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Abandoned in Ampthill

Abandoned in Ampthill – 1938: Who am I?

An increasing number of people who were adopted in the 1930s and 1940s are trying to find details of their birth parents.

Bob Rowles











Here Bob Rowles (above) gives an account of his search to find his origins.

'The emotional turmoil began in February 2001, when I needed a copy of my birth certificate in order to claim a personal pension that I had subscribed to. For 61 years I had somehow managed to survive without this all important document, and it came as a total shock to me when instead of a birth certificate, the General Register Office sent me an adoption certificate. The certificate was accompanied by a very brief letter, which made no attempt to soften the blow. Also included was a leaflet outlining the legalities concerning adoptions that took place prior to 1976, and from this I quickly established that I would need to go through a specialist counsellor from the Social Services if I wanted to try and trace my origins.

Apparently, all adoptions prior to the Adoption Act 1976, were arranged on the strict understanding that neither the adoptee, or the natural parent(s) would ever have any further contact, and the break would be total. However, in 1976 the thinking changed, and an almost opposite opinion was favoured, and had I been 25 years old or less, I probably wouldn't have been in this very unsettling situation.

Whatever your age when you discover that you have been adopted, it is only natural that you are going to want to know all the facts and reasons, but in my case I had no living relatives left to help me, and I felt in a complete vacuum, and initially upset that my parents had never got around to advising me of this very significant state of affairs. Soon however, I became suspicious that there must have been some sinister reason for keeping such a secret from me, and for three years I buried my head in the sand and tried to get on with my life.

It was not until October 2004 that I realised that this was not going to go away, and I owed it to my wife, two married children and three little grand daughters to try and find out exactly who I was. With this in mind, I met a very sympathetic and understanding Social Services Counsellor in the North Somerset Council offices, which are a few miles from where I live. At this meeting, I had every hope of at least discovering who my mother was, and how I came to be adopted, but I wasn't quite prepared for what was to follow. All she could show me was a very poor quality photocopy of my original birth certificate, which stated that my parents were unknown, and that I had been abandoned in Ampthill, and discovered by an F.E. Robinson on 26th March 1938. Other details were frustratingly illegible and I had to leave the meeting in a state of utter turmoil.

Once I had got home and discussed it with my wife, I decided that although my prospects were bleak, I simply had to try and find more details, and with this in mind I turned to the internet and the Ampthill Town Council website. As far as I was concerned, I had never been to Ampthill, but I reasoned that if a child had been abandoned there in 1938, there was a possibility that it had been a newsworthy event at the time. From the website I obtained an email address, and I wrote to The Clerk who promptly responded, giving me details of the local newspapers past and present, and a contact with a Mr Barry Dackombe who was chairman of Ampthill History Forum.

I felt that I was now on my way, and I telephoned The Bedford Times & Citizen to ask if they could publish an article seeking any possible information about my discovery. The paper was very enthusiastic, and even carried out some research at Bedford Library where they found an article from The Ampthill & District News dated 29th March 1938, stating that I had been found by Police Constable F.E. Robinson at 5.00am in a telephone kiosk at Running Waters, which is between Ampthill and Flitwick. I was well clothed, and believed to be about 12 days old, and was deposited at the Ampthill Institution.

A few days later Barry Dackombe sent me some significant information that he had kindly gleaned from Bedfordshire & Luton Archives. This included two or three more newspaper articles from which I learned that I was ultimately adopted by The Institution, and given the name Robert George March, and subsequently christened at Ampthill parish church on 29th July 1938. Rather touchingly, PC Robinson acted as my godfather, and even expressed his wish to adopt me himself. There was even a photograph of me in the arms of a nurse.

All this information was extremely valuable to me, but I was still left with lots of unanswered questions. I had realised that the chances of tracing my natural parents were minimal, but I longed to know where I had been for the first twelve days of my life, and how long did I spend in The Institution before finally being acquired by the couple whom I had always thought to be my parents. It was now essential for me to visit Ampthill and acquaint myself with my "home town", and also visit Bedfordshire & Luton Archives in the hope of filling in a few blank spaces in my life.

My wife and I arrived at the Archives offices on a very gloomy morning on 30th November 2004, and we were immediately impressed by the friendly and helpful reception. As novices in such research, we needed all the help we could get, and we were not left wanting. Ledgers from The Institution soon revealed my existence, and we were able to trace copies of the minutes recording many of the important decisions concerning my future, and we very soon found what I had hoped for. On 18th December 1938, I was discharged into the care of my adoptive parents in Middlesex, for a trial period. I now knew exactly when they acquired me at the age of 10 months, but how they actually linked up with me still remains a mystery. Finally, we left the archives with a copy of my baptismal record, and headed off to explore Ampthill.

It was fascinating to visit Woburn Street where PC Robinson lived, and the church in which I was baptised. The Institution is now called The Cedars, and as smart apartments, looks far more attractive than it probably did in 1938. The telephone kiosk has long gone at Running Waters, which is not a particularly exciting location, but we were very impressed with Ampthill which looked like a pretty good place to start out in life.

It took me just 28 days to learn all these facts, and to this I owe eternal gratitude to the assistance I received from a handful of helpful people, and the existence of Bedfordshire & Luton Archives & Record Services. There are still many details I would love to learn. Who were my parents? What happened to P.C. Robinson? Perhaps one day someone might still be able to help me, and now that I have been able to collate what information I have, I can begin to understand why my adoptive parents obviously found it difficult to confide, and I realise what a lucky chap I've been to have had them.'

'Where to Find Adoption Records' is a very useful guide by Georgina Stafford, and is available for reference in our searchroom.