Report on visit to Barns House, Peebles; & Dunnow Hall, Cheshire.

My visit to these two places was one of the three most interesting experiences in 50 years of social work. I went to Barns thinking that a Home would be just an addition to the present work. A few hours there convinced me that the work should centre round a Home and that the boarding out should be in a way subsidiary to it; that the Home should in fact be the focal point.

Barnes is an old, and to my mind, not too suitable house in a very beautiful but unsuitable surroundings. The floors are stone and the furniture and fittings are inadequate. There is no playing field - just some fairly large strips of grass. The one great advantage is the river, which in summer, is shallow enough for the children to bathe, and they learn to swim without being taught. The difficulties under which Mr. Wills is working would swamp a lesser man. I have said that the playing grounds are inadequate - added to this the house is only lent and there is a gamekeeper on the Estate who positively hates children.

The income comes from three different Authorities.

The outstanding thing about the Home is the happiness and the harmony that prevail.

It is in fact entirely a home spelt with a small "h”. There is no trace of Institution about it. The staff and children are friends and equals. Discipline is almost entirely managed by a council of the children themselves. There are no punishments though there are consequences - that is to say, if children make a row at night in the dormitories and disturb other children the council sends them to bed earlier the next day so that they may not disturb the others a second night. If they are noisy at meal times or like to eat their food in the same haphazard way they did at home, the council sends them to eat in another room until they feel they would like to return and eat their food with their fellows. I have said before that it is the happiness of the children which struck me so much. I asked M.r Wills how it was that difficult children did not quarrel? He said that when they quarrelled badly one of them would charge the other, or rather would threaten to charge him, before the Children's council. This immediately stopped the quarrel and more often than not the charge was forgotten before the Council met in the evening.

Mr Wills is very unfortunate in that the Chairman ( I think) of the Education Committee who appointed the teacher, believed in using the strap. After a Meeting at which this gentleman had been advocating it, Mr. Wills told that boys that " Mr. so and so” " thinks you ought to have the strap”. They immediately asked him " why, doesn't he like us?” The children have the free run of the whole place – kitchen, garden and staff room. They go in and out of the staff room as they like and listen to the wireless or gramaphone, and take part in any discussion that is going on. Their ages are from 9 to 14 and I should judge that the average age would be about 11. There are no servants at all. The whole of the staff are cultured people. (The same applies at Dunnow Hall) It was considered in the first place that it was vital for the children to have the great advantage of being entirely with educated people. There is even no charwoman and a former teacher was doing some of the charing.

I spent a day and two nights at Barns and had long talks with David Wills. The children treated me, although a stranger, just as middle class children would. The first morning when I was standing in the porch after breakfast I was asked if I would like to see the pets and was introduced to a pigeon, a rabbit and a guinea pig, and was shown how a tail-less pigeon could fly. There was another pigeon which was not to be touched " because it had eggs in it's belly”. After this I was taken round the whole place and introduced to the gardener.

The morning before I left, one quite small boy asked me if I would like to see his picture book which proved to be some political cartoons about Hitler - a group came round and explained to me all the funny points, in scotch so soft that I could hardly hear it and was quite unable to understand them, but I enjoyed it.


Here are the answers to some of the question I asked David Wills.

What is the ideal type of home and surroundings?         The home should be within 30 miles of a town but must be in real country. (Dr. Fitch emphasised this same point) Mr. Wills felt that the home must be situated within reach of a psychiatrist, psychologist and a good physician. The Home must be either the property of the Society or on a lease.

Not more than 30 children, and the ages of admission should be from 7 or 8 and not over 12.

Barns has a staff of about 14 or 16 for 30 children. Dunnow Hall has ( l think) a staff of 18 for 45 children, though Dr. Fitch puts the ideal number of children at 30.

There are two teachers at Barns - one full time and the other half time teaching and half time assistant warden.

At Dunnow Hall the staff are largely interchangeable - for instance the farm manager taught geography.

The children at Barns come entirely from Edinborough slums.

The children leave at 14 but this is largely because it is an evacuation home.

At Barns some children go home for holidays but David Wills considers this a great disadvantage. There are no organised games, partly because there is no suitable place for playing, and partly because children of this type do not take easily to organised games. ( At Dunnow Hall games are organised, at any rate to some extent).

The most difficult cases prove to be pilferers and truants.

At Barns the children read anything. They have a library which struck me as being rather poor and they have comics which David Wills does not forbid but does not like. He says they seem to paralyse the children. Dr. Fitch will not have a comic on the premises and sends them back if they come.

David Wills would like complete freedom of control with a good Committee. Dr. Fitch of course has this; the place is his own. Both David Wills and Dr.Fitch have a horror of the Home Office but find the Education Department extremely helpful.

David Wills and Dr. Fitch would prefer an entirely voluntary source of income not dependant on grants from any official body.

From neither place could I get the total cost but I should think a home for 30 children would cost little more than Haseley Hall used to do. It would cost about £3,500 per year

I have given, in the main, particulars of Barns as I was there long enough to absorb the atmosphere. I was delighted. with Dunnow Hall and was very much taken with Dr. Fitch, but unfortunately I had only about 4 hours at Dunnow and I am determined to try and persuade Dr. Fitch to let me go and stay a day there sometime.

The only thing I felt about Dunnow was that there are too many children there, big as the staff is. At Dunnow also there is a children's council but the age limit to children is much higher than at Barns, in practice though not in theory.

One point I have forgotten – Dr. Fitch would not admit ( purely in theory I think) children with a I.Q. of less than 100 though he owned to a weakness for mentally deficient children. He put the maximum number at 30 though he had 45.

At Dunnow and at Barns the staff and the children dine together at the same tables and have the same food.

I was very interested to find that all the central ideas with the exception of 2 which I was prevented from putting into action, were the same as we had at Haseley Hall.

Transcribed by Bob Lawton 08.12.2015



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1. "Seeking the MVT

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