Saturday, 7 July 2012

Labouring Children a book on British Home Children

I am reading Labouring Children by Joy Parr.*

Now in British Home Children studies I know I am a later comer and so apologise for all of you who have come across this book already.  It did after all arise out of a paper presented by Joy Parr in 1980, was published as a book in 1994 and was reissued with a new introduction in 2000.

So as I say I am a bit behind the door on this one.  I also have to say that I am only on chapter three, but then it only arrived from Canada yesterday and I only got to settle down with it late last night.

It is an excellent “class analysis” by which I mean it sets the British Home Child policy in the wider context of the economic as well as the cultural background of the period.

Here are no jibes at nasty dubious philanthropic individuals.  Instead we get a range of explanations rooted in the history of the mid and late 19th century all of which at their heart have that simple question, what should we do with the poor?

This of course had exercised the Establishment from as early as the 17th century with the Elizabethan Poor Law and rumbled on across the next few centuries, and made more urgent with the French Revolution, and the economic hardships caused by frequent poor harvests, cyclical trade depressions, and the growing mechanization of many trades including that of the farm labourer.

So you can take your pick from the Luddites and Swing Riots to the General Strike of 1842, and the vicious Stare repression.  This ranged from the frequent use of the Riot Act, the dispatch of troops to the north as an occupying force and those high points of class conflict as witnessed at Peterloo, and the transportation of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, and on the way took in the Gag Acts, the dismissal of the great Chartist petitions and many more local incidents now lost to history.

And against this back drop Joy Parr examines earlier attempts at shifting the poor and more particularly children out of Britain, and for me a special bonus is a reference to our own three socialist Guardians on the Board of the Chorlton Union who opposed the BHC policy on both ideological grounds and on concerns for the children’s safety.

So today in between time in town taking in an art gallery, there are chapters to read on The Promised Land, Family Strategy and Philanthropic Adoption, and Apprenticed or adopted, which I suspect will go to the very centre of the discussions we have all been having as we try to arrive at a balanced understanding of why so many children were sent from these shores just because they were poor, or might  have had parents  judged incapable of looking after them but really because one of the richest countries on the globe who boasted of the size, wealth and abundance of its empire did not look after its own.

*Parr, Joy, Labouring Children British Immigrant Apprentices to Canada, 1869-1924, Toronto Press, 2000
Picture; cover of the 2000 edition

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