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Archive of the month

Archive of the month

‘The Baby under the Seat’

The baptism register for Upton-Cum-Chalvey (PR 214/1/14) has an entry for June 24th 1900 for a baby simply referred to as Iris, parents unknown.  The baby was in the Union Workhouse, Slough. At the foot of the page is an annotation made by the vicar where he states that the baby had been found in a railway carriage, Slough May 1st 1900, adopted by Caleb Luther and Edith Adams – Eastbourne.

PR 214 1 14 Clipped

The entry found quite by accident has resulted in my piecing together the life of Iris, using the documents and newspaper collections that we hold here at the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies and online resources such as the British Library Newspapers, Ancestry and FindMyPast.   

“On the 10.28 train arriving from Swindon at Slough on Tuesday night the cries of a baby were heard emanating from a second-class compartment, and a female child was found under the seat…there was no owner for it…”  The Bucks Herald Saturday, May 05 1900 pg.7

The story of the discovery of the baby was reported nationwide, from Penzance to Yorkshire, stimulating interest from ladies wanting to adopt the child.

G 8 22 ClippedThe minutes of the Eton Board of Guardians (G/8/22) dated Tuesday 8th May 1900 detail the case.  The Master suggested that the baby was about a month old and four applications had already been received by women hoping to take the child.  Newspaper reports state that one of the applicants was a Kentish Clergyman’s wife who asked if the baby looked healthy.  The others were from Maidenhead, Brighton and Eastbourne.  The Guardians agreed that it was too early to decide whether the child should be adopted as not enough time had passed for relatives or friends of the infant to be found and so the matter was postponed for two weeks. 

The Board of Guardians deliberated the adoption of the baby at a meeting of 22nd May 1900 and elected to contact both the Faversham and Eastbourne Union Board of Guardians. “With a view to assisting the Guardians in arriving at a decision as to the homes offered for the child...”  

It was decided at the following meeting held on the 19th June that Mr and Mrs Adams of Eastbourne should be able to adopt the child and she was duly baptised Iris on 24th June 1900. This is where her story ends in Buckinghamshire, but using the census records for 1901, I see that her adopted father Caleb was 54 years old and a fishmonger.  Her adopted mother Edith was 34 and both were born in Sussex.  Iris’s birthplace is given as unknown, as it is on the 1911 census. Poignantly, she creates a date of birth for the [1]1939 register – 6th April 1900.  Her occupation is a housewife and she is single living with her widowed mother.  Iris E Adam’s death at the age of 64 is recorded within the 1965 March Quarter of the General Register Office Index.

It is over 116 years since Iris was born. Her life on paper is documented from the moment she was found abandoned by her birth mother till her death in 1965.  It is important to remember though, that the glimpses we find of an individual’s life were kept for official purposes only.  Yet, by reading such records, family historians are able to look into the lives of those long since passed, something that the documents were not intended to be used for.  And it is with this in mind that I wonder if the vicar could have realised that a simple annotation that he wrote in 1900, could lead to my discovering the lifetime journey of a new-born foundling?      

[1] National Registration Day was September 29th 1939.  Every household in Great Britain and Northern Ireland had to register (over 41 million people).  The information was used to issue identity cards, ration books and later NHS patient numbers.