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Percy Shurmer

Phil

Retired Layabout
I hope nobody minds If I post this little tribute to Percy Shurmer. I do this because some time ago I tried to use the internet to find out some facts about his life and his times as a Councillor and M.P. for Sparkbrook and Birmingham South. I thought with such a well known Brummie it will be no problem. That is when my problem started I could find very few facts about him anywhere. Put his name into a search engine and it will throw up schools and parks named after him but nothing about the man himself. My next step was to get in touch with the library. No books have been written about him or were written by him.

The facts and items that are recorded here are just a few that I have been able to turn up from newspaper articles, this site and various books where he is mentioned. As I am no historian and no writer please forgive me if any of the facts are wrong as I didn’t check too deeply into anything. I thought it more important to get something down on papers so others looking for information may have a starting point. If anybody has any further information about (in my opinion) this great man, then please by all means add it to this.

Carl Chinn says in one of his books that in his opinion a statue of the man should be erected on the large traffic island at the head of Belgrave Road and Highgate Middleway as this is nearest you can now get to Percy’s once home. I can not agree more.

I do this also because Percy was a friend of my grandfather and he often popped round to see him. They had gone to school together and they were both called Percy. There are still certain facts I am unable to find. One of the main ones is I am unable to find where he was buried So if anyone who reads this knows please add the location. In fact please add any information or recollections that you may have.

I have decided to post now without managing to find everything I would have wished to find about this great local man, because I have just received a PM from a member of this forum who is having a similar problem to what I had in sourcing information.



Percy Shurmer MP Sparkbrook 1945-1959.

A much loved local man of the people and a man who was often described as a little man with a big heart.

Percy Lionel Edward Shurmer Was born in 1888 in Cheltenham his father Edward was a master tailor.
The family moved to Birmingham when Percy was quite young. He was educated at St AlbansSchool Highgate 1893 to 1895 and then St Pauls Worcester 1895 to 1901. As Balsall Heath was then part of Worcester I assume that this school was St Pauls,Vincent Street, Balsall Heath.

He was apprenticed into the merchant navy from1903 to 1912. He married in 1908 to Maud Taylor ,He started work for the Post Office telephone department in 1912 as an engineer. He served with the Birmingham Territorial’s during WW1, gassed and wounded in 1917 he was disabled and honourably discharged in 1919. He stood for election to BirminghamCity Council in 1921 and was elected . Later in 1926 for his part in the General Strike he was sacked from the Post Office due to the fact he was arrested and fined £10.00 for making an inflammatory speech.

During his years on the Council he served on many committee’s, The Markets & Fairs committee, The Public Assistance Committee, The Asylums Committee, The War Pensions Committee, The General Committee. He was also chairman of The Old Age Pensions Committee and The Emigration Committee.

He was often called the miskin king because of his campaign against landlords who instead of providing rubbish bins just erected a lean to shed like structure in back yards adjacent to the outside toilets and wash houses and all the rubbish from the houses was just dumped in these. He was often know to attack these miskins and demolish them.

During his years in office he fought tirelessly for the lower classes, never forgetting his working class upbringing and never moving from his home at 140 Belgrave Road. Every year he would hold a Christmas party at the Town Hall for up to a 1000 under privileged children, he also the prime mover in starting a fund to provide hobnail boots for those children who needed shoes, these children became known a Percy’s Sparrows. Another of his well known campaigns was having the automaton clock depicting The Earl & Countess of Warwick along with two other figures that used to be located in Birmingham Imperial Arcade Dale End moved to The Market Hall in the Old Bull ring. He eventually got this clock that was made by Potts & Sons of Leeds in 1883 moved into its new site above the market hall office in 1936 from then on it was known as Percy’s Clock. It was destroyed in the Bombing in 1940. He unsuccessfully tried to start another campaign after WWII saying as the Germans had destroyed it they should make us a new one.

In 1945 he stood as a labour candidate for Sparkbrook and won the seat from Leo Amery a Conservative government minister even then Percy remained on the Council as an Alderman. Percy won a three further elections one in 1950 one in 1951 and a further one in 1955.

During election campaigns Percy was well known for marching round the streets of Birmingham proceeded by his band The Saint Martins and Deritend Girls Band who would be dressed in their black and yellow uniforms and generally followed by a troop of children singing vote, vote, vote for Percy Shurmer. He’s the best man in the land.

Being small in stature he would often carry with him a chair or a stool to stand on to address the crowd when the procession stopped. His favourite place for speech making was Dymoke Street Highgate.
Percy was a powerful and charismatic speechmaker and could enthral a crowd he would often start a speech with one of his favourite openings “ Lets not lie to ourselves” or “Lets not try to fool ourselves”. Whenever he started to speak a crowd would soon gather to listen, they stood spellbound listening to every word.

Often the police would arrest him and drag him of to the local police station. If he didn’t get arrested and dragged off he would finish his address jump down and circulate amongst the crowd shaking hands and talking to old friends.

Throughout his years in politics Council and Government Percy never ceased to fight for the betterment of the working class the people that he belonged to. He fought for the replacement of miskins with proper bins, he campaigned for the old cooking ranges to be replaced by gas stoves, he got gas lighting in each terrace yard. He raised money for the Mariners Benevolent Society, Yardley Green Sanatorium, and not forgetting his sparrows days out.
Percy was a peoples champion all his life, which ended in 1959. On the day of his funeral the 4th of June 1959 the streets were lined with people from the town centre to his house at 140 Belgrave Road. The nearer his house the thicker the crowds all in all a sad day for Birmingham..

I have been unable to find where he was laid to rest, but I have to agree with Carl Chinn that a statue or monument should be erected to his memory.

When I wrote my piece on Percy, at the time I stated that I had been unable to ascertain the place where he was laid to rest. Since that date his Grandson Anthony has furnished me with some further information.

Percy was cremated on the 4th of June 1959 at Lodge Hill crematorium, Selly Oak. His ashes were scattered in the Gardens of Rest in the middle of section 1ETS.

I have thanked Anthony for his help on behalf of all those that the information he has given may be of interest.

I would also like to add that in my own humble opinion it will be a long time before Birmingham can boast another MP of Percy's stature and calibre.
 
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Wendy

Guest
pmc1947 a lovely tribute to a very popular man, don't worry about posting early you can keep the thread going when you find more information. Why not ask Keith to put it on the main Birmingham site.
 

Graham

GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
PMC,

I remember;

Vote, vote, vote, for Percy Shurmer,
Who's that knocking on the door?
If it's old man White,
then stab him with a knife,
and he won't come knocking anymore,
Vote, vote, vote, for Percy Shurmer...

I'm sure someone will know the rest.
 

the silver fox

master brummie
Thank you so much for your tribute to Percy Shurmer. Like many, I remember him from my childhood.
I went to Sheldon Heath Comprehensive and at the official opening Hugh Gaitskell mentioned the recently deceased Percy.
Is not the former Sherborne Road School now renamed in his honour?, Or perhaps that has gone! I now live in Rugby and only rarely visit the area.
If an appeal was started I would do what I could to help. Obviously Carl is in favour and he carries a lot of weight in matters like this. We need people still in Birmingham to power this, so come on folks pull it together to honour this true 'Champion of the People'.
 

Phil

Retired Layabout
siver fox I think Sherbourne Rd School has long gone, the school you refer to, Percy Shurmer Primary School is a new'ish school on the corner of Sherbourne Rd and Longmore Street. If you type Percy's name into a search engine this is the result that gets thrown up, there is so little about the man himself.

Thank you to the others for your comments, and Wendy I am quite happy with this little tribute to remain where it is. I am happy that anyone with an interest will now have a starting point, and I will add more from time to time.

pmc1947
 

kcirmast

Brummie babby
Percy Shurmer, I remember the name but unfortunately not the man. During the elections the labour committe rooms were located at No.31 Grace Road three doors up from where I lived and I have no doubt the man himself must have visited many times. I also remember very well the Percy Shurmer song. My memories of the elections centre around the polling station as often I was one of the lucky kids to be "employed" by the labour party to collect the voters notification cards as they left the polling station. The cards were taken back to the committee rooms where the names were crossed of the electoral roll, this enabled the staff to see who had not yet voted and although they could not directly ask them to go and vote they would turn up on the doorstep and offer a lift to the polling station. The pay was some money, I cannot remember how much but I do remember the never ending supply of sticky buns and dandelion and burdock (Corona brand) which was provided from the committe rooms. It was a much sought after job and during polling day my mates used to stand outside the school gates watching all the goodies getting delivered. The policeman on duty would not allow any children anywhere near the entrance to the polling station. I also attended the town hall christmas party on a couple of occasions and they were magical affairs.
 

Phil

Retired Layabout
percy's Clock

The clock that stood above the old market offices in the Bull Ring until it was bombed on the night of 25/26 August 1940 was affectionately known as “Percy’s Clock”.

The clock was built in 1883 by W. Potts of Leeds and was originally placed in the Imperial Arcade in Dale End. The dial was 5ft across and had an area of 18 sq ft. the four animate figures represented the Earl of Warwick, his wife, a retainer and a Saracen. The two inner larger figures were seven and a half feet tall.

In 1936 Percy Shurmer insisted that the clock which had not worked for about 20 years was repaired and moved to the Market Hall. So it was repaired, and renovated and duly installed above the market offices.

As stated it was bombed out of existence some four years later. At the time Percy demanded that after the war a similar type clock in the German city of Munich should be taken to replace it saying “They knocked ours to bits, lets have theirs to square it up”.

Pmc1947

Market Hall Clock.jpg
 
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Phil

Retired Layabout
Since writing my last piece, Percy Shurmer’s maternal grandson Anthony has been kind enough to contact me. He lives in Wales, and he has been kind enough to send me a couple of photo’s of Percy.

The first one is from 1945 just after he became MP for Birmingham Sparkbrook. He is seen walking along with Nye Bevan , Anthony tells me that the young chap at the rear of them in the middle is Roy Jenkins. If I am honest I will admit that I didn’t recognise him. Anthony apologises for the poor quality of this photo, I’m sure he probably doesn’t realise how rare they are. The second looks like a standard publicity handout photo, but still gratefully received.

Anthony also tells me that his daughter is in the process of writing a book, So when it comes out be sure to get a copy because it will be the first. I know that I will be first in the queue.

Percy and Nye Bevan.jpg Percy.jpg
 
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Wendy

Guest
pmc1947 that's so kind of Anthony to send you the pictures to post. I am sure everyone here realy appreciates this, thanks to you for bringing Percy back to our attention.
 

Darby

master brummie
pmc1947

I hope you don't mind I have done a little repair on the photo of Percy, you are right it is Roy Jenkins in the middle, the man who said when he lost his seat, that if he never saw Stechford again it would be too soon.
 

Phil

Retired Layabout
Darby

Thank you for your help, as for your comments on Roy Jenkins. I never liked him much anyway, and I can't imagine Percy ever saying anything like that.

pmc1947
 

sylviasayers

master brummie
The big chap on the left of Percy Shurmer looks like Aneruin Bevan to me.
As for Roy Jenkins - I couldn't stand him, he was a "champagne socialist" a hypocrite and Stechford was well shot of him.
 

Phil

Retired Layabout
When I wrote my piece on Percy, at the time I stated that I had been unable to ascertain the place where he was laid to rest. Since that date his Grandson Anthony has furnished me with some further information.

Percy was cremated on the 4th of June 1959 at Lodge Hill crematorium, Selly Oak. His ashes were scattered in the Gardens of Rest in the middle of section 1ETS. (see attached diagram).

I have added this information to the main piece and I have thanked Anthony for his information and help on behalf of all those whom the information he has given may be of interest

old snaps 050.jpg



 
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Wendy

Guest
pmc1947 is your piece about Percy Shurmer on one of the main sites?
 
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Phil

Retired Layabout
Wendy,

Rod has indicated that he would be happy to use it on one of them, and I of course have agreed, because that it what it is all about getting as much recognition as possible for this almost forgotten son of Birmingham and fighter for Birmingham's poor.

pmc1947 (Phil)
 
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glaciermint

Guest
For anyone reading this thread I just want to point out that as Wendy has mentioned in elsewhere Carl Chinn's Brummagem mag for July 2008 carries several pictures and information about PS.
 

Astoness

TRUE BRUMMIE MODERATOR
Staff member
having just picked up my copy of brummagem i straight away read the articles on PERCY SHURMER. i was not even born when he was doing his good works for the people of birmingham but what a great person he was. a little man with a big heart. how sad there cant be more like him today. i agree with carl when he writes in his article about erecting a statue dedicated to him. the likes of PERCY SHURMER should never be forgotton. wales.
 

Phil

Retired Layabout
If you lived in Balsall Heath or Highgate in the forties fifties, around the time of the Council elections or later in the sixties the General Elections. Sitting in your house you would hear the thud, thud of a base drum in the distance and as it grew nearer you would hear the brass section.

Knowing it was election time it could only be one thing, you knew it wasn’t the scouts or the boys brigade as the music grew louder and you stepped outside your front door you would witness a spectacle unequalled in British politics of that time.

Up the road marched Percy Shurmer or sometimes he stood on the back of an open back lorry, and his entourage followed walking alongside. He was also accompanied by part of, and sometimes all of the St Martins and Deritend Girls Percussion Band, and behind them came a throng of children (Percy’s sparrows) all singing away at the top of their voices their anthem “Vote, Vote, Vote for Percy Shurmer,” How strange that all the kids in the district knew the words. Nobody ever taught it them. Along the sides were all the helpers handing out pamphlets to anybody who wanted them, not many refused.

Percy was a long time sponsor of The St Martins and Deritend Girls Percussion Band and his connection with them was only severed by his death. Attached is a photo of the band taken on the steps of the Alhambra cinema Moseley Rd Highgate.

Phil


Highgate St Martins & Deritend Band with Percy Shurmer.jpg
 
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