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, February 03, 2006

A workhouse weekend

Children's Homes located lower left.

Walter's time at the Children's Homes on the grounds of the Sheffield Union Workhouse was heavily structured. Weekdays were scheduled with school, chores, and walking back and forth between Ivy Cottage and Owler Lane School. Weekends, too, were designed to keep the boys busy, according to Walter. A farm attached to the workhouse afforded more than enough work for Saturday mornings:

When Saturday came, and there was no school, we all had to go on the farm. Some boys cleared the cowsheds, others would clean the stables and supply them with fresh hay and straw for bedding, but the task I did not like was weeding between the long rows of cabbages. It was a damp and cold job. The turnips had to be sliced in a machine for fodder. Some boys would work in the shoemaker’s shop. Mr. Leeming (our foster father) was the cobbler. It was a large area which included the cottage hospital and the sports field together with the market gardens. We would all return to our home for lunch and in the afternoon we were allowed to go on the playing fields.

Sunday was our special day. We put our best suits on to go to Church, we were marshaled to this place of worship in Sheffield, and we would all be accommodated in the gallery overlooking the congregation. The service used to get so boring that Bert and I devised some fun by rolling pellets of paper and flicking them over the gallery rails on the people below. We got some fun from this, but not for long. This habit was reported to the foster father, and he punished us all by denying us to go and play in the afternoon, and we had to stay around the home compound. Discipline was strict here, so as the days were dragging on, we paid more attention to our lessons.

The theme of discipline - starting at the Children's Homes and carrying through the training ship, the merchant ship, and the military - carries right through Walter's letters. As noted a couple of posts back, he had no problem with proper discipline, as it had been ingrained in him at an early age.
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posted by MaryB @ 2:11 PM  


  • At 6:54 PM , Blogger Dawn said...

    Sheffield Workhouse records:

    Wildgoose, Herbert (Inmate, 12, ~, at School).
    Residing at Smilter Lane - Childrens Home as of March 31 1901 originally from Sheffield, YKS.
    Notes: ~.
    (Piece #4377, folio ~, enumeration district 13.).

    Wildgoose, John (Pauper, 43, m, no trade).
    Residing at Fir Vale Workhouse as of March 31 1901 originally from Sheffield, Yks.
    Notes: Imbecile.
    (Piece #4377, folio 141F, enumeration district 13.).

    Wildgoose, Walter (Inmate, 11, ~, at School).
    Residing at Smilter Lane - Childrens Home as of March 31 1901 originally from Sheffield, YKS.
    Notes: ~.
    (Piece #4377, folio ~, enumeration district 13.).

  • At 7:03 PM , Blogger MaryB said...

    Dawn - Thank you so much for posting the official records for Walter, Bert, and father John. I so appreciate it!

    Listing John as an "imbecile" - hm, wonder what that means? Did the sunstroke in India affect him mentally?

    Every answer brings more questions. Again, many, many thanks!


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