Children’s charity Barnardo’s has supported vulnerable children for 150 years.
Thomas Barnardo founded the charity after witnessing the poverty and destitution in London’s East End. He was determined to give every child in need the support to help them achieve their potential.
“When Thomas Barnardo set up the charity in the 1866 it was a very important element of the organisation’s principles that its doors are open to all children, regardless of their race, gender, disability or their family background”, says Javed Khan, Barnardo’s Chief Executive.
The charity started its work in 1866, only sixty years after the end of the slave trade and was the first children’s charity in England to take in vulnerable Black and dual heritage children.
At the time dual heritage children were often abandoned by their families, while many Black children found themselves stranded or destitute after arriving from oversees on their own.
After the Second World War, Barnardo’s took in rising numbers of dual heritage children, many of whom were born to English mothers and American or Canadian GI’s, while many Black children were taken in after the passenger liner Windrush brought in one of the first large groups of post-war West Indian immigrants to the United Kingdom in 1948.
Many of Barnardo’s first Black and dual heritage children went on to work in domestic service, while several contemporary children became renowned writers, athletes and civil servants. Successful Barnardo’s Black children include celebrated fashion designer Bruce Oldfield OBE, poet and author Valerie Mason John and former decathlete Snowy Brooks.
“Barnardo’s takes Black History Month very seriously”, says Javed Khan. “The Black community is an integral part of our organisation. Every child and family we work with, as well as our staff, volunteers and foster parents, have helped us to become the diverse organisation we are today.”
To celebrate Black History Month Barnardo’s is sharing never before seen images of the charity’s first Black and dual heritage children in an interactive online exhibition.
Historical archive images will give an insight into what life was like for Black and dual heritage children in the 18th and 19th century. Present day stories and testimonials of Barnardo’s volunteers, staff members, children and young people will shed light on how Barnardo’s still supports children of all backgrounds today and always.
“Black History Month is an opportunity for Barnardo’s to celebrate the achievements and invaluable contributions of the diverse communities across the UK” says Javed Khan. “They continue to help us promote racial justice and equality for all children in the UK.”
The online exhibition can be viewed on
http://www.barnardos.org.uk/blackhistorymonth from the 1st of October 2016. Everyone with a connection to Barnardo’s can also be part of the gallery and can contact the charity with their story.
If you have been fostered or adopted through Barnardo’s you can contact the charity’s Making Connections service to access childhood records and trace family history.
See below a few of the first children Barnardo’s helped.
John Lewis was the first black child on Barnardo’s records.
Born in the heart of East London, John was born to an English mother and a father from the West Indies. He was one of thirteen children, only six of whom survived.
John was deserted by his birth father and rejected by his mother. His mother was married to another man, who was not John’s father and he refused to accept John as his own.
John’s older sister Meredith, who was also mixed race, let him stay at her flat when her husband was away. Otherwise, John was left homeless on the streets of London for most of the time from a very young age. He tried to get by working as a ‘shoeblack’, cleaning and shining shoes.
John was spotted by the Hon. J. Pulham, who referred him to Barnardo’s. John was admitted to the boy’s home on 30 April 1874, when he was fifteen years old.
One year later, John was offered a job by a Mr Butler.
Sadly, John’s siblings also struggled to get the care they needed. In 1878 John contacted Barnardo’s boys home asking the charity to take in his half-brother. Our records indicate all of his siblings went on to live separate lives away from each other.
Elizabeth was born on Commercial Street, in the East End of London. In 1891, six year old Elizabeth was found by a neighbour in squalid conditions, next to her dying mother. Within a year, her father was also dead.
Her parents were said to have had a difficult relationship. Her docker father was “given to drink” and “constantly misused his wife”. He was said to question Elizabeth’s true paternity as, Barnardo’s records put it somewhat prosaically, she bore “strong evidence of having foreign blood in her veins” but both him and his wife had fair complexions.
After their deaths the neighbour looked after orphaned Elizabeth in Spitalfields for a few months, while appealing to relatives to take her in. Tragically, none felt able to give her a home.
Two missionaries from different churches in London’s East End appealed to Barnardo’s. She was boarded out to a couple living in leafy Headcorn, a small village near Maidstone in Kent.
After six years in the countryside Elizabeth returned to Barnardo’s Girls Village where she undertook training to become a domestic cook. She left to enter service, and was recorded in the 1911 Census as working as a cook in Croydon.
Barnardo’s last contact with Elizabeth was in 1946, when she asked for help in obtaining a birth certificate so she could obtain a pension. At the time she was unmarried and still living in Croydon.
Fanny Jefferson was born in London on 9th November 1882 to an English mother and a black father.
When Fanny was only four years old, her father, who worked for the Telephone Company in Cannon Street, died after a pole fell on his head.
Receiving only £1 a week for a month from the Telephone Company after her husband’s death, Fanny’s mother struggled to take care of her children.
Help was hard to come by for Fanny’s mother in Victorian London. People were not very sympathetic towards a woman who had been in an inter-racial relationship. After the death of Mr. Jefferson, Fanny’s mother had also given birth to children who were considered “illegitimate” by Victorian standards; isolating her even further from her community.
Desperate and without any money to support her children, Fanny’s mother reached out to Barnardo’s. She tried to place all of her children into Barnardo’s care, but only Fanny, who was deaf and described as fragile, was admitted to Barnardo’s in 1889.The charity felt that she was the most vulnerable child out of all the siblings.
Fanny’s mother eventually found work as a dressmaker, which allowed her to look after Fanny’s brother and sister, while two of Fanny’s half siblings were adopted by her aunt and uncle.
Fanny found employment in domestic service and left Barnardo’s care in 1900 at the age of 18. She never married and died in Thanet, Kent in 1974 aged 92.
Margaret Rosina Robinsonwas born in Liverpool in June 1893. She was admitted into Barnardo’s care in 190, aged seven, after an application was made by the NSPCC.
The NSPCC took on Margaret’s case, after a court order was issued by South Wales Police which had investigated Margaret’s mother for over a year.
Margaret’s mother had turned to prostitution after her husband abandoned the family when Margaret was younger. Shortly after he left, the family moved to Wales where Margaret’s mother was convicted, imprisoned and fined several times for drunkenness, disorderly conduct and soliciting. In her admission report to Barnardo’s, little Margaret was described as thin and greatly neglected by her mother, who often used her as a “decoy” to get alcohol from local the pubs. Her mother had also told Margaret’s school that she wanted to “get rid of” her by placing her into a home until she was fourteen years old.
Margaret was taken in by Barnardo’s and lived in the Girls Village in Barkingside, Essex for seven years. In 1908, fifteen year old Margaret left Barnardo’s to work as a maid at the Babies Castle in Hawkhurst, Kent. Census records from 1911 confirm that Margaret still worked at the Babies Castle, but there are no further records to determine what happened to her later on.