True stories from 1940's

Muriel, Pat, Jean and Rose Thomas - 1946 - 1950

This is Muriels story 

Muriel Lawler - New Facebook Member July 2012.

Muriel joined St. Edith's gang recently.  She has been very generous in sharing her personal story and memories with us.  What makes it even more interesting is that she has been so honest about how hard life was for the children who were in the home in those post war years.

Muriel was born in Bristol, her family lived in Avonmouth.  Muriel's mother ran off with an American during the war and when her Dad couldn't look after the girls they were put into a home in Falmouth (The Royal Cornwall Home) first then they moved to St.Edith's.  Muriel went in when she was 5 years old, her sisters were 3 -7 and 10.

Muriel and her three sisters were in the home for four years, but were on different floors, so they never saw each other and didn't get to know each other until they left.  (This seems to have been the norm for a lot of siblings even in later years.  Christine and Danny Nicholls who entered St.Edith's in 1951 only saw each other for the half an hour television time after tea, their older brother Terry was moved to a different home in 1953 (Broadstairs) until 1955.

Muriel remembers Sister Alice and Sister Josephine but doesnt' remember many good times, Muriel tells us that Sister Alice will remain in her head for ever because

"She was cruel and sadistic - I couldn't begin to tell you how bad she was.  I'm sure she wouldn't have gone to heaven"

Though she goes on to concede that her siblings say she used to answer back a lot, which she says may help to explain why she was punished a lot.  Muriel also remembers a Nurse Wilkinson "hitting me so hard she burst my ear drum and I was in hospital.  I still suffer to this day.  She was later sacked as she poured boiling water over someone's head".

Even though life was obviously hard, it is clear that Muriel maintained her sense of humour.

"we had a terrible time there, the worst years of my life. I keep saying I would like to write a book about it, I can remember when I was 8 I had to wash 265 pairs of navy blue knickers by hand.  I must have been naughty (lol).  I can remember one good thing as a punishment, I was made to polish the floor downstairs, afterwards we could have a good slide with socks on".

Linda Rodriguez sympathized, and confirmed that those bad times were shared by many in the late 40's.  It seems that some of those who cared for the children were very harsh towards them.  Linda did once have a conversation with Sister Lydia about things that she didn't like.  Lydia explained that some of them were quite in the dark about caring for kids, never having kids theirselves.  When Cathy met Lydia on a separate occasion she explained that when she first took charge of the home, she was in her early 20's, had no knowledge, training or guidance about how to care for children.  As she told me  "we made it up as we went along"

Would like to say a huge thank you to Muriel for telling her story , not everyone had a fair time!

Helen Lee  who was at St.Edith's around 1964 between the ages of 3 and 5 also remembers the harsh punishments dished out including being struck wuth wooden rulers as punishment, cold baths for wetting the beds etc.

It seems that lots of the children wet the bed (hardly surprising considering their traumatic lives) that fact the the Nuns believed it to be deliberate is inconceivable, punishments included being sent to bed with no tea, or being made to stand in the attic with the wet sheets over your head.  (Where was Esther Rantzen when you needed her? ).

Huge thank  you to Helen for sharing her story.


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  2. This Page has been specially allocated for your own personal stories to be published. These will only be published on here with the full permission of the person concerned, these are personal to the individual,in some instances one can only praise their courage to put their experiences into words. Life in the children's homes in the 1940's was very different to the later decades.


  3. my mum phylis mary orum told me some hard life stories about st ediths,she to was punished to the point of cruelty,i remember one time her tellin me she spent ages polishin the stairs she was eager to finish as the home was goin on a trip unfortunately she must av missed a bit as the cruel nun who checked her hard work made her start all over again therefor missin the trip. she too was beaten often but she was a strong character an was always proud to tell us the nuns cld not break her which ultimutely resulted in more punishment i think she made it her goal to stand up to them no matter wat the consequences but that was just mum. there were times she spent secretly cryin alone but always tried not to cry in front of the nuns,she was always one to hold in the hurt an show defiance in the face of adversity,she did mention the arrival of a young novice nun who was kind this is who i thought was ur sister lyddia, i think she mentioned a sister mercy cuz on one occasion durein yet another beatin she looked up at er an said dont know why they call you sister mercy cuz you aint got any,cue another beatin an hail marys she mentioned everyone walkin down the hill to the little church she used to say she was sick of eat sleepin an sh++in religion,she was there while the war was on an can remember her sayin about walkin down to wat they called the old nauticall school an avin a selective conversation with german prisoners of war,she loved clevedon even though life at st ediths was cruel she used to say they made their own fun an her memoreis of avin fun at the beach with her freinds or fightin in school cuz some of the kids made it clear they were kids from the orphanage so gave them a hard tine she kept some fond memories an never let them nuns beat her down she grew into a strong woman with so much courage an part of the reason for that was st ediths! her life after she left at16 is another story one which i would love to share another time,i took mums ashes to lady bay an put them out to sea cuz thats the place she loved so only right that she returned!

    1. thank you for sharing your story Diane -your Mum is one to be proud of. We all had our crosses to bear, its so sad to read of the harsh treatment she received. One wonders why? Sister Lydia often spoke of her concerns over the children in their care. I have often heard her say "these poor little children, how must they have felt being taken away from their Mothers and home" pity there weren't more like her, despite her being strict she really did her best to care for us. To this day she is the only one left that we can still relate to.

  4. sister lydia sounds like an angel i know not all the nuns were unkind as mum mentioned a couple who were not too bad,but mostly they seemed bitter almost as if they blamed the children themselves for the reasons they were sent there that old cliche ;the sins of the father; or in some of the childrens cases [the mothers] so sad, i look at all the old photos of st ediths an my heart breaks for all u that were children whether in the cruel days or the more lenient days for the worst punishment for any child is bein sent or taken away from ur mother no matter if she is good or bad to u, as a child u love her unconditionally an to b taken from that one comfort u av known an put in an unfamiliar place is punishment alone!love an healing to u all xxxx

  5. Do totally agree with what you say, that unconditional love always remains in a child despite the circumstances, trouble is it remains within that child for the rest of their lives. I did get upset at the photos of us in the groups. We all look happy but feel one can detect the insecurities amongst us, think thats why we all seem to band together. Despite a 50 year gap we still have this within us to be a close knit extended family like we were at St Edith's. As for the cruelty from the Nuns, yes some of them shouldn't have been allowed to be around caring for children, I always thought religion was based on kindness, caring and sharing, dont see how the cruelty fits in the Church.

  6. I feel like the luckyest woman alive, today i received an envelope from ham london.Inside was the smallest of information but it was the imformation i longed for,i now know my grandmothers name an the date she died, i also know the address my mother was born at an the date my mother was sent to st Ediths an the age an date she left.I was also fortunate enough to be sent copies of reports written by the nuns or mother superior at the end of each month they are a little jumbled but who ever sent them put dates on each page. there is stories of xmas easter, holidays,an moresome children are mentioned by 1st name.I will share them with you bit by bit [my eyesight is bad so cant type for long befor it gets too blurry even with glasses]the dates are the time my mother was there so its the war yrs mainly 1942 till 1952 so some of u older members may remember whose who! it certainly took me back in time even tho i was not there reading it made me feel like i was as it brought back memories of the stories mother would tell us some of which i forgot till i read it an memories came floodin back!one particular story was of a little boy whose mother had passed away an his father asked the nuns to break the news to him,which they did,Later that day he ran up to a sister in the corridor gave her a massive hug an said MY MUMMYS GONE TO LIVE WITH JESUS wi a smile on his little face,the sister makin the report wrote in such a way to say it was wonderfull e felt like that [not her exact words]I myself cried real heartbreakin tears for that little boy the tears he was denied when his dear mother passed away!I always wondered why my mother never cried i wonder how many of you find yourselves holding in the pain not wantin to cry thinking its a sign of weaknes,over the last couple of months since iv been looking at pictures an readin ur memories an now reading the reports i have cried for you because through my mothers memory i can feel your pain through your pictures an testimonies i can feel the missing pieces in your lives,I know you all move on get new lives new families in your children an you try an give them everything you always wanted as a child,you hide behind your new found lives with a painted smile that disguises the hurt an anger of your lives at st Ediths an probably befor an after! I know this is how my mother lived an in one way or another you must all feel similuar to each other!so i hope you will give me permission to write some scripts from the sisters reports an take a trip back to the 40s [linda i will be talkin to you soon]

  7. Thank you all for sharing your stories. I have 2 great aunts that I believe were staying at St Edith's in 1901 (awaiting confirmation). I am very grateful to be given a glimpse into what life was like for all of you. My great grandfather was orphaned as a young boy (in Cardiff, Wales), as was by grandmother. My grandmother, now 87, is now opening up a bit around what it was like for her as an orphaned child in Canada. Again, thank you so much for sharing your stories.