By J. Keating
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Extra resources for A Child for Keeps: The History of Adoption in England, 1918-45
Probably some of those looking after the babies did their best to care for them but naturally the cases which hit the headlines were the scandals, such as the one in Brixton in 1870. Sixteen dead babies were found in a few weeks in streets and open spaces in Brixton and Peckham. Every year many babies were found dead in the London streets (276 in 1870, the majority less than a week old58) but so many in one area was unusual. A keen policeman followed up the case and eventually ten drugged and emaciated babies were found in a house in Brixton run by two sisters.
She had confined herself to dealing with illegitimate ‘children of the better classes’ and all had gone to families of similar background. Initially she and two friends had set up a society calling themselves ‘The Storks’, and had advertised for babies in The Times but had found the response (40–50 replies to each advert) too overwhelming, and had ended the society after a few months. 13 Miss Peto told the Hopkinson Committee that she was now winding up her adoption work because there were ‘two real adoption societies’ on the scene so there was no need for private individuals to do adoption work.
14 She was born in May 1862 into a professional family in Exeter; her father Thomas was then High Bailiff of the Exeter County Court and subsequently an official at the Board of Trade, and her brothers Sidney and Henry became respectively a solicitor and surgeon. 15 It is unclear what exactly she did in the decades after that but she appears to have devoted herself energetically to ‘good works’ and committees. In a letter in 1918 she described her career as follows: I was one of two original women members of the Exeter National Insurance Committee.