Fundraising and Edwardians in Liverpool

Another in the series of our blogs – written by one of our volunteers, Rod Cooper – that takes a look at the history of fundraising money for The Children’s Society’s.The following article is one of two looking at the fundraising efforts made by a local branch of the Waifs and Strays Society in the early years of the twentieth century.

In the early years of the twentieth century The Children’s Society, or to give it its full name at the time, the Church of England Incorporated Society for Providing Homes for Waifs and Strays, was very much a devolved organisation, mirroring and established upon an existing template of regional dioceses. Among these, one of the largest, most active and arguably most independent was the Liverpool Branch Diocese.

By the turn of the century, the Branch organised and oversaw the running of four homes – the Victoria Home in Formby (established for infants); St George’s Home in Warrington (boys); the Scholfield Home in Wavertree (girls) and Elm Lodge at Seaforth (boys). In addition to these, the Liverpool Diocese, through their own funds and energies – and with continued support from the Children’s Union – built and ran the Bradstock Lockett Home for disabled children at Southport.

Bradstock Lockett Home, Southport, 1961

Understandably, the homes would have presented the most obvious areas of expenditure for the Branch, but it’s important to mention that boarding out – always strongly supported by the Waifs and Strays Society – necessitated considerable financial support too.

Just as it is with The Children’s Society today, it was apparent to the Waifs and Strays Society that in order to be effective, it could not succeed by simply relying on good intentions. By necessity financial support, a constant flow of donations and the diligent management of funds, were essential.

However, in the early years of the twentieth century, matters were not as would have been hoped by the Branch Committee. In the twelve months to mid-1905, for example, the funds raised by the Branch amounted to almost three-and-a-half thousand pounds (the equivalent of £390,000 today). Yet in the same period, however, expenses exceeded income by almost one hundred pounds. This may not seem a great deal, but when added to the Branch’s accumulated deficit it clearly troubled the organising committee. By 1905, this deficit stood at £510 (almost £57,000 by today’s values); “an alarming amount and passes beyond the realms of a ‘manageable deficit’.” (‘Notes From the North’, Our Waifs and Strays, May 1905). This was clearly a problem: “The question uppermost in our minds is how is it going to be with us financially this year? We hope, with the great efforts that are being put forth, we may turn the corner and begin to see that wretched debit balance materially reduced.”

Our Waifs and Strays magazine, January 1906, p194


Our Waifs and Strays magazine, January 1906, p195

Successive copies of Our Waifs and Strays – the monthly magazine of the Waifs and Stray Society – archived at The Children’s Society’s Bermondsey-based Records Centre, illustrate some of the problems local branches had at this time. The monthly returns for donations listed in the magazine show two significant and quite related problems: widely varying monthly receipts and a reliance on numerous small and unpredictable donations. In fairness however, this latter point was something of a strength too, as it reflected the breadth and depth of The Society’s reach throughout the Church of England’s diocesan and parish network. Nonetheless, donations varied from one month to the next, and throughout the year, and this militated against efficient financial planning for much beyond the short-term.

Funds coming into the Liverpool Branch arrived from numerous sources and in varying amounts. Occasionally these would be fairly substantial, but the overwhelming majority were very small. Among the latter, and attracting commentary in ‘Notes From the North’ were “Irene Johnson and Nellie Shaw, of Waterloo, [who] held a small Sale of Work among their little friends, and sent Canon Dickson 3s. 6d. [i.e., almost 18 pence] as the result of their efforts. That 3s. 6d. is as precious as the gifts of gold of their elders, as it evinces a real interest and earnest desire to help us.” (OWS, December 1905)

Small contributions dominate the lists of monthly donors. In addition to Sales of Work (typically small hand-made, hand-stitched items), small sums also accrued from numerous box collections, or from church collections – listed as “offertories” – following sermons related to the work of the Waifs and Strays Society. Boxes – literally small, wooden collection boxes – were a very popular means of raising funds, and many of these were held and returned by members of the Society, such as local branch secretaries, for example. Some, however, were positioned in local railway stations, or cafes and restaurants, where passing members of the public could donate any spare coins. The February and March 1905 issues of Our Waifs and Strays, for example, list donations from Formby Station (the equivalent of 85 pence), Ormskirk Station (60 pence), and the Mecca Café (35 pence). The March issue also lists, among others, the Servants at Larkfield (45 pence).

Waifs and Strays Society Collecting Box, early 1900s

Entertainments of various sorts – recitals, amateur dramatics, magic lantern shows, etc. – also proved to be a popular form of fund raising. In Notes From the North (OWS, March 1905) it is reported that the Doric Amateur Dramatic Society presented two performances of “The Little Nautch Girl” at Knotty Ash village hall, whilst the Green Room Amateur Dramatic Society put on “Masks and Faces” at Sefton Park. The Green Room Amateur Dramatic Society must have proved quite a draw as the January 1906 issue of Our Waifs and Strays lists a donation of £80, 13s. 3d. – the equivalent of almost £9,000 at today’s value. At the other end of the scale, two magic lantern lectures at Bickerstaffe totalled a contribution only slightly in excess of £2 (OWS, March 1905). A less common, but nonetheless effective form of fund-raising venture was a ball. By definition almost exclusively an activity limited to the relatively wealthy and well-connected, balls had the possibility of raising relatively large funds. The Formby Ball held by Mrs Beaufort in the New Year for example, raised more than £64 for The Society (OWS, March 1905).

Another form of fund-raising practised by those ‘in society’ was the Drawing Room Meeting. These tended to be held in the autumn and winter months and, almost by definition, required the resources of those with sufficient room and means to accommodate and cater for small-, or medium-sized, audiences. Moreover, to attract the appropriate audience and speakers, good connections were also necessary. The January 1906 issue of Our Waifs and Strays, cites contributions from at least half-dozen drawing room meetings staged over the previous few weeks; including, Mrs Patterson at West Derby (£20.80), Mrs Brown at Birkdale (£4.75), and Mrs Denbigh at Blundellsands (£3.75). In total the funds raised during the month amounted to present-day equivalent of over £5,000 – simply by people making their own homes available for just a few hours, for the benefit of The Society.

But what was a Drawing Room Meeting? They typically lasted not much more than an hour and, as well as a guest speaker, they were usually attended by the local vicar or well-known clergyman. Whilst details of the subjects discussed can only be speculated upon there would undoubtedly have been a strong Christian and moralistic theme. The June 1903 issue of Our Waifs and Strays carries some “Useful Hints” on holding such meetings. There isn’t room here to repeat these in full, but quoting a handful – some being quite direct and pragmatic, some being clearly of another age – provides a flavour of what was entailed:


(1) Invite three times as many people as your room will hold; experience teaches that a third only of those invited come to the meeting.

(2) A room that will seat 40 or 50 is quite big enough, unless the gathering is expected to be an exceptionally large one.

(3) Unless there is any serious objection, do not restrict your invitation to one class of people. The cause appeals very strongly to all classes. Give the servants a chance as well.

(1) Never have more than two speakers. One is quite enough if he [sic] knows the Society’s work intimately.

The Meeting:
(2) Hymns are not necessary, but one is sometimes desirable during the collection.

(4) Let the plate be handed round containing any money that has already been sent in, or let it be placed in a prominent position at the door.

Our Waifs and Strays magazine,  June 1903, p 107

Drawing Room Meetings, Boxes, Sales of Work and various forms of entertainments, would remain popular forms of fund-raising at the grassroots level for many years to come. But these were not the only means of raising funds, and in the second part of this this article a major element of the Liverpool Diocese’s fund-raising activities – The Silver Thimble League – will be looked at. Established at the local level, this initiative was so successful that by the 1930s it was established on a national scale as The Golden Thimble League.

Scanned copies of the Our Waifs and Strays magazine can be found here:

Scanned copies of the Brothers and Sisters magazine can be found here:

Records 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:

© The Children’s Society

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Titania’s Palace on Tour

The final episode of our 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.

From the outset Sir Neville Wilkinson’s expansive doll’s house – Titania’s Palace – was constructed with strength, durability and portability integral to its design. Not just an example of high craftsmanship and artistic endeavour, Titania’s Palace was designed primarily to generate charitable funds as a popular public attraction, and in order to maximise its exposure it was essential that it could be dismantled, transported and reinstalled safely and efficiently. In recognition of these requirements, Sir Neville himself commented, “The Palace, in order to fulfil its destiny, must be a kind of “magic carpet,” ready to travel over land or sea . .” Consequently, the Palace was designed as eight separate sections, each with its own specially designed packing case, and each light enough to carried by two workmen to and from the a four-ton lorry needed to transport the entire structure. As for being a “magic carpet” it still took at least three days to dismantle and re-erect.

Also integral to the design was a guard rail which acted both as protection for the Palace and as a perch for those children not tall enough to peer directly into each of the glass-fronted rooms. The Palace was placed on a draped base and so, in Sir Neville’s own words, “stood at a height which suited the stature of the average adult, while children, seated on a broad hand-rail, may slide round the four fronts, pressing their faces against the glass which protects each room, and seeing the contents as clearly as a brilliantly lighted scene as disclosed to the audience at a theatre.”

After its official opening by Queen Mary in July 1922 and subsequent display at the Daily Express Woman’s Exhibition at London’s Olympia over the summer, the Palace underwent further fitting-out before being placed on display at the Humber Motor Company’s showroom in New Bond Street from November and into the New Year period.

HM Queen Mary visiting Titania’s Palace in 1922

This wasn’t pure altruism on the part of the Humber Motor Company. From among the increased numbers visiting their showroom, they would have had the well-founded hope of generating increased interest and sales from the display of their latest models. This mutuality between raising charitable funds and commercial gain became more deeply entwined when Humber provided a model car designed specifically for Titania’s Palace. This was called the Grey Fairy, and Sir Neville returned the favour by featuring the car in his second book of the “Yvette” series of books – “The Grey Fairy”.

The Grey Fairy Motor car

Displaying Titania’s Palace on commercial premises – typically a town- or city-centre department store – became very much the normal practice over the next decade or so. The attraction would benefit from being placed in a central, locally well-known, well-frequented location, and the stores themselves expected to gain commercially from the increased number of customers and the increased publicity.

In addition to souvenir guides of the Palace, postcards such as these were available to visitors too:

Titania's Palace - The Throne Room

Titania’s Palace – The Throne Room


Titania’s Palace – Hall of the Fairy Kiss

Shortly after the residency at the Humber showrooms, Titania’s Palace was relocated a short distance away at Marshall and Snelgrove’s store in Oxford Street (the present day site of Debenham’s). The display at Marshall and Snelgrove – to which Titania’s Palace would return a number of times – was intended to be for a short period only, but such was its popularity, its stay was extended a number of times through to the middle of August. With an entrance fee of one shilling (5p) for adults and sixpence (2.5p) for children, the proceeds were divided between the Waifs and Strays Society, the League of Pity (NSPCC) and the London Hospital, Children’s Wards.

The charitable funds generated by Titania’s Palace were normally divided evenly between the Waifs and Strays Society and the League of Pity. However, additional charities – often based on the locality in which the attraction was on show – would benefit also. Thus, when Titania’s Palace ventured on its first tour beyond London – to the West Country in the autumn of 1923 – its two-week stay at Wilton’s in Salisbury ensured funds were raised also for the Salisbury Infirmary Children’s Ward. This was a pragmatic approach, as it ensured that Titania’s Palace did not monopolise the charitable potential of a locality to the detriment of local causes. The tour of the West Country took in four towns – Salisbury, Bath, Cheltenham and Bristol – between October and November 1924, before Titania’s Palace was once again installed in Marshall and Snelgrove’s for the Christmas and New Year period.

Articles reporting the progress of Titania’s Palace were a constant in the issues of Brothers and Sisters (the magazine of the Waifs and Strays Society’s Children’s Union) throughout 1923, and readers were kept well-informed of life at the Palace and its future whereabouts. The activities of Titania, King Oberon and the numerous Princesses and Princes (Iris, Zephyr, Ruby, Daphne, Noel, Pearl, and the baby, Crystal) were regularly reported on, and competitions were run for readers. Among the latter, for example, was an essay competition in the July 1923 issue, in which readers were invited to describe a visit to Titania’s Palace for a first prize of £4. In a marked – one could say refreshing – contrast to the present day approach whereby ‘everyone is deemed a winner’, the judge, who happened to be Lady Beatrix Wilkinson’s great-uncle, Lord Frederic Hamilton, commented rather severely upon the general standard of the entries. Clearly wishing for something more poetic and inspiring, he criticises the greater mass of entries as being “merely lists” (“I was, I will own, disappointed with most of them”). Fortunately however, fifteen year-old Sylvia Stimson of Streatham did pass muster (“infinitely the best”) and was credited with writing with imagination and a sense of humour. A hard-earned £4!

By the summer of 1923, more than 20,000 visitors had paid to view the Palace, and the tour of the West Country witnessed almost as many again before Titania’s Palace was returned to London (once more to Marshall and Snelgrove) for the Christmas and New Year period. In some respects, the activities of 1923 were a trial run for future tours taken over the following years; being a test of the Palace’s portability, durability and resilience against the demands of constant dismantling and reassembly, and the rigours of transportation.

In March 1924, Titania’s Palace was displayed at the premises of George Henry Lee in Liverpool (with some of the funds being apportioned towards the local Bradstock Lockett home). From Liverpool, the Palace subsequently toured throughout the north of England, visiting Leeds, Bradford, Harrogate, Scarborough, Hull and Sheffield, before returning to George Henry Lee in Liverpool for November. At the end of the year, the Palace was once again staged at the premises of Marshall and Snelgrove in Oxford Street.

The ground floor plan for Titania’s Palace

The Palace’s first shipborne venture was in the summer of 1925 when it was displayed at Clery’s department store in O’Connell Street, Dublin. In many ways the Palace’s spiritual home (with so many of its contributing craftsmen being based there) it remained in Dublin for more than a month before venturing northwards to Belfast. Upon returning to England, the Palace was put on view in Nottingham before spending the Christmas and New Year period at – in a change from previous practice – Whiteley’s in London.

The experience gained in the transport of Titania’s Palace to Ireland assured Sir Neville that his attraction could be transported in safety yet further afield, and after a period on display at Lewis’s in Birmingham (deemed as the “last chance before a journey of 24,000 miles”) preparations were put in place for a journey across the Atlantic. The immediate lure, and the springboard for a continent-wide tour, was an invitation to feature in the sesquicentennial exhibition being staged in Philadelphia.

As ever, the travels of Titania’s Palace regularly commanded space in issues of Brothers and Sisters. The trip to the eastern United States, for example, was chronicled in a series of articles entitled “Fairyland in Maryland”. Penned by Sir Neville in a rather whimsical style and from the perspective of the occupants of the Palace, it isn’t easy for a modern reader to digest and doesn’t seem entirely appropriate for describing the great conurbations of the USA, or the delayed departure of Titania’s Palace across the Atlantic on account of the Great Strike of 1926. Subsequent series of articles – such as “San Diego to Seattle” and “Vancouver to Quebec” – were written with an older audience in mind and must have been very interesting for Children’s Union members to read. For example, Sir Neville writes about the amazing landscapes of the western United States, its great cities, and meeting such luminaries Helen Wills Moody, Cecille B de Mille and Charlie Chaplin; he witnesses the process of movie-making in Hollywood, prognosticates on jazz (he doesn’t like it) and rails against piped music. To a young audience – and decades before mass tourism – Sir Neville’s experiences must have been truly eye-opening.

Titania’s Palace did not return to Great Britain again until April 1929, when it was installed at John Lewis in Oxford Street. Thereafter, it remained on this side of the Atlantic until early 1931, when it featured in the British Trade Exhibition in Buenos Aries. Subsequent overseas trips included a tour to Australia and New Zealand commencing in the summer of 1934. In the usual fashion, the tour is reported in Brothers and Sisters (“Titania’s Empire Tour”), and provides the readership with accounts of the voyage to Freemantle – including ports of call such as Aden and Colombo – and the subsequent journey across Australia and onwards to Auckland. However, Sir Neville’s articles cease from September 1936, when it is announced in Brothers and Sisters that he has been taken ill. It’s not until July 1938 that Sir Neville writes once again; this time reporting on the Palace’s installation at Waring and Gillows in Oxford Street, London, and the visit of the young Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret.

The Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret visit Titania’s Palace at Waring and Gillows in Oxford Street, London

Sadly, this is Sir Neville’s final article for Brothers and Sisters and no further articles relating to the travels – if any – of Titania’s Palace appear in the magazine beyond this date.

In a short and poignant message to the readers of Brothers and Sisters, and in an issue much reduced in size due to the wartime paper shortage, Lady Beatrix reports in January 1941 on the recent death of Sir Neville in Dublin, shortly before Christmas 1940 and following a long illness.

In the years following Sir Neville’s death, Titania’s Palace remained on display in Ireland. However, some years after Lady Beatrix’s death in 1957, the Palace lost its permanent home at Ballynastragh and the trustees (amongst which was Sir Neville’s and Lady Beatrix’s eldest daughter, Guendolen) decided to put the attraction up for auction. The Palace was auctioned at Christie’s in London and following a bidding war, which seemed to involve elements of a misunderstanding by an Irish-based bidder, Titania’s Palace was purchased by Olive Hodgkinson, who proceeded to put it on display at Wookey Hole Caves in Somerset, and subsequently at her home in Jersey. Following Mrs Hodgkinson’s death, in 1978 the Palace was again sent to auction at Christie’s. As on the previous occasion, there was a bidding war and a similar outcome in which Irish interests were outbid. The successful bid of £131,000 (i.e., approximately £700,000 adjusting for inflation) was lodged by Legoland, and consequently Titania’s Palace was relocated and put on display in Denmark. A subsequent loan agreement in 2006 between Legoland and Count Michel Ahlefeldt-Laurvig-Bille saw Titania’s Palace move to its present home Egeskov Castle; where it remains a premier attraction and can be still visited.

Want to know more?

Further information on the Children’s Union can be found in previous Hidden Lives Revealed website blogs:

Scanned copies of the Brothers and Sisters magazine can be found here:

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:

© The Children’s Society

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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:

Scanned copies of the Brothers and Sisters magazine can be found here:

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:

© The Children’s Society

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

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:

Scanned copies of the Brothers and Sisters magazine can be found here:

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:

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A century of childcare recognised by UNESCO – The Children’s Society Archive

This blog – written by one of our volunteers, Rod Cooper – takes a look at The Children’s Society Archive and the recognition by UNESCO of its historical importance.

Sharing company with the likes of the Death Warrant of King Charles I and the 1689 Bill of Rights, it is a measure of the status and historical importance of The Children’s Society’s Archive that it too, has been inscribed on the UK’s Register of UNESCO’s Memory of the World; an internationally recognised listing instituted to preserve, protect and ensure availability for posterity valuable archival and library collections. Memory of the World promotes the need to safeguard the world’s documentary heritage against, collective amnesia, neglect, the twin impacts of time and climatic conditions, and intentional and conscious destruction.

The Memory of the World Programme was instituted by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) in 1993, and the inaugural entry onto its Register followed in 1997. To date there are something of the order of 70 entries on the UK’s own Register.

Qualification for inscription on the United Kingdom’s own Memory of the World Register is overseen by UNESCO’s UK National Commission (UKNC), which meets once a year to assess and evaluate nominations submitted by institutions from across the country. Numerous criteria are considered by the UKNC during the audit process, including the age of the archive or collection under review, and the location and people involved – a recognition that these criteria may reflect significant social or cultural change, description of physical environments long-since vanished and significant aspects of human behaviour and social development. Other important criteria include the subject and theme, the form and style, and the social significance of the material under review. The Commission also consider the rarity and integrity of the collections submitted for review, plus the threats to their survival and the plans relating to future conservation and preservation.

Cover sheet for case file number 2

The range and breadth of the The Children’s Society Archive is extensive, including accounts and records of individual homes, an extensive collection of photographic material, and documents and correspondence reaching back to Edward Rudolf’s first tentative steps in establishing the Waifs and Strays Society in 1881. Perhaps the most attractive and compelling aspect of the Archive – its cornerstone, in fact – are the individual case files relating to all those children taken into the care of The Children’s Society during the century period from 1882 until the 1980s. Not surprisingly, it is this particular element of the collection that attracted the greatest attention from the UK National Commission.

Admission form for case file number 2

The collection – much of which has undergone significant conservation and archival cataloguing in recent years with funding from the Wellcome Trust between 2013 and 2015 – comprises an estimated 140,000 case files recorded on paper and microfilm, each recording the individual experiences of children coming under the care of The Society. And with relatively few files missing to the collection (either to damage, decay or loss) the archive records a seamless history from the earliest days of The Society. As such it and contains unique information about the history and practice of childcare, behavioural and mental health issues, the diseases of poverty, nutrition, and children’s mental and physical development in Victorian and Edwardian times. These case files, coupled with the wider collection which covers the transactions of The Society and individual homes and initiatives, also document The Society’s response, and as such record pre-Welfare State philanthropic and medical responses to poverty, disease and disability.

The award of a place on the Registry was made on 23 May 2011, and followed a period in which there was a detailed and rigorous evaluation of the Archive’s collection. The subsequent elevation of the Archive to the National Commission’s Registry, and its entry on the Registry’s website, not only reflected the Archive’s status and value, but also promoted its potential as a resource to researchers, institutions and historians interested in changing social norms and conditions over a hundred year period extending from the 1880s. And indeed, in the period since the award, The Children’s Society Archive – bolstered too by the parallel development of its Hidden Lives Revealed website – has been the recipient of increased interest and recognition of its social and historical significance.

Find out more about 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:

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Community Homes – new clothes, old idea?

Another in the series of our blogs – written by one of our volunteers, Rod Cooper – that takes a look at the history of The Children’s Society’s former children’s homes and social work projects since 1881, this one featuring the charity’s work with the Community Homes System in the 1970s and 1980s.

By the late 1960s the longstanding structure of The Children’s Society, comprising numerous small homes and nurseries located throughout England and Wales, was coming under stress. The numbers of children entering the homes was falling and homes that had been established for many decades were becoming increasingly outmoded and expensive to maintain. On the one hand the number of younger children requiring nursery places was falling significantly; the consequence of a more liberal society’s acceptance of single-parenthood, the increasing availability of the contraceptive pill and the legalisation of abortion in 1967. Whilst on the other, the success of The Children’s Society’s own policy of BOWAVTA – boarding-out with a view to adoption – was impacting on the number of older children remaining in its homes.

It was at this time that the Labour-led government of the day, through the agency of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969, signalled the launch of a partnership between the state and the voluntary sector entitled the Community Homes System. The system was administered centrally by the recently created Department of Health and Social Security (DHSS) and was co-ordinated via the establishment of twelve Regional planning Committees (RPCs), each overseeing the residential needs within their own area and providing residential resources within a network of both local authority and voluntary sector homes.

Donald Bowie discussing the idea of the Community Homes System in 1972; he was Deputy Director of The Children’s Society at the time.

Initial reaction within the voluntary sector was not welcoming and in some quarters there was a reluctance to work within a centralised system. Among long-standing and well-known charities such as The Children’s Society and Dr Barnado’s, there was the concern that the Community Homes System represented the’ nationalisation’ of residential care, and that that less independence would result in a loss of identity and diminution of voluntary donations, along with well-established fund-raising networks. For other charities this was perhaps a lesser concern. The Roman Catholic Church, for example, certainly didn’t fear for its status or standing; and for the National Children’s Homes, there was already an established working relationship with local authorities. Nonetheless, in the three years leading up to the launch of the Community Homes System in early 1973, each of these various bodies met together collectively and with the relevant government department to discuss and co-ordinate their approach.

Off-setting the concern of potentially being absorbed within an all-encompassing national system, was the fact that voluntary bodies were not compelled to join, nor were they penalised for opting out. Providing and nominating homes for inclusion within the Community Homes System was entirely voluntary and a decision left to the charities themselves. Hence, voluntary bodies were free to pick and choose which homes to propose to the local Regional Planning Committees. With this being apparent, it is not inappropriate to suggest that for The Children’s Society, the Community Homes System provided a means of extending the life of a number of its homes.

The process by which local authorities adopted The Children’s Society’s homes for inclusion in the Community Homes System was not straightforward and a number of homes were rejected by local authorities or were considered by The Children’s Society as unsuitable in the first place. By the end of 1971, for example, twenty homes had been accepted by Regional Planning Committees, a further eighteen were still being considered for inclusion, and thirty-one had either been rejected or considered unsuitable by The Children’s Society in the first case. By the time the scheme started in 1973, a total of twenty-two Children’s Society homes were included in the Community Homes System.

Inclusion within the Community Homes System impacted on the way a home was administered; significantly, a well-established feature of a Children’s Society home – the Home Committee – was replaced by new Boards of Management. These comprised nine individuals; six from The Children’s Society and three from the relevant local authority, and they operated within the remit of a home’s Instrument of Management – the contract between The Children’s Society and the RPC which governed such areas as staffing, admissions and finance. The contracts followed a standardised format, though there was scope for negotiation or variation of the terms, including such aspects as the rates a voluntary body could charge a local authority for accommodation.

Donald Bowie, the Deputy Director of The Children’s Society in 1972

For inclusion within the scheme, ‘Community Homes’ as they were now called, were required to ensure that a minimum of 50% their bed spaces were available for children admitted via local authority sources; a figure that would increase to 75% over time. The rates a voluntary body charged a local authority straddled a very fine line. In summarising the scheme at its outset, Donald Bowie – the then Deputy Director of The Children’s Society’s – referred to this potential dilemma; i.e., “[…] we want to be sure that voluntary funds are not used to subsidise the state”, whilst he recognised too that “[…] we also want to be sure we are not making a profit out of [local authorities] or getting an indirect subsidy from their treasuries.”

The initial balance struck established a weekly ‘bed rate’ of £21.77 for the Community Homes, and £30.52 for nurseries (approximately £240 and £335 at today’s values). Moreover, The Children’s Society also levied a fee – at a much reduced rate – for those beds that remained unoccupied whilst earmarked for local authority use. A practice that was not universal throughout the voluntary sector.

As a measure of the importance of local authority funding to The Children Society, the proportion of the charity’s income provided from this source rose dramatically during the 1970s; from 24% of revenue in 1974 (i.e., approximately £5 million) to around 40% throughout the early 1980s. The figure only fell to below 20% at the turn of the century, reflecting the long-term decline and closure of The Society’s residential homes during this period. Indeed, the last of these – Ryecroft – closed in 1997.

The Ryecroft Home, Worsley, in 1960

Of the legacies resulting from the Community Homes System, perhaps the most obvious was that it allowed The Children’s Society to maintain its residential homes for a longer period of time, many of which had been established before the end of the nineteenth century. Probably more important, however, was the short-term stability it provided The Children’s Society at a time when it was establishing its strategy for change and development throughout the 1970s and 1980s, particularly with respect the development of family centres and specialised services for young people. Complimenting this, the experience of working and co-operating with local authorities through involvement in the Community Homes System, arguably brought The Children’s Society into the new world of providing children and young people’s services for local authorities. By forging these new ties and working alongside and sharing expertise with other bodies, it was better placed to reach-out to local authorities and create new social work projects to assist children and young people into the 1980s and beyond.

Records relating to the Community Homes System 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:

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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..



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’.”



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:

Scanned copies of the Brothers and Sisters magazine can be found here:

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:

© 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:

Scanned copies of the Brothers and Sisters magazine can be found here:

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:

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Promise extinguished – how a Waifs and Strays’ Society lad fell on the Western Front

In commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme we have a post written by one of our Archivists, Helena Hilton, that reflects on the life and death of a former ‘Waifs and Strays’ lad who fell in this corner of France.

Twenty thousand dead on the first day, the worst day in the history of the British Army; eighteen weeks of slaughter that left over a million men killed or wounded on the two sides of the line; all for a scant few miles’ advance (Google Maps calculates that one can cover the whole distance advanced, at its widest extent, in sixteen minutes).  The Battle of the Somme has seared itself onto the national memory as emblematic of the First World War in all its horror.  But sheer numbers can deaden the impact of the story and sometimes to make it real it is better to concentrate on an individual story, one of the names on a war memorial, to stand as an emblem of all the many others.

As we mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, we focus on one of those names carved in stone, a child who was in the care of The Waifs and Strays Society and ended his life in that corner of Picardy.

John Bashforth 1916 004

Sadly many of the Society’s ‘old boys’ were killed or injured on the First World War battlefields, but thanks to the efforts of Martin Bashforth we know a bit more than usual about one of them, John Francis Cuthbert Bashforth (who was known as Frank).  Despite sharing a surname Martin is not related to Frank, but his curiosity was piqued by seeing his name on a memorial and he set about investigating his story.  It is remarkable how much can be assembled from the public record, and our enquiry service at The Children’s Society played a part in fleshing out the picture by providing a summary of Frank’s case file.  (This, of course, is a demonstration of the power of records and the value of keeping archives.)  As a result of Martin’s work piecing together various sources we now know about the entirety of Frank’s life: his article setting out his research and sources can be read in full here.

John Bashforth 1916 005

Frank’s background was slightly out of the usual for applicants to The Waifs and Strays Society.  His parents, Amy Barwis and John Bashforth, were from different social classes and they married against the wishes of Amy’s middle class father.  Amy was the daughter of a well to do clergyman, Revd William Cuthbert Barwis, who at the time of her marriage was the vicar of St John the Evangelist, Hoylandswaine, South Yorkshire.  John Bashforth was the son of a nail maker and had worked as a miner and as a labourer at a local ironworks.  They had to run away to Sheffield to marry in July 1879, such was the opposition of William Barwis: he felt the shock so keenly that he moved to another church as a curate.  The young couple returned to Hoylandswaine and had five children.  Frank was the youngest, born on 5 February 1889.

Tragedy precipitated the application to The Waifs and Strays Society.  In November 1897 when the family was living in Headingley, Leeds, Amy died of a heart attack.  Life would have been extremely difficult for John: becoming a full time father for any length of time was not an option for him in those pre Welfare State days, and provision would have to be made for the children.  Frank was only eight when his mother died, and a few months afterwards, in March 1898 he entered the Society’s Bede Home, Wakefield.  The application form, which was completed by his godmother Frances Annie Booker, revealed continuing tension following his parents’ socially unequal marriage.  She suggested Amy’s ill health was in part due to lack of food “as the father of the boy drinks and is a good for nothing man.  The mother was a gentlewoman, the daughter of the Reverend Cuthbert Barwis, for some time Vicar of Hoylandswaine, Penistone.  Owing to his daughter marrying such a man he gave up the living.”  Miss Booker promised to pay 5 shillings a week towards Frank’s maintenance.

Shortly after arriving at the Bede Home Frank became an orphan: John Bashforth died of pneumonia in April 1898.  Frank remained in the care of The Waifs and Strays Society until September 1902.  He had gained a scholarship to Wakefield Grammar School in September 1901 and the following year his godmother took over responsibility for him.  It was unusual for children in the Homes to continue their education beyond the usual school leaving age, and perhaps this indicates that Frank was seen as being of a higher social class with greater aspirations.  The school archives record that he remained there until July 1907 when he left to take up a post with the Bank of England in London.

Martin Bashforth has managed to construct a picture of Frank’s time in London using the limited sources available.  It appears that alongside his employment at the Bank his strong religious beliefs drove him to work with the poor.  His elder brother was a curate in a deprived part of the city.  Frank found time to go to night classes and in 1912 he left London for St John’s College, Oxford where he studied theology, gaining a degree in 1915.  He apparently intended, in due course, to become a clergyman, but since 1909 he had belonged to the Territorial Army and once his studies were completed and the War was underway he applied for a commission in the Regular Army.

John Francis Cuthbert Bashforth. Photograph from the archives of the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Wakefield

John Francis Cuthbert Bashforth. Photograph from the archives of the Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Wakefield

Frank was sent to France on 4 February 1916 as a Second Lieutenant in the 9th Battalion, the Norfolk Regiment.  He features in letters written by a colleague, Lieutenant Cecil Upcher, who survived the War and left his personal records to the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum, and it is these together with the battalion war diary, that have helped Martin flesh out Frank’s time on the Western Front.  At the beginning of August 1916 the battalion was moved to the Somme Front.  On 14 September they moved into the front line trenches.  Frank was killed the following day during an attack on a German strongpoint known as the Quadrilateral.  His body was recovered from the battlefield and personal possessions returned to his family; however his final resting place is not known and his name is recorded on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.

Frank was also remembered by other institutions including The Waifs and Strays Society.  On 10 October 1916 the Secretary of the Ripon-Wakefield Branch of the Society, Lieutenant Colonel Beresford-Peirse sent a newspaper cutting about Frank’s death to the supporter magazine “Our Waifs and Strays”.  In his letter he recalled that Frank was at the Bede Home “where he had a great influence for the good.”  His family circumstances had been sad, as both his parents had died, but he had overcome these difficult beginnings and had worked hard to rise from them while doing his best for others.  Lieutenant Colonel Beresford-Peirse was well acquainted with his history since leaving the Bede Home.  The Society liked to keep in touch with the children it had helped, tracing their achievements and in some sad cases like this one adding their names to the Roll of Honour recording those who died in their country’s service.

One name on a war memorial; one life snuffed out with all its potential.  The work that Frank would have done as a clergyman never happened.  Multiply it by thousands and we have an idea of the seismic impact of the Somme, one hundred years ago.

“Iceberg, right ahead!” – the early life of Frederick Fleet, SS Titanic lookout

Another in the series of our blogs, written by one of our volunteers, Rod Cooper, that takes a look at The Children’s Society Archive’s children’s case files – in particular the case file of Frederick Fleet, who was most famously known as one of the lookouts on SS Titanic on the evening of 14/15 April 1912.

The following is an account of the early years of Frederick Fleet during the period of his care under the auspices of Church of England Central Society for Providing Homes for Waifs and Strays (The Children’s Society).

Born on 10 October 1887, the illegitimate son of Alice Fleet and Frederick Laurence – parents of whom he would have, respectively, little or no contact – Frederick Fleet was little more than two years old when, in December 1899, he was placed into the care of the Liverpool Foundling Hospital. He would remain there for three years.

First page of Frederick Fleet's application form to the Waifs and Strays Society

First page of Frederick Fleet’s application form to the Waifs and Strays Society

During his time at the Hospital it appears that his mother did – though somewhat irregularly – contribute small payments towards his upkeep and maintain a regular correspondence with the Hospital’s matron. The documents retained in The Children’s Society’s Archive also indicate that Alice Fleet may have intended to continue making contributions on her son’s behalf in the future, and wished to maintain her claim on him and eventually provide him with a home. Regardless of these intentions, however, the bond between mother and child was seriously weakened – if not severed for good – when she departed Liverpool for the USA in October 1890, and sought a better life with a sister living in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Frederick remained at the Liverpool Foundling Hospital for three years, during which time the Hospital encountered its own problems relating to inadequate funds and the prospect of closure. In respect of Frederick – and as an alternative to his direct referral to the local workhouse – this resulted in the submission of an application to the Church of England Central Society for Providing Homes for Waifs and Strays – as The Children’s Society was then known – and his transfer in March 1893 to the Liverpool Diocesan Boys Home, Seaforth. He was to stay at Seaforth and the care of the The Society until shortly after his twelfth birthday in November 1889.

Seaforth’s formal title was Elm Lodge Home for Boys. The home was officially opened in March 1893, and it is likely that Frederick would have been among the initial cohort of residents. The home catered for up to 30 boys, typically aged between 7 and 14 years of age.

Whereas there is little specific documentary information relating to Frederick’s time at Elm Lodge, in general terms the home would have provided him with a relatively stable and safe environment to grow up in. He would have been involved in the daily tasks of maintaining the home – such as working in the kitchen garden and cleaning dormitories – whilst being able to attend the local school and participate in local community events involving the Church. The limited information there is regarding Frederick suggests that he was at times a troublesome child and an occasional cause for concern to his mentors. Of course, care has to be taken in the interpretation of such sources and the temptation to draw general conclusions should be avoided, but what is clear – and most certainly pertinent with regard to Frederick’s future – is that his behaviour did impact on the choices and decisions made on his behalf by those individuals responsible for his placement immediately upon leaving Elm Lodge.

Frederick’s position – and future – became a concern to the The Society in late November 1899, shortly after his twelfth birthday. And in the period of little more than a week, between 23 and 30 November, there was a flurry of correspondence regarding his future. Indeed, at this particular time, his specific circumstances are not exactly clear, though there is evidence to suggest that he was no longer resident at Elm Lodge and had been placed in the temporary care of the “Shelter” for the Liverpool Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

The first item of correspondence (dated 23 November, 1899) is a postcard written by Beatrice Lockett, the President of the Home Committee, Elm Lodge, Seaforth, to Edward Rudolf, founder and Secretary of The Waifs and Strays Society. It is quite probable that her postcard is in response to an enquiry regarding Frederick, and she states – with some apparent urgency – “We have sent boys both to Tattenhall and Standon [ . . . ] and I do hope he [i.e., Frederick] will be taken at Hedgerley [Court] Farm Home at once if possible.”

The homes to which Beatrice Lockett referred were all run by The Society, and the latter two were ‘industrial homes’ providing agricultural training for their residents; a significant number of which were relocated to Canada upon leaving.

Although Edward Rudolf wrote to the Mrs Henry Stevenson, Honourary Secretary to the Home Committee at Hedgerley, and “urged the necessity of taking the boy,” no record of her subsequent correspondence remains on file. However, on 27 November he opens a correspondence with another home – Tattenhall, in Cheshire – and asks whether the home can receive Frederick. The reply, from Adela Joyce, Honourary Secretary to the Tattenhall Home Committee, is somewhat equivocal. She writes by return and advises that there is “a vacancy at Tattenhall and [we] can therefore receive this boy on trial; but if he is as troublesome as he has apparently been at Seaforth, we shall not be able to keep him.”

Following Adela Joyce’s letter, Edward Rudolf duly wrote to Beatrice Lockett on 29 November with the good news that Frederick could be provided with a place at Tattenhall, albeit for a trial period. At this stage then everything was apparently settled and the questions regarding Frederick’s immediate future were resolved. Edward Rudolf’s letter to Mrs Lockett concludes; “Will you please, therefore, arrange for the boy to be sent direct, and let me know the exact date that he is transferred?”

Yet for all his efforts on Frederick’s behalf, Edward Rudolf received the following letter from Beatrice Lockett, advising that the Seaforth Home Committee had made drastically different arrangements for Frederick:

73, Ullet Road,
Sefton Park,

30th Nov[ember]. / [18]99

Dear [word illeg.] Rudolf
It would not do at all we think for F[rederick]. Fleet to go to Tattenhall, [words illeg.] we have just sent a boy there who gave us a great deal of trouble at Seaforth at the same time as F[rederick]. Fleet did.

Many thanks though for all the trouble you have taken in the matter. My husband has written to the Commander of the ship “Clio” at Menai Straits, Bangor[,] to see if we can get Freddy on that ship. We do not wish him to be on the “Indefatigable” here[?] on account of the days off & he would hang about Seaforth when he had holidays.

He is at present at the “Shelter” for the L’[iver]pool [Society for the] Prevention of Cruelty to Children, & we are naturally anxious to get him placed elsewhere soon.

With kind regards|Yours sincerely|Beatrice G.[?] Lockett

"It would not do at all we think for F. Fleet to go to Tattenhall . . ."

“It would not do at all we think for F. Fleet to go to Tattenhall . . .”

Just what motivated Mrs Lockett and her colleagues to take the action they did, especially when arrangements for Frederick’s removal to Tattenhall were seemingly settled, is unknown. What is clear, however, is that their decision was made with some urgency and in a manner that effectively discouraged opposition. It is tempting to speculate too, given Adela Joyce’s prior knowledge of Frederick’s behaviour at Seaforth, that there was correspondence between the Seaforth and Tattenhall Home Committees considering the suitability of placing Frederick at Tattenhall. While this remains speculation it is entirely clear that the decision made by Mrs Lockett and her colleagues was to set Frederick’s future on a previously unanticipated course.

In a matter of a few short days then, the efforts and involvement of a small number of people, established Frederick’s path towards a life as a seaman and to be name forever associated with the sinking of SS Titanic.

A former Royal Navy corvette, the Clio was an Industrial School Ship moored off Bangor, in the Menai Straits. During the nineteenth century there were numerous such institutions, and they were created to train young boys in seamanship and to prepare them for a life at sea, whether in the merchant marine or Royal Navy. Whilst some of these ships were of a ‘reformatory’ nature, this was not the case with Clio, and many of the 260 boys on board, aged between 12 and 16, were orphans from homes such as Frederick’s in Liverpool.

Whilst undoubtedly receiving valuable training and skills in seamanship, by all accounts life on board was harsh and uncompromising. Beatings and bullying were rife, and the boys were subject to arbitrary and random discipline.

Having left the care of Elm Lodge Home for Boys 1899, little is known of Frederick’s life for the four or so years he spent on the Clio. However, there are two letters in his case file retained by The Children’s Society Archive that clearly indicate that he remained in touch with at least one member of the Home Committee at Elm Lodge; and one who may also have been responsible for securing Frederick’s future with the White Star Line.

Both letters are written by George Killey, the Liverpool Diocesan Chairman and a member of the Elm Lodge Home Committee. The first of these – addressed to Edward Rudolf – is written in the form of a covering letter and it would have enclosed correspondence from Frederick himself. A copy of Frederick’s original letter has not been retained and was presumably returned to George Killey as per his request:

Nov[ember] 15th 1910

My Dear Rudolf,

Here is the case of one of our most difficult boys, I almost despaired of him at one time – I had him trained on board the Clio & have never lost sight of him, & had him up to see me[?], he is lookout man on the White Star Sir Oceanica [1] [and] grown a fine young fellow, 27 [2] years of age – a teetotaller. & he told me he had got £36 in the Bank. Thank God is all I say. Kindly return the letter.

Kindest regards|Yours sincerely|Geo[rge] D. Killey

[Notes:1. George Killey is almost certainly referring to RMS Oceanic. This is clarified in his second letter, below; 2. Frederick Fleet was born on 15 October 1887. He was 23 years old at the time of the letter.]

By April 1912, Frederick was serving as one of six lookouts appointed for SS Titanic’s maiden voyage, and he was one of two on duty on the evening of 14 April when at 11:40 he spotted an iceberg and duly telephoned the bridge with the call: “Iceberg, right ahead!”

Whilst accounts of and details of the sinking of SS Titanic abound and can be better found elsewhere, it is necessary to relate that Frederick survived the sinking and was one of two trained seamen who were allocated the charge of Lifeboat No.6.

"This young man was a seaman on the 'Titanic' when she foundered on April 15th"

“This young man was a seaman on the ‘Titanic’ when she foundered on April 15th”

Following the sinking, two inquiries were launched; a Senate Inquiry in the United States and a British Wreck Commissioner’s inquiry in Britain (sometimes referred to as the ‘Board of Trade’ inquiry), and Frederick and his lookout colleague – Reginald Lee – appeared as witnesses at both.

George Killey’s second letter – again addressed to Edward Rudolf – comments on Frederick’s participation in the American inquiry and the imminent inquiry in Britain. Again, the letter appears to follow receipt of correspondence from Frederick; “Kindly return all the enclosures.” As with the earlier letter, Frederick’s own correspondence has not been retained and was presumably returned:

19, Commerce Chambers,
Lord Street,

April 30th 1912

My Dear Rudolf,

Sorry you are not with us today. [word illeg.] have awfully busy week. I wanted to tell you about our boy who was saved from the Titanic. I don’t want his name referred to at all, he gave his evidence most creditably before the American Enquiry, but he has still to stand the Board of Trade Enquiry. In next month’s Northern Notes I will refer to the matter but shall not mention Fleet[‘]s name – he has always been an extremely good lad & never failed to keep in touch with me. I got him into the White Star Line 5 or 6 six years ago & I have known from time to time his changes of ship[.] [B]y the P/C [post card] you will see he had no fancy for the Titanic but had to go[.] [H]e was on the Oceanic from March 16th 1908. He is a saving boy & has money put by.

Kindly return all the enclosures.

All good wishes|Yours sincerely|George D. Killey

Aside from a small press-cutting announcing his death in January 1965, George Killey’s letter is the last item of documentation retained in Frederick Fleet’s case file at The Children’s Society Archive.

The specific purpose of this account is to shed some light on Frederick’s early years by drawing on the sources available at The Children’s Society. Consequently it is not necessary to recap the details of Frederick’s life beyond George Killey’s letter above. However, for anyone interested in examining Frederick’s life beyond the events of the Board of Trade inquiry, there are many freely available online sources.

Want to know more?

For sources relating to the history of the SS Titanic, the Encyclopedia Titanica offers a good starting point and contains some biographical material about Frederick Fleet:

Records relating to all of the projects and homes featured in this blog are held at The Children’s Society Archive:

For information about The Children’s Society Archive’s ‘Hidden Lives Revealed’ web site:

or you can consult the Archive’s on-line catalogue:

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: