Our History

Living the Cadbury Vision

Selly Oak Nursery School has an important history as the first Nursery School in Birmingham. The Nursery owns a valuable collection of historical documents and photographs, some dating back to the school's inception in 1904. Birmingham Central Library is now storing these archives with the intention of producing a catalogue of the materials.

We hope that one day someone will use these archives as part of a research study into the history of Early Years Education. In 1904 Mrs Barrow Cadbury suggested that a room be built at the back of the Friends Institute in Greet for a Kindergarten class to be managed by Julia Lloyd, who had trained at the forward thinking Pestalozzi-Froebel Haus in Berlin. The Kindergarten used the advanced teaching methods researched abroad. The first children benefitted from a varied curriculum with an emphasis on the outdoors. They gardened, visited the farm to see the cows milked and grew vegetables for lunch. They even carded, dyed and spun wool from a pet lamb to make accessories for the dolls' house!

In 1917, in response to the passions aroused by the First World War, the school's name was changed from People's Kindergarten to Nursery School, with more emphasis on training the children in physical health and hygiene. The families of the children paid 6d per week for each child to cover a daily milk ration. This was later found to be sufficient to cover the cost of a daily dose of castor oil as well!

The archives show that by the 1920s a nurse visited regularly to examine the children's hair, syringe ears, treat sores and sore eyes. Each week she would weigh and measure a selection of children. This medical treatment continued well into the 1930s and must have been a huge factor in improving the general welfare of these children.

In 1921 the Nursery School in Greet was moved to Selly Oak, after Mr and Mrs George Cadbury bought a site in Tiverton Road. The new building was named Selly Oak Nursery School and remains here to this day. As the first permanent nursery school in Birmingham it aroused a good deal of interest and at one time the school had to limit parties of visitors to eight at a time, on one day a week! The school also started to take trainee teachers - a practice which continues today.

Many of the children attending the new school came from the streets of Selly Oak and had overcome social and health difficulties. The archives show that in 1925 it was 'a common thing to find families of 4, 6 or even more living and sleeping in one room.' The records also give details of children attending with bronchitis, rickets, convulsions and whooping cough - although the quarterly visits from the doctor, along with a good nursery diet and parental involvement, often put them on the road to recovery.

In 1932 the school started to provide lunch for the 60 children, with salmon, beef, liver and lamb often on the menu, along with a good selection of vegetables and nutritious puddings. In 1939, 28 children were evacuated to Avoncroft College for 8 months where 'they gained weight of 4-6lbs, rather than 5-8oz per month' - important enough to be minuted in the yearly report! As might be expected, the Cadbury family were hugely important to the school. However, whilst they made regular financial contributions they were not just passive supporters. Edith Cadbury was a regular visitor, often bringing gifts and showing an enormous interest in the children until her death in 1936. With her husband George, she also invited the children every spring to their home in the Lickey Hills to see the bluebells. A member of the Cadbury family remained on the Nursery School Board of Trustees until 2012.

Today, much of the curriculum reflects the debt owed to the schools formative years. This includes outdoor work featuring a 'Forest School' and an annual trip by train to see the bluebells at the Lickeys! Many of the children still live in the Selly Oak area, and all partake of a varied school menu. Fortunately, the medical visits are no longer a necessity!

The History of Nursery Schools in Birmingham.pdf