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Feature researched and compiled by John Peck

The Cottage Homes

Cottage Homes: left - in about 1905; right - a hundred years later

Following the Poor Law Act of 1834 many changes took place later in the century in the treatment of those in extreme poverty.  Chief among these was the construction of numerous local workhouses, which as the name indicates were designed not only to accommodate paupers and often their families, but to provide manual work, whereby some of the cost of their keep might be offset.  Indeed at Kettering for many years some of the inmates were regularly employed in cutting logs which were subsequently delivered to houses in the district by horse and cart.  The accounts of the period show this to have made some profit.

Other important changes included the employment of full time staff.  Whilst the opportunity for advancement and qualifications in the modern sense was very limited, in practice those in the more senior positions seemed to have stayed many years, often to retirement or to obtain a similar post in another locality. They clearly felt it to be their vocation.  At junior levels however, particularly amongst nursing staff, a very high turnover and frequent serious understaffing were common, the matron and senior nurses covering the absences sometimes for weeks on end.

The 1834 Act had provided that the Poor Law of the whole country be administered by several hundred “Unions” controlled by local “Guardians of the Poor”.  These officials were elected in a similar fashion to local councillors and were unpaid.  Meetings were held fortnightly throughout the year, attended normally by about twenty Guardians under an elected Chairman.  The copious and detailed Minutes were recorded by the paid and professional Clerk, a local solicitor who would hold this highly respected appointment usually for many years.  Whilst predominantly men were Guardians, by the end of the century a number of lady Guardians were making significant contributions to the work of the Guardians’ Committee particularly with respect to the needs of the elderly female workhouse inmates, the numerous children in the workhouse, and those “boarded out” with foster parents.

The inmates of workhouses were a very mixed community; men and women, young and old, from tiny babies born there, to the totally senile.  Some were there for days, itinerants passing through the town, others for years on end.  Some were purely work shy, some genuinely out of work, some chronically sick.  The Kettering Admissions book discloses some very sad and disturbing cases of families deserted by fathers, and sometimes mothers too.  Occasionally both parents had died and there was no surviving relative who would care for the children; true orphans.

The Kettering workhouse had a number of separate wards in an attempt to solve the obvious problems created by such a variety of people.  Men and women were of course segregated, even married couples, and there was an old men’s ward and an old women’s ward, and the babies in a nursery. The workhouse also had an infirmary or hospital staffed with trained nurses.  However, by 1896 many Guardians were expressing concern that the children in their care were receiving neither protection from the many unsuitable adults under the same roof, (sometimes even their own parents), nor receiving regular education.

At the fortnightly Kettering Guardians’ meeting held on 6th July 1896, there was great concern at the insufficiency of girls’ accommodation and overcrowding.  One solution would have been to board out more of the children, and the “Cottage Home” scheme was also suggested. 

In other parts of England and Wales the Cottage Home system had been first introduced in the 1870s as a means of accommodating and bringing up children in a better environment than was possible even in the best run workhouse.  In many ways it had the advantages of a boarding school in that the children lived separately in a community or even small village run specifically for them.  In some larger Unions they were provided with facilities for games, swimming, their own school rooms, and chapels.  By 1903 more than 20 Unions throughout the country were operating Cottage Homes, some even having several hundred children.  They were often purpose built and some distance away from the associated workhouse.  Contact with unsuitable adults, - and often even their own parents were the most unsuitable, was minimized.

At the meeting on 14th September 1896 the Master of the Workhouse reported that only five children were suitable for boarding out.  A committee was formed to examine further the Cottage Home system.  Within a month they reported they had inspected “a house at Burton Latimer lately in the occupation of the Hon Mrs. Vernon and which in their opinion was very suitable”.  On 21st December 1896 the contracts were sealed, and early in 1897 work began on the alterations needed to comply with the requirements of the Local Government Board.  The house, originally built as a farm house towards the end of the 18th century, is now known as 159 High Street.

Plan from abstract of title 1897:

The triangular area shows the house and outbuildings, with a large enclosed yard and gardens; the greater part now covered by Nos 161(Nursery), 163, 165, and 167, at rear, High Street.

The building at the corner (“from Finedon Station” at bottom of plan) was the then recently built Church Mission Room; now a private house.

The small building at the lower end of the triangle survives.  It was the coach-house and is now a garage.  The narrow jitty still separates it from the row of early stone houses, marked “J.C.Eady” the then owner, now 1, 3, 5,  Higham Road.

See present day picture of these buildings below.

The most significant changes made to the house at this time were the provision of a fire escape and the creation of a bathroom.

The fire escape was sited on the north side of the house and served the two upper floors.  Each floor had a balcony serving two windows, and the balconies a common spiral staircase to the ground.  The four original Georgian sash windows were replaced with pairs of French window doors to allow easy escape.  Some of the changes to the stonework and mismatching of lintels can be still seen.  The heavy cast iron staircase was purchased from Walter MacFarlane & Co. of the Saracen Foundry, Glasgow, and installed in April 1897.  It remained in situ until 1950 when concerns about its maintenance and possible domestic burglary necessitated its removal.  The present small balconies on the north side now have railings with scroll shaped cast iron balusters originally on the staircase.

These pictures show the appearance shortly before removal of the fire escape.

Spiral staircase on side of Cottage Homes Spiral staircase and side entrance path View of spiral staircase from High Street

Present view.  Note surviving lintel of vanished Georgian window on right hand first floor:  

All photos courtesy of John Peck

The bathroom was also created in April 1897.  It is unlikely that it replaced an earlier one because previously the house was not on mains water, indeed shortage of water was complained of several times at meetings as if the well had run dry.  Mains water and sewage were not installed until April 1908.  The first floor bathroom was constructed of yellow bricks and sited over the existing back doorways.  Similar brickwork was placed round those doorways and the kitchen windows.  Some sash windows were renewed.

In the summer of 1897 staff were appointed.  From the thirty applicants Mr. & Mrs. John Browning as Superintendent and Foster Mother, and Miss Marie Proofe as Assistant Foster Mother were appointed.  They were to start work on 1st October 1897.

STAFF LIST AT COTTAGE HOMES BURTON LATIMER
SURNAME FIRST NAME FROM POSITION DATE START DATE LEFT
Browning John T. Louth Superintendent 1 Oct 1897 Died 5 Mar 1911
Browning Mrs W.H. Louth Foster Mother 1 Oct 1897 Jul 1911 promotion
Browning Mrs W.H. Louth Superintendent Matron Jul 1911 28 Feb 1913
Proofe Marie
Afm 1 Oct 1897 c 12 Feb 1900
Spriggs Harriett Burton Latimer Afm 26 Mar 1900 Dec 1901
Duce Lillie Gravesend Afm 1 Aug 1901 Dec 1901
Barnes Ada Huntingdon Afm Dec 1901 May 1903
Barnes E.G. ? Huntingdon Temp Afm c 30 Jun 1902 Late 1902 ?
Woolley Martha Kibworth Afm c 28 Jul 1902 Died Jun 1903
Causton Mrs Mary Sophia Northampton Afm Jun 1903 21 Sep 1907
Randall Kathleen
Afm Jun 1903 12 Apr 1905
Whitney Ellen (Nellie) Burton Latimer Afm Apr 1905 Oct 1908
Hopkins Bessie London Afm Oct 1907 28 Oct 1907
Burgess Florence Totley Afm Nov 1907 Mar 1910
Collyer Clara June
Afm Oct 1908 7 Nov 1912
Baxter M.J. Rothwell Afm Mar 1910 Aug 1911 to Wkhse
Nott Walter Henry Newcastle, Staffs Trainer Jul 1911 Dec 1911
Bailey(Nott) Eliza Newcastle, Staffs Afm Jul 1911 Dec 1911
Staines Walter J. Rochford Trainer 1 Feb 1912 Feb 1913
Partner(Staines) Louise Rochford Afm 1 Feb 1912 Feb 1913
Philpott Amy Biggleswade Matron Feb 1913 Mid 1914 ?
Browning Vera May CH Burton Latimer Afm Feb 1913 23 Sep 1915
Roughton Annie K. Kettering Afm Feb 1913 30 Apr 1915
Hargreaves Florence Kettering GH Sep 1913 7 Mar 1914
Foster William Mark Atcham Superintendent 18 May 1914 7 May 1919
Foster Florence A. Atcham Matron 18 May 1914 7 May 1919
Heddersley Ethel Rothwell GH 29 April 1914 Jul 1914
Lancaster Florence May
GH Aug 1914 Apr 1915 promotion
Lancaster Florence May
Afm 1 May 1915 25 May 1916
Knight F.E. Burton Latimer Afm 1 Sep 1915 Jul 1919
Pell R.E. Kettering Afm 22 May 1916 22 Sep 1917
Loake Doris
Sewing Maid, GH, Afm 5 Jun 1916 Jun 1919
Horne L.
Afm 24 Sep 1917 Oct 1917
Willis Amy V.
Afm Oct 1917 Sep 1918
Willett(s) A. Luton Matron Jul 1919 31 Jan 1923
Willis A. Kettering Afm Sep 1919 Sep 1920
Gillard S.H.
Snt Sep 1919
Brooks G.M.
Afm 10 Oct 1919 Mar 1920
Holding Frances Mary N'ton Gen Hosp Afm 26 Apr 1920 Nov 1921
Mitchell Lily
Afm Sep 1920 Sep 1921
Noble Florence M. Keighley Fm 9 Jan 1922 Feb 1922
Pierson Dora Luton Afm Dec 1921 Oct 1922
Clarke Annie Luton GH ? Dec 1921
Mathews Miss Caerphilly Fm Apr 1922
West Miss
Fm May 1922 30 Nov 1922
Afm = Assistant
Foster Mother
GH = General Help

In September of that year tenders were invited for the furnishings and equipment of the Home:

The extensive list includes 39 wire spring mattress beds complete with hair mattresses, each with under blanket and three top blankets.  Sheeting, waterproof sheeting and red and white counterpanes are listed, - together with 3 dozen “enameled chambers”, also cutlery and ¾ pint mugs.  These together with numerous other items were all new supplies.  Any modern thought that the children may have had only worn out cast off furnishings is entirely wrong.

Similarly tenders were placed by local tradesmen for supplies of food and coal.  Arrangements were made for the engagement of a Medical Officer: Dr. H. Burland of Finedon was appointed.  He and his successors made regular visits to examine the children and were required to make full reports at the Guardians’ meetings.  All children were to be vaccinated against small pox.

On Thursday 4th November 1897 the official opening ceremony was held attended by the Guardians and many local dignitaries.  The Northampton Chronicle of the day gave a very full account of the proceedings and speeches.  One can sense the pride the Guardians felt in achieving what was a notable improvement in its time and much in advance of most other larger Unions.  In the ensuing years other Unions sent deputations to inspect the Cottage Homes, talk to the staff, and evaluate the system.


Extract from Northampton Mercury dated Friday 5 November 1897

The Children's Home, which has been established by the Kettering Board of Guardians at Burton Latimer, was formally opened yesterday, and in another week the children in the Workhouse will be transferred there, whilst in all future cases where children are left to the care of the Guardians, they will be taken straight to the Home and placed under the kindly treatment of the officials who have been engaged specially for this work. Although not altogether a new thing in the country, the establishment of a Children's Home in these parts is a novel venture, and one which will be watched with the greatest interest by those who are engaged in the work of Poor Law administration. That it is a wise step no one will deny, for the less the unfortunate youngsters are brought into contact with inevitable taint of pauperism associated with workhouse life, the better it must be for them, whilst it will also relieve the ordinary workhouse officials of a good deal of work, so that they can the better look after the adults in their charge. Here at this Home the children will have officers who have been selected chiefly upon their merits as kind but firm disciplinarians, and they will be as carefully looked after for their moral and physical welfare as their more fortunate fellows who have not been left to the mercies of the Poor Law, until they arrive at such an age that they are able to be sent out to learn some useful trade. “Little Work'ns” will no longer be able to be the name by which these young people can be designated, for they will not be Workhouse children in any way, and thus they will not have to face the opprabrum which so many of their class have had to put up with. The fact of the Kettering Guardians caring for them in this humane fashion is a high testimony to the qualifications of the Kettering Board for their position, and everyone will wish that their scheme may meet with all the fairness its promoters are anticipating.

At last, it is Tuesday 9th November 1897 and the first children arrive at their new home.  Fourteen girls and fourteen boys, the eldest 12 year old Arthur Bradshaw, the youngest Bertha Frogatt, only 3 years old.  They include the four Bradshaw children and four Crane children, these all from Cottingham; altogether 28 children from 15 different families.  Some are orphans, some deserted by parents, but receiving a fresh start and a new routine.  Most of this group will stay here for a number of years, some even until 1906, nine years later.  It really was their home.

THE CHILDREN WHO CAME TO THE COTTAGE HOMES ON 9th NOVEMBER 1897:
SURNAME
FIRST NAME
FROM
AGE
BIRTHDAY
DATE LEFT
SUBSEQUENTLY :
Bradshaw
Arthur
Cottingham
12
July 1885
29 Jul 1900
Apprenticeship with Mr Asbrey,Cabinet Maker, Raunds
Bradshaw
Edith
Cottingham
c.9
1888
4 May 1901
In service at Castle Ashby Rectory
Bradshaw
George Herbert
Cottingham
c.5
c1892
4 May 1903
To "Exmouth" then Royal Navy
Bradshaw
Clara
Cottingham
c.5
c1892
22 Dec 1900
Fostered with Mrs Gray, Tresham St. To Wallis & Linnells
Crane
John
Cottingham
9
Jan 1888
5 Aug 1900
To "Exmouth" then Royal Navy, HMS Impregnable
Crane
Alice Jane
Cottingham
c.11
1889
23 Jan 1902
Training for service. When adult in Berrywood Asylum
Crane
Charles Walter
Cottingham


13 Jun 1903

Crane
George William
Cottingham


13 Jun 1903

Goodson
Amelia
Desborough


14 May 1899

Goodson
Florence
Desborough


14 May 1899

Marlow
George W.
Desborough


27 Aug 1899

Payne
Frederick
Desborough
c.4
1892
18 Mar 1900

Woolard
Charles
Desborough


11 Mar 1898

Woolard
Harold
Desborough


14 Apr 1899

Skelham
Ethel
Geddington


29 May 1903

Skelham
Abraham
Geddington
c.3-4
1893/94
16 Mar 1904

West
Annie
Middleton


7 Jan 1898

Frogatt
Jessie
Kettering
11
Nov 1886
23 Feb 1901
Into care of his uncle, Thomas Frogatt
Frogatt
Norah S.
Kettering
c.4
1893
17 Feb 1903
Into service. As adult in Fylde workhouse
Frogatt
Bertha
Kettering
c.3
1892
30 Aug 1906
Adopted by Guardians until 18
Freeman
Richard
Not known
c.7
1890
20 Oct 1899
Adopted by Guardians until 18
Bryan
Florence Ellen
Kettering


2 Jun 1899
Briefly boarded out
Knight
Elizabeth
Kettering


8 Aug 1903

Knight
Caroline
Kettering
c.5
1892
After Mar 1907

Shatford
Mary
Kettering
c.11-12
1888/89
7 Apr 1901
In service with Mrs Browning in Cottage Homes
Shatford
Reuben Ernest
Kettering
c.11
1888
10 Nov 1902
Farm service with Mr Barlow, then Royal Navy
Smith
George
Kettering
c.5-6
1891
21 May 1906
To Mr Jeyes of Moulton
Wileman
Alice
Kettering
c.6-7
1890
22 Feb 1903
Treated for tuberculosis at Margate;later in Workhouse

NOTE: All dates are derived or calculated from written records made by staff at the time.
They may have made mistakes !

For a fuller list of children at the Cottage Homes, click here

They were in a big house, with a big garden.  The regular daily routine included keeping their rooms clean, regular feeding, and school.  The older boys working the garden, the older girls learning sewing and simple domestic tasks, ensured they were all well occupied when not in school.  The fruit and vegetables grown here and on the additional acre of ground in Finedon road supplemented their diet and helped supply the Workhouse in Kettering.  Soon also two pig sties had been built and were in use.

Within three weeks of opening, Mr. Browning, the Superintendent, had asked of the Guardians about the children receiving family visits.  This was immediately granted for Saturday afternoons, 3 to 5 pm.  Subsequently regular transport was provided from Kettering to enable parents, some themselves in the Workhouse, to maintain contact with their children.  This facility only ceased in October 1922, shortly before the closure of the Homes.

A Ladies Committee was formed of seven Burton Latimer ladies whose responsibilities were to make unannounced visits to the Cottage Homes, which they did, reporting back to the Guardians’ Committee on a regular basis.  The Superintendent was also required to be present at the fortnightly meetings and make a report.

Christmas 1897 became the first opportunity for the Ladies Committee to show their generosity to the children.  The Minutes record thanks to them for gifts of “sweets and books” and that Lady Hood of Barton Seagrave Hall had provided Xmas trees “including one for the children at the Cottage Homes”.  Another had given money to each child, and all the children had attended a “tea and entertainment” with the Burton Latimer schools.  In subsequent years it became the established custom that at the last Guardians’ meeting before Christmas a collection was made with which to buy toys for the children.  Some of the lady Guardians became most determined:

15th December 1915:  “Miss Lammie reported that toys were required at Xmas.  16 shillings and 9 pence was ultimately collected from the Board.”  In present day terms whilst this is only 84 pence, the Superintendent of the Cottage Homes at that time was paid an annual salary equivalent to 80 pence a week.  This particular lady continued to organize and personally donate money for the children right to the end of the Guardian system in 1930.

By March 1898 it was clear that whilst the system was working that major improvements were needed to improve conditions for both children and staff.  Firstly it was necessary to accommodate many more children.  Secondly it was impossible in the single building to isolate a child with any sort of contagious illness.  The Medical Officer, Dr Burland, had reported that an isolation ward was needed.

The Board discussed these problems repeatedly over the next eighteen months.  The Cottage Homes had been bought with a loan from the Prudential Assurance Co, repayable with interest over thirty years.  Whilst they owned the property the additional cost of more accommodation and a separate isolation ward, all entirely new buildings, at estimated costs greater than hitherto expended, required much care.  The operations of local Boards of Guardians were funded by a proportion of local domestic rates, and then, as now, councillors and Guardians were under great pressure to keep taxes minimal.

On 7th May 1900 the Board approved the estimate from Messrs Gotch & Saunders, architects, of £1500 – 1600 for the new buildings which they designed.  Tenders were invited from seven local building firms.  On 16th July 1900 the tender from Alfred Lewis of Isham for £1539 was accepted, and the necessary further thirty year loan arranged with the Public Works Commission.

Late in 1900 work commenced building the “New Cottage Homes”, now 163 and 165 High Street.  In July 1901 the tenders for the interior furnishings and equipment were received.  Again almost everything.  They list beds and bedding, tables, forms for the children to sit on, blinds and fittings for thirty windows, cutlery, enamel mugs and plates, galvanized zinc baths, door mats, - even “1 dinner bell  5/3”.  At about the same time the tender for building the isolation ward was accepted from Mr. J.C.Andrew of Kettering for £260.  This is now 167 High Street.

The New Cottage Homes were constructed as a semi detached pair of houses.  They still retain the original brickwork and Rosemary roof tiles though some windows have been modernized.  The isolation ward now has modern concrete tiles and the brickwork rendered.

 Initially only one of the New Homes was used, probably 163 as being the nearest to the old building.  Surprisingly it was 1915 before an internal doorway was made to connect the two new houses.

Each had a bedroom for an “Assistant Foster Mother”.  The Matron/Foster Mother, Mrs. Browning had her own accommodation with her husband, the Superintendent in the old house, wherein there had always been an assistant foster mother’s room.  It is not possible to definitely identify which rooms were which, though most of the rooms used as dormitories can be identified. 

The Board Minutes record that some children were to be sent from the Workhouse to the Homes on Saturday 5th October 1901, but the records show only four.  On this occasion there was no great opening ceremony as four years earlier.  The girls were to occupy the New Homes and the boys the Old Home.  This arrangement continuing until October 1919 when with declining numbers of children it was decided to use only the New Homes, and all the staff from then on also lived there.

An early photograph of the New Homes and the gable end of the Old
Homes, circa 1905.  The stone wall on the right is now replaced by the
frontage of 161, (Nursery School), and the drive entrance of 159 High
Street
.

It is not known who the children are.  They are not identifiably
associated with the Cottage Homes, but who knows?

During the following year, 1902, there was a much greater intake.  At any time there would be 40 to 45 long established children, many here for a number of years, and truly living in their only home.  In addition, reflecting the ongoing character of the Workhouse, a constant flow in and out of children whose background was completely unsettled, usually because of parental inability to cope with life and care for the family.  The Admissions records show many sad cases where children had to be temporarily sent to the Cottage Homes, sometimes only for a day or two whilst the parents’ difficulties were addressed by the Guardians.  Ironically, true orphans faced no such uncertainties.  In some cases they were legally adopted by the Board until aged 18.

Some years later, on 4th November 1912, the Cottage Homes Committee reported to the full meeting of Guardians:

“We found 59 children, 33 boys and 26 girls.  Of the boys 19 were over, and 14 under 8 years of age.  Of the girls, 14 over and 12 under that age.

There were 3 boys and 1 girl aged 14 and upwards.

Of the boys 6 are mentally and physically weak, of the girls 7 must be so classed.

The children rise at 6.00 in the summer and 6.30 in the winter.

The older children help the others to dress and then stay upstairs to put the bedrooms straight, each child having a separate bed.  They are down by 7.00 in summer and a little later in winter, and help in setting breakfast which is at 8 o’clock.  Prayers follow and the children assist in washing up.

All the children attend the Elementary schools and for this purpose leave the House at 8.45 returning at about 12.30, leave for school at 1.15, returning from 4.00 to 4.30.  Play till 5.15 and help for tea at 5.30.  .  .  .  .  .   etc.   .   .   “

The comment that each child had a separate bed seems strange nowadays, but Victorian census records showing large numbers of children in small houses must indicate considerable bed sharing and room sharing by siblings.  To be in a Home where sleeping segregation was the norm and you always had your very own bed, was something few large families of the day achieved.

The children actually attended both the Council school (now St Mary’s C of E) on the High Street, and the Church Schools (now private houses) in Church Street, according to their denomination, the majority to the latter.  The daily disciplined routine seems to have had good results in that the attendance records of the Cottage Homes children were much better than those from local families.

The Guardians had a dispute with the County Education Committee which in 1912 wanted to keep a separate return of “the number of pauper children in regular attendance”.  The Guardians fiercely responded “their children ought to be under no conditions calculated to distinguish them in any way from other school children”.

This protective attitude mirrors that of the Cottage Homes Committee which back in 1901 had requested the Ladies to “consider the question of the girls’ dress which was said to be too distinctive”.

As the children grew up their adult prospects and careers had to be considered.  Many of the boys expressed specific wishes.  Some went to local farms at 14, “in service”, or were fortunate to get apprenticeships with local engineers, carpenters and builders. 

Many more were sent to the training ship “Exmouth” which accepted boys from aged 12, and where they remained perhaps 3 or 4 years.  The ship was moored at Grays, Essex, and was originally a wooden battleship, in appearance not unlike “The Victory”.  It was replaced with a similar looking steel version with the same name in 1905. 

On the Exmouth the boys were taught the elements of seamanship, gunnery, signaling, and how to care for their own clothes.  There was great emphasis on physical training.  The Captain Superintendent would write to the Board of Guardians with reports of how their young charges were doing, well or badly.  At the end of their training some went into the Royal Navy as “blue jackets” and some into the Merchant Navy.  In some cases the Board’s Minutes show which ship they were sent to.  The cost of each boy thus trained was paid by the Guardians and was significantly more than if they had been kept locally in Kettering.

For the girls the opportunities were more limited.  At age 14 some opted to take work in the local shoe and clothing factories, but the majority went into domestic service, usually locally.  The work of course entailed basic housekeeping and cleaning, and needlework.  Like the boys, it enabled them eventually to earn their own living and take responsibility for their own lives.

Whilst clearly the children did not have the benefits of living with their own parents, many local organizations over the years offered support in the form of entertainment and outings.  Notable amongst these was the Britannia Club who put on concerts by their prize winning band in the grounds of the Homes, and invited the children to their annual teas.  Similarly, the children attended church teas and events, performed in concerts and went on outings.  When the Burton Latimer Boy Scouts troop started about 1921, several Cottage Homes boys joined and it is recorded that the Cottage Homes Committee of the Guardians bought them their uniforms.  In July 1922 it was recorded that four boys went to camp with the Burton Latimer scouts, the cost being raised by subscription from the Guardians themselves, - not from the Union’s funds.

In 1912, the Ladies of the Cottage Homes Committee were greatly concerned at the adequacy of the training the girls were receiving and said: “They are sent out to service on leaving school with little or no knowledge of domestic work, sewing or washing, -- this is not fair to the girls or their mistresses”.  The Matron at the time, Mrs. Browning, was replaced in 1913 by a new Superintendent with wife who was required to be “thoroughly domesticated, with good knowledge of needlework, washing and cooking”.  There were 102 applicants for the position!

From August 1914 with the advent of war, many changes took place.  Whilst military service was then voluntary, a number of the Union’s officers expressed their wish to serve, as did several of the Guardians.  Of them, Colonel Ripley, Northamptonshire regiment, and Mr. Willows were both killed in 1916.  In that year the Local Government Board had begun to ask for lists of doctors of age for military service and local tribunals were assessing whether all able bodied men should be exempt from service.  This included key Workhouse officers, the Master, the Engineer and the Cottage Homes Superintendent.  For the rest of the war they were continually appealing for exemption on grounds of the essential nature of their work.  Ultimately the Superintendent at the time, Mr. Mark Foster, was obliged to join the Civil Service Rifles, and for the rest of the war his wife, Florence Foster, acted as both Matron and Superintendent of the Cottage Homes.

Not surprisingly there were cases of able bodied inmates who refused to maintain their families being issued with military call up papers.  In one case the father was prosecuted for neglect of his family, sentenced to one month’s hard labour and “to be handed over to the military authorities on completion of his sentence”.  In April 1916 the Master reported he had only 66 male inmates, (less than half prewar numbers), and it was impossible to fulfill all the firewood orders.

Prices of all goods were rising, or becoming unobtainable.  There was frequent shortage of coal.  Sometimes local traders would not tender for supplies of bread, milk or clothing for the Workhouse or Cottage Homes.

If the numbers of inmates were falling, then also were the staff numbers.  It was becoming increasingly difficult to fill vacancies both of foster mothers in the Cottage Homes and nurses in the Workhouse in Kettering.  Those who actually started often left within weeks.  There was frequent recourse to the employment of temporary nursing staff.

In September 1918 the Matron of the Cottage Homes, Mrs. Foster, wrote to the Guardians requesting that a 16 year girl previously in the Homes and presently boarded out be appointed assistant foster mother.  In the event she was not appointed, but there had been no applicants to fill advertised vacancies, so Mrs. Foster was at least trying to fill a gap with someone she knew.

Even with the ending of the war in November 1918 there were long delays in releasing servicemen.  The Superintendent, Mr. Foster, only returned in March the following year.  By July the Workhouse was advertising for nurses with no experience, and appointing the only four applicants.  The only applicant for assistant foster mother in the Homes changed her mind.  Mr. and Mrs. Foster resigned.

It was perhaps fortunate that the number of children in the care of the Union had fallen, partly because of the deaths of so many young men in the war, and partly because of the stern attitude of the authorities towards irresponsible fathers who were likely to rounded up and sent to the front.  It is also likely that the Cottage Homes system had begun to break the cycle of poverty whereby children of workhouse inmates became inmates themselves, even over several generations, as the children were given regular education and training.

The Guardians resolved these many difficulties by appointing a new Matron and two new assistant foster mothers.  The new Matron, Miss A. Willett(s), in fact stayed loyally at her post for 4 years.  The biggest change however was to recognize that to operate large houses capable of housing 64 or more children was no longer financially viable with numbers less than half that.  In June 1919 the Guardians proposed that the New Homes alone be used and the Old House, hitherto the boys’ quarters, be let.  In the following months the New Homes were reorganized and redecorated to accommodate all the children and all the staff therein.

By November 1919 the changes were completed and Mr. A.J. Sturgess, the Relieving Officer for Burton Latimer had moved into the Old House.  In May 1920 even the Isolation Ward was to be let, this to Mr. S.Gillard, the assistant clerk to the Guardians.

To date (2006) we have not found the precise numbers of children in the Cottage Homes at this time, but the meeting of 17th January 1921 recorded that on 1st July 1920 there were only 179 Workhouse inmates and only 5 new children sent to the Cottage Homes over the previous six months.  Compare for example the numbers at 31st March 1912: Inmates 251, plus children in the Cottage Homes 53.  However a more disturbing aspect at this time was that many of the “casuals” asking for help at the Workhouse were ex-servicemen.  Kettering Labour Exchange enquired if there was work in the Workhouse for disabled ex-servicemen; sadly none.

By September 1922 the Guardians, noting that there were now only 13 children in the Homes and expecting further reduction, voted to board out those suitable, and ultimately to dispose of the Cottage Homes.  Future children to be boarded out in certified private homes, the staff to be offered compensatory payments or employment at the Workhouse.  The Ladies Committee formed an after care committee to oversee children placed in homes or other institutions, each looking after one or more by visiting. 

On 29th December 1922, the last child still in the Homes was returned to the Workhouse, thence to the Waifs and Strays Home.  He was Charles Goosey, born 14th February 1913.  In August 1924 he and his sister Rebecca were sent to Canada.  We know nothing more.

It only remained for Miss Willetts to complete the inventory of furniture and equipment and prepare the premises for auction.  On 6th April 1923 the properties were auctioned.  The Old House (159, High Street) was bought by Mrs. Harriet Buckby, wife of the local shoe manufacturer, Herbert Buckby, at the auction.  The remaining buildings were temporarily withdrawn, as bids were not high enough.

Site plan of the Cottage Homes, July 1923

“3” is the original, Old House.  Bought by the

Buckby family.

“2” the Isolation Ward “1” the New Homes.

Some time after the auction, the New Homes and the Isolation Ward were bought by Mr. Frederick Turner, who owned a china business.  He later built a warehouse and shop on the north side of “1”.  This is now 161, High Street, the Nursery School.

The years had moved on, and no doubt the Guardians felt their decision correct, but of course the problem of how best to accommodate needy children had not gone away.  In January 1926 the Committee reported they now had no separate accommodation for children over 3 years old; those under that age could be kept as always previously, in the Workhouse nursery.  They now had eight children in need of homing who were not suitable for boarding out or fostering.  Some were sent to the Leicester Cottage Homes at Countesthorpe and others to the Waifs & Strays Home.

By summer 1926 the Committee made serious enquiries as to renting Ferndale Lodge, on Headlands, Kettering, with a view to converting this to a Cottage Homes.  This option was however rejected by the Ministry of Health inspector, so more children were sent to Countesthorpe.  Some years earlier the Kettering Guardians had visited the Leicester Union and had been impressed with its efficient management and the standard of accommodation at Countesthorpe, so they could have had no worries that “their” children would not be well cared for.  The important difference was that they were much further away.  Parents with children at Countesthorpe were only allowed to visit quarterly.  Whilst at Burton Latimer it had been weekly. 

Government attitudes towards the administration of Poor Law and Relief had been changing since the war and the effects of the depression.  The Local Government Act of 1929 proposed that all Poor Law functions be transferred from the locally elected Guardians to County Councils.  Whilst some Unions requested delay in enactment, Kettering agreed no action be taken; it was inevitable.  In November 1929 eight of the Kettering Guardians were co-opted onto a Northamptonshire County Council Guardians Committee.  From then on all Relief work and responsibilities for Workhouses were under the control of paid officers of the County Council.  The Voluntary Committees were disbanded.  All visiting would be by Health Visitor and all payments by postal order.

Guardians, all living locally and elected, particularly the Cottage Homes Committee, knew individual local children and their families, their history, their problems, and their districts extremely well.  It is very unlikely that serious cases of cruelty or neglect would have taken place without their early knowledge and remedial action.  Some served for as long as thirty years, entirely voluntarily, at all times subject to the ongoing approval of the local ratepayers.  The Unions of Guardians served their communities well for almost a hundred years.  It is highly debatable whether the changes made in 1929 were an improvement.

Click here for the main list of children who attended the Cottage Homes from 1897 to c.1930


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