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SJMT Founder's Day - 29th July

Updated: Aug 1, 2023

Sir Josiah Mason (23 February 1795 – 16 June 1881) founded the Sir Josiah Mason Trust (SJMT) on this day in 1868. We want to tell you more about him and his extraordinary achievements to mark this special occasion.

Josiah’s early years

Josiah Mason was born in Kidderminster, the son of a carpet weaver. He taught himself to write as a child. He showed an entrepreneurial flair from a young age, beginning as a street hawker aged eight selling food. As he grew older, he entered various trades including shoemaking, baking and carpentry.

He found his fortune in Birmingham

He moved to Birmingham in 1816, and in 1824 he invested his savings in a business which

manufactured split rings. He improved the machinery to bevel the rings, as seen in our modern-day keyrings.

He went on to manufacture pens and nibs, becoming the largest mass producer in England and

amassing a considerable fortune through self-taught engineering skills and astute business

knowledge. He was also instrumental in revolutionising electro-nickel plating, copper smelting and rubber ring making.

Josiah the philanthropist

Josiah was brought up to have deep-rooted values. A kind and generous man, he endowed most of his wealth to SJMT.

He built the first Almshouses on Station Road, Erdington, in 1858. It housed 30 spinsters and widows over 50 years old, and had rooms for 20 orphan girls. The orphans were given a basic education and gained domestic skills, such as baking and sewing.

He officially founded the Trust on 29 July 1868 shortly before opening a large orphanage in Bell Lane, Erdington, (now Orphanage Road) at a cost of £60,000. It included rooms for 26 women, dormitories for 300 children and one of the best community schools in the area. Josiah reportedly laid the foundation stone himself, privately without ceremony. He further endowed land and estates with an estimated value of £200,000. A new wing was later added, accommodating a new school room and dormitories, and allowing a further 200 children to be housed.

Josiah made his name as one of the most highly esteemed industrialists and philanthropists of the Victorian era. He was knighted in November 1872.

In 1880 he built Mason Science College, which was incorporated into the University of Birmingham in 1900. Notable students included Neville Chamberlain, who went on to become UK Prime Minister.

The original Trust badge with the motto 'Do Deeds of Love'; included a mermaid which Sir Josiah incorporated into his coat of arms and the heraldic badge of Mason College. The logo for the University of Birmingham features a mermaid to this day.

Sir Josiah died on 16 June 1881, aged 86. He was buried in a mausoleum in the grounds of the

orphanage. His remains, along with those of his wife Annie who died in 1870 aged 78, and 53

children who died at the orphanage, were disinterred and their ashes scattered in the Garden of

Rest at Perry Barr Crematorium when the orphanage was demolished.

Josiah’s good work lives on long after his death

The orphanage and school were forced to close in the 1950s due to the cost to upkeep the building and the role of the state in care of children. The building was demolished in the 1960s. The Trust retained part of the site and 36 Almshouses which were built in the 1920s, now called Mason Cottages. More Almshouses were built on sites in Olton in the 1960s and Shirley in 1974. SJMT began providing care services in the 1980s and other charities began joining the Trust in 2019.

Josiah’s remarkable career and rags-to-riches story is recognised today by blue plaques which adorn buildings in Kidderminster, Birmingham City Centre and Burry Port in Wales, where he built the Copperworks School in 1855, mainly for the workers’ children. Busts of Josiah sit proudly on the roundabout near Orphanage Road in Erdington and in the University of Birmingham.

The future of SJMT

We’re proud of our long history, and we’ll continue to evolve to support those most in need in our

community. Our Trust is now made up of seven charities, but we’re best known for our Almshouses.

Our sites currently include:

  • Olton, Solihull: 45 flats in Mason Court, 8 mobility flats in Jubilee Court and 1 bed Marlowe Cottage

  • Shirley, Solihull: 64 flats in Mason House and 8 mobility flats in Ruth Patrick House

  • Erdington, Birmingham: 36 one-bed cottages at Mason Cottages and 10 bungalows at Holte & Bracebridge Almshouses

  • Heath Town, Wolverhampton: 6 Jacobean style Almshouse Cottages

  • Kidderminster, Worcestershire: 6 one-bed bungalows

  • Bourneville, Birmingham: 20 one-bed flats

Our newly launched Shine Project goes back to Sir Josiah’s vision of supporting young people. Shine aims to create brighter futures for those who have experienced care, left care or are not in employment, education or training (NEET) and are at risk of becoming homeless.

Shine Supporters will help those referred to us to identify and set goals and provide 1-1 mentoring for as long as they need it. We will also form a Shine Group to facilitate peer-led support to help develop skills, confidence and knowledge.

In April, we launched our ambitious five-year strategy in which we aim to:

  • Further recognise the importance on our staff and volunteers and make SJMT a great place to work

  • Continually improve, especially in reducing our environmental impact and better demonstrate our social impact

  • Replace and/or build homes to meet people’s changing wants and needs

  • Create new opportunities to help people achieve their potential and thrive

  • Build a minimum of six Almshouses for young people

Please support us to continue Sir Josiah Mason’s vision

We hope you enjoyed reading about Sir Josiah Mason. There are several ways you can support us to continue his legacy:

  • To find out more about volunteering, please click here

  • Find out more about becoming a fundraiser here

  • If you’d like to donate money, please click here

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