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The Eliots at Beechholme - Story by Peter Eliot


April 4th1948 was when I arrived and although I was 3 yrs old I can still remember arriving at the gates of Beechholme. In fact the picture on the front of the Beechholme publication represents the image I have of my arrival. It was night time when our father took us to Banstead in his ‘Austin 12’ registration number BBM614, he had not long come home from hospital to find his three boys had been taken into care following our mother's departure. Our father had been taken to St Charles Hospital suffering from pneumonia, where he had spent 5 weeks undergoing treatment and recovering.

My older brother Leslie and I had previously been taken to Langley House and my younger brother Edward taken to Ladywell Nursery. Back then men were not considered capable of caring for their children, but my father was granted the care of his youngest who was fretting too much without his parents. There was a long waiting list to get into Beechholme, my father managed to get Leslie and myself admitted, but Edward was too young. Our father was quite elderly and in 1948 he was 59 years old, we lived in the West End of London where he had a gowns manufacturing business and a car hire service. Sadly when he came out of hospital, his wife had left him, his children had been taken into care and his business had been ruined.

Initially I was housed in cottage 12 which at this time was specifically set up for the really young children who needed potty training and nappies changed. Some months later I joined Leslie in Cottage 5 in the care of Miss Wulffe and Miss Cobbles. These two ladies managed a house of 20 to 25 children and naturally had a great influence on their upbringing. Miss Wulffe was quite strict and Miss Cobbles could be nice or horrid. I remember that at one time I wanted to be a tailor so Miss Cobbles found a huge amount of tangled thread and made me untangle it and wind it into balls. I had to do this sitting on top of a table with my legs crossed (apparently that was what tailors did). On another occasion I needed some wool, probably for finger knitting, so I pulled the wool edging off of my blanket. My punishment, which was well deserved, was to sew it back on - at least I learned to do blanket stitch. Even from an early age we all had to do our chores around the cottage and grounds. Each child was given a specific chore depending on their age and ability. I remember sprinkling tea leaves onto the dormitory floor and then sweeping the floor, the tea leaves I believe were to help collect the dust. Later my chores included cleaning the toilets, peeling potatoes and cooking.

Cottage 5, which later became known as Chestnut, housed mainly boys and a small number of girls. It was a two story house with 2 dormitories, 2 staff bedrooms and staff bathroom. Downstairs there was a kitchen, scullery, dining room, staff room and bathroom. The toilet block was located outside in a semi-detached building which also contained an outhouse for vegetable storage etc. The house next door had the other half of the building, which was a mirror image of our side.

During the week I would go to the nursery which was located opposite the school. Here we would play and paint etc. I remember the fold up beds where we would have our afternoon sleep, which was essential for the young children. Later at the age of 5 yrs I went to the infants school and remember learning the alphabet by singing the ‘ABC’ song. The junior school was contained within the same building and the Headmaster then was Mr Kelly. Mr Kelly with his distinctive mustache, (I believe he was a military man) lived in a white house just outside the gates of Beechholme. I remember Mr Kelly always had very shiny shoes and taught us to use some spit when we polished our shoes. Mrs Bell was a teacher at the school who would take us for walks to Ewell and Epsom. She would always point out a house in Ewell and tell us that Petula Clarke lived there.

In July 1951 we were joined by our younger brother Edward who had been cared for my our father, but he was unable to work and look after him properly. He was offered vacancies for Edward in other institutions, but would not agree to this and took care of Edward until a place became available at Beechholme. At last we boys were together and this is how we remained until we each reached a suitable age to be released from care.

Derby Day was an annual day to remember. Chestnut was in a row of houses that backed onto Fir Tree Road and on Derby Day we would climb the fence and wave to the coach loads of people returning from the races at Epsom. There was a fantastic tradition of throwing money out of the coach windows for us poor hungry looking children, which of course created an avalanche as we dived over the fence to retrieve what ever money we could grab first. We felt like millionaires because money was a scarce commodity for us in those days. We did receive some money however, in the form of pocket money, which as I recall was 2s 3d. My pocket money lasted for about 1 day and was mainly spent in the sweetshop in the Nork.

I don’t remember the exact age, but around the age of ten I was transferred to the more senior end of the Avenue and went to live in Cedar. Initially Cedar was located on the south side of the Avenue between the houses Beech and Almond, but later we were all moved to a newly decorated house next to the church and this house then became named Cedar. Here our houseparents were a lovely married couple Tom and Dorothy Bray with a daughter named Susan. We were allowed to call them Uncle Tom and Aunt Dorothy and life was so much better from then on. In 2004 I visited Aunt Dorothy in Stowmarket and we were able to share some wonderful memories, sadly she passed away in 2005. Around the same time as I transferred to Cedar I came to the age for secondary school and would travel by bus each day to Carshalton where I attended Tweedale Secondary School.

For some reason, I developed an interest in electronics at a very early age. At around the age of ten, somebody showed me a Crystal Set and from that day I knew my career path. I quickly learned how to build the sets and would go to London during the weekends and would buy the necessary components from the army surplus shops in the West End. There was a rule that the children were not allowed to own radios with speakers, but it was OK to own one with headphones. By the time I left Beechholme there was hardly a tree that did not have an aerial strung into it and I had launched into the electronics retail business.

I had quite a musical background in Beechholme and played in the brass band, took violin lessons and sang in the church choir. The brass band would often play on fete days and other occasions. Although there were others taking the violin lessons, they all dropped out with the exception of myself. My teacher Miss Harris would travel down from London each week just to give me my lesson. The lessons were held during the evening in the Administration building and Mr Evans, the deputy superintendent, would stay behind just to hear me play. The church choir would practice one evening during the week and of course we would sing publicly on Sundays during the church service.

Fete days were always a special time, each house would make a banner with the house name as a theme. A prize would be awarded for the best banner. There would be races, country dancing and other activites to entertain the children and the visiting parents.

My father would visit once each fortnight on visiting day and we would go for a drive and usually end up having a cup of tea at ‘Anne’s Cafe’ at the Nork shops in Banstead.

As time progressed we were allowed to travel back to London during the school holidays and once again would change from being country folk to city folk. The streets of London were pretty rough and there wasn’t anywhere to play so we just played on the streets. I got to know the cast of ‘Mrs Dales Diary’ who whiled away the hours at the Duke of York pub and I would run errands for them to earn a few bob.

Every year there was a pantomime put on by the children of the home. The pantomime would be performed in the hall at the eastern end of the avenue and would be attended by all. Leslie performed in Jack and the Beanstalk (1955) and Robinson Crusoe (1956).

In 1960 I was released from care and allowed to go back to London to live with my father and Leslie (Leslie had left the previous year). Within a couple of months Edward was also allowed to leave and complete his secondary school education in London. Sadly my father died in 1961 at the age of 72.

At the time of writing I live in Sydney Australia and own a successful electronics business. My wife Susanne of 42 years and we have two children Stuart and Louise and between them we have six grandsons.

In 2002 I contacted the City of Westminster council and with their help I was able to get copies of my files from Beechholme. The information contained includes my admission records, medical records many letters from and to my mother and father and interestingly reports from my social services officer(s) who had been monitoring the activities of the Eliot brothers during the years of 1948 to 1960.

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