A Visit to Wisemore Board School
Walsall Free Press and South Staffordshire Advertiser. 25th January, 1888.

The Walsall School Board had appealed for food and clothing for the half-starved children who were compelled to attend school by the law and who came to school in a very poor condition. This investigator undertook to visit a school to stimulate some interest in these poor children. The school he visited was Wisemore Board School.

Partly as a result of this report a public meeting was held with the aim of establishing school dinners for the needy children in the public, elementary schools with the co-operation of the School Board. Thus school dinners were started in Walsall on a voluntary basis in 1888.

Many poor half-starved creatures were brought before me, some tattered and torn to such a degree that the wonder was that the rags hung together at all on the bodies of the shivering little mortals. Some with pale, wan, pinched, haggard faces, the very appearance of which made one's heart sore. Some - and it was a bitterly cold, wet morning - with large gaping holes in what were called shoes, through which the stockingless toes of the little things could be plainly seen; boys jacketless, with shirts, which seemed chiefly a number of holes strung together, girls whose forms were clothed in but one solitary garment, and that of the thinnest, were brought to the front, and some of them, in their artless ways told of no fire, no breakfast no dinner.

One little thing, for instance, had come to school with absolutely nothing on but a pinafore and shoes. The mistress provided a frock, and the youngster seemed quite proud, but ejaculated 'Her'll pawn it', referring to her mother, who, I was told only a day or two before, had 'taken a flannel' from the child and made a scouring cloth of it. Inside the warm and comfortable school, the poverty stricken, wretched appearance of some of the children gave one the heartache. At home their pitiable lot would soften the hardest hearts.

'Hands up', said the teacher, 'Those who have no father', and out of a class of 13 about 7 hands were raised. 'Now, those whose fathers are out of work' and a great many hands were again held up. This occurred in the infants', girls', and boys' school; and although there were a few chubby, well-fed, and well-dressed children, the major position of the scholars were evidently children of the poorest class, to whom a good meal, or a warm garment, would be a blessing. As an indication of the state of things at this school only, it may be mentioned that 54% of the boys alone have their fees remitted by the Board or paid by the Guardians, after full inquiries have been made. How many there are who, for fear of being called paupers, never ask for the remission of fees, although they can ill afford the pence, heaven knows.

Of thirty children chosen at random, of whom I had personally absolutely no knowledge, 8 had no fathers, 15 had fathers short of, or out of, work; one had a blind father; the father of another was invalided, and the father of a third had just come out of the hospital. In one of the parentless families there was no less than 10 children.

The teachers do what they can for the little waifs, in the way of giving them an occasional meal. In fact on the table of one of the schools I entered there was a large loaf and a piece of cheese, and in answer to a question, I found that this was intended for the mid-day meal of several boys. They have it every day, the funds having been got by an occasional sixpence collected by the master from sympathising friends.

I am told on good authority that the masters and mistresses, teachers, officers, and in fact all concerned with the schools, are quite willing to provide help and readily join in anything for the well-being of these waifs. For the sum of £12 there can be fixed in one school an automatic soup maker, into which the materials could be placed at night, and at 1 o'clock next day a good comfortable dinner would be ready which could be supplied at ½d. a child. The most needy would then have at least one hot meal per day. This outlay of £12 includes basins, spoons etc. as well as the apparatus.

With regard to clothing, any old clothes will be acceptable, and as pawnbrokers generally know their customers, by enlisting their sympathy there would be little fear of them being pawned. Boots too are greatly needed, and though there have been cases when the gifts of boots have been abused there are many cases where it almost certainly would not be. The School Board which knows the real wants of the children, has undertaken the distribution; the teachers were too sadly familiar with the worst cases, and if this statement of facts induces the well disposed to help those who cannot help themselves its purpose will be achieved.

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