Hidden Lives Revealed. A virtual archive - children in care 1881-1981 * Image of handwritten text

Case 2

14. 'A very old boy', Our Waifs and Strays magazine, February 1907, pp 28 - 30

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Our Waifs and Strays
Feb. 1907
Page 29


Twelve thousand four hundred and eleven long blue envelopes, each containing the essential points of the life history of the boy or girl, whose name and number are written on the outside, from birth till discharge from the Society's Home, with, in many instances, much subsequent interesting matter, offer a bewildering amount of material from which to select. Why, then select? Let us go back to the very beginning, take up the story of our very first boy waif ; note from what he came, where he stands to-day ; and if the temptation ever comes to question the lasting use of rescue work, you will, as you read his tale, banish and be ashamed of the unworthy doubt. It is a very worn and ragged case paper, this No. 2, J. (No. 1 was a girl), covered all over with notes and suggestions ; for in those early days the founders of the Society had many difficulties to meet as to the disposal of their children, which ever-growing experience has largely overcome. There was, in about 1880, a little cripple, just ten years old, sweeping a crossing on Clapham Common. His parents - so wrote the lady who forwarded the original particulars and had known the family some years - had always been two of the most wretched and degraded people in the neighbourhood, seldom remaining in one house more than two or three months. They had a large family, none of whom were baptised. When J. was about seven years old, he fell down on the ice, receiving terrible injuries ; he also got fearfully burnt ; and from neglect after these accidents he never fully recovered. He was taken into a hospital for a while, and proper supports and instruments were provided for him. On his return to his wretched parents, his mother pawned these gifts, and then went round the neighbourhood to beg money for "a crippled boy at home." As the lad got a bit stronger, he swept a crossing, as already mentioned ; but his strength rapidly failed, and he was found before long by a district visitor in a shocking state of want and neglect, and removed in a condition which by this time had become most critical to the Orthopaedic Hospital. Three months' treatment and care, followed by a series of visits to convalescent Homes, through the charity of friends who felt that he must be by all means kept from again going "home," did much towards setting him on his legs ; and the doctor reported that with care and good food there was little doubt of his being able, as he grew up, to learn a light trade.

At this point, when it became a matter of urgency that something should be done towards finding a permanent home for the little lad, his story was brought to the notice of the newly-founded Waifs and Strays Society, and on February 14th, 1882, the Committee endorsed his paper, "Accepted, subject to the parents signing an agreement for the surrender of the child. To be received into the Clapton Home." His health, however, necessitated a six months' stay at a Convalescent Home at Southend, after which he was sent to a Cripples' Home in Kensington ; from which he was in 1884, transferred to the Home at Upper Clapton. Life there was uneventful by happy and helpful, till the time came for J., now seventeen, to leave the Home and go out into the world. There was apparently a good deal of difficultly in getting a suitable post for him, owing to his lameness, and partially, no doubt, to the fact that the Society had not yet sufficiently built up, in the mind of the public, that reputation for moulding and turning out such satisfactory material as it has now proved itself so capable of doing. However, a post as clerk was presently found for him at Natland, and this, it is interesting to note, formed the first link of a connection never since severed between the Society and that northern village, in which to-day stands one of our most prosperous Homes. Upon the following years of J. 's story, years of steady work, we need not dwell ; but he gives us ready leave to quote extracts of a letter received from him at the end of last November, from the Surrey town in which he is now settled as "reader" in a large printer's firm : "I read in the paper the other day of a visit to your house of my old friend Rev. E. de M. Rudolf. How I should have liked to seen him! I was one of the first six boys received in his orphanage at Clapton ... Since being in this lovely country, God has blessed us, after seven years of married life, with a little girl ; ... I am delighted to hear from time to time of friends interesting themselves in the noble institution to which I am so much indebted personally." And this is the letter, written in an excellent hand, of the little crippled ignorant crossing-sweeper of Clapham Common!

There are some interesting points to which this story indirectly draws attention. It was this particular case which, being brought to his notice, first drew the attention of that loving friend of children, Bishop Walsham How, to this Society's venture, and led him to give it so much help, cheery comfort, and personal advocacy in its early years. As Bishop of Bedford he

Overwritten in pencil: 84.2/3

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Image of Case 2 14. 'A very old boy', 'Our Waifs and Strays' magazine,  February 1907, pp 28 - 30
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