The People, Places, Events, Customs and More from the Victorian Era. Please Scroll Down to Explore Links to Other Sites of Historical Interest:

Friday, 27 May 2011

Wilton’s Music Hall, Or: An Appeal:

One of the many joys a Victorianist can gain from having a passion for that particular period in history is the ability to see and touch the things that the Victorians left behind with relative ease.
We still cross bridges that they built to span rivers, we still live in houses they built for themselves, we own antique furniture they fashioned for their own purposes, read books they wrote, tell time on clocks they made, catch the train at railway stations they erected, and visit the public houses, museums, galleries and other establishments that they gave us.

I walk through London a lot, and take great pleasure in treading on streets that Victorians walked on, visiting bars or pubs they drank in, and generally soaking up any Victorian atmosphere I can find. I’ve visited Stoke-On-Trent a few times too, and found the same thing there, an echo of the things the Victorians left behind that we can still marvel at, appreciate, and sometimes even continue to use. Manchester has the aura of Victorianism still hanging over it like a looming shadow, Sheffield has it also, Birmingham too and many other places where the Victorians left their footprints for us to follow.

To help future Victorianists, or even just people with an interest in our history, The Heritage Lottery Fund, amongst other organizations, work to keep old buildings that represent part of our history alive and standing, so that future generations can enjoy them.

The Heritage Lottery Fund website states:

“Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund gives grants to sustain and transform our heritage. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions we invest in every part of our diverse heritage.”

In 1858, Wilton’s Music Hall opened in the city of London, and is the last of its kind, yet is threatened with closure. I received an email from Frances Mayhew, the current director of Wilton’s, after asking if there was anything I could do to help. There is, and there is something you can do to, but first, let Frances explain the situation a little better than I could:

Dear Reader,

Wilton’s is one of our hidden treasures. The only surviving giant pub music hall in the world, it is now the home of a continuous stream of imaginitive music and drama, like the recent production of Iolanthe or Champagne Charlie or the forthcoming Alina Ibragimova and the Brothers Quay. We combine all this with work with the local community and subsidise ourselves by letting the hall for weddings and parties. It is the most atmospheric venue in the City.

The Heritage Lottery Fund has turned down our application for funding to save Wilton’s – the rarest and most special building on the edge of the City. Why this most special of building which is on the World Monuments Fund Watch List of buildings in danger does not merit a small proportion of the millions HLF distribute annually is not clear. They say the application is commendable but they just don’t have the money.
Wilton’s now needs desperately a City sponsor – a company or individual with the heart and spirit to adopt the place and provide the anchor funding needed to get the vital repair work underway. For, behind the bare brick and peeling plaster of this found space, there are some fundamental problems that if not solved will lead to Wilton’s closing. The floors are collapsing, the drains don’t work, the building is at risk of burning down. Not a huge amount is needed - £2M would get it underway.

This place has total appeal – wonderful creative work, world class heritage, social roots in the East End and an unforgettable atmosphere. We love it, our audiences love it, surely there is someone out there who has the vision to adopt it as their charity and come to the rescue?

Yours sincerely
Frances Mayhew

If every Londoner gave a couple of quid...
Please help to save Wilton's from collapse, text;
wmht18 £2 to 70070 (or more if you like) it's easy!

Please do what you can. For more information and some nice pictures of Wilton's Music Hall, please have a look at an article by the Gentle Author at Spitalfields Lifehere

And, of course, Wilton's has a website

Sunday, 22 May 2011

“Happy Birthday to You” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:

Today, the 22nd May, is the 152nd anniversary of the birth of Arthur Conan Doyle, the man who, amongst other things, created the world’s most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes.

I’ve never read a Sherlock Holmes book, and don’t have an irrepressible desire to, though I do own ‘A Study in Scarlet’ and ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ and WILL get round to reading them one day, when the appetite is there. Not only am I a little so-so with his work, but – and this may possibly be down to ignorance on my part combined with the fact that I have never read his work – I have never had a fondness for Arthur Conan Doyle either, and have therefore never peered into his life.

So, why am I writing about the birthday of a man I have no interest in? The shallowness of that will become clear, but first, let us meet Arthur;

Born on 22nd May 1859 in Edinburgh into an Irish family, Arthur's father was an alcoholic and so the family would often struggle for money. At school, Arthur became besotted with the works of Sir Walter Scott and Edgar Allan Poe, giving him a taste for literature at an early age. 

As he grew older he studied at Edinburgh University and trained as a doctor, gaining his degree from Edinburgh University in 1881. To fund his education he took a job as a surgeon on a whaler ship bound for a voyage to the Arctic for seven months, and the following year he worked on Mayumba, a passenger ship bound for West Africa. On this trip Arthur nearly died of typhoid.

When he returned to England, Arthur headed for the south coast, and became a doctor in Southsea, Portsmouth. As well as his surgery, he became interested in the paranormal and spiritualism (more of which you can read about here) He also declared an interest in the work of the Society for Psychical Research, which was set up in 1882 to scientifically investigate paranormal phenomena, such as the practice of speaking to the dead. Arthur, however, disagreed with much of the scientific experiments and research, feeling that he didn't need laboratory experiments to prove what he already knew to be true.

With very few patients attending his surgery he needed another source of income. With his love of literature still bright, he set about writing detective fiction, and created the character of Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock was based on Dr. Joseph Bell, a surgeon and criminal psychologist, who lectured at Edinburgh Infirmary.

In 1891 Arthur published six Sherlock Holmes stories in Strand Magazine. The following year he was paid £1000 to write a series of Sherlock Holmes stories. Whilst the money was helpful and exactly what he needed, he wanted to write historical novels like the writer he admired most, Sir Walter Scott. Sherlock had become an albatross to Arthur, and so in 1893 he decided to kill the detective and end the series. The last Sherlock Holmes mystery was to be ‘The Final Problem’ Once this was written, Arthur could concentrate on writing the historical novels he so wanted to. But, Sherlock’s popularity prevailed, and the public were not pleased with Arthur’s decision to kill their hero, and so, in 1902, under pressure from Sherlock’s fans, Arthur – probably begrudgingly – wrote Sherlock’s best known adventure; ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles.’

In the Boer War of 1899 – 1902 Arthur served as a doctor, and when the conflict had finished turned his hand to some serious non-fiction, writing ‘The War in South Africa’ in 1902, in which he gave his opinions on why the war was right, and that Britain was clear of conscience, despite the cruelty, concentration camps, and strong-handed tactics. Arthur was knighted for his pamphlet justifying Britain's involvement in the Boer War in 1902 by Edward VII.
On 2nd September, 1914, soon after the start of the First World War, Liberal politician and head of the War Propaganda Bureau, Charles Masterman, organized a secret meeting of Britain's leading writers to discuss ways of best promoting Britain's interests during the war. Those who attended the meeting included, as well as Arthur, Arnold Bennett, John Masefield, William Archer, G. K. Chesterton, Sir Henry Newbolt, John Galsworthy, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Gilbert Parker, G. M. Trevelyan and H. G. Wells. 

The writers at the conference agreed to the utmost secrecy, and it was not until 1935 that the activities of the War Propaganda Bureau became known to the general public. Several of the men who attended the meeting agreed to write pamphlets and books that would promote the government's view of the situation.

In 1914 Arthur wrote the recruiting pamphlet, ‘To Arms!’ The War Propaganda Bureau arranged for Arthur to take ‘To Arms’ to the Western Front. Following this, in 1916 he published ‘A Visit to the Three Fronts’ and also during the war, he wrote a six volume history, ‘The British Campaign in France and Flanders.’

He also reported on the war for the Daily Chronicle.
Arthur’s son, Kingsley Conan Doyle, joined the British Army and was wounded at the Somme. He died in October, 1917, after developing pneumonia.

After the war, Arthur began holding séances with his wife, Jean, in an attempt to get in touch with Kingsley, and his brother and two of his nephews who had also been killed during the Great War. Shortly after this, Arthur declared himself a full spiritualist and claimed he had spoken to spirits of the dead. By now, he had forgotten about his famous detective, and instead wrote several books on spiritualism including ‘The New Revelation’ (1918) and ‘The History of Spiritualism’ (1926).

Arthur died of a heart attack on 7th July 1930.

So for what shallow reason have I written this post about a man whose literature I respect, but who doesn’t strike a chord with me? Well, to begin with, because he was a Victorian, and just because he isn’t one of the first people who comes into my head when the words ‘Victorian literature’ is spoken, does not detract from the fact that many people will be fans of his work, and those who are not may still find his life interesting.

Secondly, and here comes the shallow part, I happen to share a birthday with Arthur, so, despite our differences we shall be raising a glass and celebrating together. Happy birthday to you, too, Arthur!

Friday, 13 May 2011

“I Considered Myself the Inventor of Nocturnes Until I saw Grimmy's Moonlit Pictures.” Or: The Twilight Genius of John Atkinson Grimshaw:

Whilst I’m no expert on Victorian art, I certainly appreciate some of it, mostly the paintings of typical scenes of everyday life that show how things looked and how life was lived in the nineteenth century.
The scene painters of the age give us a glimpse into the world they lived in, and whilst not as reliable as photographs, paintings of street scenes, or important and even just average or normal places of the time, can momentarily take us there and show us what it was like to live in the time the painting was produced.

My only previous post about a Victorian artist was in October, when I wrote about Richard Dadd, (you can read that here) Whereas Dadd in himself is, to me anyway, a lot more interesting than his art, today I’m writing about a much more ordinary man, but an ordinary man who painted the most extraordinary paintings; John Atkinson Grimshaw, whose works are a joy to look at, not only aesthetically, but also as documents of the age in which he lived. His work is possibly my favourite of all Victorian art – or at least his work from the 1870’s and 1880’s – because he doesn’t paint wonderful pictures of fairies, mythical scenes or bowls of fruit (although he did at other stages in his career) but shows Victorian life as it was in the industrial cities, the back alleys, the bays and the ports and the streets of the nineteenth century.

To me, photographs and pictures of the Victorian’s environment are very important and fascinating, and I’d rather look at one painting of an empty street in London at dusk than a hundred paintings of Greek Gods or Arthurian Legends. Of course, that’s not to say I can’t appreciate such pieces of work, such as Waterhouse’s ‘The Lady of Shallot’, for example, which is another of my favourites, but as a person who studies Victoriana and would dearly love to be able to go back and wander around a Victorian city in Victorian times for even ten minutes, paintings such as Grimshaw’s, and the pictures taken by street photographers of the time are the closest I will ever get.

So who was this Grimshaw?

He was born in Leeds, Yorkshire, in 1836, and when he was sixteen, in 1852, he took a job as a clerk at the Great Northern Railway office in Leeds. Leeds had several art galleries and Grimshaw was inspired by the work of artists such as Holman Hunt, Henry Wallis and William Powell Frith.
His love of art got the better of him, and he quit his job as a clerk in favour of becoming a full-time artist, a move his parents vehemently disapproved of. They were strict Baptists and strongly disapproved of his interest in painting. On one occasion his mother even went so far as to destroy all his paints. Undeterred, Grimshaw soldiered on, and in 1858 he married Francis Hubbard – known as Fanny – a cousin of the artist Thomas Sidney Cooper, after which he was able to devote himself to his hobby, and turn it into a job

He began exhibiting in 1862, under the patronage of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, mostly with well-observed and detailed still-life’s, or paintings of birds. Further success came when one of his paintings was accepted by the Royal Academy, and Grimshaw started to make more money when London art dealer William Agnew began purchasing his work. By the 1870s he had become successful enough to rent a seventeenth century mansion in Scarborough, Knostrop Old Hall, which was perched upon a cliff-top and had magnificent views of both the north and south bays. He named their new home Castle by the Sea, after a poem by Longfellow. The mansion itself and Scarborough became favourite subjects of Grimshaw’s and the move to the coast inspired a lot of his most aesthetically pleasing work. It also fed his fascination with maritime scenes of ships, docks and the sea.

At this stage of his career he painted a lot of interior scenes, with ‘Dulce Domum’ (1855) being an excellent example of his typical work through the 1850’s, but in the 1870’s he began to experiment with different techniques and subjects in his work, and had varying success with his new ideas but his big break came with the night scenes he began to paint, and for which he is best known today. In the mid-seventies he took a second house in Scarborough, and there are many paintings of seascapes at night from the area. Later, he also traveled to Liverpool and London in search of material, during which period he painted one of my favourites, ‘Nightfall on the Thames’ (below) in 1880.

Nightfall on the Thames

On Hampstead Hill’ is considered to be one of Grimshaw's finest pieces, showing his attention to detail, containing various sources of light all in one painting set at dusk. The chill sky and the reflections on the wet road in this painting are a testament to the skill of Grimshaw, who, it must be remembered, was a self-taught artist.
Later on in his career, these scenes of urban areas at twilight, bathed in either moonlight or the glow of street lamps became very popular, particularly with the middle classes, and indeed, Grimshaw painted mostly for private art collectors, and exhibited only five pieces of work at the Royal Academy between 1874 and 1886, and one piece at the Grosvenor Gallery.

On Hampstead Hill

He often painted very specific scenes in his work that epitomized the subject he was depicting. They often typified a season, city, time of day or type of weather. These intricate details give his paintings a very real and atmospheric mood and feeling. The character of the cities of London, Leeds, Liverpool and Glasgow attracted him, as well as Scarborough and Whitby, and he often returned to these places to depict them at dusk or night in his work.

In the 1880s, Grimshaw used a London studio in Chelsea, not far from a similar studio used by fellow artist, James Whistler. (Possibly most famous for his painting, ‘Mother’, which appeared in the first Mr. Bean movie.) The artists became friends, and after visiting Grimshaw, Whistler remarked that: "I considered myself the inventor of Nocturnes until I saw Grimmy's moonlit pictures."

Praise indeed. But, unlike the more impressionistic night scenes Whistler was producing, ‘Grimmy’ was painting realistic images that looked almost like photographs, giving us wonderful glimpses into the Victorian dusk and night of cities, towns and the sea.

It was in the early 1880’s that an unknown financial crisis hit Grimshaw. Following this, he abandoned his Chelsea studio and returned to Leeds. Once there, he began to paint quite prolifically, producing around fifty paintings a year. Notable works from this period include ‘Park Row, Leeds’ (1882) ‘London Bridge, Half Tide’ (1884) ‘An Autumn Lane’ (1883) and ‘Hampstead’ (1881)

As well as producing his night scenes in this period, he also began to experiment with different techniques, such as painting over photographs and mixing materials such as sand into his paints to get the effects he was striving for. He had also started to experiment with different subjects, most notably, fairies, with his painting, ‘Iris’ (1886) still being popular today.

Despite his fondness for painting dirty industrial Victorian cities at twilight, Grimshaw managed to capture the beauty of the fog, mist, rain and coolness of the scenes and turn them into something poetic, and at the same time realistic. These traits have seen his paintings appear as the cover image of many books, including an edition of M.V Hughes ‘A London Child of the 1870’s’ which features Grimshaw’s ‘View of heath Street by Night’ on the cover, (as does a 1980’s edition of Stevenson’s ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’) A 1980’s edition of Anne Bronte’s ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ is fronted by Grimshaw’s ‘Knostrop Hall, Moonlight’  and the cover of Anne Perry’s ‘Southampton Row’ is adorned with the wonderful ‘Reflections on the Thames, Westminster’.

As well as these, Grimshaw’s work has appeared on the cover of many and various compendiums of ghost stories, and even a Sherlock Holmes book, with his paintings evoking the mood, mystery and the mist of the era.
Grimshaw and his wife, Fanny, had fifteen children together, although, sadly only six survived into adulthood, and of these, Arthur Grimshaw (1864–1913), Louis Grimshaw (1870–1944), Wilfred Grimshaw (1871–1937) and Elaine Grimshaw (1877–1970), also became painters.

In the early 1890’s, Grimshaw’s work appeared to be developing a much more free style, and taking on a new direction. He painted ‘Sand, Sea and Sky; a Summer Fantasy’ in 1892, which shows a lighter side to his work, and in 1893 he painted the detailed and yet slightly abstract ‘At Anchor’ perhaps showing that he had been influenced by some of Whistler’s work, but sadly, John Atkinson Grimshaw died of cancer in October 1893 aged only 57.

Sand, Sea and Sky: a Summer Fantasy

He is buried in Woodhouse Cemetery in Leeds. Little else is known about this talented character as, unlike other artists of the period, such as Vincent Van Gogh, who left notebooks, letters and sketches after they had died (which explains why we are able to have so many books detailing the lives of such artists) Grimshaw left nothing behind him after he died. No letters, journals, notebooks or papers exist, and because of this we have little more knowledge or information on the life or career of one of our recent histories most talented painters. 

For space reasons I have only included a few of Grimshaw’s pieces, but you can see an attractive slideshow of all of Grimshaw’s work

Friday, 6 May 2011

“Bound for the Streets…Unless Kindly Hearts and Hands Take Them Away For Ever.” Or: The Child Migration of Victorian ‘Wastrels’

It’s no secret that in the last two centuries thousands of Brits were sent to colonies, either as punishment, or to live a supposedly better life. The great majority of these were convicts, but a good deal were also children. Last year, then Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued an apology on behalf of Great Britain to all the families of children who had been sent abroad for one of these ‘better lives’ in the 1920’s and 1930’s. (You can read about that here)
But we can look a little further back than that, and zoom in on London, and in particular, Peckham, in the 1870’s, right up until 1915.

Whilst thumbing through Leisure Hour from 1877, an article entitled ‘Wastrels’ caught my eye (I find the Victorian poor much more interesting than the Victorian high society) and read on. The article, from the 10th March 1877 issue, singled out the good work of a Miss Maria Rye and her home for destitute children for particular praise:

Leisure Hour, March 10th 1877:
Miss Maria S. Rye continues her good work in saving destitute and deserted children, and preparing them for emigration to Canada. An attempt was made last year to throw discredit on Miss Rye’s work, a (Roman Catholic) commissioner, himself impartial, but open to hostile hints, having reported some disparaging statements from the priests and others.
The Canadian parliament took notice of these statements, and expressed renewed confidence in Miss Rye’s work, and it has been asserted without contradiction that nineteen-twentieths of the children have done well. From the home, at Avenue House, High Street, Peckham, Miss Rye writes:-
“Quietly, week by week, and month by month, we have steadily gone on gathering in from here and from there those neglected , forsaken, or destitute little ones known as gutter children, or, more lately, as Lord Sandon’s wastrels. This ingathering from the street is slow work; we have ignorance and prejudices to combat; but in spite of these and other obstacles, we still receive here into this Home on an average of one to two children a week, so that between 300 and 400 children have passed through this Home and been placed out in life during the past four years. The term ‘wastrels’ exactly describes the miserable and unhappy class of children with whom we have to deal. City missionaries bring them to us because they have been found wandering without any home (a whole family of four was so brought a few months ago), because the father is dead and the mother of disreputable or of an uproarious character, threatening to throw herself out of windows; in another case the children had, with their father, been wandering about the streets all night, and could only be compared, for weeks after coming to us, to limp rag dolls, falling right or left as placed on their chairs or little stools.
Even today, not an hour before I began writing this letter, a child seven years was brought in so intoxicated (not the first instance, either) that it took two of us to hold her, and we have had to administer an emetic. Wastrels, indeed! Poor little doomed, miserable morsels, bound for the streets and the gaol unless kindly hearts and hands take them away for ever.”

So on the off-chance that there may be a bit more information out there about this woman, Maria Rye, and her home, I did a little research:

Born in 1829, it turns out that Maria Rye was quite an important (and controversial) figure in the development of child migration schemes to Canada in the late 1860s. She founded the Female Middle Class Emigration Society in 1861 which provided interest-free loans, repayable over a period of two years and four months, to enable educated women to emigrate. The Society was also responsible for sending groups of young women to Australia, Canada and New Zealand, and, to assist in this, established and maintained correspondents at most colonial ports to which female emigrants might be sent. In 1862, Maria sailed to New Zealand with the first party sent out by the Society, and went on to Australia, from where she did not return to England until 1865.
Maria Rye

After returning to England, Maria turned her attention to the rescue of poorhouse and orphaned children, and in 1869 concentrated specifically on assisting young Workhouse girls, typically between the ages of 5 and 12. She appealed for £1000 to finance a scheme to do this good work in a letter to The Times in March 1869, and clearly received the money from someone as six months after the letter appeared in the newspaper, the first party of 76 children, many of whom were from Liverpool-based workhouse schools, sailed from Liverpool to Canada on the SS Hibernian.

The Penny Illustrated Paper of June 22nd 1872, mentions Maria’s sterling work, and reports that a further donation has enabled her to open her home for ‘wastrels’ in Peckham:
'More than 600 orphans or deserted children have been rescued from an irregular vagabond life, fed, clothes, trained, and taken to Canada... through the liberality of a friend of the charity, who placed £500 at her disposal, Miss Rye has opened a home at Avenue House, High-street, Peckham, where ten children, lately taken from the streets, are now being fed, clothed, and prepared for a better course of life in the New World. Their ages range from eight to thirteen. Such a charity is certainly deserving of support'.
Avenue House
Reports of Maria’s Home for Destitute Children in Peckham, which opened on the 13th July 1872, describe a home capable of housing up to 80 children with its own laundry, school house, playground and a two acre garden. Most children spent up to a year at the home before they were migrated to Canada via Liverpool and Quebec, from where they would travel by train to the reception home at Niagara, called 'Our Western Home'. This former jail and courthouse could accommodate up to 120 children.

In May 1873, almost a year after the home opened, the Penny Illustrated Paper once again mentioned Maria, this time in a report stating that she had, following the two previous donations for her work, received a third, this time 'in aid of her Emigration Home for Destitute Little Girls at Peckham.’

Seemingly most people felt she was doing good work, but was she?

In 1874 the Local Government Board sent one of its senior inspectors, Andrew Doyle, to investigate and report back with his findings on the conditions for workhouse children being sent to Canada, with a particular focus on the former jail in Niagara where children were sent on to from the Peckham home by Maria. Doyle found that:
'Many who were sent into service suffered hardship, ill-treatment and deprivation'.
Doyle's report was so critical of both the policy and the practice – especially regarding Maria’s scheme – that the Local Government Board stopped the emigration of children from workhouses in March 1875.

However, The Leisure Hour article I began this post with is from 1877 – two years after Doyle’s report – which suggests, strangely, that the ban on child emigration only lasted two years, though I couldn’t find out why.
That wasn’t the only article in the Leisure Hour to praise Maria’s work. I also found this from 24th March 1877, fourteen weeks after the first article, which appears to be aimed at quelling the upset caused by the government report of two years previous:

Leisure Hour, March 24th 1877:
The terrible mortality recently reported in a metropolitan orphanage – 402 out of 480 children having died – has led to enquiries and comparisons with other institutions. The most remarkable instance of good management and its result was shown in Miss Rye’s home for destitute children, Avenue House, High Street, Peckham. The children there are not infants, as in the Carlisle orphanage, but the contrast as to mortality is still striking. Miss Rye says:-
“We have had in this house, with between 300 and 400 children through the Home – children of all ages, and always brought in in a half-starved and semi-nude condition – we have never yet, thank God! Had one death. You will probably say, ‘but what of the mortality in Canada? Your children only remain in your London home for a short time.’ True; in Canada in six years, out of 1,100 children, we have had fifteen deaths, and of these six accidental.”

Clearly the Leisure Hour believed Maria was doing excellent work, and allowed her the above as a response of sorts to Andrew Doyle’s report.

After a serious illness in 1895 Maria retired, passing the management of her home, and of Our Western Home at Niagara onto the Church of England Waifs and Strays Society, which continued to send girls to the home in Niagara until 1914 when the home was sold. In 1924, a house in Toronto was purchased by the Church of England Society for the purpose of placing girls as domestics. This home was named the Elizabeth Rye Home, but closed in 1933.

After her retirement, Maria moved to Hemel Hempstead where she lived with her sister. She died there of Cancer in 1903.

If anyone wants to know more about this subject, perhaps for genealogy purposes, then I recommend the website of the University of Waterloo (Canada) which you can access by clicking here

Emma Jolly, from genealogy and history research website, once traced one of Maria Rye's children, and gave some additional information on the subject of child migration and the Maria Rye scheme, and also gave some research advice:

Emma says:
I have traced the families of a number of Home Children and have a dedicated page on my website:

The University of Waterloo site that you mention is interesting although it is important to be wary when considering resources such as the letters used to encourage emigration on this page.

Many of the Home Children I have researched had bad experiences of the scheme. It is true that the child I researched who was in Maria Rye's home was from a background of alcoholism, violence and neglect and may have been rescued from a lifetime of destitution or possible early death. However, many were simply illegitimate and were taken away from mothers who planned to be reunited with them in the near future. Many of these children never stopped searched for their mothers, and died without knowing what had happened to them or why they never came to collect them. Sadly, the mothers often had no idea where they were.

Fortunately, today, their descendants are more likely to be successful in their search for what happened. Thanks to public information (e.g. websites) and blogs like yours, this issue has greater public awareness. Many accounts of the experiences of Home Children are brought to our attention regularly - most recently through Jim Loach's film, Oranges & Sunshine.

For those interested in finding out more on Maria Rye and her schools, some records are held at the University of Liverpool's Special Collections & Archives: Click here to go there.

Thanks to Emma Jolly, from for this excellent addendum.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

"City Walls Close in Behind Me...Where the Sunshine Used to Find Me" Or: A May Poem:

As the month of May is upon us, I thought it appropriate to post a poem by Victorian poet and writer, Sarah Doudney.

Sarah contributed many stories and poems to monthly journals, including, amongst others, Charles Dickens’ ‘All the Year Round’

This poem, a contribution to Leisure Hour, is entitled, ‘May Memories’

Swiftly wound the silver river
Where the grass grew deep,
Through the mystic shade and silence
That the woodlands keep;
Underneath the chestnuts straying,
(Trembling fans o’erhead,)
With the creamy blossoms playing,
How my bright hours sped!

As a dream when one awaketh
Seems to me that day,
Chestnut blossoms, sliding river,
Fairyland of May!
City walls close in behind me,
Summer joys are o’er;
Where the sunshine used to find me
I shall stay no more.

Other hands will pull the blossoms,
Cones of pink and white;
Mine are worn with daily labour,
Tired from morn till night;
Still I muse, but not in sadness,
On those bygone days;
Here my autumn hath its gladness
Worth a thousand Mays!