Thursday, 13 July 2017

As ever the devil is in the detail ......... stories of desperate people in the twin cities in 1912

Today I spent the morning in Central Ref with a collection of The Children’s Haven which is a good way to get a sense of what a children’s charity did in the early 20th century.

Central Ref, Manchester, 2014
The Children’s Haven was the monthly publication of the Manchester and Salford Boys’ and Girls’ Refuges and is a mix of news, appeals for money, the odd obituary and articles on the work of the organization.

Of course like any “in house publication” which reports on its own achievements it is always important to keep a critical eye on what is being said, especially when the success stories are linked to appeals for cash to continue the work.

But there is enough factual evidence within the magazines along with the charity’s annual reports to corroborate the stories and expose the continuing scandal of poverty, and mistreated children in what many proudly called the second City of the Empire.

In the December edition for 1912 the charity took the decision to publish a short account of just one day “in respect to applications and requests for help [which were] not always confined to the cases of children.

A mother calls in great distress bringing her boy of 15 who has been discharged from his employment for embezzlement.

Cover of the January edition, 1912
And another mother comes in asking if we can find a pair of clogs for the child she has by the hand who seconds the request by a pair of appealing eyes and toes, for even the latter seemed to be looking out of a pair of sodden leather shoes.

One morning recently we received a letter from an Institution in a Northern city asking if we could admit two fatherless boys.  

They were admitting their sister at the request of the mother, who had resided in Manchester.  

We make enquiries locally and find mother is disreputable, disowned by respectable relatives, and that she is in receipt of private income.  

Hours were spent in ascertaining these facts.

As we write these words a magistrate calls telling us of a girl 17 struggling to keep herself and four younger brothers and sisters, father dead, mother worse than dead as far as her children are concerned, and asking if we can admit the boy of 12.

A youth of 17 is admitted pending enquiries, says he has run away from a Norwegian ship at Liverpool because of ill treatment.

We go into Salford in response to an urgent application on behalf of a delicate cripple girl for admission to our Bethesda Home for Crippled Children, and find on arrival at a poor dirty, dwelling that she has been removed to the Union Hospital a few hours before the relieving officer; we see another applicant for Bethesda and find the circumstances of family not very poor, and we promise to bring the case before our committee.

Detail from the account
The case of the old woman is sent to us,; she is over 70, gets old age pension, and does  a little washing, is getting unequal to the work, can we suggest any means  of help; then comes an  enquiry by anxious relatives respecting a youth missing from home again a respectable women calls and tells a story too sad to relate, in all its shame and sorrow, and asks if we can admit her little boy while she goes into service; and old boy and his wife pay us a visit looking well and smart and telling of encouraging success.

We receive from the Police Court a girl of 15 at our Shelter and again have to become acquainted with a story which almost consumes one with indignation and pity; a woman calls with four children whose father is in prison, it transpires she is a Roman Catholic and she is referred to the Bishop’s House, Salford, to seek the aid of the Catholic Children’s Society; a lady enquires if two girls she met the previous afternoon on the road had called at her suggestion; another case is one of a poor girl of 17 unable to follow her work having been ill, could we send her to Lytham Home for a week or two the mother asks.”*

And the account continued with an ex member of the Refuge who was doing well with the Atlantic Fleet and a “respectable young man making enquiries as to the adoption of an infant by himself and his wife.”

It is a mixed bag and reflects the degree to which even the 'respectable' might fall through the net.

Location; Manchester

Pictures; Central Ref, 2014 from the collection of Andrew Simpson, the cover and children 1912 from the Children's Haven, December 1912

*The Children’s Haven, December 1912, pages 4-5, from the archive of the Together Trust

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