|An idyllic view of a baby farm.|
It was January of 1896 when a barmaid named Evelina Marmon gave birth to a daughter she named Doris. Her baby was born out of wedlock.
The 25-year old Evelina was a God-fearing farmer’s daughter who had gone astray. She left her family’s farm for the excitement of the city only to find she had to work as a barmaid in the saloon at the Plough House—an old coaching inn—in order to survive.
Evelina was a buxom blonde with a quick wit. She was popular among the male customers, one of which got her pregnant and then deserted her. She lost work while she gave birth.
Evelina knew she could not bring up a baby on her own. Desperate she had to find a place for Doris.
She placed an ad in the “Miscellaneous” section of the Bristol Times & Mirror newspaper.
“Wanted, respectable woman to take young child.”
By chance, next to her ad was an advertisement that read:
“Married couple with no family would adopt healthy child, nice country home, Terms, £10.”
Marmon answered the ad, which was placed by a “Mrs. Harding.”
This was one of the aliases used by a woman, Amelia Dyer who was a baby farmer.
In Victorian England women who gave birth to illegitimate children had few choices. Society condemned women who had babies out of wedlock stigmatizing them for life.
Abortions were illegal and the few women who had back alley abortions most often died of hemorrhaging. Birth control was frowned upon and not easy to come by.
With the passage of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act fathers of illegitimate children were not obliged to pay for their upbringing, there was a clause in this act passed by Parliament that stated women who had babies out of wedlock were immoral. Read more here.
Orphanages would not accept illegitimate children and there were no social service programs or welfare available during most of the Victorian era.
Finding abandoned and dead babies and children in train stations, church steps, and in the street was not uncommon.
One out of every twelve women in England at the time were forced to become prostitutes to survive.
Children born in normal circumstances had only a 50-50 chance to live to the age of 5—the outlook for illegitimate children was even worse.
A simple solution was presented when baby farming began. During the Victorian era there were 2,000 of these farms in London alone but they could be found all over Britain and around the world.
Baby farms took babies and cared for them for a fee, on a weekly, monthly or yearly basis. They fostered these children or in many cases for a higher one-time fee of £5-10 the mother’s used these farms to “get rid of their babies” by arranging to have them adopted out.
Often these mothers were happy to dispose of their infants—not asking too many questions.
Other mothers who did care, often found their efforts blocked when they tried to check on their children after placing them in a farm’s care. They felt they could not report this suspicious activity to the police—for their own discretions might be discovered.
Unfortunately, many of these farms could not be associated with the word “care.”
aka Mrs. Harding.
When Eveline Marmon approached “Mrs. Harding” she wanted to negotiate a weekly fee for the care of Doris—she hoped to reclaim her daughter in the future.
But Mrs. Harding insisted on a substantial one-time or one-off fee to be given up-front. Eveline desperate and running out of time reluctantly agreed to the £10 fee. However, when she met Mrs. Harding at Cheltenham station she had second thoughts.
This women was much older than she expected, she was heavy-set and 57 years old. In her advertisement she had indicated that she and her husband could not have children and were looking to raise a family.
But as Eveline observed, Mrs. Harding appeared to be a caring and affectionate woman who covered Doris with her shawl. Eveline gave Mrs. Harding a box filled with: “clothes, nappies, chemises, petticoats, frocks, nightgowns and a powder box.”
She also handed over the one-off fee. Still nervous, she accompanied her baby and Mrs. Harding to the Cheltenham station and then on to Gloucester where she took a tearful departure from Doris.
When she returned home Eveline confided in friends that she was “a broken woman.” Days later she received a letter from Mrs. Harding that reassured her that all was well with Doris.
Eveline wrote back but never received a reply.
Mrs. Harding when she parted from Eveline told her she was headed for Reading—but she lied. Instead she went to a flat in London where her daughter Mary Ann aka Polly was staying.
What she did next is something she had been doing for almost 30 years—it had nothing to do with the care of Doris—but was instead for money and perverse pleasure.
In Part ll of Amelia Dyer:Britain’s Baby Butcher become acquainted with the UKs most prolific serial killer.