Brian J Lawrenson's Story

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I arrived at the Fazakerley Cottage homes on the 25th August 1949 after a brief stay at Olive Mount Children's Hospital. The place was so large that it just overwhelmed me as the Home consisted of 20 or so detached villas rather than cottages, each with ground at the back for playing and where the coal was kept in a very large bunker. At the very rear of the garden there was a toilet that was used by the children during the daylight hours. There was land also at the front which had a little grass and flower beds, and a wall separating the garden from the pavement. Each cottage housed about 30 children, the girls lived on the right of the "Avenue" and the boys on the other. The whole complex stood in thirty-eight acres of land which had a school, very large playing field where we played football, cricket, golf and athletics. Near to the field was a  swimming pool, a trade yard, and sick bay. In the year 1949 there must have been between 600-650 children resident at the Cottage Homes, and in those days most of the children were orphans. One of the reason why the home was built and opened in 1889 was to place a rising generation of workhouse children "under such improved conditions and training as should fit them to become worth keeping in this country" The home was built for Pauper and Orphan children as an option to the workhouse, but when I arrived it was mostly orphaned, or who were classed as such, for my mother was out there somewhere. This was to be my home for the next 9 years.

At the centre of the Home was the very impressive looking church, which was used for compulsory worship, and during the week for other activities, such as concerts, entertainment etc. Evangelical Anglican clergymen came into the Home from the Emmanuel congregation to teach us the Christian faith, and up to the age of 7 years we were schooled in the Home, with teachers coming in to teach from nearby Formosa Drive. Infants School. On my arrival at Fazakerley I was housed in Cottage No 18, as I was so young. To have put such young children in with older ones would have resulted in bullying. I was the most miserable and unhappy child in the world on the day I arrived and I can on three occasions remember climbing down the drain pipe from my upstairs dormitory window, and walking the 3 miles or so to Pastor Ekarte at the African Churches Mission in my pajamas. He and Mrs. Roberts his housekeeper were most concerned that they would be seen as encouraging my behavior so I promised never to do it again. I had no friends, and my "cousins" from the African Churches Mission had not yet arrived at the Cottage Homes, but when they did I was much happier, and in those early months we all kept so close together, as the thought of being separated again was too daunting to contemplate.

I began to settle down and started to make friends, and the rest of my stay at Fazakerley although it was not the ideal, the "House Mothers" and the head of the home, Mr. and Mrs. Phillips made my stay a very pleasant and happy one., and when I left in 1958 it was again a time of uncertainty and sadness. During my stay I learnt so much, it would be impossible to cite all the lesson leant but here are some of them.

  • THE IMPORTANCE OF GOOD RELATIONSHIPS

To be a snob, or look down on someone who had a different coloured skin than you had was the height of foolishness at Fazakerley. I can say truthfully that in the 9 years at the place I never heard a racist remark from the staff or children. About 25% of the children where of an ethnic background other than white, yet the Home was free of racial tension in any form.

  • THE ADVANTAGES OF CORPORAL PUNISHMENT

In those good old days corporal punishment was allowed in our schools in England and in the Cottage Homes discipline had to be exercised in order to keep the Home a bearable place to live. So those who stepped out of line were caned by the Superintendent. I believe that if I had not had a good hiding now and  again then I would have been a truly deprived child. It was always pointed out to us why the cane was being administered, and if there was another way of teaching us discipline then it was used, but corporal punishment was not ruled out, and I for one will be eternally grateful for it. Every slap demonstrated that someone cared. No doubt the behaviour of some children must have made the House Mothers wish for Capital Punishment, but that I can assure you was never used.

  • THE VALUE OF TENDER LOVING CARE

During my stay at Fazakerley I came across some very kind people and they showed by their own benevolence the value of tender loving kindness. I remember young teachers just out of Training College on limited incomes, taking me out to some place of interest in the City on their day off, giving me a meal, buying me a toy, and depositing me back at the Home with money in my pocket, and all at their own expense. I cannot remember their names but I shall always remember their kindness.

Christmas was always a very happy time at the Cottage Homes, made so by the workers at the English Electric Factory on the East Lancashire Road in Liverpool. Toys of all description were provided by the workers and I have no doubt that some of those men and women struggled financially to give the same quality of toy to their own children.

How we looked forward to the summer holidays when we sailed to the Isle of Man, where the Manx people opened up their homes for the children from the Cottage Homes, and on many occasions invited us back for more holiday funded from their own housekeeping. The people of the Island showed us such kindness as will always live with me.

I could go on citing the lessons learnt, but the place most definitely shaped my values, and the place was certainly God's provision for me in more ways than one. Some of the personalities in the home impressed me.

There was "Wally" the head groundsman. He always took an interest in me, and went further than his duties demanded in being kind and considerate. It was through his life long friendship with the top British entertainer Max Bygraves the led to the comedian visiting the Home on more than one occasion, and had us all laughing and rolling in the isles. The last I heard of Wally Roe he was living in the Knowsley area of Liverpool enjoying his retirement.

Then there was "Dr Greenshelves". The Doctor was responsible for the general health of the children in the home, and would visit systematically to examine and administer medicine to the children. He was without doubt one of the kindest men that I have ever met, and always so cheerful. When he had finished his duties in the sick-bay after a very tiring day, he would find a large row of boys queuing up by his car. The reason being that it was always the Doctors practice to give us all a ride in the car, one at a time. Not only would we ride in the car, but would even drive it. Our legs were too short to reach the peddles so he would sit us on his knee, he would work the break and accelerator and we children would take charge of the steering wheel. Once round the whole complex, and the Doctor never missed a child who had queued. He was a remarkable man.

What can I say about "Ken Greatrex"? . He haled from Wrexham in North Wales, and came from a family of butchers in the town. Before he came to Fazakerley as deputy Superintendent,  he played soccer for Wrexham Football Club, keeping goal for many years for them. His main responsibilities in the Home was the physical education of the children, and his background more than qualified him for the job. We all had a great respect for him, for if you wanted your backside kicking then Ken was the man to do it for you, yet he was a very fair minded man, as straight as the day is long. He was always ready to praise you when do did well, but heaven help you if you under achieved. 

I must say a little about "Mr. & Mrs. Phillips". They were the Superintendent and Matron of the home, yet they were so approachable and available. Mr. Phillips and Ken Greatex played golf, and I had the privilege of being caddy on many occasions. I learnt so much of the game from them. Mrs. Phillips was a gem of a lady, always keeping in balance firmness and kindness in her dealings with the children. They both lived on the job, Fazakerely was their world and many boys and girls passing through the Home will owe them both a huge debt. It was their commitment to us that helped us to take our place in society with at least some degree of success.