Our Waifs and Strays

This guide was last updated in 2009

Our Waifs and Strays

This smartly designed, easily navigable website includes a wealth of archival material not previously accessible to the public. Hidden Lives Revealed explores the lives and schooling of children who were in the care of the Children’s Society (formerly the Waifs and Strays’ Society) in late-Victorian and early-20th-century Britain.

Between the years 1881 and 1918 the Society cared for around 22,500 children from both urban and rural areas across England and Wales. The Society opened its first children’s home at Dulwich in 1882, and by 1918 had run nearly 175 across England and Wales.

You can browse a complete list of the homes, or word search the database, which then takes you to individual pages on each home, with original photographs, drawings and interesting potted histories.

The Brighton Home For Girls page, for example, includes a photograph of the girls at play, a description of the home, which ran from 1894 to 1921, and the children’s daily lives. The youngest girls attended the nearby St Mary’s Church school, being taught by the local vicar, while the older girls were trained in cooking, laundry, housework and needlework, so they could find work later in life in domestic service.

They also made scarves and handkerchiefs for troops on the frontline during the First World War, while the Home hosted regular “Fancy Fairs” to sell their goods.

Other highlights of this often moving website are the fully browsable/searchable texts of Society publications, including annual reports, and magazines Our Waifs and Strays and Brothers and Sisters. Plus you can learn more about how the Society worked, and how the children were helped and educated, through the full contents of 150 anonymised case files of children in care, with links to the actual homes they lived in.

Finally, the excellent “Photographs” section includes more than 200 evocative images, organised under such headings as “At School”, “Sporting Life”, “At Wor”, “What They Wore” and “In The Society’s Care”.

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