Friday, 28 September 2018

“A thick fog hung over our city as we wended our way to the Refuge”* ....... more on the work of the charity

Anyone who grew up in one of our cities in the first half of the last century will remember those thick fogs which muffled all sounds and pretty much obscured everything.

Albert Square, 1910
They would appear without warning, blanket the city and leave a reminder of their passing in that dirty smear of particles that could be found on your clothes, in your homes and above all on your lungs.

But as deadly as these fogs were I have to say as a child I found them fascinating offering as they did an opportunity for adventure and that promise in term time they might lead to an early school closure.

They were the subject of numerous novels of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries allowing Mr Hyde, and a variety of real and imagined villains to stalk the streets unleashing all manner of violence on anyone out and about.

And briefly they made it just that bit more difficult for those wanting to locate the army of destitute children.

But that didn’t deter the work of the Refuge which was engaged finding these children, offering a bed for the night and in the long term giving them life changing alternatives to an existence on the streets which might in time  lead to crime and much worse.

One such search was recorded by Leonard K Shaw on November 28 1872.*

York Street looking towards Charles Street
He was the secretary of the Manchester and Salford Boys’ and Girls’ Refuges which had started in 1870 with the mission of giving homeless boys a bed for the night and breakfast before turning them back out onto the streets.

It soon became apparent that the scale of destitute children was much bigger and led to an expansion of the charity’s work into a range of activities including permanent homes, vocational training and seaside holidays.

It also worked  through the courts to prosecute neglectful and abusive parents, campaigned for rated some measures to protect young people trading on the streets and briefly migrated children to Canada.

But during that expansion the Refuge remained a place where destitute boys and girls could be given that bed with no questions asked.

Their plight and the work done by the Charity were publicised in a number of ways of which the short pamphlets are one of the most interesting.

They were a mix of stories, religious comments, adverts for collecting boxes and collecting cards.   The pamplet’s sold for one half penny or 4d per dozen.

The stories revolved around case studies which might describe the awful conditions some of the children were in with the success stories which were the happy outcome of the charity’s intervention.

India House
So on that November night the team had found three lads awaiting admission for the remaining   2 beds.

One boy was admitted straight away.

The other two were brothers, whose father was dead and their mother was serving her prison 5th prison sentence and boys had been sleeping in a yard at the back of one of the worst houses in the Charter Street neighbourhood.

Even now, nearly 150 years after Mr Shaw described the plight of the two boys, what they had experienced shocks you.

And of course that in part was the purpose of the pamphlets which carried titles like Tim and Joe, The Living Dead, Night and Morning and the Cry of Children.

But these were not chocolate box accounts where the stories always turned out well.  Some of the children died and others were beyond help.

In a telling passage in Night and Morning Mr Shaw observed that “groups of idle vagrant boys and girls from about 15 to 18 years of age on  Angel Street, and Charter Street, few of them can read and write, many have been in prison all of them are growing up idle, vagrant, godless too late for them to be saved”

Now from the research I have already done on the charity, who were fully committed to helping young people that was almost a cry of despair.

Oxford Road, 1910
But the work continued as did the fund raising from letters and appeals through the media, to those pamphlets and of course the “before and after” pictures of young people who passed through the charity.

It is easy to be cynical about the pictures and question the degree to which some at least were manipulated images, but the weight of evidence from newspaper accounts, the charity’s annual reports and the letters from the young people support the idea that children were lifted from awful conditions.

Sadly today even in the developed world, poverty its power to stunt the lives of young people is still all too apparent, even if the pea soupers of the past have vanished.

Location; Manchester

Pictures; Albert Square, 1910 and York Street looking towards Charles Street, India House, and Oxford Road, 1910 Pierre Adolphe Valette

* Night and Morning, Leonard K Shaw 1872


  1. Those thick fogs got worse in the second half of the last century when they developed into Smog. Pea soupers when you couldn't see your own hand in front of your face.

  2. Remember them well.... Pretty much gone bt the 70s

  3. I really admire the work of Adolphe Valette an undervalued artist and of course L. S. Lowry's tutor. Nice that you have used yhese pictures