The 150th anniversary of the birth of Dr Barnardo is being marked by the opening of his charity's archives, and by a reappraisal of his values

Blake Morrison
Saturday 10 June 1995 23:02

THEY look so desperate, the children in the photographs: Emma Cook, hands clutched nervously, eyes like a frightened hamster's; John Washington, black and in a bowler hat, like a Deep South crooner; Basil Hope, scrunched in terror in a corner, refusing to face the lens. Many are dressed in rags - bare feet, torn britches, buttonless coats - but a few wear improbable fancy hats and fine fur coats. Saddest is Thomas Marks, his legs amputated so high he seems to float, stumpless, on his navel, no visible means of support.

There are half a million photos in the archive at Barnardo's headquarters in Barkingside, East London - half a million moments of sad time. For John Kirkham, who looks after it, the archive is the country's "most evocative visual image library". As part of the 150th anniversary of Thomas Barnardo's birth, the archive, formerly for use only internally or by picture agencies, is being opened up to the public. Already Kirkham deals with some 1,200 requests for photographs each year. Most people know some of the images already: the Victorian street scenes, the Babies' Castle, the nervous toddler-evacuees, the children waving goodbye as they sail for the Colonies, and the "BBs" (Barnardo's Boys) acting as Wimbledon ball-boys. But there's so much more in the archive: the 300 films, for example, most 16mm, the earliest showing Barnardo's funeral in 1905, the others covering the whole range of the charity's work until the present day; or the snaps from the mid-Forties of children wearing goggles in front of a sun lamp; and the photos which show the new efforts Barnardo's has been making, not least with the handicapped, in recent years.

All the same, the large mounted sheets of the first generation of children taken in by Barnardo between 1870-1875 - row after row of them - are the most compelling images in the archive, and it's hard to look at them and not cry. True, there isn't the dreadful retrospective foreboding that surrounds photos of underage First World War volunteers or Jewish children circa 1943 waiting for the train to Auschwitz: for these Barnardo's children, whatever the ordeals to come, the worst was probably behind. But the bemusement of the subjects is deeply painful. There they are, trying to look dignified, impassive, holding it for the camera (and in those days of long exposure they had to hold it for up to half a minute), but unable to prevent their traumas from leaking through. In the days before these shots were taken they'd have left the streets where they'd been sleeping rough - or left their parents, if they had them - to be prepared for a new life, "a fresh start", in a home that didn't feel like home: deloused, inspected, measured, lectured, reclothed, one first-time experience after another, culminating in this other first- time experience, the camera.

Of all the different poses, the sibling pose (the Wakling children, the Holder sisters) is the most upsetting: an older child, its arm round a younger child, cast in the role of parent. The pose makes you wonder what had become of the real parents, and how successfully Barnardo's assumed this role instead. There's also the sheer bewilderment on the children's faces. Perhaps this bewilderment is a mirror-image of ours, that destitution like this could have happened in London not so long ago - worse, that, in different clothes, it might be happening still.

From the beginning, photographs were an essential part of Thomas Barnardo's crusade to rescue destitute and deprived children. The work began with his setting up of the East End Juvenile Mission in 1868, and within two years he had engaged the services of a photographer. In 1874, formalising the arrangement, the sum of pounds 252 13s 9d was spent on "Apparatus and Chemicals for a new Photographing Department, and Salary of Photographer and Assistant". Night and Day, the name Barnardo gave to his house magazine, also summarised his working methods. By night, lantern in hand, he would catch his children, retrieving them from the gutters, roofs and doorsteps where they slept. By day, on their formal admission, his photographer Thomas Barnes would catch them all over again, posing them in his studio, or, more usually, in the yard outside Stepney Boys' Home. Barnardo also used sketches in his magazine, including one called "Born of a Dream" - an allegory of the origins of his mission, himself asleep in an armchair, a drowning child above his head. But the photographs far outnumbered the drawings.

The primary reason for them was, as he put it, "to obtain and retain an exact likeness, which being attached to a faithful record in our History Book of each individual case, shall enable us in future to trace every child's career, and bring to remembrance minute circumstances, which, without a photograph, would be impossible". Each photograph appeared on the child's file, along with details of age, height and background. The art was still in its infancy then, and though Dr Barnardo was not alone in using the camera like this, as a means of record and surveillance - prisons, lunatic asylums and the police force (also in its infancy) were equally quick to exploit its potential - he was the most committed and comprehensive. Between 1874 and 1905, Thomas Barnes and his successor Roderick Johnstone took some 55,000 photographs of the children in Barnardo homes.

But Barnardo used his photographs for propaganda, too. Early on, he learnt the fund-raising potential of Before-and- After shots: the child on admission, filthy, ragged, listless; the child after redemption, scrubbed, shiny and usefully employed. Who would not give generously to help such miraculous transformations? These Before-and-After photographs were popular with the Victorian middle classes, and Barnardo sold them in packs of 20 for five shillings. They got him useful publicity. And the money they made could be ploughed back into his missionary work.

More than this, the photographs expressed Barnardo's essential philosophy: that once children came into his care, they could put the past behind them and make "a fresh start". Being snapped was an initiation ceremony in which the child shed its old identity and took on a new one, never to look back again. For Barnardo, each child was a tabula rasa, on which he - "the father of nobody's children" - could write his signature.

It's this philosophy, more than any other, that now seems most unpalatable about Dr Barnardo. For it is a principle of modern childcare - especially since the Sixties - that children who have been adopted or fostered or placed in local authority care need to know about their past, not repress it. These days such children are encouraged to create "Life Storybooks", to know who their parents were, and to see photographs of what Before looked like. This knowledge, it is now accepted, is integral to a child's sense of identity: better to know something of one's past, however distressing, than be a child of no one from nowhere. A fresh start doesn't mean, as Barnardo thought it must, an empty page.

John Kirkham is proud of his archive. He has been here 14 years. His predecessor, Roy Ainsworth, was here for 39. In fact, there have been only five heads of department in 121 years. Roy grieves that, in a move of offices c1955, all but a handful of the original glass plates were disposed of. Luckily, the prints in albums survived, and he retrieved them from a boiler room in the basement. There are gaps - group photos from 1905-1927, and individual ones after 1939, when Stepney was evacuated - but no other institution in the country has such a well-documented visual history.

This success has brought its problems, though. The early photographs are so stunning to look at that they have fixed the notion of Barnardo in the national consciousness. We look at the images, and words come rushing to our lips: orphans, urchins, strays, waifs, bastards, vagabonds, gutter boys, street arabs. But these are old words, old images. For an organisation which wants to show that it has entered the modern world, the richness of its archive is a mixed blessing.

BARNARDO'S, in other words, has an image problem. Six out of 10 adults, asked what they think it does, say that it runs homes for children. But since 1945, with the creation of a welfare state, most of that work has been taken over by local authorities, and the last of the traditional homes closed in the Seventies. These days the bulk of Barnardo's work is preventive, and not with individual children but (in the hope of keeping them together) with families. Drawing on a budget of pounds 76.5m (half of it from central or local government, half from public donations), its 150 projects (involving 22,000 clients) tackle poverty, drug addiction, homelessness, Aids, disability, juvenile offending and much besides. It runs community centres, day centres, family centres, training centres. And yet Barnardo's seems de-centred: the centre has not held. Other agencies do this work as well. Devoid of its homes, its boarding-schools for the underclass, Barnardo's lacks a "USP", a unique selling point, to seduce the public. It has its heritage - indeed, it is planning to open a Heritage Centre - but this longevity almost works against it. Even the liberal-minded Polly Toynbee wrote recently that Barnardo's is past its sell-by date, existing just to exist. It has always done well for legacies, but these were down last year. As for donations, it is now ranked 15th among British charities, behind Save the Children, Oxfam and the NSPCC.

In 1988, Dr Barnardo's tried to cure its image problem by becoming plain Barnardo's: less paternalistic. Some of the former boys and girls were outraged by this doctoring of the Dr: they were too young to have known him, but they had grown up with his title and saw it as part of their identity. At the same time, Barnardo's changed its logo: the old motif had shown two children holding hands inside a tight circle; the new motif added a third child and liberated them from the circle - now they run free, their joined hands raised in joy. But these modulations don't seem to have had much effect. The cottage collecting boxes linger on. There's still the notion that Barnardo's means children's homes - which in turn suggests dormitories, disciplinarianism and a discredited approach to childcare.

Unthinkable though it is, some people inside Barnardo's would like to lose their founder's name altogether. It isn't the asset it was, now that the twinkling philanthropist is caricatured as a meddling dunderhead who ran harsh institutions and pioneered child emigration, segregating brothers and sisters and distributing his charges ("planting my seeds" as he put it) about the Colonies. From the beginning, child emigration was a controversial policy. But it continued until 1967 (over 60 years after Barnardo's death), and in all some 30,000 children were transported - or deported - to Canada, Australia and New Zealand. In recent years, some of these children have come forward to complain of mistreatment - of being placed with unsuitable families, of being used as cheap labour, of being physically and sexually abused. It is only a minority for whom the "golden" opportunity led to an iron cage. But it has been bad publicity.

The Barnardo's work force is famously loyal and hard- working. They point out that the good Doctor was less sold on children's homes than is popularly imagined, that he preferred - and virtually invented - fostering and adoption. For at least 50 years, the organisation has been re-educating itself to meet the needs of a changing society. But it's failed to change or re-educate the public. For the old man's 150th birthday, it has three tasks: to restore the good name of its founder; to heal the wounds of the children - most now aged over 60 - who were once entrusted to the care of its homes; and to show that the work it does is still vital. And photographs, it turns out, are an essential part of this mission.

FROM the first shutter-click, there were doubts about Barnardo's scrupulousness. One of the most famous photographs is of the three Williams children, peering black, naked and wide-eyed from under a blanket. Dr Barnardo left several accounts of how it came about. He had been brought by a concerned landlady to a "dirty, dark and close-smelling room" and there discovered the "three woolly black heads" (here is the language of Empire, c1870) lying under a heap of sacks. Nearby sat their mother: weary, and with tears pouring down her cheeks, she told how her husband, a freed West Indian slave and sailor, had died saving a colleague, who had fallen overboard, from a shark (Doctor Barnardo's stories were always highly dramatic). He goes on: "Off the next morning we carried them in a cab, and in the studio of our photographer laid them and their sacks down in a heap, much as they had been the day before in their mother's dingy room; and thus, in a few brief seconds, preserved for future years a picture of the state in which we found them."

In other words, the picture was contrived. It wasn't the only one. "Before" shots were taken, not on the street, but in a studio mock-up of a street, with barrels and orange boxes. "After" shots were taken on the same day as "Before" shots - that is, before the supposed metamorphosis from rags to redemption could have taken place. Children found separately about the East End were photographed in groups looking picturesquely deprived. One said to be a "waif taken from the streets" had in fact been brought in by her mother, who was loving but unable to cope. The poignant match girl, Katie Smith, with broken comb, dish-cloth and box of lights, had been supplied with these by Barnardo himself. Some children even had their clothes torn into rags by a penknife, to make them appear in a worse state than they were.

Or so it was alleged. The charges were brought in 1876 by a rival East End Baptist Minister, the Rev George Reynolds, many of whose parishioners had drifted over to Barnardo's coffee palace and Church Mission. Reynolds had the support of the COS (the Charity Organisation Society, prominent members of which disapproved of Barnardo) and even of Barnardo's former beadle, Edward Fitzgerald, who in happier days - before losing his job for "drunkenness and immorality" - had once been photographed, lantern in hand, with five boys culled from a night's search (another set-up). From the start, people had it in for Barnardo: he was difficult, an autocrat, responsible for creating what Tories these days would call a dependency culture; the faked photographs became the pretext for a more general attack.

Barnardo vigorously disputed the charges, claiming that out of 1,300 photographs a mere nine had been "representative" rather than real. In the East London Observer and Tower Hamlets Independent he was supported by someone signing himself "A Clerical Junius". But these letters turned out to be fakes, too; the evidence suggests that they were either written by Barnardo himself or dictated by him to one of his staff.

The claims and counter-claims led to a 38-day Arbitration case in 1877, which focused also on Barnardo's right to the title doctor (he hadn't qualified in medicine when he began using it), and on ill-treatment of children, mismanagement and immoral relations (with girls in his care and with a former landlady). Most of the charges were trumped-up and malicious, and in the end the tribunal largely exonerated Barnardo, though not before he had suffered adverse publicity. Gillian Wagner tells the story well in her biography of 1979. Among the witnesses Barnardo called was Mrs Williams, mother of the three children under their sack, whose evidence certainly helped his case. She told how, struggling to keep her family out of the workhouse, she had taken up sewing sacks, for which she was paid 1s 8d per hundred; that was when Barnardo had found her. One lawyer was so distressed by her testimony that he had to leave the room, while even the opposing counsel offered her money. Artistic "deceit" seemed beside the point in the face of suffering like this.

In 1877, Barnardo rode out the crisis, but 120 years on doubts about his probity still muddy the water for his successors in Barkingside. Barnardo always worried about his image, and ensured that most photographs showed him as gentle, genial and bespectacled, surrounded by family or children. In reality, he seems to have been tougher, puffier and more florid: dandyish in a boater, he's not at all an image of solemn Charity. It's another Barnardo image problem. But to rescue the child rescuer means acknowledging that in pursuit of good he was guilty of sharp practice - that far from being a pillar of the Victorian establishment, he was a rogue and maverick. He needed to be to outwit his opponents and raise the money for his cause.

Certainly, he was economical with the truth. Fearing he'd be seen as an obscure adventurer, Barnardo played down his Dublin origins, and encouraged colourful legends of the Barnardo family being of high Spanish or Russian descent. He embroidered facts about his early career, making it seem as if he had begun his work with children in London four years earlier than he did and creating the impression that his East End Juvenile Mission had begun life, like the Christ it served, in a humble donkey shed, not in a rented house.

The two great stories of his mission's beginnings - being led by young Jim Jarvis to a "lay" of 11 boys in the gutter of a domed roof, and of himself leading a dinner party of Lord Shaftesbury and friends to a lay of 73 boys sleeping under a tarpaulin in Billingsgate - surely have some basis in fact, but exactly how much is doubtful. He told implausible Evangelical tales of deathbed conversions. He kept comically vague financial accounts; one entry for 1875 reads: "Amount embezzled by defaulting cashier (since dead) pounds 189." By his own admission he kidnapped children and shipped them overseas without their parents' knowledge or consent. Towards the end his life he'd relax in his study after a hard day preaching Temperance by pouring himself a stiff drink.

A modern audience can more easily accept than Victorians did that this espouser of a saintly public cause was himself less than saintly. To us, Barnardo's self-contradictions make him, if anything, more endearing. But in 1877, the assault on his reputation threatened his whole mission: if the public lost faith in his integrity, he would no longer be able to raise funds. This is why he was so sensitive to the charge of producing "artistic fiction": if the photographs couldn't be trusted, how could he hope to be?

Even before the trial, he issued a sorry-leaflet with every pack of photographs, desperately explaining why some of them had been reconstructed after the event. There is some specious talk of bad weather and photographers' days off. More plausibly, he explains that between their being found in the "filthiest rags" and their formal admission, the children had sometimes been dressed up by well-meaning neighbours and relations, "and thus a child seen for months previously in a lodging-house, almost naked... suddenly appears in the unusual garb of a respectable labourer's child... A photograph of it as it now appears would indeed present a false view of the circumstances of the case... "

Because Barnardo had to defend himself from other charges of deception, it was hard for him to declare, without apology, that the truest art is sometimes the most feigning. Now, looking through the thousands of faces in the Barnardo archive, we should have no trouble with his argument that "not one single case of portraiture in our published list is without its real representative in hundreds of street children to be found on every hand." On one of the glass plates, a Barnardo photographer has written, so that it looks like graffiti on a wall: "DIRT, DISEASE AND DEATH LURK HERE." It isn't deceit, but a cry of protest.

THE photographs that Barnardo took of his foundlings were never intended for their use. Unaware that those photographs existed. Even today, some former Barnardo's boys and girls have no photograph to look back on, the founder's strict record-keeping having faltered after 1939, when admissions were no longer centralised from Stepney. In an age when images are intimately bound up with identity - when the camera and camcorder give children a sense of who they are and where they come from - Barnardo kids are doubly disadvantaged: no family, and no family photographs either.

This is why the photographic archive at Barkingside works closely with the After Care department, to seek out images for "old boys and girls". Barnardo's has had an After Care department since the early days, but whereas once it helped its old boys and girls to find houses and jobs, now it helps them solve puzzles about their past. Here is the other great archive at Barkingside, a much more open one since Collette Bradford took it over some years ago. In the bad old days, the "fresh start" principle meant that children who did dare to ask, Oliver Twist-like, about their family history, would be told not to be nosy and ungrateful: "We're your family now." When they left Barnardo's, they still might have only the sketchiest notion of their history. But, since January this year, all ex-Barnardo's children have been entitled to look at their files. As yet, only a small sample group have done so. The files need sensitive handling, and it will all take time: there are 150 enquiries each month, and a waiting list of a year, and after this summer's reunion gala and three BBC television documentaries, that waiting list will grow. But everyone's pleased a start has been made.

Everyone but the lawyers. Legally, open access is a minefield. Under 1987 legislation children who have been in local authority care are entitled to see their files. But this legislation doesn't cover voluntary organisations like Barnardo's, and isn't retrospective (ie, it doesn't apply to files compiled before 1987). Barnardo's, sensitive to the needs of its old boys and girls, wants to act in the spirit of the law, even though under no obligation to do so. But, not bounded by legal statutes, it isn't protected by them, either. "Third party" information - about other individuals, or from other agencies - is therefore edited out in advance of a visit, and the visit is carefully supervised. Apart from birth certificates, admissions cards and photographs, no documents can be removed and taken home. The files can be a shock: since they weren't intended to be read by clients, their language can be cold and judgemental, and it's upsetting to see words like "imbecile", "worthless" and "depraved" used about your parents, or "illegitimate" and "rejected" used about yourself. This is why After Care asks people to visit in person and offers them counselling, rather than just "bunging things out in the post". It would like to offer more, but legal constraints, and the lingering ethos of paternalism, prevent it from doing so. Besides, it isn't, strictly speaking, a tracing agency like the Salvation Army, and hasn't the resources to cope with the volume of demand.

For Sydney Bracken, discovering the truth about his origins has been a long and arduous battle. Now a 50-year-old insurance broker, he was admitted to Barnardo's, as an 18-month-old baby, in 1946. The files show that his mother visited him at Barnardo's only once, on 15 November 1946, when his diarrhoea and vomiting were giving concern to staff. He never saw her again. Later, when he was old enough to understand, he was told that both she and his father had been killed in the war. Other carers told him other stories, but he found the original explanation the easiest to live with. Why else were there no Christmas or birthday cards? Why, unlike most Barnardo boys, was he never visited by relations? At 14, he was called in by the head of the home and told that his mother wasn't well: so would he write her a letter? Shocked, but desperate to impress - if he impressed her enough, maybe she'd have him back - he told her that he was training as a printer and of his hopes of being a ball-boy at Wimbledon. The letter, it seems, was never sent, and Sydney never got to meet his mother. Some time later, he was told that she was dead (they left it six months before telling him). It had been easier thinking she'd died in the war. He also learnt, seeing his birth certificate for the first time when he left Barnardo's, that he was Sydney, not (as he and everyone else had written it until then) Sidney.

Not surprisingly, Bracken as an adolescent at Barnardo's was a bit of a handful. He got smart at making money out of mates, selling them roll- ups or lending money at interest when the ice-cream van came round on Wednesdays - not a very nice person, a bit of a mafia boss, he now thinks. At a Barnardo's reunion a few years ago, various grown men came up and recalled his acts of villainy. It was news to his wife, who in 20-odd years of marriage had never seen this side of him. But then she hadn't known about Barnardo's at all when she first went out with him. Not wanting sympathy, needing to be judged for himself, he hated telling anyone he'd been a BB, and it was only when she'd agreed to marry him that he thought he'd better come clean.

A few years ago, Sydney Bracken saw a television programme on the "children of empire" which touched on the concealment of personal histories. He drove from Wiltshire to Barkingside the next day and demanded to see his files. The After Care department co-operated as far as it could, and slowly the truth about his past emerged. He discovered that his mother had got pregnant by another man while her husband was away during the war, and that that was why, on his return, he went into Barnardo's. (A cutting from The Hammersmith Gazette for 29 April 1946, which Sydney now has, carries a colourful report of the sentencing of his "stepfather" - or mother's husband - who had gone looking for Sydney's father with an iron bar and knife, to 12 months' probation for "threatening behaviour".) He discovered that he had several brothers and sisters on his mother's side, and met them. He discovered that he had another brother on his father's side - and turned up at his house and sat by his swimming-pool. He also turned up at his father's house, but learnt that he'd died two years earlier. There were some awkward moments among these renewed acquaintances (only one brother could remember "the baby that mother had been looking after for a friend") but one sister in particular, living in Australia, he got on with famously, and still does. Slowly he put the bits of the jigsaw together.

Two months ago, Sydney saw his file in full for the first time. There were some fascinating items in it, including memos which show the efforts which Barnardo's later made to persuade the stepfather to allow Sydney to meet his dying mother. Sydney hoped to have these memos to show me, but they can't be removed from his file in Barkingside. It makes him angry: "Everyone mentioned in them is dead, and I'm 50, so why can't I have them?" For years he has campaigned for open access, and now access is here it's still not truly open.

Kate Roach, deputy of the After Care department, admits that it's "very uncomfortable for us possessing information which clients don't. It's all about power, and they feel here we are still telling them what they can and can't do. Migrants to Australia and New Zealand can read everything we have in their files, because the law there allows it. But we have to work within the British law." Sydney, who disputes Barnardo's interpretation of the law (citing a European ruling from Strasbourg), admits for his part that many files contain unpalatable reading: to learn that you're the progeny of incest, or that your mother was a prostitute, can knock you off balance. But better to be told the truth than to live among lies and secrets.

Sydney Bracken has seen or had summarised for him most of what's known about his past. But until he possesses the actual documents, it's as if he is being denied his own history, and he feels bitter about this: whose life is it, anyway?

Other ex-BBs I spoke to feel a similar frustration, even if, like Gerd Lubszynski, they feel hugely grateful to the organisation. Gerd came to England from Germany in 1939 - an unusual story, even among so many unusual stories - and has a photograph of the boys who came with him. He can still remember their surnames: Meyer, Ravoth, Brandt, Kamina. He'd hoped to come across one or two of them at a Barnardo's reunion a few years ago; perhaps he'll have more luck at the reunion gala this July. Gerd's wife Betty was also a Barnardo's child (she came in at three when her mother died), and, as one of the select group given access to their files, has recently discovered the truth about her father, said to be "of good character" but "suffering the after-effects" of the First World War. It matters a lot to her to have discovered that, just as it matters to Gerd to go on looking for the boys in his photograph.

Because Barnardo's was so comprehensive in its record- keeping, there's often a remarkable amount of information about its former charges. But the founders' fresh start principle dies hard. The brave thing for Barnardo's to do now would be to challenge the law and throw its files wide open - surely the kind of pioneering, humane act its founder, however pre-Freudian his beliefs, would have approved of.

AFTER CARE is a department for fortysomethings and upwards, recognising that there's a life after After which makes children, when they're grown up, want to know about Before. But what about the work that Barnardo's does with the young? In Norwood, south London, two doors down from a house once occupied by a contemporary of Dr Barnardo, Arthur Conan- Doyle, lives the Cleevedon Project, a Barnardo's outreach designed to help 16- to 18- year-olds. Its leader is Shirley Oxley - young, black and energetic - who's the first to admit that "we don't fit in with what most people think Barnardo's means, which is babies". When kindly souls ring up to say they'll take a child for Christmas, she has to ask how they feel about teenagers. Few of those in her care are orphans.

Referred by local authorities, the kids come from children's homes or foster care. Many arrive bewildered and distressed, their previous placements having broken down. The aim of the project is to prepare them for independence at 18. Each has his or her own care plan. Each has his or her own bedsit. Working closely with members of staff, they learn about cooking, diet, health, hygiene, how to use an iron or washing-machine. There are three Cleevedon houses (with room for up to six kids and two overnight staff), as well as bedsits out in the community. The 17 full-time members of staff don't have to be Christian (to ask them if they are at interview would be discriminatory), but are expected to sympathise with Barnardo values. Placements come from all ethnic groups.

Shirley's office is big, with deep-blue carpets and deep-blue sofas and chairs. Potted plants vie with African masks and Nelson Mandela posters. It's quiet here during the day, when the kids are at college and on YTS schemes - or are supposed to be. Shirley is very positive about her charges, and regards every one of them as a success: they don't need to get to university (though at least one has); just to have survived local authority care is an achievement. But she won't deny that there are problems. Objects have been known to disappear - everything from fax machines to cutlery. The fire brigade has been known to put out blazes, not all of them caused by culinary incompetence. Anger, she says, is the biggest problem - along with frustration, confusion and lack of self-esteem.

Some of these kids are only just getting to grips with who they are and where they've come from when - bang - they reach 18 and it's time to leave. Others leave earlier, because - though Shirley's too nice to put it like this - they're uncontrollable. In by midnight and no overnight visitors is the usual house rule: more liberal than the homes they've come from, but, for some, not liberal enough.

Upstairs, Shirley tries to show me an occupied room, but the girl in it isn't dressed yet: she feels ill, she says, and has taken a Lemsip; Shirley recommends a visit to the doctor. We pass on to the one unoccupied room: bed, table, cooker, fridge, television - spartan but not unclean. Demand for places is growing. Cleevedon will soon be opening a fourth home. Referrals come from all over the country now, not just London.

Is there anything specifically Barnardo-ish about Cleevedon? With its impact objectives and equal ops statements, it has the feel of a local authority project. But would the work get done if Barnardo's didn't do it? The social services are under-resourced and overstretched. The pendulum which swung away from private charities in 1945 is now, post-welfare state, swinging back. What Cleevedon offers - a home for youngsters who don't have one, care, discipline, preparation for adult life - is perfectly consistent with what Barnardo began 120 years ago, and just as needed now as it was then. But the problem is to find an image expressing what Cleevedon does and is. Not easy, even on a video. Impossible on a photograph.

NEXT TO the photographic archive back in Barkingside is a studio. John Kirkham was a photographer here once, but now that the archive takes all his time most of the work is done by his assistant, Paul. There'd been some kids in just the other day, "doing a shoot for the shops" - Barnardo's high street retail business (mainly domestic and gardening items) now makes it over pounds 3m annually - and the results, computer-enhanced, were intended as a possible frieze. The kids laughed a lot, danced, were dressed up in bright clothes. They weren't "project kids" but "models" - volunteers found through staff and friends. Of course, photographs are still taken of project kids, on site, and these models haven't been hired from an agency. And anyway, this is 1995, not 1874, when artistic licence is better understood. If people think these happy, smiling faces are Barnardo's faces, and donate good money as a result, who's complaining? Surely the founder wouldn't be - a man who had to fight all his life to raise money and who brilliantly exploited the camera to do so.

What is different these days is that smiling faces, rather than ragged clothes, are the way for Barnardo's to raise money: the need is to be positive. It's true that Don McCullin has taken some photographs for the 150th anniversary celebrations which show that East End deprivation still goes on. But you won't find any sign of them in the house magazine, Barnardo's Today, nor in the mail-order catalogue, At Home. These in-house shots are all cheery beams. There is no Before, only After now. And this breeds a complacency, outside Barnardo's if not within, that the social problems surrounding children have been largely cured.

Driving home from Barkingside, I pull up at some lights, and a posse of 10- and 12-year-olds descends on me - truants they must be, because it's early afternoon. They have the faces of the boys in the photos I've been looking at - torn clothes, cropped hair, plenty of soap in their buckets but little, it seems, back home. In 1874, no schools to go to, they'd have been matchsellers in Drury Lane or mudlarks trawling the Thames for coal and copper. But this is 1995 and they're washing windscreens. !

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