Category Archives: Europe

Belgium in 1902 – Scenes of Belgian Daily Life

The following is a gallery of photographs showing what life was like in Belgium in 1902. They show a relatively prosperous, happy country which was still largely rural. Women shopped for fresh fish and produce at the market, children played, and people still clung to centuries old traditions. Just 12 years later this innocent country would be ravaged by the invading German armies who passed through Belgium on their way to attack France in WWI.  The photographs you see here are all that is left of a way of life that was destroyed forever.

Milk Wagon Drawn by Dogs

Milk Wagon Drawn by Dogs

In this remarkable photograph a woman is delivering milk using a cart drawn by dogs.  The cart is full of milk jugs and she seems to be dispensing the milk directly into containers provided by her customers. This picture in itself captures just how much the world has changed since then:  if anyone tried to deliver milk using a team of dogs people would be horrified by the lack of hygiene. Back then this was normal.

Fish Sellers at Ostend, Belgium

Fish Sellers at Ostend, Belgium

A Belgian Flower Market

A Belgian Flower Market

A Morning Market

A Morning Market

Vegetable Market

Vegetable Market

Antwerp Cathedral

Antwerp Cathedral

The Bell Woman

Belgium in 1902 was described as a nation of bells; the church bells would  sing joyously several times a day.  Above is a photo of a woman who was the custodian for one of the bell towers. During World War I, the invading Germans took most of the bells from the countries they conquered and melted them to make weapons. I wonder what became of this woman and her bell?

Brussels, 1902

Brussels, 1902

Brussels in 1902 was a spacious and orderly city, known as a Little Paris because of its magnificent architecture and wide boulevards. It was the cultural and financial center of Belgium.

A Boulevard in Brussels

A Boulevard in Brussels

The Brussels Bourse (Stock Exchange)

The Brussels Bourse (Stock Exchange)

Children in the Park, Belgium

Children in the Park, Belgium

City Hall, Antwerp

City Hall, Antwerp

Antwerp Port

Antwerp Port

Flemish Draft Horses

Flemish Draft Horses

Traditional Belgian Costume

Traditional Belgian Costume

And so ends our little tour of a by-gone Belgium.

Orphanages

A Photograph of Dr. Barnardo

A Photograph of Dr. Barnardo

Those who believe in the good old days and believe that, overall, things are getting worse in society are likely ill-acquainted with what life was like in the great cities of England and America during the late 19th century and early 20th century. With almost no government run social services to fall back on, the poor lived a hard scrabble life.  As usual, those who suffered the most were  the children,  who often represented an impossible burden to an impoverished family.

Thousands of orphaned and abandoned children were left to fend for themselves in great squalor and poverty.  Few did anything about it.

One man that did care was Dr. Thomas Barnardo, (4 July 1845 – 19 September 1905) an Irish born British philanthropist. Shocked by the poverty and appalling living conditions of children throughout the British Isles, Barnardo set up a series of homes for orphans and foundlings.

The first of the “Dr Barnardo’s Homes” was opened in 1870 in London and by the time that Barnardo died, in 1905, there were 112 such homes established. It is estimated that during his career, Barnardo saved 60,000 children.  The Barnardo organization still exists in England.

In 1893, the Strand Magazine, which described itself as “An Illustrated Monthly” ran an article about Barnardo and his orphanage. Pictured below is what the article described as Dr. Bernardo’s Babies’ Castle in Hawkurst. At the time of the article, 1893, Barnardo ran 28 such orphanages.

A Phorotgraph of Dr. Barnardo's Babies' Castle

A Photograph of Dr. Barnardo's Babies' Castle

The magazine included an obviously staged photograph of a foundling supposedly dropped off at the front steps of the orphanage.  The caption reads: “To Dr. Barnardo With Care”

An Orphan Dropped off at Dr. Barnardo's Orphanage

An Orphan Dropped off at Dr. Barnardo's Orphanage

Barnardo Orphans Praying Before Bedtime

Barnardo Orphans Praying Before Bedtime

Less obviously staged were the pictures of the inside of the orphanage and the nurses and children who lived there.

In the picture to the left the orphans are depicted praying before bedtime. The Barnardo organization cared about instilling virtues in its young charges. While the Barnardo home offered love and protection to the children, the conditions were still not ideal by today’s standards. Notice the overcrowded communal living. The children are all in beds with metal railings in a single room.

Meals were also communal. In this picture the children are eating heir meals in the large dining hall.  The article describes the portions for the children as abundant, so at least this was not an Oliver Twist style workhouse.

Orphans Eating Dinner

Orphans Eating Dinner

The younger children were given nap time in the afternoon as this picture illustrates:

Nap Time at the Orphanage

Nap Time at the Orphanage

The orphanage was run by nurses and religious sisters.  Here are some pictures of the staff:

Sister Alice

Sister Alice

A nurse at the orphanage giving a bath.

A nurse at the orphanage giving a bath.

A Quiet Pull

The Nursing Staff at Barnardo's Home for Children

The Nursing Staff at Barnardo's Home for Children

The pictures below are interesting in many ways. The children certainly appear well cared for. There is no apparent malnutrition and they are wearing nice clothes. It is also interesting that the pictures depict the faces and identities of the children,  which speaks to the different concepts of privacy that existed back then.

A picture of the orphans attending school at the orphanage.

A picture of the orphans attending school at the orphanage.

The children say goodbye to the reporter on the steps of the orphanage

The children say goodbye to the reporter on the steps of the orphanage

And so, like the picture above, it is time to say goodbye to this piece of history.

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