Gordon Bebb

Home Up

I was in the Cottage Homes from 1936 - 1946 and also worked there on leaving school 1946 -1950 prior to joining the Royal Navy. I arrived there from Olive Mount and was deposited in Cottage 14 and attended the infants school in the Homes grounds. To this day I can still remember being taken there and also who came with me. They were brothers Cliff and Jim Wynne and another boy named Crawford, but can't think of his first name. I remained in Cottage 14 until the age of six or seven and was transferred to Cottage 7 and  attended the Junior school, also in the grounds of the Homes. 

Once established in the new "Home" at this early age, life was supposed to begin.  There were twenty - twenty five boys at one time in the Cottage from the ages of seven to fourteen years. We were supervised by two women; Foster mother and Assistant Foster mother (Fishy and Sizzy).  Their names were Miss Hallam and Miss Williamson. I say supervised because that's what it was. No love or understanding was ever shown to any of the boys, and at times they were cruel to them.

 We all ended up here for lots of different reasons. Some had been here since very early childhood, abandoned as babies or taken away from uncaring parents. In my case my mother died nine days after I was born and I was brought up by my mothers sister and my maternal Grandmother till they could not look after me for reasons beyond their control. I was taken into care by the authorities after a few years.  (All this information came to me years later.)  No one was ever told their history.

 Life in the Cottage Homes at that time was quite hard, but we boys who were complete strangers to each other soon became the best of companions and found strength in numbers, which gave us lots of heart for the rest of the time spent there.

 The Cottage Homes at the period that I spent there looked quite impressive with its lovely tree lined Avenue and its flower beds of geraniums etc.and the huge gates at the front on Longmoor Lane. The so called Cottages were twenty two buildings lined either side of the Avenue with the Hall in the centre and the school to the right of it.  The boys and girls were separated; girls on the right of the Avenue boys on the left.  There must have been over 500 children in the Homes at times.

 Cottage 7 which I was in was very basic. No home comforts whatsoever or even a chair to sit on except at meal times.The cleaning of the place was done by boys who were 11 years or older. At six thirty in the morning you started on the three bedrooms.  Beds made, wooden floor brushed and polished, the landing and stone staircase done also, and then you had breakfast which consisted of a minced bacon sandwich and a cup of cocoa. After the meal you started work again washing the dishes and cleaning the dining room and the playroom, also the potatoes had to be peeled for dinner; enough for twenty five kids.  When you were finished it was time for school, and the same procedure continued  after dinner, then back to school. When school was over it was back for tea and then more jobs. When these were completed you could play in the yard. The yard consisted of a set of outside toilets,a large brick built shed, a wash house and a coal shed. The best times we ever had were spent in that yard playing football and cricket and climbing on the roof of the buildings. We were called in later for the bath which was an ordeal itself. We were bathed two at a time, both Foster mothers in attendance, one on legs the other on upper bodies using loofahs and the most horrible soap. They still bathed you at the age of thirteen and fourteen, which was quite embarrassing.

 The older boys had some younger ones in their charge and had to inspect their socks and jerseys for holes, buttons missing on their trousers and to clean their boots. This could lead to a sort of bullying by the older boys, as they had to do the darning and sewing of the young ones before bedtime.

 Upstairs consisted of three dormitories for the boys and two small rooms for the staff, a storeroom and two toilets, one for the staff. The boys toilet was kept locked till the Foster mother went to bed when she would wake everyone up and make sure that you used it.

 The week-ends were the same workwise, but a little more freedom was allowed. If you happened to be 11 years or over you were allowed to to go outside the gates on your own, but the young ones had to be accompanied by the Assistant Foster mother who took you for walks around the neighbourhood. You walked in twos with the Assistant Foster mother behind in her uniform of a brown dress with a white pinafore and a navy blue cape and nurses white hat. 

 Sunday was the day you put on your best clothes, (Belmont Road tweed ) we called it, because it was like the clothes they wore in the workhouse in Belmont Road Hospital. We attended Church in the Hall every Sunday Morning  and evening; boys on one side girls on the other. The services were conducted by the Rev. Richardson, the organ was played by his daughter. The Superintendent, Mr. Froome and his wife the Matron and the staff also attended. Sunday teatime was a bit special because we had  prunes and custard or figs and custard, a piece of cake (fruit or seed) and for the only time in the week a cup of tea. 

 Visiting day to the Homes was the last Saturday in the month, and if you were lucky enough to have someone to come and see you, they could do so from two till four o'clock in the afternoon. In all the years I was there some boys never had anyone to visit them. The visitors, if they were parents or otherwise, were not allowed inside the Cottage to see how you lived, as I think they would be astounded at what they saw. In the summer months you saw your visitors in the field and if it rained you went into the shed.  The winter visits had to take place in the boarded over swimming baths. After the visiting was over and they had left you something such as sweets or cake etc., it was taken off you and put on the floor of the staff sitting room and you had to ask if you could have some. ( Can we have some vizzy miss? ) is what we'd ask each day, and by the time they gave it to you it had gone rotten, especially if there was any fruit amongst it. If you happened to have a sister or sisters, the only time you could have contact with them was at visiting time. Those who had no visitors had no contact whatsoever.

 To say we never had any good times would be telling lies.  We had some great fun among ourselves and got into lots of mischief and they could'nt punish you any worse than was usual anyway, so we played on it. The summer holidays were spent under canvas at Woodvale near Southport before the second World War. I was quite young at the time, but I remember it still. It must have been the last camp that we went to prior to the outbreak of war in September 1939.

 With the war starting, things got very exciting for us and lots of activity took place. All windows were taped up and sand bags placed around the buildings above the height of the down stairs windows and  a under-ground air- raid shelter was built between No.7 and No.5 at the back. We all went to Formosa Drive school to be fitted for our gas-masks and given our National Identity numbers.  I can still remember mine -- NICX  1:41. Things also changed inside the Cottage as well. We could no longer sleep upstairs and had to bed down in the day room and the dining room. There was also a stirrup pump, a long slim shovel, a bucket of sand and a metal shield for dealing with incendiary bombs, but I dont think they were ever used. 

 Towards the end of the  war things changed for the better for everyone of us in the Cottage Homes with the arrival of a new Superintendent and Matron, Mr.& Mrs.T.F.Phillips. The transformation they brought to the Homes was great. They took an interest in the children and paid frequent visits to each household unannounced  to see what was going on. Lots of changes were made to the lives of the kids and also to way the staff treated them. They were made aware that Mr.& Mrs.Phillips could walk in on them at any time, day or night, which never happened previously. The attitude of the Foster Mothers changed for the better, and a little more care was shown to us kids, as they knew we would report them to the Superintendent or Matron if they carried on as they were. We could not have done this before.

 About this time I was going to the senior school outside the Homes at Barlows Lane in Fazakerley and mixing with the (outsiders) as we called them. Lots of friendships were made with the local boys and it really was a good experience for us all. Although we were quite different from the local lads I can not remember at any time being taken advantage of or made fun of. We did look strange to them I suppose, the way we were dressed but later that changed. We were given shoes instead of the boots that we had always worn, and our clothes changed for the better.

 Things were going great and everyone seemed happy and quite contented, then some of us being the age of twelve or thirteen were sent to Colomendy Camp in North Wales."Just beginning to like the place and this should happen"! We settled down there but it was a lot different from what we were starting to like at the Cottage Homes. 

 It was 1944-45 at this time and we got used to being here, but kept thinking about the times we could be having back in  the Homes. Some of us got together after a while and decided to escape and get back to Liverpool. We had no money so the plan was to walk all the way to Birkenhead and sneak on the ferry to the other side. We set the time and date and set off after lights out one night. The great escape had begun, and thirteen of us between the ages of twelve and thirteen walked through the night on our way "Home"  - What else could we call it?

 We never had a clue which way to go but set off towards Mold, a town about three miles from the Camp, which we had visited with the school, but from there it was a bit of a problem. It was pitch black during the night, no lights whatsoever to see were we were going, but we kept on till daylight to find how far we had progressed. We were very tired with having no sleep and hungry with having nothing to eat since tea time the day before but we made it to Birkenhead sometime in the evening and got across the river and back to the Cottage Homes. 

 Mr.Phillips let us stay there for a couple of weeks but had to send us back to North Wales.  Before going back he gave us a telling off, said it was an achievement what we had done and not to do it again. We arrived back at the camp and settled down ok. but that wasn't the last he was going to see of us.

 We decided to escape again but this time we'd get the bus - couldn't do that walk twice.  We would have to save our pocket money for the bus journey to Birkenhead, and the ferry over to Liverpool and then the 22 tramcar to Fazakerley. 

 Things were quite good at the camp and we settled down as if nothing had happened, but our minds were working over-time thinking of the next escapade. It was after all just a big adventure and we wanted to do it again, hoping it would be soon. The opportune moment came when we least expected it!

It was May 1945 ( VE Day ) and whilst everyone was celebrating the great occasion of the end of the war in Europe, we slid away in the afternoon down to the bus station at Loggerheads and on our way.  I can't remember how many there was this time on the run but it was quite a few. One of the lads had to go  back because he was stung by a nest of wasps, but the rest of us made it all the way to Fazakerley.

We were kept back in the Homes and continued our schooling till the age of fourteen when it was custom to be sent to the "Boys Home" at 101 Shaw St. in Everton where work was found for us. For some reason I was kept back for about twelve months to work in the stores in the trade yard. I did not want to do this job but had no choice. Who did I have to complain to? When I left school I was supposed to be going into a trade. I was eventually sent to Shaw St. but continued to work in the stores till I was eighteen.

 During my time working in the Cottage Homes I was pleased to see the changes that took place since the arrival of Mr.& Mrs.Phillips. The children were a lot happier. They were better dressed and had a lot more freedom than was had in my time. A sports master by the name of Mr.Ken Greatrex was brought to the Homes,and what he did for the boys should go down in history. He was the most popular person in the whole place - him and his dog " Dinni." He was an ex footballer and put all of his skills into getting the best out of the boys and creating one of the best under fourteen year old teams in the city. Quite a few of his young players went on to play for other teams after they left the Homes,and one,John Parkes was actually signed by Everton FC. Ken Greatrex had a top of the range football pitch laid out in one of the fields belonging to the Homes and new football strip and boots supplied. He really did succeed in the job he was brought in to do.

 In conclusion I would like to say that Mr.& Mrs.Phillips and Ken Greatrex made the Cottage Homes a nicer place for the unfortunate children that happened to be in their charge. Whether they got any recognition for their wonderful achievements I do not know, but it would be thoroughly deserved.

 In my memories of the Cottage Homes I am only talking of the boys I grew up with and have no real knowledge of the way the girls were treated.

 

                                                                   Gordon C Bebb        2002