Sue Young Histories

Josiah Mason 1795 - 1881

November 12, 2009

Josiah Mason 1795 - 1881Sir Josiah Mason 1795 - 1881 was an English pen manufacturer, Philanthropist, Trustee and member of the Management Committee, and major sponsor of the Birmingham Homeopathic Hospital, and the Co-founder of the Mason Science College in Birmingham, which evolved into the University of Birmingham,

Josiah Mason was a close friend and homeopathic patient of James Gibbs Blake and Edward Wynne Thomas, Josiah Mason was also a close friend of Alexander Parkes, Joseph Priestley,

Mr. Mason has for many years been a disciple of Samuel Hahnemann — namely, James Gibbs Blake and Edward Wynne Thomas, both of Birmingham…

at the end, James Gibbs Blakewatched him day and night’)…  The procession, which left Norwood House, the residence of the deceased, consisted of James Gibbs Blake and Dr. J C Huxley, who attended Sir Josiah during his illness; the coffin, borne by eight servants and workpeople; and the following mourners…

On 12.12.1870, James Gibbs Blake, Josiah Mason and George James Johnson executed the Foundation Deed of the University of Birmingham:

From\_of\_Birmingham#History On February 23, 1875, Josiah Mason, the Birmingham industrialist and philanthropist, who made his fortune in making key rings, pens, pen nibs and electroplating, founded Mason Science College. It was this institution that would eventually form the nucleus of the University of Birmingham.

In 1882, the Departments of Chemistry, Botany and Physiology were transferred to Josiah Mason Science College, soon followed by the Departments of Physics and Comparative Anatomy.

The transfer of the Medical School to Mason Science College gave considerable impetus to the growing importance of that college and in 1896 a move to incorporate it as a university college was made.

As the result of the Mason University College Act 1897 it became incorporated as Mason University College on January 1, 1898, with the Right Honourable Joseph Chamberlain MP becoming the President of its Court of Governors.

From As you might imagine, Josiah Mason became extremely wealthy and in the 1850s he turned his thoughts to philanthropy. In 1858 he opened almshouses in Station Road, Erdington, Birmingham, for spinsters and widows over 50 and orphan girls, providing accommodation in furnished rooms 14ft x 11ft with coal, gas and a small annual income provided.

These premises proving inadequate to the purpose, in 1869 a second, larger orphanage was opened in Bell Lane (now Orphanage Road), Erdington, with rooms for 26 women and dormitories for 300 children. (The health of the children was placed under the care of two homeopathic practitioners James Gibbs Blake (trustee) and Edward Wynne Thomas (John Thackray Bunce, Josiah Mason: A Biography, (Kessinger Publishing, 2010). Page 84)).

This huge, Italianate building, dominated by three tall towers, cost £60,000 to build and was endowed to the tune of £200,000. After differences of opinion with Anglican supporters, who were less keen than Josiah Mason on helping poor children, Josiah Mason decided to go it alone and found all this money,  which amounted to a huge fortune in those days, himself. Later a new wing was added to enable a total of 500 children to be accommodated…

In 1870 Josiah Mason embarked upon his greatest charitable project, drawing up trust deeds for a college of science. This being intended to equip its graduates to serve local industry, the curriculum was confined to maths, physics, chemistry, natural sciences, physiology and engineering. Literature and theology were specifically excluded.

The college, which was situated in Paradise Street in the city centre, cost Mason £170,000 in building costs and endowments. It was opened in

  1. Two of its earliest alumni - Stanley Baldwin and Arthur Neville Chamberlain
  2. were to become prime ministers.

In 1882 Mason’s College absorbed the medical faculty of the older Queen’s College, and in 1888 it became Mason’s University College. This institution in turn became the University of Birmingham in 1900. The university having been established on a site at Edgbaston, in 1964 the old Mason’s College buildings were knocked down to make way for the new central library…

Even after he had given almost £500,000 to his various charitable projects, his estate was still worth £56,000. These were, of course, vast sums of money at the time.

The Sir Josiah Mason Trust is still active today. Mason was born in Mill Street, Kidderminster, the son of a carpet weaver. He began life as a street hawker of cakes, fruits and vegetables. After trying his hand in his native town at shoemaking, baking, carpentering, blacksmithing, house painting and carpet weaving, he moved in 1816 to Birmingham.

Here he found employment in the gilt toy trade. In 1824 he set up on his own account as a manufacturer of split rings by machinery, to which he subsequently added the making of steel pens.

Owing to the circumstance of his pens being supplied through James Perry, the London stationer whose name they bore, he was less well known than Joseph Gillott and other makers, although he was really the largest producer in England, contributing heavily to the Birmingham pen trade.

In 1874 the business was converted into a limited liability company. Besides his steel pen trade Mason carried on for many years the business of electro plating, copper smelting, and India rubber ring making, in conjunction with George Elkington.

Mason was almost entirely self educated, having taught himself to write when a shoemaker’s apprentice, and in later life he felt his deficiencies keenly. It was this which led him in 1860 to establish his great orphanage at Erdington, near Birmingham.

Upon it he expended about £300,000, and for this munificent endowment he was knighted in 1872.

He had previously given a dispensary to his native town and an almshouse to Erdington. In 1880 Mason College, since incorporated in the University of Birmingham, was opened. The total value of the endowment was about £250,000.

In commemoration of him, his bust stands at the centre of the roundabout at the junction of Chester Road & Orphanage Road in Erdington. This bronze bust, erected in 1951, was cast by William Bloye from a marble statue by Francis G Williamson in 1885, which stood opposite Mason Science College in Edmund Street.

Of interest:

Robert Martineau (1798-1870) (Mayor of Birmingham 1846-7) brother of Harriet Martineau, father of Robert Francis Martineau, and Patron of the Birmingham Homeopathic Hospital and Dispensary (John Ryan (Ed.), The Monthly Homeopathic Review, (1863). Page 758).

Robert Francis Martineau (1831-1909) was a town councillor in Birmingham, secretary of the Birmingham and Midland Institute, chairman of the Technical School committee, trustee to Mason Science College, and then a member of the council of the University of Birmingham when it evolved from Mason College).

Josiah Mason had a debilitating illness (?did he meet Samuel Hahnemann there?):

debilitating illness which first afflicted him in 1841-2 and again in 1847-8, making him unable to work and leading to his travelling on the Continent  in search of a cure.  He eventually made a full recovery


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