Out now!

Sunday 29 August 2021

Out of Sight, Out of Mind -
Abuse, Neglect and Fire in a London Children’s Workhouse, 1854 - 1907

This book has just been published by the author of this website. It was inspired by stories I have written about here concerning the old "industrial school, later maternity hospital on Forest Lane, E7.


The full story has never been told before, and from my early digging, I knew there was a real tale to tell. About a year ferreting away in various archives confirmed the fact. Lockdown gave me the opportunity to put the book together.

I hope you will find it an interesting read and a worthwhile project. Most of the material in it is new to the public domain and I believe that it will add considerably to an understanding of the development of not just the local establishment, but also about the history of looked-after children in Britain.


It is a local story, told within a national setting

Local story provides:


·         Descriptions of the lives of 50,000 Victorian east London pauper children, from age two, trapped in an institution, where:
·         abuse, neglect, ill-discipline and corruption were rife.
·         An account of a highly acclaimed naval training vessel run by the school in Grays, which tragically perished after five years.
·         Local heroes and villains emerge in Forest Gate, whose stories are told for the first time.
·         A record of how Britain’s first female workhouse school governor – Henrietta Barnett - led the charge to close the institution after public health and fire disasters in the 1890s.
·         The successful struggles of future MPs - Will Crooks and George Lansbury - who cut their public service teeth closing the Forest Gate school.
·         The onward journey of the buildings which became a maternity hospital and birth place of 50,000 twentieth century East Enders.


National setting relates:


·         Details of state and religious responses to 1,000 years of child poverty in England.
·         An account of 200 years of institutional care of looked-after children, nationwide.
·         The failure of Victorian confused thinking and policy in addressing pauper children.
·         Proposals and innovative moves from home, abroad and Britain’s first female public servant – Jane Senior - to address the question of looked-after children.
·         The 50-year record of how complacent and unimaginative Victorian governments responded to workhouse children.
·         How positive changes in approach from charities, churches and local initiatives were largely ignored by successive late nineteenth century governments.
·         How a national campaign to close “barrack schools”, was successfully conducted by Henrietta Barnett, following her Forest Gate experience.
·         A detailed examination of how dozens of other institutional solutions - over a 200-year period - addressed the needs of looked-after children in England and abroad.
·         How Forest Gate pioneers set the tone for twentieth century institutional child care policy and practice in Britain.


The readable and annotated book draws on my research into national and local archives, nineteenth century newspapers and previously unpublished memoirs.

The launch

It took place at a well attended event at the Newham Bookshop on Thursday 26 August 2021. Thank you to all who attended, for making it such a memorable occasion.





Some early reviews

“Chuffed to bits for John Walker … who has published this important book – a memorial to the many, many East London children who passed through its workhouses (some of whom never came home).”

Dr Louise Raw, historian of the Matchwomen: Striking a Light. BBC Radio London historian and Bishopsgate lecturer.


 “Amazing E7.NowAndThen.org book on the history of the building next to ours. Detailed research, massive compassion and heart in telling a story that unfortunately we may not have learned from. … Immensely readable and really fascinating. Really touched by it.”

 Jane Williams, CEO/Founder, The Magpie Project

Some press coverage 


Newham Voices - September 2021 


Publishing details

Title: Out of Sight, Out of Mind 

Subtitle: Abuse, Neglect and Fire in a London Children’s Workhouse - 1854-1907

Author: John Walker

Publication date: 26 August 2021

Format: Paperback, Trim size: 6”x9”, Pages: 252,  Price: £12.99

ISBN: 978-1-1-7399142-0-2

Publisher: E7-NowAndThen.org

Includes: 37 illustrations and pen portraits of over 25 former inmates

Available from: Newham Bookshop and all other good book suppliers