In 1948 I was appointed Lady Superintendent of the Railway Servants Orphanage1 in Derby. This large orphanage was founded in the nineteenth century for the orphans of men employed in the Railway industry. Such institutions were not unusual in the days before the Welfare State and the Railway Servants Orphanage was comparable to the various homes and schools for the children of Soldiers, Sailors, Policemen, etc, most of which have now been closed. It was a vast Victorian barracks built to house three hundred children, though in 1948 there were only one hundred and thirty boys and girls, aged between five and sixteen.
The Railway Servants Orphanage presented exactly the sort of challenge which I had always wanted. It was an opportunity to redeem my Irish orphanage, which it resembled in more than mere size. I remained in it for sixteen years and I have kept in fairly close touch with it since. It was only here, and at Caldecott, that I was able to see results and to maintain contact with people in adult life whom I first knew as children in care.
For anyone wanting such a challenge the Railway Servants Orphanage was indeed a gift, as it was an anachronism even in its own day. The building was divided by locked doors into two parts - “Boys side” and “Girls side”. The only common ground was the Dining Hall where the children ate their meals in silence. Boys on one side, girls on the other. A master, known as the Boys Warden paced the centre to maintain order.
Each child had a number and, though the girls were addressed by their Christian names, some of the “Officers” professed to know the boys only by number.
Brothers and sisters were allowed to meet for twenty minutes once a week, in the Waiting Room. The presence of other people’s brothers and sisters must have presented a problem to the supervising officer! The system had been further complicated by a recommendation made by a Home Office inspector, three months earlier, that children over the age of twelve, should be allowed to go out for two hours on Saturdays and Sundays, unsupervised. They left by separate doors but nobody knew what happened in the Park! The younger children went for walks in crocodile, boys in one direction, girls in the other. Even the five year olds were not allowed to mix.
The girls were divided into three groups, Primaries aged five to seven, Juniors eight to eleven and Seniors twelve to sixteen. The Junior and Senior girls used the same enormous Day Room.
The boys had the use of four Day Rooms as they had an additional group known as Intermediates.
A roll of toilet paper was kept in a conspicuous place in each Day Room. This was to prevent any one child taking an excessive amount of paper and using it for drawing, darts or other illicit purposes. This rule applied to older boys and girls as well as to small children; in fact there was no other way of obtaining toilet paper.
There was one vast bathroom for the boys, containing eight baths, and another for the girls although in the girls bathroom one bath was in a separate cubicle. On both sides of the house there were a few lavatories for use at night, but during the day all the children were obliged to use outside lavatories. Both blocks were very ill lit and at a considerable distance from the house so that, for a nervous child, going to the lavatory after dark must have been a frightening experience.
An extensive urinal was provided for the boys and thirty-six separate lavatory compartments with half doors but no locks. Similar, but less numerous, compartments were provided for the girls, also without locks. In a first frantic attempt to give them some degree of privacy, I asked for the half doors to be raised so that the inmates would not be visible from outside, or at least only their feet would be visible. On going to inspect progress I was disappointed to find that the door had only been raised two or three inches. I indicated the exact height I required. The Joiner remonstrated in pained surprise “But Matron, if you have them as high as that the supervising officers won’t be able to see over the top!”
There was a locked lavatory outside which could be used for girls who were menstruating, if they asked the officer on duty for the key. They were obliged to ask anyway, in order to obtain sanitary towels which were issued singly.
I cannot remember what provision was made for eneuretic girls, but on the Boys Side there was one Wet Bed dormitory for all ages, including one boy of fourteen. These boys were penalised in various ways. One of the lesser irritants was being restricted to a half piece of cake on Sundays, to correspond with their half cups of tea!
All the children wore uniform and either hats or caps with the initials of the institution emblazoned on them.
The girls had three navy-blue tunics and three red jerseys. The best, marked with white tape, were for use on Sunday, the second best, marked with red tape, were for school and the oldest, marked with black tape, for “play”. Play tunics were put on as soon as they returned from school and were also worn on Sundays, except for Church and for “the walk”. In the house and grounds, tunics were covered by pinafores, regardless of the age of the wearer.
Each girl had also two navy-blue coats, a waterproof cape and three pairs of black shoes: best, school and play. In summer they had two different cotton dresses, of quite pretty material, but each set was the same. They were all made in the house. The best set was for Sunday and the second best for school. Cotton dresses were considered too perishable for play so after school, whatever the weather, they changed into the old blue tunics and red jerseys. Their flannel nightdresses were also made in the Home.
The boys had best suits for Sundays and second best for school. In summer they wore corduroy shorts or trousers (“longs” at the age of thirteen) and navy blue blazers. These corduroys were quite suitable when new, but constant washing in the institution laundry deprived them of all colour so that they resembled dirty white dungarees.
At one time all the children had to wear these clothes but by 1948 those attending Grammar School were provided with the appropriate uniform. It was certainly an incentive to pass the Eleven plus!
The clothes were of excellent quality, so they were never worn out by the child to whom they were first allotted. There was therefore an elaborate system of “passing down”. At frequent intervals either the boys or the girls were “put on line” in the Gym. This meant that they arranged themselves in order based exclusively on height; tallest to the shortest, with an age range of five to fifteen. Each child paraded in the article of clothing which was to be passed down; for the boys for example, Sunday suits or perhaps pyjamas. The officer in charge then said “number six to number 13“, or “sixty to sixty three” and so on until every boy seemed to be in possession of a garment befitting his size. Periodically new garments were obtained and these too were allotted when the children were “on line”, and each set of clothes took a step down the scale. As a result the cupboards were filled with the “play clothes” of many generations as they seldom became too worn for this purpose and trousers were patched and repatched.
Play jackets were never cleaned, as was apparent from the state of the tablecloths! Sometimes the children remained on line for two hours at a time. When, during the war, they were evacuated to private houses in a rural area, they were all assembled at regular intervals in the village hall so that the “on line” ceremony could take place.
When the children eventually left they were supplied with a “leaving outfit” from the skin out. This entirely unfamiliar clothing must have intensified the change from school to work; from institution to home or “digs”.
The female “officers” also wore uniform consisting of a coat overall. They ate their meals in a small room with “Officers Dining Room” painted on the door in white letters. There was an elaborate hierarchy and each Officer had her own sheets, towels, blankets etc marked with her rating. “Boys Assistant Six” She had twill sheets. Mine, and my Deputy’s, were linen and there was a superior grade of cotton for those who came between. The children had unbleached calico.
The Home closed for four weeks every summer when the children either went home or to some other place found by the surviving parent or guardian. This was a condition of admission.
Though the majority of them went to perfectly respectable homes, they were treated on their return as if they had come from a plague stricken area. They were not allowed to associate with each other until they had been inspected and arrayed in clean clothes.
The girls were received in a large building in the grounds known as the “play shed”. There they undressed, were examined for possible diseases and had their heads fine combed. All clothes, including the contents of their bags or parcels, were tipped into waiting laundry baskets. Dressed in a pair of knickers and a coat they proceeded to the bathroom where they were bathed, had their hair washed and put on clean uniform.
One girl, who spent her holidays with an Aunt, told me years later that she had been particularly mortified by this procedure because her Aunt always insisted on washing all of her clothes on the last day of the holiday. She could not bear to see them jumbled into an orphanage laundry basket. She never told her Aunt.
Apart from the kitchen and the staff quarters, the children, as was the custom, did all the domestic work of the institution, including the washing-up. Much was done before breakfast, including scrubbing, but there was always more work to be done after school. On Friday evenings the children worked almost continuously, polishing the dining hall, day rooms and dormitories. The “play clothes” were to a large extent misnamed!
The food was definitely poor and the daily menus never changed. This was due partly to lack of imagination and the habit of economy, but also to the difficulty of obtaining supplies as wartime food rationing was still in force. There was apparently no knowledge of how extra quantities of meat etc could be obtained for children. ”Tea”, the last formal meal of the day, consisted of bread and margarine. The number of slices was limited, four for Seniors, two for Juniors. On Sundays it was augmented by cake and jam, and on two weekdays by buns. Seniors had supper later in the evening. This consisted of bread and dripping, and cocoa.
Ultimate responsibility for this institution was vested in a general benefit organisation for the whole railway industry, which had its headquarters in London.
This organisation was represented on the General Management Committee of the orphanage, a voluntary self-perpetuating body composed of railway executives (several of them already retired) and some co-opted members of the general public. These lay members were generally chosen for their interest in social work, several were magistrates and they represented a more informed opinion. The others were elected simply because of their executive position, the more exalted their rank the more credit was reflected on the institution. The Welfare Officers were not represented nor was there any representative of the working men although the place was supported mainly by their contributions. The recently appointed Children’s Officer did not attend, nor was his department represented.
The House Committee was a sub-committee of the General Management Committee with some co-opted members.
There was also a Ladies Committee composed of the wives of some members and a few local ladies. It had no power but it was useful as a means of initiating discussion and it was on the whole a more progressive body than the House Committee to which it sent two representatives.
These four committees all met monthly and, as their spheres were not defined, many topics were discussed by all of them and there was a considerable amount of wasted effort, repetition and unnecessary clerical work. Matters of real importance and some urgency were often referred back to square one.
The members of the committee were without exception people of integrity who promoted what they believed to be the interests of the institution and of the children. The main weakness was that none of the members had an intimate knowledge of what happened in it. Many of them had no knowledge of children, or their knowledge was completely out of date. None of them had any knowledge of comparable institutions and most of them had a rooted objection to the Home Office Inspectorate. There were exceptions but they, like the Inspectorate, were viewed with suspicion because they offended the deep loyalty which the others felt for the institution. They feared criticism of any kind. I remember their annoyance when they learned that the Director of Education had, unofficially, had lunch with the children. They were also, at first, unwilling to take children from Local Authorities because of the risk of the Authority ”dictating” the way the Home should be managed.
My relationship with the house committee, though superficially good, was not based on complete mutual confidence and it was sometimes severely strained. They suspected, quite correctly, that things happened that were not reported to them and I often did not fully report because I mistrusted their judgement. My own was not infallible! Conflict between the interests of the individual and the interests of the community is often insoluble, and it is the interests of the community which must ultimately prevail. However, I felt that the committee were so insistent on the interests of the community that those of the individual were insufficiently recognised.
It had been their policy to ”discharge” children who were found to have been dishonest. The pilfering child might bring the place into disrepute and lead others astray. The amenities were meant for the deserving. I remember, at a preliminary interview, asking the chairman if use was made of the local Child Guidance Clinic? “No” he said “we don’t need it. These are all perfectly normal children.” It was certainly a bold claim.
The attitude to delinquency, as to much else, was modified over the years. This was partly owing to the admission of women to the Management Committee, which happened when the Ladies Committee was finally abolished.
Unfortunately my early experience was by no means unique, and I know that many other people are in exactly the same position today. It is that the employee is wholly committed to the work and believes that his knowledge of it is greater than that of his employer. It seems that this situation will continue until some better method is evolved for constituting charitable committees. Children’s Officers face exactly the same difficulty.
My own position would have been infinitely more precarious had it not been for the help of the Secretary who had held his position for a considerable number of years and who enjoyed the complete confidence of the Committee. I was fortunate. Others have failed because of the opposition of someone in a similarly entrenched position.
Almost from the start I got help and encouragement from a succession of Home Office Inspectors, and particularly from the Regional Inspector. We applied to them for specialist advice when we planned our first major changes. The staff also benefited from their visits.
I had also the consistent support of the one member of the Committee who had been genuinely disquieted by what he had seen before my appointment. Progress without him would have been almost impossible. The Institution owes him much.
My predecessor’s Deputy had left with her so I arrived with a trusted friend and was never in a position of total isolation. A month later we were joined by a woman of considerable experience, with a unique understanding of children. She took immediate charge of the youngest group and later assumed, in addition, the rather unpromising title of “Boys Matron”. This meant that she remained ’the woman behind the boys’ until they left school. This to some extent mitigated the disadvantage of “age groups”. Being one of those rare people to whom the work itself is sufficient, and who do not want status or final responsibility, she remained at the Orphanage for eighteen years to the great benefit of all concerned, not least the parents.
We were, I think, equally fortunate that the women “Officers” disliked us from the start and within a month almost all of them had given notice. The idea of having meals with the children was, for most, the final indignity. Two of the men remained, one until I myself left sixteen years later.
1948 was, on the whole, a good year for recruiting people to work with children. The report of the Curtis Commission and the tragic death of Dennis O’Neill had stimulated compassion and interest but it was not yet easy for more progressive people to obtain employment. During the early years we had three Oxford graduates, one of whom stayed with us for several years and only left on account of a breakdown in health. She is now in a senior administrative position with one of the large voluntary societies. I note with satisfaction that in this particular society there is no longer any distinction between “residential” and “field” staff. They work on terms of complete equality. After two years we began to take students from the various courses run by the Central Training Council. Many of these students returned to us as members of staff. Some remained for many years. They knew in advance to what they were coming.
We also took as ”Assistants” girls from Switzerland, Holland and Germany. Some of these girls had been studying social work in their own country and came not only to learn the language but also to gain experience with children. Two young men came for a similar purpose. Many of these people were excellent and, as the children knew they had only come for six months or a year, their leaving was less unsettling than if they had been accepted as permanent members of the household. Some remained our friends and returned for visits. They also invited older children for holidays in their own countries.
The success or failure of any “Home” depends on the quality of the people who are actually working with the children and also upon their willingness to remain and supply that continuity which is so essential for a happy and secure childhood. That has certainly been the strength of the Caldecott Community and it became the strength of St Christopher’s.2 There were of course exceptions, some of them disastrous, but we retained a nucleus of people, very different in temperament and education from the previous staff, who were prepared to work as a team and upon whom the children could depend.
The value of this continuity was particularly apparent when “old children” came back for weekends and holidays and found themselves welcomed on equal terms. Returning to a building may have sentimental interest but what we all want at times is to re-live incidents in our own childhood with people who can remember and share our experience. This is particularly valuable for people who have very little assurance about their infancy and early childhood and whose memory can only reach a comparatively short distance into the past. A young man who professed to have been happy in a Home for Boys told me that he could remember nothing before he was six.
Any assessment of our achievements and failures is made more difficult by the fact that our own ideas were changed and modified both by experience and by the rapidly changing climate of opinion outside. It must also be remembered that in 1948 we were dealing with a large number of older boys and girls who had been brought up under rigid and abnormal conditions, completely segregated from each other and, except during school hours, from the outside world. And they were quite unaccustomed to any kind of normal contact with adults.
In this connection an abstract from my predecessor’s monthly report to the Committee in February 1947 is perhaps illuminating. It follows a complaint about behaviour. “It appears that most of the children here today require more individual training and will not respond to mass treatment.”
The amount of progress we made with these children was limited and it was only when they had left, and their influence faded, that we began to see the effects of a more liberal upbringing upon the boys and girls who succeeded them.
Our task was, I now think, made less impossible by the continued presence, for twelve months, of the Boys Warden. This ex Petty Officer had been in charge of the boys for thirty years and, while resisting change, he averted anarchy.
The girls were not subjected to any such restraining influence and their behaviour was outrageous. They seemed quite unable to realise that we wished for a less strict regime. Any relaxation of rules was attributed to weakness and inability to enforce discipline as, for instance, toleration of talking in the dining hall. There was also an underlying suspicion that any attempt to improve their conditions was really a subtle attempt to curry favour with them, their parents or the Committee. Nothing we did was accepted at face value.
Sometimes the place was in a state of complete pandemonium. I remember one morning when a gang of girls refused to go to school and rushed wildly round the building, upsetting the pails of the newly engaged daily cleaning staff. One of them got on the roof of my car and executed a war-dance, to the complete bewilderment of the neighbours.
There were some advantages in having a Committee which did not visit. Had they been aware of our complete lack of control there is no doubt that we would have been speedily replaced. Luck was with us. No one in authority ever knew.
The general insubordination continued for almost a year and then subsided as suddenly as it had arisen.
In the meantime we made some progress in getting to know the older boys who, on the whole, approved of us. When their old Warden finally retired, we were already accepted.
The process of mixing sexes, where children have previously been brought up separately, is never easy. We started by having a mixed group aged five to seven and another aged eight to eleven. The first group was entirely successful from its inception but we were less fortunate in staffing the second. After two failures we reverted to separate House Mistresses and separate play rooms for the boys and girls though they often played together, particularly out of doors.
The older boys and girls remained in separate age groups, each with a House-mistress or House-master in charge.
Almost from the start of the new regime, with Staff taking all their meals with the children, we encouraged children to sit with their siblings and discouraged sexual discrimination. There was a tendency, especially among the boys, to revert to single sex tables and, as boys outnumbered girls by almost two to one, many tables remained single sex.
As the building had been built to house a much larger number of children, we never suffered from shortage of space and it was possible to allocate room for various mixed activities. A Library was started, a chess club, a dancing class and badminton. Out of doors games included mixed hockey, tennis and rounders.
After two years, mixed “Houses” were introduced with elected Captains, Vice-captains and one, also elected, member of staff as Chairman. These Houses were concerned only with sport but through them the children learnt the elements of committee procedure. The Inter-house Committee became a quite important body which met in the Committee Room- the most sacrosanct room in the building!
We were pleased when the first girl was elected as a House Captain.
Inter-house activities included football, hockey, netball, tennis, cross-country running, darts, table tennis, billiards, chess and P.T. They culminated in Sports Day when, after presentation of “cups”, the four houses had tea separately, and there were toasts and speeches. Later we had our own swimming gala which was also organised on a House basis.
I believe that the Houses fulfilled a useful purpose in enabling the boys and girls to gain a greater respect for each other and in fostering a good relationship between the older and younger children - everyone over eight was allotted to a House. They also helped to mitigate the disadvantages of grouping by age and they enabled members of Staff to form good relationships with children in other groups.
As a result of inter-house activities, many of the children became so keen on sport that they excelled and a high proportion found places in the teams of their various schools.
Much later, boys and girls mixed in more cultural activities, particularly in drama which reached a fairly high standard both in ‘Free’ drama and also in formal productions. “The play” came to be a project on which the entire household united.
The age of admission had originally been five but this had so often resulted in families being separated and becoming strangers to each other that, in 1949, we persuaded the Committee to open a Nursery department which would admit children at the age of two. Though I am sure that this policy was right, the Nursery was never a success , mainly because I did not myself at that time understand the needs of very young children.
The person in charge, though entirely conscientious, also lacked understanding and some of the children became, I believe, frustrated and emotionally starved.
Later we engaged a trained Nursery Nurse to organise a Nursery Schol. This at least provided occupation during the day but it was only when we closed the Nursery and distributed the children among the other groups, with their brothers and sisters, that they got the individual attention that they needed. This was the beginning of the ‘family groups’ which replaced age groups after my own retirement.
Pressure of work and the constant demands of a large institution sometimes leave insufficient time for formulating policy or keeping objectives clearly in view, but so far as the individual children were concerned we did aim at developing their full potential and also at integrating them with society.
They varied considerably in background and intelligence. Some attended Grammar and Technical schools, others schools for the educationally subnormal. One girl was ineducable and attended an occupation centre.
Some came from good homes and were secure in the love of a surviving parent. These received weekly letters, parcels, and, once the rules were relaxed, spent all their holidays at home. If their homes were reasonably near they could also go home for weekends..
Other children were entirely unwanted; illegitimate or perhaps the children of failed marriages. Sometimes one parent was serving a prison sentence. Some needed specialist help at Child Guidance clinics, speech therapy or remedial teaching. Many were entirely lacking in self confidence. Progress with all these children was dependent on whether a member of staff was able to make contact with them.
The demands of the deprived children were very time consuming. What they wanted and needed was the constant attention of an adult. Their main deprivation was that of human relationship.
There is a current theory that workers in children’s homes, apart from not becoming “over possessive”, should not allow themselves to become “involved” with the children because it is better to try for a lasting relationship with someone outside the Home; as for instance a potential Foster Parent or a Holiday Foster Parent. This seems to me a cruel and dangerous doctrine. No one wishes relationships to be limited to people within the Home, but the child in a normal family has many contacts. Apart from the relationship with his parents he is often rich in varied friendships.
A deprived child finds it more difficult to make relationships but, where there is a chance of one being formed, surely it should be fostered and encouraged? In adult life real friendships are not so numerous that they can be lightly disregarded by any of us.
This, of course, assumes that the Workers concerned have a high sense of personal responsibility so that, even when the child leaves the Home, the Worker concerned remains in contact with him/her for as long as he/she needs support.
Within our first year, the Committee agreed that parents should be encouraged to have their children home for the school holidays. This meant that about half of the children went to their own homes for at least part of the holidays. We tried to find holiday foster homes for the others.
This was a fairly slow process because we wanted people who would provide permanent holiday foster homes, not just an occasional treat. Finding the right child for a particular home is not easy and we never tried persuading people to persevere if their first placement was not a success.
I have never believed that people should be put under a moral obligation to befriend a child with whom they have no sense of affinity. This cannot result in real friendship. The first visit should always be presented to the child as a chance invitation and there should be no obligation on either side. Many of the holiday foster parents felt badly let down because some of the older children, after one or two holidays, did not want to return. But when people started with a young child it sometimes resulted in a lasting relationship and the children continued not only to visit for holidays but lived in the foster home permanently after leaving school. These were, however, the exceptions.
I think particularly of a middle-aged couple who became very attached to a little girl aged two and a half. After an unsuccessful attempt to place her with a younger couple, we allowed the child to spend every holiday with the middle-aged couple. It was a happy arrangement until she reached her teens, when she began to resent their rather protective standards and, perhaps naturally, wanted more exciting holidays with people of her own age. The time she spent with them rapidly diminished and she refused their offer of a permanent home with them after she left school. At the age of twenty she returned to them with a daughter the same age as she was when they first knew her. In spite of their distress and damaged pride, no grandparents could have accepted an illegitimate child with greater love and concern. They are now all living together, the foster parents caring for the child while its mother goes out to work.
The Committee were not prepared to undertake permanent boarding-out but three adoptions resulted from these holiday foster homes; the first in the history of the Institution.
Reduction in the number of children during school holidays, gave us a greater chance of getting to know those who were left, and they were able to lead a much freer and more relaxed life. Eventually we were able to find holiday homes for all the children but some liked to remain with us for Christmas when ”old children” came back and families could be together. Sometimes fathers joined us.
From the first we were not restricted as to distance,3 so it was possible to accept invitations from all over the country, including Scotland and Wales. When unable to investigate a potential home ourselves, we asked the local Children’s Department to do this for us. They reported on general suitability as a holiday home, not as a permanent fostering.
Neither I nor any member of staff had any training in the techniques of “boarding out” and mistakes were made which should have been avoided. I sometimes failed to make a correct assessment of the suitability and motives of people who offered hospitality.
One case was particularly tragic. We had in our care two small boys whose father was serving a prison sentence. The mother was taking divorce proceedings against him. They had also another boy, aged nine months, in the care of the Local Authority. The mother was deeply attached to the eldest of these children, but ignored the baby and actively disliked the middle child, Tommy. It seemed possible that the eldest was the child of another man.
The baby was transferred to us from the residential nursery and, with the cooperation of the local Children’s Department, an adoption was arranged to which the mother thankfully gave her consent. In the meantime a young childless couple had befriended the unwanted Tommy, then aged four, and he for the first time blossomed in a warm and welcoming environment. All holidays and every weekend were spent in this new home, where he had his own room and many possessions.
I was disconcerted to find that he also had different clothes, into which he changed on arrival. His new friends failed to understand that, for so long as he was obliged to lead two lives, they must be integrated. The husband was particularly good with Tommy who had previously lacked any effective father figure. These young people naturally wished for adoption and, in view of the natural mother’s actual aversion to the boy, manifesting itself at times in physical ill-treatment, the chances appeared to be very good. There was also the precedent of the baby brother. We again enlisted the help of the Children’s Department and they too thought the prospect good, though they gave the customary warning that the mother could always, at the last moment, withhold her consent.
This was in fact what happened. After she obtained her divorce she said she intended marrying another man, who wished to adopt both the boys. Her decision was final and we had to break the news to the prospective adopters. Their reaction was immediate. They would not see Tommy again as they would find it “too upsetting”.
As the mother lived, and would continue to live, in the same town, their continued friendship could have been of incalculable value to Tommy. Even apart from this, there was an interval of nearly a year before the marriage took place and during this time the boys remained with us. Poor Tommy was bewildered and disconsolate. “Why don’t they want me any more?” Indeed, why not? When I wrote and asked that at least some contact should be maintained, the husband replied that he could not allow his wife to be distressed further. Tommy proved very intractable with his mother and step-father and I have no doubt that a subsequent request for adoption would have met with acceptance; but the request was never made.
Tommy was the unwitting victim of an amateur. A skilled Child Care Officer might have detected the fundamental selfishness of these people before the damage was done.
We had another case of people who lavished affection upon a little girl and then completely rejected her because she had taken lipstick from a bedroom drawer! “We could never feel the same about her again, knowing she could steal from us after all we had done for her.” The child was then age seven.
Under the old regime Parental visits had been restricted to one specific Saturday in each month. We found that this was often inconvenient for the parents and also that a formal visiting day disrupted the ordinary life of the household and was disturbing for those children who never had visitors. Instead we allowed parents to visit on any Saturday or Sunday and either take their children into the town for lunch or tea or, alternatively, have their meal with us.
At the same time we tried to find people in the neighbourhood to befriend children who were without functioning parents, and invite them to their own homes for tea, or for the day.
Again we hoped that this would be a permanent arrangement. Many of these people offered permanent holiday foster homes. The students of a neighbouring Teachers Training College were helpful in furthering this scheme and were particularly successful with some of the more difficult children. Some of these friendships were lasting and the children went home with the students for holidays.
There was a residue of older boys and girls who did not avail themselves of these invitations but, as the children became more self assured, they began to make their own friends and did not need to have arrangements made for them.
Prior to 1948 the children had not been allowed to join outside organisations, though at one time there was a Scout Troop and a Girl Guide Company within the institution. One of the masters asked me if I did not think the boys “attitude” was better when they did not mix with other boys?
Once permission was given, almost all the children wished to become Scouts, Guides, Cubs or Brownies. The various commissioners were severely pressed to find enough vacancies for them. However, enthusiasm waned very quickly and after a year we had fewer than a dozen Scouts and guides. Cubs and Brownies were more popular, partly because of the excitement of going out at night unsupervised.
This was, I think, a perfectly normal reaction. Scouting and Guiding do not attract a large proportion of young people and, for those already living in a community, the camaraderie which they offer has no appeal. Some boys enjoyed Scouts and went regularly to Scout Camps, but they were the exception.
Our experience was similar with other organisations, Red Cross, Army and Sea Cadets, Boy’s Brigade and Youth clubs.
As an experiment we sent some boys and girls to four-week training courses at Outward Bound centres. This was so successful that we eventually sent all our older children, unless they did not want to go or were clearly unsuitable. We found that the children not only enjoyed these courses but they gained very considerably in self-confidence and poise.
In addition to these activities with organisations outside St Christopher’s, the children went camping and youth hostelling, occasionally without a member of staff.
1 Writing in 1966, Miss Seaver felt it necessary to protect the anonymity of the institution and used the (reversed) acronym ‘OSR’ in place of ‘Railway Servants Orphanage‘. Editing her work for a post 2009 professional reader the original name of ‘Railway Servants Orphanage’ has been used.
2 During the first year of Miss Seaver’s time as Warden, the name of the orphanage was changed from ‘Railway Servants Orphanage’ to ‘St Christopher’s School’ as helping to break with the past. The Editor has used the old name while describing the old regime; the new name is used throughout the remainder of this paper.