Living conditions in Edwardian children’s homes

Major-General Baden-Powell visiting the children at Gordon Boys Home, Croydon, c1908

When running a number of children’s homes across the country, it is vital that a good standard of living is maintained in every single home. For The Children’s Society [previously known as the Waifs and Strays Society] one way of maintaining standards was to periodically inspect the conditions in each home.

There are inspectors’ or visitors’ reports for a large number of our children’s homes, dating from the late-19th Century right up to the 1990s. When these reports were created, they were used to check that the children’s homes were running well and that the children in them had a good standard of living. The reports give a fascinating insight into life in the homes, the health of the children, and what living conditions were expected at different points in history.

The following image is a page from an inspector’s report for Gordon Boys Home, Croydon, 1909.

Page from an inspector's report of Gordon Boys Home, Croydon, 1909

This page covers the health of the boys, noting what medical care was available for them and what sanitation was provided. Here it is stated that the boys were bathed every other night, with 3 or 4 boys using the same bath water in turn, but with each boy having his own towel.

Other pages in the report note what facilities were available in the different rooms of the home, the cleanliness of each room, and how the home was run.

Not only do these reports give information about what it was like to live in each home, they can also give some insight into what it was thought worth inspecting at the time. For example, from the above image it can be seen that in 1909 it was thought important that each child had a pocket handkerchief and two pairs of boots. Other parts of the same form check the children had access to a supply of Bibles and prayer books and that grace was said before meals, suggesting that the religious education of the children was considered an integral part of the life in the home.

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