History talk focuses on wartime nursery and children's homes

Issue date: 06 November 2007

Reproduced by permission of the family of Myrtle Martin A father and daughter team will present a special lecture on two aspects of the history of caring for children in the South West.

Dr Katherine Holden (UWE) will talk about the Downend Children's Homes and her father, Dr Hyla M Holden, will present his recent research on the wartime residential nurseries at Dyrham Park, near Bath, at an event on 8 November 2007. The lecture is organised by the Regional History Centre of UWE. Dr Hyla Holden is a retired doctor who is carrying out voluntary historical research for the National Trust.

Dr Hyla Holden says, “At the outset of the 2nd WW many children were evacuated from major cities to the countryside to avoid the threat and destruction of bombing raids. In 1939, Lady Islington, at that time the tenant of Dyrham Park, ran a day nursery in London for pre school children and it was decided to move these children, around 50, to Dyrham Park.

“In 1941 after major disagreements with the local authority, Lady Islington started a new residential nursery funded by the Anglo-American War Relief Fund for 80 children from West Ham. The records show that the children were well treated – with a programme of activities, play, good food and country air, a structured regime typical for the time. I have managed to trace several of the children's nurses, and many still meet to reminisce about their war work. Visiting was limited to once monthly; travelling in wartime was difficult, so many children received fewer visits and some none at all.

“At the end of the war most of the children returned to their homes, although some had been orphaned during the war. One of the children I have managed to trace, a woman now in her 60's, says the hardest part of the whole experience was returning home. She exchanged a secure, regulated environment in a country mansion for a strange unknown city house and a family who were mostly unknown to her.

“It has been very difficult to trace many of the children from the nurseries, but of the few I have met, many have spoken of a feeling of being 'the odd one out' when they returned to family life after their war time experience.

“I am still keen to contact any other children or members of staff who spent time at the Dyrham Park Nursery during the war, as my research is still ongoing. I am also looking forward to welcoming one of the nurses to my talk on 8 November.”

At the same event, Dr Kath Holden will talk about the Downend group of children's Homes run by Bristol City Council in the 1940s. Some of the staff moved to work at these homes from the Dyrham Park Nursery after the War.

Kath says, “I will be focusing on the situation of staff in these homes, and how the pressures placed upon them influenced the care they were able to give. There were conflicts between those who ran the Homes, many of them unmarried women, and the authorities, who after the 1948 Children's Act took a stronger role in defining the care provided. My particular interest is in the role played by these women and the expectations and circumstances of the time which may have created difficulties for them, and ultimately affected the kind of care that the children in the Homes received.”


Editor's notes

The Lecture will take place at:
Regional History Centre, St Matthias Campus, Fishponds, Room M029,
8 November 2007,
18.30 – 20.00

See: http://humanities.uwe.ac.uk/regionhistory/rhcnew/index.htm,/a>


Visuals available – Black and white images:

1. Children pictured with a donkey at the Anglo American Nursery at Dyrham Park during the Second World War. An official photo produced for the Ministry of Information showing the Anglo American nursery's secretary Miss Taylor and friends. (Reproduced by kind permission of the family of Myrtle Martin).
Visual - Dyrham2.jpg

2. A garden party at the Anglo American Nursery. Lady Islington, Dyrham's wartime owner, is pictured (left, in a large white hat) with some of the evacuees. (Reproduced by kind permission of the family of Myrtle Martin).
Visual - Dyrham1.jpg

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