We know for certain that Joseph Chamberlain never visited George
Dixon Elementary School because his name is not in the school Log
Book or the Visitors' Book. He may well have met our schools' first
Headmaster somewhere else, and if he did their conversation might
have been something like this one. But it is pleasant to imagine
that this old friend of George Dixon did come to the school named
after him, and spoke to the first child to be a pupil here.
Charles Victor Williams was still living in Rotton Park until he
died. He retired after many years of public service and like Dixon
he was a Mayor (of Smethwick, before it became part of Warley).
Since his admission to the school, on 12th June 1906, there have
been 9,993 children on the books - up to January 1970. But it should
be remembered that until 1932 the Junior and Infant Schools were
one Elementary School, taking children from 5 to 14.
My Time Machine dial showed 1902. I stood at the school gate in
the shadows of the 74-foot tower and pressed the button. Parts of
the Grammar School buildings disappeared, but ours looked the same,
only cleaner with unworn stonework. The elms and sycamores of City
Road were only saplings, no taller than the gas lamps.
New terrace houses stood all along the opposite side of the dusty
road : who could have guessed that ten of them would be destroyed
by a land mine 34 years later! An automobile banged and rattled
past on the untarred macadam.
A tall grey-haired man in a high collar and black suit was waiting
by the gate with a boy wearing knickerbockers and boots. A smart
carriage turned the corner from Portland Road, where a small church
mission-hall stood, and the man said
Williams, go and tell Miss Cartwright that Mr. Chamberlain is arriving.
The school is to be assembled in ten minutes.
Williams: Yes, sir !
An elderly, very dapper gentleman with silver hair stepped down
from the carriage. He had a monocle in his right eye and a carnation
in his buttonhole. I knew him to be Joseph Chamberlain, three times
Mayor of Birmingham, Member of Parliament for West Birmingham and
a former Minister of the Crown.
Grew: Welcome, Mr. Chamberlain! I am especially happy to welcome
you in this year when due honour is being paid to you by the City.
Chamberlain: Thank you, Mr.Grew. You know my abiding interest in
education. I am particularly pleased to be invited to one of the
schools named after my old friend and colleague, George Dixon. I
still miss his good company and wise council.
Grew: Come in out of the dust, sir...... Here is my room, please
take this seat. Ah, Williams, come in, boy. Mr. Chamberlain, this
is Williams, the first child to be enrolled here.
Chamberlain: Williams, eh ? What are your Christian names?
Williams: Clarence Victor, sir.
Chamberlain: And how old are you, Clarence Victor?
Williams: I am nine, sir.
Chamberlain: Ah, so you will have five years at this school?
Williams: I hope not, sir - oh, sir, I didn't mean....
Grew: He means, sir, that he hopes to pass the examinations to
go to the Secondary School, next door, when he is eleven, instead
of staying here until he is fourteen.
Chamberlain: Good - I hope you will succeed. Tell me, Clarence
Victor, do you know why this school was named after George Dixon?
Williams: I know he was an important man, sir. I think he started
a school of his own.
Chamberlain: He did much more than that, Clarence Victor ! If it
were not for him you might not be attending school now, you and
all your friends. It was George's work that led to the Act of 1870
which started education for all children. Then for twenty years
he was Chairman of the Birmingham School Board. That doesn't mean
very much to you now, but it will. You have told the children about
Mr. Dixon's own school, Mr. Grew?
Grew: I have indeed, Mr. Chamberlain. I wished them to know that
the school bears the name of the great and good man who began higher
education in Birmingham, and so made it possible for them to go
on to a Secondary School if their work is good enough. I desire
that they should take his life of honour, industry, and service
to others, as an example for their own.
Chamberlain: Well said ! I wish he were to see these fine buildings.
He died eight years ago, Clarence Victor, just after he had been
given the Honorary Freedom of the City. The Secondary School for
Boys he had started in Cadbury's old warehouse in Bridge Street
was still open then, but that same year it was moved to Oozells
Street School and re-named after George Dixon. A girl's Secondary
School was started there to. Since that time it has become ever
more clear how much Birmingham owes to him, and so these, the Education
Committee's newest and finest schools have been given his name.
I think it is very fitting that they should stand on City Road.
Do you know why it is so called Clarence Victor ?
Williams: No sir, sorry sir !
Chamberlain: It is named in honour of Birmingham, which was created
a city by Queen Victoria when this road was new. George was delighted
when the town of, his adoption was so honoured - and so was I !
Grew: Both he and yourself should receive some of the credit for
that honour, sir. It has given great satisfaction to all Birmingham
people to celebrate your 70th birthday, and make it the occasion
for acknowledging the debt the city owes you. Shall we see your
name given to a public building ?
Chamberlain: There is talk that the new University tower, which
I have asked should be tall enough to be seen all over the city,
will be called after me. But there is already a Memorial to me,
and I have a unique distinction, having been the first ever to receive
the Freedom of Birmingham. George was the fourth. But now, before
I address the school, tell me something about it.
Grew: A point of interest, sir, is that the first name chosen for
these buildings was 'Rotton Park School' and the letter 'R. P. S.
S.' may be seen on one of the main gables of the Secondary School.
The name is historically correct, for the whole area between Dudley
and Sandon Roads was once called Rotton Park, when it was a hunting
ground of the lords of Birmingham. But that ended almost 400 years
ago, and the Park has been farmland ever since, and the schools
are built on its fields. Strangely enough, the ancient boundary
of Birmingham and Edgbaston Parishes goes through the middle of
our Upper School Hall - though both parishes have been part of one
borough since 1838, and in fact this area is now part of St. Augustine's
Parish. When there are more people in the district - a number of
roads will be built hereabout in coming years - it is probable that
the mission chapel on the corner, St. Germain's, will become a parish
church in its own right.
Chamberlain: What of Summerfield Park - is that of ancient foundation
Grew: No, Mr. Chamberlain, that was a private estate from the late
17th century. The Corporation bought it in the last year of your
Mayoralty, 1876, you will recall, for a public park. It has been
added to three times since then, and now covers 34 acres. Summerfield
House was demolished in 1887.
Chamberlain: There are older schools than these in that area, I
Grew: Yes, sir. The three local ones, all built during Mr. Dixon's
Chairmanship of the School Board, are in Dudley Road, Barford Road,
and at the farther end of City Road: that one was opened in 1895.
Chamberlain: Where do your pupils live ? This district can provide
you with few children at present.
Grew: True, Mr. Chamberlain, we are not yet up to our full numbers,
and some children travel quite a distance. They come by train on
the Harborne Line, by Dudley Road electric tram, and by horse bus
along Hagley Road. Many walk, and some have bicycles.
Chamberlain: I am sure that any child would be proud to come to
so fine a school with such a noble name. What do you say, Charles
Williams: Oh yes, sir. My mum brought me at half-past eight on
the first morning to make sure I got in !
Mr. Grew conducted Mr. Chamberlain to the Hall, where the school
had assembled to hear him. I pressed the RETURN button for the last
time, and returned abruptly to the present. I shall not record any
more journeys into the past, but perhaps YOU will. There are many
interesting people to meet in interesting times, and many conversations
to overhear. Build your own Time Machine, and use it to learn more
about the changes that have taken place during the long history
of Rotton Park and Roundabout.