Monday, July 28, 2008

Lady Allen of Hurtwood and the 1948 Children Act

An article in today's issue of The Times begins:

Sixty years ago this month an Act was passed that was to revolutionise the way that vulnerable children in Britain were protected by the State. The Children Act of 1948 has been described as “the most comprehensive and humane children's legislation in history”.

What is less well known is that the Act had its origins in a letter to The Times, published four years earlier — in July 1944, at the height of the Second World War. The reaction to its publication was so extraordinary — the paper estimated that no single subject throughout the war had led to so much correspondence that ministers were forced into action to strengthen the law.

Well, you will know it if you have read my chapter in the book Making and Breaking Children's Lives. (There is an earlier version of it on Lord Bonkers' website.)

Marjorie Allen's one of my heroines. The Times site also has the text of her letter and the website of the Trust founded in her memory has a short biography of her (PDF). I have heard an interview from the 1960s about her work with adventure playgrounds. "We give all the children hemmers and chisels," she says in an impeccable cut-glass accent.

As The Times says, the campaign that led to the 1948 Act was given great impetus by the death of Dennis O'Neill. I have written about this before.

Despite my enthusiasm for Shropshire, I have never been certain where the farm where his death took place is. Last week the people running the bed-and-breakfast place where I stayed some of the time lent me their large-scale OS maps. It was clearly marked.

Once I had made my mind up to walk back from the Stiperstones to Bromlow, it was clear that my route lay past it. It is in an idyllic spot surrounded by wild flower meadows, though the Devil's Chair does overlook it. The owner was charming and came down from a ladder to show me the correct path.

The next day, quite by coincidence, a member of the O'Neill family left a comment on this blog.

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