A budding artist

Today we have a guest post written by one of our project volunteers, Leonora Fane-Saunders.

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Some of the most interesting documents found in the case files are letters written by the children in care to family and friends. They reveal much about life in the homes and about a child’s interests, talents and character.

Edward Gurt was eight years old when an application to The Children’s Society (then the Waifs and Strays Society) was made by Miss Bessie Peacock, the former employer of Edward’s mother. Edward’s father had died, which left his mother struggling to support him.

On the twenty fifth of March 1907 Edward was initially admitted into St Martin’s Home for Crippled Boys, Surbiton, Surrey, due to talipes varus, a congenital deformity of the foot. However, after to a successful operation, Edward was deemed fit for an ordinary home and was transferred first to the Islington Home in London and then to St Michael’s Home in Chislehurst, Kent.

Little is heard about Edward until May 1911 when there is a letter from the head teacher of his school stating that Edward suffered from a heart condition and poor eyesight and would not be allowed to return to school until a doctor pronounced him fit to. As a result Edward was transferred to the Devon House Home in Margate, Kent; this home wasn’t run by The Society, but it specialised in looking after ‘delicate’ children. It was from here that he wrote two very interesting letters to his mother.

Letter from Edward to his mother, 1911 (case number 12589)

Letter from Edward to his mother, 1911 (case number 12589)

July 2nd 1911.

Dear Mother,

I am writing to
tell you that I am getting
used to this new home, here
in Margate. It is a nice
place but I shall be (able) glad
when I can come home and
get some work. I am sorry I
did not write before. How are
Kate, and Harriett getting on.
I don’t suppose you will be able
to come and see me, because
I am too far away from you.
We are having very fine weather
here, and I enjoy myself.

At the Coronation we saw some
races in the park, and at night
when it was getting dark we
saw some fireworks. Please will
you send me six penny stamps.
Last Wednesday the master gave
us all a treat and we had
races and tea up in the field.
Every Saturday we have a
game of cricket.

I remain your
loving Son Edward xxxxx

To Harriett & Kate xxxx xxxx.

Please write soon.

Letter from Edward to his mother, 1911 (case number 12589)

Letter from Edward to his mother, 1911 (case number 12589)

November 12th 1911.

Dear Mother,

I hope you are
still well & happy. I have
not heard from Jack yet
but when I have I will
let you know. If I come
home it will cost 3s 1d
but I shall have to out

how long I can stay. I
shall be glad when I can
come home. Could you send
me some stamps. My stamp-
-album is nearly full. I
have a page of United States,
Austria, France & Germany.
We all had a magic-
lantern last night and

I enjoyed it very much.
I shall be glad when
I can live in London again.
As Jack come home from
Canada yet, or, is (his) he
coming at all. Give my love
to Kate & Harriett. I should
like to see you and Kate
again soon & also Gladys.
I hope Stanley still likes

living in Surrey. I think
I must close now.

I remain your loving
Son Edward xxxx.

These letters reveal a budding artist and avid stamp collector who may be a little home-sick and missing his family. They show he has a tendency to write in dialect: as instead of has. The letters also depict a little of what life was like for Edward and the other boys in the Margate Home. It is clear that sports were encouraged in the form of a weekly cricket game. A picnic and a magic-lantern (an early projection system and forerunner to movies) were provided as treats for the boys. Interestingly, these letters mostly describe special events in Edward’s life, such as the fireworks in celebration of the coronation of King George V.

Sadly due to Edward’s heart condition The Society found it difficult to obtain either training or a job for him. After several fruitless enquiries Edward was eventually returned to his mother in 1912. No further information is given in his file, which leaves us wondering if he ever built up the artistic talent shown in those letters.

2 thoughts on “A budding artist

  1. A touching piece of letter writing archive written when the lad was about 12 years old (is that correct?) indicating a disciplined educative ability for one so young. The dip-pen and ink (in to an ink pot no doubt) script is consummately scribed with attention to paragraph indentations. Such letters written by children in care would have been vetted by some care home oversight to make sure no adverse disrespect about the care home was spread abroad by potentially unhappy children. This ‘care home letter writing’ reminds me of my own experience as a 1950’s child in care having an allotted letter writing period in the week set aside for children to write and petition parents, guardians and foster mothers with their pathetic periodic communications of love, of requests for ‘tuck’, of and about mundane care home events the children engaged in and, most of all, of longings to be ‘reunited’. All of which letters written so elegantly in copperplate (though not nearly so competently as ‘Edward’) or in spider-scrawl would have been censored or allowed by a stern censorship. And, vice versa in that the child had incoming letters vetted as appropriate for them to receive or not – as was the case with me when in adulthood I find my wayward mother’s letters to me, while I was in care, I never received.

    • Dear Bobbie,

      Apologies for noticing your comment so late. I think I need to double-check the notification settings on this blog.

      Thanks for the additional information about letter-wrtiting. I don’t know what the procedure would have been at the home Edward was staying in, but it’s interesting to wonder what involvement the home had in the letters being written.

      Janine

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