Yesterdays blog about burial grounds has thrown up more questions than answers again...
And most of you latched onto the orphans being sinners...I hadn't thought to explain further that children were often placed in an orphanage if their parents simply couldn't cope with the sheer number of off-spring they'd produced or if the Father had emigrated to England or further afield to Australia and the Mother off-loaded some of her smaller ones.
Of course there were also children who had lost both parents...the frequency of epidemics in cramped unhygienic cabins and cottages...particularly typhus...meant that many people didn't survive.
Now, orphanages were, like the schools, run by the Church...and the Church doctrine was that the sins of the fathers were visited onto their children...so if your Daddy had vanished to a far away country and was never heard from again, in the Churches eyes you were no better than he.
But orphanages were few and far between...I've only ever come across two in our vicinity...one was in the nearby village and has its own privately owned burial plot and the other was in town...long since demolished. Someone has erected a stone in the old graveyard with the long list of the known names of the children who died while they were living there.
There was little enough need for orphanages...because the Workhouse homed anyone who was destitute...whether an elderly couple or a child. That doctrine...so common-place until after the First World War...that you'd brought about your own misfortune whether you were six months old or sixty...was part and parcel of the structure of any place which provided shelter.
So you were punished by being given hard physical labour...breaking up rocks for road foundations for instance...or unwinding thickly tarred ropes to be used again. Anyone who has seen the Sharpe series on television might remember Sharpe being given that work when he was a child.
Of course it isn't easy for us living in our present day...but how many times have you been guilty of saying 'like Father like son' over a local miscreant? Or 'she's going to end up just like her Mother' about a girl who hangs about with the wrong crowd...and the favourite of them all 'I blame the parents'...take that seemingly innocent enough remark and imagine yourself as a rather embittered elderly Nun who didn't want to be a Nun in the first place and is in charge of a group of children she doesn't like...stretch the visiting Priests words a little...' It's the parents Sister...feckless and lazy they are' easy enough then to slap a small person round the side of their head and tell them they'll come to nothing and are feckless and lazy...and that would have been reinforced by visiting Bishops and mentioned at daily Mass...
Workhouses were precisely the same in their attitude towards the inmates...why feed a person properly and give them clean bedding and teach them a trade when they've put themselves into the Workhouse through idleness and taking the drink. So the dining hall was decorated throughout with pictures and sayings...The Lord Is Love...Pray For The Holy Mother...Repent Your Sins...while you sat on a hard wooden bench and ate a lump of stale bread and drank milkless, sugarless tea in silence.
I've just re-read this and feel you might be aghast at a Mother deliberately putting her children into an orphanage or Workhouse...have another think and try to put yourself in her place. It's a hundred and fifty years ago and you're living on the Lordships land in a tiny one-roomed mud cabin. You have six children left alive...several of your babies have died but you'll be having another one soon enough...your man works all the hours of daylight for a bag of firewood and a bag of tatties with a pittance in money. The pig lives indoors with you, because if your man builds it a sty to live in, the rent on your cabin will immediately rise.
You work all day picking stones from the Lordships fields as do all the children, but for the baby...your children are always hungry, your man is always in a foul mood, and there is the constant threat of eviction...you've heard about the kindly Nuns who will take in children and you decide that at least they'd be fed and warm...it isn't until you have a precious half day off and walk into town to visit them, to be met at the door by a glowering old woman who says you can't see your children because you've lost all rights to them, that it dawns on you it wasn't such a good idea after all.
Remember you'd have had no recourse in law...you've no money to use to go to the Lordship to ask him for help...pointless to plead with the Priest...
And you might flinch and think what I write cannot have been possible...but it was the way life was then.
Next time you pass a spotty skinny teenager huddled on a doorstep with a plastic margarine tub for donations...and you think to yourself...he needs to get cleaned up and stop using drugs and get a job...just how far removed are you from his Lordship sneering at his tenants in their mud hovels...or the embittered Nun at the door of the orphanage...