Swimming lessons in Cumbria

One of my favourite documents in our collection is about swimming. Within the records of the children’s homes that were run by The Children’s Society, there are a number of documents that mention physical exercise. This suggests that exercise was something that the children in the homes were encouraged to participate in.

The boys living at St Mark’s Home for Boys in Natland, Cumbria, in the early-20th Century were known for swimming, and a number of boys from the home had been awarded swimming certificates by the Royal Life Saving Society.

The secret of St Mark’s Home’s swimming success was down to the way the boys were taught to swim. In fact, their method was seen as so effective that the home published a manual for other swimming instructors to learn from.

St Mark’s Home was three miles away from the local swimming pool, which meant that they weren’t able to use the pool very often. Instead, they decided on a method of teaching that may seem unusual to us now. The swimming manual states:

The method now adopted is to instruct and drill our beginners in class on land until they are at home with every position and movement for breast stroke, and the positions for floating and diving; at least a dozen drills, occupying a quarter of an hour each drill, are necessary before taking the class to the baths at all.

Helpfully, the manual comes with photographs of the boys doing their land drills for different swimming strokes, showing the positions they needed to learn and the numbers they had to call out while doing the drills.

Photograph of boys learning to swim at St Mark's Home, Natland, Cumbria, 1914

Photograph of boys learning to swim at St Mark's Home, Natland, Cumbria, 1914

For the boys at St Mark’s Home, this method of teaching seemed to work very well. I can’t help but wonder, though, if it wasn’t the method itself but instead the attitude of the instructors that helped the most. As the manual says:

Confidence is all-important to the learner, so no ducking is allowed, and we think the method of teaching by throwing a water-shy boy or any other boy into deep water is the last effort that should be resorted to.

Lying beneath these words is a hint at how other instructors were teaching children to swim at the time. I don’t know about you, but I certainly know which method I’d prefer!

Instant Whip and Ovaltine

It’s easy to forget that the past not only looked different to the present, it tasted different too. In today’s post we’ll take a look at some dietary diaries to see how people’s diets have changed over the past 60 years.

A lot of The Children’s Society’s children’s homes started keeping dietary diaries in the mid-20th Century. These diaries list the food that was fed to the children in the homes each day and so are a great resource for studying diet. (As long as you don’t study them on an empty stomach, that is, otherwise you may find yourself daydreaming about food rather than working, as I have found out to my own embarrassment!)

The first dietary diary I’m going to share with you today comes from St Agatha’s Home for Girls in Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire, and dates from 1955.

Page from a dietary diary for St Agatha’s Home, Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire, 1955

1955 Feb. 13th
Breakfast – Swiss porridge. Breakfast sausage B&B marm. tea.
Dinner – Cold beef. Cress tomatoes. beetroot. celery Mashed potatoes. Raisin pie – custard
Tea – Banana jelly. B&B. jam. cake. Tea.
Supper – Bread & dripping. Milk.

Breakfast – Cornflakes. Tomatoes & fried bread. B&B. marm. Tea.
Dinner – At School.
Tea – Mince, peas and carrots. B&B. jam. Gingerbread. tea.
Supper – Biscuits. Cocoa.

Breakfast – Swiss porridge. Scrambled egg on toast B&B. marm. tea.
Dinner – At School.
Tea – Shepherd’s Pie with baked beans. B&B. jam. cake. tea.
Supper – Cream crackers & cheese. Milk.

Breakfast – Puffed wheat. Bacon & fried bread. B&B. marm. tea.
Dinner – At School
Tea – Sausage & tomato pie. B&B. jam. cake. Tea.
Supper – Jam tart. Lemonade.

Breakfast – Porridge. B&B. marm. tea.
Dinner – At School.
Tea – Grated cheese. beetroot. tomatoes. carrot. B&B. Jam. Birthday cake. Tea.
Supper – Gingerbread. Milk.

Breakfast – Cornflakes. Bacon & fried bread. B&B. marm. tea.
Dinner – At School.
Tea – Smoked haddock. B&B. jam. Biscuits tea.
Supper – Rice pudding.

Breakfast – Puffed wheat. Scrambled egg & fried Bread B&B. marm. Tea.
Dinner – Roast mutton. Roast & boiled potatoes. Cabbage. gravy. Junket.
Tea – B&B. paste. Almond buns. Tea.
Supper – Buns & milk.

A lot of this food may seem rather conservative now: cooked breakfasts and fish on Fridays, all eaten with lots of bread and butter. However, this was a time when food rationing had just ended in the UK so you can imagine that many of the items here, like banana jelly, would have been quite exciting for the children eating them.

There doesn’t seem to be much processed food in this diet, with the notable exceptions being breakfast cereals, paste, baked beans and cream crackers. It’s also to interesting to note just how much tea the children were drinking, which is not necessarily a drink we associate with children these days.

And if anyone has eaten Swiss porridge or junket, I’d love it if you could tell me a bit more about them in the comments!

The next diary we have comes from the Harvey Goodwin Home in Cambridge and dates from 1971.

Page from a dietary diary for Harvey Goodwin Home, Cambridge, 1971

1971 Dec 12th
Breakfast – Cereal Egg & bacon toast, & tea
Dinner – R. Lamb pots peas cab York, fruit & cus
Tea – Out to tea at South Malling
Supper – Instant whip Ovaltine or Choc.

Breakfast – Cereal bacon & tom toast & tea
Dinner – School dinners
Tea – Baked beans on toast b&b cake & tea.
Supper – Crisps milk drink

Breakfast – Cereal Egg bread & tomatoes. Toast & tea
Dinner – School dinners.
Tea – Chicken supreme. B&B jam & tea.
Supper – Weetabix and milk drink.

Breakfast – Cereal. Bacon, beans Toast & tea.
Dinner – School dinners.
Tea – Spaghti on toast. B&B jam & tea.
Supper – Cheese & biscuits milk drink.

Breakfast – Cereal scrambled egg toast & tea.
Dinner – School dinners.
Tea – Fish finger & beans. B&B jam & tea
Supper – Crisps milk drink.

Breakfast – Cereal. bacon spaghti toast & tea.
Dinner – School dinners.
Tea – Herrings on toast B&B jam & tea.
Supper – Weetabix milk drink.

Breakfast – Porridge toast & tea
Dinner – Spam fritters, chips. beans. Fruit & custard
Tea – Cheese sand. biscuits, fruit & tea.
Supper – Cheese & biscuits milk drink.

In this diet we begin to see the rise of processed foods: fish fingers, spaghetti on toast, crisps, instant whip and Ovaltine. Baked beans and breakfast cereals also seem to be eaten with more frequency than they were a decade and a half before.

And then there are some foods that seem to be very much of their time, such as chicken supreme and spam fritters! Do you remember those?

That said, there are similarities with the previous diet. A lot of bread and butter is being eaten and a lot of tea is being drunk; roast meals are a weekly occurrence; fish is eaten on a Friday; and there is always a cooked element to breakfast.

Our last diet dates from 1991 and comes from the Pimlico Road Home in Clitheroe, Lancashire.

Page from a dietary diary for the Pimlico Road Home in Clitheroe, Lancashire, 1991

2.1.91 [Wednesday]
B/Fast – Cereal Toast Jam Tea coffee.
Lunch – Soup & Sandwiches cakes. milk.
Dinner – Chicken Curry rice & chips fresh. Fruit Tea coffee.
Supper – Cakes Crisps Milk

3.1.91 [Thursday]
B/Fast – Cereal. Toast. Eggs, Tea Coffee
Lunch – Beef Burger Tea Coffee.
Dinner – Lamb chop’s Pot Pea’s Rice Pud. Tea coffee.
Supper – Milk. Crisps

4.1.91 [Friday]
B/Fast – Cereal, Toast, Tea/Coffee.
Lunch – Pies. Spagetti. Cakes. Tea/Juice.
Dinner – Stew, Beetroot, Pickles, Mince Pies & Ice Cream. Tea/Juice.
Supper – Chocolate bars & fresh fruit.

5.1.91 [Saturday]
B/Fast – Cereal, Toast, Tea/Coffee.
Lunch – Poached Eggs, beans, Toast, Fruit, Tea/Juice
Dinner – Sausage & Mash, Gravy, Peas. Biscuits/Cakes. Tea/Juice.

You might notice that by this time the standard printed dietary diary books have gone and that the staff have had to draw up their own book. This means that we can now see a difference in the names of the meals; ‘tea’ is gone and ‘lunch’ has suddenly appeared, pushing ‘dinner’ into the slot that ‘tea’ used to take. Of course, the names of meals can differ by place as well as by time, so there’s nothing to say that these names were in country-wide use in the 1990s.

As for this diet, we can see some less traditional food creeping in, such as curry and rice. Beef burgers are also present while a cooked breakfast in the morning and the ubiquitous bread and butter are almost completely lost. The availability of coffee in the morning is interesting, but this may be down to the age of the children in the home rather than the decade.

All in all, though, there is not too much to separate this diet from the diets of the 1970s and 1950s. Main meals are often made up of ‘meat and two veg’; tea is given to the children throughout the day; and supper is regularly made up of something sweet and a milky drink. It would be interesting to know what this sort of diary would say today. Do these diets represent how the population ate as a whole or were the meals cooked in residential homes slightly different to those eaten in other households?

A point we mustn’t forget is that diet can vary by region and by age as well as by the time-period, so it’s not possible to conclude that the differences between these three diets are based on the decade alone. It would be worthwhile, therefore, to take diaries from the same year for several different homes and see if there was much variation between them.

That’s a potential project for the future, though. Right now, I’ve managed to make myself hungry again! (Oh dear.)

If you’d like to share your experiences of any of these foods in the comments, then please do. Or perhaps you know some other foods that bring back memories of a certain era. Arctic Roll, anyone?

Monitoring children’s health in nurseries

Some of The Children’s Society’s children’s homes in the late-20th Century, particularly nurseries looking after young children, kept daily and nightly log books.

These books were kept to monitor the health of the children in the home. Generally, entries were made each day and each night by one of the members of staff on duty. Because the entries are so regular, they provide very detailed information about the health of the children and can be used to follow the effectiveness of any treatments given for injuries or illnesses.

The following image comes from the day and night log book for Sunnyside Nursery for Disabled Children, Box, Wiltshire.

Page from a day and night log book for Sunnyside Nursery for Disabled Children, Box, Wiltshire, 1974

[Names of two children] } seen by speech therapist
all other children appear satisfactory
Staff 11
[Staff name]

Night Report
Everyone slept well.
[Staff name]

Day Report
Children 19
[Child’s name],
Had fall on drive. Bruising and minor abrasions
on head.
All other children appear satisfactory
Staff 14
[Staff name]

Night Report
[Child’s name] – Awake crying, very chesty
settled after having drink and
[Names of two children] } Both awake fretful for long intervals
during the night
Remaining children slept well.
[Staff name]

Day Report
Children 19
All children appear satisfactory
Staff 13
[Staff name]

Sunnyside Nursery first opened in 1930 as the Holy Innocents Home, with residents transferred to the new home from the recently closed Admiral and Mrs Arden Close Memorial Home for Girls, Bristol. The home started taking on younger children in the 1930s and was known as Sunnyside Nursery from 1949 onwards.

It was in 1971 that Sunnyside Nursery started looking after disabled children; this was partly due to its location, as there were specialist hospitals and clinics in the local area. Initially, Sunnyside still functioned as a nursery, but in the late-1970s and the 1980s, Sunnyside started helping older children and young people with disabilities too.

An older medical book from Sunnyside Nursery, Box, was discussed in an earlier post about treatments for winter colds in the 1940s.

It would be interesting to compare the 1940s medical book with the 1970s day and night log book: Had instances of and treatments of diseases changed in the intervening decades? And did the medical provision for Sunnyside change when it started looking after disabled children?

(The above book contains information about living individuals and so some access restrictions will apply. For anyone wishing to access the volume, please contact us for further information.)

Treatments for bad winter colds in 1940

For some children’s homes we are lucky to have a surviving medical book. These books allow you to follow the progress of the health of the children in the home over a set period of time, which makes them a great way of researching instances of diseases and medical conditions and finding out how they were treated.

It appears that the medical books were kept by the medical officers for each of the children’s homes, with the medical officer making a note in the book each time they were called in examine a child.

The following image is an entry from the medical book for Sunnyside Nursery in Box, Wiltshire, from December 1940.

Page from the medical book for Sunnyside Nursery, Box, Wiltshire, noting an outbreak of influenzal colds at the home, December 1940

15.12.40. All children have influenzal colds – all with
temperature above 99º to have 693. 1/4 Tablet 6 hourly.

16.12.40. Children better.

18.12.40. Colds better.

21.12.40 All children still in bed but better.

23.12.40 Children better. M.M..

30.12.40 Children Better.

While some medical conditions were specific to some children, the way the book is set out makes it easy to note outbreaks of diseases throughout the nursery too. Here we can see that in mid-December 1940, all the children in Sunnyside Nursery came down with flu-like colds.

The children here were treated with 693 (also called sulphapyridine), which was a widely-used medicine at the time. From this distance, it is not possible to tell if the medicine was effective, but what the record does show is that the children all got better over the next two weeks. Hopefully they were well enough to enjoy their Christmas celebrations. Certainly no mention of the colds are made after the end of December.

This is just one page from the book. If we studied the rest of the book, it could well bring up some interesting information: Were there any other instances of influenza or flu-like colds? Were there any other outbreaks of diseases that affected all the children in the nursery? And was 693 used to treat any other medical conditions? Putting this information together could help to build up a detailed picture of medical care in the 1940s.

(The above book contains information about living individuals and so some access restrictions will apply. For anyone wishing to access the volume, please contact us for further information.)

Detecting and preventing tuberculosis

As seen in the previous post about John who died at the age of ten tuberculosis was a very prominent disease in the early-20th Century. John died in 1905 when there was very little that could be done to combat the disease. The letter below, from November 1950, shows how things had changed in the intervening years.

Letter about the care of children who had been in contact with tuberculosis, taken from the medical file for HRH Princess Christian's Training College and Infant Nursery, Windsor, 1950

The letter was sent from one of The Children’s Society’s homes, HRH Princess Christian’s Training College and Infant Nursery, Windsor, and discusses how staff at the nursery were caring for children who had been in contact with people suffering from tuberculosis.

In this case, there were two children in the nursery whose mothers had tuberculosis. As the disease is so infectious, the children needed extra monitoring to see if they had contracted it. This highlights the fact that cases of tuberculosis were still very common in 1950, enough that specific procedures had to be put in place for those that had come into contact with the disease.

On reading the letter we can see that the children were monitored for tuberculosis by undergoing a patch test every three months. It also states that if the children were going to be returned to their parents, they should be vaccinated against the disease with the BCG (Bacille de Calmette et Guérin) vaccine. This represents a major development: in 1950, not only could tuberculosis be easily tested for, but it could be prevented through vaccination; a far cry from the ineffective preventative measures and treatments available in John’s day.

The letter comes from a medical file for HRH Princess Christian’s Training College. Similar medical files exist for a number of The Children’s Society’s children’s homes. These files generally contain correspondence about the work of the medical officers for the homes, so they detail the routine of medical tests and check-ups carried out for the children in the homes as well as containing information about a variety of other treatments, tests and diseases.

Homes for diabetic children

It was in 1948 that The Children’s Society started to look after children with diabetes. Before that date, without any specialist staff or equipment, The Children’s Society simply hadn’t been able to take any diabetic children into its homes.

Everything changed in 1948 when St Monica’s Home for Diabetic Children, Kingsdown, near Deal in Kent, opened. The home had trained staff who were able to give the children the medical care they needed and teach them how to administer their own insulin.

Below is an extract from The Children’s Society’s Bulletins in October 1948, giving more information about the imminent opening of St Monica’s Home.

Extract from The Children's Society's 'Bulletin' October 1948, about the opening of St Monica's Home for Diabetic Children, Kingsdown, Kent

Extract from The Children's Society's 'Bulletin' October 1948, about the opening of St Monica's Home for Diabetic Children, Kingsdown, Kent

On reading the extract it appears that there was a high demand for children’s homes that could care for children with diabetes. One of the reasons for opening the home was to reduce the number of fatalities that came from diabetic children not having access to the medical care they needed.

Demand for children’s homes for diabetic children was so high that The Children’s Society opened two others shortly afterwards: St George’s Home in Kersal, Manchester, was converted into a home for diabetic children in 1949 and Carruthers Corfield House Home for Diabetic Children in Rustington, Sussex, opened in 1951.

The Bulletins that the above extract came from were regular newsletters created by The Children’s Society’s head office and sent out to its children’s homes. These Bulletins contained important news about the work of The Children’s Society and included information and policies about how the children’s homes should be run.

Some of the Bulletins include medical information, such as the necessity of providing children with certain vaccinations, procedures to be carried out during outbreaks of diseases in the homes, and guidance on the diets to be given to the children. This makes the Bulletins a useful resource for studying The Children’s Society’s policies on various medical issues.

Living conditions in Edwardian children’s homes

Major-General Baden-Powell visiting the children at Gordon Boys Home, Croydon, c1908

When running a number of children’s homes across the country, it is vital that a good standard of living is maintained in every single home. For The Children’s Society [previously known as the Waifs and Strays Society] one way of maintaining standards was to periodically inspect the conditions in each home.

There are inspectors’ or visitors’ reports for a large number of our children’s homes, dating from the late-19th Century right up to the 1990s. When these reports were created, they were used to check that the children’s homes were running well and that the children in them had a good standard of living. The reports give a fascinating insight into life in the homes, the health of the children, and what living conditions were expected at different points in history.

The following image is a page from an inspector’s report for Gordon Boys Home, Croydon, 1909.

Page from an inspector's report of Gordon Boys Home, Croydon, 1909

This page covers the health of the boys, noting what medical care was available for them and what sanitation was provided. Here it is stated that the boys were bathed every other night, with 3 or 4 boys using the same bath water in turn, but with each boy having his own towel.

Other pages in the report note what facilities were available in the different rooms of the home, the cleanliness of each room, and how the home was run.

Not only do these reports give information about what it was like to live in each home, they can also give some insight into what it was thought worth inspecting at the time. For example, from the above image it can be seen that in 1909 it was thought important that each child had a pocket handkerchief and two pairs of boots. Other parts of the same form check the children had access to a supply of Bibles and prayer books and that grace was said before meals, suggesting that the religious education of the children was considered an integral part of the life in the home.

Learn more about medical history

I’m happy to announce that our project web pages are now live!

The link above will take you to more information about the ‘Unexplored Riches in Medical History’ project, where you can find out about the medical records we hold here at The Children’s Society archive and how we are working to make them more accessible. There are also several scanned examples of records containing medical information, such as the one below:

Suggested weekly diet for children, 1934

This is a suggested diet to be fed to the children living in children’s homes. It comes from the ‘Handbook for Workers’, which was a book giving guidelines on how The Children’s Society’s children’s homes should be run. This suggested diet dates from 1934 and is an interesting insight into what foods were eaten at the time and what was thought to be a good diet for children.

Please do take a look at the new project web pages and see what other records we have.

Records of children’s homes

One part of the ‘Unexplored Riches in Medical History’ project is to catalogue the records of The Children’s Society’s children’s homes.

In 1882, The Children’s Society (then known as the Waifs and Strays Society) opened its first two homes; a home for girls in Dulwich, London, and a home for boys in Clapton, London. From that point onwards, the number of children’s homes continued to grow until The Children’s Society was running a whole network of children’s homes in England and Wales.

The Children’s Society continued to operate children’s homes until the late-20th century, at which point it evolved away from residential child care to start working with children and young people in new and more innovative ways.

Now that The Children’s Society’s homes have closed down, their memory survives in the documents and records that they left behind. These records were created during the day-to-day work of the homes and so can shed light on all aspects of the way the homes were run, from anything as varied as the layout of the buildings to what the children ate each day.

Amongst the records of the children’s homes are many items that can be used to study medical history and childhood diseases. For example, the image below shows a page, written c1896-1901, from the medical register kept at St Oswald’s Home For Girls, Cullercoats, Whitley Bay, Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland.

Page from a medical register for St Oswald's Home For Girls, Cullercoats, Whitley Bay, Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland, c1896-1901

In this register, an entry was made for each child in the home in the 1890s, detailing their medical history. The above entry states:

[The child] – 12 years of age.
Father died of consumption
brother suffers from temporary
insanity. Other members of
family well. Had measles
& whooping cough. Small
not well developed for age.
Tongue clean. bowels regular.
teeth some decayed.
Heart & lungs normal.

Admitted into Hospital. Jan 13th. 01 suffering
from irreg. temp & some pains in the joints.

One of the aims of the ‘Unexplored Riches in Medical History’ project is to catalogue the records from The Children’s Society’s children’s homes, including medical records like the one above. The catalogue will list exactly what records we have for each home, which will make it much easier to use the collection to research medical history as well as a large number of other topics.

Merry Christmas from The Children’s Society Records and Archives Centre

It’s been a successful year here are Records and Archives Centre, with the Including the Excluded project completed and the cataloguing of even more of our collections well underway. Time, I think, for a well-deserved celebration.

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

Christmas has always been a special time for The Children’s Society. In the children’s residential homes, staff would work hard to ensure that the children they looked after were able to fully enjoy and celebrate the season, as is evidenced by the decorations and the visit from Father Christmas in the above photo from St Nicholas’ Home in Byfleet.

For more Christmas-themed images from our archive, please visit The Children’s Society’s main blog where our Records, Archive and Data Protection Manager, Ian Wakeling, has shared a great selection.

From everyone here at The Children’s Society Records and Archives Centre, I’d like to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!