Welcome to the March 2004 On-Line Edition of

St George's News

Waterlooville's Parish Magazine


It was while I was attending the Christingle service last Christmas that I had a thought. I had some idea of what the Children's Society was and what it did. But how did it start, and when? And who started it? It was started by a man who was dedicated to helping children and young people. It started in 1881. And the man was Edward Rudolf.

Edward Rudolf was born on the 11 April 1852, in Lambeth, South London, near the Elephant and Castle, the second son of William Edward Rudolf, a retired major who had served in the British and Dutch armies, and his wife Susan. William Edward had a small pension, and he supplemented this with language translation. Edward had an older brother named Richard, and a younger brother, Robert. He also had a sister, Ida, who died before she was three, a not uncommon tragedy in Victorian times. Edward's father had been married before, but his first wife had died in 1848. Only one of the four children from this marriage survived to adulthood, a son called William Heaton. William gave his father an annual allowance of 20 pounds a year, but the family still did not have a lot of money to live on. Neither Edward nor his brother Robert went to school. They were educated by their father.

William Edward was an elderly man. He was sixty-eight years old when Edward was born, and by the time Edward was twelve his eyesight had grown very poor, and his earning capacity dwindled. So Edward had to take on the responsibility of bringing in some money to support the family. At the age of thirteen, he went to work as an office boy in a business in Blackfriars, London, where he earned the princely sum of five shillings a week, with two pence an hour overtime. But in 1867, Edward's step-brother William Heaton Rudolf died, and so the allowance he had given to the family stopped, which reduced their income to nearly half. Fortunately, a friend of the family, who happened to be the Consular-General of the Netherlands, helped them by giving Edward a higher paid job as a junior clerk at the Dutch consulate. The 15 year old Edward worked hard during the day, and spent his evenings educating himself. He studied French, German, mechanics and physics. He kept rabbits for the family to eat. He also made a small amount of money by selling waste paper from the consulate office to a waste dealer for one and a half pence per pound in weight. In September 1869, he became a member of a committee of the 'Popular Educator Committee', which involved running classes to help educate young men. He ran classes every Tuesday and Friday evening through the winter of 1869/1870. It was at this time that he decided that he wanted to become a Church minister. He enrolled at the London College in Greek and Divinity classes, and did part time study.

In July 1870 Edward's elder brother emigrated to America. On the 7th. January 1871 his father died, and on the 20th January his mother, who had been ill for some months, was admitted to Bethlem Mental Hospital in Beckenham, Kent. Edward, now 18 years old, and Robert, aged 14, had to look after themselves. They moved into a room in a boarding house in Kennington, at a rent of 5 shillings a week. Robert also got a job at the Dutch consulate, but Edward always had the desire to improve himself. He took the British Civil Service exam in March 1871, and, having passed, he was offered a post at the Office of Works in Whitehall. Because of his interest in the church and his experience teaching, the following year he was asked by his vicar at St Philip's church in Kennington to start a night school at the Church. He ran the school for four months. In that July his mother was discharged from the mental hospital, and with Edward's improved financial status, the family moved into a three roomed apartment in Kensington. After resettling themselves Robert and Edward started attending St Anne's Church in Lambeth, South London, and they became teachers at St Anne's Sunday School. Edward was soon asked to become the superintendent of the Sunday School. Quite an achievement for a young man of nineteen.

One day in 1881 two brothers who attended the Sunday School suddenly stopped coming. Edward set out to look for them and found them begging for food from workers at a local gasworks. The boys' father had died, leaving their mother with seven children to look after. This was the period of workhouses and no Welfare State, but the mother did not want the family to go into a workhouse. The Rudolf brothers tried to get the boys into a Church of England institution, but they could not find one that would take them without requiring a payment. The boys were eventually admitted free of payment into a Home which was not allied to any particular Church. Edward thereupon decided that there was a need for a Church of England Home that would care for destitute children and that didn't necessarily require payment. He thought it was important that children in these circumstances should receive the teachings of the Church of England. He wrote letters to many people, mostly members of the clergy, whom he thought might be interested in helping establish a children's home, and on 31 March 1881 an inaugural meeting took place. It was attended by both Edward and Robert, together with members of the clergy and other interested people. They set up a committee, and began making plans for fund-raising for the newly formed organisation. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Archibald Tait, was asked to become the President of the Society. He formally agreed to this on 24 August 1881. From this date on the Society became an officially recognised organisation of the Church of England, and became known as the 'Church of England Central Home for Waifs and Strays'.

In December 1881 a house in East Dulwich in South London became available, and this was rented for £30 a year with the intention of it becoming the first home. This was a tremendous act of faith, for the society had funds of less than £150. In January 1882 a house in Clapton, London was also rented and set up as the first boys' home, and the first children were received into the Society's care on 14 February 1882. The Society grew very rapidly. By 1890, just 9 years after the inaugural meeting, the Society was running 35 homes. It was also arranging foster care for children. In October 1890 there were nearly 1600 children in its care. By 1905 it had 93 homes throughout England and Wales and was looking after 3410 children. Of these, 2406 lived in Society's homes, 259 in affiliated homes, and 745 were fostered.

In 1893 the Society took on the official name of the 'Church of England Incorporated Society for Providing Homes for Waifs and Strays', a name which stayed until 1946 when it was renamed the 'Church of England Children's Society'. In the 1970's The Children's Society refocused its work with children and young people. It moved away from its work with children's homes, adoption and fostering. In 1982 it adopted the informal title of 'The Children's Society', as it is known today. The Society no longer runs any children's homes. Instead, it works with children and young people in need in local communities, with Local Authorities and in the youth justice sector.

But what of Edward during these latter years. In 1890 he retired from the Civil Service to concentrate on the Society, and became its first paid director, a post which he kept until ill-health forced him to retire in 1919, though he continued to serve on several committees for many years after. At the age of 46 he was ordained as a deacon, and nine years later, in 1907, as a priest. In 1911 he was made a prebendary of St Paul's Cathedral. In 1931 his work was formally acknowledged when he was made a Commander of the British Empire. Later the same year he received an honorary degree from the University of Oxford. He died in 1933 at the age of 81.

It is now several years since Mary and I were involved personally with the Children's Society. We started off with Short Term Fostering. Someone would bring us a new-born baby, the child of an unmarried mother. We would look after the babe for six weeks, giving the mother a period of time in which to decide whether she wished to keep her offspring or let it be offered for adoption. Usually it was the latter, and then someone would collect the babe, and that would be the last we heard of it. Once, and only once, we were asked to take the baby back to its mother as she wanted to keep it and care for it herself. In such cases there was no need for secrecy. We had to give this up when our youngest daughter was on the way, but before she was very old we were once again involved. This time it was looking after older children during times when their own parents were unable to do so, usually due to the mother having to go into hospital for a short while. In these cases there was no need for secrecy, and if siblings had been sent to different foster parents there was nothing to stop them visiting one another. I can still remember one young boy, Little Johnny, who came to see us several times. And then, some eight years after his last visit, there was a knock on the door, and there was Little Johnny, now fully grown, who had come to see us on his new motor-scooter. It was little things like this that made it all seem worth while.

Bill Hutchings.

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