in numbers because their members had either joined the forces, or were working the long hours necessitated by the War. Despite renewed campaigns to extend Adult School work in the years after the First and Second World Wars, membership continued to fall: in 1925 it was at 8482, by 1940, it was at 3000 and by 1958 it was 2500. Now, however, only a handful of members remain, and the organisation left its office premises in Northfield in 2015, depositing its archives at Birmingham Archives & Collections in the same year.

For background information of individual adult schools, see the relevant series in MS 703/3.

Primary sources used throughout the catalogue for administrative histories/description.

MS 703 Records of the Midland Adult School Union

SF Records of Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends

Secondary sources used throughout the catalogue:

Hall, W. Arnold, 'The Adult School Movement in the twentieth century', Department of Adult Education, University of Nottingham, 1985
Hinson, M. 'Adult Schools in the Midlands: 1845 - 1995', Midlands Adult School Union, 1995
Martin, G. Currie, 'The Adult School Movement', National Adult School Union, 1924
White, William, 'The Story of Severn Street Adult Schools', 1895
ArrangementThe records in this collection have been arranged as follows:

MS 703 Records of the Midland Adult School Union and Adult Schools

MS 703/1 Midland Adult School Union, previously known as the Midland Adult Sunday School Association

MS 703/2 Sub-Unions of the Midland Adult School Union

MS 703/2/1 Dudley Sub-Union

MS 703/2/2 Mid-Worcestershire and Class XIV Sub-Union

MS 703/2/3 Smethwick Sub-Union

MS 703/3 Adult Schools

MS 703/3/1 Allen's Cross Adult School

MS 703/3/2 Bearwood Adult School

MS 703/3/3 The 'Beehive' Neighbourhood Centre, previously the 'Beehive' Bishopsgate Adult School, branch of Clark Street Adult School

MS 703/3/4 Brandwood Group

MS 703/3/5 Bristol Street Early Morning School, Class XIV of Severn Street Adult Schools

MS 703/3/6 Burlington Hall Neighbourhood Centre, previously Burlington Hall Adult School, Aston, previously Burlington Street Early Morning School for Men, Aston

MS 703/3/7 Bushmore Centre, previously Bushmore Adult School

MS 703/3/8 Clark Street Adult School

MS 703/3/9 College Road Adult School, Saltley

MS 703/3/10 Clydesdale Group

MS 703/3/11 Farm Street Adult School, previously Class XI Farm Street Division of Severn Street Adult Schools

MS 703/3/12 Floodgate Street Adult School

MS 703/3/13 Gaywood Adult School, previously Bristol Street Adult School, previously Class XIV Bristol Street Division of Severn Street Adult Schools

MS 703/3/14 Gooch Street Adult School, previously Friends Hall Gooch Street Early Morning School, Gooch Street Class XVII of Severn Street Adult School, previously Class XVII Bristol Street Division of Severn Street Adult School, previously Class XVII Severn Street

MS 703/3/15 Hay Green Adult School

MS 703/3/16 Kingswinford Adult School, Mount Pleasant

MS 703/3/17 Moseley Road Adult School, previously Moseley Road Men's Early Morning School Class XV branch of Severn Street Adult Schools, previously Class XV Highgate Division of Severn Street First Day School

MS 703/3/18 Nelson Street Adult School

MS 703/3/19 New Bilton Adult School, Rugby

MS 703/3/20 Northfield Adult School

MS 703/3/21 Quarry Bank Early Morning School

MS 703/3/22 Rubery Adult School

MS 703/3/23 Selly Oak Mixed Adult School, previously known as Selly Oak Young People's Adult School

MS 703/3/24 Severn Street Adult School

MS 703/3/25 Stirchley Street Adult School, Bournville

MS 703/3/26 Walsall Adult School

MS 703/3/27 Windsor Street Adult School

MS 703/3/28 Woodlands Park Adult School, Kings Norton

MS 703/4 National Adult School Union
Related MaterialIn Archives & Collections:

MS 710 Papers of Robert H. Best of Handsworth contains papers on Nelson Street Adult School, 1878 - 1904

MS 2797 Records of Fircroft College, 1890s - 1981

MS 4039 Lloyd family papers contains papers on Joan Lloyd's presidency of the National Adult School Union and various papers relating to Severn Street Adult School and adult education, 19th-20th cent.

MS 4930 Records of the National Adult School Organisation, 19th - 21st cent.

MS 4937 Records of Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre, 20th cent.

SF Records of Central England Area Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, 1564 - 2017

In the Local Studies Collections:

The Story of Severn Street Adult Schools, William White, 1895, ref. L 18.6
History of Clark St. School 1875 - 1930, ref. L 48.76
Glowing Facts & Personalities - Smith, 1916, ref. L 48.76
A Short Sketch of Severn Street Christian Society, Samuel Price, 1873 - 1907, ref. L 48.76

In Knowledge and Discovery collections:

The Adult School Movement, G. Currie Martin, 1924, ref. D374.942
The Adult School Movement in the twentieth century, W. Arnold Hall, 1985, ref. A374.942 HAL
CreatorNameMidland Adult School Union (MASU)
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