Children's Homes, Across The Pond

Thirteen Penny Stamps.         Chapter X                             Living in the Homes:


Here are a few memories of people who lived in Children's Homes at the turn of the century.  They look back over sixty or seventy years.

One part of that experience which imprints itself on nearly every memory is the actual journey into care, that horrifying expedition which must feel like a journey into "That undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns."

The journey begins with the breaking of the news.

"To begin at the beginning.  I was born out of wedlock to Bertha Franklin. My Grandparents lived in those Victorian days when such things happened to respectable families, the black sheep of the family was usually cast out from the family circle; which was the case with my Mother. She was never again admitted to it and we never saw each other again until I was nearly forty years old. 

 My Grandmother cared for me and when I was five, my grandfather died leaving Granny with two sons and me to provide for, so she went out nursing during the day and took in sewing But things must have got beyond Granny, whom I loved dearly. She also suffered with asthma. 

 I was rather a delicate child, a bit anaemic, and I remember quite clearly one day coming home to dinner, it must have been on a Monday as I can see now; Granny standing in a cloud of steam from the copper and telling me I was going to the seaside."

Often the children made the long journey alone, wearing a label bearing the destination address and travelling in the charge of the guard, as is remembered by this lady:  " I was six when my father died and my Mother was left with three children, she also had her grandmother living with her.  My Mother, I remember tried to prepare me for what was inevitable by telling me I was going away to the country, there would be a lovely garden and a lot of other girls to play with.  I couldn't understand why if it was so nice, mother kept crying! What I didn't realise was that mother wasn't coming with me. 

 I remember going into the office at Kennington Town Hall, seeing a lot of people at desks, and Mother crying, and the next thing I was on the big station, Liverpool Street I suppose, and being popped on to the train and we were off!  I can remember the bewilderment and misery of that long journey with strange people, occasionally the guard came to see if I was all right, and at Ipswich bought me a glass of milk and a bun.

We eventually arrived at Burston and I was met by a (to me) grim bespectacled person with a little bonnet on her head, and was lifted up on to a high dog cart between the 'ogre and the driver, to say I was terrified was putting it mildly."

Another lady, right across the other side of England, had  a similar experience but in the dark and at a very lonely place.   She was about nine years old when;

 "I was labelled again, put in guards van and arrived in London. Then another cab  (I can still hear trotting and horse bells) to what must have been Paddington, another long weary guards van journey, and was put out on a very lonely country platform with my parcel, always remember seeing train go out and wondering! A huge man with a big whip came up, read my label, took my hand and parcel and hoisted me up beside him!

I was terrified but he put a rug across me and a huge bullseye sweet into my mouth.  We trotted along the same way, and then I arrived and was signed for at the Diocesan Home, Longwells Green. Here my hair was shaved off, my name was submerged and I became for the next couple of years. Number 14."


After the Journey, The Arrival: the moment when that door opens, the memory shared by most people who have been In Care. Nearly all correspondents mention how there seemed to be dozens and dozens of children, all staring and staring, even though in reality there could have been only a few.  Here are two illustrations out of many.

"So here I am then, at three and a half years of age, held in the arms of my father, confronted by the matron of a Church of England Home For Waifs and Strays.

I was the youngest ever to be admitted to that big house.  I was aware of dozens of small faces peering behind banisters and doors, and watched them disappear at a sharp word from this lady with a clerical collar turned back to front, a navy dress with white cuffs and a small white hat."

I was sent to a Waifs and Strays Home along with my brother. I was five years old, that was 1910.  I lost my mother within twelve months of my father. I did not even go to the funeral.  I know when we got to Matlock we both cried for hours, and to sit down for a meal amongst lots of other children it did seem strange; all looking at you when you had your meal, watching every forkful go down."

But some children were perky and chipper enough to cope with such an entry into the unknown, as this gentleman recalls;

I was sent to a foster mother, she was a widow, as I say I was a live wire and too much for her so was sent to a Home in Knutsford, Cheshire; a label was put on my coat saying where I was going and various people to put me right.  I remember being met at Knutsford by a senior boy and on arrival at the Home; I knocked on the door which was answered by the Matron.  I said,  "I am a new boy, will I do?"

Once inside that door, the children would grieve and then grow quiet, and then find their bearings and settle into the routine. That routine in most Homes was so fixed and so predictable that even after sixty and seventy years it can be recalled to the precise minute and the precise detail.

We all had particular jobs to do. We were told over and over again, that if we wanted anything in life we must work for it. The routine was up and dressed by 6.30, household jobs until morning prayers7.15, breakfast 7.30."

One example of a job for a twelve year old was "outside girl".  This was washing down two lots of front door steps, cleaning the letterboxes and brass knockers and brass plates on the outside gate, when the miners were going to work. Invariably one would step out and give the plate a quick 'onetwo' and have it shining in no time."

" In the morning we used to kneel on the landing outside Matron's bedroom and one of the big girls would knock at the door and say,  "Please Mam the little ones have come to say their prayers."    Then we would go down to the cloakroom and clean our teeth (always in cold water).  Then we would line up one behind the other in the cloakroom and wait for the bell to ring for breakfast. Then we would file through to the kitchen where Matron would be standing, and each one of us would have to curtsey and say, "Good Morning Mam."

There were three steps down into the dining room"

As the daily routine was predictable, so was the week.  "Of the meals, I can only remember boiled liver on Thursdays, fish on Fridays", writes one lady, another recalls.."Tuesday evening it was stocking mending time, we all sat round the dining table and darned our long black stockings, they were pretty bad, we sat in dead silence, not a word must be spoken, and whoever got theirs done first, had to do the younger children's, as you may imagine we didn't hurry too much."

Text was copied from:   
CHILDREN SOCIETY : 13 penny stamps an extract from the book


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