Saturday, 20 February 2021

To Hell with Habeas Corpus!; Dr Thomas John Barnardo (1845-1905), Barkingside



It’s a funny place to be buried, in the middle of a housing estate. It is true that Dr Barnardo has been here since 1905 and most of the houses are of relatively recent construction but it was still an unusual location when the good doctor first picked it out as final resting place. Instead of a cemetery or a churchyard he chose to be buried in the grounds of his Home for Girls in Mossford Green on the south-eastern edge of the site, in between two of the village greens and overlooked by cottage homes. Some of the original buildings on the site have been demolished and what is left has been converted into apartments.  The Barnardo’s charity could not resist the fund making opportunities afforded by untouched greensward and new houses and apartment blocks have sprung up on former playing fields. And so Dr Barnardo now lies among the living and the statue of Charity at the top of his memorial can look over the garden walls of the houses that hem her in on all sides.  Historic England say;

The monument is in the form of an exedra - a Greek term for an outdoor seat, which came to define a semi-circular recess in classical architecture. In ancient Greek architecture, exedra could incorporate bronze statuary and a stone bench, and were located in sacred places. The monument to Dr Barnardo follows the ancient tradition and comprises a bronze female figure on a granite plinth with tall granite quadrant walls, incorporating benches, on a stepped base. The figure represents Charity and has her arms around two children. On the face of the plinth is a high-relief bronze panel depicting an almost life-size group of three girls. Above is a portrait of Dr Barnardo in an aedicule, framed by foliage, ribbons, and the words 'IN MEMORY OF / 1843 DR BARNARDO 1905'. At the peak of the foliage is a heraldic lion and a crown, inspired by the crest on a ring worn by Barnardo in his lifetime.


Does anyone really remember Dr Barnardo anymore? In my childhood he was still a revered hero, one of those secular saints whose hagiographies were staples of improving literature for children; the man who saved countless urchins from the terrors of the East End streets at the tail end of the nineteenth century. In 1969 when Brooke Bond issued a set of 50 picture cards of Famous People 1896-1969 (one card with every packet of tea) Victorian philanthropists, missionaries and do-gooders featured heavily in Asa Briggs’ selection of the country’s most famous individuals of the previous century – Lord Shaftesbury, William Booth, David Livingstone, Florence Nightingale as well as Thomas John Barnardo.  As a child I thought the Barnardo card was rather sinister; Barnardo looked like he could be the twin brother of Dr Crippen or John Christie and where was he ushering those three children to through the foggy gaslit streets of East London?  


Thomas John Barnardo was born in Dublin in 1845, reputedly with Sephardic blood in the family on his father’s side, though his mother was a member of the Plymouth Brethren and the young Barnardo grew up as a strict Protestant, staunch to the point of zealotry.  At the age of 21 he moved to London planning to become a missionary in China. He enrolled in the London Hospital as a missionary medical student in 1867 but he never completed his studies or made his way to China. Instead he discovered the exotic East End and a population so godless and degraded that travelling half way across the world to China seemed superfluous. He began open air preaching on the streets of Stepney and Poplar and he began teaching at the Ernest Street Ragged School. Energetic and domineering he set up his own Ragged School in a stable and then acquired two cottages in Stepney Causeway which became known as the East End Juvenile Mission for the care of friendless and destitute children. He soon added another school in some old warehouses in Copperfield Road and acquired a magazine called the Children’s Treasury. When he wasn’t saving children, he was stopping East Enders from drinking. In 1872 Barnardo erected a large mission tent right in front of the Edinburgh Castle, a gin palace and music hall on Rhodeswell Road. Crowds of up to 2000 gathered nightly to hear the charismatic reformed drunkard Joshua Poole and his wife Mary inveigh against the evils of drinking. Business at the Edinburgh Castle suffered badly as a result of having two thousand temperance reformers camped out on its doorstep and within a few months the landlord threw in the towel and put his lease up for sale. The only person interested in acquiring the lease of a moribund public house was Dr Barnardo; he purchased it and after a refitting relaunched the ‘citadel of Satan’ (as he liked to refer to the Castle) as the British Workman’s Coffee Palace.  



The Barkingside Home for Girls was founded in 1873 when Barnardo married Syrie Louise Elmslie and the couple were given a 15-year lease of a 60-acre site in Mossford Green in Barkingside as a wedding present. It became the headquarters of ever-expanding philanthropic empire and, for a while the Barnardo’s home before they moved to a house called the Cedars in Hackney and finally to Surbiton.  His ambition, evangelical zeal and the strain of keeping his charities solvent sometimes made Barnardo less than patient with anyone who opposed his plans or stood in his way. He found himself facing increasing criticism, often from within the world of philanthropy. A pamphlet published by the Doctor’s critics, called Dr Barnardo’s Homes: Startling revelations made multiple allegations including that the homes were badly managed and the children cruelly treated, that the Doctor’s stories of rescues were grossly exaggerated, and the photographs he published were faked and that Barnardo had no claim to the title of ‘Doctor’. George Reynolds, an evangelical Baptist minister, denounced Barnardo's staging of the before and after photographs of the children which were used as fund raising materials alleging that Barnardo "tears their clothes, so as to make them appear worse than they really are. A lad named Fletcher is taken with a shoeblack's box upon his back, although he never was a shoeblack." Rather than sue his detractors for libel Barnardo opted to seek arbitration under an Order of Court. The judgement was largely in Barnardo’s favour but it was clear that Barnardo did indeed stage his rescue pictures and that he had no right to use the title Doctor having no medical qualifications.



The fount of all knowledge (Wikipedia) alleges that Barnardo made 88 appearances in court as a defendant – looking at contemporary newspaper accounts this number seems a little exaggerated but may be true given his insistence on appealing any cases he lost.  In October 1880 the resoundingly titled Merthyr Telegraph and General Advertiser for the Iron Districts of South Wales reported on an allegation of cruelty against the Doctor, “A quiet-looking lad of apparently 16 or 17 years of age, applied to Mr. Saunders at the Thames Police Court on Monday, for a summons against Dr. Barnardo for cruelly beating him. Applicant stated that he had for some time been an inmate of Dr. Barnardo's Home for Boys at Stepney Causeway, and had been made a sergeant amongst the lads in consequence of his good conduct. On Sunday night the applicant and some other lads stopped out after the evening service until 8.30. For this he was taken before Dr. Barnardo that (Monday) afternoon, and the doctor wanted to beat him over the hand with a large walking-stick. Applicant refused to submit to this, as it was his first offence. On this the doctor called in some men- five or six of them-and they caught hold of applicant and stripped him, and then Dr. Barnardo himself gave applicant a severe birching, hurting and bruising him very much.” At this point in the case the ‘a person’ who was apparently the manager of the Home stepped forward and explained to Mr Saunders that the lad was an apprentice at the Home who indeed been put in a position of trust but who then incited the other lads in the home into acts of rebellion against the Doctor’s regime. He admitted that the Doctor had wanted to give the lad some ‘banders’ for insubordination but as he had refused to accept this punishment there had been no choice but to birch him. Mr Saunders said that in that case there seemed to a matter to inquire into and granted the boy a summons. No sooner had the boy left the court then Barnardo burst “into court, and applied for a warrant against some lads, amongst whom was the one that had applied for the summons, for assaulting some other boys and for rebellious conduct at the home. One of the lads who had been assaulted being, it was stated, very ill through the way in which he had been knocked about.” The nonplussed magistrate declined to grant the warrants and instead “requested Inspector Lecocq, of the H division, to go down to the home and see the lads.”. I am unable to trace the outcome of Inspector Lecocq’s investigations. 


Eight years later in another illuminating case Barnardo was summonsed for assaulting “Eliza Whitbread and her sister [Dora] on the early morning of Tuesday week”. Eliza’s father was a Mr. Frederick Whitbread who had had a livestock yard at the railway arches at Stepney Causeway for forty years.  The access to his premises ran over land taken over by Barnardo’s Home for Boys and the livestock dealer soon found himself coming into conflict with the Doctor. Negotiations between the two parties foundered and the uncompromising philanthropist decided the matter by erecting an iron gate to prevent exit or entry to Whitbread’s premises on a Monday night in July. The following morning Whitbread discovered himself locked into his own premises and retaliated by getting his men to remove the gate. Eliza came out to find her father lying upon the gate, surrounded by Barnardo supporters who were trying to lever the gate back into an upright position using a crowbar. According to the Weekly Dispatch (29 July 1888) “she walked forward and took her father's arm. The men continued to raise the witness and her father till someone called out "Shame!" The witness begged her father to go and get legal advice, and he went away. Her sister then came out, and both of them were jeered at by Dr. Barnardo's boys. The witness and her sister were then joined by some of their own people. Dr. Barnardo had more than one hundred boys in uniform there, sixty dock labourers. and all the boys from his labour home. Having regaled them with bread and cheese, Dr. Barnardo said, “Clear these people off!" The people did not move. Dr. Barnardo then rushed at the witness and gave her a blow in the chest, knocking her back into a man's arms. An inspector, who was there, then came to the witness, and said, "Now, you are hurt, won't you go.” She replied that she must remain until her father came, when Dr. Barnardo again ordered the labourers to clear them off. They did not do so, when the defendant rushed at her a second time and pushed her. The boys then swept her away, and she afterwards went into her home. I She still felt ill from the effects of the blow, and she had a swelling in her breast.” The case was eventually dropped. 

Most of Barnardo’s court appearances were related to writs of habeas corpus granted to parents who were fighting to have their children returned to them after allowing them to enter one of Barnardo’s homes. Some of these court battles were sectarian in nature with the parents being funded and supported by Roman Catholic organisations who wanted to remove children with catholic backgrounds from the evangelical Protestant religious fervour of Barnardo’s Homes and place them in a more suitable Catholic Home. In 1892 for example Mary Ford was granted a writ of Habeas Corpus for Barnardo to produce her 12-year-old son Harry Gossage. The boy had been found homeless and destitute in Folkestone by a police constable and surrendered to Barnardo’s home. Barnardo alleged that the boy’s dead father was a Welsh Methodist and that his mother, who was Catholic, “was a person of drunken habits” who constantly neglected him. Dr Barnardo said that he could not produce the boy because he had been placed into the care of a Mr William Norton who had emigrated with him to Canada. Having lost his case at the Queens Bench Barnardo appealed to the House of Lords who gave him three months to comply with the writ. It was generally a feature of Barnardo’s defence to these actions that the mothers were women of low moral character and the children were no longer in the country. The 1890 case of Mrs McHugh who was seeking the return of her 11 year old son  John James Jones demonstrated just how far Barnardo was prepared to go to intimidate his opponets and how low he was prepared to stop in order to blacken their character in the courts. Mrs McHugh had lived for twenty years with the boy’s father but after he had abandoned the family she had been forced to place him into Barnardo’s care. She had later changed her mind and tried to retrieve him in order to place him in a Catholic school. Barnardo refused to give him up and when she threatened him with legal action he wrote her a letter “in which he said that if the mother persisted in her claim for the child he should make an investigation into her past life and bring all the matters which he discovered before the court.” Mrs McHugh persisted in her suit and when the case before the Queen’s Bench refused, Barnardo alleged that she was “of drunken, dissolute habits, and had used the boy cruelly”.  He had used private detectives to follow her and to find damaging revelations about her private life. The South Wales Daily News (5 November 1890) reported that Lord Coleridge, the Lord Chief Justice, “observed that in support of Dr. Barnardo's case many witnesses were examined—detectives he called them who resorted to a system of shadowing the unhappy woman, peeping through keyholes and listening at chinks of doors, with the result that the charges against the woman completely broke down. The boy had also been interviewed in private by their lordships, and absolutely denied that his mother treated him cruelly. It was clear he was well cared for, and willing to remain under Dr Barnardo's care, but after the scandalous attack which Dr Barnardo had made on the character of the mother it was evident he was not fit to have the custody of the boy.” In another case involving a child called Martha Ann Tye, Barnardo failed to produce the girl when the writ for Habeas Corpus was served and told the court that she had been given over to a French-Canadian woman called Madame Romand. A furious High Court Judge told “Dr. Barnardo he had not taken sufficient steps to restore the child. Writing mild letters of the kind he did to a woman like Madame Romand, who stated she would defy the Court, Dr. Barnardo, and all England! (laughter)—was not the way to get the child restored to the mother. There was no answer to the writ, and if necessary Dr. Barnardo must go abroad and seek out the child and restore it to the mother.” (Buckingham Advertiser and Free Press 20 July 1889).  Needless to say he did not go abroad and Martha Ann Tye remained separated from the mother who wanted her back. 


Dr Barnardo died at the age of sixty at his home, St Leonard's Lodge in Surbiton, on 19 September 1905 after suffering a series of Angina attacks. His body lay in state in the old gin palace, the Edinburgh Castle, for three days from Sunday 24 September until the morning of his funeral on Wednesday 27 September. From Limehouse his funeral procession proceeded with great pomp and ceremony to Liverpool Street Station where a special train was waiting to take him to Barkingside;

DR BARNARDO. Impressive Funeral Ceremony. The funeral of Dr Barnardo took place today amid manifestations of general grief. Outside the Edinburgh Castle, where the body has been lying in state since Sunday, a huge crowd assembled, and were largely representative of the people whom the great philanthropist mostly benefited- The funeral cortege was formed at the Edinburgh Castle. The magnificent wreaths were first carried to the hearse, and the coffin followed, reposing on it being three beautiful wreaths, one of red roses from Mrs Barnardo, one of white roses from the deceased's children, and the other of forget-me-nots from the only grandchild. The imposing procession formed at half-post twelve. It was headed by the band of the Stepney Boys' Home, who played the "Dead March " in "Saul" as the remains left. The procession then moved in solemn silence through the streets. The sight was very touching, and brought tears to many eyes. There were 1800 of the boys and old boys from the various homes established by the deceased, and a large number of boy emigrants who are shortly proceeding to Canada. PATHETIC INCIDENT. One very pathetic spectacle was that where the cripples from the various homes were drawn up pay their last respects to their benefactor. Personal friends were the pallbearers, and these were accompanied by Mrs Barnardo and other members of the family and Lord Brassey, the president of the Barnardo Homes. The coffin was conveyed by special train from Liverpool Street Station to Barkingside, Ilford. The procession was there re-formed, and the remains were carried to the Girls' Village Home, where a service was conducted by the Bishop of Barking. The body will there lie in state until after Sunday. (Dundee Evening Telegraph - 27 September 1905)

It may have been his final resting place but Dr Barnardo had a final excursion to make before he settled down to eternity in Barkingside. On the 4th October, just a few days after the funeral, he was discretely conveyed to Woking to be cremated. His cremains were taken back to Barkingside and buried where his memorial now stands.

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