In thinking of Wilfred Southall I feel it most appropriate that the memorial to him at Friends Hall, Farm Street, should be a porch – a doorway – for few men surely can have opened so many doors through which men and women could pass to find a richer life.
Elder of Friends Hall, Farm Street, Birmingham
A Short Biography of Wilfred F. Southall
The W F Southall Trust was established on the 14th November 1937, by Wilfred F. Southall.
Wilfred Francis Southall was born on 20th April 1864 in Birmingham, England to William and Margaret Southall. His forbears were scientists. His great-uncle, Thomas Southall, and grandfather, William Southall senior, established the firm of manufacturing chemists T & W & W Southall in 1820 (which became Southall Brothers & Barclay in 1898, followed by Southalls (Birmingham) Ltd, until its acquisition by Smith & Nephew in 1958). Wilfred’s father, William Southall junior, was a director of the family firm and an eminent chemist, being a former President of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain.
Wilfred’s early life was marked by tragedy. His mother died when he was just five years old. His father re-married four years later; however, his step-mother died a short while later, following the birth of his half-sister. Wilfred’s father did not marry again and two aunts helped to raise Wilfred and his four surviving siblings.
Wilfred’s family were devout Quakers (members of the Religious Society of Friends), with connections to the origins of the movement, in the 1600s. His great-grandmother, Mary Southall (née Prichard), was a direct descendent of Roger Prichard, who was responsible for the establishment of Almeley Meeting House, in 1672. Today this is one of the world's oldest surviving Quaker meeting houses. Roger Prichard was also father to Edward Prichard, who was one of thirteen signatories of William Penn's 1682 Charter to the people of Pennsylvania.
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Quakerism in Britain was enjoying its heyday during Wilfred Southall’s lifetime and Quaker-based industry was flourishing, not least because of its strongly-held principles of honesty, business integrity and fair treatment to employees. Today, many of these businesses are household names, such as Lloyds and Barclays banks, Clarks shoemakers, Rowntree and Cadbury confectioners. Although, all of these have long-since passed into non-Quaker ownership.
Of the examples listed above, the Southall and Cadbury families had close ties, with both being active Quakers in Birmingham. Wilfred was a contemporary and a friend of former Cadbury Director, Barrow Cadbury, who was married to Wilfred’s cousin, Geraldine. Like Wilfred, Barrow went on to establish his own charitable trust, which still exists today.
In 1884, at the age of 20, Wilfred joined the family pharmaceuticals business and qualified as a Pharmaceutical Chemist the following year. He became a director of Southall Brothers & Barclay in 1889 and held this position until his retirement 1951, aged 86. His association with the company lasted 67 years. Under his leadership the company pioneered in two areas for which it is still remembered – cod liver oil and the manufacturing of disposable sanitary towels (please click here to read our research on the subject of "Who Invented the Sanitary Towel?"
While Wilfred was a successful businessman, it was in his personal life where his real passions were to be found.
In 1888, Wifred married Mary Isabel Hornsnaill (known as Isabel). They set up home at number 16 Carpenter Road, Edgbaston, where they had three daughters (Ida, Gwen and Christine) and three sons (Martin, Kenneth and Leslie). Sadly, only two children went on to survive their parents – Gwen and Kenneth, both of whom became trustees of the W F Southall Trust.
Wilfred and Isabel were both devout Quakers and particularly motivated by the life and example of Jesus Christ. Isabel, who was known for her great literary skill, wrote many poems about the faith that she and her husband shared. An example of one, entitled A Child's Birthday Hymn and published in 1887, is as follows:
As Jesus did His Father’s will,
So let me strive to serve Him still;
And as my years pass, one by one,
Grow more like Him, the blessed Son.
How lovely was his life below!
Gentle and kind to friend and foe,
Truth in His smallest action shone,
And Love, that “seeketh not her own.”
He did not seek the rich and great,
But bowed to men of low estate;
His meat and drink were to fulfil
Continually, His Father’s will.
But I am full of selfish ways,
I have not sought my Father’s praise,
I do not seek His will alone—
But rather love to have my own.
Yet He who was so meek and mild
Will not despise a feeble child—
To love and serve Him be my choice,
To learn His ways, to hear His voice.
And if, like Mary, now I sit
To listen at His sacred feet—
I shall, when all my years are past,
Be near Him on His throne, at last.
~ Isabel Southall, Rachel & Other Poems, Published by Cornish Brothers, 1887
Wilfred's faith underpinned his many endeavours, which are too many to list in this brief biography. However, there are three particular areas which must be mentioned, as they occupied much of his life and highlight his passions:
The Adult School Movement. In 1888, Wilfred joined the Adult School Movement (ASM) as a teacher. At the time, large numbers of men and women in the UK could not read or write, so adult schools were founded by Quakers to improve literacy rates, as well as the public's understanding of the Bible. Wilfred became a very popular teacher and his classes were frequently full.
The school's average attendance soon exceeded 200 people and, as the school did not have premises of its own, Wilfred began fundraising for a permanent base. In 1894, the fundraising target was achieved and a new building was erected, which would serve thousands of men and women in the years ahead. This building was known as Friends Hall and it was located in Farm Street, Birmingham, which was a very deprived area of the city at the time. Friends Hall became the centre for a variety of religious and social work and Wilfred's son, Kenneth, recalls "...it was here that [Wilfred] found his true vocation... he was able to express what he felt was a call from God for his life service". Wilfred remained associated with Friends Hall Farm Street and the ASM for the rest of his life and he was National President of the ASM in 1925.
The Holy Land. In 1909, Wilfred and Isabel visited historical Palestine for the first time (Wilfred visited without Isabel on two later occasions). This visit had a profound impact upon them as they experienced and imagined the places where Jesus of Nazareth lived, taught and was crucified. They returned with some traditional Palestinian clothing and curios and, a few months later, Wilfred delivered his first ‘Palestine Lecture’. The lecture was a pageant and involved the re-telling of biblical stories using costumes and props as visual aids and it involved a large number participants from Friends Hall, Farm Street. It was so popular that, by 1932, Wilfred had given the lecture 250 times and filled Birmingham Town Hall 12 times, with 600 people being turned away on one occasion. Wilfred devoted 29 years of his life to this pageant and his son, Kenneth, later recalled that it was the highlight of his father’s life.
Over the years Wilfred amassed a large collection of Palestinian and Eastern curios from various places. This collection, called the Southall Collection, was eventually donated to Birmingham Museum and Art Galleries in 1985.
The Temperance Movement. Wilfred Southall was committed to the Temperance Movement and was President of Birmingham Temperance Society (William Southall, his grandfather, had been the society’s first Secretary) and President of the Friends Temperance Union. Wilfred was said to have wanted to make Birmingham a more sober city, as he had seen first-hand the ravages of addiction. James Hudson, an MP and a friend of Wilfred’s, said:
He was always deeply concerned that the society of Friends should stand firm in its witness for personal example and total abstinence from the use of intoxicants. He did not think we could make any worthwhile contribution to the alleviation of the burden of drink in the life of the nation and of the world unless we were all personally faithful.
Around 1950, Wilfred’s eyesight began to fail him due to cataracts. Gradually, he found life increasingly difficult, including the long walks he had so enjoyed. In 1953 he had an operation to improve his eyesight and, while the operation was a success, he died two weeks later, on 30th March 1953, aged 89.
Remembering Wilfred a close friend of his wrote:
One cannot think of Wilfred without remembering his great zest for life, his continuous interest in the changing world around him. He was always ready for fun and laughed with his friends. Dullness bored him - just as he liked colour in his photographs, so he liked a certain aliveness in his associates.
Wilfred F. Southall by Kenneth H. Southall published by the Friends Home Service Committee and printed by Priory Press, 1957.
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A Short History of the W F Southall Trust
The W F Southall Trust was formed on the 14th of November 1937, to further Wilfred Southall's philanthropic interests and endeavours. It was endowed with 30,000 shares worth five shillings each (a total of £7,500), from the sale of shares in the family company, Southalls (Birmingham) Ltd.
The first meeting of the W F Southall Trust took place on 8th February 1938 and this year was to become significant in Wilfred's life. Just weeks earlier, in January 1938, Wilfred and Isabel celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary. However, Isabel had been in poor health for some years and this celebration was the last time that Wilfred would be gathered with his wife and all of their surviving children and grandchildren. Later that year, in December, Isabel died, aged 77. Therefore, the W F Southall Trust was to mark a final chapter in Wilfred's life, without Isabel.
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Four people were present at the first meeting of the W F Southall Trust: the appointed trustees - Wilfred and his surviving children Kenneth and Gwen Southall - and A. Kingsley Rutter of Rutters Solicitors, who was appointed Secretary. The meeting took place at 32 Davenant Road, Oxford and the following funds were awarded: £25 to United Kingdom Alliance; £10 to the Warwick North Monthly Meeting; £50 to YMCA Birmingham Branch; £22 to Midland Adult School Unions; and £500 to the Farm Street Trust.
Meetings were held sporadically until the 1950s, largely due to the devastating impact of World War II. However, from 1951 trustee meetings were held annually, eventually moving to twice-yearly.
On 12th November 1952 Wilfred attended his final Trust meeting and he died four months later. His son, Kenneth Southall, became Chairman, followed by Henry Southall, Daphne Maw, Donald Southall and Mark Holtom. In addition to those mentioned in our current trustees page, the trustees that have served the Trust in the past are listed in alphabetical order below (years of trustee service in brackets):
Christopher M Southall (1987-2006)
Daphne P Maw (1969-2016)
Gwendoline Catchpool (1937-1971)
Henry Southall (1962-1987)
Jean C Greaves (1962-1994)
Dr Kenneth H Southall (1937-1993)
Phyllis H Southall (1962-1992)
In the 1960s the W F Southall Trust became a registered charity in England and Wales (on 11th December 1963). In the same decade Wilfred's children, Gwen and Kenneth Southall, endowed their own grant-making trusts. However, both trusts later merged with the W F Southall Trust. In 1991 a remaining sum of £50,000 was transferred from the Gwen Catchpool Charity to the W F Southall Trust and, in 2000, the Kenneth and Phyllis Southall Trust was amalgamated with the W F Southall Trust, providing approximately 13% of the W F Southall Trust’s portfolio of assets.
For 80 years, from November 1937 to November 2017, the position of Trust Secretary was held by members of Rutters Solicitors. A. Kingsley Rutter was Trust Secretary from 1937 until his death in 1986; Stephen Rutter (A. Kingsley's son), was Acting Secretary between 1978 and 1986 and Secretary until his death in 2009; and Derek Rowntree was Secretary between 2009 and 2017.
As the Trust grew in size and reach, so did the administrative burden. So, from 1993, Margaret Rowntree (wife to Derek), began supporting the trustees with the Trust's day-to-day operation and soon became the primary administrator. Following 24 years of service to the Trust, Margaret and Derek retired in November 2017.
Dear Mr Southall,
I have for a long time wanted to write to tell you that you have been a living inspiration to me for years. Your Christlike life and bearing (tho’ I have only spoken to you many years ago once) yet I often see you in the street. I write this to make your heart glad, just a little.
An entire stranger to you.
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