My earliest memory of Barnardo's is one of walking through woods carpeted with snowdrops, which to my 5 year old
mind seemed to stretch for miles. The wood was attached to a very grand looking but pleasant house in Kent called
Charlton Park. The home looked after very young children and babies. I remember the time when a member of staff
brought in a baby and placed it in a cot next to mine remarking that she had a little brother for me called Peter. It wasn’t
until I was about 14 and had started to ask serious questions about my family, that I discovered that she had not meant
me to take `brother' literally.
At the age of 5 I was moved to The Village Home and the care of a wonderful lady called Miss Bromley, the House Matron
of YHL Cottage. In those days of sweet rationing (the early 50s) she would make coconut icing, fudge and toffee apples.
This also had the effect of preserving our 3d a week pocket money, which she would put away until the annual visit to the
seaside occurred and could be blown in one glorious fortnight's indulgence. The accommodation was makeshift, usually in
a church hall sleeping on mattresses placed on the floor. The journey was in an old banger of a coach that I am sure most
people of that era will remember and they will certainly recall the driver, Mr Gunton, who always seemed to fulfil the role
of transport manager.
From the 'home cooking' of the Village we moved as a cottage to Woodford Bridge, The Boy's Garden City. The food was
absolutely foul having been prepared in Canada Hall and transported around the cottages in aluminium boxes 'to keep it
hot'. I cannot remember having had a hot meal and the meat was impossible to chew. But the grounds abounded in cherry
trees that made a glorious burst of colour in the spring and the fruit was a welcome change from the usual unripe apples
of the more traditional scrumping. Saturday mornings would find us rushing up to the gymnasium to bag the front seats
of the film show. At the end of one morning's show we were asked to provide the backing for what was to become a minor
'hit' for Petula Clarke Where Did the Snowman Go?
Back to the Village after an absence of three years and more 'Show Biz'; recording a series of radio shows for Radio
Luxemburg again with Petula Clarke with 'Mr Piano Joe Henderson. This was recorded at Mossford School. After one of
the sessions I sought out Petula Clarke to inquire when the broadcasting times would be. I found her behind a vaulting
horse adjusting the garter of her stocking, exposing a large part of her thigh. In my embarrassment my request was
forgotten so I never did get to hear the results of our youthful lungs on my crystal set. A TV commercial followed,
probably one of the earliest ever jingles:
Rowntrees fruit gums, yum, yum, yum,
Five fruity flavours in your tum, turn, turn,
One thing is certain beyond dispute,
In Rowntrees fruit gums, you taste the fruit.
For some weird reason the producer thought that we would sing with more enthusiasm if we actually chewed the product
whilst belting out the ditty. I belted out a partly chewed wine gum at the back of the neck of the lad standing in front of
me, which caused some unscripted laughter and caused the recording to be taken again. Later we went to Pinewood
Studios to make a film commercial promoting toffees.
The, scene was set complete with plastic snow raining down on our heads as we sang Christmas carols and tried to appear
alternately angelic and then ecstatic as we chewed our toffees. I never did get to see that either as it was released with a
film which was restricted to adults. Ah well, that's show business. Perhaps the Barnardo accountants will let me know
what happened to my share of the royalties.
At the age of 13 I went to Goldings to learn a trade. It was a completely new world from the one that I had left. A new
language had to be learnt by the new boys (spares). Jinners, (bread), stevers, (money), snout, (tobacco). Mealtimes were
called by a bugle as were times for getting up, going to bed and morning prayers. The powers of the prefects were
considerable and many lives were made miserable as a result. When I eventually became one I also exploited my position
As the emphasis at Goldings was in the teaching of a craft the academic side was virtually non existent. In order to gain
entry to the A class (there were only two classes) I had to multiply 7 times 8 and spell knife. The teaching within trade
departments though was excellent. I decided against staying on at Goldings in order to serve my apprenticeship in a
private company and the standard was far lower at the Technical College I attended.
I have a certain Mr Fisher, who was at one time my Housemaster, to thank for buying me a copy of Ernest Hemingway's
'For Whom The Bell Tolls' and broadening my literary horizons. The school library consisted mainly of Biggles and
Enid Blyton. Another master will be remembered for the sneaky way in which he used to catch boys who were out of
bounds. He would climb the tower (which was rumoured to be the spot from where the butler hurled himself and whose
ghost stalked the building at night) and using a powerful pair of binoculars seek out his quarry. Having spotted them, he
would race down the stairs to his Vespa scooter and roar off in hot pursuit.
The annual holiday at Dymchurch provided us with an opportunity to meet with members of the opposite sex. We used to
congregate in the Beach Cafe, sharing a cup of espresso coffee between all of us, which satisfied the owner for so long
before one of us would have to purchase another cup to prolong our stay. We would gather around the juke box whilst
one of our number would fiddle with the machine to get free plays (Goldings boys were a resourceful breed). Ogling the
local 'talent' sometimes caused fights with the local youth but victory was always ours.
Wimbledon was the other highlight of the year. Besides basking in the brief spell of publicity and occasional public
adulation ( I was asked for my autograph once) it was also a time to make some money. In my final year I was made
Head Ball Boy and my duties were to patrol the various courts ensuring that the boys were conducting themselves in a
manner that would bring credit to the school. I used to see to it that a certain number of balls from each court got 'lost' so
that they could then be offered to the public at a mere 15/- a set. Suggestions that the balls had been used by such stars as
Rod Laver and Maria Bueno helped ensure a lively trade.
When I left Barnardo's I was given my birth certificate and learned that for the whole of my life up to that point I had
been misspelling my name. Controversy about life in Barnardo's will continue for as long as Old Boys and Girls continue
to relate their experiences. I am no more able to relate to the writings of Leslie Thomas than I am of Frank Norman.
Certainly there were people employed by Barnardo's who should never have been allowed to come into contact with
children. Equally, I know that some of them were saints who put the welfare of the children before all else.
Was my childhood a happy one? On the whole I would have to answer yes.
Ex Member National Council of Barnardo's Old Boys & Girls