Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Looking deeper into the people who supported a children’s charity ........ Miss Malvey and social reform

Now as I dig deeper into the story of the Manchester children’s charity I have become fascinated by the people who toiled tirelessly to improve the lives of the young people they encountered.*

And in particular have been struck by what motivated them to give up their time and money which in many cases stretched over decades.

The conventional assumption is that for most it was either down to strong religious beliefs or that vague term humanitarian concerns”.

Neither on their own is very satisfactory as an explanation, and obscures the subtle differences in why people supported the charity.

In most cases it started with that most basic concern that in what many called the second city of the Empire where conspicuous wealth and great commercial success were everywhere to be seen, just yards away children were hawking goods for a pittance and some were sleeping rough while others were in families which had toppled over into real and abject poverty.

The response as ever was mixed but for those who didn’t cross the road the challenge was not just the short term one of “rescue” but the longer and more positive one of offering care and vocational training to enable young people to lift themselves towards a better life.

Of course even the most respectable and hard working were at the mercy of unforeseen events ranging from a trade depression and unemployment to sickness or the death of the breadwinner which could pitch a family into the workhouse.

For some like Olive Christian Malvey that understanding of the reality of working class life appears to be what brought her to the Manchester and Salford Boys’ and Girls’ Refuges.

Until recently she was just a name on one of the charity’s annual reports and a face on a page from one of their publications. **

But I was intrigued by the reference to her as the author of Soul Market “who, in such an intensely practical way has done much for the homeless girl and woman in London.  

The first shelter she provided for this class of needy ones was opened by Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Albany.  Those who have read that striking book ‘The Soul Market’ will know that [she] speaks on the subject from personal experience.”***

The book was one of a number Miss Malvey wrote in the early years of the 20th century and arose from a series of articles she wrote for Pearson’s Magazine about the lives of working class women in one of the poorer parts of London.

Soul Market was published in 1907 and was followed by Baby Toilers, and White Slavery.

All in their way deal with the issues of poverty, and appalling work practices.

Soul Market consisted of twenty chapters ranging from ‘Up and down the Social Ladder – From a Society Crush to the Spike,’ ‘Gliding the Gutter’, ‘In the Sweating Dens of West and East London’, and ‘Women who Work and Babes who Weep.’

There are a number of useful biographies about Miss Malvey of which Olive Christian Malvey: journalist, ‘lecturer, reciter, and social worker’, by Sarah Jackson is particularly informative.****

And for anyone interested in the migration of young people by the charities Miss Malvey struck an interesting position.

During the annual meeting of the Manchester and Salford Boy’s and Girl’s Refuges, she said “She was sorry that so many had to be sent away to Canada.  It would be better if they could have homes and parents in England, but since they had not it was a good thing that that could be sent to such a beautiful wide land as Canada.”****

Some might jib at what still seems an abrogation on the part of a British social reformer to criticise the policy but it fits well with that general view held by some that the migration of young people to Canada was wrong, and when I have delved deeper into her writings we may find confirmation that that was so.

In the meantime, Soul Market, Baby Toilers, and White Slavery are all available as down loads.

Location; Manchester & London

Pictures; Miss Malvey and other scenes from her book Soul Market, 1907 and Miss Malvey in 1912, from the Children’s Haven page 14

*A new book on the Together Trust,

**The Children’s Haven, April 1912

*** The Children’s Haven, April 1912, page 13

****Olive Christian Malvey: journalist, ‘lecturer, reciter, and social worker’, by Sarah Jackson in particularly informative,

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

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