A shelter for children: the work of The Children’s Society in the north-east, 1881-1970s

Another in the series of our blogs that take a more detailed look at the history of The Children’s Society’s former children’s homes and social work projects since 1881 – this time in the north-east of the country.

Between 1881 and the 1970s, The Children’s Society had four main homes in the north-east of England, two girls’ homes – St Oswald’s, Cullercoats, and St Cuthbert’s, Darlington – and two boys’ homes -St Nicholas’, Boldon, and St Aidan’s, Tynemouth.

The first was St Oswald’s Girls’ Home, Cullercoats. This was opened in 1889 and until 1891 was based at Netherton, when it moved to new premises at Cullercoats. It remained there until 1939 when the children were evacuated to Natland in Cumbria. The girls never returned to Cullercoats as the home closed in 1946.

The exterior of St Oswald’s Home, Cullercoats, in1900.

The exterior of St Oswald’s Home, Cullercoats, in1900.

The Bishop of Durham opened the next home in 1893 – St Cuthbert’s Girls Home at Pierremont Cresent, Darlington. In 1923 the home moved to a new site in the town and was opened by one Lady Barnard; to quote from a report in the former supporter magazine Our Waifs and Strays, she was ‘handed a gold key, and opened the door in the presence of a large and interested concourse of friends of the Society’. In 1949 the home was converted into a residential nursery for 25 children between the ages of 1-5 years. It continued as a nursery until 1972.

At the opening of St Cuthbert’s in 1893 the Bishop of Durham noted that the Society was only just starting its work in the area and ‘he hoped in due time to see a shelter for outcast and desolate lads’. He had to wait seven years before being asked to open the area’s first boys’ home, St Aidan’s at Tynemeouth. St Aidan’s started out life at Whitley Bay in 1900. In 1906 it moved to purpose built premises in Tynemouth. Between 1947 and 1973 it served as a nursery for younger children.

The laying of the foundation stone of St Aidan’s Home, Tynemouth in 1905

The laying of the foundation stone of St Aidan’s Home, Tynemouth in 1905

The fourth home was St Nicholas’ Boys Home at Boldon which was opened in 1906. This remained a boys’ home until 1960 when it became an all-age group home for boys and girls.

What was life like in one of these homes?

Well, it would have varied depending on the decade you were looking at, but in the main one can say that they were very much part of the local community. The children went to local schools, Sunday school and church, and got to know other children in the neighbourhood. Their conduct at school often drew praise.

The homes had their own Boy Scout and Girl Guide troops and often excelled at sports. For example, aside from local events, the Scouts at St Aidan’s would set off for a week’s annual camp. In 1935 they went to Warden near Hexham. They camped in a field given by a kindly farmer and used the church hall as a base. St Aidan’s football team were also a force to be reckoned with in the local sports league – just like many community football clubs in the area today! Music was the Cullercoats’ speciality the girls being regular winners at the Newcastle Music Tournament.

The boys dining hall at St Aidan’s, Tynemouth, 1910.

The boys dining hall at St Aidan’s, Tynemouth, 1910.

Local people were always eager to provide entertainments and outings. In 1934 the girls at Cullercoats had several outings to a property in the village of Riding Mill courtesy of its owners and enjoyed numerous trips down to the sea during the summer. During the 1930s the boys at St Aidan’s had an annual charabanc trip organised by local people to Shotley Bridge and the 1933 Annual Report contains a photograph of them busily eating their sandwiches.

Local fundraising committees worked hard for the homes raising both money and gifts in kind. A popular fundraising idea was the Pound Day when local people brought in pound weights of produce or gave a donation of £1. A Pound Day in 1915 at St Nicholas’ Home, Boldon, was a great success bringing in 1,692 lbs of mixed groceries and 531lbs of turnips and potatoes (what do you do with 500 plus pounds of turnips?), together with £20 for the homes clothing and holiday fund.

A group of boys from St Nicholas’ Home, Boldon, with their pet rabbits, 1959.

A group of boys from St Nicholas’ Home, Boldon, with their pet rabbits, 1959.

Other fundraising ideas were a succession of pageants and Stuart fayres that were popular during the 1920s and 1930s. Local people at Boldon also established a Wireless Fund in 1933 to bring the latest in technology to the home.

For other information about The Children’s Society Archive’s former children’s homes in the north-east, visit the Archive’s ‘Hidden Lives Revealed’ web site: http://www.hiddenlives.org.uk/homes/

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


Family of 40 found ‘heaven’ – Gresford War Nursery, Wrexham

Another in the series of blogs that take a more detailed look at the history of The Children’s Society’s former children’s homes and social work projects since 1881.

A “family of 40 found heaven”; this was how a reporter from Reynolds Weekly Newspaper in 1942 described Gladwyn War Nursery situated in the village of Gresford, near Wrexham in North Wales, when he visited to write an article for the paper.

During the Second World War The Children’s Society (known as the ‘Waifs and Strays Society’ until 1946) established 127 nurseries to provide temporary homes for young children aged 0-5 years, who had either been evacuated or made homeless as a result of enemy action. Known as war nurseries, these homes helped 6788 children between 1939 and 1945. The buildings that housed these nurseries were often lent or given to The Children’s Society by their owners. The war nursery programme was extensive and involved the Ministry of Health and the Women’s Volunteer Service (now the Royal Volunteer Service).

Gladwyn War Nursery was opened by the Society in 1940 to take forty children aged between 2 and 5; it closed in 1945. The building that housed the nursery was donated to the Society by a local coal mining company, Gresford Colliery. The company took a keen interest in the running of the home, and the colliery manager, Mr Charlton, was appointed as the home’s honorary secretary. Eight years earlier in 1934, Gresford Colliery had been the scene of huge underground fire and explosion that left a considerable death roll.

Gresford War Nursery and garden, 1942

Gresford War Nursery and garden, 1942

The matron of the nursery was Miss Evelyn Long, who was recruited to run Gladwyn in 1940 on an annual salary of £120. She had a small staff consisting of an assistant matron, a staff nurse, a nursery maid, a teacher, a cook, a gardener and several probationer nursery nurses. As Miss Long noted remarked to the reporter, “When we got here we felt we had dropped into heaven”.

The nursery took an active part in the community. For example, Miss Long established a rabbit club at the nursery as part of the general war effort. These clubs were encouraged by the Ministry of Agriculture to help with food production as part of the Dig for Victory campaign to help with food shortages during the war. The Ministry kept a register of rabbit clubs and the Gladwyn club was the 2,000th to be registered in 1942. The club housed its rabbits in an old stable in hutches made from old boxes and broken play pens, noted by the Reynolds News reporter as a way of “helping the National larder”. The reporter recorded that, “seven does and a buck were installed for the purpose of multiplying their numbers and so of contributing to the country’s food resources”.

The nursery also held a number of fund raising activities. Popular amongst these was the annual fete. The photograph featured below was taken at a fete held at the height of the Second World War during the summer of 1942. The children took part in several activities and play sketches, one of which was titled “the Allies”, there being a child for nearly every allied nation and each of the armed forces. The art is trying to spot them: the middle two rows of the photograph contain, from left to right, the Russians, the army, the navy, the North African allies, the Red Cross, the Netherlands (?), the air force, Scotland and Wales. Miss Long, incidentally, is smiling proudly at the centre of the back row.

"The Allies" at the summer garden fete, Gresford War Nursery, 1942

“The Allies” at the summer garden fete, Gresford War Nursery, 1942

Other events at the 1942 fete were sketches called “The Fairy Wand”, “Jack-in-the-Box”, “Soldiers and Nurses” and the “The Magic Kiss”.

'Jack-in-the-Box' at the summer fete, Gresford War Nursery summer fete, 1942

‘Jack-in-the-Box’ at the summer fete, Gresford War Nursery summer fete, 1942

The Reynolds reporter described his impressions of the nursery:

“A Happy Crowd. In the day nursery at Galdwyn I saw most of these children, looking healthy and happy and dressed most sensibly. Local members of the W.V.S supply most of the wardrobe and do a lot of the mending. After the children had all sung for my special entertainment, one little girl came up to the Matron and myself and rendered a solo.”

Following VJ Day in 1945 the nursery was closed and the children returned to their homes, many of which were in the heavily bombed areas of London. Miss Long went on to forge a life-long career with The Children’s Society, subsequently becoming matron at children’s homes in Shrewsbury, Beckenham, and Cheam.

Do you have any recollections or photographs of the Gresford War Nursery? If so, please share them – The Children’s Society Archive would be interested to hear from you.

The Wrexham County Borough website has a section on its website as a memorial to the miners that lost there lives on 22 Septmber 1934: http://www.wrexham.gov.uk/english/heritage/gresford_disaster/gresford_colliery.htm

For information about how The Children’s Society continues to change children’s stories today, visit the charity’s website: http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/

“An ideal home based on real home principles”, St. Mary’s Children’s Home, Eastnor: a brief history

Today we have the first in a series of blogs that take a more detailed look at the history of The Children’s Society’s former children’s homes and social work projects since 1881; here we look at the Eastnor Children’s Home, Herefordshire.

St Mary’s Home for Young Girls, Eastnor, was given to the Waifs and Strays Society (as The Children’s Society was known until 1946) on 1st June 1900 by Lady Henry Somerset of Eastnor Castle.

As a report in the September 1900 edition of the Society’s former supporter magazine Our Waifs and Strays noted, she did this ‘with characteristic philanthropy’. She had originally established the home in 1884 as a memorial to her father, as she felt that “when she lost her father, she was anxious to build something to his memory, and she felt very strongly that to build up lives was almost better than to build up any other memorial”.

Based on her experience of this, her attention was drawn to the work of the Waifs and Strays Society. She felt that the Society was successful because it embraced the idea of small family group homes rather than the typical large institutional, barrack like homes that normally constituted a children’s home in late Victorian Britain; as the 1900 report noted:

“she was sure that by that system only – by the principal of
the home – were they ever likely to bring the children they
called waifs and strays any real idea of home at all. In
speaking further in the treatment of children, her ladyship
expressed the opinion that to present to an outcast child
the ideal home based on real home principles, not
institutional life, was to do what nothing else in the world
could do.”

Excited by these ideals, she decided that the Society would be better able to run the home she had started. As the bishop of Hereford noted at a public meeting to open the home in September 1900, this home would allow the Society to take:

“up those poor little waifs and strays – like the flotsam and
jetsam of human life, tossed about and likely to be tossed
to their ruin unless someone saved them – and then, having
taken them up, they had their young lives which they would
train up to a useful and happy future.”

Twenty four girls and 5 members of staff in the garden of the Eastnor Home in 1920

Twenty four girls and 5 members of staff in the garden of the Eastnor Home in 1920

The home was opened to provide accommodation for 20 girls aged between 8 and 15 years. In 1904, it was decided to increase the number to 30, taking girls from infancy to the age of 15. It remained a girls home until 1947 when it became a ‘mixed home’ under The Children’s Society’s new policy of establishing joint homes for boys and girls – a revolutionary move that the Society advocated in its post Second World War drive to help break down the barriers of traditional concepts of child care that had persisted since the Victorian era.

It remained a family home until 1981 when it began to work with teenagers who had behavioural problems caused by distressing circumstances either in their family life or from previous care experiences. The home was closed by the Society in 1983.

Life at St Mary’s – 1900 to 1980

Education and Training

All of the children at the home attended the local school and Sunday School. In October 1900 their conduct at school was noted as being “on the whole has been extremely good”.

In 1903 the home’s management committee decided to appoint a laundry matron on a salary of ‘£18 or £20′. She was to be responsible for doing the home’s own laundry and taking in laundry from elsewhere to allow the home to earn some additional income. The aim was also to allow the “girls to be taught laundry work”.

This training work was expanded to include basket work and needlework; at an event at Eastnor in 1921, a report noted that “the girls have been taking up basket-work keenly, and had on exhibition and sale some excellent samples of Indian weaving: there was also a wide range of capital needlework”.

In the 1950s training was given to children from the home who wanted to develop a career in child care. At a meeting at Eastnor in 1954, the Home Committee suggested that “suitable girls who had been brought up in the Society’s homes should be encouraged to stay on as assistants if they were keen to do so.”

Holidays, Outings and Girl Guides

Part of life for many of the Society homes was the eagerly awaited school summer holiday. St Mary’s, Eastnor, was no exception to this rule. Among the many things the girls did during the holiday in 1917 was to spend three weeks helping a local farmer with his work, for which they were paid £7 7s 6d. In 1920 the girls at Eastnor swapped places with the Society’s Worcester Girls’ Home for a fortnight’s holiday during the summer.

By the 1950s the children were given individual holidays with either local people or their own parents or relations. In 1973 a number of children from St Mary’s went on a caravan holiday to Devon, with the children sharing a number of caravans. There were a number of outings to a football match, a visit to Paignton Zoo, and a boat ride to Brixham.

Outings were also popular. In July 1922 the girls were given a day trip to the seaside at Weston, a local person, Mrs Hillier, giving them 30 shillings to spend. In 1969 St Mary’s visited Windsor Castle at the invitation of the Regimental Sergeant Major of Hereford. During the day they also had lunch with Field Marshall and Lady Slim, which, according to one participant, included, “sausages, rolls, biscuits, and much to the delight of all of us, strawberries and ice cream.”

Christmas was always a key feature in the life of the home and generated plenty of excitement. A timeless comment was made in 1917 in Our Waifs and Strays by one of the girls from Eastnor, “At Christmas, this time being very exciting, we have great fun in the Home, making almost as much noise as we like”. This was mirrored by a report in Gateway in 1978 by a girl at St Mary’s, “About 4am we wake up and scramble out of bed, bleary-eyed and half asleep. then the discovery of the sacks of toys, which are dragged with great force and speed back to our beds. Within minutes the contents are spread out on our counterpanes. By this time everyone is awake, no matter where they hide the sacks, we always find them.

The home also had its own Girl Guide troop. The Home Committee on 13th July 1922 decided that “girls of 11 years old and upwards in the home should be allowed to join the girl guides”. In 1927 the Eastnor Home Guides won the ‘Verdin Cup’ for singing at a competition judged by the organist of Hereford Cathedral. The Guide troop and the later addition of a Brownie pack remained an integral part of the home until the 1970s.

Fundraising – Pound Days

Up until the Second World War no Society home would have been complete without its annual Pound Day. This fundraising idea, peculiar to the Society, was designed to allow local people to donate either pound weights of produce or give £1 in money. The first Pound Day at Eastnor was held in 1902 and in 1903 the Committee again appealed for “useful articles for replenishing the store cupboards. Pounds of edibles, Articles of Clothing, Utensils for the house, in fact, anything of use to the children will be gratefully be received”. A Pound Day in 1916 brought in 580 lbs of groceries, in addition to large quantities of potatoes, vegetables and fruit.

The Annual Pound Day held at St Mary's, Eastnor, 29 October 1903

The Annual Pound Day held at St Mary’s, Eastnor, 29 October 1903

Local people often held events to raise money for the home. Hundreds of fetes and jamborees have been held in honour of the home over the years. In 1920 the Eastnor Wild West Show raised money in Hereford for St Mary’s, as did the local owner of the Severn Steamers Company. In 1969 the Ledbury Round Table paid for the building of a paddling pool in the grounds of the home.

For other information about the Eastnor home visit The Children’s Society Archive’s ‘Hidden Lives Revealed’ website: http://www.hiddenlives.org.uk/homes/EASTN01.html

For information about how The Children’s Society continues to change children’s stories today, visit the charity’s website: http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/


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

St. Nicholas’ Orthopaedic Hospital, Body Braces and Little’s Disease

Today we have a guest post written by a member of our project team, Clare McMurtrie.


Girls at St. Nicholas’ Hospital and Special School, Pyrford, Surrey. Three are in wheelchairs. [1915]

As a volunteer indexing some of the 30,000 case files at The Children’s Society (previously known as the Waifs and Strays Society) and focusing on medical histories referring to children who were admitted into convalescent homes, what seems most prescient is their place in history. Travelling in an archivists’ TARDIS through the case files we discover allusions to mystery diseases and children who suffered lifelong debilitating disability, many of which were unrecognised or untreatable at the time.

One of these conditions is cerebral palsy (CP), or spastic diplegia as it was commonly referred to. Historically known as Little’s Disease, spastic diplegia is a form of CP, a chronic condition seen in a high and constant muscle tightness or stiffness, usually affecting the legs, hips and pelvis. Dr William John Little named the condition in the mid-1800s. His first recorded encounter with CP is reported to have been with children who displayed signs of spastic diplegia; this condition is by far the most common type of CP, occurring in around 70% of cases. Little’s personal childhood experience of mumps, measles, whooping cough, polio and clubfoot (all conditions seen in The Children’s Society’s case files) led him to establish pioneering treatments for the condition. Some of these early treatments included the use of a wheelchair or crutches to aid movement, as well as full body braces!

Girls at St. Nicholas’ Orthopaedic Hospital and Special School, Pyrford, Surrey; with a kid goat third from the right [c1910s]

Group photo of a teacher and ten girls, one of whom is in a wheelchair and another is using a crutch; St Nicholas’ Orthopaedic Hospital and School, Pyrford, Surrey [1917]

The Children’s Society has six recorded cases of cerebral palsy, five of whom were received into St Nicholas’ Home, West Byfleet, Surrey or to St Nicholas’ Home when it later moved to Pyrford in Surrey. St Nicholas’ home originally opened in Tooting in London in 1887, the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, after founder Edward Rudolf saw a need for medical centres catering to the countries poorest children. The home moved to West Byfleet in 1893 and then to Pyrford in 1908, with the home in Pyrford also operating as a hospital. In many cases the cost and time needed to care for children with CP meant that children who otherwise would stay with their parents were taken into The Children’s Society’s care.

Cases resulting from poverty include Vera, whose parents also had a small baby and elderly parent to care for, and Mabel, whose father was regularly out of work and then fought France during the First World War. In other cases the loss of income of one parent, through death or absence, caused children with CP to be admitted to St Nicholas’. These include Dorothy, whose father had left, and George, Lora and Phyllis, whose fathers died, leaving families unable to keep them. In a time when men were typically the main money-earners in a household, The Society acted as a short term buffer in many of these cases, offering food and a home for the children, rather than medical treatment. In all cases the children were returned to their family after as little as a year with The Children’s Society. In the case of Mabel, received into St Nicholas’ in 1910, medical treatment was given at the revolutionary Great Ormond Street Hospital, twice (in 1912 and 1913), where she had an operation to straighten one of her feet. Great Ormond Street Hospital opened its doors in Bloomsbury in 1852, as The Hospital for Sick Children, and remains one of the world’s leading children’s hospitals.

The outside of the building of St. Nicholas’ Home, Pyrford, Surrey, c1910s

Overall the case files that refer to children with cerebral palsy reveal more of the lives of the children than of the treatments and conditions that they endured. We are left to fill in the gaps in early-20th century medical knowledge!

Find out more:

Learn more about cerebral palsy: http://www.cerebralpalsy.org.uk

Discover the more about some of the conditions and treatments mentioned in the case files: http://wellcomecollection.org

Learn about the history of Great Ormond Street Hospital: http://www.gosh.nhs.uk/about-us/our-history

Find out why a set of instruments in the Science Museum’s collection is important to the history of cerebral palsy: http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/online_science/explore_our_collections/objects/index/smxg-96574

Artificial sunlight and sunshine suits

Today’s photos might look a little like something out of a vintage science-fiction film, but they are, in fact, pictures of real early-20th Century medical treatments. These treatments were carried out in some of children’s homes that were run by The Children’s Society (then known as the Waifs and Strays Society) and they both involve light.

You may have heard that exposure to sunlight helps our bodies to synthesise vitamin D, and that a lack of vitamin D can lead to rickets. It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that the children’s homes which carried out this light therapy were ones that looked after children with orthopaedic problems.

As well as cases of rickets, The Children’s Society’s orthopaedic homes often looked after children who were suffering from tubercular diseases of the bones and joints. Light therapy could be used to treat these diseases too, as light kills the tuberculosis bacteria.

The most obvious way to carry out light therapy is to expose the patient to sunlight, as in the photo below from 1927.

Photo of children in sunshine suits at St Nicholas' Home, Pyrford, Surrey, taken from the annual report for the Children's Union, 1927

These children at St Nicholas’ and St Martin’s Orthopaedic Hospital and Special School in Pyrford, Surrey, are wearing what the caption calls ‘sunshine suits’. To me these suits look rather like a pair of swimming shorts or underpants (and baggy ones at that!) It would seem that the aim was for the children to wear minimal clothing so that as much of their skin as possible could be exposed to the sunlight while they played outside.

However, as the British weather means that sunlight can’t be relied upon at all times, some of the homes also carried out artificial light therapy using electric lights.

Photo of girls undergoing artificial light therapy at Halliwick School for Girls, Winchmore Hill, London, taken from the school's annual report, 1937

In the above photo from 1937 we see girls at Halliwick School in Winchmore Hill, London, undergoing this ‘artificial sunlight’ treatment. The girls are sitting so that the skin on their backs is exposed to the electric light, while they are wearing goggles to protect their eyes.

From these photos and from others that I’ve come across in the archives, it seems that light therapy, be it natural or artificial, was a very popular treatment in The Children’s Society’s orthopaedic homes during the early-20th Century. When was this treatment first used and how successful was it for the patients? We won’t know without further research. Anyone interested? Please contact us (Hidden-Lives-Revealed@childrenssociety.org.uk) if you are, or if you’d like to use the archive for any other research projects.

For more information about light therapy see the following articles from:
The Wellcome Trust
The Science Museum

Convalescing on the sunny Sussex coast

The Children’s Society has run several children’s convalescent homes over the years. These were homes that specialised in medical care for children and young people. Generally, children were transferred to these homes when they needed more medical care than normal but didn’t need to stay in a hospital. In other cases, the convalescent homes looked after children who had been in hospital for an operation and were now recovering.

One such convalescent home was St John’s Home in Kemp Town, Brighton, Sussex, which was large enough to look after around 80 children. This home wasn’t originally run by The Children’s Society. It was opened in 1875 as an independent home by Sister Jane Borradaile.

The exterior of St John's Convalescent Home, Brighton, taken from the home's 1938 annual report

An annual report from 1937 gives more information about the home:

Built on an ideal site on the Downs about 230ft. above sea level, and yet within ten minutes’ walk of the sea, which is seen from most of the windows; the expansive views of sea, sky and country have a most exhilarating effect, and the result of such an environment is quickly seen in the generally rapid improvement in the health of the patients.

Later, the same report says:

Most of the children who come to us, arrive looking ill and miserable, and it is an unending source of wonder and pleasure to see the often rapid, and generally steady improvement shown after the first few days. Every child is medically examined on admission, and is kept under Medical observation during the whole convalescence. Many grateful letters are received from their parents who often keep in touch with the home for years.

Sister Jane Borradaile died in 1918 and she entrusted the management of the home to the Sisters of the Community of the Holy Cross, Haywards Heath, Sussex. From 1921 onwards the Community appointed Sister Helena Mary to run the home.

In 1938, Sister Helena Mary had to stand down due to health reasons and the Community of the Holy Cross found that they weren’t able to replace her. Instead, the home was transferred to The Children’s Society (then known as the Waifs and Strays Society) as its new trustees.

St John’s Home appeared to have had links to the Waifs and Strays Society for several decades before it came under The Society’s management. Looking through the children’s case files from the Waifs and Strays Society before 1938, we see lots of children being transferred to St John’s Home for treatment when they became unwell.

Once St John’s Home was taken over by its new trustees, things appear to have continued as before, with children staying at the home to recover from operations and medical conditions. There was a brief interlude during the Second World War when the children and staff were evacuated to a building in Itchingfield, Sussex. This evacuated home ran from 1941 to 1945, at which point the home returned to Kemp Town in Brighton.

For over ten more years, St John’s continued as a convalescent home. Then in 1957 it was converted by The Children’s Society into a school for disabled children, with places for 55 children over the age of seven. This school ran for around five years. We don’t know the exact date, but it seems as if the school closed in the early 1960s. All in all, St John’s had looked after children for around 90 years.

The records of St John’s Home and the case files for children staying at the home are a great resource for learning about prevalent medical conditions and medical treatments throughout the course of the home’s lifetime. For example, the annual reports for St John’s Home list all of the conditions that the children in the home were convalescing from that year. The below list of conditions comes from the 1937 annual report and shows that common conditions in the home that year included bronchitis, rheumatism, anaemia and pneumonia (click the image to see a larger version):

List of diseases and operations treated at St John's Home for Convalescent Children, Kemp Town, Brighton, 1937, taken from the annual report for the home

For more information, see the history of St John’s as an independent home and the history of St John’s once taken over by The Children’s Society.

Burning books, toys and clothes?

Diphtheria can be fatal, and before 1940 it was one of the leading causes of death in children. It’s an infectious bacterial disease that affects the upper respiratory tract and instances of it were common in the early-20th Century before vaccination against it became widespread.

Due to the infectious nature of the diphtheria, it could spread quickly through children’s homes if any of the residents caught it, and a number of our records mention outbreaks of the disease.

The letter below sent to head office from St Nicholas’ and St Martin’s Orthopaedic Hospital and Special School in Pyrford, Surrey, dated 1927, shows some of the measures taken to try to combat outbreaks of diphtheria.

Letter discussing the need to burn school books thought to cause an outbreak of diphtheria at St Nicholas' and St Martin's Orthopaedic Hospital and Special School, Pyrford, Surrey, 1927

Dear Dr. Westcott

Dr. Hardy is of the opinion that
all suspect school books & material should also be
burnt at S. Martins, in view of Diptheria [sic] which
is still going on there. Miss Hutchinsons estimates
that to replace these would cost from £30-£35.

As we are £15. in hand, on the £35. sanctioned
by you at your last meeting, on S. Nicholas School,
may we please be allowed to add £15.0.0
to our expenditure for S. Martins.

My Cttee. [Committee] recommend this for your approval.

Yrs sincerely
K.A. Tringham. Hon Sec

Other letters in the file show that it was thought, in this instance, that the disease had entered the home through books and toys that had been donated by the public for the children to use. As they were thought to be the cause of the outbreak, the books and toys were burned in an attempt to stop the disease from spreading further. The rest of the letter asks The Children’s Society (then known as the Waifs and Strays Society) for further funding for new replacement books and toys to be bought; which later letters show was granted.

As a result of the incident, it was decided that used toys and clothes should no longer be donated to St Nicholas’ and St Martin’s due to the risk of infection. At first glance, this may seem like a strong reaction, but things become more clear when you realise that St Nicholas’ and St Martin’s specialised in looking after children with conditions such as tuberculosis, polio and rickets. These children would have been very susceptible to diphtheria and other infectious diseases and the managing committee didn’t want to put their health at further risk.

An Edwardian Christmas

The excitement of Christmas has been building, and now it is Christmas Eve.

In Ambleside the Home is decorated with “holly, evergreens and pretty coloured paper-chains” and “how often the doorbell rings, and mysterious packets arrive!”

Whilst the children sleep the staff have been busy filling stockings with “delightful and beautiful things – apples, oranges, nuts, sugar, biscuits, and toys”.

The Gift Register for St Cuthbert’s Home for Girls in Darlington lists 3 dozen crackers, a box of oranges, turkey, a brace of pheasants, Christmas puddings and cakes, a large box of Christmas presents, 40 bags of sweets and a Christmas tree –just a few of the goodies generously donated on the days leading up to Christmas. These would be shared out amongst the children and would go towards the delicious Christmas dinner and party that was bound to follow.

Page from the Gift Register of St Cuthbert's Home, Darlington showing gifts donated by visitors at Christmas time, 1908

The staff would also give presents along with committee members, supporters, and people in the local community, such as the butcher. If there was a Christmas tree (these were sometimes donated as gift, as seen above!) the presents would be placed tantalizingly under it.

Christmas time (complete with Christmas tree and Father Christmas) at St Nicholas' Home, Byfleet, 1907

After prayers, and carols, and a church service the festivities would continue with dinner; a much looked forward to part of the day, and far from ordinary!

“Four whole turkeys with bacon galore! The former bought with special money so kindly sent for Christmas; then the Christmas pudding, of course, “all on fire” and with “something” in, which necessitated great care in eating”.

Christmas dinner at St Chad's Home, Far Headingley, Leeds, 1907

I wonder how many of us can remember something similar, or equivalent traditions, from our own Christmas or holiday celebrations?

Christmas in the Homes was a simple, happy day but it was always made to be special, with extra little treats and surprises.

(The quotes in this post come from The Children’s Society supporter magazine “Our Waifs and Strays” February 1908. Click here to see more issues of “Our Waifs and Strays”.)

Green dresses and white caps: nursery nurse training in Windsor

Page from a prospectus for HRH Princess Christian's Nursery Training College, Windsor, including a photograph of the exterior of the college, c1950s

In the mid-20th Century The Children’s Society had a number of colleges and hostels where students could train to become nursery nurses. The records of these places give an insight into the skills that nursery nurses were required to have.

One of the training colleges was HRH Princess Christian’s Nursery Training College based in Windsor. A prospectus for the college from around the 1950s tells us what student nurses were expected to learn:

  • Care and handling of children from birth to 5 years
  • Management of premature infants
  • Artificial feeding
  • Needlework and laundry
  • Knitting
  • Hygiene
  • Children’s ailments and infectious diseases
  • Cookery
  • The physical and mental development of the child

Page from a prospectus for HRH Princess Christian's Nursery Training College, Windsor, including a list of the subjects on the curriculum, c1950s

Once students had completed the training they were allowed to sit exams for a range of qualifications:

  • The National Nursery Examination Board Certificate
  • The Certificate of the Royal Sanitary Institute Examination for Nursery Nurses
  • The college’s own certificate

Further pages of the prospectus give us a glimpse of what it would have been like to study at the college. The image below shows photographs of a student bedroom and the corridor leading to it.

Page from a prospectus for HRH Princess Christian's Nursery Training College, Windsor, including photographs of a student bedroom and the corridor leading to it, c1950s

The final page contains details of the uniform that students were expected to wear. (As with all photographs on this blog, please click the image for a larger version.)

Page from a prospectus for HRH Princess Christian's Nursery Training College, Windsor, including details of the students' uniform, c1950s

Delving further into the records of this college, and the others like it, may unearth more information about just how nursery nurses were trained and what they were taught, particularly with regards to children’s medical care at the time.

Four nurses, wearing face masks, feeding babies, c1940s

If you want to find out more, take a look at this page from the 1952 Handbook for Workers, which explains what the aims of The Children’s Society’s nurseries were.