Ancestry UK

Working Girls' Hostel, Shaftesbury House, Birmingham, Warwickshire

In about 1894, the Wesleyan Methodist Home Missions began to provide hostel accommodation for working girls in Birmingham. Two years later, premises known as Shaftesbury were taken for the purpose on St Mary's Row. The work was superintended by Sister Alice Crump.

On 11 May 1908, the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of Birmingham opened a branch hostel at 86 Great Brook Street to provide an additional 30 beds. The establishment was intended to serve a temporary purpose until a new, permanent hostel for 80 or 100 factory girls had been built. It was intended for those girls who had no homes and for those whose homes were not what they should be. The residents paid 5s. 6d. week for their board and lodging.

In 1911, the foundation stones were laid for a new Shaftesbury House being erected at 3-5 St Mary's Row. The site had been provided by an anonymous donor and the cost of the building was raised by public subscription. The new building was formally opened on 28 November 1912 by the Duchess of Marlborough.

Shaftesbury House site, Birmingham, Warwickshire, c.1913.

Girls' Hostel, Shaftesbury House, Birmingham, Warwickshire, c.1918. © Peter Higginbotham

A contemporary description of the new building reported:

It has not been called a model establishment, but I think it would be difficult to find a more carefully planned, or perfectly arranged, building of its kind in any part of the kingdom. Down to the merest details, everything that could make the place more comfortable and more homelike has been done, and the girls who will inhabit the cosy cubicles, play in the airy recreation room, or pen letters in the writing room will surely never cease to be grateful to those who promoted the scheme.

The Hostel is more than a necessity; it will meet one of the crying needs of the city, and will provide a home for the girl who works at a factory for a mere pittance, and is often, alas! dragged down to the lowest depths in a slum lodging-house. Girls of fourteen will be admitted to the Hostel, and will get a start which has hitherto been denied to their older sisters. There is accommodation for 108 girls, who will pay from 5e. 6d. to 6s. 6d. weekly for board, lodging, and washing. Pleasant dormitories, holding perhaps half a dozen beds — quite the reverse of the barrack-like rooms which are often found in similar establishments — will be allotted to those paying the smaller sum, cubicles being reserved for those who can afford the extra shilling.

Each cubicle has been endowed, and the majority of them bear a name. One, on the second floor, breathes the spirit of the whole building, for on the door is painted these words, "The name of the chamber was Peace." Like all the other cubicles it is lofty and has quite a large window; the neat little bedstead is black, and is fitted with a spring mattress and woollen bed, and a strip of bright carpet finds a place on the floor, and gives a cosy touch. A tradesman has very kindly supplied a looking-glass for each cubicle. Bathrooms with beautifully enamelled white baths and the most up-to-date lavatory basins for washing purposes are to be found on each floor, and a wide corridor has provided apace for a locker for each girl, who will be supplied with a key so that she may lock up her private belongings.

In the common sitting-room each girl has a pigeon-hole in which to keep email things, such as crochet work,so that she has not to go to her arranged. cubicle or locker for them if she is downstairs This sitting-room is splendidly arranged. Wide seats have been placed right round the walls, wide enough for a girl to lie and rest if she feels so disposed. They will be cushioned to match the colour scheme of the room, which is terra cotta and green. The writing-room is the quietest in the house, and looks delightfully cosy and inviting. The dining-room, with its small tables to seat six people, is very light, and has a French windows opening into the recreation ground.

The basement has been turned into a recreation room, where the girls will he allowed to make just as much noise as they like. It is hoped, in time, to arrange drill and gymnastic classes, and a small platform has been erected for charades. Seats have been placed all round the room.

The domestic arrangements of the building are perfect. The kitchen is the lightest room imaginable, and is fitted with all the latest requirements. An ironing room is quite close to it, and by putting a penny in a slot the girls can have the use of a hot iron, for a certain length of time, to press their clothes. A commodious laundry is on a level with the kitchen. Quite near the dining-room is a drying-room. This is fitted with pipes, shaped to hold clothes, and fitted with numbered pegs. Here the girls will be able to dry their hats and costs while they are having their dinner, if by chance they get caught in a shower of rain on the way home. In addition to the recreation room and ground there is a roof garden in which the girls will be able to sit in the summer.

The whole of the building is fireproof, and there is an outside staircase in case of fire.

Sister Alice, whose social work in Birmingham is known to many people in the city, will act as matron of the Hostel, assisted by Sister Florrie. She has a suite of rooms on the ground floor, and quite near the sickroom, which will be used for any girl who is ill. Sister Alice will keep a small shop in the Hostel, where the girls may get bootlaces, hairnets, and other little things that they want in a hurry.

The Hostel will not be ran exactly on the lines of municipal hostels, which chiefly cater for casual inmates. It will be a residential establishment, run as far as possible like a home for the girls, and eliminating as far as possible the "institution" atmosphere. Casual workers will be taken in if they need a night's lodging, but for the most part the girls will be those who are working permanently in the city. It is interesting to note that the cost of the Hostel, including the freehold site on which it has been built in St. Mary's-row, is £9,000.

Shaftesbury House closed in 1962. The building no longer survives.


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