Monday, 31 October 2016

Miss Isabella Frances Akers of Warren Wood Hayes

The Church of Saint Mary The Virgin Hayes contains a black and white marble pavement in the sanctuary and an oak rail in memory of Mrs Frances Whitmore and her daughter Isabella. The work was donated by Aretas Akers Douglas and his sister Mrs Eleanor Mary Norman as a memorial to their mother and sister and were to a design by Thomas Jackson M.A. carried out in 1904/5.
Isabella and her mother are buried side by side in Hayes Churchyard to the right hand side of the Hambro family memorial. Mrs Frances Whitmore died in 1900 and as we will see Miss Isabella Frances Akers died in 1903.
Aretas Akers had married Frances Maria Brandram and the couple had raised their family as he served as a clergyman. Isabella was born on 15 May 1853  but was to become an orphan at the age of 3. Her father Aretas Akers had an interesting family history;the family in the eighteenth century had considerable land and slaves in the West Indies and on the abolition of slavery was compensated by the British Government. Isabella's inheritance was invested wisely on her behalf she held among other shares in the Great Western Railway and is designated with her mother in the census as of independent means.
Their son Aretas Akers who was born at West Malling in October 1851 where his father was rector later changed his name to Akers-Douglas and in 1880 was elected to Parliament. In 1902 he became Home Secretary and later was created Viscount Chilston and had inherited Chilston Park, The change of his name was in accordance with the terms of a family will which provided his inheritance see Wikipedia 1st Viscount Chilston.
Eleanor Mary Akers married Edward Norman in 1875 two years after her mother who had remarried and been widowed for a second time had taken a lease on Warren Wood Hayes Common in September 1873.
I am grateful for the generous assistance of Jean Wilson co-author with the late Trevor Woolman of Hayes: A History of a Kent Village Volume I and her detailed research on the house. The confusion between Warren Wood and the neighbouring house which came to be known as The Warren and still stands today as part of the Metropolitan Police estate is obvious as the census enumerator in the 1881 refers to the House it's lodge stables housing as The Warren whereas in 1891 the enumerator refer's to Mrs Whitmore's Gardeners Cottage and the house as part of Hayes Common. The houshold employed in 1881 a coachman and a gardener and his family as well as domestic servants. In the 1891 census entry a butler cook and four other domestic servants are employed. The house no longer exists but was occupied after 1903.
Isabella Frances Akers was the first elected woman to serve as a Guardian for Bromley Poor Law Union. She was to fulfil her commitment to "serve the women children and disabled of the Union" throughout her years as a Board Guardian and it was typical of her commitment to serve that she died tragically entering the Workhouse to attend a Board Meeting in 1903.
We can with a twenty first century perspective only imagine what the only woman elected to serve on a Poor Law Union Board experienced in an all male Board room. Her ability as a member earned unanimous approval for her proposals and her commitment to orphans and the deserted children of the Union Workhouse emerges most strongly from the pages of Committee minutes. She was the Guardian to join the Boarding Out Committee 5 years after the all male Committee had begun to recruit foster parents in Bromley.
Isabella had worked with the matron of the Workhouse to draw up an inventory of clothing for boys and girls and her attention to the provision of winter capes for boys and an ulster caped winter coat for girls which could be made by women in the Workhouse work room to patterns (by Paton and Baldwin) was the beginning of her work to research formally propose and implement a Committee of Lady Visitors which I have previously written about.  She was to work with the Boarding Out and Cottage Training Homes Association as well as her personal visits to foster parents and children in their care and assisting Charles Gedney who chaired the Boarding Out Commitee in his efforts to obtain urgent admissions to hospitals in London or urgent alternative foster homes on the death or illness of their foster mother.
There are indications that her health had required her to go away for three months on health grounds in her formal notice of absence contained in Commitee minutes but no one at the Union was prepared for the tragedy of her death. At the age of 49 she was in April of 1903 accustomed to travelling by tricycle to meetings at the Union Workhouse. In 1901 the most popular ladies tricycle was the Rudge-Whitworth which replaced their earlier models with a "modern" front brake to replace the earlier fixed wheel brake. I am grateful to the Old Bike Museum for their help. On the23 April 1903 Isabella Akers had ridden from her home at Warren Wood to the Union Workhouse. Without gearing the journey which has several inclines would have been challenging at  Farnborough Common. The Bromley Record obituary May 1903 reports that she had pushed her tricycle up the incline at Farnborough Common remounting at the top and rode up to the lodge of the Workhouse where she fell from her tricycle and died when her heart failed. The Obituary further records that she was unable to speak and great shock was felt by all at the loss of a well respected woman.
On 23 April 1903 at Hayes Church the Rector began the service which was then conducted by a bishop. Isabella was buried next to her mother in Hayes Churchyard.

© Henry Mantell Downe Online Parish Clerk 2013-2016

Monday, 3 October 2016

Guidance on choice of Foster Home in the 1890's

The Bromley Poor Law Union handbook for Lady Visitors in 1894 see previous blog contains both national guidance and local Union guidance of choice of foster home.
Article 4 of the Local Government Board guidance specifies that "not more than two children should be boarded out by the Guardians in the same house unless all such are brothers and sisters and do not exceed four in number...no child should be placed in a home which would result in five children."
Those who had received Relief from the Poor Law Union in the preceding twelve months were ineligible to be considered as prospective foster parents.
Article 5 of the Local Government Board specifies that the creed of the foster parent should not be different to that of the child.
There are within the Bromley Union Ladies Committee minutes examples of the need to face these circumstances. In many examples of large family groups of orphaned or abandoned children the local practice is to try whenever practicable to place siblings in homes to enable them to attend the same school; there are changes of foster carer to bring about such circumstances.
Bromley Union Guardians do however encounter difficulty when Roman Catholic children need to be accommodated. The problem vexes local Roman Catholic clergy and Guardians alike despite exhaustive attempts to attract Roman Catholic foster parents over nearly twenty years  and children who might be boarded out are admitted to a Roman Catholic orphanage in Orpington rather than foster homes. In some cases clergy accept non-Catholic foster parents but organise Roman Catholic schooling in efforts to meet the child's interests and provide Roman Catholic education.

  • Child over seven years of age should never be allowed to sleep in the same room as a married couple
  • No child to be boarded out in a house where an adult lodger is accommodated "this rule is often evaded after the child has been some time in a home"
There is an example in the Bromley Union of the admission to the household of two teenage male lodgers who the visitor interviews and finds "most respectable Gentlemen" nevertheless the foster parent who claims not be to aware of the rule is required to cease the lodging arrangement or have the child removed.

Bromley Union Guardians require reports to them to reflect:

  • The moral character of prospective foster parents
  • that sleeping accommodation be inspected for future as well as present
  • income of the family should be quite sufficient for the child's maintenance without any payment for foster care
  • age and health of foster parents not only for present but for as long as child remains
  • "young couples with increasing families are not as a general rule good foster parents as the children become nurses or drudges"
  • boys should not be placed with widows or single women "they usually grow out of control of women"
  • country homes are as rule to be preferred for girls
Whilst some of these rules seem quaint to the 21st century reader the experience of failing or inadequate foster care contained in the pages of the Committe Minutes reflects the challenges that foster parents faced. The male foster parent who loses employment is faced with a dilemma as to claim poor relief would lead to removal of foster children;the Guardians tend to be pragmatic and make every effort to secure him employment to avert alternate arrangement for foster children.
Sleeping accommodation can be a difficulty as a small child at the beginning of foster care can by age 13 be large and strong enough to enter naval Training and a number of "large strong lads" are considered by Committee.
There are certainly failures in fostering which arise from foster parents inappropriately requiring the child to nurse or perform heavy domestic duties usually associated with declining mental or physical health of the foster carer or introduction of young children.
The presumption that a widow or single woman acting as a foster parent and being unable to control boys is confounded by the experienced foster carers who are widowed and cope with children with special needs or develop serious health problems. There are exceptions to the assumption but there are equally failures to be able to control the excesses of dishonesty including thefts from both foster parents by some children. Young women beyond control of foster parents are also evident and several young women require admission to institutions which are described as strict. In one case detention in hospital for danger to herself and others is described by visitor involved in after care visits.
The Bromley Union certainly began in 1885 with a policy of recruiting in the "country" parishes;however the development of housing in the Bromley Common and growth of the town lead to a rise in foster care in and near the town itself.
The introduction of the Lady Visitor's Committee and reports to Guardians forms a social history of the development of social work and regulated boarding out of orpans and abandoned children by Bromley Union. We are fortunate to have surviving Union records which by the 1900's also compromise a case note for each child recording both their foster care history and after care reports. I will blog about this history as work on this period progresses.
© Henry Mantell Downe Online Parish Clerk 2013-2016 

Bromley Union Kent Boarding Out Committee and Visitors Handbook

The records held at Bromley Historic Collections relating to boarded out children include a surviving copy of the Handbook reference 846GBy/A/W/9 given to Lady Visitors (and Committee members).
It also lists the Committee members and Relieving Officers in the 4 Union Districts and Union Doctors for the districts including the Beckenham Doctor A Primrose Wells of Bournville Beckenham who was male despite his chosen first name.
Miss Akers 1893 formal proposal to form a Committe of Lady Visitors from the constituent parishes of the Union had lead the Boarding Out Committe on 5 January 1894 to approve and submit to the Local Government Board for their approval the following Committee of Visitors.
Bromley              Miss Hay "Parkfield" who died and was replaced by Mrs Beeby London Road
                          Mrs Partridge "Barnfield"
                          Mrs Dodgson "Hayesford"
                          Miss Martindale "Overfield" Bickley
Chelsfield           Mrs Edward Norman
Chislehurst         Miss Willis Lamona Villa
Downe                Miss Harris Orange Court
Farnborough        Mrs Preston
Hayes                  Miss Brett Ash Lodge (Hayes part of Keston)
Keston                 Mrs Dudin Broadmoor Keston
Saint Pauls Cray   Mrs William Nash
West Wickham     Mrs Packe Hawes Down

The Committee was responsible for:

  • the provision of homes
  • superintendence of homes within the limits of this union for orphan and deserted children chargeable to the common fund of the Union
  • a fee of four shillings a week per child up to age 16 for lodging exclusive of clothing school fees and fees for medical attendance medicines and medical extras
  • a quarterly clothing allowance
  • payment of one penny a week to the head teacher for each child whose attendance was to be reported quarterly to the Boarding Out Committee of the Union
  • burial expenses for deceased children
  • payments to District Medical Officers who are to report on health of each child quarterly

Each Lady Visitor was allowed stationery and postage expenses each quarter in order to submit reports and to enter in correspondence with potential employers and employers of those children in employment and after care. The visitors soon identified needs which were not met and with the exception of their Secretary all devoted this allowance to form a fund to pay for fares and other unmet needs of the children.
The Handbook contained Local Government Board requirements and some experience that Miss Akers had obtained from other Union Lady Visitors;in addition the requirements of the Bromley Union are specified. The latter include:
"a member of the Committee should visit each home at least once a month at varying intervals and by surprise keeping a record of her visits and taking special notice of
 the health of the children
the food supplied (occasional meal time visits) "The appearance of the children will indicate whether the food is the right quantity and quality"
clothing "This should be examined thoroughly gone over half yearly.The visitor should observe what underclothing the child is wearing at the time".
 An inventory of clothing issued by the Matron of the Workhouse had to be maintained and recovered if the child was removed from a foster home for any reason. Within the clothing list there are two specific items which within the minutes of the boarding out Committee are proposed by Miss Akers the only female member of that Committee. She proposes that boys be issued with a cape for winter outer wear and the girls receive an Ulster waterproof overcoat. Although commonly associated as a male overcoat with caped sleeves by the 1890's various paterns and styles were available for girls see girls Ulster coat.
In late 1894 one visitor reports to the Boarding Out Committee that she does not in conscience feel able to make "surprise" visits at mealtimes or examine boys underwear. Her continued service as visitor is welcomed by the Committee on the understanding that she will "in my own way" ensure the adequacy of both food and clothing.
The visitors were to report on
the adequacy of accommodation available for present and future accommodation
cleanliness
sleeping arrangements within the household bedding to be inspected "It should be clearly understood that these inspections are not made on suspicion but because the visitor is bound to report to Committee from their knowledge at first hand".
temperance "on no account should a child be sent to a public house for beer or for any other purpose".
aftercare
In no circumstances should a foster child be returned to the Union Workhouse without the knowledge of the visitor and transfer of children "should be made without removal to the Workhouse". It was the role of the visitor to receive complains from foster parents and in case of requested removal of foster children the visitor was required to communicate immediately with the Board.
There is within the minutes of the Committee ample evidence that Relieving Officers and the Chairman of the Boarding Out Committee and Secretary were supportive of foster parents coping with difficulty with challenging children and every effort is made to prevent breakdown of established care arrangement. The aftercare of children who leave school and remain in foster home and enter work or who enter service is one testament to the strength of these relationships with ongoing correspondence even after emigration reporting on the welfare of those for which formal responsibilty has ceased.
Emphasis is placed on the relationships between visitor and child,visitor and foster carer to achieve a succesful transition to employment.
The Boarding Out Committee minutes record the pain of some children in facing life ouside the Workhouse. Guidance is given to visitors about pocket money "in the Workhouse Schools they have little temptation to dishonesty but when they come out and see shops the desire to buy sweets or other things comes on them and if they have nothing they are tempted to steal".In many cases foster care is not able to assist children who had deeply rooted problems of lying and dishonesty. Some are called before the Committee and leave foster care to enter institutional care in an effort to divert them.
I will blog again about some of the guidance offered as these reflect Local Government attitudes in the last quarter of Queen Victoria's reign.
© Henry Mantell Downe Online Parish Clerk 2013-2016