A big day for town’s poor kids

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THERE was a strong streak of philanthropy about the Victorians but it had to have a public face.

The South Shields Poor Bairns’ Gala was one expression of that.

I came across this the other day, being another of those events where charity – and the recipients of it – had to be shown off.

The date was 1886 and 2,000 children had been selected from schools in the town, to gather in the Market Place and march, some in rags and shoeless and led by the workhouse band, through the streets.

They were watched by spectators lining the route, which took them along King Street and Ocean Road, up Seafield Terrace and Seaview Terrace, and through Salisbury Place.

Their destination was a field at the old Bents Farm, where a group of local philanthropists had arranged for them to be given tea and sandwiches, and be entertained with games and a Punch and Judy show.

Each child had been given a ticket to show they were entitled to take part but, needless to say, other small fry tried to join in along the route and had to be weeded out.

“Their looks of disappointment were touching in the extreme,” wrote one commentator.

The day ended with each child being presented with a large spice bun, while the organisers enjoyed dinner at The Criterion Hotel.