Beecholme was a children’s home in Fir Tree Road, Banstead, Surrey. It was founded in 1879 as a Residential School for poor children from the slums of Kensington and Chelsea and run under a Village system. The houses were run by ‘house parents’. There was a school, chapel, playing fields, etc. The regime was tough, corporal punishment was rife and frequent. Sexual abuse against the children has also been alleged
Later, children came from other parts of London and the London County Council took over responsibility, followed by Wandsworth Borough Council. In 1974 the school was closed and the property sold for development as the High Beeches Estate. The site was demolished in 1975.
Case 1: Personal story of a survivor of abuse at Beecholme
My name is James Reeves. I was born in 1946. I was in a children’s home called Beecholme, in Banstead, Surrey. I was in a house in the children’s home called Jasmine. I think I was 7 years old – had spent younger years in foster care. I can remember their names – the Porters. My foster dad wasn’t involved in abuse that I remember it’s the only thing I remember about foster carers except on one birthday my foster dad bought me a brown 3 wheel tricycle. I can remember standing on the kitchen table just a cloth nappy on being abused by women and grown up children, being locked in some cupboard for hours every day that’s all I can remember from foster care.
My next memory is Beecholme, Jasmine house. I was taken there by a woman who handed me over to the House Mistress of Jasmine House. That woman who took me to Jasmine House was my mother. The next time we would meet was when I was 12. I was shown into a dining room then stripped naked, was
beaten on my bottom hard by the House Mistress, Miss Cullen. I was then taken into a large bathroom with 2 baths end to end. The bathroom was crowded with other naked boys and girls, one bath was for boys, the other was for girls.
Pictured above: The Administration Building housed the Superintendent and his staff during the day. Most of the kids only visited this building when they were in trouble
The water was never changed. There were 2 other female staff in there; one Miss Malden, the other Miss Kilbane (who was lovely throughout my stay and had no hand in any off my abuses). After bath, we were marched out up the stairs to our dormitories. It must have been not more than 20 minutes later, I remember being pulled roughly out off my bed by a man who took my nightshirt off and took me downstairs. I was told to face the wall, opposite a room which was occupied by people.
Pictured above: The church
Every time any one came out of that room I was slapped hard on my bare bum. I was standing facing the wall for what seemed like ages, then I heard people leaving the room and going out the front door. I was then blind-folded and taken into that room and sexually assaulted by 2 people. One tried to bugger me, but stopped when I screamed. Next I remember something hard being put in my mouth. I was crying and shaking with fear, I was so scared. I was told to suck on the thing in my mouth, but was whacked round the head. I heard one person say “He’s no good – his teeth are digging in”. I was then taken back to my dormitory and put into bed, told not to look round or I would get it. The person removed the blindfold. I was frozen, scared, crying. Then I heard the door shut. I lay there scared to move. I must have fallen asleep.
Pictured above: The Avenue ran the entire length of Beechholme. At one end there was the sick bay and Rowen House, then there were seven houses each side before you came to the school on the left and the nursery on the right. The Administration building was midway and on the left, the entrance road was on the right. The Avenue continued on with the Church on the left, staff quarters on the right, then there were four more houses on each side finally ending with a large hall across the end of the road. The houses accommodated about 20 to 25 children (mostly boys), plus the house mother (or house parents).
We were woken up by Miss Malden, the other staff member. I tried to speak to her but she would not listen to me. I tried to talk to Miss Cullen who seemed in charge of Jasmine House. She pulled me into her office and told me ”Children who lie are sent away to bad places. Is that what you want?”. I remember saying “No Miss”. I know they had a school there but can’t seem to think about that. I remember we were all at our tables for tea. After tea, Miss Cullen used to put her chair in the middle of the dining room floor and call us boys to stand in line.
Pictured above: This is the school where infants and juniors attended
She then would one-by-one strip us and spank our bottoms hard in front of the girls. This happened every night after tea, 7 days of every week. Other times at dinner, puddings were served. 10 times while I was there they served figs and custard.
Pictured above: Cedar House – Front and rear Views
I was eating a fig it was horrible and I was sick all over my pudding, and was forced to eat it. Other times I was sick over figs and custard, Miss Kilbane (when she saw Miss Cullen go) would come and remove it and give me a cuddle. She seemed helpless and – I don’t know – I’m sure a few times she had tears in her eyes.
I never saw men in the house during the day, only at nights when they used to take me downstairs and repeat their abuse. God knows how many other boys there were abused like me, at nights. It was no good complaining, no one would listen to me. One day I was told I was leaving, to be taken to another children’s home. I was picked up by car by a LCC Social Worker. I was driven to Hutton children’s residential home, in Shenfield, Essex. I was taken into a large house,
called Thames. All the other houses were named after rivers. I was never sexually abused there by any staff members. Though one boy was, in a different house and his abuser Mr Brabbon was sentenced to six month prison.
Pictured above: Hutton children’s residential home/school
Whilst there somehow some of us were invited to the Billy Cotton Band Show Christmas party, which was shown on BBC television. I was one of the kids who went. It was late 1950’s or early 1960’s. I can remember being seated at the tables full of food. There was Russ Conway, a woman singer and my abuser Alan Breeze. I didn’t know his name at the time. I asked Russ Conway his name. It happened in the men’s toilets. I was in there when Alan Breeze said “You going to toilet?”. I said “Yes”. “Let me help you.” he said and started
touching my penis. He had his hand down my trousers holding my bum. I was trying to pull away, when someone else entered the toilet. I think he saw what was happening and he pulled me away, and sent me out of the toilet. As I left I complained to someone – a man – about what happened. He told me to go away and sit down, which I did. I was so upset and angry. I tried telling Billy Cotton but couldn’t get near him or Russ Conway anymore. I tried to tell staff at the home, but they laughed and walked away.
From that day, I was totally confused and felt alone. It got so bad I was taken to The Maudsley hospital, who after listening to my story told the person who took me there they wanted to keep me in. On hearing that, I ran out of the hospital and was found by my taker outside a big hospital opposite. I was crying and said “No one believes me! I am not staying in that place!”. I was taken back to the home and put on anti-depressants. I have never forgotten my abuse – it still haunts me to this day
Case 2: The darker side of Beecholme 1
“My memories were of sadistic ‘cottage mothers’. We were referred to by number, which was on our clothing and lockers.
The Headmaster, Mr Rayner, and the matron were horrendous creatures, dishing out corporal punishment at the drop of a hat without enquiring as to whether we were guilty or not.
They and the cottage mothers had total control over our lives and our belongings. My own blood mother sent me one shilling every week which over the years amounted to a small fortune. I never saw a penny of that and the obligatory two pence pocket money handed out by the Matron was taken away by the cottage mother.
I also remember being on a near starvation diet. We would have two slices of bread and margarine, whilst the cottage mothers would have bacon and eggs.
The house was freezing and in the midst of winter with six inches of snow, we wore only shoes, black stockings, vest, liberty bodice, shirt, drill slip and thin coat. We had no gloves, scarves or cardigans and we would freeze going to school and in the house. We would have chilblains on hands and feet with the skin bursting open and becoming infected – the backs of our knees would break open with being chapped.”
Case 3: The Darker Side of Beechholme 3
The female members of staff would get the male members of staff to give the punishment out: example: Aunty Joy Walker, in I think Larch or Acacia house told Mr Johnson when he came in I’d sworn at her. He did no more than pick up the metal hoover pipe and whack me with it so hard around the face, then grabbing me by the hair dragged me upstairs punched me in the face picked me up and threw me on the bed. I was cut and bruised all over. I remained in bed till late the next day so also had no tea, no breakfast, no dinner or supper the next day either. When my father came down at the weekend I was not allowed to see him as punishment. This is in my head like a magnet as this was just one of many beatings I took – this one only mild to what other things I endured and I can assure you I was not the only one to have this treatment.
The fact was that my not seeing my father was really to cover up what was going on. He was told I had been moved next door to ‘Drake’ (?) and we had all gone out for the day, to avoid him seeing the cuts and bruises. Others were told I had fallen down the stairs.
This form of abuse lasted many years until he left to take a new job at Throwley Road in Sutton, same type of position in a children’s home.
Case 4: The Darker Side of Beechholme 4
“What was bad at Beechholme was the cold of winter – getting into trouble for bringing snow into the cottage on your feet, having to go outside in all weathers to the loo in the yard and getting out of a cold bed in the night to pretend to go to the toilet because the bucket stood by the fire and you could get bit of warmth into you.
I also remember the trips to Dymchurch. First of all, I can recall the novelty of being in our summer khaki uniforms instead of the grey flannel outfits.
I remember the train ride and the smell of the steam engine. To this day, 60 years on, I have only to strike a match, smell the sulphur and I’m on my way to the seaside. Apart from life inside the cottage, we had the gym for when it rained and our field for when it was dry. But there was nothing to do in either of them; not a football or any sort of toy like a kite.
We were just turned out into the field on a Saturday morning to roam about like cattle, playing until the whistle blew. And then we marched back to the cottage for sausage and cabbage, after which we marched back to the field to graze some more. My sharpest memories of Banstead are of walking round and round that damned field – too cold to run, ears, fingers and toes in agony – being told by the master to jump and get warm.”
Church Destroyed by Fire – 1968
Charred timbers and pews litter the floor where five hours earlier the 90-years-old brick church at Beechholme Residential School stood in Fir Tree Road, Banstead. A spectacular blaze completely destroyed the building in the early hours of Saturday morning.
Life in Beecholme childrens home
An old boy from Beechholme is helping to make a film for Thames TV about the children’s home. Dilly Braimoh, a freelance journalist from St James Road, Sutton, spent most of his young life in the London County Council children’s home which used to occupy a 38 acre site in Fir Tree Road, Banstead.
It closed in 1975, after nearly 100 years and was demolished to make way for housing development. The idea for the film came from Dilly who thought it would be interesting to trace some of the youngsters brought up up in the home and discover how their lives had been affected.
His own memories are happy ones and he says he probably got a better start in life at Beechholme than he might have otherwise. Some of the film’s subjects feel the same way and have done well for themselves, but one ended up in jail and another now has his own children in care.
THE BEECHHOLME SCHOOL SONG
Hurrah for the Banstead School, the school of the breezy downs,
We pass our ways in the open ways, afar from the reek of towns,
And whether we work or play, the lesson we learn is the same,
Play up for your side and win if you can, but anyway play the game.
There is a mouldy dump down Beechholme way where we get bossed about, fifty times a day.
Egg and bacon we don’t see; we get sawdust in our tea.
That’s why we’re gradually fading away.
The teachers are real barmy. The matrons are real mad.
And poor old Bannner the man sometimes looks real sad.
Banstead Homes girls’ cottage
Each cottage contains on the ground floor a playroom, a sitting-room for the officer or officers, kitchen and scullery, a bath-room and lavatory in which the jet and trough system is in use, every child being provided with a separate towel, brush, and comb. On the upper floor are two dormitories, a linen-closet, and private bedroom. In front of each cottage is a little flower garden, and at the back a playground and kitchen garden. A supernumerary house-mother is in readiness to take charge of any cottage in case of the illness or absence of its usual head. The stores are supplied in bulk to each cottage from the central storerooms, meat, bread, and milk daily, and general stores weekly.
Banstead Homes from the south-west, 1950s
The daily life of the children
Children, are, on admission to Banstead, placed in one of the two probationary homes, where they are kept for two weeks, as a further precaution against the introduction of disease into the cottages ; they are then drafted into the several cottage homes, and recommence their school-life, which briefly is as follows:- They rise at 6 in summer and 6.30 in winter ; there is private prayer at the bedside, and common prayer in the dining room before breakfast, which is at 7.15 in summer and 7.45 in winter. After breakfast some have recreation, others perform various domestic duties. The elder children are divided into two divisions, and go to school and workshop on alternate days. At 8.30 the children in turn go to the workshops, and the school division to drill or physical exercises, and thence to school at 8.50. At 10.30 they have 15 minutes recreation. At 12 noon schooling, and also work in the shops, is discontinued, and at 12.30 they have dinner.
Banstead Homes swimming bath, 1902
On one day in the week girls have physical exercise, 1.15 to 1.50, and boys the same during winter only ; in summer the boys have this on two evenings weekly, 6.20 to 7.20. School and work begins again at 2, with an interval at 3 for play. The school discontinues at 4.30, and the children’s’ work in training shops ceases at 5. In winter from 6.20 to 7.20 there is evening school for elder children, except on those evenings when an entertainment is given instead. Infants leave school at 11.30 and 4, half-an-hour earlier than the others. All have supper at 6 and common prayer afterwards. The boys and girls knit their own stockings, and mend and repair all clothing. Infants go to bed at 7, and the others at 8 in winter, and 9 in summer. The cottage father and mother take their meals with the children. The teachers play with the children in recreation time on the asphalted playground, which is fitted with swings and giant-stride. The children are inspected as to cleanliness, &c. before the commencement of morning and afternoon school. On Wednesday afternoons, all the school divisions go out walking under the care of their teachers. The elder boys are taught cricket and football, and are provided with suitable flannel suits and jerseys. Each girls’ cottage is provided with a go-cart to assist the infants when long walks are taken by the cottage family. On Sunday, service is held by the chaplain in the school chapel, and morning and afternoon Sunday school is held for one hour. There is a circulating library of 656 volumes, which. the children are allowed to take to their homes to read.
Banstead Homes smithy, 1900