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:

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:

or you can consult the Archive’s on-line catalogue:

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:

“A friend to friendless children”, The Children’s Society in Gloucestershire, 1897-1954

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

The Children’s Society has had a long association with Gloucestershire running a number of children’s homes and social work projects in the county over the years. This child care activity fell into two main periods, 1897-1954 and 1987-1993. These phases in part reflected the changes in the Society’s child care provision as it moved from residential child care into the new world of specialist social work projects and helping children, young people and families in their own communities.

This blog looks at the first of these phases, 1897-1954, when The Children’s Society ran two residential children’s homes in the county. During this time The Children’s Society was known as the Church of England Society for the Provision of Homes for Waifs and Strays – or, ‘Waifs and Strays’ for short. In 1946 the title changed to the Church of England Children’s Society.  The most important home during this period was St Monica’s Home for Girls in Cheltenham.

St Monica’s Home for Girls, Cheltenham

The Society took St Monica’s over in 1897. The home, which was originally known as the Frances Owen Memorial Home for Little Girls was founded in 1885 by a leading member of the Cheltenham Ladies College, Miss Sawyer. Situated at 2 Alexandra Villas, Hewlett Street, the home ran into financial difficulties during the 1890s and asked the Society to take it over.

The Society renamed the home the Gloucester Diocesan Home for Little Girls. During these early years the Society’s Annual Reports describe the home as being a ‘cottage home’ for 12 girls aged between 7 and 12. The cottage home or family-group home system was Edward Rudolf’s alternative to the large institutionalised children’s home that was so common in the nineteenth century. He wanted to establish homes that had only a small number of children cared for by a master and matron who would act like a mother and father to them. Every home was also supposed to have a pet cat or dog to complete the homely atmosphere!

A group photograph of the girls from the home taken in 1897

A group photograph of the girls from the home taken in 1897

By the early 1900s the Society was being asked to care for ever increasing numbers of children.  By 1906 it was clear that the home had outgrown its premises and needed to find a new site. In 1907 it moved to larger premises at Battledown Grange, Charlton Kings, Cheltenham, and renamed St Monica’s. It remained here until it closed in 1954.

Order of service for the Installation of Matron to St Monica's, 1929

Order of service for the Installation of Matron to St Monica’s, 1929

This is not to say that nothing changed between 1907 and 1954. The most significant change during these years occurred in 1947 when a decision was made to convert the home into a residential nursery for children aged 0-5 and a training college for nursery nurses. The Society was a pioneer of both residential nursery provision and nursery nurse training. The Society’s ‘ABCD’ (Association of Baby and Child Welfare Diploma) course was started in 1942 and was used as the model for the Ministry of Education’s National Nursery Examination Board (NNEB) scheme.

The first term for the students at St Monica’s commenced in February 1948. They attended a specially devised nursery nursing course at the North Gloucestershire Technical College and were able to put theory into practice when they returned home to the nursery.

Charlton House, Gloucester

The Society acquired this home in 1905. The home had been set up by Miss Ellice Hopkins, who is described in the 1915 edition of the Society’s supporter magazine ‘Our Waifs and Strays’ as being “the friend of friendless girls”. Little is known about the history of Charlton House when it was managed by the Society, save that it was closed in 1915 on the grounds of “the immediate surroundings being detrimental to the proper upbringing of children”. Plans to build a new home in the town were defeated by the full force of the First World War.

Life at St Monica’s 1912-1937

What was it like to live in a children’s home run by the Society during these years? The survival in The Children’s Society’s Archive of correspondence, annual reports and inspection returns for St Monica’s makes it possible to compile a useful picture of daily life there.

The Daily Round

The girls at the home were expected to contribute towards a number of domestic tasks. These included housework, making beds under supervision, setting and clearing tables before and after meals and helping in the kitchen and scullery.

Education and Training

The girls at the home attended the local Anglican school, All Saints. Sundays were taken up with numerous visits to church and Sunday school. In 1915 and for much of the time up until the 1930s the children went to the morning and evening service at the Church of the Holy Apostle, Charlton Kings, Cheltenham, and had Sunday school at the home.

The girls were trained mainly in the skills needed for domestic service. In 1912 there was mending of clothes after tea and in 1913 the girls were reported to be making clothes and knitting socks. The older girls who were nearing the end of their schooling were known as ‘house girls’. They were found positions with local people as trainee housemaids and domestic servants. Every girl that left the home was found a place either at one of the Society’s training schools or in work.

Leisure Activities

Outside of the world of school and domestic chores, the children had their ‘play nights’ with toys and a large play room. The inspection reports for the 1910s and 1920s reveal that the home had a library that the children could use, although the books had to be checked by matron before they could be issued. The 1912 report noted the children played croquet and skipping, and had the doubtful pleasure of drilling or physical exercise once a week. The 1920s saw the development of a singing class, which was followed in 1937 by a percussion band.

Seven girls playing 'ring-a-ring of roses' in the back yard of this home, 1897

Seven girls playing ‘ring-a-ring of roses’ in the back yard of this home, 1897

Members of the local community often provided entertainments for the home. In 1919 music and dancing was taught on Thursdays by Miss Booth, while Miss Atwell Parker played with the girls on Monday evenings and Mr Daniels entertained them on Tuesday evenings. The children would be treated to tea by the parish and its incumbent, something that the ladies of the Cheltenham Ladies College were keen to do during the 1930s.

The local community was generous in providing gifts of clothes, food and household equipment, and harvest time would bring in a wide variety of fruits and foods. ‘Pound Days’, when local people brought in pound weights of produce or gave a donation of £1, were particularly helpful on this front. Similarly Christmas brought donations of presents, food and a Christmas tree. The children would be entertained with singing and a nativity play.

During the summer there was an annual summer fete that the children were very much involved with, and, best of all, a holiday.

Girls from St Monica's sitting on a see-saw, 1897

Girls from St Monica’s sitting on a see-saw, 1897

Most of the Society’s homes had strong links with the Girl Guide and Scouting movements. It was not until 1925 that it was suggested that St Monica’s should form a Girl Guide troop. The troop was clearly successful and by 1929 there were 12 Guides and 10 Brownies. A year later in 1930 the St Monica’s Guides won the County Shield for sports.

Health and Welfare

The health and welfare of the children at the home during these years was above average when compared to standards of living and health care to be found in society generally at this time.

Regular inspections of the girls were made by the home’s medical officer. By the 1930s the children were being weighed quarterly, a record of their individual weights being kept by the medical officer. The home had its own isolation wing for treating infectious illnesses, and had an arrangement with the local fever or isolation hospital – the Delancy Hospital – to provide care and treatment for more serious cases.

Although the girls were given periodic dental inspections during the Edwardian period, this aspect of their health was put on firmer footing in 1919 when the home made a formal link with a dental practice, namely, Messrs Peake and Holmes Barnett “who give their services entirely free of charge”.

In terms of personal hygiene, the annual inspection reports indicate that all children were given daily baths (1912 and 1913 Inspection Reports). Hands were expected to be washed before meals and every girl had her own flannel and soap. The 1912 inspection report notes that every girl had her own hair brush, comb and toothbrush; by 1931 these items had to be given distinctive marks to ensure that they were always used by the same child.

Every child had a small ‘wardrobe’ of clothes that included two pairs of boots, a pair of slippers and a daily supply of hankies. Mealtimes at the home were 8am for breakfast, 12.30pm for dinner, 5pm for tea and 8pm for supper. Although no dietary record has survived the meals would have been similar to those specified in the Society’s procedural handbook ‘Rules for Workers’.

An extract from a menu, 1938 Handbook for Workers

An extract from a menu, 1938 Handbook for Workers

For other information about The Children’s Society Archive’s former children’s homes, visit the Archive’s ‘Hidden Lives Revealed’ web site:

or consult the Archive’s on-line catalogue:

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: