Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Robin Breakfast Club

At Christmas time there are often charity appeals to help those less fortunate, and a newly catalogued collection at Worcestershire Archive & Archaeology Service gives a fascinating glimpse into what our Victorian and Edwardian ancestors did. The Guild of the Good Shepherd was comprised of members of the Unitarian's New Meeting House, Kidderminster. Their aim was to support the poor and needy, by providing food and coal for those in need, and sending flowers to those unwell. In Autumn 1892 a suggestion was made to have a breakfast for children from the poorest families at Christmas. This was agreed to be a good idea, and so a sub-group was set up and the Robin Breakfast was born.

At 7:30am on 26th December 650 children came into Kidderminster Town Hall to receive a breakfast of beef and ham sandwiches, bread and butter, two types of cake and a cup of tea. On the way out they were given a bun, an orange and a Christmas card. Fifty four Guild members helped, some working from 4:30am in the Coffee Tavern preparing food. It was seen as a great success. The society's report said of the children, "Many of them were in rags and had no hats or caps. Many were also in tears due to the intense cold." £25 was raised by members, and as the breakfast had cost less than £15 it was decided to use some of the surplus for a soup kitchen for the rest of the winter.

The Robin Breakfasts were then a fixture for future years, but were now held on Christmas Day itself. For a few brief years it changed name to the Robin's Treat, which was held on a Saturday afternoon after Christmas, and included entertainment, either Punch & Judy or a Magic Lantern Show. However the breakfast soon returned. They almost always made a surplus due to the generosity of local people, with some money over to the next year and the rest used to supply essential goods to needy families. Being careful not to show favouritism they purchased pies and other food from up to ten local shops.

The numbers invited fluctuated between 560 and 1100, depending on number of children they felt they could cope with each year, the economic conditions and how many children they felt needed this. Admittance was usually by ticket, although sometimes the police would suggest children or even bring children they found on the streets that morning too. The list was checked to ensure that those invited were from needy families, with some taken off the list if their parents were in regular work.
 Although the number of helpers for the first couple of years was felt to be low, they managed to attract assistance from other local churches. The number of helpers then increased to 100 which made preparations a lot easier and quicker.

The Town Hall was allowed to be used by kind permission of each year's Mayor, and some years  they would also attend. One Mayor, Mr Tomkinson, gave out 900 newly minted pennies when he visited, which was much appreciated by the children. Father Christmas made an appearance in 1906 for the first time, handing out toys to the smallest children.

  The value of this service was evident to all. This comment from 1895, quoted in the Kidderminster Shuttle, was echoed with similar sentiments at other times. "While rejoicing at the sight of so many happy faces, the members of the Guild were only too conscious that the treat was only a brief alleviation of the poverty and want that form the lot of the juvenile guests".

 Reading through the society's minutes you can see how they learnt from experience. After the third breakfast they reported, "We are generally learning to do our work better each year." After a few years they stopped giving the children a paper bag to put the food in that they took away, as it caused so much litter in the streets. Distribution of tickets changed from being given by teachers to being given directly by Guild members, as they felt that the tickets were used as rewards rather than to deserving children. There are also comments on logistics, with much work at first on Christmas Eve and then from 4:30am in the morning on Christmas Day, but this was refined, helped by a change from sandwiches to pies, so that helpers could leave early Christmas Eve and get there later on Christmas morning. On other occasions references allude to near accidents with the throng of children. However the reports all say how well the breakfasts went off, and how well behaved and appreciative the children were. Although in 1911 they had to remind children not the throw the orange peel about after they'd eaten them.

In 1914, with many away at war and others heavily involved in war work, it was decided not to hold a Robin Breakfast, but to donate £5 from their funds to Nurse Jones' Christmas Treat. The Guild continued with their charitable work in Kidderminster for many years, but they don't seem to have revived the Robin Breakfast. We have spoken to Kidderminster residents who remember something similar, so it looks like another group continued the tradition after the war. The Guild's notebooks and minutes were passed to Worcestershire Archive & Archaeology Service, where they can be seen today, giving a glimpse into a local charity.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Find Your Place in Local History classes

Are you interested in researching the history of your town, village, house, school, church or local industry?

We will be running the popular Find Your Place in Local History class next year after a break for a couple of years for our move. Led by Dr Pat Hughes, the group will meet in the Explore the Past area of The Hive on Thursday evenings. Pat has led research classes for many years and will guide and advise about sources and next steps, whilst you'll have the Archive resources available to use.

Over the years many people have taken part in the group and studied many different topics. It is up to you and whatever interests you. If you would like to discuss ideas you can ring Pat on 01905 424892. Although everyone is doing their own topic there is a community feel and members encourage one another and take an interest in each others work.

It is hoped to start the group, which will run for 10 weeks, in January 2013, on Thursday evenings 7:30-9:30. The cost will be approximately £75 depending on numbers.

If you are interested or would like to know more please email explorethepast@worcestershire.gov.uk 

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Vote for us in the Archive of the Year Awards 2013

Are you impressed with our new facilities at The Hive? Are you pleased with the assistance you have received and would like to acknowledge a job well done? Voting is now open for the Archive of the Year Awards 2013, run by the Your Family History magazine and we would be thrilled to be nominated.

Here at Worcestershire Archives we are constantly striving to improve our services to our customers and our new location at The Hive has provided us with fantastic new facilities for accessing original archives, surrogate sources and our extensive Local Studies library. We have received a lot of positive feedback from visitors and it is great to hear how well we are doing. Now we would like you to tell other people how happy you are with the service we provide. We are participating in the Archive of the Year awards run by ‘Your Family History’ magazine and we need as many of our users as possible to nominate us for the award.

To vote for us simply go online to www.your-familyhistory.com/yourstories/ and select the Archive of the Year Nomination option. Make sure you state that you are voting for Worcestershire Archive Service in the comments box. Voting closes at the end of December.

We would like to thank all of our users in advance for their support.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Things are starting to get festive at The Hive in preparation for the rapidly approaching holiday season and our staff are entering into the spirit The main atrium now features a whopping 16ft Christmas tree to greet you as you enter:

The Hive Christmas tree

Are you struggling for original gift ideas? The Explore the Past desk features a cabinet full of Christmas presents inspired by the past, including reproduction pottery; reproduction jewellery; books; CDs and the Worcestershire on Film DVD. Why not pop along to have a look at the selection on offer when you next visit The Hive?

Original gift ideas on sale at the Explore the Past desk

We have a number of original archives on display in the cabinets on level 2, which give you a glimpse into Christmas from centuries past. Come and take a look to see an example of a 19th century Christmas card; newspaper illustrations; a recipe for 'Minced Pyes' dating from 1790 and a rather sombre poem written at Christmas 'to gladden the hearts of the Workhouse children'. If you are unable to visit us you can see more of these documents by heading over to our website.

Images taken from the London Illustrated News (1874-1881)

Documents on display at The Hive

So, have you all started preparing for Christmas already? We hope you'll pop along soon to see us during your Christmas break.