Wickham Skeith & Dr Barnardo’s
Emma, Maggie Brooke 1891, Doris and Eileen.
Monday 4 May 1890 was a significant day in the history of our village. As the school log book records: Admitted four children from Dr Barnardo’s Home, who are boarded out in this village. Maggie Brooke, Elizabeth Baker, Harriet Martin, Ruth Bailey.
Those few words mark the beginning of a relationship with the children’s charity Dr Barnardo’s which continues to the present day. Between 1890 & 1950 more than 200 children were fostered in Wickham Skeith. During that time up to 20% of the children in the village at any one time came from Barnardo’s.
Why did so many people take in these children? For some it may well have been for altruistic reasons but for others it was the money paid by Barnardo’s for each child. Before WWI they paid 5 shillings a week at a time when the basic agricultural wage was only 15 shillings. So if a family took on 3 children it was like having another wage.
In the years before WWI the Barnardo’s children often only stayed for a couple of years & were then sent to Canada. It’s an extraordinary fact that between 1870 & 1930 over 100,000 children were sent to Canada, 30,000 of whom were sent by Barnardo’s. For many of these children it was a new start in a rapidly developing country & they did well. However, large numbers were badly treated & child emigration has left scars still felt by their descendants in Canada to this day.
Maggie Brooke, one of the 1st four girls to come to the village, was the first from Wickham Skeith to be sent to Canada. And hers is a really poignant story. She settled in well in Ottawa helping a family to look after their two young boys. However, she fell ill & Barnardo’s brought her back to England at the end of June 1899. She came to stay with her original Wickham Skeith family – George & Abigail Dorling of Willow House – but sadly died of TB on 11 August. She was just 19 years old.
After WWI most Banardo’s children stayed here until they left school at 13 or 14. They then had to return to Barnardo’s to be trained – the girls usually for domestic service & the boys either to learn a trade or go into the Navy. Wickham Skeith retained a strong pull for some of them & a significant number returned to live in the area. Many of us remember Doris Mullinger at Green Farm & we still have Eileen Pearce in Bacton & Emma Cable in Grange Road - all former Barnardo’s girls.