Children’s Union medals

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

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

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

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

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

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

Socks and stockings at St Chad’s Home, Far Headingley

Don’t be alarmed; this isn’t a post about obscure footwear fashions! Instead, I’d like to talk about one of the skills taught to children at St Chad’s Home for Girls in Far Headingley, Leeds: the use of knitting machines to make hosiery.

St Chad’s was a home that took in both disabled and non-disabled children. It opened in 1889 and ran for many years until it was commandeered as an air raid precaution station in 1939.

When it opened, the aim of St Chad’s, like many of The Society’s homes, was to teach children a trade so that they would be able to earn their own living and become self-sufficient once they were old enough. The majority of homes at the time trained children to work in domestic service, but St Chad’s was different; instead of domestic service, it specialised in teaching children to use knitting machines.

The knitting machines were used to make hosiery, and the above flyer lists some of these items that were made by the children at the home. This machine knitting was run as a small business, with the socks, stockings and ties made by the children sold around the country to help pay for the home’s upkeep.

Machine knitting was often seen as a suitable trade to teach to girls who were considered unable to work in domestic service, such as those with mobility difficulties, learning disabilities or behavioural problems. The focus on machine knitting at St Chad’s Home meant that many disabled girls were sent there from across the country with the hope that they would be able to learn a trade and find a place to work once they left The Society’s care.

Further information about St Chad’s Home can be found in the homes section of Hidden Lives Revealed.

Repackaging children’s case files

A few weeks ago, I talked about our plans to catalogue the case files of disabled children. Today, I’d like to explain what we’re doing to physically preserve these case files and keep them readable and accessible for the future.

Above are some photos to show what our early case files look like now. They’re stored in archival-quality boxes, which help to give them some basic protection, but as you can see, inside the boxes the files are in a bit of a sorry state.

The blue covers are the original covers that the case files were stored in when they were created at the end of the 19th century. They’re quite small, which means that the case papers have been folded a number of times to fit inside them. For smaller case files, this doesn’t create too much of a problem, but for larger case files, the papers can be wedged in so tightly that it’s quite hard to get them out. In the photo above, you can see that the case file was so large that the cover has split and someone has tied it back on with red legal tape. Problems like this leave the documents unprotected and vulnerable, which has led to a number of the case files becoming battered and fragile over the years.

Left as they are, these case files aren’t very easy to use and are likely to only get more damaged over time.

As part of the Including the Excluded project, we’re rectifying this by repackaging the case files into new, archival-quality folders with the help of a team of dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers.

Above are photos of some case files that have been repackaged. To get to this stage, the case papers are taken out of their original covers and individually cleaned to remove the dust and soot that has built up on them over the years. They are then numbered and placed under weights for a time to help them unfold from their tight bundles. Finally, they’re put into new folders to better protect them.

I can say from experience that the case files that have been flattened and repackaged are far easier to use, so many thanks to our volunteers for their help!

The Children’s Union

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children’s homes

Another part of the Including the Excluded project is to catalogue the records of The Children’s Society’s homes that looked after disabled children.

The first of these homes was St Nicholas’ Home in Tooting, Surrey, which opened in 1887 specifically to care for disabled children. Shortly afterwards, other homes specialising in the care of disabled children were opened, including St Agnes’ in Croydon (opened in 1897), St Martin’s in Surbiton (opened in 1898), Bradstock Lockett in Southport (opened in 1901), and others.

When these homes first opened, they specialised in teaching the children trades that would help them to earn their own living once they were old enough. Many of the children living in these homes had mobility difficulties and so they were taught trades that could be done while sitting down, such as tailoring, basket weaving and machine knitting.

As time went on, homes such as St Nicholas’ and St Martin’s in Pyrford and Halliwick School in Winchmore Hill began to focus on developing and providing medical treatments for the children in their care – particularly for orthopaedic conditions and Tuberculosis – through open air treatment, artificial light therapy and physiotherapy, including swimming therapy.

The above photograph shows the open-air ward in St Martin’s, Pyrford.

Another set of homes, including St Monica’s in Kingsdown and Corfield House in Rustington, were set up to look after children with diabetes. They were set up in the late 1940s in an innovative partnership with the Ministry of Health. These homes would teach the children how to administer their own insulin and regulate their diet.

The records that survive from the disabled children’s homes vary greatly from home to home, but they can include minutes, annual reports, plans of the home, registers of children admitted, publicity material, and more. These records provide an insight into the ways the homes were run and what it would have been like to live or work there.

By the 1970s, most of the children’s homes had closed down as part of The Children’s Society’s move away from residential care to other, more innovative ways of helping children and young people.

Case files

One of the aims of the Including the Excluded project is to catalogue the case files of disabled children who were in The Society’s care during the late-19th and early-20th centuries.

A case file was created for each and every child who came into The Society’s care and was used to file documents created in the course of The Society’s work with that child. These documents often included correspondence detailing the children’s homes and foster homes that the child stayed in, and correspondence relating to the child leaving The Society’s care, either to go to work when old enough, or to be adopted or reunited with family members. There may also be other snippets of information in the case files, including medical certificates, birth certificates, and correspondence with the child as an adult. Rare case files even contain photographs.

In my opinion though, the star item in each case file is the application form. These forms were filled in and kept for almost every child in The Society’s care. They describe, in detail, the child’s family circumstances, and include information about the child’s birth, home, parents, siblings, relations and schooling. Each form also contains a statement from someone who knew the child, describing why they think the child would benefit from being taken into The Society’s care.

The above image shows a statement, dated 1890, in the application form for a girl from Tunbridge Wells. In the statement, we’re told that the girl lost an arm when her father threw both himself and her in front of a moving train. Luckily, both survived, but the father was sent to an asylum, which left the mother struggling to bring up their children by herself. The girl was placed in a home in Brighton, and the application was made for her to be taken in by The Society.

A transcript of the above image can be found here, and the rest of the application form and the other documents in this case file can be found here.

Each application form also contains a summary of the homes that the child stayed in while in The Society’s care. Using the above example, we can see that the girl was accepted into The Society’s home for disabled children (this was St Nicholas’ Home in Tooting), and after five years was returned to her mother, where she was then placed in a training home to learn to be a servant.

As the above example shows, the case files can contain some astounding stories. They allow us to get a rare glimpse into the lives of individual children, and so form a valuable resource to help us understand how disabled children were treated and cared for at the turn of the last century.

I will be cataloguing the case files in detail as part of this project, capturing information about where each child came from and went to. The aim is to make the case files searchable so it will be possible to locate specific files, making it easier to examine and compare the experiences of different children.

Including the Excluded

Hello and welcome to the Including the Excluded blog. My name is Janine and I’m the archivist working on this project for The Children’s Society’s Records and Archives Centre.

The aim of Including the Excluded is to catalogue records that relate to The Children’s Society’s work with disabled children. This project has been funded by the National Cataloguing Grants Programme for Archives and started when I was recruited in June 2011. It is set to run for twelve months and so will be completed in June of this year.

Including the Excluded is a wonderful opportunity to make the records of disabled children more accessible. Cataloguing and repackaging these records will help us to discover and document the information we hold, and so promote research into the care of disabled children over the past 130 years. Our aim is to make this important history more widely available, not just to academic researchers, but to everyone, including disabled children and young people themselves.

The Children’s Society was founded in 1881 by Edward Rudolf, who wanted to help the vulnerable children he saw around him in Victorian Britain. In its early history, The Children’s Society (then known as The Waifs and Strays Society) did this by running a network of children’s homes for poor and disadvantaged children. By the mid-1970s, the work of The Children’s Society had evolved away from children’s homes to focus on more innovative types of social work and child care. Throughout all this, from 1881 to the present day, The Children’s Society has helped disabled children, often pioneering in this field.

It is The Children’s Society’s influential work with disabled children that is the focus of the Including the Excluded project. Over the course of the next few months, I will be using this blog to document my progress and share some of the fascinating insights and stories that I come across while working on this project.

If you would like more information about Including the Excluded, please take a look at the project web pages.