Banburyshire Family History

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go back to the last page you were on Memories of Horley House Childrens Home in the 1930s

Christine Upton

The need for a separate home for the children living in Workhouses in and around Banbury area was first suggested in 1914.

Until that point children were taught in the Workhouse by the School Master or Mistress. Later they still lodged in the Workhouse, but were educated in Elementary Schools.

It was decided that no child would remain in the Workhouse after March 1915.

In August 1914 the Board of Guardians agreed to rent a cottage and land in Horley from a Mr Fox, and that year the children took up residence.

In December 1919 the property was purchased. It was home to 20-24 boys and girls, and according to William Potts 'under capable foster parents, and in the happiest of circumstances'.

The Austin children arrived at a time of great change. The home came under the control of the local authority very shortly after they arrived and the Workhouses soon to be closed forever.

What follows are some memories of Horley Home from about 1929, when Harry (Henry) the writer, George his brother and Enid and Eileen, his sisters, were taken to the Home. Their mother had 'left', and their father, Arthur, was unable to care for them alone, as he was a farm worker, the oldest of the children was seven, and the family were living in quite poor circumstances. Arthur spent many years living in Banbury Workhouse, and eventually died there. But he kept in contact with his children. They all grew into happy healthy adults, and for the time Horley Home gave them a better start than many would have had, given their circumstances.

I was taken to Horley Home when I was six years old, we were living on farm in Faringdon. This was about 1929. We were taken to our Aunt Ems at first, when mother left. We never knew why she left, or where she went.

Aunt Em gave us soup and bread and then a cart came to take us to the home.

I thought the home was quite good. The boys and girls lived together, there were more boys than girls. Except for the older boys, who lived separately in another house, we all slept in dormitories, separate for girls and boys.

The Master was called Mr. Hartop, the Cook was Miss Pell. Both had been at the home for many years.

We had buckets for toilets, which had to be emptied every day, with separate arrangements for the girls.

We all had a 'Sunday Suit' for church and Sunday School. We went to church twice on Sunday. After church we had to hang up our best suit for the next week. The rest of the time the boys wore corduroy trousers, all the same, and boots.

At night we had to clean our shoes. They were checked by the older boys and if we didn't do them properly we had to do them again.

The breakfasts were quite nice. We had porridge and a boiled egg. But on a Saturday morning we had either Epsom Salts or Syrup of Figs. Not very nice.

We all went to Horley School. The teachers were Mrs. Pearson (head), Mrs Jackson and Mrs Humphries. If you didn't do what you were told to, you were put into the Infants class.

Some children at the school came from Hanwell, they had to walk from there.

Some boys used to run out of the school with no shoes on - they got a 'good hiding'.

Punishment in the home, (a good hiding), meant trousers down and a smacking with the hand.

Every Saturday morning I used to clean the chickens out for the Master. He gave me a penny.

He also used to give me a penny for weeding the drive and picking up the fallen apples.

Although Dad was in the workhouse he used to send us all sixpence with Mr. Sumners bread van from Hornton on a Saturday. The Matron used to give us a penny a day to spend at Mathews shop from the money that Dad had sent in the basket.

One day I wanted to make a kite. I took some brown paper from the tool shed to make it, but got a 'good hiding' for my trouble.

George also got the same for breaking the wheelbarrow. We were good most of the time though.

We also kept two pigs which had to be cleaned out.

We had out own Bonfire Night in the orchard. We also had some fireworks. Quite good for those days.

At Christmas Father Christmas came with presents. Sometimes I got a girls present by mistake. Matron told us to sing a carol when we saw him coming.

If any of us were ill we either went to Banbury hospital or if it was something like Scarlet Fever, they used to tape up the doors where children were ill, and fumigate everywhere else.

We only had oil lamps for light.

One May Day I was made 'May King'. I wanted Gwen to be 'May Queen'. But they made Enid Queen instead. I was very disappointed - I liked Gwen very much.

Dinners were good. We had rice pudding, spotted dick and semolina pudding. We had figs and prunes and custard for Sunday tea.

We all had quite a good life at Horley Home. Things could have been much worse.

At fourteen you had to leave. The boys generally went as labourers on farms and the girls worked in houses, (in Service).

When the day came for you to leave they gave you a suitcase with all the clothes you needed for your work.

When I left I went to work at a farm in Byfield and was paid two shillings a week for six to seven days work.

Over the years I worked on several farms in the area, but eventually volunteered to join the RAF during the second world war. After I came out I went back to farming, although if there was no work, you lost your house as it was a 'tied' cottage, and belonged to the farmer.

I still love to work in my garden, and other peoples. I still ride my bike (I never did learn to drive). I have many happy memories of Horley Home, which will stay will me forever.

Written by Harry Austin May 2006


The girls had a slightly different view, as Eileen remembers......

Life was quite hard. You had to do things in order. They were very strict. There was not much for a small child to enjoy. The whole thing seemed very unpleasant.

We wore a grey pinafore dress, and our hair was kept short.

We had to clean the dormitory and make our beds.

Eileen was much younger - 4 years old when they went to live in the home - It must have been a difficult thing for a child of that age to understand.

When she came out of the home at fourteen she didn't even know she had brothers and a sister. But she eventually found out. Eileen worked in the Womens Land Army when she left the home.

Enids view was that life was very strictly organised, but they were well fed and looked after. She also remembers the home having two orchards. One was for the home, and the other for market. Fruit was often scrumped from both. She remembers Shadbolts sweet shop. Her favourites being sherbert 'dabs' with liquorice, and big gobstoppers that they used to pass around, after sucking off one colour. Many years later, when Enid moved north with her new husband, she worked in a sweet factory - it must have been heaven, and even now she has a sweet tooth.

Enid worked in a Doctors House in Brackley, when she left. She remembers cycling into Banbury - a long way.

George remembers going to the local pub for carpentry lessons. He also worked on a farm when he left at fourteen, but joined the army towards the end of the war, and was picked out to drive a Brigadier around in Germany. He continued driving for most of his working life, for Midland Red buses, Alcan and Andys Transport.

The Austin children had a hard start in life, although this was not unusual for the time. Their only regret is that they have never found out where their mother disappeared to. She probably married again. She may have even changed her name. All research has come to nothing - but we will keep trying.

Written by Christine Upton