"Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests but many a little child received there has had no mother’s arms outstretched to receive him, no place to lay his head."
This was observed by William Edmondson, Secretary to the Manchester and Salford Boys’ and Girls’ Refuges and Homes, in 1921, when speaking of the charity’s Children Shelter on Chatham Street. The home was opened in 1883 to give shelter to children sleeping on the streets of Manchester. Up until 1920 it received 15,000 children through its doors, taking them out of the cold and into safety.
Children’s Shelter ‘Mother’ receiving a child from a policeman
The unique principle behind the Children’s Shelter was its philosophy to stay open 24 hours a day meaning no child in need would ever be left out on the streets to fend for themselves. Many of these children were brought to the shelter by a ‘concerned citizen’, often a policeman, a neighbour or member of the clergy. Most did not stay in the shelter longer than a week, being returned to family and friends or placed in one of the charity’s more permanent homes.
Extract from Children’s Shelter Admission Book, 1894-1897 (TT Ref; M189/5/6/1/2)
The Together Trust has a whole series of admission books detailing every child who passed through the Children’s Shelter. Reasons for admittance varied but constants included destitution, sleeping rough or neglect. Others were brought for misdemeanours such as theft, often food, ‘cabbage’, ‘cheese’, ‘potatoes’ or other necessities such as ‘shoes’.
In the 19th century it was common to see a child out on the streets, begging or selling, curling up for the night under a wagon or up by Cheetham Hill brick kilns. Luckily the city centre shelter gave them somewhere to go.
The charity Railway Children estimates that 100,000 children run away in the UK every year. Out of these one in six young runaways sleep rough. Children living on the streets is not just a nineteenth century problem!