1863 is the first recorded entry of St Paul’s School when a small schoolroom was erected in the grounds of St Paul’s Parsonage (about 1832). At this time Warstone Lane was still green fields but industry was moving in.
The population was growing rapidly and the small schoolroom in the Parsonage gardens was bursting at the seams. A new school was badly needed, so plans were launched for a new school to be built at the corner of Warstone Lane and Spencer Street, to hold 773 children.
The Rev Rann Kennedy raised £1,900 from the patrons of St Paul’s Church and plans were drawn up in 1844 by Edge & Avery of Bennetts Hill and erected by Mr Norton of Ashted.
A service was held in St Paul’s Church to raise enough money to complete the project and a further service was held the following year to provide the fitments.
The school was formally opened by members of St Paul’s Church on December 18th 1845 when 300 people sat down to tea and a vote of thanks was passed to Colonel Vyse for the grant of the land.
The depression and decline of trade following the Napoleonic and subsequent wars brought a great deal of poverty and meals were provided at school.
Children were being taught in extremely difficult conditions with only one qualified teacher for 442 pupils. This was before the passing of the Education Act in 1870. The wellbeing of the children was always a concern of the School and it was usual in those days of Dickensian education that discipline was harsh and intolerance was clearly evident with flogging and keeping-in after school for two hours, and deprivation of food.
By 1869 St Paul’s School was overcrowded with five classes to one room with no curtains to divide one class from another so another section of the school was opened in Camden Street, comprising one schoolroom and one classroom with accommodation for 333 children. The fees here were 2d and 3d per week, whereas the fees for St Paul’s School were 2.1/2d to 6d per week.
Industrial conditions were appalling and cheap labour, especially child labour, was widely used. The Factory Acts of 1864 forbade children under eight years from workshops and no child under 13 years was allowed to work full-time.
In 1852 fees varied with the social standing of the parents, but it became more difficult to collect as conditions worsened and in 1867 the newly-formed Birmingham Education Society subsidised over 6,000 children.
Education was now becoming the most controversial subject of the day. The assumption that education was an act of charity was becoming obnoxious and the right to education of every child, rich or poor, was acknowledged. George Dixon realised the need for compulsory education on a national scale. and council schools came about.
Prior to the start of WW1 numbers were reduced to 480 children, 240 girls and 240 infants and many structural alterations were made and efforts to modernise the school.
In 1914-1918 more than 150 girls were working before, between and after school and were too tired to be taught, but no account of this was taken during inspections of the school and teachers were severely criticised if children were not of a high standard.
By this time The Jewellery Quarter had become famous all over the world and many merchants had become very rich – but the conscience of right-thinking people were being pricked. Gillotts were producing steel pen nibs at a rate of 2d per gross box and employed five hundred people most of them were children attending St Paul’s School. There were no fixed hours, children worked 13 or 14 hours a day for less than 3 shillings per week!
When the great influenza epidemic struck in November 1918 the school was badly hit, the children having very little stamina to withstand the onslaught.
After the war the children were being given a very wide scope for their abilities and many passed examinations for Grammar and Commercial schools. Music and drama were also being taught and a choir from the school was mentioned in the Birmingham Mail. It was felt that these achievements were giving a chance of a positive future to children from a severely deprived area.
By the beginning of WW2, it was realised that the building was getting old and needed a great deal of repair and reconstruction, then the prospect of evacuation had to be considered and 130 children were evacuated to Abergavenny and all education was suspended for a time all over the City. A system of Home Service Training took place but was unsuccessful. The following April the school was re-opened.
In July 1950, it was recognised as a Junior and Infant school but with the slum clearance taking most of the children out of the area only two children were living within three-quarters of a mile from the school.
In 1968 the gaunt, austere building, with its crumbling stonework and widening cracks in the walls was due for demolition which meant sadly this was ‘Goodbye to St Paul’s school’.
Source: G M S Bradley – Last Head of St Paul’s School 1957-1968