• Welcome to this forum . We are a worldwide group with a common interest in Birmingham and its history. While here, please follow a few simple rules. We ask that you respect other members, thank those who have helped you and please keep your contributions on-topic with the thread.

    We do hope you enjoy your visit. BHF Admin Team

Unsung Men And Women Of Birmingham


Master Barmy
John Palfrey (Dates unknown as yet)

In Carl Chinn's book, "Poverty amidst Prosperity: The urban poor in England, 1834-1914" he mentions that in 1867 John Palfrey of Birmingham published... "Mission Work among the Destitute or Scenes in the Abodes of the Poor."

The contents of the publication are not freely available and probably only accessed at the Central Library. Information concerning John Palfrey seems nonexistent, but looking in Ancestry and the Newspaper Archives may reveal a little about a man who was genuinely interested in the poorest of the Town, and seems to have gone unrecognised.

John Palfrey was a shopkeeper and he appears in the 1855 PO Directory as being at 93, Nelson Street South. In other directories it seems he moved to 36, Longmore Street sometime before 1862, and may have ended his life at 128, Emily Street after 1879.

In December 1874 the Birmingham Daily Post carries an article designed to draw attention to the...."Birmingham South Mission, a charitable Society that does invaluable work, but little known, and with few subscribers. The Mission was 12 years old and it was set up as a charitable enterprise by two men, John Palfrey of Longmore Street, and Jas. Weston, now resident in London. Inspired with a spirit of their personal duty, they were not long in finding an opportunity for work of self-sacrifice and charity. They began by taking a room in Bissell Street...in the room, which would hold about 60 people they commenced a Sunday School....they presented their invitations to men, women, and children who went neither to church, nor chapel, nor school, mainly because they were too poor to provide themselves with decent clothes....

....The meetings were all well attended and after a year and a half they took a larger room in Floodgate Street, capable of holding 150 people....the undenominational character of the society being carefully maintained...(there are sited examples of how the Mission had helped some of the most desperate persons living in destitute circumstances)....We think it will be plain, from what we have stated, that the Birmingham South Mission is deserving of a greater measure of support than it has hitherto received...."

Over the years from 1862 John Palfrey wrote many letters to the newspapers to appeal for funds to be used by the Mission, to help the poorest part of the town in Deritend and Floodgate Street. He described himself as ploughing through the underlying stratum of society, to reach the homes of the silent poor, and that they would eat more like hungry wolves than human beings.

He also wrote to help the plight of many individual persons.

It seems he always faced an uphill struggle. In August 1869 he wrote to the paper saying that on account of ill-health he was not able to attend the business since May of 1868, and for that reason he was not able to pay the Poor Rate for the room. He had been advised to go to the country for his health, and they took advantage by sending in the bailiffs who took books and other things until a friend was found to the demand. "Before this disgraceful affair took place the afternoon attendance of poor children was nearly 200, all of whom were at once scattered upon the streets again, as only 4 children attended the first Sunday afternoon I returned.". He went further too say that after struggling to get the school back he was now faced with another demand and he was not in a position to pay.

His appeal was turned down by William Thompson, Clerk of the Overseers, but somehow he seems to have kept things going.

One of the last mentions I can find of the Society is from February 1877 which was the 15th annual meeting, and at the 7th annual meeting of the Birmingham Medical Trust in Needless Alley on October 1882 it was noted that John Palfrey the superintendent of the Birmingham South Mission, had sent £14.12.6 as he was compelled by failing health to discontinue his work.


Master Barmy
Jessie again appears in Peaky Blinders 4:5. In that hotbed of Communism, Stechford.

Unfortunately the Archives do not have the Birmingham papers for the exceptional year of 1926, but we have a few mentions from other areas of communist activity in Birmingham.

1C730CD8-CACB-4957-8A56-FE7935B65D06.jpeg DA9F2E54-E7B3-4564-8AAF-1B542C03B0F9.jpeg A3396559-8414-42BF-A049-24D7D763D85B.jpeg EA1178AD-6F0E-419D-9F41-789B9102E147.jpeg


Master Barmy
Perhaps the good Rev should have a mention for winning the Tatler photography competition in January 1905.