Saturday, 4 August 2018

In the midst of plenty ........ two children sleeping rough “one under a Salford Railway arch and the other below an old staircase in a Deansgate entry”

It still beggars belief that in a city some called the “second city of the Empire,” which proudly displayed its trade links to the world in its brand new Town Hall and would ambitiously build its own route to the sea children slept rough on the streets,  making a pitiful living selling matches, and shoe laces later in to the night.

First Shelter, Quay Street, 1870
But of course it happened and in response to the stories of children sleeping under a Salford Railway arch and another below an old staircase in a Deansgate entry, the Night Refuge for Homeless Boys opened its doors.

Its full title was “The Boys’ Refuge and Industrial Brigade” and on January 4 1870 if offered a handful of boys found on the streets of the twin cities, a bed and breakfast, before turning them out on to the streets again.

Within a decade the organisers had expanded into a  ranges of activities designed to help young people and a full half century later could point to a whole series of achievements, from rescuing children  off the streets to residential and vocational homes,  seaside holidays, and involvement both in the courts and in legislation to protect young people.

Along the way it also migrated some young people to Canada.

But it began with that one building.

It was on Quay Street off Deansgate and a quarter of century later Mr Shaw one of the prime movers in the shelter reflected on those early days.

“In a dark little room on the ground floor of the house was a living room where meals were served.  A front collar was a living-room by day and a school and band room at night.  The back cellar, described as being dark and damp as a cavern, was made to serve the purpose of a bathroom and lavatory .  

The sleeping accommodation was almost amusingly primitive. 

It took the shape of hammocks hung out round the upper room from strong hooks in the wall, each hammock having two iron legs which fitted into sockets in the floor.    [and] when the boys jumped into bed ‘with a burst’ away went the held fasts and sockets and even a portion of the wall too, and that a dusty heap in the middle of the floor was generally the rest.

Mr Shaw and a group of Boys, 1883
In the year 1870 there were some forty inmates of the Refuge.  Today nearly 500 boys and girls are being cared for and trained within the institution to a life of usefulness, while according to the last report issued in 1894 , not less than 2,595 children come more or less under the influence of the Society and its branches in the course of 12 months.”*

Those involved were motivated by strong religious convictions, but also by that simple and obvious response that not only was the plight of destitute and neglected children and an abomination but “while we leave the little children practically uncared for we shall never want for a fully supply of candidates for our reformatories, workhouses and goals.”

The building had a short life and the organisation relocated to Strangeways but the scale of the problem was such that one refuge was not enough.

That lack of provision was highlighted “in the winter months of 1871 when three boys applied at the Refuge looking for shelter.

Major Street Shelter, 1905
As the home was already full, they had to be turned away. Seeking warmth and shelter and being unable to afford three pence to stay in a lodging house for the night they had wandered up to the brickfields of Cheetham.

A few days later a newspaper reported on the demise of a young boy who had been burned to death at one of the brick kilns in the neighbourhood. This boy was one of the three who had, had to be turned away much to the consternation of the committee.

It was this incident that convinced the charity that they needed another building in which to receive any child in need of help, whatever the hour and this led to the opening of another on Major Street.

"Open all day and all night children in need of shelter could be brought and receive food and a bed for the night, whilst their individual circumstances were investigated. It ensured that no child requesting aid would ever be turned away again.”

A new book on the story of the charity is under preparation due in 2020.

Location; Manchester & Salford

Pictures; the first refuge opened in 1870 and a group of young boys from the charity in 1883, and the Major Street Shelter 1905 courtesy of the Together Trust,

* The Boys’ and Girls’ Refuges A quarter of a century’s progress, Manchester Guardian, January 4 1895

**A new book on the Together Trust,

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