Florence Powell’s documentation of the fun and festivities throughout her childhood is limited yet appears deeply sentimental to her, as Powell describes her memories in great detail, expressing the joy she and the other girls at the orphanage felt towards leisurely activities that may appear normal when taken out of context, highlighting how rare and important the light-hearted moments of orphanage life really were.
Christmas was one of the best festivities for Powell throughout her childhood. She recalls that she loved singing carols and they always had a large tree from the estate, which looked lovely in the schoolroom. However, she adds that, ‘I realise that we were most fortunate in having nice presents at Christmas.’ (p.17) As Powell looks back with gratitude, it displays to readers how grateful she feels for the small experiences of normality that she was able to have.
Powell recalls going on one holiday to Prestatyn in Wales, writing: ‘the rooms to us were nice and cheery’ (p.21) adding that the staff who took care of them during their holiday were kind to the girls. Powell remembers very specific details of her holiday, recalling that they could hear a bell tolling in the early hours of the morning and played in the sea but were never taught to swim so only paddled. Again, this indicates to readers that positive memories of Powell’s childhood are impressively clear throughout her memoir because they are so sparse amongst the mundane chores within the orphanage. It’s also seems significant that Powell explains she was never taught to swim, as this reinforces the sense of how impersonal her upbringing could be as an orphan.
“…there were no such luxuries at the orphanage” (p.21)
Powell adds that during their holiday they had long walks in the country-side, visited the famous waterfall at Dyserth, while she adds: ‘We had a nice tea in a café which was a rare treat for us. I remember that the train journey was exciting and a pleasant change. Another event was a bike ride, as there were no such luxuries at the orphanage.’ Powell’s use of ‘exciting’ and ‘a pleasant change’ again emphasises the rarity of having a break from the everyday expectations back at the orphanage. It seems to readers that this holiday was one of Powell’s few real experiences of freedom and childhood.
Similarly, Powell indicates that she enjoyed small moments of freedom while she reminisces about going shopping. She explains that when the girls reached the age of 14 they were allowed to go out shopping in two’s, with best friends if they were lucky. She writes,
“We would take as long as we dared and make the most of our freedom” (p.15)
Powell’s use of ‘dared’ expresses the inner longing she felt to disobey the rules of the orphanage and truly experience some freedom. She goes on to describe that the girls would ‘often dream of what we would do if we had lots of money’, highlighting the frustration that Powell and her friends felt towards both their life as orphans and the limitations of their social class. Powell effectively utilises the word ‘dream’, conveying exactly how unattainable a higher social class seemed, implying that the prospect of it was a fantasy to her as a child.
Aside from her holiday, one event in particular that Powell documents in a positive light is prize giving, which the girls would prepare for with excitement. Powell remembers winning an umbrella for good household duties one year, admitting that she ‘really did treasure having a brolly of my own’ (p.17) Powell’s use of treasure to describe an ordinary item emphasises the luxury placed on everyday items within the context of Powell’s life, displaying the extremity of the limitations placed on her childhood.
Powell, Florence, ‘An Orphanage in the Thirties’, duplicated pamphlet, Illustrated. Brunel University Library