Tag Archives: historical

The Children’s Champion [1964]

  • The Children’s Champion – Bunty: #348 (12 September 1964) – #369 (06 Feb. 1965)
  • Reprinted – Bunty: #842 (02 March 1974) – #863 (27 July 1974)
  • Reprinted – Lucky Charm #16 (1982)

Plot

In 1868, Hester Langley, daughter of rich titled parents, is feeling dissatisfied with the lavish life her family is living. One night, after another boring party, Hester can’t sleep  and goes downstairs to get a book. She hears a disturbance and decides to investigate herself rather than get a servant. She finds Annie, a young orphan who has sneaked in for someplace warm to sleep. Though not familiar with preparing meals, Hester does manage to heat up some soup for Annie and she questions her about her life. She is distressed to hear that a nine year old sleeps in back alleys, hasn’t eaten for days and only gets scraps when she does eat. Hearing there are many more like her, Hester wants to come to Stepney and see for herself, right away. After persuading her servant Polly to lend her some clothes, her and Annie set off. Hester is horrified with what she sees in Stepney and she returns home with a plan to enlist her father and wealthy friends to help the poor children. Annie thinks she’s very lucky to have met  Hester and calls her “Miss Angel”. Lord Langley in the meantime has woken and questioned Polly, when Hester arrives home he is not happy with her plan. He is not going to have his daughter mixing with the “scum of London”. The Langleys kick Annie out and fire Polly. Lady Langley insists Hester must bathe at once in case she’s picked up germs. But Hester isn’t going to be persuaded from her mission  and if her parents won’t help she is determined to give the London waifs a home herself.

Hester sets off the next day with the money and jewellery that she has and is joined by Polly. The only place they can afford to rent is a stable, and the landlord takes advantage of their desperation, but Hester and Polly clean it up nice.  Her parents get worried when she doesn’t return home, but Lord Langley doesn’t want to call the police because of the scandal it would cause, so he goes looking for her, himself. Annie has gathered all her friends to come to their new home, but then Lord Langley arrives and demands Hester comes home. She won’t budge and her new scheming landlord sees an opportunity to make  money off Lord Langley saying he will kick them out of the stable for a fee, and Hester won’t want to sleep on the streets and will go home.  But that plan fails for Langley as he still hasn’t realised how committed his daughter is to her cause. While asleep on the streets a coster (street seller) named Tom Clark, comes across them, he has known hardships before and he rents them his shed. After being cheated out of money by the first landlord, they are needing more money for supplies so, Hester and Annie go to see her kindly godmother Lady Ella Coombes, but she is away on a trip. Although they don’t succeed on getting supplies, they do pick up another stray on their trip, a chimney sweep boy, Billy.

More difficulties befall them when Hester’s bag is stolen. Tom’s wife, Molly, comes to check on them and hearing their story rounds up help from the community and gets some old furniture for the shed. Later, the boy, Jack, that stole Hester’s bag passes by the shed and is offered some soup. Jack recognises Hester as the toff he stole the bag from and now feels terrible about it. He confesses everything and how he is forced to steal for a man called Mr Luther, so that himself and his young brother, Bert, can have a home. Hester offers them a new home with her, but Mr Luther is not happy and tries to get him back. Luckily Tom Clark and his friends help take care of Mr Luther and get Hester’s money returned too. Mr Luther knows he has to leave the area but is only leaving after he has his revenge on Hester. He sets the shed on fire, while they are out. With no home, Hester has no choice but to ask her parents for help. Her father agrees to replace the shed on the condition Hester comes home, but she refuses to leave the children so he disowns her.

For the time-being Tom’s friends let them stay in their sheds though they have to share them with animals. When Hester and Annie come across a sickly lavender seller,Lucy,  Hester doesn’t have any room for her, but later feels guilty and goes back to find her half dead. She gets Lucy to hospital and gives her a reason to fight. She will never refuse a child again. She goes to her parents friends to implore them for money but of no avail. Luckily her Godmother Ella Coombes returns, and is keen to help with the cause. Jack not knowing this, tries to steal money for Miss Angel but is caught. If not for the intervention of Hester and Lady Coombes he would have been sent to prison. Lady Coombes also pays for refurbishment of the shed. But just as their fortunes are looking up, Annie comes down with Typhoid Fever which soon spreads to other children. With the help of Lady Coombes and Mrs Clark they all pull through, but unfortunately Lady Coombes comes down with fever. Coombes son Edward blames Hester for this and wants to destroy what she has built. He destroys their soup making stall, so Hester finds a hard job in hospital. Polly convinces her that she would be better doing that work as the children need Hester with them. Even still money is tight, Hester often kept going with little food. Jack and Annie break into Lady Ella’s house to see her, she is recovering and did not know her son had lied about Hester being not bothered to visit. She is to go to Italy to help with her recovery, but she leaves Hester money to help her waifs, while she is gone.

Edward spreads talk of the money, knowing it will be robbed, Some thieves do ransack the home but don’t find it. Then Lucy falls ill again and Hester spends most of her money to send her to be by the sea. A new boy, Ben joins the home,  he thinks that Hester is a sucker and takes advantage of her kindness. He riles Jack up in order to get him to help steal from pawn shop, but Hester finds out and follows them. Ben ends up knocking her out, luckily she recovers but Ben runs away. The others think she should give up on him, but Hester won’t abandon him. They eventually find him in the sewers, sick, Hester nurses him back to health and he becomes loyal to her. But heartache isn’t over for Ben as it turns out he is not an orphan, but a runaway from an abusive father who takes him back when he sees him out with Hester. Hester tries to earn money to pay Mr Brown for Ben, and she has the support of Ben’s mother, but the father beats Mrs Brown up badly and runs off with Ben. Hester takes in Ben’s younger siblings and comforts Mrs Brown before she dies in hospital. Hester finds Ben and Mr Brown goes to jail for dealing with stolen goods (no punishment in these times for beating his wife to death!).

With things settled for a while, Hester finally has time to start schooling the children. Still Hester keeps on taking in waifs, and their home is getting crowded. Then Tom arrives to tell her the shed is going to be pulled down to make way for a warehouse. Hester  sleeps outside with the children under a makeshift shelter. After some bad rain the Clarks take them all in temporarily, and Hester falls ill with pneumonia. The children all pray in the street for their Miss Angel and catch the eye of a reporter. The Langleys read about their daughters illness in the paper and put their pride aside, to go to her. Luckily Hester has mostly recovered at this stage and the Langleys want her home with them and agree to take in the children too. They help find sponsors for a new children’s home and the Clarks come work for them. Hester is delighted with the new home, but she is not one to rest, that evening she is out looking for more children to help.

Thoughts

There are many of these stories where the wealthy protagonist gives up her charmed life, in order to take care of young waifs in Victorian England (such as Angel, Haven of Hope and other variations like The Double Life of Delia), this was one of the first. While it is popular, Mandy’s Angel  is probably more well remembered (probably helped by it’s sequels and annual appearances). For this reason it is Angel, I will draw most comparisons to when discussing this story, especially as The Children’s Champion seems to be a prototype for it (perhaps it had the same writer?). The children call Hester “Miss Angel” the same as the children call Angela in Angel, though in the former case Hester still is identified both as Hester and “Miss Angel”. In both cases the protagonist has a close relationship with an orphan named, Annie and relies on them to help with other children. They are both very committed to their cause, looking after the children even to the detriment of their own well-being. There are religious tones in both (although more prominent in Angel) Hester thanks God for sending Annie to her, the orphans pray for Hester to get well, in  Angel Angela often asks God to give her strength and courage and it implies she goes to Heaven in the end.

Where they differ, is Angela is more of a martyr, working mostly by herself, her parents believe their daughter is dead, so she is cut off from all those in her previous life,  and of course with only a year to live, she dies at the end of the story but with her parents carrying on her work. While Hester’s parents  disown her,  she does have more help with Polly, the Clarks and Lady Coombes, and eventually her parents come around. We also see more class divisions as Hester interacts with the upper classes to try and get their help. Angela’s parents while dismissive of the plights of the poor weren’t as aggressive as the Langleys, who refer to the children as “diseased” and “scum”. While Angela’s ending was dramatic and pulls at the readers’ heartstrings, I like that Hester continues her work even when the Children’s Home is built. It shows that the work doesn’t stop just because they have nice place to live now and that Hester is still willing to go out on the streets to continue to find children.

 

While Hester is a bit naive about the plights of poor people, until Annie educates her, she shows dissatisfaction with her wealthy life even before that. She shows courage and willingness to do things herself too, firstly confronting an intruder, and then though never having to cook for herself before, she manages in the kitchen, heating up soup for Annie. Once she knows about the London waifs, she is committed to helping them. I would think that her Godmother Lady Coombes has been a good influence on her, as we don’t see her parents so inclined to help. Lady Coombes is a good ally and also willing to muck in when needed, like helping with Typhoid epidemic, she is someone that Hester obviously admires and has been a positive force in her life. She seems to be the exception among those in Hester’s former life, it is actually the people with little to give that help the most, particularly the Clarks. It’s good to see Annie as Hester’s closest ally too, as she brings the knowledge and experience of a London that Hester did not know about and they develop a good friendship too. It has some stunning art, I particularly like the opening panel for the details of Hester’s clothes and hair before she switches to plainer clothes. The art and a well-thought out story makes this a good read. The story does well concentrating on smaller selection of characters and developing them, certainly as readers we root for them and want them to overcome their obstacles, and are glad to see them get a happy ending.

Sparrow and her Songs

Plot

In the 1880s, many of the poorest people in Paris, lived in a a shanty town near Montmartre, until one dreadful day when the wooden shanties burned down. Then the folk had to struggle to earn food and shelter. Some were mere children, like Sparrow and her crippled brother, Marcel. Her only hope to was to make money with her music, but it was not going to be easy for her.

Notes

Appeared

  • Sparrow and her Songs – Tracy: #179 (5 March 1983) – #189 (14 May 1983)

Call Me Joe!

Plot

In 1860 orphans Joanna and Johnny Hollow were sent to the workhouse after the death of their parents. So they were not separated Joanna disguised herself as a boy. Then the children were adopted by Mr Hindley who only wanted them to slave in his factory and under the constant threat of being sent back to workhouse.

Notes

  • Art: Paddy Brennan

Appeared

  • Call Me Joe! – Suzy: #82 (31 March 1984) – #94 (23 June 1984)

Rosie and Redfire

Plot

On Rose Redman’s birthday her parents had shown her Redfire the Redman Ruby a priceless gem that was in a secret compartment of her fathers cane. Then Rosie’s parents were killed and all belongings sold off. When her pony, Punch and dog, Judy turned up a the orphanage she decided to go search for Redfire.

Notes

  • Art: Terry Aspin

Appeared

  • Rosie and Redfire – Suzy: #67 (17 December 1983) – #81 (24 March 1984)

The Grimthorpe Secret

Plot

In Victorian times, Paulina Grimthorpe was turned out of her home, Grimthorpe Hall, along with all the servants when her uncle Darley claimed the estate after the sudden death of her father. In order to search for the will she felt sure her father must have left, Paulina took a job as a scullery maid in her own home under the name Polly Ford.

Notes

  • Art: Paddy Brennan

Appeared

  • The Grimthorpe Secret – Suzy: #55 (24 September 1983) – #66 (10 December 1983)

Sarah’s Smile of Sorrow

Plot

When a mysterious illness wiped out her family, Sarah Blake survived the sickness but it left her with a twisted mouth and a permanent smile. She was taken in by her father’s scheming cousin Iris. Though Sarah’s family were poor, Aunt Iris owned a mill where she planned to make Sarah a slave.

Notes

Appeared

  • Sarah’s Smile of Sorrow – #43 (2 July 1983) – #54 (17 September 1983)

Hardluck Hannah

Plot

Hannah Wilkins lived with her brother Joseph and her greedy selfish sister in law Nancy. Hannah had a job in a sewing factory and though Nancy didn’t work she made Hannah do all the household chores too. Hannah joined a club for working girls run by Miss James, but Nancy finds out and spoils that for her too

Notes

  • Art: Mario Capaldi

Appeared

  • Hardluck Hannah – Suzy: #26 (5 March 1983) – #39 (4 June 1983)

Meg – the Hunted One

Plot

In the early 17th century, a  young girl called Meg lived alone on Exmoor. She had been brought up by an elderly woman Blind Biddy, But, when she was fourteen, Meg found herself alone after Blind Biddy had been condemned and put to death by Josh Mortiboys, a wealthy landowner, who had sworn that Meg would share the same fate. Meg had been, staying with a lawyer who had befriended her, but, one nighty Mortiboys came looking for her. She ran away over the moor from the protection of Lawyer Miller’s house and of Jack Oakley, a friendly farmer, whom Meg had helped earlier. With her pet raven and her deer, she fled across the rain-swept moorland.

Notes

  • Art: Phil Gascoine (unconfirmed)

Appeared

  • Meg – the Hunted One – Judy: #631 (12 February 1972) – #642 (29 April 1972)

Turkey Trott

Plot

Two hundred years ago, Trudy Trott and her young brother, Tom, helped their grandparents drive a flock of turkeys to the big market in London. They had stayed to help Edith, a young girl who was trying to keep a little pie-shop going after the death of her mother.

Notes

Appeared

  • Turkey Trott – Judy:  #558 (19 September 1070) – #567 (21 November 1970)

The Secret Life of Hateful Hattie [1974]

  • The Secret Life of Hateful Hattie – Mandy:  #378 (13 April 1974) – #395 (10 Aug. 1974)
  • Reprinted – Mandy: #681(2 February 1980)  – #699 (7 June 1980) [First 2 episodes, title is Hateful Hattie!]
  • Reprinted as Hateful Hattie! – Mandy:  #1060 (09 May 1987) – #1077 (05 Sep. 1987)
  • Other Appearances:
    • The Secret Life of Hateful Hattie – Mandy Annual 1976

Plot

In 1905, the girls of Birch House Orphanage are treated cruelly, except for Hattie Taylor, who gets privileges by toadying up to the staff. This particularly maddens Tilly Tucker, an outspoken girl, who leads the chant of “Hateful Hattie” at the dinner table. When they are  overheard by Matron’s second in command, Miss Winters, Tilly takes the full blame and also hits Hattie as she knows she is to be punished anyway and wants to make it worthwhile. Tilly is beaten and locked in the cellar with no food, but a hooded figure leaves her some food and ointment for her bruises. Telling the other girls about this, she nicknames her helper as the “Angel Ghost”. Nobody would suspect that their secret helper is actually Hattie. The only reason Hattie is the staff’s pet is so she can help the other girls, while the staff think she is on their side. Unfortunately because the girls don’t know this, they give “Hateful Hattie” a hard time both by name calling and physical attacks. Hattie won’t tell on them as she doesn’t want to get them in trouble, but of course they think its because she is scared of them.

Life can be difficult for Hattie, she dislikes having to pretend to be nice to the staff and endure the girls’ hateful looks, so she is glad when she is sent on an errand. She goes to the Willoughbys home, who want to arrange to visit Birch House in the hopes of finding an under-nursery maid. Away from Birch House, Hattie can be her genuine pleasant self and after meeting her, the cook recommends Hattie for the job. Having seen the house, Hattie is excited by the prospect as everyone seems happy and well looked after. But being selfless she feels she is needed at Birch House more and turns the job down. She looks for a good candidate herself, knowing the Willoughbys want a cheery girl, she considers Polly at first. She would fit in at Willoughbys but Hattie also realises she has strong spirit and has the ability to last at Birch House. Meanwhile, Florence is more sensitive so Hattie concludes she needs job more and sets out to make sure she gets it. She manage to get money from the matron, and uses it to buy Florence a brooch, then Florence looks naturally happy when Mrs Willoughby comes and succeeds in getting the job.

Hattie continues to help the girls in her role as “Angel Ghost” and also manipulating things in their favour as “Hateful Hattie”. She gets a sick girl Lizzie sent to cellar by claiming she beat her even though it was Tilly. The cellar isn’t much warmer than their dormitory and by providing her with blankets and food, it gives her time to rest and recover from her cough. She helps a girl Mary to get glasses by appealing to the Matron’s greed, telling her Mary could sew good embroidery that they could sell on. She gets Grace new boots that fit, by selling her own. Things don’t always work out, when she tries to manipulate the Matron to not send Alice to the “nightmare house” for spilling coal, she gets a slap herself. She later discovers Matron  she has toothache and is restless, which explained her particular moodiness but it means Hattie is unable to slip in and get the keys from her room. There is nothing she can do to help Alice the night she is locked in the cramped, dark, dog kennel and Alice comes back nearly catatonic. None of the Angel Ghost’s gift seem to help bring her out of this state, until she gets the idea to get her a mouse as a pet she can hide. More problems arise, when a new young girl, Victoria, arrives, Hattie not being able to stand her tears, comforts her but this means Victoria thinks she is friend, Hattie knows this will make her an enemy of others so she needs to turn Victoria against her. This proves difficult as Victoria is loyal to Hattie. The Angel Ghost pays Victoria a visit, saying it was her that made Hattie kind to her, then later Hattie herself  tells Victoria she is stupid and a liar for making up stories about the Angel Ghost, this has the desired effect of ending Victoria’s friendship.

While Birch House is a miserable place, there is something the girls can look forward to as every summer they go hop picking in Kent. Of course Matron and Miss Winters still try to take the joy out of the trip. Firstly, Matron decides Lucy, a new girl is too small and weak to come, luckily Hattie persuades her that she could earn money by gaining the sympathies of other pickers. When they arrive in Kent, Farmer Frost, is as bad as the Birch staff. He gives them huts away from everyone else, therefore any beating won’t be heard. They are also to be locked in at night, the window is stiff and rusted and Hattie is put in charge to make sure no-one tries to open it. By purposely burning herself on stove, she gets some oil and figures Tilly will be smart enough to sneak it from her and use it on the window, so they are able to sneak out and have fun. She also makes sure they get to the summer fair, which works out better than she expected with the arrival of Lady Gilchrist (who is friends with a patron of the orphanage), who treats them to rides at the fair.

Meanwhile, Lucy has gotten the attention of another picker, Mrs Brown, who wants to give her a home. Matron refuses as she wants to keep making money off her. Hattie’s facade drops as can’t hide her hate for Matron’s greed and denying Lucy a loving home. She luckily manages to pass it off as pins and needles, as she knows, if she is to help Lucy, she must keep her temper. It’s a difficult case and she gets a scolding when she tries to push things too quickly. Slipping a note to  Lady Gilchrist’s granddaughter, Caroline inviting her to the dance on the last day of hop picking, she hopes she would be able to help. Matron is not pleased to hear she is coming to dance as she will have to let girls go too, otherwise it might raise questions. By good fortune, Lady Gilchrist comes with Caroline and after hearing the Browns story, she talks to Matron about letting them adopt Lucy, a request she can hardly refuse if she wants to stay on the right side of the gentry.

Returning to Birch House, Matron continues to show how heartless she is, in a particular cruel punishment, after slipping on some polish, that Amy, had left out while scrubbing the floor, she burns the last mementos Amy has of her family. Nothing the Angel Ghost does can get her back to her cheery herself, she even tries to rouse her spirits, as Hateful Hattie by making her angry, but that fails too. She has one other idea, as Angel Ghost she asks Alice, to give Amy her mouse to cheer her up. This idea works as planned, Amy doesn’t want to take Alice’s mouse but says she will borrow him until she feels better. By pretending to be cheerful for Amy, she will get into the habit and also start to treat Alice as a little sister, bringing comfort to them both.

A problem arises when Hateful Hattie gets some competition with the arrival of Creeping Clara. But while Hattie’s behaviour is just an act, Clara really is sly and enjoys telling tales, getting the others  punished. She also tries to get Hattie in trouble as she wants to usurp her place as staff pet. As luck would have it a visit by a patron, Lady Tarrington, provides a solution. She is a tough employer and is looking for a scullery maid, Hattie tricks Clara into fawning over her, so she is taken on for the job. Hattie gets a small reprise from Birch House, when her and Maggie are taken on as extra help for two weeks at the Fitzpatrick house. While she still has to be Hateful Hattie around Maggie, with the help of a lost kitten, she helps Maggie get a permanent job there. When she returns she helps out two sisters Ruby and Ellen, by getting Ruby to be a good influence on Ellen, so she has to control her temper.

With such poor living conditions, it’s no surprise when a number of girls develop colds. Vicky gets it the worse and she struggles to get out of bed in the morning, Hattie knows she won’t be able to slip out for medicine until that night. As punishment for dropping her bowl at breakfast, Vicky is made clear the drive of snow and sent to the cellar at night. Hattie manages to get her hot drink while she’s outside and later gets her medicine but her sickness is getting worse. When Matron and Miss Winters go to check on her, in her fever Vicky talks of the Angel Ghost. Not knowing that the Matron is ready to catch the Angel Ghost, Hattie arrives that evening to check on Vicky. The Matron and Miss Winters are shocked to find the Angel Ghost is Hattie, and not Tilly like they suspected. This makes them even more mad, for she has made fools of them. They give her a severe beating and plan to return to beat her, until her spirit is broken, then they will farm her out to hard task mistress. When Miss Winters comes back to give Hattie her second beating of the night, Hattie is ready and  she slips out with Vicky. Getting to police station, she tells her story before collapsing. They are taken to hospital and a week later a policeman along with the girls comes to visit.  Matron and Miss Winters have been arrested and Birch House has new staff. Hattie can now return to a happy house with the friendships of the girls, no longer will she need to be “Hateful Hattie”.

Thoughts

Thanks to Derek for clarification on the title, the 1987 reprint was just called Hateful Hattie!. Oddly enough the 1980 reprint was also called Hateful Hattie! but only for the first two episodes, perhaps it was used to make the reveal of Hattie’s true intentions more surprising.

There are plenty of stories set around Victorian times, where the heroine would don a  disguise to help poor children,  such as The Seeker, Lady Sarah’s Secret, The Hooded Angel and Shadow of the Backstreets, but they were often in a position of privilege unlike Hattie who is in the same position as those she helps. There has also been protagonists that have acted like they are on the side of the antagonists in order to be in a better position to defeat them, which earns them animosity of those they are secretly helping, such as Callous Cassie and Detestable Della. But again Hattie has it worst, because not only does she get verbal abuse, the girls also physically abuse her, something that she has to hide from the staff as she doesn’t want them to get into trouble. Of course the girls aren’t to know that she is actually an ally, and when we meet “Creeping Clara” we see someone who is actually deserving of such treatment.

A good contrast to Hattie’s methods is Tilly. She is the leader and open protector of the girls but her upfront manner doesn’t help as it only riles the staff more. While her heart is in the right place, usually speaking out just earns herself a beating as well as the other girl.  Hattie tries to counteract this at times, like knowing when Tilly offers to do Lizzie’s work, they would get caught, Hattie plays her hateful self saying she will tell on them unless the both do their share. Hattie does also use Tilly to her advantage, knowing she is smart, she sets thing up so that Tilly can help others. For example, when she gets the oil for the window and when she pretends she doesn’t want food, she knows Tilly will share it out. When it is revealed Hattie is Angel Ghost, Tilly is the first to say they’ll be friends now and as two warmhearted girls, I suspect they become close friends.

While none of the staff at Birch House are very pleasant, it is Matron and Miss Winters that are the worst. As antagonists, they are vile with no redeeming qualities. The Matron is greedy, wanting to make sure she can get as much from the orphans as she can, she has no concern for their well being, she doesn’t care if Vicky dies and has shown even with her “favourite” Hattie, she can hit her too, just because she is in a bad mood. Miss Winters follows suit and has no objection to dishing out punishments. The punishments such as beatings, locking girls in cellar without food is bad enough, but they go even further than that. The small cramped dog kennel,  nicknamed the “nightmare house” is even worse than the cellar, and traumatizing for the girls as evidenced by how Alice is, when she returns from a night in it. Anyone who shows any bit of cheerfulness is quickly beaten down and they show how heartless and maliciousness they can be, by burning Amy’s last photos of her family. Above all they do not like to be outsmarted or made fun of and if Hattie had not escaped, she would have suffered a terrible fate. After their discovery of Hatty, the plan is to send her to a hard taskmaster, but I’m unsure if Hattie would have made it that far, as Miss Winters returned to give her a second  beating of the night, who knows if she would have survived that. It is a relief that Hattie does escape and Matron and Miss Winters get what they deserve.