Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – Guest Writer – Baby farming in the late-Victorian Era Britain and Amelia Dyer by Robbie Cheadle

They were not really the good old days, especially for women and children, particularly the babies. Robbie Cheadle shares the truly terrible tale of Amelia Dyer……

Baby farming in the late-Victorian Era Britain and Amelia Dyer by Robbie Cheadle

What is baby farming?

Baby farming during late-Victorian Era Britain was the practice whereby individuals acted as adoption or fostering agents for children and infants in return for either an up-front payment or monthly payments from the mother.

Although baby farmers were supposed to provide care for the children they took into their custody, the name developed due to the fact this was rarely the case and improper treatment of the children frequently occurred.

A related business was the practice of taking in young expectant women and caring for them until they gave birth. Many of these women subsequently left their unwanted babies after the birth to be looked after as “nurse children”.

Unscrupulous baby farmers often starved the babies in their care, either to save money or to hasten their deaths. Alcohol and/or opiates, particularly Godfrey’s Cordial also known as Mother’s Friend, was administered to noisy and troublesome babies in order to sedate them. Such babies usually died of starvation and severe malnutrition as the opium made them disinclined for food.

Why did the practice of baby farming come about?

In 1834 the poor Law Amendment Act was introduced in Britain which removed any financial obligation from the fathers of illegitimate children. This left unmarried mothers in a dire financial position as single parenthood and illegitimacy were stigmatized by the society of the time.

Amelia Dyer

Amelia Dyer is credited with being one of the most prolific murderers in British history. Dyer was hanged in 1896 for the murder of a baby girl but there was little doubt at the time that she was responsible for many more infant and child deaths.

Amelia Dyer turned to baby farming following the death of her husband, George Thomas. George was thirty-five years older than Amelia and the couple had a daughter together before he died, leaving Amelia a single mother to a newborn baby.

Amelia started advertising in local newspapers, claiming to be a respectable married woman who would provide a safe and loving home for a child. Initially, Amelia allowed the babies to die of neglect and starvation, which involved the use of Mother’s Friend, but eventually she tired of waiting for the children to die and started murdering them soon after she received them. She strangled them with a length of white edging tape. She is later quoted as saying about the white tape “[that] was how you could tell it was one of mine.”

It is estimated that Amelia Dyer murdered over 400 babies and children, making her Britain’s most prolific female serial killer. She was also known by the name of “angel maker” and the “Ogress of Reading.”

What does this have to do with my writing?

My main character, Margaret, in my new horror/supernatural young adult book due to be published in early September makes a visit to Hell. While there she comes across several famous historical mass murderers as well as perpetrators of other crimes. I wanted the lady who looked after Margaret during her time in Hell to be sufficiently well know that most readers would recognize her. A Google search of famous British female serial killers led me immediately to Amelia Dyer.

I did now about the practice of baby farming in Victorian England due to my numerous readings of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. In this book, Oliver spends his early years in a baby farm before being removed to the workhouse by Mr Bumble.

Amelia caught my fancy and so I decided she would be Margaret’s housekeeper in Through the Nethergate. She does suffer some rather horrible punishments for her sins in my version of Hell. In order to understand her character, I wrote an entire story about her fascinating history and this became my story Justice is Never Served which is one of three short stories I submitted for the anthology, Death Among Us.

Writing Amelia’s story required extensive research as she is a real character so the underlying facts must be correct. I read up on Amelia Dyer on about fifteen different historical websites and I also read some historical and recent newspaper articles about her life and case. It took me about four days to check and cross-check all the information and then I set about turning it into a story with a supernatural twist.

Who knew death could be so eclectic? Relish this mesmerizing murder mystery mash-up of short stories.

The stories include the 2019 SIA Award-Winning Murder Mystery Short Story ‘The Rose Slayer.’

Murder and mystery have been the staple of literature and films for years. This anthology of short stories will thrill and entertain you. Some will also make you laugh out loud. Others will stop and make you think.

Think of this murder mystery short story anthology as a book version of appetizers or starters, hors d’oeuvre, meze, or antipasti. It can be read as fillers between books or, as is the case in some countries, as a bookish meze – in its own right.

These stories come from an international cast of authors; some with bestselling books, others are emerging or new talents. Their roots, cultures, and life experiences are as diverse as their writing styles.

But one thing binds them together: they know how to tell a story.

There’s murder mystery styles and locations to suit all tastes: detective fiction, serial killers, scifi, histfic, Paris, LA, England, the Caribbean, The Great Lakes, and more in an exquisite exposition of the art of short story telling.

The eleven authors who have contributed to the anthology are:

• Stephen Bentley
• Greg Alldredge
• Kelly Artieri
• Brenda Mohammed
• L. Lee Kane
• Michael Spinelli
• Sansriti Johri
• Robbie Cheadle
• Kay Castaneda
• Justin Bauer
• Aly Locatelli

Each author introduces his or her stories and the theme that lies behind them.By the time you finish the book, you will agree the result is a mesmerizing murder mystery mash-up

Link to pre-order Death Among Us on Amazon 99c:

And on Amazon UK 99p:

About Robbie Cheadle

Robbie, short for Roberta, is an author with five published children’s picture books in the Sir Chocolate books series for children aged 2 to 9 years old (co-authored with her son, Michael Cheadle), one published middle grade book in the Silly Willy series and one published preteen/young adult fictionalised biography about her mother’s life as a young girl growing up in an English town in Suffolk during World War II called While the Bombs Fell (co-authored with her mother, Elsie Hancy Eaton). All of Robbie’s children’s book are written under Robbie Cheadle and are published by TSL Publications. Robbie has recently branched into adult horror and supernatural writing and, in order to clearly differential her children’s books from her adult writing, these will be published under Roberta Eaton Cheadle. Robbie has two short stories in the horror/supernatural genre included in Dark Visions, a collection of 34 short stories by 27 different authors and edited by award winning author, Dan Alatorre. These short stories are published under Robbie Cheadle.

I have been drawn to the horror and supernatural genres of books all my life. At the age of ten years old I embarked on reading Stephen King’s books including The Shining and Salem’s Lot. These books scared me so much I had to put them aside by 6P.M. in the evening in order to get a good night’s sleep but they also fascinated me. I subsequently worked my way through all of Stephen King’s earlier books as well as those of Dean R. Koontz.

I have read a large number of classics, in particular, I enjoy Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Charles Dickens and the works of the Bronte sisters.

I am hugely interested in the history of the United Kingdom as well as the mythology and tales of the paranormal that are abundant on this intriguing European island.

A selection of books by Robbie Cheadle

One of the recent reviews for Sir Chocolate and the Fondant Five Story and Cookbook

Robbie Cheadle’s Sir Chocolate and the Fondant Five story and cookbook (2019) is the next in the author’s delightful series of books that blend children’s stories with themed original recipes. This one is a clever story poem about the disappearance of zoo animals and how Sir Chocolate must figure out what happened.

“One day Sir Chocolate arrived, and not a sound could hear, he called long and loud, but no animals did appear. The animals had vanished, the zoo was empty and still,”

“The monkey is naughty, he likes to have fun, he plays tricks on the others, then away he does run.”

The story is written in the format of a poem and includes great photographs that help readers visualize the action. At the completion of the story, there is a cute poem to introduce an original collection of animal-themed recipes children can complete with their parents. Some of the recipes are:

* Sir Chocolate peppermint caramel pudding
* Cheetah Cheese scones
* Rino Soetkoekies

I have bought several of these books because I love the idea of blending a story with cooking and inspiring kids and parents to spend time together. I also love that Robbie writes these books with her son, Michael, each doing their part in writing, cooking, and photographing. Overall, this is another excellent book in a clever collection that not only entertains but brings parents and kids together.

Read all the reviews and buy the books:

And on Amazon UK:

Read more reviews and follow Robbie on Goodreads:

Other places to connect to Robbie Cheadle

Website/Blog Roberta Writes:

Thank you for visiting and reading this fascinating post by Robbie Cheadle… Quite an extraordinary story of evil at a time when women and babies were already so vulnerable.