A new home to celebrate the 1887 Jubilee

Here we have a guest post written by one of our archivists, Gabrielle St John-McAlister.


In previous posts we have read about St Nicholas’ Home in Tooting being the first of The Children’s Society’s homes for disabled children. In this post I wanted to give a bit more detail on what was a momentous occasion in The Children’s Society’s history. What with 2012 being a Jubilee year, it is interesting to see that good deeds were done to mark another, much earlier, Jubilee of a well-loved monarch.

To commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, in May 1887 The Society set up a fund to establish and endow a home for disabled children. This became know as St Nicholas’ Home, Tooting. As the Case Committee frequently saw children in need of surgery and surgical appliances, and because The Society had great difficulty in providing appropriate care, they felt strongly that there was a clear need for a home which could meet the real needs of disabled children.

The appeal was so successful that within six months Talgarth House on Trinity Road, Tooting, had been leased. There was a huge amount of goodwill towards the endeavour in the area: a number of local physicians offered their services free of charge as honorary medical officers and a Miss Anne Anderdon promised £100 per year to meet the home’s rent and taxes.

The next step was to renovate and fit out the premises, and gifts of beds, bedding, pictures and fireguards were sought. By December 1887 enough gifts had been received for St Nicholas’ Home to open, with the official opening and dedication taking place in February 1888. The text below, taken from The Society’s supporter magazine ‘Our Waifs and Strays’ in 1888, gives some more information about the public opening of the Home.

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

A royal birthday cake

As we are coming up to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, today I have decided to highlight just one of the links to the Royal Family that can be found within our collections.

St Agnes’ Home in Croydon was a children’s home that took in disabled girls, aged 14 and above. The home focussed on teaching the girls manual skills such as knitting, basket weaving and needlework.

In March 1914, the home was visited by Queen Mary, wife of King George V. Then, a few weeks later and shortly after the seventeenth birthday of the Queen’s daughter, Princess Mary, a letter was sent to St Agnes’ Home from Buckingham Palace. The letter states:

I am commanded by The Queen to send Princess Mary’s Birthday Cake to St Agnes’ Home & Hostel Croydon.

The cake was sent to the home the next day. In order to eat it, a special tea party was held for the all the girls at the home.

The above photograph, taken from the 1914 Children’s Union annual report, shows the girls at the home, ready to enjoy their tea party.

This may have been one of the more unusual donations that have been made to The Children’s Society over the years, but it is easy to imagine that it went down very well with the girls in the home.

Further information about St Agnes’ home can be found in the homes section of Hidden Lives Revealed.

Halliwick Penguins

One of the series of records that have been catalogued as part of this project are the minutes of the Halliwick Penguins, a swimming club based at Halliwick School For Girls, Winchmore Hill, London.

The home started out life as the Cripples and Industrial School on the Marylebone Road in London, being established by Miss Caroline Blunt in 1851. The school relocated to Winchmore Hill in 1911, and was transferred to The Children’s Society (then known as the Waifs and Strays Society) in 1927. Under The Children’s Society, the home changed its name to Halliwick School For Girls and was certified with the Ministry of Education as a special school for disabled children.

In its early years, Halliwick School For Girls took in around 60 girls from ages five to sixteen. These girls would be taught skills such as dressmaking and needlework.

As with other disabled children’s homes in the early 20th century, Halliwick carried out treatments and therapies for certain conditions, such as artificial sunlight therapy to help children with rickets and forms of tuberculosis. In the early 1950s, staff at Halliwick School For Girls began experimenting with swimming therapy; their aim being to help children with mobility difficulties to learn to swim and gain a freedom of movement.

The swimming therapy went so well that in 1951 the school opened its own swimming club, known as the Halliwick Penguins.

Matron’s report to the Halliwick Penguins Swimming Club, c1951

Above is a report by the matron of the home, which has been found among the minutes of the Halliwick Penguins, dated 1951. In this report the matron notes the affect of the swimming therapy on some of the girls in the home; from the sounds of it, the swimming therapy was very successful in giving the girls more mobility and in boosting their self-esteem.

The Halliwick Penguins went from strength to strength. In 1952 the Association of Swimming Therapy was established at Halliwick with the aim of setting up similar swimming clubs throughout the country and teaching disabled people to swim using the ‘Halliwick Concept’.

Halliwick School For Girls had closed down by the 1980s as The Children’s Society moved towards more innovative forms of childcare. However, the Halliwick Association of Swimming Therapy is still going strong and continues to use the Halliwick Concept to teach disabled people to swim, giving them a sense of freedom and mobility in the water.

More information about Halliwick School For Girls can be found here.
The website for the Halliwick Association of Swimming Therapy can be found here.

The changing perceptions of disability

While working with historical records relating to disabled children, it is very hard not to come across attitudes and phrases that can seem discriminatory and relatively demeaning when set alongside 21st Century standards and attitudes.

When reading these records, it is necessary to keep in mind that these were attitudes and phrases that were common in their day and were unlikely to have been seen as discriminatory by those using them. The records act as a body of evidence for how society saw disabled children in the past and how much has changed for the better in the intervening years.

In the above example, we have a page from a story booklet for children that was produced in c1930 by the Children’s Union. This booklet was created to teach children about the work of St Nicholas’ Home for disabled children in Pyrford, Surrey, with the aim of persuading them to donate money to the home.

The first thing that we come across in this example is the use of the word “crippled”. This term was very common in the 19th and early-20th Centuries and crops up very often in our records relating to disabled-children’s homes.

Secondly, when reading through this first part of the story, we begin to get a perception of how disabled children were seen at the time. Andy, the disabled boy, is described in a way that emphasises vulnerability and helplessness, with the aim of provoking a feeling of pity in the reader. Language like this is found in a lot of early publicity material for the Children’s Union; this material often talks about the disabled children being unfortunate and needy. Presumably, urging the public to feel pity was seen as a good way of motivating them to donate money for the disabled-children’s homes.

It is also clear that the focus at the time was very much on the medical model of disability and orthopaedic care. Disabled children’s homes often doubled as hospitals and were seen as places to treat medical conditions. The aim of the Children’s Union, as stated later in the above story, is to “help poor ill children, and make them well and strong”. Children with disabilities that could not be treated medically and children that were not able to learn a trade, were often seen as a group of people for whom nothing could be done; an unfortunate perspective.

As the 20th Century moved on, attitudes towards disability began to change toward a more social model, and we can see this reflected in the records.

Above is a page from a prospectus for Halliwick Further Education and Training Centre in Winchmore Hill, London, made c1980. While this prospectus also uses terms that are no longer common today, we can see that the attitude towards disability was quite different from that in the earlier document. The aim of the Centre was no longer about medical treatment to remove disabilities that were seen as obstacles. Instead, the aim of the Centre was to provide further education that was tailored and accessible to the disabled students, to provide them with the same opportunities for education as non-disabled children.

Examples like those above allow us to see how attitudes towards disability have changed over the years to become what they are now. I think it is very important that these records are preserved for the future and not hidden from history purely because they contain phrases that can be seen to be discriminatory or, indeed, offensive. After all, it is only by learning how things were that we can understand why and how things needed to change and where we need to go in the future.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children’s homes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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