In the last few months I have been looking into this case very carefully.
My thoughts are neither biological parent was responsible for Anthea’s abandonment although it’s interesting to note many have been quick to assume they were culpable.
Anthea was born on 20th November 1936 and is last officially recorded at the Devon Nook mother and baby home in Chiswick. She was baptised on 18th December and the manager of Devon Nook is recorded as her Godmother.
Devon Nook was unusually progressive for an unmarried mothers home in the 1930s, single mothers were encouraged to take responsibility for their children, recreational facilities were on site and mothers even allowed back for drop-in sessions and respite. Publicly admitting to a child out of wedlock would have been a bold move at the time for a young Catholic woman and there does seem to be some evidence Anthea’s mother lost contact with her family at home in County Mayo around this time. The immediate family were deeply religious and likely would have found it very difficult to accept their unmarried daughter bringing up a child alone. Indeed, she never returned to her home town as far as we can tell. My feeling is that she had every intention to raise Anthea as best she could on her own but soon found that practically this was going to be impossible. She had moved Anthea from the Guardian Angel’s Home in St John’s Wood whose Mother Cleophes encouraged most young women to immediately relinquish their children for adoption. Potential adopters were lined up very quickly…
Anthea’s biological mother seems to have been short of money and had no permanent place to live. Devon Nook did offer a solution to those that couldn’t cope in the end in the form of foster mothers. These offered a temporary and longer term fix when adoption seemed too final and when it was impossible to find employment with a baby in tow.
Could foster mother Dorothy Large have had a hand in Anthea’s abandonment?
Dorothy Large lived a street away from Anthea’s mother in Cricklewood, London, at the time of Anthea’s discovery. Overwhelmed, with many children in her care in a cramped house and mental health issues she tied up the young Charles Hyde and hit him which ultimately led to his death in 1938. She was eventually found guilty of manslaughter but after reading the file the case for murder does seem to be rather compelling!
Devon Nook came under the jurisdiction of Middlesex County Council where foster mothers were concerned and Dorothy Large received her charges via Middlesex County Council. Dorothy was know for her ‘bad temper’ and had mental health issues, Anthea, at nine months old and teething would have been challenging for someone with these afflictions. Dorothy had previously pretended to lose Charles Hyde in Marks and Spencers (!) suggesting he was abducted and also had form for Thursday afternoon excursions. Anthea was found on a Thursday afternoon. Crafty and artful, Dorothy may have thought that no one would link a child in Sussex to her if Anthea was ever discovered. If so, she was right, enquiries seemed to focus on Sussex despite a local policeman’s misgivings and bloodhounds finding a trail back to North Lancing station suggesting someone had come from London on the train.
Dorothy also had a cupboard full of bandage ties specifically for securing children’s hands. Anthea was found with her hands tied, possibly with a ripped off part of her dress or could it have been a bandage tie? Not only that but Dorothy sedated the children in her care and Anthea had been reported to have a ’sedative smell’ on her breath.
Anthea was found to be unusually round and rosy and did not have the appearance of a neglected baby. Dorothy, despite abusing children in her care, fed them very well, too well. More milk was given than was needed and the babies were often sick. She didn’t use nappies very often and Anthea was found without a nappy too.
Why didn’t Anthea’s biological mother come forward to the police when she was discovered?
Anthea’s discovery was in the broadsheets of the day and Scotland Yard investigated for six months. Maybe the publicity made Anthea’s mother frightened and possibly she wondered if someone would have thought her responsible? Who would believe a young unmarried ‘fallen woman’? If she followed newspaper reports she will have seen that the papers were asking for the most upstanding in the community to come forward to adopt Anthea. The Times advertised it was sifting responses so only those with the noblest of characters and kindest of hearts made the short list. Young mothers having illegitimate children at the time were often told to think of their child first and to think of the opportunities others could give and every comfort their child would receive that was impossible for them to deliver. It could be the mores of the time made Anthea’s mother feel this was the best outcome. It is interesting to note she gave her first born daughter in a later marriage the name she had originally chosen for Anthea, she also rarely spoke of the not inconsiderable time she spent in London.
I am left slightly incredulous that Dorothy Large got away with what looks like murder to me and was so well thought of by Middlesex County Council. Charles Hyde is not the only child that suffered abuse at her hands. Could Anthea have been another victim? I feel this is very plausible, even probable.