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

Children's Experiences

Amelia Herbert (Case file 3186)

Amelia Herbert was born on 10 November 1884, at Anerley, Sydenham, in south London. She was the second of three daughters to George and Ellen Herbert, and she was born with a curvature to her spine. Her father and mother earned their livings as a 'jobbing' bootmaker, and as a laundress and charwoman [a cleaner], respectively. In February 1892, when Amelia was 7 years old, her mother died of pleurisy and bronchitis. The family circumstances at this time were very poor, and as early as three weeks after her mother's death an application was made to The Waifs and Strays Society (as The Children's Society was known in the Victorian and Edwardian eras - called The Society throughout this case summary) regarding Amelia's future care. In the meantime, Amelia was placed in the care of a neighbour, as too, presumably, were her elder and younger sisters. In the application form submitted to The Society her father was described as a "drunkard" who "pawns everything for a drink," and living in conditions that were considered to be "unsanitary." His employment and earnings were exceedingly "precarious" and he was thought to be incapable of supporting his family.

Amelia was 7 years old when she first entered the care of The Society in June 1892 and was admitted to the St Nicholas' Home for Cripples in Upper Tooting. Her condition was such that she did not require constant supervision and specialist care, and she was quite mobile. Consequently, in October 1895, shortly before her eleventh birthday, she was boarded out to a Mrs Mardell at Knebworth, Hertfordshire, and placed under the supervision of Reverend H. G. Jones of Knebworth Rectory.

Amelia remained with Mrs Mardell for three years before being transferred, in late 1898, to the "knitting home" at St Chad's, Far Headingley, Leeds.

There is nothing in Amelia's case file regarding her time at the St Chad's home, or any training she may have had whilst there. She left the care of The Society in January 1906 and was placed in domestic service with a local woman, Mrs Burnell. Amelia was 21 years old, and her experiences in this position are not recorded. However, she returned to St Chad's as early as 2 July 1906, not six months after having left.

In September 1910, when Amelia was 25 years old, she was finally discharged from St Chad's and the care of The Society and went into service in Dorchester. The name of her employer was not recorded.

Having left The Society, Amelia's case file naturally does not record her subsequent success or otherwise regarding her life in domestic service. However, her file does record an interesting 'coda' to her story as in 1944-45 there is a record of correspondence between Amelia and The Society concerning the details of her birth records and her need to secure an accurate birth certificate. At this later period Amelia was 59 years old and was seeking to apply for her pension. Correspondence to Amelia in this connection was addressed "care of" a Miss Mardell of Knebworth, Hertfordshire. Furthermore, it is probable that Amelia's health at this time may not have been too good as some of the correspondence is addressed from an isolation unit at the Emergency Hospital at nearby Hitchin. However, what is most interesting - and perhaps indicative of the ties that can be established between children in the care of The Society and their carers - is that Amelia was maintaining close contact with the family, and presumably a daughter, of the foster parent with whom she boarded out during 1895-98.

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