Autobiography of Richard Tangye: Chapter 9
CHAPTER IX. "CITIZENS OF NO MEAN CITY,"
THE history of Birmingham, during the last half century, has not only fully justified the anticipations of those who laboured to promote the enfranchisement of the people, but has also demonstrated the groundlessness of the fears of all who entertained honest doubts as to the safety of entrusting them with a full share of the power hitherto exercised by a limited number. For with every extension of the right of self-government, the voice of the people has always been raised in favour of increased facilities for the attainment of intellectual improvement; and no surer guarantee of stability, and of a just use of their power, can be desired.
During the period to which I have referred, with a single exception, every one of the great public educational institutions in the town has come into existence; and in every instance, the greater the development, the more emphatic has the approval of the people been. In no town in England has there been such an advance in everything that tends to raise the intellectual standard and to elevate the taste of every class, and the inhabitants of Birmingham, whether they are native-born or "adopted sons," feel that they are indeed "citizens of no mean city."
Standing at one corner of the Town Hall there appears in view a remarkable group of educational institutions: the Queen's College, for the study of Medicine and Divinity; the Midland Institute, with its 4,000 students; the famous Free Libraries, unequalled in the three kingdoms; Mason Science College, founded by a working man, and endowed by him with £200,000; the School of Art, with its 3,000 students; and the noble Art Gallery, which has already been visited by four millions of people. In addition to these, scattered all over the town, there are forty-two splendid buildings belonging to the Birmingham School Board, and accommodating 45,000 children. All these institutions, with the exception of the Queen's College, have come into existence since I first came to Birmingham; and it is not too much to say that their establishment opens a new era in its history.
The Free Libraries.— The official motto of the Birmingham Corporation is "Forward" but the inhabitants by no means justified its adoption by their action in regard to the proposal to establish a Free Library under the Act of 1850, for although that Act only authorised the levying of a rate of a halfpenny in the pound, which was to be used for the provision of buildings only, the decision of the council in its favour was rejected by the town, as a sufficient number of burgesses failed to support the proposal on a poll being demanded. The general apathy on the subject was shown by the fact that less than a thousand voters took the trouble to go to the poll. The opposition was composed of very ill-assorted elements; it consisted of the "economists," who opposed any increase of rates for any object; of the publicans, who foresaw that they were not likely to gain by the opening of free libraries; of the extreme Nonconformists, who objected to all rates for such purposes; and of the Clergy, who raised the "religious difficulty" as to books for the people.
In 1855 Mr. Ewart's Act was amended, and Town Councils were authorised to levy a penny rate, and to expend it upon books for the Libraries and specimens for Museums. Four years later the revised Act was adopted with but little opposition. The Committee of Management was composed of eight members of the Council, and of the same number of non-members chosen from literary, scientific, and educated townsmen, whose help would be useful in the proposed work.
The great Reference and Central Libraries were opened in 1865; neither cost nor care was spared to make them worthy of the town; and the address of George Dawson at the opening of the Reference Library marks an epoch in Library work, and will never be forgotten by those who heard it. In 1864 the Shakespeare Memorial Library was begun as a literary and monumental memorial of the tercentenary of Shakespeare's birth: it was opened with 1,239 volumes, afterwards increased to more than 6,000, most of which were burnt in the disastrous fire of 1879, but which have since been more than replaced both in extent and value.
The great fire which destroyed so much that was valuable, and much that can never be replaced, brought forth a wonderful series of donations for the restoration of the ruined Libraries. Within a week of the first meeting, £6,000 was subscribed; and this amount was afterwards increased to nearly £15,000, which, with the insurance fund, provided nearly £30,000 for the purchase of books for the Reference Library only. This now contains more than 100,000 volumes, in every branch of literature; while the central and three branch lending Libraries contain 60,000 volumes in addition. About 2,000 volumes are issued daily; while more than 11,000 readers visit the rooms every day. All of these libraries are maintained by a "penny rate," which produces £9,500 per annum.
The Reference Library only is open on Sunday from 3 to 9 o'clock; no officer is compelled to attend, the service being voluntary; and the "religious difficulty" is met by the fact that only six attendants are necessary on Sundays, and five of these are Jews. "These Free Libraries," says Mr. Mullins, the able chief Librarian, to whose large knowledge, method, and energy they owe so much, "seem to reach all classes with their elevating and gladdening influence. There are not only books for the student and worker, by which they may be helped in the business of life; but there are books for the weary, books of standard music, books for little children, and books for the blind."
The Midland Institute.— The Birmingham and Midland Institute has been the successor in the work which the old Mechanics' Institutes were intended to accomplish, and has done excellent work; it was incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1854, as an "Institute for the diffusion and advancement of Science, Literature, and Art." The scheme provided for two departments: General for news-rooms, libraries, museums, etc. and Industrial—for elementary and progressive instruction in mathematics and practical science, with laboratories, models, etc., for both sexes and at moderate fees.
Penny lectures on scientific subjects have been provided, and have proved most useful in securing students, and in enabling adult artisans to prepare for further study. In 1856, George Dawson and Mr. Saml Timmins, F.S.A., volunteered to give a course of lectures on English literature, which proved to be a brilliant success. These have been continued, with the addition of English history, to large and increasing numbers of students, by a succession of competent teachers. Other classes for the various European languages, for logic, shorthand, and recently for typewriting, have also been formed, and are proving of inestimable value to the commerce of Birmingham. A special endowment has also provided for a most useful class on the laws of health, which is attended by large numbers of students from all sections of society.
That the right class was being reached by the Institute was evidenced by the fact that in 1869 forty-five per cent of the students were artisans, twenty- nine per cent shop-men, and twenty-one per cent women and girls. The quality of the teaching, and the success attending it, is shown by the result that at the Society of Arts examination one student took the first prize in chemistry, and a working electroplater the first prizes in four modern languages, while another student won a Whitworth scholarship against competitors from the Universities and the principal Science Colleges in the kingdom.
The prosperity of the Institute continues, and its work and usefulness is being constantly enlarged. An Archaeological and a Musical section and Metallurgical classes have been added, with an engineering workshop. There is also a Meteorological station. Not only has the Institute thus developed as to its "industrial" and class work, but it has provided a series of high-class lectures for the general subscribers; and its excellent example has been followed, as far as possible, by numerous Suburban Institutes around Birmingham.
The Mason Science College.— While the Midland Institute supplies Elementary Education, the curriculum of the Mason College is higher and wider, and provides especially for those of larger means, greater leisure, and wider aims. It was founded by the late Sir Josiah Mason, and built and liberally endowed by him. Originally it was intended for a Science College only, but literature has since found a place. A remarkable and unique clause in the foundation deed is that, "Once in every fifteen years the provisions of the deed may be varied so as better to adapt the regulations to the circumstances of the time;" so that the "dead man's hand" shall not unduly fetter the living. No political or theological or party question may be introduced, and no kind of religious or theological test may be imposed on any officer, servant, or teacher, all of whom shall be appointed "solely for their fitness to give the scientific or artistic instruction required of them."
The College was opened in 1880, the inaugural address being delivered by Professor Huxley. The regular instruction includes physics, mathematics, chemistry, natural science, botany, zoology, physiology, and English, French, and German; while Greek, Latin, and anatomy have since been added. The principle of Representative Government was recognised by the founder, and the Town Council nominates five of the Governors. Many scholarships at the College have been founded, partly from the College funds, but largely from private donations. The College building is an important architectural work, and is admirably adapted to the requirements of the Institution. One of the most important features of the College is its large and select library of 18,000 volumes, of which the late Dr. Heslop generously gave the larger part, not as a whole, but by judicious purchases from time to time.
One important feature of the Mason Science College is that its scholarships afford a step on the ladder of progress for the pupils from the Board and other Schools, who may thus make their way, step by step, to the highest honours of the Universities, and in several cases this has already been accomplished. The basis of the College Trusts is so broad, and the details have been so carefully worked out that they secure for the Mason College a high position, and it promises to rank hereafter among the best of the higher education foundations of our times.
King Edward's School.— The Grammar School of King Edward VI. is the oldest "foundation" in Birmingham. It was founded on the wreck of the Gild of the Holy Cross, which was established about 1390. At the dissolution its possessions passed to the Crown; but, in 1552, the king, on the petition of the inhabitants, granted these possessions for the maintenance of a Free Grammar School— "for the instruction of children in grammar." Their annual value then was £21, rising in 1795 to £1,200; in 1861 to £11,000, and in 1880 to £29,983; and it is calculated that at the end of this century the annual revenue will be £50,000. The management of the School until comparatively recent years was on very "old lines," and was not always free from the suspicion of corruption.
After the building of the New School in 1830, some improvements were begun, and branch Schools were established, all being free; but it was not till 1864 that much progress was made. A Reform Association was formed, and the claim that the Governors should cease to be co-optative was supported by the Town Council; and after years of agitation, during which some concessions were made, the Charity Commissioners prepared a scheme in 1875, which is now in force, and under which out of the twenty-one Governors, eight were to be chosen by the Town Council, four by three Universities and the teachers of the School, and the rest by the Governors themselves. Great changes have already been made, including a High School for Girls, and a branch High School for Boys. Now, too, a large sum is secured from fees; but a considerable number of "free" places are given to pupils who have passed successfully from the Board and other Elementary Schools, and the "new policy" bids fair to be eminently successful in raising the character of the School.
Board Schools. The operations of the Birmingham School Board have now assumed a magnitude and importance which would have seemed impossible of attainment fifty years ago. There are now forty-two blocks of School-houses belonging to the Board, containing 118 Schools for Boys and Girls under separate headmasters; while in some of the newly-designed Schools, class rooms for both boys and girls are arranged around a Central Hall, under the superintendence of one headmaster. The Code provides for seven Standards; but in the ordinary Schools provision is made for six only. The boys of the Seventh Standard are collected into the Central Technical School, where they are taught the elements of those sciences that underlie the Birmingham trades; and they are also taught the use of hand and machine tools.
The progress in this School is very marked: at the time of writing there has been only one return in reference to this year's examination, but that is excellent. It refers to the examination in Applied Mechanics, at which forty-four boys were presented, of whom twenty-two passed in the first class, twenty in the second, and there were only two failures. When Mr. George Dixon first proposed to establish this School — which he did at his own expense — great alarm was felt amongst the "economists" lest the cost to the taxpayer should become too heavy. As a matter of fact it was the most expensive of all the schools at first; but such has been the success which has attended the system of teaching pursued, that it is found the boys earn so much in grants as to cause the School to be the cheapest to maintain of the whole series. The Seventh Standard Girls are collected into one School so as to be under the charge of one Seventh Standard teacher, there being too few to admit of so expensive a teacher in each School. The large play grounds and sheds are open to all the scholars every evening and on Saturdays, and are greatly appreciated.
For many years past, Science has been systematically taught in the Birmingham Board Schools; and at the outset the administrators were fortunate enough to obtain the services of an able and accomplished man of science, Mr. W. Jerome Harrison, to whose excellent arrangements and admirable methods most of the success of the scheme is due. Mr. Harrison commenced by drafting a full series of lessons, and carefully prepared all the apparatus necessary to illustrate them; this apparatus he arranged so that it could be safely and expeditiously conveyed in a spring handcart from school to school. Every morning at nine o'clock the Science Demonstrator — a true peripatetic philosopher — sets out from his head-quarters, accompanied by the handcart, which is drawn by a strong youth. Arrived at the School all is found in readiness, the pupils arranged and the lecture table in position. Mr. Harrison. takes the boys at one visit and the girls at the next; his assistant taking the girls, while he has the boys; hence every pupil comes under the eye of the Demonstrator once a month, each lesson lasting forty-five minutes. The apparatus is then speedily packed into the cart, and the next School proceeded to. Between the visits of the Demonstrator at least one lesson is given by the regular teachers, and a written examination of the subject-matter is held, the answers being corrected by the junior teachers, and submitted to the Demonstrator on his next visit.
The number of scholars on the books of all the Public Elementary Schools in Birmingham when the School Board began its work, was less than 30,000; it is now more than 73,000. The average attendance was then about 16,000; it is now more than 60,000. And while the numbers on the books of the Denominational Schools have slightly decreased in the interval, the average attendance has increased by nearly thirty per cent. About 10,000 children are educated without charge, upon orders from the Guardians of the Poor; while 16,000 infants and 7,000 older children are received for the nominal fee of one penny per week. Most of the Roman Catholic children are taught in their own Schools. The Board is now engaged in building two other Schools, each of which is to accommodate 1,000 children, while plans are being prepared for two more equally large.
These facts and figures will serve to show the immense development that has taken place under Mr. Forster's Education Act; and none but those who are actively engaged in large towns can fully estimate the enormous benefits that are being conferred on the community by its administration.
The School of Art. In Mr. Bunce's admirable History of the Corporation of Birmingham he states, "It had long been felt that the School of Art, which was inadequately accommodated and poorly supported by subscriptions, ought to be in the hands of the Corporation in order that by public management, and the employment of the corporate funds, the teaching of Art to industrial and other students might be made a town work, and be thus extended and placed upon a footing adequate to the wants of the community." But there were apparently insuperable difficulties in the way of this desire being accomplished, for even if the money could be found with which to provide suitable buildings for the use of the School of Art, an Act of Parliament would be necessary to empower the council to support it from the rates.
The difficulty was overcome by the offer of certain citizens to find the necessary funds and the site, upon condition that the Corporation should obtain the required Parliamentary sanction. This was done in 1883, and in due course the Corporation took over the property and duties of the old School of Art and Design, and merged them in the New Municipal School of Art, the first of its kind in the United Kingdom. The success of the new institution has been phenomenal, the number of students having increased three-fold since the amalgamation, while the results obtained at the personal examinations of the Department of Science and Art have been vastly superior. The teaching staff is admitted to be second to none in similar institutions in the kingdom, and the results of their teaching will bear comparison with the most successful.
A large scheme for providing scholarships and free admissions to the central and branch Schools is in full operation, and the right class of pupils are secured, special arrangements having been made to give free admissions to pupils of such schools as within the city receive aid from the Educational Department. An admirable arrangement has also been concluded with the School Board, under which, for the payment of £300 a year, the School of Art undertakes the entire supervision of the Art instruction in all the Board Schools, and as stated by the Committee "there is every reason to hope that this direct connection between the School Board and School of Art will, in due course, have most beneficial influence upon the art work of the town."
In 1878 and again in 1881, I was elected to the Birmingham Town Council without a contest, and was not long in becoming deeply interested in the Educational work which it was carrying on by its Free Libraries, etc. During my frequent visits to the Continent I had been much impressed with the advantages afforded the artisans of almost every manufacturing town by the facilities possessed by them for studying the highest examples of Art in Municipal Museums and other public collections.
The lack of such facilities for the artisans of Birmingham had long been recognised and deeply deplored, but it was not until a few years since that an opportunity occurred to supply this deficiency. The Corporation possessed a small collection of objects of Art which were exhibited in a building inconveniently situated at a distance from the centre of the town, and in 1880 it was proposed to transfer these to a temporary building to be erected in a more convenient position. I felt that if this course were adopted, the result would be the postponement for an indefinite period of the provision of an Art Gallery commensurate with the requirements of the town, and in conjunction with my brother I made the Council an offer, which they accepted, and which involved the erection by them of the present noble Art Gallery, at a cost of £100,000.
This decision of the Council has been amply justified since the opening of the Gallery in 1885, by the great interest it has evoked amongst all classes of the population and by a splendid series of gifts of pictures and other works of Art, which would never have been made if the proposal to erect a temporary Gallery had been carried into effect.
There now remained but one thing to be done to complete the circle of Educational institutions in the town, and that was the provision of suitable buildings for the School of Art. On the 9th of November, 1881, the Mayor read three letters to the Council containing offers of a site for the School of Art, and of the needful funds for its erection, whereupon the following resolution was adopted:
"That the munificent offers of Messrs. Tangye to contribute the sum of £10,000 (afterwards increased to £11,000) and of an Anonymous Donor (the late Miss Ryland) of a further sum of £10,000 towards the erection of a School of Art, and Mr. Cregoe Colmore, to present a valuable piece of land as a site for a School of Art for this borough, be, and they are hereby, gratefully accepted." 
Subsequently we were presented by the Council with an illuminated address of thanks for our gifts to the Art Gallery and School of Art; and at a large meeting in the Town Hall, presided over by the Mayor, we received a similar address signed in a few days by more than 5,000 working men, warmly acknowledging our efforts in promoting the establishment of those Institutions, and the cause of Education generally. In connection with this presentation, a working man addressing me, said, "Mr. Tangye, by what you and your brother have done in promoting Art Education, you have immortalised yourselves, sir — at any rate for half a century!"
Severn Street "First Day" School, This sketch would be very imperfect if I omitted to give a few particulars of the Severn Street First Day Adult School, one of the oldest and most useful educational institutions in Birmingham. This School was founded about forty years ago by the late Joseph Sturge, who had long observed the great need that existed for some agency that should take hold of the youths who had left the ordinary Sunday-school, and should continue their training in the most perilous period of their lives, while growing into manhood. He accordingly interested a number of young Friends in the work, and a commencement was soon made. At first there were nearly as many teachers as scholars, but soon the number of the latter increased, and before long many adults came in. They were taught to read and write; and a large number of men, who would never have entered an ordinary Sunday-school for the religious teaching given there, came in order to acquire those useful arts, and by association with others were gradually brought to become interested in higher matters. At first the School met on Sunday afternoons; but this was inconvenient to both teachers and scholars, and the time was changed to 7.30 a.m., resulting in a great increase in the attendance.
The devotion shown by many of the teachers was great, for numbers of them were engaged in their business occupations until late on Saturday night, and the early hour at which school commenced necessitated their getting up at six o'clock in the morning. At the present time there are about 3,000 scholars on the books, with 250 teachers; and from the commencement of the school the number of scholars who have passed through it is not less than 32,000. The influence of the school for good has been enormous, and tens of thousands have had occasion to bless the day when Joseph Sturge was led to turn his attention to the best means for its establishment.
- Autobiography of Richard Tangye
- Autobiography of Richard Tangye: Chapter 8
- Autobiography of Richard Tangye: Chapter 10
Sources of Information
- Bunce’s History of the Corporation of Birmingham, pp. 240-253.