Saturday, 23 December 2017

A better Christmas ........ because of the work of a children’s charity ........... part two

Now how those young people sent to Canada as part of the British Home Children scheme celebrated Christmas will be as varied as the farms and homes they were placed on.

Two young people from The Haven, 1912
We know from oral and written testimony that their experiences ran the full range, from those who were neglected, and abused to others who had been well treated and set on a path which would lead to happiness and fulfilment as adults.

I suspect there will be far more information about those who spent the festival in a receiving station somewhere in Canada which will offer an insight into their first Canadian Christmas, but that pretty much lays outside my research.

But in the course of the preparation for the new book on the Manchester and Salford Boys’ and Girls’ Refuges I have come across a wealth of evidence on how the charity provided for the young people in their care at Christmas.*

Christmas Doings from The Worker, 1880

That evidence is drawn from the reports, letters and journals of the charity and from the media which described in detail the preparations and the activities over the period.

These involved a series of parties and special events stretching over a number of days and which included the distribution of presents.

In 1907 in all the homes associated with the Refuge, Christmas dinner was on the table at 1 o’clock and there were evening entertainments.

One of these was the Christmas tea party and entertainment given by the Refuge boys at the central buildings in Strangeways.

“The boys themselves arrange the festival bring in the guests literally from the highways and hedges, provide them with a substantial meal and give them an evening’s entertainment afterwards.

At the prison gates, circa 1900
On Thursday January 2 the young men living in the lodging-house have a party and entertainment in the gymnasium.  On Sunday January 5 there will be an anniversary service at Bethesda.  

The Messenger Brigade annual tea party takes place on Wednesday January 8 when prizes will be distributed.  On Sunday January 12, old boys assemble at the Young Men’s Institute at 5 o’clock and after tea will attend an anniversary service in the Refuge.” **

The charity  was also active in working with ex prisoners.  It had started a Prison Gate Mission in 1887, which was consistent with its principle of offering hope and alternatives to those in difficulty along with the practical one of assistance as the prisoners walked out of the prison door.

It helped that the HQ of the Refuge was close to Strangeways prison and so every morning discharged prisoners were met and offered a simple breakfast of coffee, bread and butter at the Mission Room along with advice about jobs and accommodation.

For those released at Christmas, the Refuge made a special effort.

In 1914 of the 50 prisoners who were discharged on the morning of December 24, 39 took up the offer of breakfast which included a “bag of cake, an orange, and a Christmas card.  In addition, the ten women were given packets of tea and the men tobacco and pipes and 7 of the men were also provided with articles of clothing of which they stood in need.” ***

Continuing the work, 2017
In the 23 years of its existence 265,959 men, women and children were helped.

The direction of the charity’s work since its foundation in 1870 has changed reflecting the changes in society and in the provision of care for young people.

But it is still engaged in the vital work of offering a happy and memorable Christmas for disadvantaged and vulnerable families.***

Pictures; detail from the Children's Haven, December 1912, extract from the The Worker, 1880, helping tat the Prison Gate circa 1900, and helping in 2017, all courtesy of the Together Trust

* Stories behind the book ....... nu 1 getting started,

** Strangeways Refuges, Manchester Guardian, December 24, 1907

*** Breakfast for Discharged Prisoners, Manchester Evening News, December 24, 1914

**** Christmas and the Together Trust,

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