Grantham Munton Yorke was born in 1803. The son of an admiral, he entered service in 1826 choosing the army over the navy and retired in 1833 after a relatively short military career, holding the rank of lieutenant.
After taking holy orders he worked in Limerick and Lincoln before arriving in Birmingham, as Rector of St. Philip’s, in 1844. He soon became concerned with the number of poor children in the parish and in 1846, after ascertaining that none of the existing schools in the area would take them, opened a ‘ragged school’ in a disused workshop in Lichfield Street. Such schools derived their name from the state of the children’s clothing and Yorke ensured a good attendance by providing a midday meal as well as later teaching the three R’s.
Within a year it had been renamed St. Philip’s Industrial School and by 1850 it had moved to a purpose built institution in Gem Street. The land had been donated by the governors of King Edward’s Free Grammar School and would remain the school’s home until it relocated to Harborne in 1903.
Yorke’s efforts to improve conditions for the town’s children extended well beyond Gem Street and by 1850 he was also the chairman of the Blue Coat School’s management committee. His philanthropic work was also applied to criminal children and he was involved with the management of Saltley Reformatory when it opened in 1853. Gem Street, itself, received criminal children from 1868 onwards.
Yorke died in 1879 but his educational and reformatory work continues to this day through the Grantham Yorke Trust which supports young people born in the West Midlands.