Sydney George Nunn was born on 3 May 1920. He was the eldest of 8 children born to Frederick George and Caroline Nunn. The family lived on a farm in Lower Holbrook, Suffolk, together with Sydney’s Grandfather, William Damant, who was the farm tenant.
In March 2012 members of the Nunn family approached me whilst I was setting up the Website. They were on a nostalgic visit to Tattenhall from Suffolk. What was to unfold was a truly remarkable story since it transpired that 3 members of the Nunn family i.e. Sydney, Jack and Billy had been sent to the Tattenhall Home for Boys in the 1930s where they were to remain for the next 4 years of their lives. When their younger brother ‘Wally’ joined them, there were 4 members from the same family at the Home.
Sydney George Nunn died in November 2011 at the grand age of 91 and his daughter, Jill, has kindly shared with me his transcripts and the images that appear on this Webpage.
Sydney’s story ….
‘… My mother looked after the family of 8 children almost single handedly. My father had lost a leg during The Great War and provided for the family as a ‘cobbler’ and ‘night watchman’. Regrettably, my mother had contracted Tuberculosis whilst looking after a gentleman in the village of Lower Holbrook.
It was decided that we should go on a holiday, at least that’s what we all thought. In fact, there was a great deal of jubilation as we’d never been on holiday before. It was agreed that the baby (Freddie) would remain behind with mother as he was ill. Grandfather didn’t seem at all happy about the arrangements and it was obvious that he would rather we didn’t go at all. However, we were all full of the holiday spirit, that is except ‘Jack’. He most certainly didn’t want to go and, as it turned out, he would be right!
A large taxi arrived with a driver named ‘Cottrell’ and he drove us to London where we were handed over to two people, a Master and a Matron, who were strict indeed and with no holiday spirit at all. We were given a meal, a bath and a dose of Castor oil. We each had a dose of that wretched Castor oil for about a week. We remained in London for 2-3 months.
The girls were split up from the boys.Two of the three girls, ‘Dorothy’ and ‘Irene’, went into a Home and the youngest, ‘Vera’, who was about two, was fostered. ‘Wally’, the youngest boy, was sent to another unit. Then ‘Jack’, myself (‘Sydney’) and ‘Billy’ were off to Tattenhall.
We arrived in Tattenhall on a Friday evening where we were met by Mr and Mrs Appleby, the Master and Matron of the Tattenhall Home for Boys. We were placed in Ward 3 and another boy showed us the art of ‘bed making’; beds had to be made in a certain way, a uniform way. They did look smart – there was no question of that. It was a daily ritual. The only help the Home received was from a lady in the village who used to come and do all the sewing and repair work – the boys did everything else. We were up at 7 o’clock every morning, the Senior Boys having been up since 6.30am to get everything ready. Only the bathroom area was supplied with hot water, the rest of the house having ‘cold water’. The Wash Room was about 16 ft x 16 ft surrounded, of course, with wash hand basins, all of which had cold water – you can imagine it was very cold in the winter months.
On Saturday morning we each received ‘pocket money’ – a penny each per week. I asked the Master if I could have some paper to write to my Father. My father never wrote to us at all. I later learned that he had left the farmhouse because my mother had been sent to a Sanatorium (which was usual for anyone with Tuberculosis) where she had subsequently died. Baby Freddie had died too. I was left to tell my two younger brothers.
The Headmaster at Tattenhall School was a man called Mr Bond. He was good to me and if it looked like there was going to be trouble he would step in and take me aside for a chat. He referred to me as a ‘little bantam bully’ in a friendly sort of way. Mr Bond recommended to Mr Appleby, the Master of the Home, that I should go to a school in Chester (I was led to believe that I should be getting a better education). The request was declined by Mr Appleby because he maintained that he couldn’t have one boy going to Chester, which was 8 miles away, whilst the rest of the boys remained in Tattenhall. He was insistent that the boys must all be kept together. Mr Bond subsequently helped me during lunch hours, particularly with mathematics. I remember Mr Bond decided that we had to determine the height of a large oak tree. We worked it out using a mathematics procedure – I remember it was 42 feet high!
The Head Boy ‘Harry’ left, was replaced by a boy called ‘King’ (a twin), the King brothers left and I was suddenly ‘Head Boy’. As the Head Boy, I had to get up at 6.30am and start the porridge in a large pan, a very large pan for 42 boys. The pan was filled with oats and salt the previous evening and was left on the warm stove. I also had to make a pot of tea for Mr and Mrs Appleby and leave it outside their bedroom door. At 7.00am I had to ring the bell for the boys to get up. They washed, cleaned their shoes and at 8.00am it was breakfast. Every day it was the same, a ladle of porridge made with salt (no sugar) and a mug of milk. I came to like it actually. In the bottom of the pan, the porridge got a bit crusty and Jack used to love it. I always made sure that Jack and Billy got the crusty bit.
I used to have to check that all the beds had been made in the 8 dormitories and at 8.40am sharp we had drill where everyone had to stand in height order and then I would have to march the boys to Tattenhall School. We repeated the drill when we came back to the Home, much to the amusement of the local lads.
Every so often I had to scrub the dining room floor which was wooden blocks and I had to clean the windows. They would sit me on the window sill and trap my legs in the sash window so I couldn’t fall out backwards. I had to do this every 3 months. I was also delegated for Rectory duties and, of course, as Head Boy I made sure that Jack was picked to be one of the Rectory Boys. Jack used to get half a crown because he was working at the Rectory.
I was also introduced to the choir master, Dr Allman. There was a Dr Smith too. They were both teachers at the grammar school in Chester but they lived locally so they asked Mr Appleby if I could stay behind and do some singing. It was decided that I couldn’t stay by myself so Jack came along too. Jack used to pump the organ; he used to sing a lot too. I became the Senior Chorister and yet again I was in a favoured position. Every Good Friday, monks used to walk into Tattenhall carrying a large wooden cross and we used to have to meet them at the boundary and walk all the way to the Church (each of us would wear a cassock and surplice). We would sing hymns as we travelled into the village, it was only a small village. It was decided that I would sing the story of the Cross and I always remember the introduction started off and not a word came out of my mouth. Dr Smith poked me and I started off. I had no bother afterwards, it was just that one moment of fright.
When I was about 13, Wally joined us and he was put in Ward 3 and I was moved to Ward 8. Jack and Billy then looked after Wally.
Just before I left the Home, Mr Bond the Headmaster asked me if I had thought of what I was going to do when I left. I would have liked to have gone into the Navy because when I was younger I’d seen these boys at Shotley (near to our home at Holbrook) and I thought how smart they had looked. Mr Bond said that I would have to sit an examination and Mr Appleby had said that he could get me into a Training College for the Navy and that all we had to do was get my father to sign the papers. However, my father had no intention of signing the papers because he said that he had been badly treated when he was wounded. So, my father didn’t allow me to join the Armed Services but agreed that I was to go into business with him in Bolton. My father had purchased a shop and I became the lackey. I lost that chance to go into the Navy and went to Bolton …’
In conclusion ….
Whilst Sydney George Nunn started his young life as a ‘Waif and Stray’ at the Tattenhall Home for Boys, he ultimately became the Deputy Clerk for West Gloucestershire District Council. He was a devoted husband and father. He remained close to his brothers Jack, Billy and Wally. Wally is still alive. As for his Grandfather, he had remained at Holbrook all the time and it was Sydney’s father who had left or perhaps was ‘kicked out’. Regrettably, Sydney lost all contact with his Grandfather. Sydney’s father remarried and the boys Jack, Billy and Wally remained at the Home until it closed in 1936. Each child ultimately returned to their father when they were 14 years of age and old enough to work.
My particular thanks to the Nunn family for sharing Sydney’s story with us and for allowing it to be reproduced on the Website.
Should you wish to read the Webpage relating to the Boys’ Home then simply click on ‘Tattenhall Home for Boys’ to be directed to this section of the Website.