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Maureen Bollinger, The Children of Stainsbridge House

PUBLISHED: 10:47 05 January 2011 | UPDATED: 15:00 20 February 2013

Stainsbridge House, Malmesbury which has cared for different generations as a National Children's Home, a private school, a hostel and a hotel before becoming a home for the elderly.  (Photo: courtesy Bob Browning)

Stainsbridge House, Malmesbury which has cared for different generations as a National Children's Home, a private school, a hostel and a hotel before becoming a home for the elderly. (Photo: courtesy Bob Browning)

As June Lewis discovers there are stories behind the statistics in the NSPCC files.

Christmas trees are still in the sitting rooms and windows of homes across the country; a few gifts may still be roughly covered over with brightly coloured paper before they are put to serious use after the thrill of unwrapping them on the great day itself, and there is a stack of seasonal goodies along with the sparkling decorations to show that it is still Yuletide as the New Year is heralded in with all its promise and noble resolutions. It is a time when children talk excitedly about how Christmas was spent in their home - sadly, however, a great number cannot tell anyone of theirs; it may have been too awful to put into words, and their friends in warm and loving homes just would not understand. But since the NSPCC launched its website at Christmas 2001 more than a thousand young people have been able to speak for the first time about such horrors as the abuse they have suffered.


Listening to the children is one of the NSPCC's most significant and valuable services in helping the Society achieve its over-riding aim of the FULL STOP Campaign in putting a full stop to end all cruelty to children. Last year some 8,637 young people called Childline to talk about sexual abuse alone. The NSPCC's Child Protection Helpline, set up in 1991, was the first of its kind in Europe. The Society's remit is to achieve cultural, social and political change - influencing legislation, policy, practice and public attitudes through their services to benefit young people and support families. One child who was helped through the domestic violence prevention project is recorded as saying: 'Before I came here, I didn't talk to anyone. Now I can talk and laugh'. Where appropriate, the Society's services are run in partnership with other agencies.


Now one of the leading children's charities in the UK, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has helped more than 10 million of this country's children since it was founded in 1884, at a time when even the famous reformer, Lord Shaftesbury, resisted passing legislation against the evils of cruelty to children, considering the interference in the private lives of Victorians as beyond the business of national government. There already existed a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals but nothing to safeguard those children caught up in the social depravation and their inhuman treatment both in the home and those responsible for widespread child labour. Pressure on the Government finally brought their attention to the plight of young people and the London Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children had spread its work through 32 branches, known as aid committees, across the country within five years of its founding. Queen Victoria became Patron, the Reverend Benjamin Waugh was appointed as Director, and the name was changed from London to National, reflecting the extent of the Society's work when the Children's Charter, the first Act of Parliament at protecting children from cruelty, was passed in 1889.


Over a century of change, during which two world wars emphasised the vital necessity of protecting the country's most important asset - the future generation - women took over the previously all male position of NSPCC inspectors, the old uniforms were abolished, HM The Queen is Patron, and celebrities and the media have brought high profile publicity to the need for the public to get involved in supporting the work of the Society.


'We rely on voluntary donations and fundraising for 85 per cent of our work with vulnerable children and families, and I am extremely grateful for the generosity of our fundraisers in the Cotswolds', says Lisa Clift, the NSPCC's community fundraiser covering the Cotswolds.


Despite the concerted efforts of charities, the Police Force and local councils, the scale of the need for child protection is unbelievably high in our modern society. A staggering 100,000 children run away from home each year, with over 25,000 of them either hurt or harmed in one way or another, begging or stealing to survive, according to The Children's Society's figures. But the sobering and tragic realisation is that behind those statistics are as many stories; and every one is that of a child. The vast majority of those stories will never be told, and it took six decades before Maureen Bollinger could relive her childhood and pen her memories as one of those children. 'The Second World War was over, we should have been rejoicing. One of England's biggest problems was too many children and what to do with them. These were the throwaway, the displaced children. They were removed from their homes. Some packed on to ships and sent away from England forever. They went to Australia, Canada and Africa. Many of these children ended up not knowing their real names, their true ages and of they had any living family members in England. Those that remained in England were placed in children's homes away from ever present poverty and hunger. Their only crime was to be born poor with two parents who could not for whatever reason stay together.'


As a six-year old, the eldest of five children born in war-blitzed Liverpool, Maureen, her sister Pati and brother Johnny were taken by their mother to Stainsbridge House, a National Children's Home at Malmesbury - the baby twins had already been deposited at a children's home in Bristol. Maureen recalls her first glimpse of the old Cotswold market town as 'of a fairytale town with its little grey stone cottages, the magnificent Abbey, the Bell Inn, the market square, friendly rosy faces, smiling, warm peaceful people providing a feeling of closed in protectiveness - a place so beautiful as to be untrue, unreal, where kings and noblemen lived and died, where merchants sold their wares and monks grew grapes on sunny slopes. This was our new home for some time.'


It was four years before the children were together again as a family, taken away from Stainsbridge House where they had been well fed and cared for by 'Sisters in blue uniforms and funny white headdresses', gently admonished - not beaten as they had been at home - for any misbehaviour. Without warning, their mother collected the children together and took them to rented rooms in Bristol where the five of them slept together on a mattress on the floor and listened to the constant arguing of their mother and violent tempered stepfather. Maureen soon discovered that the main reason for the children coming home was to get priority on the council housing list. Eventually the family moved to the outskirts of Pershore, home was in a converted land army hut in the beautiful orchard countryside where the children made friends with the travelling gypsies who came for the fruit picking season, and children of their own age at the local school. But home life was still one of fear and hunger and shoddy clothes and drudgery, especially for Maureen who was made responsible for helping look after her younger siblings. She writes of longing for the peace and security and loving care they had experienced at Stainsbridge House with its driveway of magnificent Canadian pines and lawns sweeping down to the River Avon, and the tenor and rhythm of the routine of the day and the beauty of the music drifting down from Mr Craige's apartment when he played the piano, as well as the companionship and fun with the other children in the house.


The Rickard family of Parkside Farm was, to Maureen, 'the most perfect example of a real family - just like the game of Happy Families, a farmer, his wife and two daughters, Hazel and Judy. The house was full of wonderful smells from the kitchen, fruit cooking and polished wood floors. Mrs Rickard with her floral pinafore, her dark hair pulled back from a lovely round rosy smiling face made me so welcome, and I wished I could be just like them. I remembered with great affection all my life those happy times with those wonderful people, just how kind they were to me at a time when I was so sad and lonely.'


The author dedicated her poignantly written story of her childhood to the Malmesbury family who welcomed her into their loving home; among the other dedications are Jacky Coffey, her father whom she remembered seeing handcuffed at a court hearing relating to family maintenance, and John Coffey, her grandfather, who had jumped ship - the famous Titanic - just as it was leaving its last port of call before its fated and final voyage. It could also be said that Maureen Bollinger's story is a dedication to all children who have appeared as a statistic in the records for whom charities like the NSPCC and other dedicated organisations are still working to put a final full stop to any form of cruelty to children.



Children of Stainsbridge House by Maureen Bollinger (ISBN 0-646-45804-3) is available from the Malmesbury Book Shop.


Christmas trees are still in the sitting rooms and windows of homes across the country; a few gifts may still be roughly covered over with brightly coloured paper before they are put to serious use after the thrill of unwrapping them on the great day itself, and there is a stack of seasonal goodies along with the sparkling decorations to show that it is still Yuletide as the New Year is heralded in with all its promise and noble resolutions. It is a time when children talk excitedly about how Christmas was spent in their home - sadly, however, a great number cannot tell anyone of theirs; it may have been too awful to put into words, and their friends in warm and loving homes just would not understand. But since the NSPCC launched its website at Christmas 2001 more than a thousand young people have been able to speak for the first time about such horrors as the abuse they have suffered.


Listening to the children is one of the NSPCC's most significant and valuable services in helping the Society achieve its over-riding aim of the FULL STOP Campaign in putting a full stop to end all cruelty to children. Last year some 8,637 young people called Childline to talk about sexual abuse alone. The NSPCC's Child Protection Helpline, set up in 1991, was the first of its kind in Europe. The Society's remit is to achieve cultural, social and political change - influencing legislation, policy, practice and public attitudes through their services to benefit young people and support families. One child who was helped through the domestic violence prevention project is recorded as saying: 'Before I came here, I didn't talk to anyone. Now I can talk and laugh'. Where appropriate, the Society's services are run in partnership with other agencies.


Now one of the leading children's charities in the UK, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has helped more than 10 million of this country's children since it was founded in 1884, at a time when even the famous reformer, Lord Shaftesbury, resisted passing legislation against the evils of cruelty to children, considering the interference in the private lives of Victorians as beyond the business of national government. There already existed a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals but nothing to safeguard those children caught up in the social depravation and their inhuman treatment both in the home and those responsible for widespread child labour. Pressure on the Government finally brought their attention to the plight of young people and the London Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children had spread its work through 32 branches, known as aid committees, across the country within five years of its founding. Queen Victoria became Patron, the Reverend Benjamin Waugh was appointed as Director, and the name was changed from London to National, reflecting the extent of the Society's work when the Children's Charter, the first Act of Parliament at protecting children from cruelty, was passed in 1889.


Over a century of change, during which two world wars emphasised the vital necessity of protecting the country's most important asset - the future generation - women took over the previously all male position of NSPCC inspectors, the old uniforms were abolished, HM The Queen is Patron, and celebrities and the media have brought high profile publicity to the need for the public to get involved in supporting the work of the Society.


'We rely on voluntary donations and fundraising for 85 per cent of our work with vulnerable children and families, and I am extremely grateful for the generosity of our fundraisers in the Cotswolds', says Lisa Clift, the NSPCC's community fundraiser covering the Cotswolds.


Despite the concerted efforts of charities, the Police Force and local councils, the scale of the need for child protection is unbelievably high in our modern society. A staggering 100,000 children run away from home each year, with over 25,000 of them either hurt or harmed in one way or another, begging or stealing to survive, according to The Children's Society's figures. But the sobering and tragic realisation is that behind those statistics are as many stories; and every one is that of a child. The vast majority of those stories will never be told, and it took six decades before Maureen Bollinger could relive her childhood and pen her memories as one of those children. 'The Second World War was over, we should have been rejoicing. One of England's biggest problems was too many children and what to do with them. These were the throwaway, the displaced children. They were removed from their homes. Some packed on to ships and sent away from England forever. They went to Australia, Canada and Africa. Many of these children ended up not knowing their real names, their true ages and of they had any living family members in England. Those that remained in England were placed in children's homes away from ever present poverty and hunger. Their only crime was to be born poor with two parents who could not for whatever reason stay together.'


As a six-year old, the eldest of five children born in war-blitzed Liverpool, Maureen, her sister Pati and brother Johnny were taken by their mother to Stainsbridge House, a National Children's Home at Malmesbury - the baby twins had already been deposited at a children's home in Bristol. Maureen recalls her first glimpse of the old Cotswold market town as 'of a fairytale town with its little grey stone cottages, the magnificent Abbey, the Bell Inn, the market square, friendly rosy faces, smiling, warm peaceful people providing a feeling of closed in protectiveness - a place so beautiful as to be untrue, unreal, where kings and noblemen lived and died, where merchants sold their wares and monks grew grapes on sunny slopes. This was our new home for some time.'


It was four years before the children were together again as a family, taken away from Stainsbridge House where they had been well fed and cared for by 'Sisters in blue uniforms and funny white headdresses', gently admonished - not beaten as they had been at home - for any misbehaviour. Without warning, their mother collected the children together and took them to rented rooms in Bristol where the five of them slept together on a mattress on the floor and listened to the constant arguing of their mother and violent tempered stepfather. Maureen soon discovered that the main reason for the children coming home was to get priority on the council housing list. Eventually the family moved to the outskirts of Pershore, home was in a converted land army hut in the beautiful orchard countryside where the children made friends with the travelling gypsies who came for the fruit picking season, and children of their own age at the local school. But home life was still one of fear and hunger and shoddy clothes and drudgery, especially for Maureen who was made responsible for helping look after her younger siblings. She writes of longing for the peace and security and loving care they had experienced at Stainsbridge House with its driveway of magnificent Canadian pines and lawns sweeping down to the River Avon, and the tenor and rhythm of the routine of the day and the beauty of the music drifting down from Mr Craige's apartment when he played the piano, as well as the companionship and fun with the other children in the house.


The Rickard family of Parkside Farm was, to Maureen, 'the most perfect example of a real family - just like the game of Happy Families, a farmer, his wife and two daughters, Hazel and Judy. The house was full of wonderful smells from the kitchen, fruit cooking and polished wood floors. Mrs Rickard with her floral pinafore, her dark hair pulled back from a lovely round rosy smiling face made me so welcome, and I wished I could be just like them. I remembered with great affection all my life those happy times with those wonderful people, just how kind they were to me at a time when I was so sad and lonely.'


The author dedicated her poignantly written story of her childhood to the Malmesbury family who welcomed her into their loving home; among the other dedications are Jacky Coffey, her father whom she remembered seeing handcuffed at a court hearing relating to family maintenance, and John Coffey, her grandfather, who had jumped ship - the famous Titanic - just as it was leaving its last port of call before its fated and final voyage. It could also be said that Maureen Bollinger's story is a dedication to all children who have appeared as a statistic in the records for whom charities like the NSPCC and other dedicated organisations are still working to put a final full stop to any form of cruelty to children.



Children of Stainsbridge House by Maureen Bollinger (ISBN 0-646-45804-3) is available from the Malmesbury Book Shop.

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