Hidden Lives Revealed. A virtual archive - children in care 1881-1981 * Image of handwritten text

Children's Experiences

John Smith (case file 2)

Born: 1870
Date of application: 1882
Age: 11 years

This case file relates to the first boy to be received under the care of The Waifs and Strays Society in 1882 (as The Children's Society was known in the Victorian and Edwardian eras - called The Society throughout this case summary). John was from a large family and his mother and father moved lodgings frequently, not usually staying in one place for more than a month. John's father was a labourer and his mother did not work. John had attended school for a year when he was about four years old. At seven years old, John had an accident; he fell on some ice and badly injured his back. He was later diagnosed with curvature of the spine. He had another accident where he got badly burned, which was seen to be evidence of neglect by his parents. John received hospital care after suffering these two accidents and was provided with some equipment to assist his movement. When John returned home, his mother was said to have pawned these items and begun to beg for money that she said was required to provide him with proper care.

John's health improved and he was able to work as a crossing sweeper at Clapham Common. Yet this work led to a decline in his health and a district visitor found him neglected and ill. He was taken to the National Orthopaedic Hospital at Stanmore, north London, to receive treatment. Upon hearing his story, the sisters of St Michael's Hospital in Shoreditch promised he could be admitted to the hospital for life for free, yet the building was not completed at this point. In May, three months after he entered the National Orthopaedic Hospital, he was ready to be discharged. St Michael's Hospital would not be ready to take him until December so he stayed in various convalescent homes until that time.

John was admitted into St Michael's Hospital for a month's trial. After a month, the hospital superior decided that with the proper care and food, John could learn a light trade and would be able to work. The hospital was willing to assist him in finding another home and would allow him to stay until a new home was found. It was during his stay at St Michael's Home for Sick and Incurable Children that the application was made to The Waifs and Strays Society. John was eleven years old.

John became the first boy to be admitted into the Clapton Home of The Waifs and Strays Society in February 1882. He was sent temporarily to a convalescent home in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, due to his health. In October 1882, John returned from Southend and was boarded out under the direction of Miss Saunders at Balham Street. In May 1883, John went into the Cripples Home in Kensington. He stayed here until January 1884 when he went back to the Boys Receiving House in Clapton.

From Clapton, The Society sent him to do some clerical work at The Society's home at Natland for the Reverend Charles Whittaker who was the superintendent there. Next, he moved into the printing office and after two years, he told his employers he wanted to get an apprenticeship that was independent of the Home. He was warned that his health and existing back condition would cause him difficulties in the future, but John was determined and found a place to work in Redhill.

John was seventeen when he married in 1897 and had one child, a daughter, seven years into the marriage.

In 1906, Edward Rudolf preached at a church near Clapham Common, close to where John had worked as a crossing sweeper. When John heard this news, he contacted The Society to update them on his progress. He maintained contact with The Society in years to come, sending copies of poems he had written and had published. He was the subject of an article in The Society's magazine in 1907.

John told those at The Society that he worked as a 'reader' in the printing trade. He worked in offices in Redhill but found that he had to sit on a high stool all day and that it was not good for his back. He moved to Oxford but was advised by doctors that the atmosphere was too damp. John and his family were beginning to have problems with money and he wrote to Edward Rudolf to ask if he could help him find a new position.

John and his family then moved to Frome where John worked for a firm called Messrs Butler and Tanner. In 1926, John's health began to decline and he contacted The Society's home at Frome, St Aldhem's, for assistance. The home contacted Messrs Butler and Tanner who granted the request that John be permitted to work at home. John encountered further financial difficulties. He was now also supporting his daughter and her three children, and his wages could not support the entire household. He contacted The Society again to see if they could provide any work to augment his salary and meet his expenses. John's health continued to decline and, unfortunately, The Society were unable to find him any suitable work.

In September 1929, the doctors at St Aldhem's Home diagnosed John with 'Tachy cardia and debility', advising him to cease working and to take prolonged rest. There was now no money coming into the household. John's wife contacted The Society for assistance. The sister of the woman who had made John's initial application to The Society also inquired as to what could be done. There was a suggestion that his story be published in The Society's literature and that could possibly lead to the family receiving some donations. By 1930, John required constant care and attention; attempts to get him admitted to a hospital or sanatorium were unsuccessful and he died in March 1930. Representatives from The Society attended his funeral.

Original case file

John's case file with images and transcripts of original documents may be found here.

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