Reading’s Scattered Homes: Lost and Found

During the latter half of the Nineteenth Century, a significant proportion of children in the care of the Reading Board of Guardians were sent to the Reading and Wokingham District School for the Boarding, Lodging and Educating of Pauper Children in nearby Wargrave. However by 1900, large institutions like Wargrave were perceived as expensive, old-fashioned and increasingly inappropriate. There was a growing emphasis on children being ‘boarded-out’, local authority adoption and emigration to Canada. The Reading and Wokingham District School closed in 1902, replaced (in part) with what were officially known as ‘Scattered Homes’.

Under the heading Reading Children’s Homes, Smith’s Reading Postal Directory of 1906, explained the new system:

These homes are established for the purpose of making provision for the destitute children coming under the care of the Guardians, instead of sending them to the Wargrave District School…Fifteen children are assigned to each Home under the care of a Foster Mother’ to ‘enjoy the benefits of home life and attend the public elementary schools in the town like other children.

If you are researching a child in care or even a foster mother, old street directories are a very good place to start. By way of example, I have compiled the following draft list of Reading’s Scattered Homes between 1906 and 1912 using a combination of local directories, Board of Guardians Minute Books and the 1911 Census:

Reading Board of Guardians Scattered Homes 1906-1912

Headquarters & Receiving Home
Address: (1906) Reading Union Workhouse 344 Oxford Road
Address: (1907-1912) 13 Milman Rd

Superintendent: (1907-1911) Miss Helen Mary ROBERTS
Superintendent: (1912) Miss JM COX

Foster Mother: (1907) Miss SPENDER then Miss MUNN (who left 10th October 1907)
Foster Mother: (1907-1911) Miss Hilda Beatrice BLOOMFIELD (when she applied she was of 19 Filey Rd, Reading)
Foster Mother: (1912) Miss H GILBERT

NB: Due to a shortage of accommodation, HQ doubled as a temporary home during this period, hence the need for a foster mother

Scattered Homes

Camarra House
Address: (1906-1912) 229 King’s Rd

Foster Mother: (1906) Miss A N WALKER
Foster Mother: (1907-1912) Miss Rachel NUTTALL

Rosemont House
Address: (1906-1912) 231 King’s Rd

Foster Mother: (1906-1912) Mrs Adelaide FOSTER

Alexandra House
Address: (1906-1909) 59 Queen’s Rd
Address: (1911-1912) 40 Russell St

Foster Mother: (1906-1912) Miss Ellen VICKERS

scattered home

40 Russell St, Reading. The location of Alexandra House 1911-1912

Wilson House

Address: (1906-1909) 77 South St
Address: (1911-1912) 82 Crescent Rd

Foster Mother: (1906-1912) Mrs Kate DRIFFIELD

scattered homes

82 Crescent Rd Reading. The location of Wilson House 1911-1912

Cifford House

Address: (1906-1909) 75 South St
Address: (1911-1912) 84 Crescent Rd

Foster Mother: (1906-1912) Mrs Matilda Mary EDMUNDS

84 Crescent Road, Reading. The location of Clifford House

84 Crescent Rd, Reading. The location of Clifford House 1911-1912

Palmer House

Address: (1906-1912) 11 Milman Rd

Foster Mother: (1906) vacant
Foster Mother: (1907) Mrs BEEDLE replaced by Miss ADAMSON (who left 10th October 1907)
Foster Mother: (1907-1909) Mrs M COOMBE (when she applied she was of Rugby House, Bexley, Kent)
Foster Mother: (1911-1912) Miss Elizabeth SCOTT

Sutton House
Address: (1906) 11-13 Milman Rd
Address: (1907-1909) 74 Southampton St
Address: (1911-1912) 77 South St

Foster Mother: (1906) Miss E T WALES
Foster Mother: (1907-1909) Miss RICHARDSON
Foster Mother: (1911) Miss Constance Margaret MABBS
Foster Mother: (1912) Miss A BARTON

scattered homes

74 Southampton St, Reading. The location of Sutton House 1907-1909

Ashberry House

Address: (1906-1909) 72 Southampton St
Address: (1911-1912) 75 South St

Foster Mother: (1906-1907) Miss N LOWE (left 24th October 1907)
Foster Mother: (1907-1908) Miss JJ SAVORY (when she applied she was of 71 Cotham Brow, Bristol. Succeeded in October but left 3rd January 1908)
Foster Mother: (1908-1912) Miss Ella LAIDLAW (when she applied she was of 10 Rose Lane, Mossley Hill, near Liverpool)

scattered homes

72 Southampton St, Reading. The location of Ashberry House 1906-1909

There’s lots of background information about the ‘scattered homes’ system on-line via a quick search on Google but the BBC Radio 4 programme on the subject (reviewed by Sheffield Libraries, Archives and Information blog in April 2015) and Peter Higginbotham’s Workhouse website are useful introductions. More locally, I would highly recommend Elizabeth Lloyd’s blog ‘Lost in the Past’, which includes a great article about Guildford’s Scattered Homes here.

© Emmy Eustace

Behind the Scenes at The Ration: Reading’s WWI Hospital Magazine

home front WW1

After only six issues, sales of Reading War Hospitals’ in-house magazine The Ration reached an encouraging average of 1500 copies per month.1 The men behind its success were all with the Royal Army Medical Corps, working in Reading’s busy Central military hospital, Reading War Hospital No.1 (on the site of the old Battle workhouse). Not only were they responsible for its production but, more often than not, large chunks of its content too.

From the first issue in January 1916 to the last, in January 1919, the Editor of The Ration was Corporal (later Acting Sergeant) John William Sinton, the Registrar’s Clerk. Sinton (Regimental No: 101059) was in the RAMC from August 1915 to his demobilisation in June 1919.2 As Editor, he was responsible for ‘the whole of the letter-press with the sole exception of the verse’.3 In addition to his regular columns, he wrote humorous articles under various pseudonyms, such as ‘The Grumbler‘ and ‘Haverill’.

home front WW1

Private Ernest Shaw RAMC

Sinton’s right hand man was the cartoonist, Ern Shaw (1891-1986). Private Ernest Shaw RAMC was attached to the Quartermaster’s staff and worked in the Orthopaedic Department of RWH No.1. By the closure of the magazine in January 1919, he had contributed over 300 drawings and several articles.4

His article ‘Kits’, outlines what happened to a patient’s kit on arrival at the RWH: it was sorted, fumigated, washed, inventoried, repaired and where necessary, exchanged. He ends the piece with a few figures pertaining to numbers of items issued to patients in the Reading War Hospitals in a single month, including: 780 combs, 30 civilian suits to discharged soldiers, 1303 pants, 1234 socks and 719 puttees!5

Continue reading

Reading War Hospitals’ WW1 Newspaper: The Ration

home front WW1

The first issue of The Ration1 came out in January 1916, declaring its intention to bring cheer to all the ‘brave fellows’ sent to Reading War Hospitals.

Unlike most trench newspapers, it was always aimed at a mixed audience: patients and ex-patients, staff (military and civilian, doctors and nurses), family and friends. As a result and not unexpectedly, there is scant mention of difficult subjects, like the current state of the war effort or a man’s specific injury and subsequent treatment.

It differed from papers like the Wipers Times, in another way too: The Ration was run by and for, regular soldiers and non-commissioned officers.

home front WW1
Available to all for a reasonable price, The Ration’s humour was gently satirical, preferring to focus on ‘conditions and grumbles’,2 such as the terrible dearth of potatoes in April 1917!3 It’s peppered with ‘in-jokes’ and surprisingly high quality cartoons, like the example above, drawn by Private F Lynch from the London Regiment.4

For family historians, The Ration is a fantastic source of information! Part of its remit was to act as a link between the various Reading War Hospitals (including some of the local auxiliary and voluntary hospitals) so it is packed with news. Throw in a few obituaries, announcements of awards, football team fixtures and the biographical details of RAMC staff, QAIMNS nurses and magazine contributors and you have a truly unique, and largely untapped resource.

home front WW1

In Part 2 I will talk about the men (and women) behind The Ration!


With thanks to Reading Local Studies Library for their kind permission to use images from their copies of The Ration.

The Ration: Magazine of the Reading War Hospitals Vols I,II & III
Satirical Magazines and the First World War: Punch and the Wipers Times” by Esther MacCallum-Stewart on

[1] The Ration, Vol.I No.1 (8th January 1916)
Reading Local Studies Collection (Shelf No. R/DY)
[2]”Satirical Magazines and the First World War: Punch and the Wipers Times” by Esther MacCallum-Stewart on
[3] The Ration, Vol.II No.16 (April 1917)
Reading Local Studies Collection (Shelf No. R/DY)
“At Park House the nurses must enter their names on a list…if they are desirous of having potatoes…”
[4] The Ration, Vol.II No.13 (January 1917) pp.247
Reading Local Studies Collection (Shelf No. R/DY)

© Emmy Eustace

Death of a Factory Girl

Berkshire genealogy silk weaving

On the morning of Wednesday 3rd August 1842, Sarah Parsons was standing above the winding room’s revolving engine shaft at Messrs Baylis’s Silk and Crape Manufactory, staring out of the window. She wore a handkerchief around her neck and shoulders and was carrying some waste silk over her arm.


At 15,1 she was one of the older girls at the factory,2 with a long day of work still ahead of her. Of what (or of whom) she was dreaming, we can only imagine. Somehow, the waste silk, then the fringe of her handkerchief got trapped in the shaft below. For five minutes she was observed quietly trying to untangle herself. No-one thought anything of it, until she let out a sudden cry for help.

The engine was pulling her down beneath it. Her head was being dragged between the iron shaft and the woodwork, lacerating her face, tearing at her jaw and bruising her neck. Continue reading

Berkshire’s Home Front 1915: Operation Gramophone

I first noticed the mysterious reference to ‘Operation Gramophone’ in the Berkshire Record Office catalogue a few years ago, when I was working on some Petty Sessions records for a client. Intrigued, I checked various local history sources but drew a complete blank!

On closer inspection, the scant surviving records for Operation Gramophone were initially a bit confusing. However, once put into the context of the Home Front in 1915, they started to make more sense.

home front WW1 Berkshire

Police Superintendent  Charles Goddard

Zeppelin air attacks on the east coast of Britain began in January 1915. Not surprising then, that by 17th February, Police Superintendent Charles Goddard (1861-1946)1 of the Wokingham Division was requesting help from the Special Police Reserve and Special Constables, in the event of a ‘hostile air-craft invasion.’2 He wanted men, who on hearing the alarm, to be verified by a special code, would be prepared to ‘go direct to their post’ to carry out orders, as yet undefined. I believe that this was the beginning of what became known as Operation Gramophone.

Continue reading

Berkshire’s Home Front 1914: Emergency Defence

home front WW1 Berkshire

In August 1914, the Chief Constable of Berkshire, Major Arthur Faulconer Poulton (1858-1935)made an appeal to Berkshire’s Special Constables to organise a guard on all vulnerable points liable to outrage. Suggested points included: rail and river bridges (especially over the Thames), ‘water works, reservoirs, lighting works, magazines, churches, town halls and other large buildings’.

In addition, Special Constables were expected to register and watch all aliens, specifically ‘alien enemies viz those of German nationality who are now under certain restrictions‘.

By December, the threat from the enemy within was compounded by a real fear of invasion. I have a copy of a confidential circular issued under the remit of the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) instructing Berkshire’s Emergency Defence Committees in the event of ‘a landing of a hostile force in the South or South East coast’. It states that as soon as the order was issued to ‘denude’ Kent, Sussex and Surrey of all ‘cattle, sheep, horses, vehicles (both horse and motor), consumable stock, suitable for man or beast and all other commodities which may be considered of use to an invading force’, both people and resources were to be removed to special centres in Buckinghamshire and Berkshire. Continue reading

Berkshire and the Male Servants’ Tax Assessments of 1780

Lord North, the Georgian Prime Minster who ‘lost America’, didn’t just favour the famous tax on tea. In 1777 he proposed a levy on the luxury item of the moment: the non-essential male servant.

Berkshire genealogy

© Trustees of the British Museum

Ostensibly aimed at the wealthy, the new Male Servants’ Tax attempted to make a distinction between “productive labour and conspicuous consumption, necessary work and idle luxury”.1  Employers of the liveried, bewigged and powdered were to pay one guinea a year per male servant, including all butlers, footmen, grooms, gamekeepers and coachmen.

Berkshire genealogy

© Trustees of the British Museum

Employers of agricultural labourers, shop assistants, apprentices or factory workers were not liable as long as their male servants kept away from domestic duties.

In reality, the majority of taxpayers in Berkshire for the year 1780, employed just one ‘luxury’ manservant (rather than the large households envisaged by the government) and I doubt all of them wore livery. Continue reading

Was your Ancestor a ‘Comrade’?

home front WW1 Berkshire

The ex-servicemen’s group known as the ‘Comrades of the Great War’ was founded in 1917. Like me, you may be surprised to learn that even at that early date, it wasn’t the first association seeking to represent the hundreds of men being discharged from the Front.

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Mary Russell Mitford & the Fatherless Boy

NPG D34532; Mary Russell Mitford after Daniel MacliseIn Vera Watson’s biography of Mary Russell Mitford, there is an intriguing reference to a ‘little fatherless boy’ who became such a favourite with everyone, that when he caught smallpox in 1849, the whole household went into a state of emotional turmoil, anxious for his survival.1

Mary Russell Mitford was once one of Berkshire’s most famous residents. Her descriptions of village life in Our Village’ and small town affairs in Belford Regisput Three Mile Cross and Reading firmly on the literary map! Continue reading

A Most Desirable Eighteenth Century Investment Opportunity

In the early 1770s the British government was (as ever) short of cash and facing problems at home and abroad. Their troubles only intensified in 1775, when war finally broke out in America.

Berkshire family history

                  Georgian Coin Scale                  

Against this backdrop, they decided to resurrect a previously less than successful money-making scheme called a tontine, loosely based on an issue of life annuities. Via the Irish Parliament, they established three state-run Irish Tontines: in 1773, 1775 and 1777, all heavily promoted by the national press in both England and Ireland.1

Continue reading