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Cockermouth Post Article March 2010

This week’s article goes back to the grim days of the Cockermouth Workhouse (which stood on the site of the present-day flats opposite Fairfield Junior School). Flimby Lodge also came under the remit of the Cockermouth Board of Guardians, and Ted Petty relates the sad story of John James Graham.

In 1905 a recently-widowed mother with a family was forced, by circumstance, to enter the Cockermouth Workhouse and place her 12 year-old son John in Flimby Lodge. After a short stay the widow left the Workhouse and moved to Scotland with her eldest daughter. Both found employment in a textile mill and were earning enough money to care for John, if they could be re-united.

At that time the colonies were expanding and required labour. The Cockermouth Board of Guardians had sent orphan boys from Flimby Lodge to Canada, believing they were giving their charges a better chance in life. Such a policy enabled the Guardians to reduce the number of pauper charges in their care and also the cost to local rate-payers.

John James Graham, however, was not an orphan, and his mother had requested her son be returned. The mother’s letter was put before the Guardians at the same time as they were discussing matters concerning emigration. At this time John was in Liverpool, awaiting transportation to Canada. The boy’s mother pleaded that as she now had a comfortable home, her son would be as well with her as in Canada. During a long argument Board member Mr J Ross made the strongest plea for the boy to be re-united with his mother, in view of her efforts to better her circumstances. Despite this plea, and Mr T Longcake stating that the family had been known to him for a long time and recommending that John James be returned to his mother, the voting was 6 to 3 in favour of emigration.

A few days later John James and other boys left the port of Liverpool. Few boys ever objected, maybe because the prospect of a new life in Canada was seen as preferable to institutional life and poverty here. At the time there were reports of ill-treatment of these youngsters – did fortune smile on John James or was Canada to be another unhappy chapter in his life?

This unhappy tale of a young Cockermouth lad has been extracted from a feature written by the late Frank Carruthers (‘Whiteoak’) and printed in the W.C.T.

Gloria Edwards

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