Birmingham had three sets of cottage homes for children built in the Victorian era - the Birmingham Union built cottage homes at Marston Green, the Aston Union built cottage homes at Erdington and the Kings Norton Union built cottage homes at Shenley Fields.
The cottage homes at Shenley Fields opened on 31st August 1887 and immediately took in 80 children from the workhouse. The plan was that all children would be housed in the cottage homes in future, rather than in the workhouses, as this quote from the 1890 Annual Report of the homes explains:
“The Cottage Homes were erected for the purpose of furthering the desire to separate the children … from contact with the adult paupers in the Workhouse and the influencing attaching thereto, and of placing them under conditions much more favourable to the development of their physical, moral and mental powers.”
Initially, the Kings Norton cottage homes consisted of four cottages with 20 children in each. In the initial build there was also the Lodge, school buildings and workshops(tailors and shoemakers).
Each cottage had two dormitories, a parents’ bedroom (houseparents – called foster parents - lived in the homes as did their children), a spare bedroom (perhaps for the houseparents’ children), and a linen store. On the ground floor was a scullery, pantry and kitchen, a lavatory, dining or day room and a sitting room and a store. There were two entrances – one for children, one for staff and visitors.
In 1890, two more homes, another schoolroom and an infirmary were added. The idea of the cottage homes was that they were self-contained. Children would live within the complex, get medical attention, and their schooling and training. Girls were trained to be go into service, boys trained in shoemaking, tailoring or gardening.
In 1893 a further two homes were opened. By 1895, the average weekly number of children in the Homes was 154. To provide exercise, the swimming baths were opened in 1899.
A probationary home was opened in 1902, which allowed children to be admitted directly to Shenley Fields Cottage Homes without passing through the workhouse first.
Two further homes were opened in 1905 –one for 28 children and one for 20.
In the early 1900s, former residents and staff have memories of one side of the drive having all the homes for boys (Homes 7, 8, 9, and 10), and the other with all the homes for girls (Homes 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5). Only Homes 6 and 11 were mixed, Home 6 being for babies and Home 11 for new arrivals.
SHENLEY FIELDS COTTAGE HOMES
In 1912, King's Norton Union became part of Birmingham Union, and the cottage homes became more commonly known as Shenley Fields Cottage Homes.
The Assembly Hall was opened in 1923. This was initially used for church services and later, when children were encouraged to go to local churches instead, as a venue for social events. A twelfth house was added in 1935, possibly Bythorn.
In the early years of the cottage homes, life was very regimented for the children. Uniforms were worn identifying the children as cottage homes children, visits from parents were restricted to one visit every two months. Initially, it was single women who were appointed as the foster parents in each home. By the 1940s, it was more usual to appoint a married couple who were joint houseparents.
In the 1940s and 1950s, the cottage homes became less isolated, older children began attending local schools while younger children stayed in the cottage homes school (then a nursery school) which was opened up to other local children.
In 1949, the cottages were given names, picked by the staff and children, rather than numbers. According to the Children’s Committee of the time, this was an attempt to “obviate … institutionalisation”.
Before 1966, the homes that made up the Cottage Homes were treated very much as part of a single entity. All food, clothes and other supplies were bought by the Cottage Homes as a whole, kept in the stores and then shared out between the individual homes. In 1966, the homes were each made independent and the Shenley Fields Cottage Homes became known as The Drive. Each individual home was then responsible for purchasing their own food, clothes and so forth. Importantly, the independence of the homes meant that children were allocated a specific home on the Drive in which they stayed, previously they may have been moved between the homes depending on where there were spaces at any one time.
The buildings of The Drive:
The Lodge - Shangri La
The Office (initially used as the Stores)
Home 1 – Ferndale and later, Cherry Garth
Home 2 - Rose Cottage and later, Suncrest
Home 3 – Rosemead
Home 4 – Jasmine
Home 5 - Merriland
Home 6 - Greenways
Home 7 - Lilac View
Home 8 – Melplash
Home 9 - The Trees
Home 10 – Ryedale
Home 11- Elmdene (initially the Probation Home)
Pinewood (initially the sick bay / infirmary)
Bythorn (formerly the Matron’s house for Miss Parry Jones)
Each of these has a separate entry in this collection.
Superintendents and matrons at Shenley:
1887 – 88 – Mr Mollett
1888 Mr Paul
1888 – c 1891 Mr and Mrs Slater
1887 – 1908 – Mr and Mrs Davis (prob. from 1891)
1908 – 1932 – Mr and Mrs Cohen
1932 – 1949 – Mr Blakey and Miss Parry Jones
1949 - 1966 - Mr and Mrs Griffin
In 1982, Birmingham Social Services declared their intention to close all the homes in both the Gardens and on Shenley Fields Drive and the homes closed, one by one, over the next five years.
Pinewood was last building on the Drive still in use as a children’s home, closing in 1987. Over the next couple of years the buildings were demolished.
Image: Kings Norton Cottage Homes c. 1898 from the Eleventh Annual Report of the Cottage Homes 1898.
Source: This history was compiled by the Birmingham Children's Homes Project, an initiative to explore Birmingham City Council-run children’s homes between 1949 and 1990.
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