Miss Sarah Bragg

Sarah Bragg, Headteacher of Park Road School from 1896-1932, now St Alphege Infants School, Solihull.

Our normal approach to developing resources and workshops uses real objects and historic imagery as a basis for learning. However, a recent request, which includes some first person interpretation of a Victorian school teacher, has led us in another direction. Mindful to ensure that the role-play does not fall into the trap of becoming a caricature, we’ve been on the lookout for a ‘real person’ to base the character on.  In Sue Bates’ excellent History of Solihull, we found reference to a Miss Sarah Bragg, headteacher from 1896-1932 at Park Road school, the site where the Infants School is today. We were struck by her 36 long years of service, spanning a time of great change; the reigns of three monarchs, World War I, The Suffragette movement and the aftermath of the Wall Street Crash.  Her obituary records that Sarah was “a fine teacher and a keen disciplinarian”, and that her gentleness and courtesy endeared her to anyone she met. Outside of her work at school, she appears to have played no other role in public life in the town.

The nature of schooling in the 19th Century centred on the formation of good character traits amongst pupils and Sarah would have taught within this rigid system. The Elementary Education Act of 1870 made education compulsory for all children between 5-13 and by 1891 this schooling became free of charge to those pupils’ families. This led to an increased number of pupils attending school and, in Solihull, a new school was built for older boys in Mill Lane, with Park Road school remaining a school for girls and infants. This was the school that Sarah joined as a new teacher in the mid 1890’s.

Sarah’s first entry in the school log book 1896
Park Road School

Sarah was the daughter of the well-known Bragg family of Solihull. They played an active role in Solihull life and were builders, butchers, bakers and funeral directors.  Sarah lived most of her life with her mother and father, John and Esther, and is listed as resident with them on the censuses from 1871 -1911.  She was the eldest child and had a sister, Lillian, and three brothers, Charles, John Archibald and Archer. As a child she lived in Mill Lane, now one of the busiest shopping streets in Solihull and, at the turn of the century when she was working at school, she lived in Park Road, just along from her place of work.

With the coming of the railway to Solihull in 1852, more and more people were able to live in the area and commute into Birmingham. This created a growing need for new homes. Charles Bragg, Building Contractor and uncle to Sarah, built a fine row of houses on Church Hill Road. Three Bragg families as well as a bank manager and an ironware manufacturer took up resident in the attractive new homes. In a house that still stands today, lived Sarah, her parents and brothers but by 1917, both of her parents had died. She never married and, in order to remain in her job at the time, it was necessary for her to be a single woman.

Sarah leading a group of school children on an outing from school, across the park, to Malvern Hall c.1920s.

When she retired she was presented with a beautifully illuminated testimonial from 450 ex-pupils. Sadly, within a few years of retirement, Sarah passed away. She was living in Broomfields Avenue by then and, it was said, she left her heart at the school. She is buried in St Alphege Churchyard, alongside her mother and father and just a stone’s throw from the school she so loved.

Unfortunately, there is wear and tear on the grave and the stone cross is no longer attached to the headstone. How fitting it would be to honour this fine citizen of the town by making the repairs needed to her place of rest. Sarah, played an influential role in shaping the lives of the young people in her care and we should consider carefully how we continue to remember her, and people like her. We can so easily become complacent to the contributions that teachers and carers, just like Sarah, make in our communities and to remember them, honourably, is an important mark of respect.

Gravestone in St Alphege Churchyard
Sarah Bragg 1869-1934 inscribed on the base on this headstone

With many thanks to Solihull Library, Heritage & Local Studies and Beryl Waters for images and information.

Workshop of the World Resource Boxes

IMG_8109 2

Delivery of Workshop of the World Resource Boxes

A recent Mrs History project has been to create a set of resource boxes for the Jewellery Quarter Townscape Heritage project. The Resource Boxes are designed to introduce people to the rich heritage of the Jewellery Quarter and help them explore aspects of it. The boxes will be available to schools and heritage venues to access orginal and replica objects to enhance learning and understanding of the past. Boxes are themed

  • The Jewellery Trade
  • The Jewellery Quarter at War
  • The Pen Trade
  • Decorative Metalware – Newman Brothers
  • Decorative Metalware – J W Evans

The objects are adapted to be handled and are stored safely in a bespoke case, designed so the boxes can travel.  They have been specially selected for the story they tell and sourced from a variety of people and places.  Each box includes information about the object and its context within the topic and is accompanied by a range of suggested activities that link directly to the curriculum.


Jewellery Trade Resource Box

Jewellery Quarter Townscape Heritage is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.



Christmas Greetings from Mrs History

2019 has been a thrilling and successful year for Mrs History during which we celebrated FIVE fabulous years engaging people of all ages in the rich and diverse heritage we share.

Child dressed as James Watt PicHighlights have included working on Lottery funded James Watt 2019 and in particular our collaboration with the pupils and teachers at James Watt Primary School in Handsworth. Thanks to Avery Weigh-Tronix  we were able to take children to visit the famous Soho Foundry just a short walk from the school. On the way, we discovered forgotten streets, hidden watercourses and intriguing stories of local parkland, Black Patch.


We’ve loved delivering training with a range of fantastic volunteer teams at Birmingham Mrs H at HamMuseums Trust, The National Trust and The Coffin Works. We’ve shared methods of engaging families, presenting the past and even a whistle-stop history of Birmingham through BMT heritage sites. It’s a real bonus to offer these sessions in welcoming and friendly historic surroundings.

This year we’ve become the ultimate time travellers providing workshops that visit Dinosaurs, the Stone Age, Ancient Egypt, The Chinese Shang Dynasty, Ancient Greece, The Vikings, The Industrial Revolution, as well as exploring the lives of famous Victorians and Mary Seacole. We’ve supported the history learning of over 1800 pupils, spanning Key Stages 1, 2, and 3 engaging with both new schools and some already familiar to us.

Thank you to everyone who has been part of this year’s adventures, especially our families, we genuinely love every minute of meeting pupils, teachers and new partners and look forward to a stack of new and exciting projects in 2020.

A Very Happy Christmas and New Year to you all!

Jane and Rachel, Mrs History


Christmas family event at Birmingham Museums 2018

The City Beautiful 100

Mrs History were delighted to be the project co-ordinators on The City Beautiful for Birmingham Civic Society.


Revealing the restored Queen Victoria Statue in Birmingham with Birmingham Civic Society

Funded by The Heritage Lottery Fund the project was a year long programme of activity celebrating 100 years of Birmingham Civic Society.  Not only did we enjoy sharing the significant history of the Society, we were struck by the great work the Society is doing today in protecting our heritage, encouraging active citizenship across the generations, promoting new public art and planting trees to continue the greening the city. It is truly a force for good and anyone who lives or works in the city can become a member.

Amongst one of our many highlights was working with filmmaker IDM Media to create this short film telling the story of the making of a Blue Plaques.

More Than a Blue Plaque

It was thrilling to commission a new poem too and we loved collaborating with awesome Birmingham poet Casey Bailey. The poem was written to perform at a Blue Plaque unveiling and to mark 100 years of  Birmingham Civic Society.


Unveiling of Blue Plaque to Sir Gilbert Barling, when Casey Bailey’s poem was first performed

Poet Casey Bailey performing Blue Plaque


Very much looking forward to the next 100!


Jane and Rachel x

Devil’s Toenails

We’re often asked by children where we get our objects from (or our ‘cool stuff’ – which is always nice to hear!).  Plenty of the objects are things we have been collecting for many years, some are bought, others are kindly lent or donated to us.  The pieces we are particularly proud of are the ones that have a strong association with the local history of the West Midlands and surrounding areas.

IMG_2104 2

Gryphaea fossil

This fabulous Gryphaea fossil, found on a building site, was given to us recently.  More commonly known as Devil’s toenails, this extinct species of Jurassic oyster once lived on the sea bed, but was found in a place now miles away from the coast.

Objects like this immediately provide a connection between the children we meet and their locality and can fire the imagination of a past time, right there on their doorstep.

For further information about our Dinosaur or Local History sessions get in touch via the contact forms or Contact Us page.

Birmingham Heritage Week 2018


It was a pleasure to attend the launch of Birmingham Heritage Week and to catch up with folk who care so much about the heritage of the city.

Birmingham Heritage Week is an annual festival bringing a whole host of heritage related activity to everyone.  Heritage Week is co-ordinated excellently by Birmingham Museums Trust, funded by generous sponsors and delivered by a huge range of partners and volunteers. Every year, new stories of our heritage are being shared.

When not sharing our past with schools and communities Mrs History loves nothing more than learning about new things! This year some of our highlights will be a talk by Darren Share on the History of Birmingham Parks at Aston Hall on Saturday 15th, a street art graffiti Walk with the brilliant Tracey Thorne and a tour of mid C20th architecture in the city called Shopping in the Sixties.

We’d love to catch the tour under Spaghetti Junction, one of the most iconic landmarks in the city, and to get a peak of The Bournville Quaker Meeting House.

The launch itself was held at The Roundhouse, a new joint venture between The National Trust and The Canals and River Trust. They aim to breathe new life into one of Birmingham’s old working buildings.  At the heart of the canal network, The Roundhouse was originally a stables for horses working on the canals and later was a storage depot for all sorts of items such as The Shakespeare Memorial Library! There are exciting plans for the site including its role as a hub from which visitors can explore our city by bike or by boat!! Who needs a sea front to set sail?! Certainly not Birmingham!


The Roundhouse The National Trust

Birmingham Heritage Week 6-16 September 2018 and is open to everyone www.birminghamheritageweek.co.uk

A local lady on International Women’s Day

Researching the local history of places around the West Midlands often reveals interesting people from the past – significant not just to that area but to a much wider history.  To celebrate International Women’s Day Mrs History has chosen Cristina, daughter of Edward the Exile as our local lady. Cristina owned the manor of Ulverley at the time of the Domesday Book, 1086. Ulverley was one of two settlements in the area that became the town of Solihull.  


Cristina (c1040-1100)

She was the daughter of Edward the Exile and sister of Edgar AEtheling (the proclaimed, but uncrowned King of England in 1066). Cristina (born in Hungary) was exiled to Scotland but returned to England sometime before 1086. She lived at a nunnery in Romsey Abbey near Southampton and around this time gave evidence in the case of whether Henry I could marry her niece Edith (later Matilda).  

As one of the last members of the Saxon royal family Cristina is a significant person in history. In a time of Norman supremacy in England, Cristina appears to retain some power and influence. The marriage of her niece to Henry I of England ensured the Anglo-Saxon line continued in the times following the Norman conquest. 

To find out more about how people from history have enriched your school’s local area, contact Mrs History at mrshistory.org.uk.


Wedding Traditions


Queen Victoria in her wedding gown by Franz Xaver Winterhalter. Painted in 1847 as a present for Prince Albert

For anyone getting married this spring, the excitement levels will certainly be increasing steadily about now! On the 10th February 1840 Queen Victoria married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.  The couple had met at her 17th birthday party where Victoria fell head over heels for the handsome German.  She proposed to him in 1839.

Up until this point in history women had generally worn their best dress on their wedding day, rather than one bought specially for the occasion, as the cost of doing so would have been too much for many people.  Dark colours (which hid stains) or blue dresses, representing piety, were typical.

White wedding gowns were almost un heard of owing to the high cost of white material.  Queen Victoria’s sumptuous silk white dress (made to incorporate a piece of treasured Honition lace) set a trend that continues to the present day.

A Mrs History Victorians session is an ideal way of discovering continuity and change and the wealth of traditions stemming from the reign of Queen Victoria.



Fossil Puzzles

If anyone has spent the Christmas holidays piecing together a model or kit you may have some sympathy for Victorian palaeontologist Mary Anning.

Fossil collector Mary learned much from her father about how the beaches around Lyme Regis might reveal the fossilised remains of prehistoric creatures. Mr Anning died when Mary was 11 and the family became almost destitute.  Mary worked hard to teach herself the science behind her finds and became a leading figure in the field.

Her first large scale discovery at 12 years old was a 17 foot long ichthyosaur skeleton.  At 24 Mary found and reconstructed a plesiosaur (marine reptile) confidently using her self taught knowledge to piece together the bones of the fossilised creature.


Plesiosaurus dolichodeirus from Conyweare’s 1824 paper that described an almost complete plesiosaur skeleton found by Mary Anning in 1823

So when you visit Dippy the Diplodocus when it reaches Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery (@BM_AG) in 2018 take some time to marvel at the skill it takes to piece together a fossil jigsaw.

Victorians, Mary Anning and Dinosaur history sessions are all available with Mrs History.  Contact us at www.mrshistory.org.uk


Party Season Ancient Style – Beads and Bling

The Christmas party season is well and truly here – glitter, beads, bows and make up, but how did people adorned themselves in ancient times?

The tradition of stringing beads and other objects together to form jewellery has been around since the earliest humans.  Shells, teeth, claws and other natural objects were worn by Stone Age people for decoration and possibly status.

The Ancient Egyptians used faience (a ceramic with ground quartz) to make numerous objects including the brightly coloured beads found in their intricate necklaces.  This one was found in the tomb of a high ranking 12th Dynasty official called Wah.



Roman Millefiori bead


The introduction of glass blowing in 1BC led to the mass production of glass beads in and around the Mediterranean.  Millefiori (‘thousand flowers’) glass beads were made by the Romans to create stunning pieces of jewellery that would have certainly been the bling accessories of their age.


Mrs History delivers workshops on many ancient cultures, with costume, jewellery and make up a key part of the sessions.  Contact us for availability.


Creative Commons photos courtesy of flickr.com/photos/unforth,  Fungus b