Happy New Year! We start 2015 off with a guest post written by one of our Archivists, Richard Wilson.
Around the time of The Children’s Society’s Golden Jubilee in 1931 we founded a needlework club for supporters willing to make at least one garment a year for the children in our residential care homes. The club was called the Golden Needle League (GNL) and local branches around the country were formed for volunteers to meet together on a regular basis to sew and knit children’s clothing. Once finished the clothing was donated to a specific local home or sent to our head office in London for distribution according to need. The idea behind the GNL was to reduce our ‘formidable’ annual clothing bill and source high-quality, individual clothing for the children in our care.
The GNL was a great success and by 1943 had over 8,000 members. It continued to operate until 1971 when it changed its name to the Children’s Gift Scheme. The GNL was not a completely new initiative for The Children’s Society. A similar club, the Silver Thimble League, had been operating in the Liverpool area since 1897, and our supporters’ magazine had already been urging readers to make and donate clothing for several years when the GNL was founded.
In 1968 a branch of the GNL was established in the village of Toton near Nottingham by Mrs Eileen Hall. As well as making clothes for children at several of our residential care homes in Central England and a family centre in Nottingham, the branch organised garden parties and other fundraising events for The Children’s Society.
Every member of the GNL was issued with a membership card containing a golden needle (not made out of real gold!), and the front of Mrs Hall’s card is reproduced below (left) next to an earlier promotional leaflet from the 1940s. Underneath these items is a picture of Mrs Hall at a fundraising event in 1979 with several knitted garments made by the Toton Golden Needle League.
Mrs Hall corresponded regularly with the homes and family centre supported by her group to ascertain what garments they required and obtain measurements for the children and young people. When the clothes were finished, she would often deliver them to the homes in person and meet the residents and staff. Below is a letter that Mrs Hall received from our Woodhouse Eaves home in 1983 thanking her for a donation of clothing and providing details of jumpers and cardigans required by the home. (Click the image for a larger version.)
The Toton branch of the GNL continued to operate until 1993 (several years after the League had been discontinued at a national level) when it changed its name to the Toton Support Group for The Children’s Society. Mrs Hall ran the group until 2013 when she retired after an incredible 45 years of service. During this time she kept a meticulous account of the group’s activities in a series of 39 scrapbooks, which contain a wide range of material, including letters, photographs, publicity material, personal accounts of events and visits and financial records. Mrs Hall is pictured below holding the first scrapbook, which she started in 1968.
Mrs Hall has kindly donated her scrapbooks to our archive where they will be retained alongside our administrative and childcare records to help document an important part of The Children’s Society’s history – the work of our local volunteers and supporters.
If, like Mrs Hall, you hold the records of a local Golden Needle League, fundraising or supporters’ group and would like to donate them to our archive we would be delighted to hear from you. You can reach the archive sending an email to Hidden-Lives-Revealed@childrenssociety.org.uk.