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: http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/

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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: https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/titanic-survivor/frederick-fleet.html

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: http://www.hiddenlives.org.uk/

or you can consult the Archive’s on-line catalogue: http://www.calmview.eu/childrensociety/Calmview

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


The First One Hundred Children – “there’s work to be done”

Today we have the second part of a blog post written by one of our volunteers, David Lamb, that looks at seven individual stories from the first one hundred children taken into the care of the Waifs and Strays’ Society – you can read the first part here: http://www.hiddenlives.org.uk/blog/2015/12/the-first-one-hundred-children-a-new-beginning/

The Waifs and Strays’ Society, the original name of The Children’s Society, was founded in 1881. Applications for children to be taken into the care of The Society started in February 1882 and are kept in case files for each child. The the first part of this blog was an analysis of the first hundred case files, all started in 1882. There is considerable variation in the amount and quality of information in the files, many containing just the application form often only partially completed, with brief notes of any subsequent moves on the back of the form. Some files contain correspondence, often about maintenance payments.

Individual children’s stories

Case 1: The Society’s First Boy – John was eleven years old and living in Brixton, south London, when the application was made by the parish visitor. His father was a labourer who earned sixpence (6d) an hour when he was in regular work. Their large family was poor and seldom remained in the same house for more than a few months. The parish visitor describes his parents as “two of the most wretched and degraded people in the neighbourhood”.

When John was seven, he fell on ice injuring his spine, and was then badly burnt. He never fully recovered from these accidents. He worked as a crossing sweeper at Clapham Common, but his health deteriorated with neglect. He was taken into an orthopaedic hospital and from there was moved to several convalescent homes. John was then taken into St Michael’s Hospital for sick and destitute incurable children in Shoreditch, but he could not be kept there due to his improving health.

He was received into the Clapton Home of the Society in south London, during February 1882, then spent seven months in a succession of privately run convalescent homes in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, followed by a similar time in a foster home in Balham, south London. After a further seven months in a training home for disabled children in Kensington (possibly the Crippled Boys Home, Wright’s Lane, Kensington, London), he returned to the Clapton Home. At seventeen, he was given a year’s trial as a clerk at St Mark’s Home, Natland near Kendal, making The Society’s first connection with that home.  He went on to develop a career in the printing trade in London, Redhill and Oxford.

His case file is unusual in that it contains regular correspondence up to his death at 59 from tuberculosis in Frome, Somerset, in 1930. He married in 1897 and had a daughter seven years later. He wrote verse and was fulsome in his praise and support for The Society. The Society also held him in high regard, given his success in life, achieved in the face of considerable adversity.

A photograph of John as a boy that appeared in the Our Waifs and Strays in magazine in 1901

A photograph of John as a boy that appeared in the ‘Our Waifs and Strays’ magazine in 1901

John Smith 2

A photograph of John seventeen years later as an adult, that appeared in the same edition of the ‘Our Waifs and Strays’ magazine.

Case 2: An Orphan Girl – Florence was seven years old when her maternal grandmother referred her into The Society’s care.  Her father, a bombardier in the Royal Horse Artillery, deserted from the army soon after marrying her mother. He was pardoned, but deserted again, went to sea and was drowned.  Her mother, a cook in the household of a Royal Artillery colonel, remarried but had died a month before the vicar in Woolwich applied to The Society to take Florence into its care.

Florence’s grandmother had children of her own to support and was looking after Florence’s half-sister who was very delicate. The vicar regarded her as “a really respectable woman only most unwisely married a very unsteady man who has been a constant expense to her. She is most anxious that her grandchild should be kept from evil and ready to give her up …”

Florence was received into the Dulwich Home, where she stayed for nineteen months. She then moved on briefly to a home in Harrow, before staying a while in a home not operated by The Society in Bayswater.

Case 3: A Destitute Boy  – John, 16 years of age, was found “quite destitute” on the streets in Whitechapel at 2am and was sent to the Clapton Receiving Home “by order of the Rev. R C Billing, Rector of Spitalfields and Rural Dean”.  His mother had died in Cardiff and his father “not known”, but thought to be living. He had a sister but did not know where she was.

He had been living in Kent, but had left his job in the ropeyard at Minster on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, eight months previously. He joined a troupe of tramps known to the police, but left them after four months. He had “been getting his living by working around the Billingsgate fish market in London, going to the Derby and other races and there assisting pedlars, coconut men, etc”.  He absconded from the Clapton House home after a month and joined the Notting Hill Shoe Black Brigade.

Case 4: Neglected Child to an Apprentice Carpenter –  Edward’s father, a compositor had died three years previously, and his alcoholic mother neglected her six children.  They were “left to run about the streets, almost destitute of food and clothing.”  His mother kept losing work through drunkenness and pawned clothes given to her for the children. Edward fell seriously ill brought on through neglect, ending up in Westminster Hospital.

Edward was signed over to the care of The Society by his mother just before his eighth birthday and was received into the Clapton Home.  He transferred to the Boys Home in Frome, Somerset, where at the age of 13 he was taken on as an apprentice for a local carpenter and builder.  The apprenticeship indenture commits Edward to working 57 hours per week for his Master  for seven years, starting at 2/6 per week (12.5p) rising to 10/6 (52.5p) per week in his final year, with two days annual holiday – Christmas Day and Good Friday.

Edward's apprenticeship indenture, dated 29 September 1887.

Edward’s apprenticeship indenture, dated 29 September 1887.

Case 5: Happy emigrant to America – Since William’s mother died of tuberculosis four years previously, his “seldom sober” father had led “a wandering vagrant life”, deserting, neglecting and ill-treating his children. Four of William’s older siblings had been rescued by the Perseverance Association and William was taken into the Clapton Home aged seven. Two and half years on, he was transferred to an orphanage near Banbury for a couple of years, before moving on to the Standon Farm Home in Staffordshire for three years.

He returned to London to the Jersey Working Boys Home in Blackfriars for four months before emigrating to a farm in Texas run by the brother of a lady supporter of The Society in Devon. In a splendid letter, half of which is reproduced below, William describes the journey and how different farming is in Texas.  “After a miserable voyage of eight days” from Liverpool to New York, “it was a delightful voyage” onward to Galveston – “we saw all the flying fish, jelleyfish [sic], porpoises, and a lot more things”. He went on by rail to Austin, then “had a drive of 35 miles, the roads allowing us to go about 4 miles an hour”.

“Texas is a very different place to what I thought it would be, it is very much better than I thought by the tales I heard in England … The horses, cows and pigs run wild … we have 215 sheep we had 252 but the wolves have ate the rest … at night we can hear them howl as though they ment (sic) to eat all the lot. … The pigs are very fond of watermelons which grow here to perfection and peaches. … The maise [sic] and cotton and grapes grow here too. … a thunderstorm in London is but a shower here. … I like my place very much – my master and mistress are very kind to me.”

Letter from William to the housemaster of the Henley Home, November 1890

Letter from William to the housemaster of the Henley Home, November 1890

Case 6: Army daughter left in care – Nine-year old Catherine and her little brothers were left living in the army’s Woolwich Barracks with only a thin partition dividing their bed from all the men when their father, a gunner in the Royal Horse Artillery, was put in prison. Their mother had died of sunstroke, probably when stationed abroad with her husband.

Catherine went into the Old Quebec Street Home in Marylebone in London, and the War Office deducted 3d (1p) daily from her father’s salary as a contribution to her maintenance. A little over a year later her father was discharged from the army (time expired) and emigrated to America with her eldest brother to live with her aunt and her sickly husband.  A letter from a company in Massachusetts indicated that her father had left their employ “in consequence of irregular and intemperate habits”.

When Catherine reached 14, she had a spell at the Sea Bathing Infirmary, Margate, which usually dealt with tubercular patients.  A few months after returning to the Marylebone Home, she went to work locally in domestic service, before going to India with a married couple, presumably as their servant.

 Case 7: A Familiar Route into Service – Twelve year-old Emily had lost her father, a merchant seaman formerly in the navy, who was washed overboard and drowned. Her mother struggled to support her four children and was constantly anxious when out at work about Emily who was pilfering small articles from the neighbours.

Emily was taken into the Marylebone Home for Girls for a couple of years under the terms of the agreement extract below, and then spent a few months in a foster home before going into domestic service in Bournemouth.

An agreement placing Emma in the Society's Central Home for Waifs and Strays, dated 6 December 1882.

An agreement placing Emma in the care of the Society’s Central Home for Waifs and Strays, dated 6 December 1882.


For information about The Children’s Society Archive’s ‘Hidden Lives Revealed’ web site: http://www.hiddenlives.org.uk/

or you can consult the Archive’s on-line catalogue: http://www.calmview.eu/childrensociety/Calmview

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

The First One Hundred Children – a new beginning

Today we have the first part of a blog post written by one of our volunteers, David Lamb. The second part that looks at a few of the individual stories of the first one hundred children will follow shortly.

The Waifs and Strays’ Society, the original name of The Children’s Society, was founded in 1881. Applications for children to be taken into the care of The Society started in February 1882 and are kept in case files for each child. This piece is an analysis of the first hundred case files, all started in 1882, followed by summaries of sample cases. There is considerable variation in the amount and quality of information in the files, many containing just the application form often only partially completed, with brief notes of any subsequent moves on the back of the form. Some files contain correspondence, often about maintenance payments.

Age, Sex and Location

69 boys and 31 girls made up the first 100 cases. They included two families of three siblings, and one pair of sisters and one pair of brothers. Almost half the children were 7, 8 or 9 years old. Five were babies under 2; thirteen were 14 years or older. The ages of many children were estimated, particularly in cases of abandonment. Four of the children were declared illegitimate, although several more may have been.

Two brothers in The Society's care, c1890

Two brothers in The Society’s care, c1890

All but five applications were from London, mostly from inner London, particularly the East End. The others were from Sussex (2), Kent, Oxford and Suffolk. There are multiple applications by H Thornhill Roxby, a young man of independent means from Clapton, who found many destitute boys found sleeping rough around inner London, and worked closely with the Rector of Spitalfields Church in the East-End.

Family Circumstances

Most of the children had lost at least one parent, usually their father – 24 were orphans. Sixteen fathers had died in accidents, mostly at work; nine of them drowned, a common risk then of working on the Thames. Tuberculosis features regularly as the cause of parental deaths, particularly for mothers. Sunstroke was responsible for two parental deaths while on military service in India.

There are six cases of child abandonment, generally early teenage boys being left to fend for themselves. Parental desertion is mentioned in six other cases, three cases of paternal desertion and one of a mother leaving her three children.

Poverty and the sheer struggle to support large families come across in most cases. There are a few cases of children becoming difficult to control and falling into “bad company” with their widowed mother or widower father out of the home working from early morning until late evening. Truancy is mentioned a couple of times. There is one application to avoid the physical behaviour an aunt.

An element of moral guardianship by the church authorities that referred cases to The Society is evident in several cases. Drunkenness is mentioned in six times, in one of which the father “went wrong”, the mother “drinks” and the sister leads a “bad life”. “Perniciousness” of her new home is referred to in the case of a girl whose father had drowned. Theft occurs in ten cases.

Crossing sweeper in 1884 (by R L Sirus, courtesy of The National Archives

Crossing sweeper in 1884 (by R L Sirus, courtesy of The National Archives

The Children in Care

Most of the children initially went into the receiving homes in Clapton for boys and Dulwich for girls. They were then often transferred to other children’s homes, five of the first fifty going on to St Mark’s Home in Kendal, Cumbria. 22 went to foster homes, with five of them going to Dorset. Fifteen ran away from their placement. 42 eventually returned to their families or friends. Seven children emigrated, five to Canada and two to America. Six more were proposed or considered for emigration, but refused to go.


Compulsory school attendance had been introduced in 1880 for children aged 5–10 years. Ensuring children attended school proved difficult, as for poorer families it was more tempting to have them working if the opportunity to earn an extra income was available. Children under the age of 13 who were employed were required to have a certificate to show they had reached the educational standard. Many of the cases refer to children working in various jobs including crossing sweeper, working on sewers, and being in the shoeblack brigade.

This girl was just about to start her career in domestic service, 1910. During her 12 years at the Bolton-le-Sands Home, she would have been well trained for her new life.

This girl was just about to start her career in domestic service, 1910. During her 12 years at the Bolton-le-Sands Home, she would have been well trained for her new life.

Nineteen girls and twelve boys went on to become domestic servants, most of them well away from London. Nine boys went to sea, two of them in the navy, although one had to quickly abandon that career on account of acute seasickness. Other occupations mentioned were carpentry and hairdressing for boys and dressmaking for girls.

Part two of the blog will look at the stories of seven of the first one hundred children.

For information about The Children’s Society Archive’s ‘Hidden Lives Revealed’ web site: http://www.hiddenlives.org.uk/

or you can consult the Archive’s on-line catalogue: http://www.calmview.eu/childrensociety/Calmview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The project has created an online catalogue of these case files and residential home records. You can explore the completed catalogue here:

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

Archive ref: CF08464 Admission Form

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Margarita (on the right) with her doll

Margarita (on the right) with her doll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The memorial plaque

The memorial plaque

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Sir,

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

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

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

I hope this will find Matron quite well,

I am,

Yours Truly,

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

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

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

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

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

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

The difficulties of diagnosis

Today we have a story about a girl called Annie, which I shared at the Child Care History Network Conference earlier this year. Hers is a sad story, but at the same time it can teach us a lot about the complexities of diagnosis in the early-20th Century.

Annie was born in 1894 in a small village near Dorking in Surrey. It wasn’t an easy childhood for her: when Annie was 10 years old her father died of pneumonia, and to make matters worse, one year later her mother died of congenital heart disease.

We don’t know what happened to Annie immediately after she was orphaned, but about a year later she went into the workhouse in Dorking. Her two older brothers were working as farm labourers in a nearby village, and her older sister was married and living on another nearby farm, but none of them could afford to help Annie. This meant that the workhouse was the only option.

Annie remained in the workhouse in Dorking for a year until 1907, when she was 13. At this point, the Dorking Guardians of the Poor filled in an application for Annie to enter the care of The Children’s Society (then known as the Waifs and Strays Society). Why the application was made at this point, we don’t know; but it’s understandable that they thought it would be good to get Annie out of the workhouse.

See the first page of Annie’s application form below (click the image to see a larger version).

The front page of Annie's application form, giving information about her family, 1907, from case file 12767

Annie’s application was successful and in June 1907 she entered St Margaret’s Home in Penkridge, Staffordshire. Just before entering the home, a medical form notes that Annie is in good health.

Unfortunately, when Annie had been in St Margaret’s Home for two years, her health began to falter. She was sent to Stafford Infirmary, where the doctor who saw her diagnosed her with a weak heart. At this point Annie was 15 (the school leaving age at the time was 12), an age at which the girls in St Margaret’s Home often left care to start work. The doctor at the infirmary advised that Annie shouldn’t start work for at least a few months and that even then it should only be light work. With this advice, Annie was sent back to St Margaret’s Home to recuperate.

Time passed and yet Annie didn’t seem to be getting better. The local doctor at St Margaret’s Home saw her and diagnosed her as having pneumonia along with the heart disease. The doctor’s prognosis, however, was good: he said that with medicine, care and sea air, Annie might get better in a month.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you will have noticed that sea air is a treatment that was very popular in the late-19th and early-20th Centuries. The doctor at the home said that Annie should be sent to the East Coast of England because its sea air was known to be bracing. Presumably, when it comes to pneumonia, bracing sea air was thought to be best.

Following the doctor’s orders, The Waifs and Strays Society tried to find Annie a place in their home in Lowestoft in Suffolk. This home, however, didn’t have any special facilities for sick children and so couldn’t take Annie on. With the East Coast not feasible, Annie was instead sent to the South Coast. On this coast, at Hurstpierpoint in Sussex, The Waifs and Strays Society had a dedicated convalescent home, Nayworth Convalescent Home, where Annie could get specialist medical treatment.

We next hear of Annie in July 1909, when she had been at Nayworth Convalescent Home for a month. Her illness had grown worse, leaving her bedridden and eating nothing but milk and barley water. By this point, all talk of Annie going out to work had ended. It was thought that she might never be well enough to start work, and might have to rely, once more, on the workhouse in Dorking.

Very shortly, the discussion about Annie’s future had taken a back-seat to her current state of health. See the letter below, sent by the matron of Nayworth Convalescent Home (click the image for a larger version):

Letter from the matron of Nayworth Convalescent Home, discussing Annie's admission to the children's hospital in Brighton, 1909, from case file 12767

August 1rst. 1909

Re Annie [surname]

Dear Sir. –

As I have been nursing night
& day Dr. Parry recommended
this child’s admission to the
Children’s Hospital at Brighton.
I took her there on Friday
afternoon. She was very ill
when I left her & so I went down
yesterday to see her. She had
brightened up a little but the
doctor at the Hospital considers
it a very bad case.

Her heart is weak but Kidney

disease is the primary cause
of the trouble.

I am. yours faithfully

Elsie P. Smith

Annie stayed in hospital for a month, with her condition sometimes getting better and sometimes growing worse. The matron from Nayworth Convalescent Home kept in frequent contact with the hospital during this time.

Sadly, in late August 1909, Annie lost the battle she had been fighting and passed away, aged 15. Her death certificate states that she had died of pancreatitis followed by heart failure. Correspondence in Annie’s file describes just how much she would be missed by the people who had looked after her during her time in care. She was said to have been very patient in the face of her illness and grateful for all that was done for her.

When it comes to Annie’s story, I’m particularly intrigued by the variety of diagnoses that she was given. Her first diagnoses were heart disease and pneumonia and, if you remember, these are the diseases that Annie’s parents had died of. You have to wonder if the doctors were thinking that Annie’s illness might be hereditary or linked to her parents in some way.

Then, when Annie went to hospital in Brighton, she was given a diagnosis of kidney disease, suggesting that the doctors there saw she was having abdominal trouble. Finally, on the death certificate, it states that Annie died of pancreatitis and heart failure.

We will never know which diseases Annie actually suffered from. It seems likely that she had either kidney disease or pancreatitis, and that she also had a hereditary heart condition. She may even have had pneumonia as well, although it’s hard to tell from this distance of time. This lack of clarity shows us just how difficult it was for doctors to reach a diagnosis, and how difficult it was to treat cases like Annie’s, with only the medical knowledge available at the time.

Life after polio for a child in care

This week I’ve been tracing lives through the Historic Hospital Admissions Registers Project (HHARP). The HHARP website contains a database of children who went to 19th Century children’s hospitals, and I wanted to see if any of those children were also in the care of The Children’s Society (known as the Waifs and Strays Society until 1946).

I found a few children in the database that could be matched to our case files here at The Children’s Society Archive, and today I’m going to tell you about one of them. John went to hospital with a deformity in his feet, which is described in John’s case file as both club feet and flat feet. He had had polio (also known as infantile paralysis) when he was younger, which is likely what had affected his feet.

In October 1911, the HHARP website lists John as entering Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. He was four years old and had been living at the Home for Sick Children in Battledown, Gloucestershire (this was a home that wasn’t operated by The Children’s Society). John stayed in hospital for about two months to have treatment for his feet.

While in hospital, an application was made for John to enter the care of The Children’s Society. It appears that the whereabouts of John’s parents and family was unknown. They had last been heard of in Winchcombe in Gloucestershire but they hadn’t been in contact while John was in the Battledown children’s home, and it had been assumed that the family had abandoned him.

John was discharged back to the Battledown home in December, and was described as “cured”. One month later, in January 1912, John re-entered Great Ormond Street Hospital in order to have more treatment for his feet. This time he was in hospital for just two days and was discharged back to Battledown with his condition described as “relieved”. In one of his two hospital stays, it seems that John had undergone an operation on his feet. As he was still recuperating from the surgery, the application to The Children’s Society was put on hold for a while.

By August 1912, John was able to “walk splendidly”. His application to The Children’s Society was restarted and in October, aged 5, he went to live in The Children’s Society’s St Nicholas’ Orthopaedic Hospital and Special School in Pyrford, Surrey.

John stayed in this home for about a year and a half and then, in 1914, he went to live in a foster home in Frettenham, Norfolk, along with another boy from St Nicholas’ Home. At this point, John was seven years old and we know that he was attending the local school while he was in foster care. Correspondence in our case file for John tells us that he received a medical examination at school, and that a doctor from The Children’s Society also came to see him. One of the doctors prescribed special boots for John’s feet and the other prescribed exercises for John to do; we don’t know what exercises these were, but we do know that the boots cost 15 shillings, 10 shillings of which were donated by a local person in Frettenham.

For a number of years, there’s little medical information to be found in John’s case file. He stayed in foster care in Frettenham until 1920 when he was twelve years old. It was normal for children at the age of twelve to leave foster care and go live in a children’s home where they could begin to learn a trade. And so, at the age of twelve, John left Frettenham and went to Peckham Receiving Home for Boys in London, which was a home that boys normally stayed in temporarily before moving on to other children’s homes.

At Peckham Receiving Home, John was seen by a doctor, who recommended that he have hospital treatment for his ankle. For a second opinion, John was also seen by the doctor from The Children’s Society who’d gone to see him in Frettenham. Her response after seeing John is below:

Letter about treatments for John's feet and legs, 1920, from case file 17217

Letter about treatments for John's feet and legs, 1920, from case file 17217

Letter about treatments for John's feet and legs, 1920, from case file 17217

March 15 1920

Dear Mr. Swann

Re John [surname]

This boy has had a form of
club foot due to infantile
paralysis which has been
operated on when he was
very young. The condition of
the legs and feet is good
and nothing further can be

done at the present time for

There is no reason why he should
not do a certain amount
of walking but he should
be allowed to take his time.
The condition, of course, will
have to be watched from
time to time in order to see
that the bones of the legs grow
sufficiently as the boy gets
bigger. I should advise letting
the legs be sponged down every
day with Tidmans Sea-Salt –
a tablespoon of the salt

to a washing basinful of
warm water. Massage would
of course, improve the muscular

The boy would like to be a
tailor and this life or that
of a boot maker, would be
very suitable.

With kind regards

Yours sincerely

R Turner

Dr Turner’s recommendations are wonderfully detailed. We see that she recommends massage for John’s legs, which seems like something a child could be prescribed today. She also recommends bathing John’s legs in a salt solution, which is a little more unusual. I’m not sure what the purpose of this salt-bathing would be; let me know in the comments if you have any ideas!

John stayed in Peckham Receiving Home while a place was found for him elsewhere. After a few months he went to St Andrew’s Home for Boys in Matlock, Derbyshire. However, after only three months there it was clear that St Andrew’s Home wasn’t well-equipped to look after a boy like John who had difficulty walking. As a result, John was sent back to Peckham Receiving Home.

Once again enquiries were made as to a suitable children’s home for John. John wanted to become a tailor, and so he was sent to St Benet’s Home for Boys at Emmer Green, Berkshire, where they taught tailoring skills.

Sadly, however, it seems that this home wasn’t suitable for John either. After only a month, John was seen by a surgeon at Berkshire Hospital in Reading, who had the following to say (click the image for a larger version):

Letter about treatment for John's feet, 1921, from case file 17217

The surgeon recommended that John have special boots again, and suggested that John be sent to a home that would provide him with specialist medical supervision. Once again, we find that the home John was currently living in was not equipped to look after boys with conditions like his.

And so, for the third time, John was sent to Peckham Receiving Home. He was there for only a short while this time before being sent to St Martin’s Orthopaedic Hospital and Special School in Pyrford, Surrey. This home was next door to St Nicholas’ Home which John had lived in when he had first entered the care of The Children’s Society. Like St Nicholas’ Home, St Martin’s also specialised in looking after children with orthopaedic conditions; St Martin’s, however, took in older boys and often taught them trades such as tailoring.

Finally, John was able to settle down in a home for a decent period of time. He stayed at St Martin’s for three years until 1924 when he was seventeen years old. By 1924 John’s feet were described as cured and a report states that he had completed his training in tailoring. For a job, however, John had since decided that he would rather work as a servant than as a tailor.

There was initially some difficulty in finding John a job. He had a speech impediment which led some potential employers to turn him down because they didn’t think him suitable for answering the door to visitors.

In order to increase his job prospects, John returned to Peckham Receiving Home, as this home was often used as a temporary home for boys looking for work. It was successful. After just two days in Peckham, John went to work as a hall boy in Pimlico in London, earning seven shillings and sixpence a week.

John stayed in this job for about a month and a half. We don’t know why he left, but he soon went to another job on a farm in Plumpton, Sussex, earning six shillings a week. John started this job in July 1924 and stayed there until Christmas 1924 when he returned to Peckham Receiving Home for a brief holiday. However, when in Peckham, John said that he didn’t want to go back to the farm in Plumpton but instead wanted to go live with his father.

John’s father had just sent John a letter. After a number of enquiries over the previous year, The Children’s Society had finally tracked down John’s family. They found that John’s father and siblings had moved away from Winchcombe in Gloucestershire and had gone to live in Llantwit Fardre in Glamorgan. John’s mother had died, leaving John’s father and John’s eldest sister to look after John’s five other siblings. They were struggling to get by, and when their house was condemned as unfit for habitation, John’s father had become homeless and John’s siblings had been sent to a children’s home nearby. Previously, when John had been struggling to find work, it was suggested that he could go live with his father, but the local vicar of Llantwit Fardre warned that “It would be fatal to send the boy home under the circumstances”.

It is understandable, then, that when John returned to Peckham in Christmas 1924 and said that he wanted to go live with his father, The Children’s Society didn’t let him go straight away.

Instead, in January 1925, John went to work in another job as an under butler in a college in Chelsea, London, earning six shillings a week. Meanwhile, The Children’s Society wrote to the vicar of Llantwit Fardre to see if John’s father’s circumstances had improved and if it would be possible for John to go live with him.

Unfortunately, John’s case file ends there so we don’t know what happened next. Did John stay working as an under butler in Chelsea or did he go to live with his father in Llantwit Fardre? Presumably John thought that he’d be able to help his father earn money to support the family, but it wouldn’t have been easy if they had nowhere to live. And why did John’s family never contact him when he was first put into a children’s home all those years ago? Were their circumstances as dire in 1911 as they were in 1924? It seems that John’s story still has more to tell.

Despite the gaps in our information, what have we been able to learn? Firstly we have seen just how fascinating it is to link our records to those of Great Ormond Street Hospital using the HHARP website. We can follow John’s treatment from surgery in hospital through to orthopaedic boots, to massage and to bathing in salt water. By the end of his file in 1925, it seems that all the treatments had paid off, with John gaining enough mobility to work as a servant.

What seems most clear to me though, is just how difficult it must have been for John and for other disabled children in similar situations. With John’s difficulty walking, it seems that there were many children’s homes which just weren’t able or weren’t willing to look after him. This led to a long period of being shuttled back and forth from one children’s home to another, which for John must have been as disheartening as it was unsettling. Then, when looking for work a few years later, we find that John’s speech impediment was another thing that caused people to discriminate against him.

John’s story is not an easy one to read. It does, however, give us an insight into social attitudes at the time.

Find out more
Have a search of the Historic Hospital Admissions Registers Project (HHARP) website for yourself and discover the children’s stories there.