Nora Isabel Adnams (B. 1901): An Introduction – Writing Lives

Nora Isabel Adnams (B. 1901): An Introduction


1904 to June 1911

By Nora Isabel Adnams, nee Brazier.

 ‘We were placed in separate cottages in the village home at Barkingside, Essex, where we were as isolated from the world as if we were on a desert island.’ (2)

Nora Isabel Adnams, born May 1st 1901, was taken to Barnardo’s Barkingside Village for Girls at the age of three. Her memoirs reminisce about her experiences here, and paint a fascinating picture of a mischievous young girl growing up in a very strict environment. Nora also discusses the extremes of poverty, the care system of the 1900’s and her opinions on class – all in a uniquely witty and conversational style. The memoir was originally intended for her own children and husband, and the familiar tone in which she writes makes the piece instantly accessible and easy to enjoy. Although the piece only spans over seven years of Nora’s life, the reader feels instantly connected to her – and you are left content in the knowledge that Nora eventually returns to her family, and even grows up to have a family of her own. Nora manages to create a piece that is both heart-breaking and heart-warming, as she describes her life in the quaintly named (although not quite so quaintly run!) Daisy Cottage.

I was initially drawn to Nora’s memoir due to my own family ties with Barnardo’s homes, as both my parent’s worked at Barnardo’s during the 1980s. I wanted to know more about the original Barkingside homes, and Nora’s memoir certainly does not shy away from revealing her side of the story. Although Nora’s memoir only spans over a relatively short period of time, the anecdotes she shares are both interesting and full of fascinating detail; she instantly draws readers in with both her tales of mischief and misery.

An example of Nora’s mischievous side can be seen when she discusses a run-in with Dr Barnardo himself, in which her elder sisters dare her to ask for his help. Although the conversation begins in jest, it is apparent that Nora is touched that he takes her concerns seriously, and her admiration remains throughout the memoir, as she notes ‘his death in 1905 was indeed a great loss’ (3). Another fact she reveals is the jealousy she feels after her friend, Flossy, is picked to feature on the statue that is erected in Dr Barnardo’s honour. These small details very much appealed to me, as they offer such a personal insight into key moments and people in our history.

Compared to her affection for Dr Barnardo, it is somewhat surprising to read the anger Nora feels towards the Barnardo’s house ‘mothers’. These are the women who ran the Barkingside cottages on a day-to-day basis, and Nora is always sure to include speech marks when referring to them as ‘mother’. Nora’s relationship with these women is certainly turbulent, and something that Nora herself often finds difficult to explain. Although Nora says ‘now I can often laugh over some of the things’ (9), many of the darker accounts within the memoir are at the hands of the house ‘mother’.

Nora’s memoir of living at Barnardo’s is certainly not short on the finer detail; however, it also manages to comment on much larger issues that effected her childhood. She is most fiery when discussing her feelings on wealth – ‘Never, never, believe it when people tell you money does not count’ (17) – class and poverty, and her passion for these subjects appears to rub off on the reader. This is not only the case on issues of wealth, but also emigration, education and the rearing of a child, as Nora Isabel Adnams’ ability to be humble and humorous means you really fight for and believe in every word she writes.

‘Nora Isabel Adnams’, ‘MY MEMOIRS OF DR. BARNARDO’S HOME, BARKINGSIDE, ESSEX’, , University of Brunel Library, Special Collection: 2:859

A Dr Barnardo’s home, Barkingside London by Anonymous – – Date Accessed: 2nd October 2014

Dr Barnardo at one of his homes by Anonymous –  – Date Accessed: 2nd October 2014

The girls than live in Dr Barnardos Home at Barkingside, London By Anonymous  – – Accessed: 2nd October 2014

– Accessed: 2nd October 2014

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