'Boarded out' children

Hilary Roadley

When I have previously looked at the work done by Harston’s past district nurse I saw that she made a number of visits to ‘boarded out’ children. Who were these?

School records from Feb 1919 show a number of children came from and returned to Dr Barnardo Homes in London. They were fostered out in Harston with children arriving between the ages of 5-8 and staying from 6 months to 2 years. Records show one in each of years 1919, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1926, two in 1929, one in 1952, two brothers in 1953 and a girl in 1954. Not large numbers, but why here?

As Barnardo homes couldn’t accommodate all the children that needed help in cities, they introduced fostering known as “boarding out”; in 1887 for boys and 1889 for girls.  Many of the children cared for by Barnardo’s in the Victorian era lived in dirty overcrowded slums in the East End of London. Through the boarding out scheme, Thomas Barnardo hoped that the children would get to experience the fresh air, the countryside and life with a family. The girls chosen for the foster care scheme were those at risk of ‘moral danger’, or as we now call it child sexual exploitation.

Thomas Barnardo aimed to recruit foster carers living in rural areas across the South East and East Anglia as far away as possible from railway stations and factories in London. Foster carers would often come from working, or “labouring class” backgrounds as Thomas Barnardo was keen to recruit foster carers who were motivated for philanthropic reasons, not as a source of income. They were paid a small fee, 5 shillings a week, to cover living expenses for the children in their care.

In each village which hosted fostered children, the vicar, and a local committee were responsible for the welfare of the children, but Barnardo’s also sent a physician to visit them regularly, to check on their health and care. Liz Chapman, who was a Barnardo’s child fostered in Cambridge from 1935 had Barnardo’s workers visit her approximately every 6 months, both in school and at home. They would chat to Liz privately in her bedroom to ensure she was happy. When she was in her teens they offered to move her to London to have Secretarial training but she declined as she was happy to stay with her foster parents. Barnardos visited Liz until the day she went to work. From Barnardo forms, discovered after her mother had died, she found her mother was paid 7s and 6d a week to look after her. She never felt anything other than a member of the family, though. Unlike Liz, the seven Barnardos children fostered in Harston in the 1920s and 4 in early 1950s returned to London to undertake some sort of training.

Records showing district nurses visits per year (but not the number of children) show there were also boarded out children in the 1930s & 40s. Who were these? Some may have been boarded out in the other villages she visited but during the war years numbers were likely higher due to evacuees. From 1940-43 the Nurse made on average 45 visits a year, 33 in 1936-7, and around 20 a year just after the war.

In September 1939, 29 evacuee children arrived in September, but all bar two had gone back to London by Nov/Dec – their parents finding the expected bombing hadn’t occurred. Two also returned to Lowestoft. From Sep 1940- Sep 1942 a steady stream of evacuees arrived every month (87 in total), this time most staying a year or two. There were only 7 in 1943 but from Jan 1944 the numbers increased again, with another 44 by April 1945 when the flow ended. Harston has a good history of looking after these children. Mrs Bisseker was the Billeting Officer who sorted out which evacuee children went to which local families after they had arrived in Harston by train. They all went to Harston school and generally fitted in well.


Does anyone have any memory or knowledge of ‘boarded out’ children in Harston that they can share with us?

This page was added on 24/04/2023.

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