81 years ago: Wanstead Flats Bonfire Night

Wanstead Flats has put on some spectacular Guy Fawkes’ nights over the years. I didn’t realise quite how many years until I stumbled upon this old British Pathe clip which shows nurses at Wanstead Children’s Home building a huge bonfire for the children in 1934.

The footage shows the nurses struggling to get the Guy atop the bonfire, using numerous ladders, while the children, including 12 sat in an old perambulator, look on. I don’t have the stats for what the day was weatherwise but that November was dryer than average.

'To Go Up in Smoke' is available to buy from British Pathe http://www.britishpathe.com/video/to-go-up-in-smoke/query/Guy
‘To Go Up in Smoke’ is available to buy from British Pathe http://www.britishpathe.com/video/to-go-up-in-smoke/query/Guy

The Aldersbrooke Childrens Home for Waifs & Strays is still there in Brading Crescent on the Aldersbrook Estate, although the five lodges have been converted to flats.

The former Aldersbrook Children's Home is still there in Brading Crescent but has been converted to flats
The former Aldersbrook Children’s Home is still there in Brading Crescent but has been converted to flats

A bit of history…

In 1907, the West Ham Guardians purchased the Aldersbrook site. In 1911, five receiving homes were completed. The homes were called lodges and were: Elizabeth Fry Joseph Lister, Tom Hood, Edward North Buxton and William Morris

In 1913, a workshop, for training of the older boys and girls was opened. Skills learnt were in tailoring, carpentry, laundry work and needlework, under skilled industrial trainers.

In 1930, on the 1st April, the ownership of Aldersbrook homes and the leases of the Scattered Homes, were under the 1929 Local Government Act, and by agreement with the Essex County Council and the West Ham Corporation, vested in the East Ham Corporation who are required to continue to receive destitute children from the Essex County Council and West Ham, formally comprised in the West Ham Union area.

On 27th May 1933, the Aldersbrook Children’s Homes new nursery was opened. The County Borough of East Ham owned it. Alderman T.W.Burden, Chairman of the Public Assistance Committee, opened it. The Mayor of East Ham, Alderman G.H.Manser J.P, proposed a vote of thanks, which was seconded by Alderman C.W.Brading J.P, and supported by Alderman Mrs Taylor (East Ham) and Councillor G.Doherty, of West Ham. After the official opening, the older children (14 to 16 years old) of the homes put on the play “David Garrick”.

The superintendent of the home was W.T.P. Steele, and the matron was E.M.Steele. S.R.N. The building was described as being divided into three sections – ground floor, babies under twelve months and toddlers one to three years, first floor staff. Accommodation is given for ninety infants under three years. Wards are provided for these age groups were newly admitted children will be housed for three weeks before being sent to the general rooms. Two ranges of isolation rooms are also provided where “suspects” can be nursed to reduce the risk of infection. The south end of the building is allotted to the youngest or cot babies and comprising of long dormitory with sun rooms at the end, designed to catch the winter sun.

The programme went on to describe the building as being the most modern of children’s institutions. The building has a veranda at the front. The first floor has 21 separate staff bedrooms. The building had an oil fired heating system and flooring with fire resistant Terazzo material whilst the children’s play room and dormitories are protected by rubber flooring. The lighting and power points are controlled by locking device to prevent the children switching them on and off. The building was built by Messrs Hammond & Barr Ltd Chelsea.

The Nursery is now gone and the Aldersbrook estate covers the area, although the recreation Hall, the lodges (See photo) and the porters lodge are still there.


7 thoughts on “81 years ago: Wanstead Flats Bonfire Night”

  1. I must have been one of the Waifs and Strays in Aldersbrooke in 1934/1938 , was there for three and a half years with my older sister Marie Plotts. She went on to the “big home we called it” once she was 14 to learn a trade which was as a machinist .
    We were “fostered (Scattered)”to a house in Poultney Road Woodford , the Matron (she wore a nurses uniform) at that time was a Mrs Merritt, she was eccentric to say the least. I would love to have met up or had contact with any of the twelve girls who were there at the same time as me, but there may not be many of us still alive . I still remember my time there vividly , but kept it secret until about ten years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I believe that my late mother may have also been at Aldersbrook at the same time. She was born in 1929 and her name was Lilian (Lily) Francis. If you knew of her, please do let me know x


  2. Hilary
    Sorry to take so long to reply I hope you are still interested. I did not pick up your message until today ,( was not aware of there being one)
    I went into the Alderbrook homes ,when I was six, in 1934, we were under the ‘Scattered Homes’ movement which was started by people like the famous William Morris to put children into smaller and more home like accommodation
    In what appeared to be a private homes a Matron to 12 children , one of which was me and my elder sister in 36Pulteny Road Woodfood , Essex and of course there were others in London too. The so called matron was horrible to us though.
    I wont write more at this time as it may go into the ether! but if you go on line to BBC I player or their website in some other way, there was a RADIO program last year,10 April all about the “Children of the Scattered Homes”
    I do remember there was a girl called Lillian I think she had a sister there too , but maybe it was not the same girl . I am sad she is no longer with you, she would have been older than I was at that time ,Flora Collins..


  3. Dear Flora

    Thank you so much for your reply to my comments posted last year. I was thrilled to hear from you today as it’s actually my late mother’s birthday, she would have been 88.

    I listened to the radio programme on BBC iPlayer as suggested. Although it mainly focused on the Sheffield Scattered Homes, it was very interesting. I can also relate to one of the memories shared on that programme as my late mum also used to tell me a story about scrumping crab apples, how she would fill her knickers with the apples and jump or climb over the wall (maybe not in that order) of the children’s home in London. Just wondering whether you can remember this happening at Aldersbrook?

    Best wishes


  4. I don’t know if my mum was in Aldersbrook , or not . But she was taken /put into care around 1918 until she started work around 1927 . She was Dorothy Catherine Enever and born in 1912. Around 1918 , when she was about 6, she was looking after 3 younger brothers when a fire broke out . She ran for help . Afterwards , she and her 4 brothers were separated and all taken into care . She remembered being in a house with a house mother , ‘overlooking Wanstead Flats ‘ She was confirmed in All Saints Church , Forest Gate in May 1927. Her eldest brother, Charles Henry Harper ( Harry ) went into the workhouse and she never knew what happened to her 3 younger brothers , Freddy Enever -Harper , Billy Enever and Jimmy Enever. They were all toddlers . Due to family history research , we have found out that Freddy married , had a son and died in 1980 in Lambeth, Billy died in 1924 aged 7 from TB and Jimmy remains elusive . Would there have been anything similar ‘overlooking Wanstead Flats ‘ at the time i.e. early 1920’s ?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Sandra, a fascinating but sad story – it is tragic how they lost touch through an event out of their control. Unfortunately I know of no other social facility overlooking Wanstead Flats.


      1. Thank you ! Your comment makes me think that she was indeed in an Aldersbrook scattered home


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