SPAIN has been in the news as government officials have been asking for more ‘baby boxes’ to be installed around the country due to an increase in child abandonment.

The boxes would be a safe place for mothers to leave their unwanted babies, instead of abandoning them in the street or beside doorways.

If we look back at Southend history, there are countless stories of babies being abandoned.

Often there were a number of reasons why a mother would be driven to such action. It could be poverty, the fact the mother was a servant and could not keep the baby or because the woman was unmarried.

In October of 1890 an extraordinary story happened in Southend, at the High Street fruitier shop of a retailer named Mrs Jacobs,

One of Mrs Jacobs’ servants was a girl named Mary Ruse, who was originally from Canewdon.

Mary had concealed her pregnancy but one night as she was about to give birth she went to the roof of the shop building in the dead of night. Other housemate heard screams coming from the roof as Mary gave birth all alone, but they ignored them. After the baby was born Mary put the infant in a dustbin, wrapped in an apron.

The next morning at breakfast Mrs Jacobs accused Mary of having a baby in the night and told her she must leave straight away.

Mary argued and said “If I had a baby where is it then?”

It wasn’t long before the baby was found and the police called. The baby was taken to the Rochford Workhouse. It’s not clear if Mary got into trouble with the courts but it’s likely she was bound over.

A few days after she had given birth a friend of Mary’s went to the workhouse and got the baby.

The friend handed the little girl to Mary and said “Here’s your baby now kiss it.” And she kissed her. From what we can tell she kept the baby from then on.

In July of 1898 a mother abandoned her baby in Southend after asking a stranger to watch her ‘for a few minutes’.

Ellen Miller was standing near the loading pier on Marine Parade when she was asked by a woman to take care of her child, who was apparently a few months old. Her excuse was that she wanted to go into the High Street on an errand for ten minutes. Miss Miller took the baby, the woman left, and was seen no more. After waiting about two hours she sought out a policeman.

The baby was in an emaciated condition. It was taken to the hospital and then to the workhouse. The identity of the mother remained a mystery. All that was known of her was that she was about 30 and of respectable appearance. She was dressed in a blue skirt, red plaid blouse and sailor hat, and was accompanied by girl about 14 years of age.

Just one year later in May of 1899 a two-month-old baby boy wad found on Southchurch beach. The child was crying when he was found by a passing labourer. The tot was taken to the authorities where it was fed and made warm before being taken to the Rochford workhouse.

Babies were left in all sorts of places. Southend’s Nazareth House took in unwanted babies.

But unfortunately, some mothers decided to leave their children in other places rather than seek out the help of the nuns.

In May 1908 a young widow named Minnie Evans left her four- month-old baby boy on a luggage rack inside a railway carriage on a Southend train.

The baby was found by a railway worker and was looked after by the stationmaster’s wife before being removed to Rochford workhouse, where it was said he was ‘a favourite amongst the nurses’.

It wasn’t long before the mother was tracked down and summoned to court. She told the judge: “I carried it in my arms until I reached Southend, when I left it on the third class luggage rack in the carriage. I was nearly distracted and scarcely knew what I did do.”

She was examined by Dr. F. Silva Jones, from Southend, who said he “found her in a condition of what he should term mental apathy.”

He said he had a difficult time getting answers to any of his questions.

In court Mrs Evans – described as a “well dressed young woman” – was attended by a police officer’s wife and was weeping copiously as the charges were read out.

She told the court she had been married to a violent man in Nottingham who died a few months before the baby had been born. When the baby was born she didn’t feel she could cope financially, so she abandoned him on the train.

Throughout the hearing, it came to light how Mrs Evans suffered from depression and did not appreciate the gravity of her situation.

In the end her brother-in-law came to the rescue and told the court that he would be responsible for both Minnie and the baby. He owned a successful lace making firm in Nottingham.

It seems as though this did happen. The 1911 census – three years later – shows Minnie living with her family in Nottingham along with the son she had abandoned – Frederick George Evans.

In July of 1913, a sad case was told at London’s Guildhall court which involved a Southend woman named Winifred Pudney who had also abandoned her child in a railway carriage.

Her son was two-and-a-half years old. The child was found in a third-class compartment of train from Southend at Liverpool Street Station on May 7.

Once in court Pudney pleaded guilty to the charge. It turned out her father had been a renowned doctor who practised in Hanover Square, London. But he died when Winifred was young and she was put under the care of an aunt who let her go off the rails.

A newspaper report of the proceedings described the situation: “She went into domestic service at a public house in the East End of London. She got into trouble with the landlord’s son, and there was a child born, who was five- and-a-half yearsld. By her own hard work she kept that child.

“Eventually she went to Southend and entered domestic service there. The child concerned in the present charge was born there. Then she met a man who agreed to marry her, and to clear the way to this end she left the child in the train.

“The defendant’s husband is a very poor man, and she was a hardworking woman. They have two rooms, which were scantily furnished.”

The judge took pity on Pudney and bound her over in the sum of £10. The court even gave her the money to get back to Southend as she didn’t have the fare.

Records show that despite their poverty-stricken situation Winifred and her husband Leonard Pudney went on to have two more sons and a daughter together. It looks as if the child she abandoned was never returned to her.