Clara Martineau has a famous Birmingham name and was part of a local political dynasty. She had even acted as Lady Mayoress for her uncle, Sir George Kenrick (who was a bachelor) during his term in office as Lord Mayor in 1908 to 1909. With that background, it’s not totally surprising that she became a pioneer in politics and education, as the third woman elected to serve on Birmingham City Council and also as successor to Ellen Pinsent in both her ward of Edgbaston and her role in chairing the Special Schools subcommittee.

It would be unfair to say that Clara Martineau just followed in Ellen Pinsent’s footsteps, as she has her own proud legacy and is a prominent figure in her own right. Having succeeded Mrs Pinsent as councillor for Edgbaston Ward, she served the ward for nearly 20 years, until her untimely death, aged just 57, in 1932. The tributes paid to her upon her death were fulsome, such as this from the Birmingham branch of National Association of Local Government Officers:

‘For ourselves, the loss is tempered by a sense of profound gratitude and thankfulness for memories of a loyal and sincere friend and an admiration of her deep devotion to the great causes she had so much at heart.’

The following statement was also made by Birmingham City Council:

“It was resolved that this council learn with profound regret of the death of their esteemed colleague, Councillor Clara Martineau, and record their high appreciation of the very valued services she has rendered to the city as a member of this council for many years. This council desire to convey their sincere sympathy with her relatives in their bereavement.”

In her will, Clara left a sum of money to the Education Committee towards the purchase of a seaside holiday home for the handicapped. She also left funds to set up the Clara Martineau Charity, which still gives out grants of around £100,000 a year according to the aims, which Clara laid out:

“Promote the residential education of children under the age of 19 years who have special ed. needs, and who are attending any school maintained by Birmingham City Council as local education authority. To provide facilities for recreation and other leisure time occupation for the benefit of such children with the object of improving their condition of life, with the same priority as aforesaid.”

In the log books of the schools we are working with that were open during Clara’s time, there are many records of her visiting schools and being actively involved in ensuring standards of education were being met. In 1926, for example, we can see that she was at one of the schools twice in two weeks for different exams.

Clara Martineau devoted her life to charitable work, public service and religion. According to Jeremy Martineau’s family history; “Clara worked with the Birmingham Settlement to understand the needs of the poor from practical experience. She gave much time to the work of the Birmingham Charity Organisation Society and the City Aid Society and served on the committees of both.”

Few people have achieved as much as Clara did in her working life. As well as chairing the Special Education Sub-Committee and Mental Deficiency Act Committee for Birmingham City Council, she served on three government departmental committees and acted as a trustee of Piddock’s Charity and of Evans Cottage Homes. Women were not allowed to become a Justice of the Peace in the United Kingdom until 1919, so by taking this post in 1921, once again, Clara Martineau was an early pioneer in the legal field. In the Unitarian Church, she became the first woman churchwarden at her meeting and occasionally conducted services there.

The Martineau family tree states; ‘Her life was devoted particularly to the advancement of local education’ and we thank her for this work. Without women like Clara, it seems much less likely that Birmingham would have become such a beacon for special education in this country. 


The school’s name comes from the place where it first opened. In 1970, Fox Hollies Special School opened in Acocks Green.

The school was very well connected in the local community and had help in fundraising from the local police and social clubs.

It was a small building with all the classrooms based around a central hall area, where everyone could meet.

Now Fox Hollies shares a campus with Queensbridge School in Moseley.

It was also hoped that this would help overcome barriers:

“Pupils from the two schools are taught to relate positively to each other in a way that benefits everyone.”

There is a sensory room as well as an outdoor space which is used for gardening and playing.

Both schools had a strong focus on the performing arts, so they thought it would be good to work more closely together.

At Fox Hollies, Luci, Callum, Nathan, Reece and Josh did a brilliant job of helping us to collect stories and photos that we could use. They really taught us a lot about the school.


Mayfield is the second biggest special school in Birmingham.

For some of the students, English is not their first language, which adds extra difficulties for them in learning.

Nowadays, the school is much more strictly organised and professional, but it still has a very positive and friendly feel and a strong focus on performing arts. 

Mayfield has seen a lot of change, but still has strong links to its history through the dedicated long-serving staff.

At Mayfield, we had a wonderful time working with Hassanain, Shakur, Rashaan, Eesha and Joshua. They were full of enthusiasm, collecting a large number of surveys and recording some fantastic interviews.

dame ellen

This school will celebrate its 120th birthday in 2021 and it has changed a lot over that time!

It is now a primary school, but until the early 1990s, it was also a secondary school for boys.

All the classes are named after different animals.

Everyone talks of the welcoming, friendly atmosphere that is still there even as the school has got bigger. 

A new build extension (The Ellen Building) was opened on Monday 6th June 2016. It has a computing room and cooking room.

The school has had problems with flooding, which is why it’s been hard to find any old photos.

As well as all the modern facilities, the school has some lovely green spaces where the children do forest school activities. They also have lots of space to hold fetes and parties for the children’s families. 

The enthusiasm of all the pupils and staff for the school is clear to see.


Thanks to Amy, Matthew, George and Nathan at Dame Ellen Pinsent school for their excellent work in collecting stories there. Despite being our youngest group, they were great interviewers.


The Birmingham Crippled Children’s Association helped to set the school up. Their focus was mainly on children with physical disabilities.

In the early days, facilities were very basic. They had horse drawn ambulances to bring the children to school and there was no hot water.

The new school building was built in the 1960s, although many parts of it have been extended and improved since then. 

Victoria is now part of a federation of schools and colleges, sharing a campus with Victoria College and Longwill school for Deaf Children in Northfield. Cherry Oak Primary School is also part of the federation.

For those who visit the school for the first time, it can seem like quite a maze trying to find your way round it. Everything is on one level, so it is accessible for the many wheelchair users.

They have a swimming pool, sensory room, and lots of play equipment.

The school has a very active Friends of Victoria group, who have raised lots of money to pay for new facilities and trips for the students. 

The school first opened in 1905 on Jenkins Street in Small Heath.

After only four years, the school moved to Little Green Lane, where it must have shared the site with Dame Ellen Pinsent School.

In 1964, they moved to a new purpose-built school on Bell Hill in Northfield, which was named The Victoria School for Physically Handicapped Children.

Our Victoria group were inspirational. Harry, Taylor, Josh, Aioslin, Amaan and Yash were superb ambassadors for the project in the school. They made sure everyone knew about it, collected lots of surveys and did a great job of interviewing.