Vyvyen Brendon

‘All His Uncles and Aunts Spanked Him’

Growing Up in England: The Experience of Childhood 1600–1914

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Yale University Press 434pp £25 order from our bookshop

New Lives for Old: The Story of Britain’s Child Migrants

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The children in these two books dwelt in different worlds. Anthony Fletcher deals with upper- and middle-class families where ‘children were always welcomed’, while Roger Kershaw and Janet Sacks write of youngsters regarded as ‘diseased tissue’ who had to be sent far away from the ‘contamination of old associates’. Yet all these children have more in common than first appears. Neither the privileged offspring of ‘gendered parenting’ (as Fletcher describes boys and girls reared in separate spheres) nor the unhappy victims of ‘philanthropic abduction’ had a say in how they were treated. Indeed it was hard for them to make their voices heard at all above the sermons, child manuals, textbooks, lectures, tracts and official reports issuing from their elders and betters. Olympians, as Kenneth Grahame labelled adults in authority, made decisions without giving ‘a hint of the thunderbolts they were forging’. Juvenile questions received the response visited on the insatiably curious Elephant’s Child: ‘All his uncles and aunts spanked him.’

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