The History of Leith

April 26, 2012

A Shilling Baby

A Shilling Baby
He wanted to tell them a story about a baby Dr.
Barnardo bought for a shilling. They could buy things
for 3d. and 6d. from Woolworth’a, but not a real live
baby. But Dr. Barnardo bought a real one for one
shilling down in Stepney Causeway. When walking
along that big thoroughfare one night, he saw a woman
stagger out of one of the gin houses. She had a
wretched-looking little baby in her arms, rolled in a
rag that had originally been a shawl. Hanging from
the baby’s waist on a repulsive string was an old fish
bone. That was what the poor baby had to chew
when it wanted something to suck. Dr. Barnardo
followed the woman as she staggered along. Addressing
her, he asked if she was the child’s mother. She
replied, “What has that got to do with you?” He
said, “I am Dr. Barnardo. If you cannot look after
that baby, I will take it.” She said, “I’ll tell you,
guv’nor, you may have it for ten shillings.” But,
said Mr. Stephen, had Dr. Barnardo accepted that
offer, every stolen baby would have been brought to
him and disposed of for ten shillings. Dr. Barnardo said,
“I will take it for nothing.” She said, “No!” So
Dr. Barnardo went away wondering what was going to
Two or three days later he was sitting in his office
when a messenger came to him and said, “Please, sir,
there is a woman at the door who insists on seeing you.
She is half drunk.” When she was brought in, Dr.
Barnardo observed this was the same woman as he had
previously dealt with, wearing the same shawl, carrying
the same baby, with string and fish bone, all complete.
She said, “You may have the baby for one
shilling,” and she threw it down on the table amongst
his papers. Dr. Barnardo said, ” All right! ” and gave
her a shilling. He thought he had never seen a more
wizened, poor baby in his life. He had it sent to one
of the girls’ beautiful cottages. There were altogether
100 girls’ and 90 boys’ homes.
About six months afterwards, Dr. Barnardo went
round the girls’ cottages in each of which there were
about sixteen girls and a “mother.” While visiting
“Pussy” cottage, he could not keep his eyes off the
baby there. She had such beautiful eyes and lovely
golden hair, and dressed in such a pretty little frock.
Although Dr. Barnardo knew them all by name, more
or less, he could not remember this child. Enquiring
of the ” mother,” she replied ” 0, you might remember
that child ; that is your ‘ shilling baby ‘ ! ” Already
Dr. Barnardo had gained the prize he set out to run

Source-from a talk given in 1931 at the Old South Leith Church Halls,Duke Street.

Some Text