The Past, Present and Future of the Martineau Centre in Harborne

Martineau Centre

Following the closure of Tennal Community Home School in 1984, The Martineau Teachers’ Centre, previously based on the Bristol Road near Selly Oak was transferred to 74 Balden Road, Harborne. This event resulted in 140 years of ongoing care, education and support for Birmingham’s destitute and disadvantaged children coming to an end.

Before 1846 the education and care of children in Birmingham and other expanding cities was neglected. Children over the age of 7 years who broke the law were treated as adults and could be hanged, transported or imprisoned. In 1850 more than 11,000 were admitted to prisons in England and Wales.

The origins of the Martineau Centre are in the founding of the first Ragged School in Lichfield Street Birmingham, by the Revd. Grantham Yorke; also in the free Industrial School, which was opened in Gem Street in 1849. The Bishop of Worcester was a patron of the new institution and the Mayor of Birmingham was a member of the Management Committee.

The new Gem Street school had 3 departments:-

  1. A Day School teaching the 3 R’s, moral and religious values, history, geography and singing.
  2. An Industrial class, teaching practical trade skills, including carpentry and metalwork.
  3. An Asylum for deserted and orphaned children offering full board up to the age of 14 years.

In 1850 the daily diet was:- Dinner at 12 noon - bread and dripping or pea soup and bread or boiled beef and potatoes and :- Tea at 4pm - thickened milk and bread or seed cake, or bread and cheese, depending on the day of the week.

By 1864 the standard diet had improved and included, green vegetables, fruit, coffee. Roast meat and butter with bread.

In 1869 the Revd. G. M . Yorke retired from the office of Chairman of the School Management Committee but carried on as a member of the General Committee of the School until 1874 when he was offered the Deanery of Worcester and from thereon had no more to do with the School.

The 1886 Act required that children should be employed in industrial work for 6 hours a day and it reduced the time spent in the Schoolroom. The Day School was closed and Gem Street now had a dual role working with delinquent children and also as a refuge for destitute young people.

The running costs of the School were high and in 1873 the girls were transferred to Birmingham’s Board School at Sparkhill, reducing the number of pupils to 117. However, in 1876 the number of boys in the school had risen to 155.

The purchase of a recreation ground in Harborne on Balden Road in 1896, was deemed necessary to keep the boys fit by games and exercise. In 1900, the Gem Street institution was condemned on health grounds, having insufficient fresh air and a new school 1 acre in area was built on the 7 acre recreation ground. The new School was named the Harborne Industrial School and was opened on May, 22nd. 1903. It was never classified as a Reformatory School although the inmates were “drawn from the class of boys who owing to indifferent home surroundings or criminal parents, would drift towards a life of crime or vagrancy.” However in 1927 a Home Office Report stated that there was little or no difference in character in the neglected or delinquent child.”

In 1925 Harborne Industrial School was renamed Ansell School after Mr. Joseph Ansell who directed the Management Committee from 1907 for 17 years. He was also the President of Aston Villa Football Club. Subsequently , in 1933, Reformatory and Industrial Schools were abolished and a National System of Open Approved Schools was set up. Ansell School was renamed Tennal School in 1938.

Over the years the activities of the School had greatly widened and in order to seek secondary school status there was need to build for additional facilities needed and by 1938 this was clear to the School Management Committee. As a result the school was largely extended during the 1950s and 60s parallel with Balden Road, which is identified by the beige brickwork.

In 1968 a White Paper “Children in Trouble” stated that there was a need for “a variety of Provision” and this was followed in 1969 by the “Children’s and Young Persons Act.” In 1974, a new Assessment Centre for children, was opened at Tennal School, by the then Home secretary Sir Keith Joseph. At this time Approved Schools were renamed Community Homes with Education. A White Paper in 1980 recommended a “wide range of alternatives to custody “and the Home Office transferred the responsibility for Community Schools to Local Authorities. However, cheaper community based provision was considered by Local Authorities to be economically more viable than Community Schools. Consequently, the Tennal Community Home School was closed in 1984. The 81 year tradition of providing support for disadvantaged young people at the Balden Road School thus came to an end.

Nevertheless, the institution provided a very suitable base for the Martineau Teachers Centre and the main building was extensively refurbished, surplus land adjacent to the building being sold to Focus Housing who built new starter homes there. At this time the Balden Road School represented one of the largest concentrations of accessible facilities available for educational and community use. These included a newly equipped weight training room, a gymnasium, a large sports hall, a caged games area, an indoor swimming pool and a large playing field, plus ample facilities for catering, conferences, private celebrations, adult education courses and leisure facilities. Sports England are concerned that the local community are to lose the facilities in the future. There is evidence that the “office” use of the buildings will come to an end in the near future and the 500 or so staff that are currently employed in the Centre’s Offices will be moved to the new offices being built for completion in August 2011 in Woodcock Street near the University of Aston close to where Gem Street was. Birmingham’s Council has recently announced that 1400 job cuts are soon to be made in children’s services, which is the area in which the Martineau Centre is heavily involved. It would be reassuring for people living im the vicinity, if some future social and community uses can be identified for the Centre before the present users have finished with the buildings. The Revd. Yorke, the founder of the Ragged School would surely be pleased if some continuing education for Birmingham’s less fortunate, but thanks to modern education, older children and adults could be found for the Centre.

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