The Wildgoose Chase

I met Chelsea Pensioner Walter Wildgoose in 1977 when he was 87 and I was 26. Through a series of letters written over the last year of his life, he passed along his life story - the workhouse children's home, a life in the British Army witnessing the opening battles of World War I and life in India, a remarkable family surviving the bombs of World War II London. This blog will document my research and progress on the novel I'm writing about this amazing man.

Friday, September 09, 2005

The Workhouse and Firvale Infirmary

I spent three days in Sheffield during my visit to England in May in order to track down information on the old workhouse, infirmary, and Sheffield Children's Homes. It was only through online investigation that I discovered that the Firvale Infirmary, where John Wildgoose went for treatment and care after he was invalided out of the army, was a part of the huge Sheffield Workhouse. Here's a link to a very good website that gives a good glimpse into the workings of the place.

I can only surmise why John was forced to go into a workhouse infirmary instead of some other type of care that could've allowed the family to stay together. I do know that John's family (mother, siblings, etc.) lived in Sheffield and that's why Firvale was chosen. Walter's letters mention that his father was paralyzed from the sunstroke but don't go into detail about treatment/prognosis at the infirmary. (He was just a young boy, after all, and probably had no idea what his father was going through.) According to Walter, the boys did visit their father on Sundays:

We used to go to father each Sunday now, as he asked for this favour, as he wanted to have little talks with us, as he must have got lonely in the Infirmary. He asked us how had we got on at school, also at Sunday school. We went to Sunday school each Sunday afternoon and the teacher used to give us a text card, and these, we showed them to Father. He always gave Bert and I a penny, and we treated it with much respect, as we took it to school the following morning to be put in our Penny Savings Book.

Walter never mentions any of his father's relatives - no talk about cousins, aunts, or grans - so I don't know if they had much contact. He also doesn't talk about the "workhouse" aspect of the infirmary or the Sheffield Children's Homes. (Walter, Harry, and Bert were situated in Ivy Cottage on the grounds of the workhouse.)

A more comprehensive website about English Poor Laws and the workhouse can be found here.

The Central Studies Department of the Sheffield Library has wonderful resources and a very helpful staff.
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posted by MaryB @ 11:18 AM  


  • At 5:19 PM , Anonymous Winston said...

    Since you alerted me to this place by email a week or so ago, this is my first opportunity to stop by and check it out. This is an incredible thing you are doing! Walter would be so proud.

  • At 5:56 PM , Blogger MaryB said...

    Thanks, Winston. Yes, for some reason he handed off this incredible gift to little me instead of a family member, thinking - I suspect - that sooner or later I'd do something with the story. It's a daunting task, and oftentimes I feel unworthy, but I do love working with it.

  • At 3:23 PM , Blogger Tara said...

    I am from Sheffield and I am a Nurse, I was researching my paternal grandfather who was supposed to have died in one of the workhouse buildings in Firvale.(now Northern General Hospital NHS Trust) it has a fasinating history. I happened to be over there for a work meeting and I got in touch with Lyn howsam who is the NGH History project co-ordinator. She was really helpful

  • At 8:01 PM , Blogger MaryB said...

    Tara - Thanks so much for that information. Next time I get over to Sheffield, I'll have the name of someone who can help me. I did get a lot of help from the folks at the Sheffield Library - good stuff! Again, thanks.


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