Victorian Childcare, 1891
A subject close to home for me right now – childcare and nurseries. Today it’s my first day back at work as the beautiful dream that is maternity leave has come to an end. My baby daughter and I are beginning the wrenching apart process as she starts nursery for the first time and I inevitably spend the morning phoning up to check she’s ok.
But reading this 1891 account in The Mother’s Companion by children’s author Jennie Chappell about Mrs Hilton’s crèche, a day nursery that had been running in the East End of London since 1871, rather puts things in perspective. The highly emotive descriptions of poor, neglected babies is very Victorian in its sentimentality, but I’m sure also contains a good deal of truth. The crèche was catering for infants who would otherwise be left alone in the house while their mothers had to go to work, or were unfit in some way, or else perhaps left in the care of their only slightly older siblings.
A beautiful picture of the day nursery is included, which must have seemed a wonderfully warm and safe alternative to the overcrowded living spaces a lot of working class people lived in in the East End (apart from the one kid who’s alarmingly looking half throttled by a loop of material).
Mrs Hilton inspired people in other big towns across the country to start their own day nurseries and “public cradles”. And on her top floor she kept a kind of sanitarium for sick and dying children, where their parents could visit by night. I think she deserves to be better known than she is. We’ve heard of the big shot Victorian male philanthropists but some people like Mrs Hilton were also doing work than must have added immeasurably to peoples lives. I’m all emotional right now anyway, but I think I have something in my eye…..