Sunday, 4 December 2016

"Shedding an occasional ray of light and cheer upon the dull lives of the slum children" ......... the Cinderella Clubs

Now until yesterday I had no idea that there was an organisation called the Cinderella Club or of its links to the wider socialist movement and of its work in helping poor working class children.

It is one of those little stories which has faded from view, but is an interesting insight into how we were dealing with child poverty over a century ago.

“The idea of the Cinderella Clubs seems to have originated with Robert Blatchford, a journalist with the Sunday Chronicle. According to the Leeds Mercury of 18 April 1890, the Cinderella Club Movement, which was founded in Manchester, aimed 'to shed an occasional ray of light and cheer upon the dull lives of the slum children.' 

The Chronicle had 'asked for helpers in other towns,' and appears to have had little difficulty in securing these from the middle and working classes as well as patrons from the better classes.  In Leeds, for example, the Cinderella Club could count amongst its patrons the Mayor and Lady Mayoress and at least one local Member of Parliament.”*

In pursuing the story I came across twenty-five photographs of the work of the club taken in 1910.

They cover everything from Christmas visits to parties and the inevitable day out by the sea.

And it clearly there is a story here, both in its own right and as another challenge to those who saw the migration to Canada as the answer to child poverty, destitution and neglect.

Of course the Cinderella Clubs could never do more than be a short term fix to a big problem and there will be those who argued that in the long run a new start away from the grime and awful conditions of our inner cities in the fresh air and open fields of Canada and later Australia was the way forward.

For a few this may have been the case but as the records are beginning to show the migration of thousands of children to Canada brought heart ache, suffering and in some cases a degree of cruelty which exceeded what these young people had experienced here.

It also neatly side stepped the real issues that the prevailing economic and social system was responsible for the conditions endured by the majority of working people which even in good times was circumscribed by the possibilities of ill health unemployment and just bad luck.

Any of which could pitch a family into real poverty and destitution.

So I shall dig deeper in to the Cinderella Club Movement and into the Christian Socialists who seemed to be linked to the clubs.

All of which only leaves me to thank Dee who first published the story on facebook yesterday and in turn led me to the various sites which gave me some insight into their work.

In the meantime I shall just return to the images from the archive and in particular to the four I have featured.  I could have chosen others. But these I think sum up the club.

They all convey that mix of excitement and sheer pleasure that from a  party and a day out.  It is there in the smile on the face of the lone boy and from some of those in the hall.

And then there is the station scene.  It is a destination I do not know but maybe someone will follow the clue of “FURNISH AT WARINGS MANCH’R or recognise the station approach and come up with a place.

It is so representative of an institutional day out.  The children all in the best clothes, with a uniformity in their dress, the adults also decked out in their finest accompanying their own children and beyond them the day to day throng of railway passengers.

But there is also something else which I am not so sure about and sits a little uncomfortably with me.  It starts with that sign announcing “POOR GIRLS AND BOYS”, and going on to explain that the camp is SUPPORTED SOLELY BY VOLUNTARY CONTRIBUTIONS, and that it is "OPEN FOR INSPECTION DAILY.”

This may be a necessary part of any voluntary organisation and good self publicity but  reminds me of those before and after images that the children’s societies of the period went in for as a way of promoting their work of rescuing young people off the streets.

But I suspect that those in our picture were not bothered about the sign, they like the lad with the smile and the present are more content with what had been offered them.

Pictures; Cricket Game with the Cinderella Club, 1910,  m68190 , a party meal, m68191, one happy child, m68208, and setting off, m68209, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council

* The Cinderella Club Movement from the blog, Victorian History, http://vichist.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/cinderella-club-movement.html

**Manchester Local Image Collection, http://images.manchester.gov.uk/ResultsList.php?QueryName=BasicQuery&QueryPage=%2Findex.php%3Fsession%3Dpass&Anywhere=SummaryData%7CAdmWebMetadata&QueryTerms=Cinderella-Club&QueryOption=Anywhere&Submit=Search&StartAt=1

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