On The Road To Ruin By Christina Cornwell

It was the 30th of May, 1961. A typical late spring day. The sun was shining and the birds were all chirping in the churchyard. The cherry trees at the edge of the graveyard were in full bloom. A few pink petals were caught up in the breeze and blew from the churchyard onto the adjacent platform of the railway station.

On The Road To Ruin
On The Road To Ruin 

A perfect day, but not for everyone.

The boy and girl stood on the platform, waiting for the London bound train. No words were spoken. Occasionally they glanced across the tracks at the large red brick railway house, the boy’s parental home.

A net curtain twitched, but no face was apparent.

The hoot of the approaching train was heard, and with a screech of brakes and a flurry of steam, the great iron engine came to a halt.

A moment’s hesitation and the large blue suitcase was heaved up into the carriage by the boy.

The girl stood for a moment still hoping that something would happen to stop this thing happening.

Reluctantly she stepped up into the compartment and numbly sat next to the boy.

The journey to London and the transit over to Euston became a blur.

Once on the northbound train, it all started to become reality.

Clackity clack, clackity clack. The train thundered on into the unknown.

A heaviness seemed to be rooting itself into the girl’s stomach and the boy…no one could know what was going on in his head.

At Doncaster, the train stopped. People alighted and more got on.

The girl glanced at her companion, tears were coursing down his face.

They clung together, their tears mingling.

There were no words, it had all been said!

It was as though they were on a runaway train, nothing could stop what was round the corner, and neither knew what was waiting there.

They pulled apart and knew that to touch once more would be a mistake.

The train pulled into Leeds station, a glass domed cavern!

Terrifying. People rushing everywhere and the noise was deafening.

She knew he had to leave her, he knew he had no option.

The southbound train for his return was already waiting on another platform. They climbed the steps, he carried the case. At the top, he put the case down. He turned and touched her arm, couldn’t bear to look into her eyes and ran to the steps down to his waiting train.

She stood watching as the southbound train left the station, till it disappeared round the bend into the mist.

A lump in her throat, a tear stained face, the total fear of the unknown.

Abandoned, just her and the big blue case.

She went and stood by the ticket office. The arrangement was that someone would come to the station to meet her. After 15 minutes she went outside the station and approached the first taxi in the queue waiting outside. She showed the driver the address of her destination and he loaded the case into his cab.

The blue case!

Her mother had thrown all her daughters belongings into the case with great venom. If she could have thrown her daughter in, she would have done so, such was her anger.

Poor mother! What a terrible daughter she had been.

“After all we have done for you. It’s the road to ruin!”

Her mother’s words rang in her ears, probably would for many years.

On the journey, all Annie could see through the fog were tall factory chimneys and a lot of bustling traffic.

The taxi seemed to be travelling for over half an hour. Eventually, the taxi turned into a driveway through high stone walls.

A large Georgian style house appeared through the gloom.

Annie shuddered and the fear in the pit of her stomach became an actual pain.

A person came down the steps and peered into the taxi asking Annie’s name.

The driver turned to her and asked her if she was sure she wanted to be here.

Annie often wondered in the following months what would have happened if she had asked the taxi driver to take her away. He obviously knew the house and its reputation.

The woman tapped on the window and told Annie to hurry and get out of the taxi. The woman paid the driver after he had deposited her case on the driveway.

The woman marched back up the steps into the house leaving Annie to struggle up the steps behind her.

“Follow me and hurry we haven’t got all night. You are too late for tea. I will show you your room. After you have emptied your case, leave it outside the room and come back down the stairs to the kitchen, I will find you something to eat.”

She showed Annie a battered chest of drawers where she was to put her clothes. As she unpacked her case, the woman searched her possessions before allowing Annie to place her things into the drawers. Her pockets were also searched much to Annie’s consternation.

The room had five iron-frame beds, with one pillow to each bed, and each with a very washed out and threadbare woven cover.

The walls were painted a sickly pale green and the paint was peeling in places.

Annie had never seen such a dilapidated room.

She put her case outside the room and made her way back down the uncarpeted stairs where she found the large kitchen.

A plate with two pieces of dried up toast were thrust at her with a packet of Echo margarine, and a jar of jam.

Annie was almost too tired to eat, but somehow managed to swallow the toast.

When she had finished eating, the woman led her from the kitchen through the entrance hallway to a passage leading to a large sitting room. There were several girls in this room, some nodded at Annie, some carried on reading others seemed totally absorbed in their own thoughts.

This was the start of the journey, to what or where Annie had no idea.

Annie just sat in a corner. She had never felt so alone.

The nights were the worst. Annie’s bed was under the dormer window.

Many nights she sat on the window ledge just watching the mist engulf the chimney pots, too tired to sleep and too tired to try and make sense of her situation. It was a place away from the horror of the day and the nightmares that sleep would bring.

Tears and yet more tears until there were no tears left, the feeling of absolute loneliness and abandonment.

Often she heard the sobs of the other girls. Their tossing and turning, and mumbled words as sleep was being invaded by the things going round in their heads not allowing them to rest.

Her mother’s words still rang in her ears. The bruises on her back were fading, but the memory was still there of the wooden coat hanger that her mother had beaten her with.

Her mother so afraid of what the neighbours would say about her daughter on whom she had pinned such great hopes. But no, her daughter was a disgrace to the family.

She was now an outcast, a miscreant, no longer worthy to be in society.

“On the road to ruin.”

Her parents in conjunction with her boyfriend’s parents had found a place as far away from home as possible, to remove the ‘problem’ as it was referred to.

Hence the long journey into oblivion. A nursing course was the excuse used to explain her absence. Problem removed – return home as if nothing had happened.

“What planet did these people live on?”

Chapter 2

The house was to all outward appearances a private nursing home. The private patients came when they went into labour and had excellent one to one attention. No more than four to six private patients came at one time at a large cost.

The private suite was plush and decorated to a high standard.

The nursing staff highly qualified and smart in their starched uniforms.

Sister Green, Sister Croft both midwives and two trained nurses presided in the delivery and after care wards.

The wide carpeted stairs to this suite were totally out of bounds to the pregnant girls. The front entrance was also a no-go area during evening visiting hours.

The ‘fallen’ girls, as they were often described, arrived at the house at varying stages of their pregnancies. Mostly a couple of months prior to their due date, but some as Anna were sent to the house before the pregnancy became obvious. The maternity benefit books handed over to the management on arrival.

All the girls had their duties. The stone floors were scrubbed daily. The food preparation, cooking and cleaning duties were all done by the girls starting at six a.m. each morning.

The hardest job was across the rear yard in the laundry. All the soiled bed linen and terry nappies had to be boiled and scrubbed daily. There were no washing machines just large galvanized sinks where the soiled linen was soaked overnight. They were then removed first thing in the morning scrubbed by hand before being immersed into galvanized electric boilers.

They had to be prodded and agitated by dollies until the stains disappeared.

The sinks were then filled with fresh cold water and the items taken from the boilers and rinsed three times in the three sinks, after which they had to be put through the wooden rollers of the antiquated mangles to remove as much water as possible. The linen was then hung on the multitude of washing lines that festooned the yard.

A member of the staff would inspect the sheets and nappies and frequently they would be ripped off the washing lines and thrown back at the girls to do again.

Annie was given this job and found it very hard. Every day there were dozens of nappies, sheets and pillowcases, it seemed never ending. Annie’s hands became very sore and chapped with the cold water and detergents, and at the end of the day her fingers bled after she had finished her laundry duties.

The girls worked from six in the morning only stopping for a half hour lunch break where sandwiches were offered and a cup of tea. At four o’clock, as long as the chores were completed the girls were allowed go to the sitting room where they were supposed to knit or sew. They also wrote their letters at this time, which had to be submitted to the superintendent for her to read.

Any detrimental remarks in their letters were blackened out or the letter destroyed by the staff, incoming mail was also read before being given to the girls.

Annie’s fingers were too sore for the first few weeks to sew or knit. Florence Sampson, the staff member who supervised the recreation time in the afternoons, gave Annie some Vaseline for her fingers. This had been the first kindness shown to her.

Annie was told by her roommates that the work would continue till their babies were born, then as soon as they were able, usually the day after giving birth for the following six weeks. During this six weeks the arrangements were made regarding their babies’ futures.

In this final six weeks, the girls were allowed an afternoon out to visit the town. They were given two shillings and six pence to purchase toiletries and their bus fare.

Most nights the girls were too tired for long conversations. They were told not to discuss their personal situations with each other, but slowly as the girls got to know each other their stories were shared.

Chapter 3

There were four girls who shared Annie’s room.

Margot had the next bed, she came from York. She was 19 years old, not a pretty girl, tall and lanky, but Annie soon learned that Margot although outwardly loud and brash, actually had a heart of gold.

She had often in the first few weeks comforted Annie as she sat and wept.

Margot told Annie how she had come to be in the house, it was a sad tale.

Margot had worked in a grocery store near to her home. She had worked there from the time she had left school.

She enjoyed the work. Her father had been a miner but had given up working underground as he had contracted lung disease. Her mother went ‘skivvying’ as Margot put it and Margot had left school to help to keep the roof over their heads.

Margot’s employer had a son, who did the deliveries for his father and also worked in the shop.

Margot was flattered by the attention the son had given her, and she mistakenly thought that the son felt the same way as she did about him. One thing led to another and the cuddles and kisses in the stock room ended up in a quick coupling one evening when the son had been left by his father to close up the shop.

Margot realized a couple of months later that she was pregnant.

Her parents were horrified and marched straight down to her place of employment to confront her employer and his son.

It all turned nasty, with her boss accusing Margot of lying that his son was the father.

Margot’s father grabbed the son by the scruff of his neck and the son quickly admitted that he had had sex with Margot, but said that she had wanted it and had led him on. Then he said some really nasty things about Margot.

Poor Margot was so hurt, as she thought that he had loved her. Too discover her beau’s true feelings about her had left her traumatized.

Margot told Annie all this one day in the laundry when Annie found her weeping into a sink of stinking nappies.

Margot’s parents were in their late fifties and neither financially or physically could they cope with another mouth to feed. So the decision had been taken by Margot and her parents that an adoption would be the best option for everyone.

Margot also felt that she did not want a constant reminder of her stupidity and she would felt she would not be able to love a child in these circumstances.

Annie and Margot forged a friendship. Although Margot’s baby was due soon after Annie’s arrival, she was still expected to work in the laundry. Annie helped her as much as she could. After they had finished their work they started to sit together in the rest room.

The girls were supposed to bring clothes for their babies to wear for the first six weeks and Margot had brought some hand-me downs that her mother had managed to gather from neighbours. Annie had washed these baby clothes for Margot and they had come up quite presentable.

Three weeks after Annie’s arrival, Margot went into labour. Annie was anxious about her friend. She had no idea what labour pains were like and was horrified at the intensity of the pain her friend was experiencing.

Margot was hustled up to the labour ward, which was in a small wing round the corner from the private wards, at the back of the house.

No news came about Margot by bedtime and Annie couldn’t sleep for worrying about her friend.

The next morning after breakfast as Annie was sluicing the filthy nappies in the laundry, Miss Sampson, who had given Annie the Vaseline for her sore fingers, came over and quietly told Annie that her friend was OK and she had given birth to a little boy.

The following day Margot returned to work and her son was put into the nursery set aside for the girl’s babies.

The mothers had to feed, bath and dress their infants at six in the morning before having their own breakfasts. Then work till ten o’clock, and again go and feed their child. It was a strict regime, six o’clock, ten o’clock, two, six and finally ten at night. In between these feeds, the work still had to be completed.

Annie now understood why the girls who had given birth were always so exhausted.

Margot was sent back to the laundry to do the ironing as this was lighter than the washing, so at least she could have a chat with Annie.

Margot seemed besotted with her little son, which surprised Annie.

She had called him Sonny Jim, and related his cute looks, and his tufty hair and mannerisms to Annie repeatedly.

This worried Annie as she knew that Margot was going to have to say goodbye to the little chap and felt she was getting too attached to him.

Annie tried to talk of other things to try and divert Margot from Sonny.

One of the girls in the house looked very young and Annie asked Margot about her, in attempt to get Margot’s attention elsewhere.

“Oh that is Norma, she is only 14 years old. She was in the care of the social services, and has been in foster homes since she was three years old.”

Norma would not talk to the other girls, but she did occasionally speak to Margot. Her bedroom was across the hall from Annie and Margot’s, sharing with two older girls, to whom she rarely communicated.

“What a sad life, I wonder how she got pregnant? Perhaps she was attacked.”

“She won’t talk about it, I don’t really think she understands what is happening to her. I know she cannot read or write very well. I do keep trying to get her to talk to me.”

Annie did try a few times after her conversation with Margot to talk to Norma, but didn’t get very much more than a yes or no or a shrug of her shoulders. But both girls kept trying as both had soft hearts and felt so sorry for the little girl.

Her worried little face and bitten fingernails showed that the strain of living in the house was having a bad effect on the girl. She no more than a child.

Margot got very tired and the laundry work was hard. Annie went round the back of the laundry building and found an old chair that had been discarded from the house, for Margot to sit on while she did the ironing. If a staff member came into the laundry, Margot would push the chair in a corner and throw a sheet over it, as the chair would have been confiscated straight away.

A week after Margot had returned to work, the two girls were wearily climbing up the stairs to their room to go to bed. Norma was following behind them. Suddenly Norma screamed and seemed to fall back down a couple of stairs clutching her stomach.

Margot and Annie went back down to Norma and realised there was fluid running down the stairs and blood on Norma’s legs.

“Stay with her,” shouted Margot. “I will go and get someone.”

Annie took Norma’s hand and put her other arm round her shoulders.

Within minutes, the nursing staff arrived, Margot and Annie were told to go to bed. The girls carried on up to their room, feeling sorry to leave little Norma.

A little later they heard the siren of an ambulance and realized it had come to the house.

Sleep didn’t come easily to either of the girls that night.

The next morning when they enquired about Norma, they were told that Norma had been taken to hospital and her baby had been born dead. All the girls felt sorry for the young girl.

It seemed to leave a feeling of gloom on all the inmates, suddenly life and death had been introduced into the equation.

Margot asked the staff if she could go and visit Norma on her afternoon visit to town. She was sternly told that this was not possible or allowed and the girls were told not to speak of Norma again.

Later that day after Margot had returned from feeding Sonny, she told Annie that there was an extra baby in the nursery that morning.

“I asked old misery guts Clampton, the nursery nurse, whose baby it was and she told me to mind my own business. Then she said that it was belonging to one of the private patients who had a bad labour and needed extra rest!”

“So what was strange then?” Annie asked.

“Well it’s still there and it’s visiting time and surely the private patient would want to have their baby on show for visiting time.”

“Mmm, does seem odd, but perhaps the mother is really poorly.”

“He is obviously of mixed race, he is really cute. Oh well I suppose the private patients will have nannies to look after their babes so perhaps they don’t get too possessive over them.”

The conversation had to quickly cease as Mary Little, the laundry and kitchen supervisor was seen coming across the yard to the laundry building.

The discussion regarding the extra baby was not pursued again that day as both girls were so tired by the time they got to the recreation room. Annie tried to write a letter to her parents and Margot actually closed her eyes and had a nap.

That evening when they got to their beds it seemed that it was not a conversation that either of them wanted to discuss in front of their roommates, so the matter dropped.

The other three girls in their room were Doreen, Sharon and Marion.

Doreen was 18 years old and lived locally. She was a plump faced, heavily built, fair-haired girl with a pretty face and a friendly personality.

She had become pregnant by her boyfriend who she had been to school with, and their families were friends. But it had been decided, mainly by their respective parents that they were too young to start a family.

In 1961, girls were more respectful of their parents and unmarried pregnancies meant a shotgun wedding or a trip to a house such as this one the girls were in. So Doreen had agreed to do what her parents had thought best for her.

Marion was the eldest of the girls, she was 22. A tall thin faced girl with long light brown hair. All the girls knew that she had got pregnant by a married man and that he was a Jamaican. She had come to the house without her family’s knowledge and made no secret of the fact that she wanted the child adopted, so that she could move on with her career. The married man had disappeared when she told him that she was pregnant, leaving Marion very anti-man.

Marion came across as a cold fish, but the girls heard her quiet tears as they lay in their beds all immersed in their own fears. They all knew Marion was hiding her grief, but they respected her need to cope with it in her own way.

Sharon was 17 and the noisy one. She obviously came from a wealthy family and boasted about her possessions and lifestyle. Her father was a wealthy businessman owning several companies. He had, according to Sharon, paid a large donation to the proprietors of the house for her to come to there at an early stage of her pregnancy. Her parents did not want their friends to be aware of the pregnancy.

Sharon made no secret of the fact that she had no idea which one of her many admirers was the father of her child, and didn’t care either. She openly verbally abused the growing child inside her, and couldn’t wait to get ‘rid of the brat’ as she called it!

It had been a big shock to her when a scrubbing brush and bucket had been given to her, and told to scrub the kitchen floor.

There had been a standoff with the staff when she point blank refused.

But her father had been summoned and he proved unsympathetic and threatened to wash his hands of her, and sell her horse if she didn’t obey the rules of the house.

When she first arrived, she would leave her clothes and shoes laying all over the floor. The other girls just picked them up and threw them onto her bed in a heap. Slowly Sharon got better. She liked to be the centre of attention and would occasionally pick on Margot who was not as bright as her intellectually. The other girls wouldn’t stand for this and made it clear that this was not acceptable as they all liked Margot.

The two older girls who had shared the bedroom with Norma, were Jane and Molly. They had both had their babies and were waiting with dread for the six week period to pass while the adoption processes were being negotiated.

Jane had become pregnant with a salesman who visited the office where she worked. They had begun a relationship and Jane was besotted by her boyfriend. When she told him that she was pregnant, he had persuaded her that he wasn’t ready for a family so adoption had been decided upon.

Molly had never discussed the father of her baby and Jane had respected the fact that Molly didn’t want to talk about it.

Chapter 4

Margot now having had her child was allowed one afternoon out of the house to go to town. It was a bit of freedom always looked forward to by the girls. So two weeks after Sonny was born Margot went to town. She knew the permitted time was short, only three quarters of an hour to shop and then back on the bus. If a girl missed the bus back to the house, then they would be sent to their room with no food that evening and the following week’s trip was cancelled.

With Margot away for the afternoon it meant that Annie had to complete the washing and the ironing by herself and consequently did not get back to the day room until just before supper was served.

At the supper table, Margot whispered to Annie that she had something to tell her, but would tell her later away from staff ears.

But that night Annie was exhausted. After a quick wash in the antiquated washroom, she climbed into bed and as soon as her head hit the pillow she fell asleep.

The next morning after a breakfast of the hateful bowl of salty porridge that Yorkshire people seemed to delight in, the girls went over to the laundry to start the days washing and ironing.

The smell from the soaking soiled terry nappies always made Annie want to retch and this morning was no different. It was at this point of the day when the girls were at their lowest. They had washboards to scrub the faeces from the nappies before they were put into the boilers. The soiled sheets from the delivery room also had to be scrubbed before going into the boilers.

Conversations at this point were rare as the girls tied pieces of old sheets around their faces to combat the smell.

While the boilers were getting hot the girls went into the ironing room at the rear of the laundry. Margot made a small rolled up cigarette with the tobacco she had bought on her day off, and lifted the sash window so the smoke would escape.

“I have been dying to tell you, I saw Norma in town yesterday. They have allowed her to escape this place. Think the Welfare had something to do with it. She was with her new foster mother they have found for her.”

“Oh poor Norma, did she speak to you?”

“Yes, this new foster mother looked really nice. Norma said that she was actually a distant cousin of her real mother. Norma said she was very nice and had found a school near her house and they had just been to see it. Norma is actually looking forward to starting when she is well enough.”

“That sounds great. Did she say anything about her baby?” Annie asked.

“Well that was strange. She told me that after the nurses took her up to the delivery room, she had a few pains and then the baby was born.”

“So it was born dead?”

“That was what we were told but Norma said the baby cried ‘like a good un,’ as she put it.”

Annie looked puzzled, “But the baby couldn’t have been born dead if it cried.”

“That’s what I thought, but I didn’t say much more as Norma seemed upset that it had died so I said nothing.”

“And there is the ‘extra baby’ in the nursery the morning after Norma was taken to hospital.”

They heard footsteps coming across the yard so Margot quickly closed the window and hurried back to the now bubbling boilers.

Both girls were thoughtful all day, something didn’t seem right.

Chapter 5

All the girls had to work very hard. Jane and Molly who had already had their babies, worked on the private wing, cleaning and waiting on the private patients. They were not allowed to hold conversations with the patients apart from ‘good morning’ or ‘good evening’. They also prepared the private patients meals, which were considerably more nourishing than the food given to the girls.

Into the second week after Sonny Jim was born, Margot was moved to the private wards to work. She was sorry to leave Annie but to argue would have been useless. She was started on the cleaning duties and although she missed Annie the work was easier.

After she had fed Sonny, she would collect all the soiled linen from the wards and take them over to the laundry for Annie to put into soak. She then returned to have her breakfast with the other girls. This being the only time Margot saw Annie but conversation was limited as staff were often in and out of the laundry.

Margot got to know Jane and Molly as they all had to work together in the kitchen preparing the meals after the laundry and cleaning was done.

Jane had given birth to a little boy two weeks before Margot and Molly’s little girl a few days earlier.

When they were feeding their babies, they were able to talk when the nursery nurse was not there. Jane was having second thoughts about the adoption and was hoping to persuade her boyfriend to agree to her keeping their son.

Molly told them that she had no option over keep Dinah, her baby. Her mother had a very serious heart condition and if she found out that Molly had been pregnant it would likely kill her. So she had told her mother that she had been given the chance of a four-month course in the London branch of her office. Her mother keen to enhance her daughter’s career had insisted that she took the course, as Molly guessed she would. Arrangements had been made for her mother’s sister to come and stay for the four months. Fortunately Molly was able to conceal her pregnancy from her mother and had come to the house when she was just over six months pregnant.

The two girls had become good friends, Jane confiding in Molly and Molly was a good listener, but rarely talked about her past or the dread of losing Dinah. But they both knew the adoptions were looming.

They had experienced several of the adoption days with other girls. Cruelly the mothers were given the new clothes that the adoptive parents had supplied to the home. The mothers had to bath and dress their babies in the new clothes and then say goodbye. They were then sent up to their bedroom to pack their own belongings.

All the girls were aware of the adoption days; a gloom fell onto the house. It was the ‘sword of Damocles’ hanging over all the girls’ heads. They knew their turn would come soon for the final goodbye.

The bedroom that Jane and Molly shared was in the front of the old house. The bedroom window was above the front door, so on adoption days the girls would creep up the stairs and watch for the adoptive parents to arrive.

The mother of the child was usually beside herself with grief by the time the car arrived. But the girls did their best to console her.

The cars were always top of the market vehicles. This did give some comfort to the mothers to know that the new parents would be able to give their child much more than they could.

The final sight of the woman holding their beloved baby and then driving away was a devastating experience for the baby’s mother and the other girls as well.

Jane and Molly had seen too many of these days. It was heart breaking.

The distraught girl was then told to leave the house, leaving their hearts in pieces. Memories that would never leave them.

At supper on adoption days, the empty chair and in the nursery the empty cot, a stark reminder of what was to come to them all!

Chapter 6

The work situation continued, Annie stayed in the laundry. Her hands had got hardened to the scrubbing and detergents. Doreen, who shared her bedroom now replaced Margot.

The extra baby was still in the nursery. The nursery nurse fed and changed him before the girls arrived to see to their babies.

Margot told Annie that all the private patients all seemed to have their babies beside them in the ward and as far as Margot could see all the mothers appeared to be white.

“Perhaps it is the father who is coloured,” Annie said. “And perhaps one of the mothers had twins.”

Margot went to the dustbins behind the laundry every day to deposit the vegetable peelings and kitchen waste. Annie would look out for her and would slip out between the billowing sheets on the washing lines so that the staff in the house would not see her going to talk to Margot.

“ Tonight I am going to leave it as late as I can to collect the dirty dinner plates, then I might see the fathers arrive and see if any of them could be the little man’s daddy.”

“I was talking to the little one this morning after I had fed Sonny and Old Clampton gave me a right telling off.”

“Yes I got a telling off too yesterday as I went through the front hall when there was a visitor in the office,” Annie said.

The staff were always creeping about so their afternoon conversations had to be brief.

Jane found Molly in tears in their bedroom the next day.

“Dinah has got a heart defect,” she told Jane.

“They cannot place her for adoption until the problem is properly investigated, so I cannot leave till it’s done.”

Molly was worried, as her aunt was due to return home soon and this would mean her mother would be on her own.

The adoption had been scheduled for ten days’ time and Molly’s return home planned.

Poor Molly was devastated at the thought of parting with her daughter, but knew she had no choice and now the worry of her mother only added to her problems.

The next day, Jane went to town to meet her boyfriend, her son’s father.

Molly had smuggled her camera into the house on her arrival, as she intended to at least have a photo of her child. She had managed to take a couple of snaps of Jane’s son also when Mavis Clampton, the nursery nurse had gone over to the kitchen. On their half day trips to town, the girls had managed to get the film developed and Jane had been delighted to have a photo of Jonathon, her son to show her boyfriend.

Annie often took a quick stroll in the large garden before she went over to the main house after she had finished in the laundry. The garden had lots of tall shrubs so it was easy to stay out of sight of the staff so she could have a few minutes of solitude.

On the day of Jane’s visit to town, Annie found Molly sitting on the grass behind the huge pampas grasses in tears.

Annie sat down beside her and Molly told Annie about her fears for her daughter and about the worry of her mother being left on her own.

There was nothing Annie could say, but she was a good listener and it helped Molly to unload her problems.

When Jane returned from town, she was jubilant. On seeing the photos of his son, her boyfriend had agreed that they should keep their son. His widowed mother had recently got remarried and her house was to be given to her son. Jane’s boyfriend had asked her to marry him and they would move into his mother’s house. It all seemed perfect.

Molly was so pleased for her friend that it took her mind away from her own troubles for a short time.

On informing the superintendent of the change of plan, she was told that she would still have to stay for the agreed six weeks before she could leave the house. The staff were not happy, as now the planned adoption would be cancelled, ‘at great inconvenience’ as Jane was told. But it only meant a delay of a couple of weeks and the wedding had to be planned.

Jane asked if Molly could be allowed to attend the registry office for her wedding as her bridesmaid. After several arguments and pleading this was granted.

The wedding gave the girls something pleasant to talk about, not that any of them apart from Molly were going to be allowed to attend.

The situation with Dinah did not seem to be getting solved quickly. The doctors still could not give her a clean bill of health so her adoption was on hold.

Chapter 7

At breakfast time the day after Jane’s good news, Margot whispered to Annie that ‘the extra baby’ as they called him was not now in the nursery, but had been moved up to the private wing to a small side room.

She had left picking up the dirty supper dishes as late as she dared and had seen all the visitors as they had come up the stairs. All the visitors had been white, and she was sure that none of them visited the little room where the other baby was.

The next day Margot had her afternoon visit to town. She went to the market where Norma had told her that her foster mother had a stall. Norma was sitting by the stall and was pleased to see Margot. Linda, her foster mother told the girls to go to the café and have a cup of tea and a chat.

Norma asked how the other girls were and if the conditions in the house were still as bad.

“Two more babies have gone for adoption since you left. Alice’s and Brenda’s. They were in bits, Alice’s mother came and picked her up and nearly had to carry her to her car, she was that upset. Brenda said nothing to any of us, but I could see she was choked.”

“I would have liked to have at least seen my baby,” Norma said wistfully.

“I remember you said that you heard your baby cry, but we were told it was born dead?” Margot poured out more tea into their cups and wondered if she should ask anymore.

“Yes he did cry, but they rushed him out of the room and later Sister Green came back in and said that unfortunately he had died, and then the ambulance came as I was losing a lot of blood and I had to go to hospital, but I never saw him.”

Margot could see tears welling up in Norma’s eyes, so she took her hand and said no more.

The girls finished their tea and went back to the market said their goodbyes and Margot had to run to catch her bus.

The next day at the dustbins Margot told Annie of the conversation. They both felt sad for Norma.

“She is so young, and has had some tough breaks in her life. She just wishes she had at least seen her little boy. At least, they did tell her that. She is a little rough diamond but underneath she is a nice kid.”

“Stop that gossiping, you two.” One of the staff had come across the yard.

“Just getting the washing in, Miss. It looks like rain,” Annie said as Margot scuttled back to the kitchen.

Bitch, thought Annie.

Chapter 8

A few days later Doreen went into labour and the girls heard the following day that she had given birth to a little girl. As Doreen lived locally, her parents were able to visit. Visiting day was for an hour on a Saturday afternoon. As most of the girls came from other areas and some had not told their relatives where they were, there were very few visitors which pleased the staff.

On the Saturday following the birth of her daughter, her parents arrived at the house. They were allowed an hour to speak with their daughter but a member of staff was present throughout the visit.

Doreen’s mother asked to see her granddaughter, but was told that this was not possible. Her father could not understand why they couldn’t see the baby.

“As the child is to be adopted, we do not encourage families bonding with the child. This only makes the decision harder for everyone,” was the explanation given.

Doreen got very upset and said “You have no idea what this place is like, Mum, we all work like slaves and the babies belong to them, we have no say.”

The door opened and Agnes Dayton, the superintendent stormed in.

“Now, Doreen, you know that is not true. We have looked after you and you have had the best medical care and we are only protecting the little one from infection. You do understand don’t you?” she said turning to Doreen parents.

“Doreen’s little girl is only days old and the sterile nursery is the safest place for her.”

Doreen sat down deflated and her mother took her hand and said, “Perhaps Miss Dayton is right, love, we will come next week to see you.”

After her parents were shown out of the house, Doreen was taken into the main office.

“I am very disappointed in your outburst Doreen. As a result, your visiting rights will be cancelled for the next two weeks. I will write to your parents to inform them. Now there are some forms I want you to fill in regarding the forthcoming adoption.”

She pushed some documents across her desk to Doreen. Doreen stood up and pushed the papers onto the floor and ran out of the office and up to her room where she collapsed onto her bed sobbing.

Annie was in their bedroom having slipped up to fetch some tissues. She went and sat on Doreen’s bed and took her hand.

“They are going to stop my mum and dad from visiting for two weeks and they wouldn’t let them see Danielle. Then she wanted me to sign some papers. I am sure if my mum and dad saw her they would let me keep her. I won’t sign those bloody papers, I won’t.” Doreen subsided into loud heart-rending sobs.

Annie thought for a moment. “How about I ask Molly if she will take some photos of Danielle so you can show your mum and dad? She did it for Jane. Can’t promise she will, but I can ask her.”

Doreen immediately stopped crying and agreed that Annie should try and persuade Molly to take the pictures.

Doreen dried her eyes and the two girls went down to the sitting room and settled to their books and sewing.

Some of the girls were knitting things for Jane’s baby as wedding presents. Miss Sampson the staff member who supervised the craft and recreation time was embroidering a beautiful tablecloth for the happy couple. She told her colleagues that she was demonstrating embroidery techniques to the girls, as it would have been frowned upon by Miss Dayton if it was known she was doing something nice for one of the girls.

Miss Sampson was the only member of staff that the girls really liked. But she had to maintain a superior attitude in front of the other staff members.

Unlike her colleagues she never belittled any of the girls or made them feel like second-class citizens because they were unmarried mothers. She often shuddered when she heard some of the insults that were hurled at the girls at times.

Annie waited till she went up to bed that night and crossed the landing and tapped on Molly and Jane’s door. Molly let her in and when Annie asked her if she would help Doreen, she agreed straight away. She said that it would be risky as Nurse Clampton watched them all like a hawk.

“One of us could cause a diversion, and she does have to go to the storeroom in the kitchen to get more milk powder when we are getting low,” Annie said.

Molly thought for a moment. “The tin is getting low at the moment, we could try tomorrow. I will take my camera and hope she buzzes off for a minute or two.”

Annie gave Molly a hug and quickly left the room only to bump into Brenda Jones the staff member who patrolled the corridors to check that the girls were all in their rooms.

“Why are you in the wrong room, lady?”

“Just returning a comb I borrowed from Molly,” Annie replied and ran back to her own room. She gave the thumbs up to Doreen as she got into her bed.

Doreen was still upset that her parents were not allowed to visit for the following two weeks. However, her father rang Agnes Dayton and informed her that whatever she said they were going to visit on the second week as it was Doreen’s mother’s birthday, and she wanted to see her daughter that weekend.

Miss Dayton was no match for George Cooper and agreed that they could visit in two weeks’ time.

Annie found a pack of cards and the next Saturday after she had finished in the laundry she started to teach Doreen and Margot to play some games. This helped to pass the time for Doreen who was a little happier when she had been told her parents would be visiting the following weekend.

The girls couldn’t discuss the plan to take the photos of Danielle in the sitting room. Although Miss Sampson was nice, they couldn’t take the risk that she may feel obligated to tell someone.

They had to wait until the Monday before the opportunity presented itself for Molly to get photos of Danielle. Mavis Clampton had to go to the storeroom as Molly had predicted to get more milk powder for the nursery.

Margot was going to town the following day and promised to take the film into the chemists to be developed. Jane was going to town on the Friday and was going to pick the photos up, so that Doreen could give them to her parents somehow on their visit.

After Margot had delivered the film to be developed, she wandered round the market to see Norma. Her aunt, as Norma had started to call Linda, was at her stall and greeted Margot with a smile.

“Hello, Margot, how are you?” she said in between serving customers.

“Ok thanks, where is Norma?”

“She has gone back to school and is really enjoying it. She was never given any encouragement to learn, but she has a special teacher who knows all about her background and is taking a lot of care of her. She left a note in case you called to see her.”

Linda gave Margot a scrap of paper and on it were seven words.

‘Thank you for being my friend. Norma x’

“She is picking up reading and writing so quickly, we are so proud of her.”

Margot knew all the girls would be as pleased as her to hear that little Norma was getting on so well.

“You know we are very sorry we didn’t find her sooner. We would have looked after her and her little one. It wouldn’t have mattered that the child was of mixed race. Yes, Norma has opened up to us a bit about her life, but there is more to come we think. My husband and I were never lucky enough to have children of our own, but we both love Norma. My husband is a police sergeant and has seen some things but Norma’s treatment as a child was awful, but now she is safe, we are thinking of asking if we can adopt her.”

Margot left the market feeling very happy for her friend, but there was something that bothered her.

Chapter 9

All the girls were getting very tired. The late August weather was very humid. The private wing was very full so there were a lot of extra sheets and nappies for Annie to scrub. Her hands had hardened to the work but her increased size was making it harder each day.

The girls who worked in the house were complaining about the heat and the extra work.

Sharon still maintained she wanted to lose the bump and get back to her wonderful life. Her parents had not made contact with her since she had arrived. The other girls got fed up with listening to her boasting about her marvellously rich friends and lifestyle.

Her parents were ‘well minted’ as she put it. Daddy owned several large companies and Mummy was from a titled family and spent most of her time in spars (which Margot had thought she meant the grocery shops) and on the golf course.

It seemed that neither parent had given Sharon much of their time. She had been brought up by nannies and sent to boarding schools from which she had been expelled several times. She needed to be the centre of attention and as the other girls now ignored her she took delight in saying outrageous things to get their attention.

She was the next to go into labour. She started to complain of backache as the girls were getting into bed. By midnight, it was obvious it was time to get her over to the delivery ward.

The girls knew that no one would come to their room so the girls put on their dressing gowns and helped Sharon down the stairs and across the hallway to the stairs leading up to the wards. They got her to the bottom of the carpeted stairs and Sharon collapsed in a spasm of a contraction. Annie sprinted up the stairs to get some help.

She heard voiced coming from one of the outer rooms leading to the private wards.

“So he is going shortly, well that’s a relief I am getting fed up with the feeding and changing him. I suppose the welfare have arranged it all, seems odd though.”

Annie had hesitated when she heard the conversation, but a squeal from Sharon at the bottom of the stairs made her tap on the door and shout for some assistance.

“What you doing up here, girl, how long have you been at the door?”

“I have just come up the stairs please can you help, Sharon is in labour at the bottom of the stairs.”

The two midwives went down the stairs and unceremoniously hauled the groaning Sharon up the stairs and told the rest of her roommates to go back to bed.

Sharon’s language was getting worse with each contraction and the girls had to smile as they went back across the hall to go up their stairs.

Sharon screamed at the nurses, sentiments not usually heard from young ladies.

“Oh well at least we will have a peaceful night,” Margot said as they all climbed back into their beds.

Chapter 10

The staff in the house were all women except old Tom, who came to cut the grass and tidy the garden twice a week. He was 70 years old, a retired council worker. He lived just up the road from the house, and was happy to get the job after he had retired. He kept himself to himself and had been instructed on taking the job that he was not to speak to any of the girls.

Occasionally he would slip into the laundry and have a natter with Annie and have his cup of tea from the flask he brought with him. He lived alone and enjoyed having someone to talk to. He seemed to have a second sense when any of the staff were approaching the laundry and made himself scarce very quickly.

Secretly he was unhappy at all the work that the girls were expected to do, but he kept his opinions to himself.

The superintendent, Agnes Dayton had been in charge of the house for the last five years. She was a fifty seven year old spinster and was totally engrossed in her job. She had been brought up by very strict parents, her father being an Anglican vicar and her mother a little mouse who obeyed her bully of a husband without question.

In Agnes’s world, her word was law, her decisions were never to be questioned and she had no sympathy with the situation that the girls found themselves. She had never had a physical relationship with a man or a woman, and the only thing that excited her was money and the power over her subordinates.

She had always been a plain looking girl, a bit on the chubby side. Never used make up and always had her hair cut as short as possible. Her only friend, or the only person she tolerated was Alice Green, the senior midwife. They had both started at the house at the same time and it was thought by colleagues that they may have known each other before their appointment at the house.

Grace Maggs was technically the second in command. But this was a joke, as Grace knew that she had to do exactly as Agnes ordered, otherwise her life would be a complete misery. So Grace never contradicted Agnes.

She carried out most of the secretarial duties, answering the phone and when Agnes made an unpopular decision it always fell to Grace to be the one to deliver the news to the unfortunate recipient.

Grace was a tall thin woman of 62 years old, but she had lowered her age on her application form when she applied for the position as she thought this would enhance her chances of obtaining the post. She had dark hair which she was glad only had a few grey hairs and she kept it pulled back in a severe bun. She was actually a kind woman and often she despaired of the severe decisions that Agnes inflicted on the girls, but she kept her thoughts to herself.

Alice Green, the senior midwife dealt mainly with the girls’ pregnancies. She had been married many years ago, but her spouse had got sick of her acid tongue and they had parted after a couple of years. She had a pale freckled face and frizzy ginger hair. Alice was approaching 50, but would never discuss her actual age.

One evening a week, she would spend a couple of hours in Agnes’s sitting room for a game of chess, or that is what the staff were told. The evening chosen was usually the day after Alice had been out of the house on her day off, when she drove off in her Morris Minor car.

Florence Sampson, the craft teacher, and general ‘dogs body’ as she thought of herself, disliked Alice Green and Agnes. So she kept her head down, and carried out her duties as quietly as possible.

Florence had looked after her aged parents until they had both passed away five years ago. She had been courted by a neighbour’s son for several years but he had eventually got tired of waiting for Florence and had moved to London where he had met someone else and was now married with a family.

Florence sometimes wondered how different her life could have been, but she never regretted the time she had spent with her beloved parents.

After her parents died she saw an advertisement in the Yorkshire post for this position as craft teacher and general assistant for which she had applied and was offered the job four years ago. She was not particularly happy in the house but approaching fifty-five years old she knew that employment would not be easy to find. She had rented out her parents’ home to build herself a little nest egg for when she retired, so it suited her to live in the house.

* * *


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