Widbury House

Address: Widbury Hill, Ware, Hertfordshire

Open: 1960-1979

Image from Google Streetview, March 2019

Islington Council developed this home from an LCC children’s home
which had been a nursery in the 1950s. Herts Memories website

Council Agenda 11.1.66: Widbury House , Ware:

“The above mentioned property, which is already in use as a children’s home for purposes of the Children’s Acts, is at present held on a short tenancy. It is, in our opinion, essential that the Council should acquire the freehold interest and with the consent of the owner negotiations have proceeded with the result that tentative agreement has been reached for the Council to acquire the freehold interest on the basis that the Council will be responsible for the erection and mantainance of a fence along the western boundary and for the payment of the Vendor’s surveyor’s fees and legal costs. The cost is estimated to be in the region of £13,500 and it is anticipated that these negotiations will be completed before our next meeting.” 

Council minutes, 29.03.1977

Numbers of ISN survivors who lived at Widbury children’s home: 14

9 women and 5 men lived in Widbury as children. Their ages ranged from 1 year old to 17 years.

1960s: 4 girls and 4 boys under 5 years

1970s: 6 girls over age 11 years, 1 boy

Numbers of children named by ISN survivors as living in Widbury children’s home

38: 23 girls, 15 boys 

The numbers of children named in other documents who lived at Widbury children’s home

1966: A survivor referred to a group of 7

1972: Widbury is reported to be transformed to 7-15 year old children by 1973-4. Some nursery children would be able to stay on (ISN survivor file note 1973).

1975: 20-30 children were living at Widbury

It had a change of use when children moved there from New Park House an Islington home in Cuffley, Hertfordshire to form a nucleus of an older group. The home to change ‘from a home for younger children to one which will eventually take the older and more difficult adolescents.’ A new staffing structure was needed.

Council minutes, 29.03.1977

Children and young people have remained in the community in unsatisfactory conditions or in children’s homes which were neither appropriately staffed not structurally suitable for them’

‘The aim should be for sufficient independent accommodation to be available for those who need permanent accommodation where young people may require temporary support or from where a minority may be referred to some kind of care on a longer term basis’

Funding for changes at Widbury £16,000 adaptations. (Council minutes, 29.03.1977)

Council minutes: 19.12.78

Residential staff named by ISN survivors as working at Widbury children’s home

19: 6 men and 13 women

Council minutes, 31.01.1979

From this announcement in 1979 about the installation of fire alarms and escapes it can be asked what fire safety precautions were in place in the preceding years!

Life at Widbury

The first account of Widbury is from a survivor who was there 1960-2. She was age 3 years and recalled babies in cots and very small children. She remembered a sandpit and young children’s toys.

Others were sent there in 1966 for a year- including a family with a baby in a group of 6 children. They described a harsh regime being force fed and made to eat sick. They remembered that they were hit and not allowed to go to the toilet at night. They arrived in the winter and recalled being told there was no Christmas there and no presents. They were kept in the bedroom while an adult sat outside the door to monitor them all night. They described a woman who was Matron at the time.

One survivor was also there in the mid-60s. He described a holiday at Walton on the Naze of staff and children and a group of 7 in the home.

At this time children described regular visits by their families and siblings and going on outings with them. One survivor speaks of being one boy in a room of 4 in 1970 and going on holiday to Jaywick sands.

At some point Widbury closed. A survivor who was there in 1972 described being part of a new group which was moved from New Park House by the Superintendent of New Park House. There were some disabled children in the home. Two survivors say they were moved in 1974 to The Muntings in Stevenage.

All the Widbury staff including the Superintendent and her deputy were women and the deputy remained in post until replaced by the new male superintendent.  ‘The woman who was initially the Superintendent at Widbury House, until all child residents and staff from Cuffley Children’s home moved to Widbury,  then became the Deputy Superintendent for some time until she was replaced by a new male Superintendent. At some point after Widbury House closed, she then worked at a Children’s Home in Highbury N5’.

Widbury had a stable and one survivor described how her room overlooked the yard where a donkey called Jenny was kept. She loved to watch this donkey. She described seeing men coming to visit a member of staff whose apartment was at the back entrance of the home. ‘All 3 children described the arrival of Jenny the donkey. All were anxious to ride this donkey and were learning how to feed and look after her’. 1972 Social worker

She remembered Cyril Smith MP visited Widbury at Xmas with presents. He came in big black car. She said that a lot of cars arrived at night with strangers and the residential worker’s 2 spaniels would bark as they arrived. 

When one girl arrived at Widbury she knew she had been there before because she recognised it and knew the grounds. This was because there had been exchanges between Dixton another Islington children’s home and Widbury.

Another survivor remembered being transferred in 1975 over from New Park House with 6 other children when New Park House closed. She described how Widbury had been a nursery which had been empty and started to fill up again. The children arrived there in the evening they were brought there in a van and it was dark.  Some of the children were upset and broke a phone off the wall.

One survivor remembered a residential worker who was a priest. ‘We were taken by him to a home sort of hospital where it was full of thalidomide children. It was very upsetting, I suppose we were not ready for what we saw’. It was to tell them how lucky they were. One survivor said she had found this very distressing.

Another girl was there in 1977, age 14, just for a week.  She said it seemed as if Widbury had changed to a home for teenage girls.  For the 5 ISN survivors at Widbury who were black, going to school in a largely all white area of Hertfordshire was very harsh as they describe being exposed to ‘the worst racism’.

One described being told by a teacher in the mid 70s to ‘go home to your own country’. She was the only black child in the class and she said it wasn’t safe for her to play outside like other children. ‘In all the children’s homes in the country a lot of us were of mixed descent of colour and we faced enormous racism at all the schools. I hated all schools and was unhappy more there than sometimes in the homes.’

Another survivor who was in Widbury in 1977 describes Jimmy Savile visiting and says some of the children went to Top of the Pops.

When Widbury closed four children – 3 girls and a boy were moved to Northampton Park

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