Thursday 8 November 1990

A Life Of Love That Began In Sadness

Mary Baker with her husband Sid at their home in Upton,
in 1987, shortly before his death.

Happiness only really came to Dorset farm worker's daughter Mary Cutler just after her 30th birthday when she married Sidney Thorn-Baker at Bournemouth Register Office on 23 August 1952.

He was the rock on which was founded the family life that, through tragic circumstances, Mary herself had been denied.

On her own now, widowed three years ago but still living in Upton, Poole, in the bungalow she and Sid moved into in 1955, Mary is amazed at how it has all turned out for her despite the most unpromising beginnings.

Born with a dislocated hip, she spent five years in and out of hospital - at Boscombe, Swanage and Wimborne - suffering the horrors of gas anaesthetics, pain and boredom.

That meant she did not go to school, in Woodlands, near Wimborne, where her father, Martin Cutler, worked on Mr Robert Dyke's Manor Farm, until she was nine.

She moved to Cranborne School at 11 but had only one term there because just before Christmas in 1933 her mother died at 38 from double pneumonia.

Mary and her six brothers were split up as a result, some of them going to the workhouses in Wimborne and Wareham - grim places for a child in any circumstances.

Then in the spring of 1935 Mary was torn completely from her family and her home.

Recalling her traumatic train journey from Wareham, not knowing where she was going or why, she said: "Outside the carriage window fields and fields passed by and I gave up counting them. Each one only served to remid me how much further I was going away from my brothers, my father, and Dorset."

Her destination was Halliwick School for Disabled Girls at Winchmore Hill in North London, an institution as mercilessly austere and awesome as any Dickensian establishment - "a human zoo," as Mary Baker described it.

The first night she just lay in bed crying. "I was miles from any home life I had ever known, so many sad things had happened to me and I was in a strange place with all hopes dashed."

But life went on, however tough it may have been, and the war came and at 19 Mary started training to be a nurse, graduating to a uniform and a wage packet of 10 bob (50p) a month.

The happiness of the marriage which in all her hopelessness she had never dreamed possible was capped by further impossible dreams coming true - two sons and a daughter of her own.

She also fostered, for 13 years from 1963 until Sid retired in 1976, nearly 50 babies for Dorset County Council.

Mary Baker has set down in straight-forward, homespun style the story of her life. It is a lesson to those today who may have less reason to feel hard done by, a story of much courage and cheerfulness, of hopes fulfilled however hard they had been dashed.

Chris Whitfield, Western Gazette, 8th November 1990.

With All Hopes Dashed In The Human Zoo, by Mary Baker, is published by Danny Howell Books, at £6.50.