Friday, 26 May 2017

Stories behind the book ....... nu 2 digging deep and working together

Now all books are a collaboration and that is particularly true of this one which is being written to mark the 150th anniversary of the Together Trust.

Central Refuge, Francis Street
It began in 1870 as an organisation simply to rescue destitute boys from the streets of Manchester and Salford, give them a bed for the night and a warm meal.

But within two decades and a bit it had expanded to offer permanent homes for both boys and girls, set up vocational schools, provided holidays by the sea and intervened in the courts to protect children from abusive and neglectful parents and begun to campaign to improve the working conditions of young people.

Charles Gibson
It was as the Lord Mayor of Manchester said a mission which “took people from the lowest portions of the city, educated them, and improved their surroundings without in any way pauperising them.  They gave them a home life, and enabled them to make men and women of themselves.”*

Nor were the children stigmatized by having to wear a uniform and although the charity was founded on Christian principles these were not a requisite for admission.

These broad outlines I knew, but as ever it is the detail which makes for the stories.

And here starts the collaboration because from the outset it was to be a joint venture with Liz Sykes who is the archivist for the Trust.

Liz has a very successful blog which focuses on the history of the charity and one that I have raided for ideas, information and stories. **

And as Canadian colleagues have testified she has also been very willing to help them trace family members who passed through the care of the organization.

Caxton Brigade
Liz has provided a timetable of events, along with suggestions for archive material to look at and together we have worked out how the book will be divided up to cover those 150 years.

All of which leaves me to continue trawling the actual media coverage of the first fifty years of the Trust’s work.

Each year it presented an annual report at a meeting usually held in the Town Hall and attended by supporters.

Those reports make interesting reading not only because they describe in some detail the work of the Trust but also they allow me to explore the motives and attitudes of those engaged in the day to day administration as well as those who supported the charity.

And here comes the first challenge to my preconceived views of Victorian charities.  A bit of me was dismissive of wealthy “do-gooders” and a little outraged that more wasn’t being done by the authorities, which in turn led to a general criticism of a system which allowed so many children to live on the streets.

Musical Party, 1895
But that is to be unhistorical about a period of history and to ignore the prevailing ideology which was only just beginning to move away from “the night watchman’s state” where government was limited in what it should do.

There were those that criticised the exiting way of doing things and some of these were also amongst those who were associated with the charity and it is their views that are coming through from the research.

Like Mrs Archibald Mackirdy who while acknowledging the policy of migrating some children to Canada was “sorry that so many had to be sent away” commenting it “would be better if they could have homes and parents in England.”

All of which is making me review my own attitudes to the work of charities, which is always a good thing, and of course along the way adding to the book.

Location; Manchester

Pictures; courtesy of the Together Trust

* Saving the Children, Boys’ and Girls’ Refuges Work, Manchester Guardian, December 7, 1907

**Getting Down and Dusty,

*** Saving the Children, Work of the Boys ‘and Girls’ Refuges, Manchester Guardian, April 12 1912


  1. Do you have names for the children in the Musical Party, 1895 photo?

  2. No but I will ask the archivist, if you don't hear from me in a few days please remind me