Not all events find their way into the newspapers or public reports and yet they may be very meaningful to those involved. Here is one such instance in 1931, recorded in the Minute Book of the Penzance Preventive and Rescue Society [PPRS].
On 2nd December 1931 the home of Mr E was visited by the PPRS social workers who had been told that the home conditions were unsuitable. This is what they found: Mrs E had died a year previously leaving six children. As Mr E left for work at 7.30am and returned at 7pm each day, the household and younger children were left in the charge of the oldest, called Girl E, aged 14. Three of the children did go to school and were visited there by the District Education Officer. Although the 2 smaller children were ‘not starved or crawling with vermin ... the home conditions were deplorable, it is difficult to imagine worse conditions’. Soon several other organisations were involved including the NSPCC, The District Nurse and Sanitary Inspector, the Medical Officer. The consensus was that ‘there is unnecessary suffering. Father indifferent & a fool.’
Some background is perhaps necessary here. The PPRS was a charity founded in 1908 to “assist girls who had fallen into immoral ways” and “to act as a friend to all girls and young women.” By the 1930s they were based in Penare Road, Penzance and largely concerned with pregnant unmarried girls, others who needed proper jobs to avoid going on the streets, and vulnerable girls like Girl E. While the tone of the society’s Minutes is justly censorious, it is hard today not to feel sorry for a man, recently widowed, with six children all under 15. He certainly worked long hours and may never have done much towards the household other than contributing his wages; in addition his wages would not have been supplemented by family allowances which were not introduced until 1945. School leaving age was 14, so Girl E was legally allowed to have left school, but clearly she was given far too much responsibility.
It was believed that the weekly sum Girl E received for household expenses she spent on the other children. Although she was invited to leave home and stay at the PPRS Penare Road shelter, she refused; she said she didn’t want to be separated from the family, however the PPRS committee suspected she was acting on instructions from her father.
Mr E was given the chance to put his house in order otherwise some or all the children would be removed to Madron workhouse [which did not finally close until 1948]. In the event of his not marrying again the options were for Girl E to be sent to a training school, such as Rosewin Certified School in Truro, and for the others to be fostered or adopted; the family would almost certainly have been separated. Tantalisingly the records do not tell us what happened next, but they do give a snapshot of one family’s troubles and the level of support, however inadequate, that existed before the welfare state.
The records of the Penzance Prentive and Rescue Society are held in the Morrab Library, permission is required to access them.
The PPRS refuge in Penare Rd is still standing though it is no longer a refuge.