Monday, 17 July 2017

“We have longed that we could take each child and transplant it into a happy Christian home” ........ looking into the work of a children’s charity no. 2*

I am as guilty as many of not looking deeply enough into the motivation that drove those men and women who ran our children’s charities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and did their utmost to improve the lot of young people who at best were living precarious lives and at worst were destitute with some on the edge of crime.

In the rush to look at the cause of the scandal and the variety of responses, the motives of those engaged in the work tend to get glossed over and relegated to that vague acknowledgement of “Christian values” and a humanitarian concern for those less fortunate.

And in the case of the migrating agencies there is that darker assumption that the move to send children to Canada and other parts of the empire was nothing more than a ruthless cost cutting exercise where the bill for maintaining young people in care was more than the price of transporting them across the Atlantic.

It is an analysis which perhaps fits with a more cynical view of how the authorities weighed up the care of the poor and one that I fully embraced.

But history is messy and open to all sorts of interpretations and even that comment attributed to Dr Barnardo that the children migrated were “the building blocks of Empire” is easy to misrepresent.

So I think it is time to dig deeper into the ideas of those men and women engaged in the work of our own children’s charity.

This is part of that ongoing research for the new book on the Together Trust which as the Manchester and Salford Boys’ and Girls’ Refuges was responsible to “turning around” the lives of many very poor children.**

The starting point has been the reports of the annual meetings and the charity’s own publications, including its monthly magazine, the fund raising pamphlets and those given over to advancing practical solutions to child street labour and feckless parents.

What comes over time and time again is the outrage that young lives were being wasted and that in the absence of alternative provision children were being exploited, abused and in some cases left to live on the streets.

Added to that there was a strong Christian  belief, but one which did not get in the way of helping either the young people or those parents who through no fault of their own found themselves on the extreme margin of poverty.

The annual reports stressed that the overriding principle was never to turn the deserving away and that the “door was always open.”

In the same way the “team” went looking to help, whether it was on the streets where they encountered homeless children or back streets and enclosed courts of the twin cities.***

In Angel Meadow reckoned to be one of the worst slums they called on a Mrs J one Sunday evening in the February of 1880 who confided “I’ve striven hard to keep them out of the workhouse, and now what’ll become of them?”  She had made a living as a street hawker but was now too ill to move out of her bed.

The eldest two, a lad of 20 and his sister aged 18 were in prison and remaining four were in desperate need of help. All were “fine children [and] it was wonder to see them so fresh and ruddy in such a locality.

Probably, as they grew up, the bloom would pass away; but whatever the physical atmosphere might be, there could be no mistake about the moral atmosphere surrounding them.”****

And so while there was a need for the four to be placed in a Christian home, the real issue was about taking the children out of the environment no matter the cost and in the process the report touched on the very contentious and current debate on the rights of the parent over the perceived needs of the child.

It is never an easy one to reconcile and I have seen arguments advanced that in some cases this led to charities making judgements which were high handed and brutal.

That said “our four” went into the care of the Refuge with the permission of the mother.

At which point there will be some who are uncomfortable with the heavy Christian emphasis of the report which concluded with the team “speaking a few words of Him who never yet cast out one who truly came to Him” and reflecting that “we can each help to cast a rope over the ship’s side, to help the poor sinking ones below, drawing them safely home to that blessed Home where there shall be no more misery and sin for ‘there  the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.”

But this also was underscored by a very practical commitment, reflected in another report in the Worker which detailed the care in the four of the homes run by the charity in Lower Broughton in Salford.

The four were home to fifty-eight boys and young men all of whom had been trained and found jobs, ranging from painters to organ builders, joiners and engravings.*****

And the idea of helping young people to help themselves was also at the core of the charities work.  There were vocational training homes, "brigades of young lads" as well training for girls in an assortment of skills.

The Refuge stressed the need for good vocationl education provided by the State.

Next; singling out some of those who served the charity.

Location; Manchester and Salford

Pictures’ from the Worker, 1880

*A new book on the Together Trust,

**The Worker, February 1880

***Manchester and Salford

**** The Worker, February 1880

***** No.1 Home for Working Boys, Sussex Street, No. 2, 214 Broughton Road, No. 3, St John’s Place, Great Clowes Street, and No. 4, 8 Camp Street

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