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Ralph Dickinson - Headmaster HGS

A Role Model for Neville Bradshaw

Suaviter in modo, fortiter in re - Gentle in manner, resolute in execution

Neville Bradshaw's Headmaster

Mr Dickinson 1928

RALPH DICKINSON was the Headmaster of HGS during the period 1904 to 1929, overseeing a period of rapid expansion and development during which a small run-down school was transformed into a modern grammar school. He was the headmaster throughout the period when Neville Bradshaw and his brother and sisters attended the Grammar School at Halesowen.

It is clear that Halesowen Grammar and Ralph Dickinson in particular had a profound effect on NRB. In so many ways NRB modelled himself on Dickinson and adapted many of his ideas and methods to grammar school education.

This web-page reproduces below a memorial printed immediately after Dickinson's death. The various contributions cover a wide spectrum of Dickinson's activities and should be read in toto to get a full picture of the man and the school he ran. The next to last contribution is an appreciation by Neville Bradshaw himself who at that time was a master at Taunton School and was about to be appointed Headmaster of Lewes County School (as it was originally called). NRB makes some revealing comments, such as that about a trip to Oxford, which help explain why he chose to go there after the Great War.

'In Memoriam' - Tributes To Ralph Dickinson Mr Dickinson - Suaviter in modo, fortiter in re - Gentle in manner, resolute in execution

In Memoriam

Ralph Dickinson


Halesowen Grammar School 1904-29


In introducing this Memorial of our late beloved Headmaster to his numerous friends and admirers we feel that we are obeying a widely-felt desire to have collected together representative tributes from those bodies with which he was most intimately connected. Among these we have included the pupils of the School, the Governors, the Worcestershire Education Authority, the Staff, and the Old Halesonians Association.

To have prepared and issued this publication at such short notice would have been impossible without the ready co-operation of all who were asked to write contributions. No single person who was called upon refused, and all made it their immediate concern to send in their manuscript as soon as possible. Our thanks are due to these, and to the School Printing Staff for the many hours of extra toil in the Printing Office.

There may be numerous imperfections owing to the shortness of time at our disposal. We ask our readers to overlook these, and to concentrate on the fact that no hands but those of schoolboys and Staff have touched this brochure from manuscript to finished product. It has therefore been a labour of love, and is a true memorial in that only R. D's School could have produced it.
R. B.

A Few Biographical Details of Ralph Dickinson.

Born September 6th. 1871.

1876-1883. Blackrod Elementary School.

1884-1891. Rivington & Blackrod Grammar School.

1901. London B.A.

1902-1904. Birmingham University.
From Rivington & Blackrod Grammar School he began to teach.
1892-1893. Newbury Grammar School.

Jan 1894-Apr 1894. Walsingham Grammar School.

Apr 1894-May 1895. Emmanuel School, Wandsworth.

Jan 1890-Apr 1898. Rutlish School, Wimbledon.

Apr 1898-Apr 1904. Birmingham Technical School.

May 1904. Headmaster, Hales Owen Grammar School.

May 1908. New School buildings opened, with girls and boys.

1922: Great War Memorial Bazaar.

1928. School taken over by County Education Authority.

'Mr. Dickinson and the O. H. A.'

From R. S. GOODMAN, Esq., Hon. Sec. O. H. A.

The story of Mr. Dickinson's enthusiasm and help for his old boys and girls is largely bound up with the history of the Old Halesonians Association. The Association was formed under his auspices in 1912, after an Old Boys Football Club had been in existence for two successful seasons, and it flourished for some time until the war came, to cut short its activities and the careers of several of its members.

After the Armistice, he was keen to see again the meetings of old boys and girls under the School roof, and in 1919 the Association was revived. It has been necessary to make very little alteration in the old rules which were printed in 1912, and with his eneouragement, his guidance, and his help, for he was content to leave the actual organisation to younger members of the Committee, the Association has grown in numbers, extended its interests and its activities, and gradually developed until in 1928 its membership and the number of its meetings were both greater than at any time since its formation.

There were very few meetings of the Association which Mr. Dickinson did not attend and the last time he was with us was at the dance on New Year's Eve, two short months before he died. He was then far from well and it was only because of his sense of duty and the fatherly interest he took in all O. H. A. activities that he was present.

His help was always of a practical nature and has been a considerable factor in the growth of the Association. He had been heard to remark that an Old Boys and Girls Association existed for the benefit of the School and it is true that at his instigation the School Games Fund has benefited by contributions from the O. H. A. But it is equally true that but for him the existence of the School would have been of very little use to the Association. He was always ready to arrange for the School to be used for the various meetings, dramatic performances, and dances that were held and in particular during the last few years, he has allowed old boys and girls to have the use of the playing fields when it was difficult for them to get suitable accommodation elsewhere.

He was particularly keen to have the school arrange fixtures with Old Boys and Girls teams in all the games which were included in the School's curriculum and for the last four years at least one day in each term has been set apart for these matches. Those who have seen him keep goal for the Staff in the mixed hockey match on these occasions will have realised that his enthusiasm was more than could be satisfied by the planning of the day's programme.

He will be greatly missed by all those old boys and girls who visit the school in the next few years, not only because of his unfailing welcome and interest, but because the respect they had for their Headmaster afterwards expanded under the warmth of his genial nature, into a sense of fellowship which meant that a return visit to the School was incomplete without a few words with him. He never forgot anyone who had been at the School in his time, and he was always ready and eager to learn details of progress since they had left his charge.

His death will be a very real loss to the School and to the town, but to those he had taught "to play the game" it is more in the nature of a tragedy.


From A. W. PRIESTLEY, Esq., Director of Education, Worc's.

I gladly pay my tribute of respect to the memory of Mr. Dickinson, who was my friend and colleague for twenty years.

Mr. Dickinson's character was one of simplicity and transparent honesty. A North Countryman, from Lancashire, he had the characteristics of that sturdy race strongly marked. He had no trace of affectation. His quiet voice, his engaging smile, and his directness of speech inspired confidence and affection. He had no selfish tastes or unworthy ambitions: he was happy to give all the time and energy he could spare from his home to the cares and interests of his School, while not neglecting the religious and civic claims of the town in which he lived.

He was an ideal schoolmaster for a Mixed School. He believed thoroughly in co-education. To him it was a very natural thing that the kindly relationships of the home and family life to which he was accustomed, should be transferred to the larger life of the School.

His influence was founded on love and friendly interest rather than on fear. I remember many years ago sending a youth from the County Education Office to help Mr. Dickinson with the Free Place examination. This youth, long afterwards, told me how he went in fear and trembling, having himself just left a school where the Head was regarded with some awe, and how his fears were proved utterly groundless when he came in contact with the kindly and helpful manner of Mr. Dickinson. It was, he confessed, a revelation.

The practical nature of his interest in the School can be seen in the playing field, the levelling of which was largely carried out by the Staff and the boys under the Headmaster's directions. He was not in the habit of appealing on all occasions to the Governors or to the Local Authority whenever a job had to be doue, but he would set to work himself with the help of the boys, thereby teaching them a valuable lesson in self-help and independence. He spent himself and his means freely, perhaps too freely, for the good of the school.

When the growth of the School under his leadership taxed the accommodation of the present buildings so severely as to make a change inevitable he entered fully into the discussion of ways and means. He had no fear that the transfer of the School and its endowments to the Education Authority would interfere with its highest usefulness and ultimate purpose. The transfer, which was brought about in 1928, may be said to have been the most important external event in the life of the School during his Headmastership. He never wavered in his support of the policy, and it is some consolation to know that the Leaving Scholarships founded on the basis of the old endowment could be brought into operation during his lifetime. The new building extensions on which he had so much set his heart he has not, alas, lived to see. When I visited him during his illness, about a fortnight before his death, I found him with the Architect's plans by his side, and his talk was of the future of the School.

The monument he leaves behind him is the school, so full of life and of promise. He lived for it, and outside his family life he had perhaps no other really dominant interest. He will not soon be forgotten; he was one of Worcestershire's most attractive schoolmasters.

How the Head seemed to us.

(Collected from the scholars by Tilley and Dunn.)

In this humble attempt at a delineation and appreciation of our late Headmaster as he appeared to us, we, the eldest of the present Halesonians and consequently those who have felt to the greatest extent his "mild paternal sway", are endeavouring to express what we think must be the sentiment and emotions of all who have been pupils of his during the last twenty-five years. Throughout our seven years at school, our admiration and respect for him have continually grown and we feel that it is the same with every one who has ever known him; it has been an admiration that, during the last two years when we were more intimately acquainted with him, developed into something akin to hero worship, and a respect, constant, never shaken, that only he could command.

The keynote of his character is best sounded by the famous passage from Philippians IV; "Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honourable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue and if there be any praise, think on these things." He himself quoted this on one unforgettable occasion when he exhorted us to scorn everything petty, to root out all littleness from our nature, to thrust weakness aside and be men. That passage, pregnant with meaning for all of us, affords a wonderful picture of the life he himself strove to live. His words that day made a deep impression, but his own example, giving us a definite ideal to look up to affected us even more deeply.

It was the same in all things; he always relied more on actions than words, always taught us more by example than by exhortation. He asked the school to turn out and support the rugger or soccer team; he was there himself in all weathers - how often has that heroic vigil helped the players on the field to play better in the game of life. He inspired all the boys during work on Top Field by taking vigorous share in it himself; his was very often the first hand on the roller at the approach of the cricket season. He was keenly and intensely interested in every branch of school activity, in athletics, in all sports and on the social side. The school was the centre of his whole life; all his ambitions, all his interests were fixed on it and by his example he fired us with some of his fierce enthusiasm.

On Sat. March 2nd, the day of his funeral a man of 30 explained his grief to a friend, "My old school-master is dead; he's sure to have been the best man on earth." These were the actual words of an old Halesonian who had had little to do with the Head since he left the school, and they go to prove what a firm and lasting effect he had on every individual with whom he came into contact. Our parents, who had only met him once or twice, received us every night with anxious enquiries; men and women stopped us in the street each day to ask about him; and even the strongest wept at the news of his death.

At School he was intimately connected with all of us; he knew everyone by name and by character; and he never seemed to forget. In the Third, our first year at the school, we cherished memories of our little personal acquaintances with him; as seniors and prefects we felt, we knew that the Head trusted us, and we just couldn't betray that trust without a horrible sense of shame.

The secret of his wonderful appeal lay in his perpetual good humour, whence sprang his ability to handle anyone satisfactorily. When we were in the study being reprimanded, we never felt resentful, we could never argue, we could never cousider ourselves unjustly treated. In his gentle and kindly way he made us see where we were wrong and feel intensely sorry for all our misdeeds. He never lost his temper; he was hurt rather than angry; he made us feel that we had betrayed his trust: and we always came out of that study less selfish and nobler-minded beings.

Still, with all this, he was in no way easy-going or vacillating; he could be stern and punish severely when necessary, but his strong sense of justice never deserted him. When the culprit had been punished and had shown his sorrow the incident was closed. He was always ready to forgive and forget, never spiteful, never harbouring resentment, never unjust; indeed it was his proud boast that only one person had left his study still cherishing a grievance, and even he returned later to own that he was in the wrong. The years will pass, we shall encounter many Headmasters - but not such a one as he.

"We that had loved him so, followed him, honoured him
Lived in his mild and magnificent eye;
Learned his great language, caught his clear accents,
Made him our pattern to live and to die."

R. D. and His Staff.

The Headmaster's room was typical of his relationship to the School and the Staff. Outside the bay window thrusts itself truculently forward, forming a bulwark against intruders. All who approach have to endure the cold scrutiny of the windows, and nothing enters the school without passing the Head's door. Much that was hostile to us must have lost its power in its passage through the Head's door. He always defended us. He took on his broad shoulders most of the burden of criticism and dlsparagement that nearly always centres round a school. Everything that is done in a school is open to public view, and is often misinterpreted and misunderstood. Hales Owen Grammar School received more than a fair share of such criticism, but our Headmaster never deviated from his convictions. Whether people agreed with him or not they all had great respect for him as a man, and we on the staff always knew that he was loyal to us in every way. We never had any hesitation in taking our troubles to him. He always listened and helped. This quality of accessibility is shown in the way the `engaged' notice on his door was disregarded. If ever he absolutely required a few minutes of undisturbed solitude, his secretary had to be posted on guard, but this was not often.

Another quality that we admired in our Head was his courage. In this age of timid time-serving and peace-seeking he was never intimidated by public opinion, and never deviated from what he considered to be the right course, because of its unpopularity. He had a gritty core in his nature. His courage rose at the prospect of a fight, and bugles calling and flags flying stirred his blood. He was never flustered or excited or nervy. He knew, what many Headmasters never learn, that good work can never be done by children or staff if they are bullied or frightened or in a state of nervous apprehension. Much against his personal desires he absented himself from some functions because he thought his presence might produce some restraint.

R. D. took wide views of education. He never organised or worked merely for successful examination results. He knew the tonic value of failure and struggle and always impressed on children the lesson that they fell to rise higher. He was ever the defender of the mediocrities, and against staff criticism always found some redeeming quality in the veriest failure. The numerous honest, conscientious dullards will miss an ardent champion.

Another characteristic of his mind that marked out R.D as an ideal Headmaster was his impartiality, his sane, discriminating judgement. A man of wide interests himself he shrank from the prevalent craze for specialisation. He held the balance equally poised between science and the humanities. Two instances may be given to illustrate this. A few years ago he introduced biology into the school, being convinced of its educational interest and value. He encouraged children to take up eagerly the study of natural history, but it was in no dogmatic spirit. It did not at all lessen his interest in the value of traditional educational subjects, as was shown during the last few months of his life when he was delighted that a few senior boys and girls took up the study of Greek with a view to taking a classical course in the University. He encouraged them by advice and help and the loan of books. If he had any prejudices he sank them in the interests of the boys and girls. If any pupil showed an aptitude for a subject he thought he should be allowed to take it. Biology and Greek, Maths. and History, Anglo-Saxon and Physics - all these were being taken by somebody in his last term as Headmaster. This desire to satisfy the individual preferences of his scholars led him into serious difficulties of organisation and staffing, but he usually triumphed over them.

In a school built to accommodate 150 he had over 300 doing widely varied work with a view to their immediate inclinations or subseqtient careers. There was no smack of the sergeant-major or the barracks about R.D. His ideal was freedom. If the school had been large enough he would have introduced one of those advanced educational systems which depreciate mass teaching and regard every hoy or girl as a separate entity requiring separate individual training.

He never treated his staff as if they were mere underlings. He consulted them in the most friendly way on all matters connected with the school, and he seldom interfered in the work of his colleagues. He placed great confidence in their loyalty and energy and he was seldom disappointed. He encouraged every form of extra-school activity, especially social meetings, such as debates, whist drives, dances, house concerts, form concerts, theatre parties. He learnt to dance very late in his life so that he might join in the festivities. There is no record of his ever having vetoed a pleasure party or excursion.

Although R.D. was big and burly and sometimes gave the impression of harshness, he was really tenderhearted and emotional. He felt deeply any significant occasion. At the end of term celebrations especially in the Summer, when boys and girls whom he had known for many years were leaving, his voice would break with emotion. He was also profoundly touched on Armistice Day, at a memorial service, or by some instance of fine feeling or unselfish devotion. He was convinced that a schoolmaster's life was not futile when school tradition produced a splendid action or a generous impulse He would have been moved to tears if he could have foreseen the tributes of affection that have come from his foster children of every generation.

R. D's. home was always open to us, and no tribute to him would be complete without reference to Mrs. Dickinson. The school has always been in her heart, and she gave her best to its service. What a centre of social enjoyment her house was! Tennis parties, bridge parties, whist drives, sing-songs, all free and unrestrained. The house and the school were one. Mrs. Dickinson attended all school functions and was quick with generous commendation. During the trying period of her husband's last illness she welcomed us to her house and was never tired of answering enquiries. The staff and school will miss a warm friend when she leaves our immediate neighbourhood, but we know she will not forget.

This is a very imperfect tribute to the memory of our Headmaster, but the life of a man cannot be estimated in a few pages of words. We who were in daily association with him for many years know the manner of man he was, and we shall not easily forget. He lives in the hearts of hundreds of men and women, boys and girls, and his well known-figure will always be present with them when they revisit the school. The very landscape speaks of him. The steep rise from the Earls to Melbourne Road has been shelved into playing fields and lawns and gardens. He watched the slow process of the moving of thousands of tons of soil and rock to make the bottom field and the top field, the school and the house.

At the time of his death he was engaged on a huge engineering scheme to provide three or four additional Rugby and Hockey pitcbes. That work must go on as part of a memorial to him. His long dream of a new school was about to be realised when he was cut off. That is a magic clue to his career, but if we who are left bring to ripening the seeds that he has sown with so much love and toil, he will not be unsatisfied.

An Appreciation from the Governors

by Rev. H.C.A.Colvile, Rector of Hales Owen & Vice Chairman of the Governors.

No record of the life of our late Head Master would be in the least complete without an attempt to recall something of the early days here; and that applies equally to an estimate of his work from the Governors' point of view. In imagination you must go back to 1904, and you must see a young man and his newly wed wife arriving, not to the fine school and house, with the spacious playing fields, but to a little old house by the present entrance gates, with the school adjoining, and a tiny cricket ground near the present Drill Hall. All the land beyond was rough field not owned by the school. Not very commodious premises, but then there were only 23 pupils, all boys of course.

The new master and his wife almost from the start seemed to give new life to the school, and soon it was obvious that building must be undertaken, for the numbers increased rapidly, and the old house was discovered to be unfit for use and was condemned on sanitary grounds. Further educational reforms were in the air which if adopted would involve a complete change in the status of the school, and a great increase in size. With the new master had come new problems for the Governors, totally unexpected when he was appointed. It was a time of crisis and the very existence of the school was in great danger. Fortunately Ralph Dickinson had no doubts in his mind as to the right course to adopt, and he was backed up most loyally by the Governors, headed by the late Viscount Cobham. Dickinson was always for the big, bold course and was always an optimist. But his part was not only planning work for others, it involved hard work for himself and his wife.

I very much hope it may be possible to record in print something of these early days for they were the epic time when the battle "To be or not to be" was fought and won; and I would like some of the early photos showing the buildings and grounds of 1905 to be reproduced before the memories and relics have disappeared. All I can say now is that having persuaded the Governors to launch, what for their resources was a gigantic undertaking, he set himself the task of turning the surrounding wilderness, not into a smiling garden exactly, but into smiling playing fields with the necessary approaches to the new school buildings. It must have been a very strenuous time apparently, with bazaars, teas, and such-like efforts following one another at breathless intervals, but he "made good" and raised his money.

This however, does not exhaust the story of his creative work, for he had something more difficult to do even than planning buildings, laying out grounds and raising money; he had to give a "soul" to his new school.

Tradition governed largely the older places of education with which I was acquainted; the new school planted down on the rough hill-side had nothing of this to go upon.

It was all raw, buildings, grounds, teachers, and scholars; and Dickinson had to be largely designer and builder both of things material and things of the spirit. In my opinion, though it is that of a non-educational expert, he did wonderfully. He drew his scholars from a big variety of homes with a big range in culture, such as does not exist either in your public school or your elementary school, and I think he welded his material together and produced a distinct stamp of character in a quite masterly way. I have watched it with interest and a growing sense of admiration, and a thankfulness that we had a man of his calibre in our midst. Now he has gone, but he has done much in his crowded 25 years here to lay a foundation that will serve for a great future, and has given a tradition that will inspire his successors in the headship, the teaching staff, and the governing body in the years to come.

No sketch such as I have attempted would be complete without a very definite acknowledgement of all the school has owed during the time to Mrs. Dickinson. In every department of this creative work she has been at her husband's side helping most loyally and with great efficiency, and Hales Owen and the County owe her gratitude as well as sympathy. Further, no Governor who is in the least acquainted with the school in this century of grace, can omit in his review of its career and working, an acknowledgement of what the Governors owe to their clerk Mr. Alfred Homfray for all he has done to make possible their plans, to manage their property, and to back the late Head in every effort that made for the welfare of the old foundation.

Impressions of an Old Boy.

(from N. BRADSHAW, Esq. M.A. Oxon.)

Mr Dickinson 1910 The death of Mr. Dickinson makes all those realise who knew and loved him - and who of his old pupils did not? - how great is the loss that they have sustained. The news that he had passed away came as a shock; it took time to grasp, and only when we at last comprehended that he had gone for ever from us did we fully realise the hurt.

The impressions of our youth are the clearest, the warmest, the most generous, and for Old Halesonians are centred round their School. To think of the Grammar School without Mr. Dickinson is impossible. The strongest tie that still bound us to it has snapped.

Those of us who have left the district and see the old school only on rare occasions know what a pleasure it has been to go back there during a school vacation. One wandered with a melancholy interest over the deserted playing fields, the empty classrooms, the scenes of youthful defeats and triumphs, and felt that in this unnatural stillness the soul had gone out of the place. On the point of leaving, one tentatively tapped on the Head's study door. If he was there, and he often was, planning in the holidays for next term's activities, one found oneself greeted with a look of pleased surprise, a kindly smile and a warm handshake. Pipes having got going, - one still felt uncertain about producing a pipe in this presence, - soon one would be in the midst of the latest school news, plans for extensions, examination triumphs last July, ground improvements. Ground Improvements! Who can think of the old Head without visions of his stalwart figure on the cricket field? What terrors attended his bowling, or, if you were a little fellow and he showed his sympathy by sending down lobs at you, how soon you were climbing the steep flight of steps that led to the pavilion!

Two small incidents stand out vividly in the present writer's memory. In a reminiscent mood, Mr. Dickinson one day described the condition of the school when he first arrived, and the insecurity of its position, the doubt as to its continuance, the small numbers and the condition of the cricket field, an important matter to him, it was several feet deep in grass. The Head immediately went down and bought a scythe and cut it himself. It was typical of the man, displaying as it did an ever-readiness to grapple with a difficulty as soon as it presented itself, and to do it himself.

The other incident is an example of his wide vision as a Headmaster. He had a deep regard for what was oldest and best in our educational institutions, school or uuiversity, and an almost romantic love for the beauty of Oxford. Most of us came from small Black Country towns where environment tended to a circumscribed outlook. It was this, no doubt, that prompted him one lovely summer day, to despatch his fifth and sixth forms to the old university town. The stillness of the quadrangles, the beauty of the lawns and the atmosphere of learning that shrouds the place came as a revelation to us all and left a lasting impression.

Whenever the Old Halesonians Association meets, it will be under the shadow of his presence. It was he who fostered the association, displaying a kindly interest in the welfare of those who had passed through his hands at the most impressionable period of their lives. If one went to him for advice, it was given freely and willingly. One always felt that shyly, but deeply, he appreciated being called upon by an old pupil. No one knew better than he the added strength that a virile Old Boys Association can afford to a school. As a tribute to him who gave so long and ungrudgingly, what less can we do, as Old Halesonians, than support the School by every means in our power?

Ralph Dickinson, B.A.

(From A. T. BUTLER Esq., F.R.I.B.A.)

Rarely has death left so appreciable a void in so many spheres as that of Ralph Dickinson. In his own profession, in public work, in the church, on the cricket field, in almost every form of public activity the loss is apparent and real.

Twenty-five years ago he became Headmaster of the Hales Owen Grammar School, a school which, under his guidance, has risen from small things to be one of the more important in the County of Worcester. It was unfortunately fated that he should not see the new developments and the new buildings for which he, for so many years, had striven and hoped. The new scheme up to the last was in his thoughts, and I know that he looked forward to its completion as the ultimate peak of his educational life. His friends, his scholars, all who knew him mourn his untimely death.

Knowing him first as a Governor and later as a friend I can speak of his devotion to the school, his unremitting zeal for its progress, and his never varying confidence that a great future lay before it, and if at times the results were less than his hopes, his work justified the greater optimism.

He was a man of personality, unfailing as a supporter, strenuous in opposition, but one who gained the regard even of his opponents. Patience he carried to the extreme, and many were the calls on his untiring sympathy.

These attributes served him well in his public activities; only those who worked with him know the credit due to his memory, for he was ever reticent.

For twenty five years I met him on the cricket field; for many years he acted as captain of the Hales Owen Cricket Club. Successful both as a bowler and as a batsman he was still more successful as a captain. His influence was great and good, and personally I shall always look back with pleasure, and shall ever have pleasant memories of the years I played under the leadership of Ralph Dickinson, and I am, I know, voicing the thoughts of the many who played in his team in paying this last tribute to a man and a sportsman.

It is difficult to conceive that he is no longer here - still more difficult to believe that his work is done - rather will I believe with the poet,

"Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep -
He hath awakened from the dream of life".

NRB at Birmingham University