Cold As Charity

  • Cold as Charity Judy: #1397 (18 October 1986) – #1408 (3 January 1987)
  • Reprinted (as Judy classic)– M&J:  #176 (24 Sep. 1994) – #187 (10 Dec. 1994)
  • Writer: Marion Turner (under pen-name: Fiona Turner)
  • Artist: Paddy Brennan


In Victorian times Charity Barton and her young brother Billy are taken in by one of their neighbours, Mrs. Drabble, after they are orphaned. Although she works them hard Charity believes she must be kind as she has given them a home. Charity intends to sell her mother’s wedding ring so she can carry out Billy’s wish of visiting the seaside. Mrs. Drabble offers to sell the ring for her and send Billy to a seaside home for the Summer. Charity is grateful for Mrs Drabble’s help until she later overhears her plans to send Billy to a workhouse and keep Charity on as a cheap servant. Mrs. Drabble is already enjoying the money she got from the pawned ring at this stage as well.

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Charity is upset by her heartlessness, and she and Billy runaway. She is determined to get Billy to the seaside but to never trust in people’s kindness again. On their journey they meet people who seem to want to help but through misunderstandings, Charity believes they are only using them and are deceitful. In one instance a couple take her and Billy in, but then Charity overhears the couple talking about a plan and that her and Billy should make  a good impression on Aunt Lucy. She believes they are being used to get a rich older relative’s money. In actuality the Langtons were hoping Aunt Lucy would like the two children and take them to her home by the sea and that they would be good company for the lonely woman.

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Usually Charity leaves before these misunderstandings are cleared up. This not only ruins her chances but also at times lets the people who tried to help her in bad situations. Such as a blind man losing his cherished dog. Charity has to accept help from a young school mistress when she hurts her ankle. She believes that Miss Ellen is only concerned with herself and is ready to move on again when she comes across a student, Sam, beaten up. She confronts Miss Ellen about this, thinking she made Sam go against his father’s wishes just so she had her best student at an inspection. But she is soon put right by Hannah (Miss Ellen’s older helper). Sam was going to be put to work as a chimney sweep and Miss Ellen has arranged an education grant for him through the inspector.  Charity realises her mistake and is upset as she begins to think there have been other people she misjudged and acted coldly towards.

Miss Ellen’s kindness continues as she rents a cottage for them at the seaside for a month. The first day is wonderful for Billy and Charity thinks the sea air has done him well as there is colour in his cheeks. Only Hannah recognises it as a flush of fever. That night Billy dies he is later buried by the seaside. Charity has learned a lot from Miss Ellen and she goes on to become a nurse in a children’s hospital.

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The phrase as cold as charity isn’t something I come across regularly nowadays, but it is fitting with the Victorian setting. I don’t know the exact origin of the saying  but I would guess its around the time, Cringe Or Starve was a nickname for Charity Organisation Society. The title/saying is referenced a lot throughout the story, mostly by people referencing Charity Barton in a bad light. But even in the end when she’s changed it is referenced with Charity being the opposite of cold. These stories liked emphasising the titles a lot (especially if the character’s name was fitting with a clever pun/phrase).

Tragic stories another popular plot for these comics. Of course the best setting for these tragedies was often the Victorian era, with children having to stay out of workhouses, poverty or deal with poor working conditions and cruel employers. Charity comes across many situations that in other stories she would have been right to assume the worse; underhand people using children to get money out of a rich older relative or using a sick child to get sympathy when selling things etc. Other than Mrs. Drabble, they do come across some troublesome people. In one instance, Charity upsets some boys, who get their revenge by messing up their chance of a boat passage. Of course Charity wrongly assumes that the fault is of the woman who promised to put in a word with the captain, and this again reinforces her idea not to rely anyone’s supposed kindness. Why people keep helping her even with her coldness is because they can see goodness in her as well, particularly as she is so protective and caring for her brother.

It is tragic that Charity and Billy suffer many needless hardships because Charity has lost her trust in people. But it also hard on the people who helped her and she betrayed. For example a bunch of runaways get carried off to a workhouse, as she believes the leader is running a scam and gives them up to the police to save herself. The gang sell matchboxes on the street and the leader Tom gets majority of the money.  He is actually keeping money aside so he can buy everyone shoes, though one kid tries to run a scam selling half full boxes. Charity believes Tom is responsible for the half boxes and is keeping money for himself.

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The “happy” ending is Charity becomes a compassionate nurse and Billy got his one day at the seaside. It is still harsh that they have a cottage booked for a month and Billy only gets one day there, even if it is the best day ever. There’s some great art throughout, Charity and Billy meet a lot of people on their journey and they each have a distinctive look, the crowded busy town streets are vibrant and the seaside is peaceful in comparison. There’s great detail put in to capture the era. It’s a good story, it can be frustrating that Charity keeps making the same mistakes, but she has a reason to be cautious and distrustful after being betrayed. While the situations could have become repetitive, each character and situation are distinct enough to keep interest.

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2 thoughts on “Cold As Charity

  1. Isn’t that artist Paddy Brennan? Yes, he did a lot of stories with Victorian settings, such as Sarah Below Stairs.

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