The idea for Holding the Baby sprang from the work of Gilda O’Neill, writer, oral historian and chronicler of London’s East End and has been funded in her memory by the Gilda Street Trust. In her oral history My East End (2000) Gilda presents many memories of growing up in the area in the ‘golden age’ of the 1950s and 1960s, when children played out ‘astonishingly late’, made their own games and, if they were lucky, shared some soggy chips. It was a ‘smaller, less private world … where children addressed the women in the street as aunty regardless of actual blood relationships’.
Gilda found that ‘a striking example of how things have changed, in our perception of what we might expect from our local community, was seen in the response to my questions about the problems of childcare.’ It was simply taken for granted by many of the people she spoke to that when women worked, there would be somebody – relations, neighbours, friends – to keep an eye on the kids. 17 years on from the publication of My East End, we’re asking – what has changed? It is common to bemoan the lack of freedom children have today, but is childhood really so different from that in the past? Do parents in the East End still learn from older generations, or is the advice of ‘experts’ given more importance by new parents?
A new parent myself, I’m looking forward to hearing other peoples’ stories and finding out what’s changed – and what hasn’t. I’ll post regular updates on my progress here – but I also want this blog to be a space for others to contribute their memories, reflections and thoughts. Send them in to me at email@example.com: tell me about your childhood, how you brought up your children, what childcare you used, whether you had children last month or sixty years ago.
Image credit: Wall End Day Nursery, 1949. © London Borough of Newham Archives.