Posted: 17 July 2012

Time travelling in south London: A trip through our archives

Our archives are a sort of Narnia, tucked away in an unassuming office building in south London. Inside, row upon row of boxes containing papers, books, photographs, financial reports and hundreds of case studies detailing the lives of young people since our charity was founded in 1881.

Referring to all of the photos, documents and other items in the files, our Archives Manager, Ian Wakeling said: 'It’s like having thirty thousand lives back there.'

Along with another media officer I was at the archives to help supervise some filming taking place in the archives. While we were waiting for the crew to arrive I had a quick (and careful!) look at some of the documents, some of which date to the Victorian era, when The Children’s Society was in its infancy, under the name of The Central Home for Waifs and Strays

Archived page that reads 'Our Waifs and Strays'

Annual reviews in review: 1901 v 2012

One of the things I reviewed was our 1901 annual report. Today, our annual reports are put together in a glossy booklet, containing figures, graphs and one or two case studies. 

By contrast the 111-year-old report contained a detailed breakdown of each of the homes run by The Waifs and Strays Society, as well as information about the individual children, right down to the amount of children who left a home, where they were moved to and why. 

Although the pages had long since yellowed, the text and pictures contained in the book were as clear as ever. Reading through the report I was struck by how much detail about the children came across, almost bringing them to life. 

The most moving documents

Of course the much larger scale of the charity today makes it impossible to publish such in-depth information about each of the children we work with – not to mention the confidentiality issues it would raise. 

However it’s nice to know that there is some record that these children, who quite often grew up in poverty, were given support. This ranged from being fed and housed to being given training to help them into work. 

Some of the most moving documents in the archives are letters from the people who had been helped by the charity and went on to lead happy, successful lives.

Continuing need to support children and young people

Another, more serious revelation the archives showed me was that many of the issues that affected children and young people in the Victorian era are still very much present today. 

Runaways, trafficking and sexual exploitation are issues that we read about in the papers and see on the news on a regular basis. However these are not new problems, they have been going on for centuries. 

It just goes to show how important the work of The Children's Society is, only by trying to raise awareness of these issues and by improving the lives of the children and young people we work with can we make a difference.   

By Rosie Rutherford, Media Intern

Other stories by Rosie

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Archive photos

Please enjoy these photographs from Rosie's visit to our archives.

 Rosie revewing archived photographs

 Rosie studying the archives

Files and photographs from our archives

several archived photographs and documents, preserved in plastic


By Rosie Rutherford - Media team

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