War time troubles of two children’s charities

Two Birmingham childrens’ charities experienced funding issues during WWI leaving both in a precarious condition. Solution: amalgamation and the resultant organisation is still going 100 years later.

Fundraising Flag for Birmingham Street Children's Union

The Birmingham Boy’s and Girls’ Union, operators of the Woodlands Adventure Camp in Aldridge is one of Birmingham’s oldest children’s charities. It came into being in 1919 as a result of an amalgamation of two older charities; the Birmingham Street Children’s Union and the Birmingham Working Boys’ Home.

The Birmingham Street Children’s Union had been founded in 1906 by Canon Carnegie, rector of Birmingham Cathedral from 1903 to 1913. (In 1913 he was appointed Chaplain to the House of Commons and in 1916 married Mary Crowninshield Endicott, the widow of Joseph Chamberlain). The war had an impact on the organisation both in its activities but also on its fundraising. By 1915 there was concern that it’s future was uncertain and that it had been forced to reduce the number of clubs it operated and an appeal was made for further funds. It highlighted the number of former members who were in the Army and Navy.

Birmingham Street Children's Union - Birmingham Daily Post - Monday 20 September 1915
Birmingham Post – Monday 20 September 1915

A large proportion of its funds came from flag days, which had become an increasing popular method of fundraising from about 1912.

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Fundraising during WWI  also became a major issue for The Birmingham Working Boys’ Home which  had been founded in 1879 by a Major Fordyce as a night shelter for homeless and destitute boys. Soon after this date it became apparent that to have a lasting and life-changing impact that a greater level of intervention was required. The organisation took on the rent of “Gordon Hall” in Deritend with the aim of providing boys from the working classes, with no parents or none who could support them, a home and the means of learning a trade until they could fend for themselves. Being placed in Deritend they were surrounded by manufacturers and other possible employers and it seems they were supportive and keen to take on youngsters from the Home.  Funding came primarily from subscribers with some financial assistance from the Poor Law Guardians.

Birmingham Working Boy's Home, Deritend
1886 Design for Birmingham Working Boys’ Home, Deritend

By 1914 there were on average 28 boys resident in the Home at any one time. The 1907 Probation Act had given magistrates powers to remand boys to such establishments instead of imposing punishment and this was a route by which an increasing proportion of the residents arrived in the Home. But the Report for 1915-1919 held in Archives & Heritage at the Library of Birmingham describes how the impact of the War on local working conditions and it’s fundraising capabilities led to to its inability to continue as an independent organisation.

An increase in wages paid by local manufacturers meant that those above 16 years enjoyed greater independence and were less willing to stay in the Home with its inevitable rules and restrictions. At the same time greater numbers of younger boys, “owing to the removal of their fathers’ restraining influence”, due to their being away at the Front,  were being brought in front of the Juvenile for a variety of offences. The Home felt obliged to take in any referrals that came their way but the funding that came with 12 to 14 year olds was less than with their older counterparts. The annual deficit grew from approximately £80 in 1914 to over £438 and by the end of 1918 the organisation had debts of £1411 13s 8d.  The Committee also seemed to have been reluctant to make a dent in the deficit by means of appeals to subscribers.This was partly due to the average number of residents falling to 16 in both 1917 and 1918 but was also probably a reflection of the amount of fundraising and charitable donations that were of necessity going to the War effort and to the new charities supporting wounded servicemen and providing comforts to those at the Front.

Although the Committee felt they could no longer continue to operate the Home independently they were keen that some of their work should continue and so took the decision in 1919 to amalgamate with the Birmingham Street Childrens’ Union  under the banner of the Birmingham Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs.

During the course of the Children of War Project we hope to uncover more about these and other children’s organisations. Information gathered will be shared online and in a learning guide to be published in March 2017. If you are interested in any aspect of childrens’ lives during WWI please follow the Children of War project via this blog – or even better get in touch and volunteer to join our growing band of researchers.

Liz Palmer – Project co-ordinator




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