Yvette in Italy and Titania’s Palace

The second in a three blog series – written by one of our volunteers, Rod Cooper – that takes a look at the history of ‘Titania’s Palace’, a remarkable and long lasting fundraising initiative for The Children’s Society and it’s former Children’s Union that Sir Neville Wilkinson started in 1907.

Commencing in 1907, the development of Sir Neville Wilkinson’s Titania’s Palace occurred over a period of 15 years and was evidently an expensive project. He once remarked in an issue of Brothers and Sisters – the monthly magazine of the Children’s Union – that by the time his dolls’ house was first presented to the paying public in 1922, there were “no funds available for a publicity campaign.” Yet this wasn’t an obstacle to Sir Neville, who, as remarked in Part One, was remarkably adept at generating publicity and interest in Titania’s Palace. Both Sir Neville and his wife, Lady Beatrix Wilkinson, held senior and influential positions in children’s charities – he as Chairman of the League of Pity (NSPCC) and Lady Beatrix as President of the Children’s Union – and they were ideally placed to ensure that regular and prominently placed news and articles about Titania’s Palace were conveyed to members and supporters of the two charities.

Some of the furniture of Titania’s Palace”, Brothers and Sisters, 1922, July, p. 151

Although news regarding developments about Titania’s Palace featured regularly in Brothers and Sisters, it is from early in 1922 that it took on a new intensity. In the months prior to its public unveiling at the Daily Express Woman’s Exhibition at Olympia in July, there were successive lead articles and announcements regarding Titania’s Palace and its fictional inhabitants. In the February 1922 issue, for example, Sir Neville – via the agency of a front page Proclamation from Queen Titania herself – invited young readers to become either “Companions (boys) or Rose-Maidens (girls)” of the Order of the Fairy Kiss:

Know ye therefore that I the said TITANIA Queen of the Fairies Sovereign of the aforesaid Most Industrious Order do by these Presents Declare and Ordain that every Human who shall duly complete and forward the Form which in accordance with Our Command has been placed at the End of the Volume entitled YVETTE IN ITALY AND TITANIA’S PALACE shall therefore become Eligible for Admission into Our aforesaid Most Industrious Order”

Undoubtedly, Sir Neville’s appointment and experience as the Ulster King of Arms, helped him to script the proclamation and he does warn his readers beforehand that it is “a little difficult to understand, as all these documents are, because there are so many stops left out.” What is clearly understandable however, was that in order to join the Order – or rather, to become eligible to join the Order – the purchase Sir Neville’s book, Yvette in Italy and Titania’s Palace was prerequisite.

Yvette in Italy was the first of a series of five books featuring the adventures and travels of a twelve year old girl – the eponymous Yvette – her close friend Marietta, the various friends they meet, and the guiding presence of a fatherly character called the “Painter” – a character not entirely removed from Sir Neville’s himself, and mirroring his own artistic credentials. Typically based on their shared travels to wherever Titania’s Palace is on display, the books are part adventure story, part fairy story – with chapters relating to Queen Titania, King Oberon and the numerous princes and princesses that live in Titania’s Palace – and part travelogue. The books are educational too, and Sir Neville does not fail to provide his readers with details about the places they visit; happily describing great works of art and local history. Adding to the didactic and sometimes moralistic tone, the Painter (Sir Neville, of course) would throw in some occasionally waspish commentary. The following conversation with Yvette (as they pass through Paris, en route to Florence) provides a flavour of this:

“That’s called the Colonne Vendôme,” said the Painter, it was put up to celebrate the victories of the great Napoleon. It’s made of the cannons he took in his wars.”

“You wouldn’t think when you see it now,” he continued, “that not so very long ago it lay on the ground, just where we are walking, broken in pieces: for it was pulled down by people called Communists, who wanted to burn and destroy everything.”

“Whatever did they want to do that for?” asked Yvette.

“It’s much too difficult a question for me to answer all at once,” said the Painter, smiling, “you’ll find, when you grow up, that there are always foolish people who think they can only do their country good by noise and numbers.”

Presumably, Sir Neville’s young readers got the message. And much as he loves Italy and discoursing freely on the great artists of the Renaissance and the works of art abounding in Florence, the Painter (now referring to himself as the ‘Maestro’ whilst in Italy) can’t entirely refrain from being critical of some local customs:

“[. . . ] For Fairies can only be happy where there are birds to sing to them.”
“But why aren’t there any little birds here now?” asked Marietta.
“They have nearly all been shot or trapped,” said the Maestro, gravely.
“How dreadful!” said the children.
“Was it because they eat up the fruit and things?” asked Marietta.

“Partly, no doubt, because some of them fed on grain and berries, but they were killed chiefly to eat.”

“What! Dear little song-birds,” cried Yvette, incredulously, “tiny little things like that: they wouldn’t make a mouthful.”

The books are marked by numerous illustrations. There are black and photographs, featuring works of art and famous landmarks, plans and drawings, and colour reproductions of paintings; a significant number being painted by Sir Neville himself. It is perhaps because of the inclusion of so many illustrations, that the books were relatively expensive. They were initially priced at seven shillings and sixpence (i.e., almost £19 at present day prices) but were soon priced at ten shillings and sixpence.

The dedication in Yvette in Italy is to Sir Neville’s and Lady Beatrix’s two daughters, Guendolen and Phyllis. Of the two, Guendolen is relatively well known. It was she who first espied the fairy disappearing beneath the Mount Merrion sycamore tree that inspired Sir Neville to create Titania’s Palace in the first instance. And as a young woman, Guendolen’s activities on behalf of the Children’s Union are featured frequently in issues of Brothers and Sisters. She appears, for example, in the photograph taken at the family’s Duchess Street, Mayfair home, when Queen Mary officially ‘opened’ Titania’s Palace. She is featured most prominently too in the September 1923 issue, where she is portrayed, rather remarkably, in the guise of the Clerk of the Crystal; the office responsible for administering membership of the Most industrious Order of the Fairy Kiss.

“Guendolen Eleanor May, Clerk of the Crystal”, Brothers & Sisters, 1923, September, page 187

However, for whatever reason, the Wilkinsons were much less forthcoming about their younger daughter, Muriel Phyllis Wilkinson. She is rarely referred to in the pages of Brothers and Sisters, and the one solitary photograph of her, published in the June 1917 issue when she was about nine years old, shows her face deeply occluded by the large sun hat she is wearing.

Muriel Phyllis Wilkinson

Additionally, it is worth remarking that she didn’t appear with the rest of her family in the photograph with Queen Mary, celebrating the ‘opening’ of Titania’s Palace in 1922 . Unlike the rest of her immediate family, she is omitted too, from Sir Neville’s fictional Order of the Fairy Kiss published as a New Year’s Honours List in the February 1924 issue of Brothers and Sisters (Sir Neville is listed as Knight Grand Cross and Gold Pen, Lady Beatrix as a Star Matron, and Guendolen as the aforementioned Clerk of the Crystal).

HM Queen Mary visiting Titania’s Palace in 1922

Whilst there is every indication that her parents were very protective of their youngest daughter, there is some argument for suggesting that she may be the model,

Sir Neville’s own painting of Yvette published in the frontispiece of ‘Yvette in Italy’

for she is not dissimilar in appearance to her portrayal in a photograph retained by the National Portrait Gallery, where she is portrayed together with her older sister. The photograph was taken in March 1920, when Muriel would have been eleven or twelve years old – the same age as Yvette in Sir Neville’s first book. Such is the physical similarity, is it is not too fanciful to speculate further that Sir Neville modelled Yvette on an idealised version of his youngest daughter? Of course, this is only speculation. Much as it remains an appealing hypothesis, without knowing more of the family history it is quite impossible to know with absolute certainty.

Guendolen Wilkinson’s portrait from the National Portrait Gallery © Creative Commons

The reward for being admitted to the Order of the Fairy Kiss entitled its Companions and Rose-Maidens to visit Titania’s Palace as many times as they wished and without having to pay the entrance fee – just as long as they wore their badge of office, that is. However, attaining such rank was not especially straightforward. Aside from the necessity of having to possess a copy of one of the “Yvette” series of books, those aspiring to the Order needed to complete and return the form placed at the end of the book to one of the charities supported by Sir Neville and Lady Beatrix. Only after doing this would claimants be informed as to the qualifying criteria. Perhaps this was expecting a little too much however, and as early as August 1924, the requirements were listed in Brothers and Sisters. With respect to Children’s Union members, there were three possible means of attaining membership. Firstly an aspiring Companion or Rose Maiden could form a Branch in a parish or district where there was no existing Branch. Secondly, a member could demonstrate that they’d gained twelve or more new members to their Branch. Thirdly, in cases where a complete Branch had done exceptionally good work, but individual members were unable to buy a copy of Yvette in Italy, the Branch Secretary would be allowed to buy the book out of Branch funds at the end of the year, and then Branch members would vote amongst themselves to nominate the individual whose name would be placed on the application form. Whatever route was taken therefore, possession of a copy of “Yvette” – and its application form – was essential.

Sir Neville’s approach to the Titania’s Palace project (on reflection, almost certainly not a word he would have chosen to describe his works!) was a curious mixture of whimsy and hard-headed pragmatism. A make-believe world countered by the practical pursuit of raising funds for children’s charities. Thus far, we have looked at some of the means by which Sir Neville raised awareness and interest in Titania’s Palace; by ensuring constant coverage in the pages of Brothers and Sisters, authoring a series of children’s books, and promoting a number of means by which the young membership of the Children’s Union could become involved (to which the Badge of the Fairy Queen should be added to the Order of the Fairy Kiss). The consequences were huge interest in Titania’s Palace and attendance by large numbers of paying members of the public wishing to visit the attraction. This latter aspect – Titania’s Palace On The Road, if you like – plus an account of the Palace’s present day whereabouts, will be covered in a further article.

Want to know more?

Further information on the Children’s Union can be found in previous Hidden Lives Revealed website blogs:  https://www.hiddenlives.org.uk/blog/tag/childrens-union/

Scanned copies of the Brothers and Sisters magazine can be found here: http://www.hiddenlives.org.uk/publications/brothers_and_sisters/index.html

Records relating to Titania’s Palace and the Children’s Union featured in this blog are held at The Children’s Society Archive:

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

© The Children’s Society

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Titania’s Palace – Sir Neville Wilkinson’s famous dolls house

The first of three blogs – written by one of our volunteers, Rod Cooper – that takes a look at the history of a remarkable and long lasting fundraising initiative for The Children’s Society and it’s former Children’s Union that Sir Neville Wilkinson started in 1907 – Titania’s Palace.

The son of a barrister, Neville Rodwell Wilkinson was born in October 1869, at Highgate, Middlesex. Clearly, at such time, there could have been no possible inkling of Sir Neville’s subsequent career as a serving officer in the Second Boer War, of his marriage to the first daughter of the 14th Earl of Pembroke, Lady Beatrix Herbert in 1903, or of his appointment to the Ulster King of Arms in 1908, his subsequent knighthood in 1920, or of his long career as philanthropist, genealogist, artist, author, traveller and aesthete.

Both Sir Neville and his wife, Lady Beatrix, rose to senior positions in children’s charities; Sir Neville becoming Chairman of the League of Pity (a precursor organisation of the NSPCC), and Lady Beatrix serving as President of the Children’s Union run by the Waifs and Strays Society (as The Children’s Society was formerly known). Sir Neville’s activity in this sphere was further marked by a quite singular and unusual pursuit; the design and development, and subsequent promotion and display of doll’s houses created for the benefit of the charities to which he and his wife represented. These doll’s houses were never conceived as toys or playthings; they were works of art in themselves, displaying high levels of design and craftsmanship, and deliberately produced for display purposes.

Sir Neville’s first venture in this connection was the creation of Pembroke Palace. Opened for exhibition by Queen Alexandra at Wilton House (the country seat of the Earls of Pembroke) in 1908, Pembroke Palace was a large doll’s house comprising three floor levels extending over a base of almost two square metres. Populated with finely crafted miniature fittings and furnishings, the house also included original works of art produced by Sir Neville, including portraits of his father-in-law, the 14th Earl of Pembroke, Sir Neville’s oldest daughter, Guendolen (born 1904) and his own self-portrait. All as miniatures, of course.

Emboldened by the success of Pembroke Palace, and with the intention of producing a much grander and – more importantly – portable attraction, Sir Neville embarked on a yet more ambitious venture before the paint was barely dry on his first. The inspiration for this occurred when Sir Neville was undertaking a pencil study of a sycamore tree close to the Wilkinson’s Mount Merrion home in Dublin. His three-year old daughter, Guendolen, fancying she‘d seen a fairy disappear beneath the base of the tree gave rise to Sir Neville’s vision of an entire palace – fit for Titania, the Fairy Queen – laying beneath the base of the tree.

The ground floor plan for Titania’s Palace

First conceived in 1907, Titania’s Palace – though still not entirely complete – was formally ‘opened’ by Queen Mary in July 1922, shortly before it was put on public display for the first time at the Daily Express Woman’s Exhibition at Olympia. And whilst Sir Neville was very much its instigator, designer and ‘architect’, the construction and adornment of Titania’s Palace was the result of many minds and expert hands. Of these, pride of place goes rightly to Dublin-based cabinet maker James Hicks and his fellow craftsmen; to whom the greater part of the general construction, panelling and furnishing are associated. Among the 3,000 contents there are true gems of antiquity; there is a late sixteenth century cannon by Michael Mann of Nuremburg (it is a working model), a small (obviously small!) Samuel Palmer watercolour and a tiny enamel horse discovered in the Valley of Kings and believed to be 3,000 years old. Sir Neville himself decorated many of the rooms, Sir Edwin Lutyens chipped in with the belfry (inspired by the Church of St George, Hanover Square, London) and – no less significant, and true reminder of the Palace’s purpose – Sir Neville records “dainty towels and pillow slips made by the cripple girls at St Agnes’ home” for the Palace’s Night Nursery.

HM Queen Mary visiting Titania’s Palace, Brothers and Sisters, August 1922, p.175

From the outset Sir Neville designed his doll’s house with the express purpose of being able to dismantle and transport it safely, and with the consequent aim of allowing as many – paying – visitors to view it as possible. Designed on a scale of 1:12 (i.e., one inch to one foot) Titania’s Palace, comprised at least sixteen separate rooms and was almost three metres long and half a metre wide. Excluding the cupola it averaged about 75 centimetres high. With the inclusion of its integral surrounding rail – which acted both as a general guard rail and as a perch for younger visitors – the overall attraction covered an area of approximately six square metres and weighed over three tons. Titania’s Palace was designed to be dismantled into a number of sections, and specially made padded packing cases were included in the design in order that the entire attraction could be dismantled and re-assembled by as few as two men. For the sake of durability, strength and resistance to changes in temperature, there was careful selection of materials too, which included much use of 100-year old mahogany.

Some of the furniture of Titania’s Palace”, Brothers and Sisters, July 1922, p. 151

Given the investment in time and money required to prepare his undeniably spectacular attraction for public display, Sir Neville revealed, a number of years later in 1930, that there were “no funds available for a publicity campaign.” But this was to prove little or no impediment. Necessity being the mother of invention, Sir Neville embarked on novel ways to promote his attraction. Indeed, he was to prove that there is nothing new in the advertising notion of the ‘tie-in’ and the promotion of mutual interest – showing as he did that the pursuit of profit could work hand in hand with charity.

The Hall of The Guilds

In the November 1922 issue of Brothers and Sisters – the monthly magazine of the Children’s Union – Sir Neville announced that Titania’s Palace would be on display until early in the New Year at Humber House, located at number 94 New Bond Street, in London’s Mayfair. This was the premier showroom for Humber Motor Cars and it was Humber Limited that produced the ‘Grey Fairy’, the 15 HP model car that stands awaiting passengers outside Titania’s Palace. No doubt Sir Neville’s exhortation to his readers, “Please, daddy, take me up to London to see the Fairy Palace”, saw more visitors – and no doubt hoped-for-custom – to Humber’s showroom. Consequently, presenting Titania’s Palace on commercial premises would be a constant, and as the attraction moved first around the towns and cities of the United Kingdom and Ireland, and then the USA, it was frequently installed for display in a town’s most central and prestigious department store. Adding to the immediacy of the display’s impact, a portion of the revenues generated by Titania’s Palace would often be donated to a local children’s ward, hospital or home. The remaining portion being split evenly between the Children’s Union (Waifs and Strays Society) and the League of Pity.

” The Grey Fairy Motor Car”, Brothers and Sisters, December 1992, December, p.271.

As a tie-in with Titania’s Palace, Sir Neville authored a series of children’s books recording the adventures of Yvette, a young girl and her various friends, and a fatherly character referred to as “the Old Painter”, who travel together to visit Titania’s Palace, wherever it may be. The first two books in the series were published as early as 1922, and were thus available before Titania’s Palace was placed on public display. The first book was “Yvette in Italy”, which was swiftly followed by “Grey Fairy” (with adventures in the aforementioned car). Three further books in the series were published in the following years; “Yvette in Venice” (1923), “Yvette in Switzerland” (1925), and “Yvette in the USA” (1929).

Sir Neville also ensured that the readers of Brothers and Sisters were constantly informed of developments surrounding Titania’s Palace, informing children of the towns it visited and of the adventures of it fictitious residents. These articles, representing part of Sir Neville’s almost ceaseless promotion of Titania’s Palace and the “Yvette” series of books will form the basis of subsequent articles. These will also look at the more recent history of Titania’s Palace, which, you might be pleased to know, remains in good order and can still be visited.

Want to know more?

Further information on the Children’s Union can be found in previous Hidden Lives Revealed website blogs:  https://www.hiddenlives.org.uk/blog/tag/childrens-union/

Scanned copies of the Brothers and Sisters magazine can be found here: http://www.hiddenlives.org.uk/publications/brothers_and_sisters/index.html

Records relating to Titania’s Palace and the Children’s Union featured in this blog are held at The Children’s Society Archive:

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

© The Children’s Society

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The Children’s Union – children fundraising on behalf of children (part 2)

The second part of a blog written by one of our volunteers, Rod Cooper, takes a look at The Children’s Society’s fundraising activity and the work of the Children’s Union – a remarkable idea that allowed children to fundraise on behalf of children! You can read part 1 here.

Another Children’s Union-wide fund-raising initiative was the Happy Birthday League. As with the Rover League, the primary aim was to raise funds for the re-building of St Nicholas’ Home. There was one very simple rule to become a member of the League and that was the submission on one’s birthday of one shilling “as a thank-offering for your preservation during the year that has past.” The monthly issues of Brothers and Sisters always carried a reminder of the League and its purpose, and occasionally there would be a small article or report. In the July 1905 issue, for example, there was a not entirely subtle reminder to avoid being overlooked by its readers: “How many birthday presents have you given this year to your friends?” By 1905, the Happy Birthday League had enrolled almost 7,000 members and it raised £335 13s. 1d. during the year; an amount equivalent to about £37,000 today.

In the August 1905 issue Mrs Rose Leck provides a report about the annual fêtes held at, and in aid of, the Bradstock Lockett Home, Southport. As mentioned in part 1, fêtes were an invaluable source of Children’s Union (C.U.) fund-raising, although larger-scale events such as that held at Bradstock Lockett also had the important function of cementing bonds between the local branches; Mrs Leck reported that she “was able to count representatives of nearly forty branches” either attending or providing attractions. It’s quite likely (and refreshing to think) the term ‘networking’ was missing from the lexicon of Edwardian England, but there is little doubt that events such as the annual Bradstock Lockett fêtes were central to engendering close personal contacts and a unity of purpose within the C.U..

B&SAugust1905frontcoversmall

 

Her contribution to Brother and Sisters notwithstanding, Mrs Leck’s primary role was as the Organising Secretary of the Northern Children’s Union, a reminder that the C.U. at this time, as well as being the fruit of a local, grass roots initiative, was very much a decentralised organisation. St Nicholas’, St Martin’s and St Agnes’ homes, all located in the south of England, fell within the purlieu of the Southern Children’s Union (which, as is in the nature of these things, tended to just call itself the Children’s Union). The northern branches organised themselves within the Northern Children’s Union centred on the activities of the Bradstock Lockett Home, Southport (notably named after one of its main benefactors and advocates rather than a saint) and those of the Ripon and Wakefield Dioceses which oversaw funding of St Chad’s Home, Far Headingly. The extent of local independence and discretion is hard to judge, though as an example, the Northern Children’s Union chose to adopt the Happy Birthday League a little later than its southern counterpart, and with the specific aim of covering the outstanding debt on the development of the Bradstock Lockett Home.

Branch secretaries and members of the Children’s Union could advertise their affinity with the C.U. by purchasing and wearing the C.U. badge. These were available in white metal (at 4d.) or bronze (8d.). Branch secretaries often purchased badges and awarded them to members who secured the recruitment of additional members. In the September issue there is reference to Miss Olive Dawson of Shortlands, Kent, who had suggested earlier in the year that a bar should be added (“something after the style of the Boer War medals”) as a reward for securing additional members. The report continues that another branch secretary, Mrs Elsie Clifford (Blackheath) had consequently commenced awarding a Bar for Merit to individual members of her local branch. In recognition of these initiatives – and no doubt identifying a further means of raising funds – “We [the Children’s Union administration] therefore propose to supply the ribbon and bars to be fixed to the members’ badges: and further notice, with prices etc., will be given in the next Magazine. On the bar will be the following words: –“FOR SERVICE” – and Branch Secretaries may give the bar for special service rendered by a member to the Children’s Union in obtaining new members and new subscribers to the Magazine.”

TCS CU (CU Medal)While the greater part of each issue of Brothers and Sisters comprised news from the Homes, or essays on photography and natural history, plus short-stories and puzzles, it is the shorter articles and notes, the readers’ letters and news from the branches which provide a real sense of the C.U.’s activities. In the October issue, for example, there is a short article entitled “Some Ways of Working for The Children’s Union”. This is a direct appeal to the C.U.’s membership and informs children how they may help in practical terms to produce items for ‘Sales of Work’ – a mainstay of branch fêtes and fund-raising in general. Described in a gender specific terms that wouldn’t accord with present-day mores, it suggests items of needlework for girls, whilst boys might consider “wood carving, iron-work, netting hammocks, handbags, fruit nets etc.” The impact of such activities is apparent elsewhere in the magazine; in the same issue – just as in all issues – there are a numerous reports from local branches referring to sales of work and the money raised as a consequence of children’s efforts.

In addition to producing items for sale at Branch fêtes and bazaars, children were also encouraged to produce plays and entertainments. In the November 1905 issue there is a “List of Plays, Duologues &c.”, detailing scripts for short plays which could be purchased directly from their publishers for sixpence or one shilling. In the same issue, amongst the “Reports from Branches”, two branches refer to performances put on by their members. The Chelmsford Branch’s Annual Fête saw three members acting “two fairy plays, viz., ‘The Three Wishes’ and ‘Foolish Jack’” – their endeavours contributing to a total of £30 raised by the overall event. Elsewhere, the Pershore Branch reported that “two performances of the play, ‘Three Fairy Gifts,’ were given and much appreciated, supplemented by a piano duet, a skirt dance, and a duologue entitled ‘Perseverance Wins’.”

 

B&Sbazaarsmall

The December 1905 issue very much follows the format of the preceding eleven issues. News from the Homes is preceded by a notice from “The Crippled Children in our Homes” wishing the readers of the magazine and the members of the Children’s Union “A Happy Christmas and New Year”, and the magazine continues with its mixture of regular and feature articles, short stories, puzzles and news from the branches. Amongst the latter is a report on the C.U.’s conference at St Mary Abbot’s Church, Kensington, London. Many important figures from The Children’s Society and the Children’s Union were in attendance, including Edward Rudolf – “who gave a brief sketch of the general work of the Society” – and Lady Beatrix Wilkinson. As President of the C.U., Lady Wilkinson gave an account of the C.U.’s work from its beginning and “gave many practical hints on the management of a Branch which included among the children members of all classes.” Such words might seem patronising and anachronistic now, but when she mentions subsequently that “children can work at home or at meetings”, or that some children can put savings in boxes or collect from others, and that “ways and means of working are found to suit each Branch”, she clearly highlights that the C.U., reflecting its “spirit of endeavour and loving service”, was grounded very much at the local level with branches reflecting their own capabilities and conditions.

Branches were also encouraged to pursue their own initiatives and ideas, and to share these with fellow branches. Allowing ideas and initiatives to take root at the local level was clearly useful. It maintained enthusiasm among the members (there wasn’t the necessity of waiting for instructions from HQ), it fostered a spirit of inclusivity among the members, and a notion that all branches were of equal standing and prominence. Added to this mix were the rather straight-forward aims of the C.U.; the support of five Homes and their resident children. This combination of localism, decentralisation, inclusivity, and simple straight-forward aims, all contributed to promote the Children’s Union as a very effective means of fund-raising within fifteen years of its – arguably, quite accidental – inception.

Want to know more?

Further information on the Children’s Union Rover League can be found on the Hidden Lives Revealed website:  http://www.hiddenlives.org.uk/activities/rover_league/rover_league1.html

Scanned copies of the Brothers and Sisters magazine can be found here: http://www.hiddenlives.org.uk/publications/brothers_and_sisters/index.html

Records relating to the Children’s Union featured in this blog are held at The Children’s Society Archive:

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

© The Children’s Society

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The Children’s Union – children fundraising on behalf of children (part 1)

Another in the series of blogs written by one of our volunteers, Rod Cooper, takes a look at The Children’s Society’s fundraising activity – here the work of the Children’s Union – a remarkable idea that allowed children to fundraise on behalf of children! The blog has two parts – this is part 1.

From a modern perspective it might appear unusual that an organisation established as recently as 1881 should, by 1889, be entertaining and indeed, actively, encouraging, the development of an additional movement within its ranks. But that’s exactly what happened when in 1889 the Church of England Central Society for Providing Homes of Waifs and Strays (henceforth, The Children’s Society) incorporated and adopted the fund-raising efforts and initiatives of The Children’s Union within its general organisation.

In light of this development, and notwithstanding the considerable zeal and organising talents of Edward Rudolf, it is evident that in its early days The Children’s Society was neither a ‘top down’ nor highly centralised organisation and considerable leeway was invested – and indeed, was essential for its success – in garnering the efforts, initiative and local knowledge of individuals and groups working within dioceses and parishes throughout England and Wales.

Edward Rudolf, the founder of the 'Waifs and Strays' Society

Edward Rudolf, the founder of the ‘Waifs and Strays’ Society

The Children’s Union developed out of such local efforts, and specifically the fund-raising activities of Miss Helen Milman. Miss Millman – who could not possibly have imagined what would develop from her quite simple idea – organised a fund-raising effort among the children in her town of Tenby, Pembrokeshire, with the specific goal of supporting a child at The Children’s Society’s recently opened St Nicholas’ Home for disabled children in Tooting, London. With the fund-raising being conducted during the children’s school holidays, the initiative quickly took on the name of the ‘Holiday Union’ and soon raised the £15 required to support one child for one year. Within two years, and attracting the interest and support of the Earl and Countess of Pembroke (also known as Lord and Lady Herbert), the scheme spread rapidly, to the extent that the fund-raising activities of children organised through a network of individual branches were soon able to wholly fund the St Nicholas Home.

Adopting the name Children’s Union in 1889, the C.U. was soon wholly or partly funding five homes belonging to The Children’s Society, all of which specialised in the care of disabled children; namely, St Nicholas’ (soon to be relocated to West Byfleet), St Martin’s at Surbiton, St Agnes’ at Croydon, St Chad’s at Leeds and Bradstock Lockett at Southport.

Specifically organised for the purpose of raising funds, membership of the C.U. was open (in 1905) to anyone under the age of 21, and at that year’s end was organised via a network of 444 branches with a membership of around 14,000. The monies raised in 1905 amounted to £5,536 7s. 10d. (i.e., just over £600,000 at present day values).

Based in parishes, schools and local communities in general, the branch network was in constant flux. In any single year, there would be a significant number of branches opening and closing. In 1905, for example, 38 branches started up, whilst 13 ‘lapsed’. To help bring the C.U. together there was a regular monthly magazine – Brothers and Sisters – and it is through the 1905 editions that I wish to explore and highlight the means by which the C.U. disseminated its message, promoted fund-raising schemes, and bonded its membership together.

January 1905 front cover of Brothers and Sisters

January 1905 front cover of Brothers and Sisters

Brothers and Sisters – 1905

Undoubtedly the patronage of the Earl and Countess of Pembroke was instrumental in spurring on the rapid development of the Children’s Union. January’s issue of Brothers and Sisters opens with an article penned by their daughter and President of the Children’s Union, Lady Beatrix Wilkinson, describing the Annual Sale at the Earl and Countess’ home at Wilton House in Wiltshire. Realising a profit of more than £100, the event comprised stalls selling “plain work, fancy work and articles, dolls, toys, sweets and teas,” and musical and theatrical performances, as well as a Baby Show. Sales of work and fêtes were a mainstay of branch fund-raising, but clearly this event was of a different order to those organised later in the year at, say, Lytham (raising £6 10s. 2d. – i.e., £6.51 approximately), or Keswick (£16 10s. – £16.50), and had a number of notable attendees such as their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess and Wales and the Duchess of Roxburghe.

Typical by this time, Brothers and Sisters would open with a short editorial piece, followed by news from its homes, with stories on the achievements of individual children and the growth and development of the homes themselves. In February’s issue, for example, there are articles – with accompanying photographs – on St Martin’s Home, Surbiton, and on the Bradstock Lockett Home, Southport. Without entirely using children’s full names (e.g., “Jim F.” and “Annie C. from Clitheroe”), the reports – without being patronising to the readership – clearly described the daily life, and sometimes the struggle, of the homes’ children. The articles take care too, to emphasise the value and impact of the fund-raising efforts of the Children’s Union and freely advertise any short-term causes and appeals. For example, the article regarding St Martin’s finishes with a request for clothing: “Will our readers ask any grown-up friends (fathers, brothers and uncles) for cast-off clothes, which will be gladly and thankfully received by our boys at Surbiton.”

Children's Union members at work from Surbiton

Children’s Union members at work from Surbiton

As for the adult fundraisers of The Children’s Society, the Savings or Collections Box was an important means of collecting monies at the local level and in the March 1905 issue there was reference to this and myriad other locally inspired means of fund-raising. There was the following notice, for example: “The children of the Bryn Branch have done excellent work with their C.U. collecting boxes during the year. The members do not belong to the wealthy classes, and their small “self-denials” teach a lesson of earnest devotion to the cause for which they are so faithfully labouring.” Brothers and Sisters was careful to ensure that news of fund-raising efforts, whether large or small, were given equal space and prominence: for example, the Clyst Branch reported on “three entertainments” raising £3 11s. 4d. (about £3.57), and two performances of a children’s play at Pinner raising £1 1s. (£1.05).

The following month’s issue of Brothers and Sisters emphasises the direct relationship between Children’s Union members, their fund-raising endeavours and the children under the care of The Children’s Society. In an article reporting on the Bradstock Lockett Home, there is a List of Cots which identifies each individual child (or ‘cot’) alongside the branch supporting the cost of that child’s upkeep. By this means, a very direct and personal relationship was engendered between the branches, their members and the children in the homes. This strengthening of the bond would have been a powerful method of ensuring future interest in the welfare of individual children and the continued support from Children’s Union members.

Underlining the bond between Children’s Union members and individual children in the homes, there is short report under the May issue’s “Notes and Notices”. Headlined “Cot Friends” it states: “It very gratifying to note that, in response to the note in the last issue, some of the children in our Homes have found special friends in the C.U. who are going to write to them, and take personal and sympathetic interest in their welfare. We shall give every facility to those who desire to correspond with a child, and hope that a great measure of happiness may be the result of this friendly and sympathetic intercourse.”

As a further fund-raising initiative, to specifically help fund the re-building of the St Nicholas’ Home at Byfleet, the C.U. commenced promoting The Rover League in 1905 ; a means by which Children’s Union members and branches could enrol their pet dogs and submit funds on their pets’ behalf. By mid-year the scheme had blossomed and members were enrolling their various pets and submitting photographs for publication, typically accompanied by letters ‘penned’ by their pets. By June, “Rover’s Scheme for Helping to Re-build St. Nicholas’ Home, Byfleet” was under the “immediate patronage of “Joey” Lord Herbert’s Charger in the Royal Horse Guards”, and that month’s report commences, “Rover has got fifty-four new members during the month, including horses belonging to Lady Muriel Herbert (i.e., Lord Herbert’s younger daughter and Lady Beatrix Wilkinson’s sister), dogs, cats, a goat, some goldfish, and a delightful donkey.” Typical of the letters published in Brothers and Sisters is one from Sir Gibbie, a wire-haired fox terrier. Sir Gibbie sent 1s. 6d.; representing the membership fee of sixpence apiece for himself and his two friends, Daisy (“a grey donkey”) and Dick (“a sort of terrier”). By June it’s apparent that the specific purpose of the Rover League had broadened out somewhat, as a notice was included of a home wanted for “Emma” and “Eliza”, a pair of “mongrel lurcher puppies rescued from a cellar in East London”.

'Rover' the founder of the Rover League is featured here in the top photograph

‘Rover’ the founder of the Rover League is featured in the top photograph

Part 2 to follow.

Want to know more?

Further information on the Children’s Union Rover League can be found on the Hidden Lives Revealed website:  http://www.hiddenlives.org.uk/activities/rover_league/rover_league1.html

Scanned copies of the Brothers and Sisters magazine can be found here: http://www.hiddenlives.org.uk/publications/brothers_and_sisters/index.html

Records relating to the Children’s Union featured in this blog are held at The Children’s Society Archive:

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

© The Children’s Society

The Children's Society - Key line logo - on white - RGB

The changing perceptions of disability

While working with historical records relating to disabled children, it is very hard not to come across attitudes and phrases that can seem discriminatory and relatively demeaning when set alongside 21st Century standards and attitudes.

When reading these records, it is necessary to keep in mind that these were attitudes and phrases that were common in their day and were unlikely to have been seen as discriminatory by those using them. The records act as a body of evidence for how society saw disabled children in the past and how much has changed for the better in the intervening years.

In the above example, we have a page from a story booklet for children that was produced in c1930 by the Children’s Union. This booklet was created to teach children about the work of St Nicholas’ Home for disabled children in Pyrford, Surrey, with the aim of persuading them to donate money to the home.

The first thing that we come across in this example is the use of the word “crippled”. This term was very common in the 19th and early-20th Centuries and crops up very often in our records relating to disabled-children’s homes.

Secondly, when reading through this first part of the story, we begin to get a perception of how disabled children were seen at the time. Andy, the disabled boy, is described in a way that emphasises vulnerability and helplessness, with the aim of provoking a feeling of pity in the reader. Language like this is found in a lot of early publicity material for the Children’s Union; this material often talks about the disabled children being unfortunate and needy. Presumably, urging the public to feel pity was seen as a good way of motivating them to donate money for the disabled-children’s homes.

It is also clear that the focus at the time was very much on the medical model of disability and orthopaedic care. Disabled children’s homes often doubled as hospitals and were seen as places to treat medical conditions. The aim of the Children’s Union, as stated later in the above story, is to “help poor ill children, and make them well and strong”. Children with disabilities that could not be treated medically and children that were not able to learn a trade, were often seen as a group of people for whom nothing could be done; an unfortunate perspective.

As the 20th Century moved on, attitudes towards disability began to change toward a more social model, and we can see this reflected in the records.

Above is a page from a prospectus for Halliwick Further Education and Training Centre in Winchmore Hill, London, made c1980. While this prospectus also uses terms that are no longer common today, we can see that the attitude towards disability was quite different from that in the earlier document. The aim of the Centre was no longer about medical treatment to remove disabilities that were seen as obstacles. Instead, the aim of the Centre was to provide further education that was tailored and accessible to the disabled students, to provide them with the same opportunities for education as non-disabled children.

Examples like those above allow us to see how attitudes towards disability have changed over the years to become what they are now. I think it is very important that these records are preserved for the future and not hidden from history purely because they contain phrases that can be seen to be discriminatory or, indeed, offensive. After all, it is only by learning how things were that we can understand why and how things needed to change and where we need to go in the future.

Children’s Union medals

In addition to records, we have a few artefacts in our collection. Today I’d like to introduce you to one of our artefacts from the Children’s Union.

As a fundraising body that was supported almost solely by children, the Children’s Union had a number of ways to promote the work of The Children’s Society and encourage children to make donations.

One of these ways was to give out medals to Children’s Union members in recognition of their support. Often these medals had to be earned by the members completing certain tasks.

There were a few different types of medals that were given out by the Children’s Union over the years. The medal above was designed in 1910 by Sir Nevile Rodwell Wilkinson, husband of the president of the Children’s Union, Lady Beatrix Wilkinson. This medal was given out for ‘special service’, and members could earn one of these by attracting six or more new Children’s Union members or helping to raise £20 for the Children’s Union.

The special service medals were used during a large part of the life of the Children’s Union. We have a number of examples in our collection, including some that appear to have been made as late as the 1970s, shortly before the Children’s Union was disbanded.

It’s easy to imagine that these medals would have been a large incentive for the members of the Children’s Union, and that the children who received them would have been very proud to get recognition for their hard work.

The Children’s Union

The final collection of records that I’m cataloguing as part of the Including the Excluded project are the records of The Children’s Union.

The Children’s Union was a fundraising body for The Children’s Society that ran from 1888 to 1979. However, unlike most fundraising bodies, the subscriptions and donations collected by the Children’s Union were not given by adults, but by children and young people themselves.

When it was founded, the initial aim of the Children’s Union was for children to raise enough money to sponsor one bed at the home for disabled children, St Nicholas’ in Upper Tooting. This didn’t last long though; by 1901, the Children’s Union had become so successful that the money it raised was funding two disabled children’s homes in their entirety, St Nicholas’ in West Byfleet and St Martin’s in Surbiton, while also giving donations to The Society’s other homes for disabled children.

The link between the Children’s Union and the disabled children’s homes carried on right through until the 1940s when the Children’s Union began to focus on supporting The Children’s Society’s large number of homes for babies and toddlers instead.

The above image shows the cover of a promotional leaflet that was created to celebrate 50 years’ work of the Children’s Union.

This leaflet lists some of the ways that children could raise money for the Children’s Union, which included keeping a collecting box at home; doing needlework, knitting or making toys that could be sold to make money; and taking up a subscription of ‘Brothers and Sisters’, which was a magazine written specifically Children’s Union members.

We hold a full set of ‘Brothers and Sisters’ magazine from 1890 to 1970 here in the archive, along with other publicity material for the Children’s Union, annual reports, and more. In addition to records, we also have artefacts, including examples of some of the Children’s Union’s collecting boxes.

It’s fascinating to see a fundraising body like this that encouraged children to raise money to help other children. The magazines and some of the promotional material in this collection can be particularly fun as they include fictional stories and other articles written to entertain their young readers.