Craig Fees, "Preface to: Unpublished classics: 'Children's Hostels' by Arthur T Barron (1943)", Therapeutic Communities 22:4 (2003), pp. 292-295


With this issue we are initiating a new occasional series with the title "Unpublished Classics". Underlying that title are the quieter questions "What is a classic?" and "What are the classics in this field?".

This previously unpublished paper was written in 1943 for a fledgling organisation, by a young professional, Arthur Barron, in a field which was then being born, and in a world of child care which had been transformed by the war. Having had the enuretic, malnourished, abused, confused, wild and difficult children of the cities thrust upon its attention by its national evacuation scheme, the State was about to enter into the scene in a major way. The 1944 Education Act raised the State's profile, and with the follow-up 1945 Handicapped Pupils and School Health Service Regulations, recognised the category of maladjusted children as requiring special educational treatment and gave local education authorities the powers not, as previously, "to support individual children at a few `special', privately run, schools, but to found, finance and control special schools of their own as well as to recognize, support and inspect existing schools" (Bridgeland, 1971, p.289). The shock of this change is still being worked through.

The author, born in North Hammersmith in 1919, was the son of a general labourer. For reasons which are not clear, by the age of 11 he had been sent to live at the Lingfield Epileptic Colony - undernourished, perhaps tubercular, he was certainly not epileptic. But there he came under the wing of Stuart Payne, who had been the fulcrum in David Wills' transformation at the Wallingford Farm Training Colony from "Basher Wills" into a pioneer of the more difficult therapeutic community approach with children and young people. Barron then joined the first Q Camps experiment in 1937 as a student helper, a joiner/carpenter studying architecture. When the Camp closed at the beginning of the war he joined the staff at psychotherapist Ida Saxby's Rest Harrow Abbey in Surrey - a kind of residential container for the child clients with whom she conducted regular sessions of psychotherapy, and where war conditions and competence quickly elevated Barron to the position of senior master. War conditions and internal contradictions led to the closure of "Batty Abbey" (Bridgeland, 1971, p. 219), and in the Autumn of 1941 Barron moved to a Quaker-run farm-based hostel for mixed refugee and evacuee children at Market Rasen in Lincolnshire run on self-sufficient and democratic lines, where he had responsibility for the `maladjusted' children, and from which he and his newly-wed wife went in May 1942 to take responsibility for a hostel for forty to sixty evacuated boys in Cornwall.

In this hostel, spread across three houses, 90% of the boys wet their beds. There were no case records, and no contact with parents. The boys were sent to bed as soon as they had finished their tea at 5 p.m., and apart from one favourite, were neglected by the Matron. The staff ate the children's rations, and the children were fed on a substitute diet of pea-flour soup. When the Barrons ensured that the children got their food rations, the staff rebelled. There was confrontation with the Management Committee, staff turnover, and more pressure on the newly-married couple as Margaret Barron was appointed in place of the matron whose resignation they forced. They created case notes, attempted to make contact with parents, liaised with the local teacher, and took the boys out of the hostel to let them play on the nearby beaches. But the Committee not only would not give them the scope to work as they felt necessary, but actively opposed their reforms. Therefore, having "rectified the outstanding evils of the place" (Arthur Barron to David Wills, 19.12.1942), they moved in December 1942 to become warden and matron of an evacuation hostel near Malmesbury in Wiltshire.

Although smaller and more civilised, this hostel, too, had its problems. The County was "anti-psychology", and this created a base-line of anxiety. There was an initial period of chaos and destruction on the road to creating a self-governing therapeutic community - "trying to make it more or less self-governing on the one hand and trying not to get the police too interested in us on the other" (Arthur Barron to David Wills, 22.1.1943). It was chronically understaffed, and the Barrons overworked: In the first nine months of 1943, they had no more than eight free days, with a staff of three instead of five. At the same time he was talking about an Association of Workers in Children's Hostels and thinking about the future of a profession: "I believe that it is going to be so very difficult for parents to readjust to one another and children to the parent after at least four years of separation that the need for hostels a year after the war will be greater than at the moment..." (Arthur Barron to David Wills, 29.9.1943). It was here, in December 1943, at the age of 24 and in this context, that he wrote the paper published below.

By July of the following year he had moved again, this time to become warden of the second Hawkspur Camp, for boys. 19 year old Chris Beedell came as a student helper at the end of 1944, and left in July 1945 with a vocation, and with insights and experiences which stayed with "and informed the way I think, act and write" for the rest of his life. To Beedell - himself an inspiration to generations of therapeutic residential workers (see Obituary, Therapeutic Communities 22:3 (2001), 249-250) - Barron and his wife Margaret were immensely influential. Fifty years on, he devoted his David Wills Memorial Lecture to those influences, stating "it is important to me that I share with you some of the things I learned from them". (Beedell, 1995, p. 4).

In a sense, this is a paper written by a man who was racing ahead of his time. The briefly-lived "Association of Workers in Children's Hostels" of which he was chairman intended "To raise the standard of the work ... To promote fellowship between hostels ... To concern itself with the status of workers and the position of hostels in the post-war world" (Arthur Barron to David Wills, 29.9.1943), but it was opposed by the Board of Education "who feared that it would become a channel of complaint" (Bridgeland, 1971, p. 220), fizzled out, and was not succeeded until the Association of Workers for Maladjusted Children was founded eight years later in 1951.

By the end of the war his progressive and unorthodox methods had earned Barron the active hostility of the Home Office, which effectively ensured that he would not be employed in child and youth care work (Arthur Barron to David Wills, 14.12.1947). Reluctant "to get out of this work entirely, a course that I think would be as unwise as it would be painful" (ibid), he took a decisive turn - he applied and was accepted by Anna Freud for training as a Child Psychotherapist at the Hampstead Clinic. Blackballed, in effect, for pioneering therapeutic community approaches to the work with difficult and delinquent children, he went on to develop an influential career as a psychotherapist and therapeutic advisor in schools and child guidance clinics within the Greater London area, and later as a consultant psychotherapist based in the South West: Kingsmuir, Coombe Hall, Conyboro, Bodenham Manor, New Woodlands, Farney Close, Greenacres, Eagle House, Warleigh Manor, Poolemead Centre. He continued to work intensely until stopped suddenly by a stroke in 1986. He died in 1993.

Is it a classic?

In the words of one professional, talking with Arthur Barron about the Work was "like sitting at the feet of Gamaliel" (Maurice Dobbs, interview, 30 June 1995). He did not write very much. Including this 1943 paper, and including book reviews, case studies, manuscripts and fragments, there are perhaps two to three dozen known pieces of his writing. His experience and his wisdom tended to flow into case notes and into people - like many pioneers and practitioners in this field, he was an extraordinarily gifted and insightful person who will disappear from history because his gifts were invested in the lives of others. When they pass, so will he. Unless.

This text, written early in his career, at a time of rapid change in the child care field, gives the cracks in the mantle of a volcano which is about to explode. The question is, to what extent have those cracks gone cold, and hard? And to what extent are that young man's insights and passions as alive today, as when he stole time from the work, in the midst of war, to get them down, sixty years ago?

The original typescript of this paper - a foolscap carbon copy with emendations in ink - was sent to David Wills, probably at the beginning of 1944, and subsequently kept among his correspondence with Arthur Barron [PP/WDW 2B/7]. It is the only surviving copy. Unless otherwise noted - Bridgeland (1971) is an essential resource - the details of Arthur Barron's life and career are taken from a variety of unpublished sources held in the Archive and Study Centre, the most important being the letters between Arthur Barron and David Wills which David Wills saved, dated 1936-1948 and 1963-1979, some of which are quoted above; the records of the first Hawkspur Camp, 1936-1940; letters between Marjorie Franklin and David Wills, dated 1935-1941 and 1944-1946; the early records of the Planned Environment Therapy Trust, of which he was a founding Trustee; a sprinkling of serendipitously preserved professional notes and documents, which now form the Arthur T Barron Collection in the Archive; recorded interviews with his wife, Margaret, and daughter Jenny Summerton; and interviews recorded with friends and colleagues in 1995, covering each phase of his career from 1944.


Beedell, C. (1995), "The 1994 David Wills Memorial Lecture: Sharing Power and Responsibility - its meaning for living groups and the practice of politics". Therapeutic Care and Education 4:3, 3-11.

Bridgeland, M. (1971) Pioneer Work With Maladjusted Children, London:Staples Press.