Goldings Web Photo Gallery
By Frank Cooke ©
photos from Barnardo's archive
26/04/2002

Howard House,
17 Cardington Road,
Bedford.
Tel: Bedford 2461

Howard House opened in 1928 as a home for children with learning disabilities. In 1938 the children moved to Abby Close, Bedford for the duration of the war as Howard House was very near RAF Cardington which could have been targeted by the Luftwaffe. Howard House re-opened in 1946.  The home was finally closed closed in August 1969 with most of the staff and children moving to other homes. Miss Soutar (Auntie Heather) moved to Much Wedlock

57/10 Childhood Memories a photographic history of Dr Barnardo's

Howard House 17 Cardington Road, Bedford is recorded as being vacant in 1928 then in 1932 being occupied by Dr Barnardo's with the Superintendent being Annie Duke until and including 1949-1950). then in 1952 Miss E. M. Pratt was recorded as being the Superintendent of the home. Then in 1955 Mr. Albert E. Ellicott became the headmaster superintendent.

Back in 1937 Frank Norman came to this home aged seven and with the help of a Miss Love he did improve. In his book "Banana Boy" he writes of his time at Howard House:

On 3rd  April 1937 I was transferred from Barnardo's headquarters in Stepney to their home for 'backward' children at Bedford, which had the rather austere name of Cardington Abbey. I was accompanied on the journey by a frightening looking matron, dressed from head to toe in black. I remember nothing of the journey except boarding the train; at our destination we were met by another matron dressed from head to toe in black. The second one took over responsibility for my delivery to the Home; the first took the next train back to London.

My first impression of Cardington Abbey was a mixture of awe, curiosity and fear. What manner of place was this that I had been brought to against my will, and why? The reception hall was vast. As I came through the solid oak front door, I was faced with a huge aweinspiring stained-glass window depicting Jesus and several apostles. The floor was tiled and highly polished, there was a strong smell of fresh floor polish. A great oak staircase led up to a gallery, off which were several rooms which served as the children's dormitories. Several idiot looking children appeared in the gallery and peered down at me over the banister rail. There were both girls and boys, for the Home was co-educational.

There were also some older girls of about fourteen or fifteen who had been sent to the Bedford Home to learn domestic science and child care; they would later be put into the service of the wealthy. One of these was instructed by the matron to take care of me, which entailed kitting me out with a school uniform (such as it was) - a pair of shorts, a blue turtle neck jersey and an ill-fitting jacket. The maid also took me to the dormitory where I would sleep. Life in the Homes had begun.

It is virtually impossible for me to record the events of the following five years or so ,in strict chronological order, for there are many things that I remember vividly but do not recall when exactly they happened. There are also many things that I only dimly recollect which I am unable to date precisely. I am in any event going to have my work cut out to be accurate and truthful about how I was treated, my own behaviour, and the results of it all on my life since. I will however endeavour to keep the sequence of events in reasonable continuity.

The Superintendent was a dour Scots lady with iron grey hair brushed severely back from her forehead and tied in a bun at the nape of her neck. Her name was Miss Duke. She owned a vicious Pekinese dog which she wore around her shoulders like a mink stole. When any of the children attempted to stroke it, it snapped and snarled frantically. In those days Barnardo's autocratic policy was to bring up their children as God fearing, hard-working, thoroughly conforming members of society. To this end the atmosphere in all of the Homes that I was in was austere, discipline was harsh to misbehave invariably resulted in a whipping or at best some arduous task such as scrubbing floors or peeling potatoes. The institutions were run more along the lines of remand homes, borstals and prisons than cosy homes for children where love, affection and understanding were the watchwords (the image now vigorously promoted). The head mistresses were addressed as Madam and the headmasters as the Governor. I was not called by my Christian name from the time I was admitted to the Homes until the day I was discharged.

One would have thought that as the Bedford Home was specifically for 'backward' children there would have been a resident psychologist on the staff. But there was not. The method (the most apt word I can think of) for reforming educationally subnormal and emotionally disturbed children was to treat them harshly in the manner of early lunatic asylums, where insane people were tortured and beaten into submission. I am not saying that we were maltreated in the same sense, but in essence the attitude was the same. Discipline was harshly administered, rules were made not to be broken, and God had to be prayed to daily for forgiveness even if one had been good! I was well aware that the Bedford Home was for 'backward' children and in protest I would on occasions run around the lawn outside Miss Duke's window backwards. This infuriated her greatly and she regularly applied the back of her hair-brush to my bare bottom. This was not a punishment for running backwards; the reason given was that I was out of bounds. But I did not care, indeed the worse I was treated the more I rebelled and yet nowhere in my record does it state that I was a rebel, only that I behaved badly, and was slow at my studies, etc. Actually I do not entirely blame the administration of my day for the miserable time that I spent in the Homes, for it is self-evident that I was a pretty hopeless case long before I arrived in them. It is a shame that they did not notice this for themselves - or if they did, why did they not make some allowances for my behaviour ?

Then page 46 he writes:

Nevertheless the general appreciation of my behaviour and school work began to improve slightly. The encouragement of members of the staff, Miss Love in particular, was a tonic to my addled brain.

The most frowned-upon crime at the Bedford Home was bed-wetting; it was also the most prolifically committed. Great moral judgments were showered upon offenders, and the dreadful punishment inflicted by the matron when she came around on early-morning inspection was rubbing the children's noses in their urine-soaked sheets, as though they were animals. The same punishment was meted out to both girls and boys. None of them could help it, but all were treated as though they did it on purpose. There was one little girl who wet the bed almost every night in spite of the fact that she was woken up and taken to the lavatory twice and sometimes three times. Each morning the matron would enter the dormitory where she slept and tear the sheets from her bed. The little girl would scream in terror and plead for mercy, but it availed her nothing, the matron would grab hold of her, pinioning her arms and up-ending her face first into the sopping sheet. Though this unceremonious treatment cured no one it was never abolished. Though it was rarer, one or two of the children were occasionally given to 'messing' the bed as well as wetting it, the punishment for this was the same accompanied by a thrashing and a dose of senna pods. It was said that if you touched a dandelion it would make you wet the bed; I was always too frightened to find out if there was any truth in it.

As a rule the girls and boys slept in separate dormitories but sometimes through overcrowding, or when one of the dormi­tories was being redecorated, we had to co-habit the same rooms. None of us had reached the age of puberty so there were no worries on that score, that is to say no worries as far as the staff were concerned. On one such occasion I slept in a bed next to a girl whose name I have completely forgotten. It was a summer evening and still light outside, the birds sang in the trees and a heady perfume drifted through the window from the azalea bushes in the garden. We whispered secret thoughts and stifled our giggles in our pillows and then suddenly she brazenly said: 'If you show me yours I'll show you mine' - her exact words. I knew very well what she meant from our previous conversation.

Frank left on the 21st August 1941 and ended up at Kingston-upon-Thames and finally Goldings.

You will need to obtain the book Banana Boy to find out what happened next. I found the book takes you back inside the homes and in part you can feel his pain and frustration, but in other parts he has a vivid imagination which I understand is today called an authors licence ! His book Bang to Rights also allows to walk the walk within the prison walls with no authors licence and with his original spelling.

 

 

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