A shelter for children: the work of The Children’s Society in the north-east, 1881-1970s

Another in the series of our blogs that take a more detailed look at the history of The Children’s Society’s former children’s homes and social work projects since 1881 – this time in the north-east of the country.

Between 1881 and the 1970s, The Children’s Society had four main homes in the north-east of England, two girls’ homes – St Oswald’s, Cullercoats, and St Cuthbert’s, Darlington – and two boys’ homes -St Nicholas’, Boldon, and St Aidan’s, Tynemouth.

The first was St Oswald’s Girls’ Home, Cullercoats. This was opened in 1889 and until 1891 was based at Netherton, when it moved to new premises at Cullercoats. It remained there until 1939 when the children were evacuated to Natland in Cumbria. The girls never returned to Cullercoats as the home closed in 1946.

The exterior of St Oswald’s Home, Cullercoats, in1900.

The exterior of St Oswald’s Home, Cullercoats, in1900.

The Bishop of Durham opened the next home in 1893 – St Cuthbert’s Girls Home at Pierremont Cresent, Darlington. In 1923 the home moved to a new site in the town and was opened by one Lady Barnard; to quote from a report in the former supporter magazine Our Waifs and Strays, she was ‘handed a gold key, and opened the door in the presence of a large and interested concourse of friends of the Society’. In 1949 the home was converted into a residential nursery for 25 children between the ages of 1-5 years. It continued as a nursery until 1972.

At the opening of St Cuthbert’s in 1893 the Bishop of Durham noted that the Society was only just starting its work in the area and ‘he hoped in due time to see a shelter for outcast and desolate lads’. He had to wait seven years before being asked to open the area’s first boys’ home, St Aidan’s at Tynemeouth. St Aidan’s started out life at Whitley Bay in 1900. In 1906 it moved to purpose built premises in Tynemouth. Between 1947 and 1973 it served as a nursery for younger children.

The laying of the foundation stone of St Aidan’s Home, Tynemouth in 1905

The laying of the foundation stone of St Aidan’s Home, Tynemouth in 1905

The fourth home was St Nicholas’ Boys Home at Boldon which was opened in 1906. This remained a boys’ home until 1960 when it became an all-age group home for boys and girls.

What was life like in one of these homes?

Well, it would have varied depending on the decade you were looking at, but in the main one can say that they were very much part of the local community. The children went to local schools, Sunday school and church, and got to know other children in the neighbourhood. Their conduct at school often drew praise.

The homes had their own Boy Scout and Girl Guide troops and often excelled at sports. For example, aside from local events, the Scouts at St Aidan’s would set off for a week’s annual camp. In 1935 they went to Warden near Hexham. They camped in a field given by a kindly farmer and used the church hall as a base. St Aidan’s football team were also a force to be reckoned with in the local sports league – just like many community football clubs in the area today! Music was the Cullercoats’ speciality the girls being regular winners at the Newcastle Music Tournament.

The boys dining hall at St Aidan’s, Tynemouth, 1910.

The boys dining hall at St Aidan’s, Tynemouth, 1910.

Local people were always eager to provide entertainments and outings. In 1934 the girls at Cullercoats had several outings to a property in the village of Riding Mill courtesy of its owners and enjoyed numerous trips down to the sea during the summer. During the 1930s the boys at St Aidan’s had an annual charabanc trip organised by local people to Shotley Bridge and the 1933 Annual Report contains a photograph of them busily eating their sandwiches.

Local fundraising committees worked hard for the homes raising both money and gifts in kind. A popular fundraising idea was the Pound Day when local people brought in pound weights of produce or gave a donation of £1. A Pound Day in 1915 at St Nicholas’ Home, Boldon, was a great success bringing in 1,692 lbs of mixed groceries and 531lbs of turnips and potatoes (what do you do with 500 plus pounds of turnips?), together with £20 for the homes clothing and holiday fund.

A group of boys from St Nicholas’ Home, Boldon, with their pet rabbits, 1959.

A group of boys from St Nicholas’ Home, Boldon, with their pet rabbits, 1959.

Other fundraising ideas were a succession of pageants and Stuart fayres that were popular during the 1920s and 1930s. Local people at Boldon also established a Wireless Fund in 1933 to bring the latest in technology to the home.

For other information about The Children’s Society Archive’s former children’s homes in the north-east, visit the Archive’s ‘Hidden Lives Revealed’ web site: http://www.hiddenlives.org.uk/homes/

If you would would like to know about how The Children’s Society continues to change children’s stories today, visit the charity’s website: http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/

 

Family of 40 found ‘heaven’ – Gresford War Nursery, Wrexham

Another in the series of blogs that take a more detailed look at the history of The Children’s Society’s former children’s homes and social work projects since 1881.

A “family of 40 found heaven”; this was how a reporter from Reynolds Weekly Newspaper in 1942 described Gladwyn War Nursery situated in the village of Gresford, near Wrexham in North Wales, when he visited to write an article for the paper.

During the Second World War The Children’s Society (known as the ‘Waifs and Strays Society’ until 1946) established 127 nurseries to provide temporary homes for young children aged 0-5 years, who had either been evacuated or made homeless as a result of enemy action. Known as war nurseries, these homes helped 6788 children between 1939 and 1945. The buildings that housed these nurseries were often lent or given to The Children’s Society by their owners. The war nursery programme was extensive and involved the Ministry of Health and the Women’s Volunteer Service (now the Royal Volunteer Service).

Gladwyn War Nursery was opened by the Society in 1940 to take forty children aged between 2 and 5; it closed in 1945. The building that housed the nursery was donated to the Society by a local coal mining company, Gresford Colliery. The company took a keen interest in the running of the home, and the colliery manager, Mr Charlton, was appointed as the home’s honorary secretary. Eight years earlier in 1934, Gresford Colliery had been the scene of huge underground fire and explosion that left a considerable death roll.

Gresford War Nursery and garden, 1942

Gresford War Nursery and garden, 1942

The matron of the nursery was Miss Evelyn Long, who was recruited to run Gladwyn in 1940 on an annual salary of £120. She had a small staff consisting of an assistant matron, a staff nurse, a nursery maid, a teacher, a cook, a gardener and several probationer nursery nurses. As Miss Long noted remarked to the reporter, “When we got here we felt we had dropped into heaven”.

The nursery took an active part in the community. For example, Miss Long established a rabbit club at the nursery as part of the general war effort. These clubs were encouraged by the Ministry of Agriculture to help with food production as part of the Dig for Victory campaign to help with food shortages during the war. The Ministry kept a register of rabbit clubs and the Gladwyn club was the 2,000th to be registered in 1942. The club housed its rabbits in an old stable in hutches made from old boxes and broken play pens, noted by the Reynolds News reporter as a way of “helping the National larder”. The reporter recorded that, “seven does and a buck were installed for the purpose of multiplying their numbers and so of contributing to the country’s food resources”.

The nursery also held a number of fund raising activities. Popular amongst these was the annual fete. The photograph featured below was taken at a fete held at the height of the Second World War during the summer of 1942. The children took part in several activities and play sketches, one of which was titled “the Allies”, there being a child for nearly every allied nation and each of the armed forces. The art is trying to spot them: the middle two rows of the photograph contain, from left to right, the Russians, the army, the navy, the North African allies, the Red Cross, the Netherlands (?), the air force, Scotland and Wales. Miss Long, incidentally, is smiling proudly at the centre of the back row.

"The Allies" at the summer garden fete, Gresford War Nursery, 1942

“The Allies” at the summer garden fete, Gresford War Nursery, 1942

Other events at the 1942 fete were sketches called “The Fairy Wand”, “Jack-in-the-Box”, “Soldiers and Nurses” and the “The Magic Kiss”.

'Jack-in-the-Box' at the summer fete, Gresford War Nursery summer fete, 1942

‘Jack-in-the-Box’ at the summer fete, Gresford War Nursery summer fete, 1942

The Reynolds reporter described his impressions of the nursery:

“A Happy Crowd. In the day nursery at Galdwyn I saw most of these children, looking healthy and happy and dressed most sensibly. Local members of the W.V.S supply most of the wardrobe and do a lot of the mending. After the children had all sung for my special entertainment, one little girl came up to the Matron and myself and rendered a solo.”

Following VJ Day in 1945 the nursery was closed and the children returned to their homes, many of which were in the heavily bombed areas of London. Miss Long went on to forge a life-long career with The Children’s Society, subsequently becoming matron at children’s homes in Shrewsbury, Beckenham, and Cheam.

Do you have any recollections or photographs of the Gresford War Nursery? If so, please share them – The Children’s Society Archive would be interested to hear from you.

The Wrexham County Borough website has a section on its website as a memorial to the miners that lost there lives on 22 Septmber 1934: http://www.wrexham.gov.uk/english/heritage/gresford_disaster/gresford_colliery.htm

For information about how The Children’s Society continues to change children’s stories today, visit the charity’s website: http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/

“An ideal home based on real home principles”, St. Mary’s Children’s Home, Eastnor: a brief history

Today we have the first in a series of blogs that take a more detailed look at the history of The Children’s Society’s former children’s homes and social work projects since 1881; here we look at the Eastnor Children’s Home, Herefordshire.

St Mary’s Home for Young Girls, Eastnor, was given to the Waifs and Strays Society (as The Children’s Society was known until 1946) on 1st June 1900 by Lady Henry Somerset of Eastnor Castle.

As a report in the September 1900 edition of the Society’s former supporter magazine Our Waifs and Strays noted, she did this ‘with characteristic philanthropy’. She had originally established the home in 1884 as a memorial to her father, as she felt that “when she lost her father, she was anxious to build something to his memory, and she felt very strongly that to build up lives was almost better than to build up any other memorial”.

Based on her experience of this, her attention was drawn to the work of the Waifs and Strays Society. She felt that the Society was successful because it embraced the idea of small family group homes rather than the typical large institutional, barrack like homes that normally constituted a children’s home in late Victorian Britain; as the 1900 report noted:

“she was sure that by that system only – by the principal of
the home – were they ever likely to bring the children they
called waifs and strays any real idea of home at all. In
speaking further in the treatment of children, her ladyship
expressed the opinion that to present to an outcast child
the ideal home based on real home principles, not
institutional life, was to do what nothing else in the world
could do.”

Excited by these ideals, she decided that the Society would be better able to run the home she had started. As the bishop of Hereford noted at a public meeting to open the home in September 1900, this home would allow the Society to take:

“up those poor little waifs and strays – like the flotsam and
jetsam of human life, tossed about and likely to be tossed
to their ruin unless someone saved them – and then, having
taken them up, they had their young lives which they would
train up to a useful and happy future.”

Twenty four girls and 5 members of staff in the garden of the Eastnor Home in 1920

Twenty four girls and 5 members of staff in the garden of the Eastnor Home in 1920

The home was opened to provide accommodation for 20 girls aged between 8 and 15 years. In 1904, it was decided to increase the number to 30, taking girls from infancy to the age of 15. It remained a girls home until 1947 when it became a ‘mixed home’ under The Children’s Society’s new policy of establishing joint homes for boys and girls – a revolutionary move that the Society advocated in its post Second World War drive to help break down the barriers of traditional concepts of child care that had persisted since the Victorian era.

It remained a family home until 1981 when it began to work with teenagers who had behavioural problems caused by distressing circumstances either in their family life or from previous care experiences. The home was closed by the Society in 1983.

Life at St Mary’s – 1900 to 1980

Education and Training

All of the children at the home attended the local school and Sunday School. In October 1900 their conduct at school was noted as being “on the whole has been extremely good”.

In 1903 the home’s management committee decided to appoint a laundry matron on a salary of ‘£18 or £20′. She was to be responsible for doing the home’s own laundry and taking in laundry from elsewhere to allow the home to earn some additional income. The aim was also to allow the “girls to be taught laundry work”.

This training work was expanded to include basket work and needlework; at an event at Eastnor in 1921, a report noted that “the girls have been taking up basket-work keenly, and had on exhibition and sale some excellent samples of Indian weaving: there was also a wide range of capital needlework”.

In the 1950s training was given to children from the home who wanted to develop a career in child care. At a meeting at Eastnor in 1954, the Home Committee suggested that “suitable girls who had been brought up in the Society’s homes should be encouraged to stay on as assistants if they were keen to do so.”

Holidays, Outings and Girl Guides

Part of life for many of the Society homes was the eagerly awaited school summer holiday. St Mary’s, Eastnor, was no exception to this rule. Among the many things the girls did during the holiday in 1917 was to spend three weeks helping a local farmer with his work, for which they were paid £7 7s 6d. In 1920 the girls at Eastnor swapped places with the Society’s Worcester Girls’ Home for a fortnight’s holiday during the summer.

By the 1950s the children were given individual holidays with either local people or their own parents or relations. In 1973 a number of children from St Mary’s went on a caravan holiday to Devon, with the children sharing a number of caravans. There were a number of outings to a football match, a visit to Paignton Zoo, and a boat ride to Brixham.

Outings were also popular. In July 1922 the girls were given a day trip to the seaside at Weston, a local person, Mrs Hillier, giving them 30 shillings to spend. In 1969 St Mary’s visited Windsor Castle at the invitation of the Regimental Sergeant Major of Hereford. During the day they also had lunch with Field Marshall and Lady Slim, which, according to one participant, included, “sausages, rolls, biscuits, and much to the delight of all of us, strawberries and ice cream.”

Christmas was always a key feature in the life of the home and generated plenty of excitement. A timeless comment was made in 1917 in Our Waifs and Strays by one of the girls from Eastnor, “At Christmas, this time being very exciting, we have great fun in the Home, making almost as much noise as we like”. This was mirrored by a report in Gateway in 1978 by a girl at St Mary’s, “About 4am we wake up and scramble out of bed, bleary-eyed and half asleep. then the discovery of the sacks of toys, which are dragged with great force and speed back to our beds. Within minutes the contents are spread out on our counterpanes. By this time everyone is awake, no matter where they hide the sacks, we always find them.

The home also had its own Girl Guide troop. The Home Committee on 13th July 1922 decided that “girls of 11 years old and upwards in the home should be allowed to join the girl guides”. In 1927 the Eastnor Home Guides won the ‘Verdin Cup’ for singing at a competition judged by the organist of Hereford Cathedral. The Guide troop and the later addition of a Brownie pack remained an integral part of the home until the 1970s.

Fundraising – Pound Days

Up until the Second World War no Society home would have been complete without its annual Pound Day. This fundraising idea, peculiar to the Society, was designed to allow local people to donate either pound weights of produce or give £1 in money. The first Pound Day at Eastnor was held in 1902 and in 1903 the Committee again appealed for “useful articles for replenishing the store cupboards. Pounds of edibles, Articles of Clothing, Utensils for the house, in fact, anything of use to the children will be gratefully be received”. A Pound Day in 1916 brought in 580 lbs of groceries, in addition to large quantities of potatoes, vegetables and fruit.

The Annual Pound Day held at St Mary's, Eastnor, 29 October 1903

The Annual Pound Day held at St Mary’s, Eastnor, 29 October 1903

Local people often held events to raise money for the home. Hundreds of fetes and jamborees have been held in honour of the home over the years. In 1920 the Eastnor Wild West Show raised money in Hereford for St Mary’s, as did the local owner of the Severn Steamers Company. In 1969 the Ledbury Round Table paid for the building of a paddling pool in the grounds of the home.

For other information about the Eastnor home visit The Children’s Society Archive’s ‘Hidden Lives Revealed’ website: http://www.hiddenlives.org.uk/homes/EASTN01.html

For information about how The Children’s Society continues to change children’s stories today, visit the charity’s website: http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/

 

A New Reality in 1975

Today we have a blog post written by one of our volunteers, Rod Cooper.

Gateway Magazine, Winter 1975. During my researches into the development of The Children’s Society’s projects during the latter part of the Twentieth Century, one particular issue of Gateway – the quarterly supporters’ magazine published between 1953 and 1993 – was so strikingly different in both content and appearance that it was not misplaced to consider it as some sort of break from the past. When I first came across this issue I was astounded by the abrupt change in tone and content compared with previous issues.

Gateway magazine articles, Winter 1975

“Preventative work with families has been gathering impetus over the last few years and will continue to gain momentum. Keeping families together is the crux of the child care problem.”

Previously, successive editions of the magazine comprised a fairly consistent diet of supporters’ fund-raising efforts, stories from The Children’s Society homes, remembrances of former residents, and general news and competitions.

Whilst it would be quite unfair to label the magazine as “cosy and safe”, it wouldn’t be misplaced to say that by the 1970s the magazine was somewhat out of step both with the changes in society as a whole and the associated changes in the work of The Children’s Society. These changes had already been flagged-up and reported by The Children’s Society in various Annual Reports published during the early-seventies. Chief among these were the declining importance and emphasis of the twin pillars of nursery and children’s homes. The numbers of babies entering The Children’s Society’s nurseries was in steep decline (a combination of the contraceptive pill, the legalisation of abortion, and increasing numbers of “unsupported” mothers choosing to keep their babies). Ten such homes closed between 1966 and 1969, whilst in 1970, Amphlett House, Droitwich, closed as a trainee nursery nurse hostel. As for children’s homes, there was a steady decline in the number of these as the demand for places decreased and more and more House Parents retired. By the end of 1973, for example, there were fewer than 1,000 children residing in The Children’s Society’s homes, whereas as recently as 1968 there were almost 1,500.

Contemporaneous with these trends, there were significant and not-unrelated changes in the emphasis of The Children’s Society’s work. Most – but not all – of these fell within the scope of maintaining children within their families and emphasising the importance of the family unit. Among the consequences of this were the promotion and development of new forms of working with children and young people such as day-nurseries and day-care, and the movement towards family centres. Coupled with these moves The Children’s Society also embarked upon a programme of increased professionalisation of staff and engagement of qualified social workers.

Into this milieu, the Winter 1975 issue of Gateway should not perhaps be viewed as so surprising, and indeed some previous issues had reported on such matters as day-care and an emphasis towards the family unit. However, compared with preceding issues it marks a significant step-change and its impact at the time must have been extraordinary. Noted on the front cover as “Working with families – Special feature”, there are six thematically linked pages and six articles – most authored by qualified social workers – reporting on issues such as urban and rural deprivation, social isolation, child abuse, and the plight of recent immigrants. Furthermore, as a means of branding the feature, there is a banner across each of the six pages comprising a montage of ‘tabloid’ newspaper headlines. Among these, “A Daughter’s Cry for Help”, “Nightmares of Timid Toddler”, and “Wife Beaters Learn Young” provide a flavour. Taken together, these articles and the means by which they were presented, clearly mark a change in direction and a desire to portray the realities borne by some children and their families.

Successive issues continued to concentrate on these ‘new realities’ and throughout 1976, readers were presented with reports on such matters as depression, single-parent families, and problem teenagers.

The final edition of Gateway was issued in Spring 1993, and the themes brought into sharp focus almost twenty years previously, along with The Children’s Society’s stated avowal to provide “a comprehensive child care service” allied to its “privileged position to innovate,” continued to be reflected right through to the final issue, for example, featuring articles on the ‘New Poor’ and Child Prostitution. Allied to this, the necessity and desire to report professionally on events and circumstances – however, distressing or disturbing – was always to the forefront and never shied from.

The cover of the Spring edition of Gateway in 1993

The cover of the Spring edition of Gateway in 1993

All quotes are from Walter Horrocks, Working with Families, Gateway, Winter 1975, p.4

The Children’s Society Archive Completes Major Wellcome Trust Funded Project

The Children’s Society Archive has just celebrated the completion of its Wellcome Trust funded ‘Unexplored Riches in Medical History Project’. The project was funded by a major grant from the Wellcome Trust and has shed a whole new light on aspects of the well-being and health of children up to the 1920s, as well as their care and social circumstances.

Thanks to the funding, the project has conserved and catalogued a significant part of the archive collection, helping to preserve it for the future and open it up for social history and medical history research, while making it more accessible to others, such as schools, universities and community groups.

A boy who was in the care of The Children's Society over 100 years ago. Modern photograph by: Wellcome Trust | Thomas S.G. Farnetti]

A boy who was in the care of The Children’s Society over 100 years ago. Modern photograph by: Wellcome Trust | Thomas S.G. Farnetti

Looking at children’s case files from the 1880s to the 1920s they found a huge body of evidence for the diseases and treatments of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. This included: high rates of tuberculosis and rickets, and high rates of malnutrition in children coming into care.

Documents from The Children’s Society’s homes that ran from the 1880s to the 1980s show how The Children’s Society set up homes to treat orthopaedic conditions and diabetic children, as well as creating swimming techniques for children with mobility difficulties.

The project has created an online catalogue of these case files and residential home records. You can explore the completed catalogue here:
http://www.calmview.eu/childrensociety/Calmview

Nearly 9,000 of the earliest case files were in very poor condition, and the project has conserved and strengthened these files for the future.

Archive ref: CF08464 Admission Form

Archive ref: CF08464
A 114 year-old document from a case file – before conservation

Archive ref: CF08464 Admission form The same document - during conservation

Archive ref: CF08464 Admission form
The same document – during conservation

Archive ref: CF08464 Admission Form  The same document - after conservation

Archive ref: CF08464 Admission Form
The same document – after conservation

The project was carried out by a professional team consisting of an archivist and two conservators, along with a team of volunteers.

Ian Wakeling, Head of The Children’s Society Archive, said: “These records are vitally important for studying changes in medical knowledge over the past 130 years because they show us how those changes affected real people. The children in the care of The Children’s Society came from some of the poorest and most disadvantaged families in the country, and we can now see what this meant for their well-being and how their families struggled to provide for their healthcare.”

Simon Chaplin, Director of Culture and Society at the Wellcome Trust, added: “The records held by The Children’s Society chart the impact of more than a century of turbulent change on some of the poorest members of society, disadvantaged children and their families. By cataloguing and maintaining this important archive, we hope that these medical histories will be the subject of further research and that their stories will continue to be told.”

Further information about the Unexplored Riches in Medical History project, including the project blog showcasing items found within the collection, can be found on the project webpages: http://www.hiddenlives.org.uk/unexplored_riches

There is also a video that has been produced by the Wellcome Trust that gives a really great introduction to the Unexplored Riches in Medical History project: http://youtu.be/SGeDtaBeXYo and the project also features on the Wellcome Trust’s website: http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/Funding/Medical-humanities/Funding-schemes/Research-resources-awards/Projects-funded/index.htm

The final product: conserved, catalogued, indexed and re-boxed children's case files

The final product: conserved, catalogued, indexed and re-boxed children’s case files

 

Never Standing Still

Today we have a blog post written by one of our volunteers, Rod Cooper.

***

Ever wondered about the activities of The Children’s Society and how these have evolved? I have been lucky enough to research a remarkable period in The Children’s Society’s history, and one that reflects significant changes in our society in general.

Annual review for The Children's Society, dated 1977/8, and a magazine sent to supporters of the charity, dated 1975, showing the change in emphasis in The Children's Society's work

Some time ago I was asked to help out with clarifying information in The Children’s Society Archive’s database, and to record the activities of The Children’s Society’s homes from the mid-1960s through to the latter part of the last century.

All very interesting I thought, and shouldn’t be too difficult. Just a few weeks work. But then just how wrong can you be?

Two years on, and after much scouring of The Children’s Society’s annual reports and supporters’ magazines (such as Gateway magazine and Children in Focus magazine), the consequence is a significantly more extensive than anticipated spreadsheet that records the year-by-year activities of The Children’s Society’s various homes and projects. In due course this will be compared against information already stored on the Archive’s database, and any amendments and revisions thus recorded.

Due to constraints in the availability of data, the greater part of the information relates to a period from the late-1960s through to the mid-1990s; the periods either side often lacking information of comparable depth and breadth. But this caveat aside, the period for which I have sourced data has – and I freely admit perhaps more by accident than design – resulted in a time-line charting broad-scale changes in The Children’s Society’s activities over a thirty year period. Changes that reflect significant shifts in the social, cultural and economic fabric of our society as a whole.

During the early part of this project, and as each snippet of information stood in relative isolation, there appeared to be little rhyme or reason behind The Children’s Society’s activities. However, it wasn’t long before developing themes and evolving strategies came much into focus.

Over the thirty year period, for example, I’ve traced declining activities such as the rapid closure of nurseries in the 1960s and the related fall in the number of infants for adoption (put rather succinctly in one article as a consequence of three things: more “unsupported” mothers wishing to keep their babies; the impact of the contraceptive pill; and changes in the abortion law). There was a significant change too in the number of children’s homes. More and more of these were either closed or transferred into local authority management whilst The Children’s Society chose to extend its focus towards the family unit and, more specifically, to help maintain family life and keep families together. Hence the rise of the Family Centre in the 1980s. The focus too shifted away from younger children to “young people” in their teenage years. In the face of rising unemployment and social stresses in the 1980s and beyond, this meant involvement in employment and training projects, hostels for homeless young people and provision of legal assistance. All a far cry from The Children’s Society’s activities of just few short years before, when the emphasis had been on nurseries and homes for younger children.

And this is just a taste of it. There is much more. But that can wait for another time. What started out as a relatively straightforward piece of house-keeping to help sort out a database has taken on a life of its own, and thrown up some revealing and fascinating insights into your organisation’s activities over the years.

Closing the circle: a clock in Wakefield and a grave in Malta

Early in 2014 The Children’s Society Archive was contacted by the Legacies Team who wondered if we could shed any light on a mysterious find. One of the team had unearthed a ship’s clock from a cupboard with some information that it came from the Bede Home in Wakefield, West Yorkshire and was dedicated to the memory of Kenneth Humphries, a former resident of the Home, following his death in 1953. They hoped we could supply some further details about Kenneth. By an extraordinary co-incidence at that very time I was looking into Kenneth’s case as his half brothers had requested information on his time in the Society’s care.

Kenneth’s brothers had not known a great deal about him when they first enquired; not even his name. They were aware that he had been born to their mother, Margarita Humphries, some years before she married their father, and as she herself had been looked after by The Waifs and Strays Society for most of her childhood, it seemed likely that we would have some information on his birth. (The Children’s Society was known as The Waifs and Strays Society until 1946.) Margarita had died in 2001. From the details they supplied I was able to find substantial case files for both Margarita and her son, Kenneth. Kenneth’s brothers were delighted. They were keen to find Kenneth and incorporate him into their family.

For more historic cases, part of the service we offer to relatives of those people formerly in our care, is to provide a summary account of their family member’s time with the Society. As I started to read Margarita’s file it became evident that she and her family had a very hard time in the difficult conditions of post First World War London. Margarita was born in February 1918: her mother, Emily, was unmarried at the time and it appears that her father, who was a sailor, was drowned shortly afterwards, another casualty of the War. Emily married a labourer, Ernest Eddy, and had another daughter but the family struggled to earn enough to live on: Margarita’s stepfather was often out of work and they faced eviction from their home in Ealing because they could not pay the rent. In desperation they asked if Margarita could be taken into a Home and were helped to make an application to The Waifs and Strays Society. The little girl was accepted and was admitted to St Elizabeth’s Receiving Home, Clapham, in September 1924. Life did not improve for her parents. Emily became ill and died in hospital in November 1924 and Ernest was reduced to living in common lodging houses, taking temporary work when he could find it. Margarita’s half sister was sent to live with her grandmother. The Society agreed to continue looking after Margarita free of charge, as there was no other family to help.

After a spell in foster care Margarita was sent to St Agatha’s Home, Princes Risborough, in September 1926 and she remained there until she went out to work. She was described as “a nice little girl” and seems to have had a fairly happy time in the Home. When she was aged 17, Margarita was found a job in domestic service but this type of work did not suit her and in March 1934 the Society eventually found work for her in a small private laundry in Sussex. Margarita was popular with her employers as she had a pleasant personality; however they noted that (in common with many people) she preferred going to the pictures to working!

Margarita (on the right) and a friend performing a “doll dance” at a fete

Margarita (on the right) and a friend performing a “doll dance” at a fete

Margarita (on the right) with her doll

Margarita (on the right) with her doll

It was while she was working in Sussex that Margarita became pregnant; sadly she found herself abandoned by her boyfriend who refused to admit responsibility for the pregnancy. Her employers were sympathetic but requested her removal. The Society after-care workers stepped in to help her and together with a local welfare society found her a place in a Maternity Home. It was in this Home in Eastbourne that Kenneth was born in February 1936. Margarita was a devoted mother and kept in close touch with Mrs Phillips, who worked for The Waifs and Strays Society as the Girls Welfare Secretary, and who was delighted that Margarita was so happy with Kenneth. Mrs Phillips hoped the baby would “be a real anchor” for Margarita.

Unfortunately life later became increasingly difficult for Margarita. As was the usual procedure at the time, in June 1937, Kenneth was placed with a foster mother. Margarita was expected to earn her living and make some contributions towards the maintenance of her child. The Society helped her by making a grant of 7 shillings a week. Over the next few years Margarita found it difficult to keep a job and make the payments and she worried about what was best for Kenneth. She loved him but thought that perhaps he would have a better chance if he was adopted; however she did not pursue this option. When Kenneth’s foster mother could no longer keep him and there was a danger of him being transferred to the successors of the Workhouse authorities, the Society officially took over his care in September 1938 and shortly afterwards assumed complete financial responsibility for him. In November 1939 Margarita was employed in one of the Society’s Homes as a housemaid and encouraged to visit her son regularly.

In the maelstrom of the Second World War Margarita lost touch with the Society. She married in 1942 and went on to have four more sons. Kenneth grew up with foster parents and later in the Society’s Homes. He was a bright, mischievous boy who was predicted to grow into “a fine young man”. In 1950 Kenneth was in the Bede Home in Wakefield and when discussion of his future career came up he told the Master of the Home, Mr Flynn, that he wanted to join the Royal Navy. He was successful in the entrance examination and entered the Navy in April 1951.

Very sadly, in February 1953, the Society was informed that Kenneth had been severely injured in an explosion on board HMS “Indomitable” while it was at Malta. Mr Flynn flew out to Malta to be with him but he died on 7 February. He was just 17 years old. Everyone at the Society was extremely distressed as Kenneth had been in their care virtually all his life. Mr Flynn gave an account of Kenneth’s last days: he had been very brave, thinking first of his fellow sailors although his own injuries were so severe. He received a full Naval funeral and was buried in the cemetery in Malta. The Society established a Trust in Kenneth’s memory and each year a prize was awarded to a boy at the Bede Home who had done well that year. A photograph of the ship was supplied by the Navy and was displayed in the Home and it appears that the ship’s clock was also kept as a memorial.

Once the Home closed the clock was sent to the Headquarters of the Society for safekeeping and there it remained until it was rediscovered by the Legacies Team at the precise time that Kenneth’s brothers were following up his trail. It was obviously very sad for Kenneth’s brothers to learn of his early death; they had been hoping to meet him and welcome him into the family.

Sadness, however, could at least mix with pride at how much Kenneth had been valued by the Society and the Navy. We presented them with the clock that had been a memorial to the brother they never met and they were pleased to have this link with him. On 20 May 2014 Michael and Richard Pollard and their wives, Valerie and Rosie, came to Edward Rudolf House to receive the clock. This was a rewarding chance to meet some enquirers and to allow us to understand what had happened to Margarita after she lost contact with the Society. Michael supplied copies of photographs of the family, including some delightful ones of his mother at St Agatha’s Home (shown above).

Michael and Richard Pollard and their wives with the ship’s clock

Michael and Richard Pollard and their wives with the ship’s clock

As a touching tribute to Kenneth the family had had a memorial plaque made and it has now been placed in the cemetery following their visit to Kenneth’s grave, in the summer of 2014. The plaque tells Kenneth that his family is pleased to have found him at last, and it is good that The Children’s Society was able to play a part in this closing of the circle.

The memorial plaque

The memorial plaque

St. Nicholas’ Orthopaedic Hospital, Body Braces and Little’s Disease

Today we have a guest post written by a member of our project team, Clare McMurtrie.

***

Girls at St. Nicholas’ Hospital and Special School, Pyrford, Surrey. Three are in wheelchairs. [1915]

As a volunteer indexing some of the 30,000 case files at The Children’s Society (previously known as the Waifs and Strays Society) and focusing on medical histories referring to children who were admitted into convalescent homes, what seems most prescient is their place in history. Travelling in an archivists’ TARDIS through the case files we discover allusions to mystery diseases and children who suffered lifelong debilitating disability, many of which were unrecognised or untreatable at the time.

One of these conditions is cerebral palsy (CP), or spastic diplegia as it was commonly referred to. Historically known as Little’s Disease, spastic diplegia is a form of CP, a chronic condition seen in a high and constant muscle tightness or stiffness, usually affecting the legs, hips and pelvis. Dr William John Little named the condition in the mid-1800s. His first recorded encounter with CP is reported to have been with children who displayed signs of spastic diplegia; this condition is by far the most common type of CP, occurring in around 70% of cases. Little’s personal childhood experience of mumps, measles, whooping cough, polio and clubfoot (all conditions seen in The Children’s Society’s case files) led him to establish pioneering treatments for the condition. Some of these early treatments included the use of a wheelchair or crutches to aid movement, as well as full body braces!

Girls at St. Nicholas’ Orthopaedic Hospital and Special School, Pyrford, Surrey; with a kid goat third from the right [c1910s]

Group photo of a teacher and ten girls, one of whom is in a wheelchair and another is using a crutch; St Nicholas’ Orthopaedic Hospital and School, Pyrford, Surrey [1917]

The Children’s Society has six recorded cases of cerebral palsy, five of whom were received into St Nicholas’ Home, West Byfleet, Surrey or to St Nicholas’ Home when it later moved to Pyrford in Surrey. St Nicholas’ home originally opened in Tooting in London in 1887, the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, after founder Edward Rudolf saw a need for medical centres catering to the countries poorest children. The home moved to West Byfleet in 1893 and then to Pyrford in 1908, with the home in Pyrford also operating as a hospital. In many cases the cost and time needed to care for children with CP meant that children who otherwise would stay with their parents were taken into The Children’s Society’s care.

Cases resulting from poverty include Vera, whose parents also had a small baby and elderly parent to care for, and Mabel, whose father was regularly out of work and then fought France during the First World War. In other cases the loss of income of one parent, through death or absence, caused children with CP to be admitted to St Nicholas’. These include Dorothy, whose father had left, and George, Lora and Phyllis, whose fathers died, leaving families unable to keep them. In a time when men were typically the main money-earners in a household, The Society acted as a short term buffer in many of these cases, offering food and a home for the children, rather than medical treatment. In all cases the children were returned to their family after as little as a year with The Children’s Society. In the case of Mabel, received into St Nicholas’ in 1910, medical treatment was given at the revolutionary Great Ormond Street Hospital, twice (in 1912 and 1913), where she had an operation to straighten one of her feet. Great Ormond Street Hospital opened its doors in Bloomsbury in 1852, as The Hospital for Sick Children, and remains one of the world’s leading children’s hospitals.

The outside of the building of St. Nicholas’ Home, Pyrford, Surrey, c1910s

Overall the case files that refer to children with cerebral palsy reveal more of the lives of the children than of the treatments and conditions that they endured. We are left to fill in the gaps in early-20th century medical knowledge!

Find out more:

Learn more about cerebral palsy: http://www.cerebralpalsy.org.uk

Discover the more about some of the conditions and treatments mentioned in the case files: http://wellcomecollection.org

Learn about the history of Great Ormond Street Hospital: http://www.gosh.nhs.uk/about-us/our-history

Find out why a set of instruments in the Science Museum’s collection is important to the history of cerebral palsy: http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/online_science/explore_our_collections/objects/index/smxg-96574

Neglect, Ambition, Bad Fortune, and the Early Years of Blood Transfusion

Today we have a guest post written by one of our project volunteers, Ella St John-McAlister.

***

Reading Alfred’s case file left me with the impression that he had been a bright and ambitious boy. He came into the care of The Children’s Society (then known as The Waifs and Strays Society) in 1916. Unlike the subjects of most case files I come across (I am researching children’s illnesses and their medical history) he was a healthy boy. This was in spite of Alfred’s father having passed away when Alfred was five years old and his mother being jailed twice for neglecting her children – although the nature and extent of her “immoral life” is unclear.

We know little about Alfred’s life before he entered The Children’s Society except that he had six brothers and sisters, one of whom was the illegitimate child of a “sergeant who was called to France and killed”. It was for neglecting this child that Alfred’s mother was first jailed in 1916. We also know that all of Alfred’s brothers and sisters were in the workhouse: a desperate, destitute sanctuary for those who were unable to support themselves. Something of Alfred’s character comes across in the application form submitted to The Children’s Society, where it states that Alfred played truant despite being “quick and sharp”.

Alfred was admitted into The Children’s Society’s care at the age of eight in 1916, and at the age of 14 he applied for an apprenticeship on a Navy training ship called the Arethusa, indicating a desire to travel and a willingness to “obey his [the Commander’s] and [his successors’] lawful commands”.

Alfred’s acceptance letter from the Arethusa Navy Training ship, 1922 (case number 20702)

The fact that he was allowed to join the ship indicates that he must have been at a certain level of health because there were strict requirements on the height and health of those who joined:

Age: 13½-15   Height: At least 4ft. 8 in. (without boots.)
Age: Over 15   Height: At least 4ft. 10½in. (ditto.)

Once on board a typical daily menu aboard the Arethusa might have looked something like this:

  • 1lb soft bread
  • 8oz biscuit
  • 7oz fresh meat
  • 8oz potatoes
  • 3/4oz cocoa
  • 1/8oz tea
  • 2/3oz sugar

A pretty meagre and dour menu by today’s standards. After he joined the Arethusa Alfred vanishes from view. Sadly, it is a letter from Alfred’s mother reporting his death in 1926 at the age 18 that enables us to piece together an idea of his last years.

A letter from Alfred’s mother informing The Children’s Society of his death, 1926 (case number 20702)

A letter from Alfred’s mother informing The Children’s Society of his death, 1926 (case number 20702)

Dear Sir,

I feel I must write to tell you the sad news of
my poor boy, Albert [middle initial, surname], he went out to America 2 ½
yrs. ago. I was Expecting him home last Easter, I received
news a fortnight ago to-day to say he met with an accident
on Jan 11th and died Jan 19th it is a terrible shock to me,
I shall never, never get over it, he had an operation and
transfusion of blood, but they could not save him.

When the snow was about, he was in a sled coasting
down a steep hill, when the sled struck a stick, causing it
to swerve into the gutter seriously injuring him, they took
him to St. Vincent’s Hospital, West New Brighton, he was
provided with a private room and two trained nurses, at the
expence [sic] of the New York Telephone Coy. [Company] where he had been
employed only two months, previous to that, he
served 12 months in the U.S Army, so ten of his soldier
friends acted as ball [sic] bearers and firing squad over his
grave, he put his age on 3 years, by letters I have had his
friends were surprised at his correct age, he was a fine
fellow. The British Society and his firm gave him a good
burial, plenty of flowers, in fact, he was far better
treated than he would have been in England, I hope you don’t
mind me writing, but I felt I must.

I don’t know what I shall do without him, he
was always a man in his ways, I would not mind so much if
I could have seen him the last of him, or if I only I could see
his grave.

I hope this will find Matron quite well,

I am,

Yours Truly,

(Sgd. [Signed]) Alice [middle initial, surname]

It is a sad ending to what looked as if it could have been a very promising future, but this letter also holds some fascinating information. The reference to a blood transfusion is the first instance we have found of this procedure in The Children’s Society’s case files. The technology behind the procedure for extracting, storing, and transfusing blood was still developing at the time Alfred received his transfusion.

The first recorded, successful attempts at blood transfusions happened in the 1600s, although these experiments used animals. Even in the late 1800s blood transfusions were shunned by medical professionals and considered extremely risky. In fact, in Britain in the early 20th century, surgery textbooks referred to blood transfusions as a quaint relic of medical history. If only they had known! However, just as the idea of blood transfusions was being cast aside, the discovery of different blood types was made. The medical and surgical needs brought on by World War I also acted as a catalyst for the idea of blood transfusions gaining respectability within the medical field.

Click here for more information about blood transfusions (including an interesting image) from The Science Museum.

What makes Alfred’s story so exciting is that in 1926 when he received his blood transfusion, the first hospital blood bank in the United States had not even been established. Whilst blood was donated voluntarily in Britain from the early 1920s onwards, donors were being paid up to $100 for a pint of blood in the U.S., meaning Alfred’s procedure could have been quite a costly one.

Although Alfred’s case file is fairly slender, it contains useful information on what it was like to be a child at that time and a child under The Children’s Society’s care, and also on an important medical advance, one many of us might take for granted today.

Becoming an Archivist

Have you ever thought you’d like to work in archives? You could be just about to enter the world of work or thinking about a career change; could archives be the career for you?

A few weeks ago, as part of The Children’s Society Archive’s Unexplored Riches in Medical History project, I gave a talk to students at Kingston University, describing what it’s like to be an archivist and how you can get into the profession. Here’s a summary of what I told them:

Why work in archives?
This is a question that only you can answer for yourself! But if you need some suggestions, here are a few of mine:

Firstly, a lot of archivists really like working with archival documents; I know I do. There’s nothing quite like holding a piece of history in your hands and thinking about who created it and what it meant to them. Like the letter below:

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.

It’s hard to read this letter without feeling some kind of connection to 13-year old Edward, with his drawing and stamp-collecting and hopes for his family. Read the rest of Edward’s story here.

Every archival document, just like this one, is unique and has its own story to tell. As an archivist, you’ll find yourself discovering those stories and learning all the time.

You may also want to become an archivist to work with people and to help people. Archives exist to look after documents so that people can read and use them, so a large part of your job as an archivist will be helping people to access documents and to understand them. If you think that being an archivist involves interacting only with documents and not with people, you’ll have to think again.

But archivists don’t just look after documents for people in the present; they also act as custodians to protect documents so that people in the future will be able to read them too (perhaps even hundreds of years into the future!) In this way archivists are really important: what we do not only affects how we understand ourselves today, it affects how people of the future will understand us as well.

What do archivists do?
The main things that archivists do can be grouped into three categories:

  • Providing access to collections
  • Preserving documents
  • Developing collections

Providing access to collections can come in many shapes and sizes. You could be working in a reading room, directly helping researchers to find documents, read them and understand the context they were created in. Or you could be answering questions that come in through emails and on the phone. Then there are other ways of providing access: running activities for school groups, for example, creating exhibitions, or writing web pages and blogs (hmm, that last one sounds familiar somehow).

Not to mention, it’s impossible to provide access to your documents if you don’t know what you have in the first place. Cataloguing your collections to create a database or list of all the documents you look after is really important; as an archivist, you’ll be rather stuck without a catalogue.

And then there’s preserving documents. As I’ve already mentioned, archival documents aren’t just important to us today, they’re important for future generations too; so archivists try their hardest to keep their documents in good condition and readable.

There are all sorts of tasks involved in preservation. You could be packaging documents into archival-quality boxes and folders, you could be checking that you don’t have any book lice or other pests in your archive store, or you could be checking that the temperature and humidity levels in your archive store are good for the documents. (For any of you wondering, unstable environmental conditions can really do a lot of damage to archives, especially if the conditions are unstable for a number of years.)

Digital records, being those created on computers, are a completely different kettle of fish. Anyone who’s tried, unsuccessfully, to open an old file from a floppy disk will know just how difficult and frustrating accessing old digital records can be. Considering that floppy disks were all the rage only 15 years ago, you can see just how proactive archivists need to be to make sure that their digital records remain accessible and readable for years to come.

As for developing collections, this is all about collecting more material for your archive and making sure you’re documenting the things that are happening today. All archives will have a collecting policy, which will help them to decide what types of documents they should add to their collections.

You can’t collect everything, though, or you’d be overwhelmed. One of an archivist’s most important jobs is to decide what things to keep for the future and what things to leave behind. It’s not an easy decision, because it will directly affect how the people of the future understand and learn from their past. I told you archivists were important!

How to become an archivist?
To be an archivist, you need to have a recognised postgraduate qualification. There aren’t too many universities in the UK that offer this qualification, so competition to get on the course can be high.

For anyone looking to get on an archive course, you’ll need to have some experience in an archive first. This experience can be paid (there are a number of jobs out there that are specifically for this purpose) or it could be voluntary. Want to volunteer at an archive? Just get in touch! Many archives take on volunteers, so if you know of an archive that you’d like to volunteer at, one of the best ways is to just ask.

And for anyone wondering: no, you don’t have to have a background in history to become an archivist. My own undergraduate degree was in biochemistry!

A girl who has completed her training and is ready, with her uniform, to go out to work in domestic service, 1910

Where to find out more?
Firstly, you might want to take a look at the hand-out that I made for the talk at Kingston University: Careers in Archives hand-out

The hand-out contains a list of links to places that will give you more information, but two of the most comprehensive guides are:
The Archives and Records Association
Prospects

If you have any more questions, we’d be happy to answer; just leave a comment below, or email: Hidden-Lives-Revealed@childrenssociety.org.uk