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

Children's Experiences

John Robert Hall (Case file 4688)

In March 1895, John Robert Hall, aged 7, was admitted to the Waifs and Strays Society's (as The Children's Society was known in the Victorian and Edwardian eras - called The Society throughout this case summary) St Nicholas' Home for Crippled Children at Byfleet, Surrey. John was disabled from birth and suffered impairment to his left leg and hip joint. He was one of six children born to Elizabeth Hall, who lived in St Mary's Parish, Huntingdon. His mother was unmarried and worked as a charwoman earning 4 shillings and six-pence per week (the equivalent of 22&12frac;p per week, or £11.70 per annum). In the application form submitted to The Society proposing John's admission to their care, she is described as a "hard working" lone mother, with four children still under the age of ten years. Interestingly, the woman sponsoring John's application - Mrs Caroline Rust - sought out and secured the interest and support of a local member of the gentry, Edward Montagu, the 8th Earl of Sandwich. The Earl visited the child and his mother and decided to contribute towards the cost of John's care by The Society in its entirety, commencing at 5 shillings per week (i.e., 25p per week, or £13 per annum).

Shortly after entering the care of The Society at the St Nicholas Home for Crippled Children, John was baptised. However, as John's condition was deemed as not requiring specialist nursing or surgical treatment, he was considered a suitable candidate for boarding out under the care of foster parents. Consequently, in June 1896 he was boarded out to a Mrs Hinchley, who lived in the village of Bunwell, near Attleborough, Norfolk, and under the supervision of a local clergyman, the Reverend John L. Fellowes.

John remained with Mrs Hinchley for a number of years, and attended the local village school. In the summer of 1901, Edward Rudolf, Secretary of the Waifs and Strays Society, wrote to Mr. Fellowes and asked whether John - who was now 13 - could be considered for attending one of The Society's homes for the purpose of learning a trade, and thus securing a livelihood for adult life. In his reply to Edward Rudolf, Mr. Fellowes indicated that the progress of John's schooling had suffered on account of his disability, though he added that "he is not delicate." He remarks too that John, as a consequence of his "lameness" could not be considered for either work on the land or in service. His reply to Mr Rudolf added that he saw no harm in John's remaining in Bunwell for the present time.

Almost a year and a half later, in late 1902, a place was found for John at The Society's Industrial Home for Boys in Copenhagen Street, Islington. Consequently, in December 1902, shortly before his 15th birthday, John moved from Norfolk and commenced his training towards becoming a tailor. Following John's move, The Society ensured that the Earl of Sandwich knew of his progress and situation, requesting too the Earl's continued patronage of John until such time as he was 16 and able to leave the care of The Society.

From the time when John was taken into care by The Society, there is no record of any contact from his mother, or other family members. However, in early 1904, the Superintendent of The Society's Industrial Home in Islington wrote to Edward Rudolf advising that John's mother had been in contact with the Home with the news that she would be marrying a Mr Yates the following Easter, and would be settling in Enfield and wished for her son to join her.

In The Society's view it was considered that John's mother would be making a "seemingly respectable" marriage, with both Mr Yates and Elizabeth Hall being in gainful employment; he at the Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield Lock, and John's mother as a housekeeper in Highbury. Edward Rudolf wrote to the Earl of Sandwich and Mrs Caroline Rust (John's original sponsor) with this information and asked whether they had any objection to John being restored to his mother. The Earl of Sandwich replied that he had no objection. Sadly however, Caroline Rust had since died. Replying on behalf of his late wife, Mr G. Rust noted that Elizabeth Hall "was an affectionate parent" and he was happy for the son to be returned to her.

John left the care of the Waifs and Strays Society on 20 February 1904, and was returned to the care of his mother. This was shortly after the appropriate papers were signed and John commenced his formal apprenticeship as a tailor. John was 16 years old.

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