My Life in Barnardo's

My name is Terry Burgar and this is my story of the time I spent in Dr. Barnardo's Homes. I was there from 1943 to 1960, from
the age of three to sixteen, and sixteen to twenty-one, when they were still my legal guardians.
My first recollection of Barnardo's was in October 1943. My father took me and three other members of my family, my two elder
sisters Sylvia and Brenda, who were seven and five years, along with my younger brother, two year old Eric.
We arrived at a home called The Lawns in Kempsey in Worcestershire. I do not remember much about this home, except on
one particular day we were taken to see a river, which had burst its banks and flooded one of the local farm fields. I cannot recall
how long we spent at The Lawns, but my records show it was just one month. We were then transferred to a village called
Bishopsboume which was just a few miles from Canterbury, Kent.
Our new home was called Charlton Park, a large white house in considerable grounds, very different to what we had been used to.
There were around 30-35 other children aged from one to eight years. I remember having my fourth birthday there though cannot
remember any presents (but there was still a war going on).
My father came to see us some time in 1944 and I never saw him again until 1986 when he was in hospital in Sheffield.
My stepmother asked me to come and see him so he could explain why Eric and myself remained in Barnardo's.
After much arm-twisting from my wife I agreed to go. It was soon clear he was unlikely to come out of hospital, but at least I
met some of his second family during that visit. The females were very sociable, but I cannot say the same for the male members.
I suppose it was not a good time for a reunion, my father died a few days later. I am certainly not bitter about my situation,
though I am pleased how my life has turned out.
Back to Charlton Park
When I was five years old I attended the local primary school. We were all escorted there and back by the nurses from the home.
We had to walk in pairs in a long line. During the weekends it was just the same.
Occasionally on some of the weekend walks we might come across an army convoy. We learned very quickly that a left hand
drive lorry normally meant YANKS, which meant sweets, biscuits and chewing gum. The gum was confiscated the minute we
got hold of it. The nurses were pleased to see them but for different reasons no doubt. The poor old Brits could only wave and
wolf whistle at our nurses.
I was happy at Charlton Park, we had a small bicycle to share (a gift from the Americans). We all took it in turns to learn to ride.
Having two older sisters I always got my share. Sylvia always looked after Brenda and me, but Eric was still too small for the
bicycle. Sylvia also kept an eye on me at school.
Looking back I can remember local senior children taking time off school to go hop picking when the season arrived. One day
without any warning in1946, 1 came out of school with the other children and realised my sisters were missing.
The nurses told me they had left earlier but refused to explain why. I arrived back at the home to see my sisters waiting in the
main hall with their kitbags full of clothes and my four year old brother extremely upset.
I did not take much notice of him but wondered what was going on with my sisters. A very official-looking female arrived
with the home matron and announced they were being transferred to a place called Southport.
To a six and four year old it might as well be the moon. Off they went, promising to write, which they did at first, but we lost
contact after a while. With my 'guardian' gone I had to look after myself and one or two of the other children wasted no time
in getting their own back for any trouble I may have caused them when Sylvia was around. However I soon found my place in
the pecking order in the family and settled down.
About a year later we received a letter from Sylvia telling us they were both going back to Sheffield to live with my father, that
we would follow as soon as possible. My father had been discharged from the army and was working in the steel mills, which
he did before war broke out. Eric and I waited for the good news but it never happened. At only seven and five years old we
believed it at the time - after a few months we guessed it was not going to happen and we got on with our lives at Charlton Park.
I was led to believe by the staff there that my father had been fighting in the far east and that was the reason we were in Barnardo's.
In fact he never left the country.
In January 1948 Eric and I were on the move again, this time to Clacton-on-Sea in Essex. We were told by the staff at Charlton
Park how lucky we were, that everybody went there for their holidays etc. We arrived in January in one of the worst snow storms
Clacton had ever had. Never mind, summer was only six months away.
Clacton was made up of six houses, three small ones which catered for the five to nine year olds, the next two were medium size
for nine to twelve and the last one took the oldest boys thirteen to fifteen (the leaving age in those days).
On the other side of the road about the same number of Barnardo's girls lived and I wondered why my sisters could not have
transferred there.
Eric and I were placed in the younger boys' house. A single lady called Miss Bickerstaff was in charge of us. She was very strict
and only smiled when we were all in bed. I attended the local primary school called St Osyths, which was about a two mile
walk away. The weather was extremely cold at that time but you just got used to it. Sometimes we walked to and from school
with the Barnardo's girls who lived in the houses opposite.
About a week after I arrived at Clacton I met the head man. His name was Mr Castle, which suited him. He was around 6ft 4ins
tall and very wide. He gave me a very mean look and told me he had heard all about me and that I would have to change.
What he meant to this day I do not know. Later on, if you had to walk past him, you had to say, 'Good morning Sir' and he would
nearly always reply, 'Have you had your bowels open today?' 'Yes Sir,' I always said, but it was about three months before I
realised what he meant.
Back to St Osyths Primary School during school parades all the children from Barnardo's were referred to as 'Home Children’
and had to queue separately from the 'outsiders' as we always called them. Playground dinner queues etc would often cause
problems, with the 'outsiders' teasing us 'nana kids' which was another name for us.
The headmaster was another very tall man who carried a cane everywhere, and I am sure he enjoyed using it. He had lost an eye
in an accident but nobody seemed to know how. Someone else who, in the beginning, I failed to get on with. He caned me for
having an untidy exercise book in an effort to teach me to be more tidy.
People who know me say this did not work. He did not frighten me but I found it impossible to please him.
All this changed when I was selected for the football team. We won the district cup and after that I could do no wrong.
I sat the now obsolete eleven plus, which the school had told Mr Castle I had a fair chance of passing, but unfortunately I failed.
I, along with four other boys from the area, then went for an interview with a teacher at the High School in Clacton for two
vacant places. Again I was not selected. Back at the home Jem (this was Mr Castle's Christian name which we called him out
of earshot) caught me discussing my failure with another boy. I said I was not bothered about missing out on a High School
place as I only wanted to play football and the main sport there was rugby. Jem heard all of this and ordered me to hand over
my football boots, which he confiscated for two weeks in order to teach me to get my priorities right.
I was now eleven years old and had moved to the intermediate level. I was back to the bottom of the pecking order again.
This house was run by a couple called Mr and Mrs Godwin, a nice couple who never laid a hand on anyone. If you stepped
out of line you were given tasks to do. There was always something that required cleaning. More serious offences meant early
to bed with no tea, and no listening to Dick Barton Special Agent.
(For the young people this was the radio program the BBC dropped for the Archers). I will never forgive the BBC for exchanging
our special agent for a story about a village and farming.
Pathfields was the name of the secondary school that I attended next. We were treated like normal boys there, unlike at St Osyths.
I started in a class for first year pupils, playing cricket and football for the under thirteens.
Back to the Clacton Home
When I was twelve, going on thirteen, I was transferred to the largest house known a Essex. Jem and Mrs Castle ran this house,
which housed all the boys from thirteen to fifteen (fifteen being the school leaving age then). Jem still had this obsession with
inner cleanliness. Twice a week, including the other staff who joined us at mealtimes, we had to drink half a glass of cabbage
water, and every Friday night we were given a small glass of water mixed with liquorice powder. To describe it as foul was an
understatement, and there were long queues for the toilets on Saturday mornings. Jem drank the cabbage water but we never
knew if he drank the liquorice.
To say Jem and I did not get on would be another understatement. He always thought I was too cocky for my own good
(his words not mine). He might have been right but I never had problems with any of the other staff.
Every Sunday night he would give us 'sinners' a lecture about growing up in the way he thought was correct. He nearly always
began with the words, 'When I was in Sudan'. He was a retired police and fire officer, who had been in charge of a large city
in Sudan. I cannot recall one line from these lectures but he certainly put a bit of effort in delivering them. You would not want
to be caught yawning while he was talking.
Just after I moved into Essex House the migration to Australia program came up. Nobody to my knowledge was press-ganged
into going, but a few boys who were asked if they were interested were shown 8mm films showing life in Australia in a
favourable light. I never heard the statement 'the sun shines everyday and you can pick oranges off a tree'. I think about four or
five boys went. I also think the boys in Essex House were considered too old and some of them were still hoping to rejoin their
For some reason Jem and I could still not get on, so I asked him if I could be transferred to the Barnardo home in Hertford,
called Goldings. This was a large mansion in about 100 acres of land. There were around 250 boys, all over thirteen years of age.
Goldings taught six different trades. I expected him to say no, which he did. 'You would not survive there,' was his reply and he
suggested that I should reconsider. I was convinced that I would go in the end, but he would say when, it would be his decision,
not mine.
A few weeks later I was caught scrumping with two other boys. 'Stealing fruit which belongs to someone else,' said Jem’. Well he
was an ex copper. 'You need a tougher regime where you will be a small fish in a big pool, not here where you think you're a
big fish in a small pool,' he commented.
Three weeks after the coronation in 1953, with one other boy, I was on my way to Goldings escorted by the social worker at
that time, who took us as far as Kings Cross Station. We were permitted to make the final journey to Hertford North Station
unescorted, where we were met by one of the senior boys and we walked two miles to Goldings. I was not overawed by the
size of Goldings as I had been there for an athletics meeting between the southeast Barnardo's homes. In 1951 I represented
Clacton and I had noted the sports facilities at Goldings then, i.e. four football pitches, a swimming pool, cricket pitch, a running
track and a gymnasium. This is where my thoughts were at the time.
I was introduced to the school captain (head prefect) who referred to me and my colleague as a couple of 'spares'. This was the
term all new boys were called until they had settled in at the school. The school captain was called Nobby Jarvis, he had lost
part of his right arm but he never let it bother him. He had the respect of all the boys in the school. He called one of the junior
prefects to show us our dormitory and the beds that would be ours until we were fifteen, when you moved up to the senior
section. Goldings was also known as the William Baker Technical School, which I used in my later life on my C.V. when
applying for new employment in the printing industry.
It became very clear that the day to day running of the school was done by prefects as there was obviously a shortage of adult
housemasters, with only one housemaster who was also responsible for managing the army cadets, which I will come to later.
Prefects would generally be the older and bigger lads. They kept order but it was best to avoid them if you could as they always
seemed to pick on the 'spares'.
The next day the school captain sent for me to find out what trade I had come to Goldings to learn. I chose the printing trade,
the other trades being carpentry, boot and shoe making, sheet metal working, horticulture and painting and decorating.
The dining room was straight out of an Oliver Twist film with long tables. You queued in an orderly fashion, no talking or you
would be outside to start again. You carried your plate up to the serving bar where one of the duty boys gave you a portion of
whatever was on the menu that day.
All communications were to the sound of a bugle call. This was carried out by the buglers from the army cadet force band;
recognisable tunes for assemblies, 'Charlie Charlie' (get up), 'Last Post' (lights out) etc. Swimming and pocket money parades
all had a five minute warning.
Goldings boys were split into eight houses, four junior and four senior houses. All new boys, 'spares', started in the junior houses.
These were called McCall,Pelham, Buxton and Kinnaird. The senior houses were Cairns, Aberdeen, Somerset and
Mount Stephen. We were all on parade every day. You called out your number before going to breakfast, dinner and tea.
The education was not of a very high standard. If you could spell dog or cat you were put into the B class, spell horse or sheep
and it was the A class. For the juniors (under fifteen years) it was four days in school and one in the trade you had chosen. For
seniors it was reversed. There were three full time teachers who taught Maths, English and Science.
The school deputy was also the school chaplain, who taught religious instruction.
The three teachers in the main education block were easy going; we would often try to sidetrack them into talking about their
war experiences which, to us lads, seemed more interesting. The P.E. instructor was very different. He was called Mr (Joe) Patch.
He was just over five feet tall, but someone you did not mess with. He was a former sparring partner of Jimmy Wilde from
Wales, a former flyweight champion. He had also been a fencing expert and had about six foils hanging on his office wall. He
would occasionally bring out one in a lesson and flex it across his thighs, but I never saw him hit anyone with them. Besides,
the ends had been blunted. He would also give boxing lessons and normally selected anyone who had been a bit lippy. I got
the call for demo lesson - only once - and never again. The lesson was very much learnt!
The headmaster was called Mr Wheatley, who I would describe as very fair. Although he had a quiet manner about him, he could
be very strict if the occasion required. His deputy, the school chaplain, was very different, and very aggressive on occasions.
The daily uniform was khaki shirt and shorts, grey socks and black boots, highly polished. You were issued with a pair of black
shoes which, in your last year, could be exchanged for brown, a green school blazer and grey flannel trousers for church parade
and for visiting 'half-dead' Hertford on a Saturday afternoon.
Friday was pocket-money day. At the sound of the bugle the whole school met in the assembly hall. Pocket money was paid out
according to age and any extras such as choir and duty bugler. These were worth a shilling (5p) the pair in extra pocket money.
I claimed both. The basic pocket money for thirteen year olds was Is 9d (9p), not much but it would get you into the cinema,
although Goldings boys rarely paid to go in. The fire doors had a habit of opening without much help from anyone...
There was plenty of sport going on. I played football and cricket for the school teams. I also joined the army cadet band and
was drum major for a season, but it clashed with cricket so I chose cricket.
Goldings provided the Ball boys for Wimbledon lawn tennis championships. Any member of staff, many who could just about
hold a racket, would get you onto the school courts to practise for them. You never said no as you wanted to be, not only selected
for Wimbledon, but to get on a popular court. I was selected for the centre court team in 1955.
We were in touching distance of the best players in the world at the time, although they were all still amateurs. Tony Trabert
won the men's title that year and Louise Brough the ladies'.
We all had our favourites and would have preferred to see Lew Hoad or Ken Rosewall win the men's and Darlene Hard the
women's. We received thirty shillings (£1.50) from the school for the fortnight, but most of us would have done it for nothing.
The only downside was that Herts Education Council demanded the fortnight should be deducted from our main school holidays,
so we only had four weeks to look forward to.
My brother Eric came to Goldings in 1955 when he was thirteen, starting in the juniors. I did not see a great deal of him as I
had moved up to a senior house by then. He chose carpentry as his trade then lost the plot after leaving Goldings to join the
Parachute Regiment. I thought he must be mad, jumping out of planes!
Goldings second highlight of the year, for me, was the summer holiday to Kent. The school shut down for two weeks in the
main summer holiday. Some of the boys went to stay with relatives or with friends. The rest of us piled into coaches and set
off to Kent. We arrived at a sleepy village called Dymchurch which had been used as an army camp in WWII. It was close to
the Dungeness power station but that had not been built when we were there.
The camp held about 300 teenagers, of which half were females. We must have looked very dashing in our khaki shorts and
we all thought they fancied us. When the holiday was over we piled into the coaches and it was back to Goldings. The football
season was getting ready to kick off and my aim was to get selected for the school team.
In September 1956 I was informed Mr Wheatley wanted to see me. With no information of what it was all about, my mates
started to wind me up with all sorts of suggestions. My only concern was that I was about to start my apprenticeship, and kept
my fingers crossed that this was still ongoing. This was due to start in about four weeks.
I had passed the colour-blind test and could not wait for it to start. I knocked on Mr Wheatley's study door, which he opened
himself. This was unusual, the next shock being he invited me to sit down.
'Do you know anything about your relatives in Sheffield?' he asked me. I had only received the occasional letter from my father
and thought the question a little odd because every letter had been opened, read and logged all the time I had been at Goldings.
Eric and I had spent a few short holidays with an uncle in Sheffield, who never got on with my father so his name was never
'Do you know anything about your mother? '
'No, I cannot remember ever seeing her,' I replied. Suddenly I got very brave and asked why my brother had not been invited to
this meeting, only to be told it was Barnardo's policy to discuss these matters when you reached sixteen. He said he wanted to
discuss it with me before I started my apprenticeship. It turned out the person I thought was my mother was in fact my stepmother.
My mother died in 1943 which would explain why my father came on his own to see us in 1944. I had always thought something
was not quite right but never bothered to find out. Eric and I had decided long ago not to look back, only forward. That way you
have some control, the past you cannot control.
I signed my apprenticeship forms and moved out of school to a nice hostel called Verney in the village of Waterford, about one
mile from Goldings. It was run by Mr and Mrs Embleton. They were from the northeast. He was lame in one leg but it never
stopped him from playing tennis or cricket, and he was captain of the Goldings staff team. Verney to me was semi-freedom. You
could spend your evenings and weekends, within reason, pleasing yourself, and attending Goldings five days a week learning
your trade. We printed most of Barnardo's stationery that they required and we were paid the union agreed rate which increased
every year, and adjusted if the annual rate changed. It was just enough to live on, no more. Board and lodgings for Verney's were
deducted from your weekly wages. When you reached eighteen you were expected to leave Verney and find your own board and
lodgings within the local area. It was not too difficult, but finding good ones was. Owning a bicycle was essential as Goldings
was at least two miles from Hertford and public transport was nonexistent. I always wanted to own a motorbike but I needed a
second job to pay for it, which I found in a working men's club.
In 1960 my apprenticeship was over. The next step was getting a proper job and being legally independent. I started work with
a printing firm in Hoddesdon and worked in the trade, including Goldings, for almost 50 years.
I have now been happily married to my wife, Jean, for over 50 years. We have two daughters and four granddaughters. I began
my retirement ten years ago which I am now enjoying.

Terry Burgar

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All images and text copyright © to Goldings Old Boys reunion members

© Terry Burgar