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After 68 years, Old Boy returns to the place he called home

Arthur and Margaret Checkley

Sitting in St Joseph’s Terrace Café, Arthur and Margaret Checkley laugh and hold hands. After 51 years of marriage it’s clear they’re still very much in love. Margaret jokes that the secret to their happy marriage is that “we never quarrel – do we Arthur?!”

Reflecting on their life together, Margaret flicks through the pages of a book filled with the details of Arthur’s life before they met in 1965. Filled with letters, official documents, employment records and even school reports, the book contains an official history of Arthur Checkley’s life growing up in the care of Father Hudson’s in Coleshill.

Arthur’s story began in Aston, Birmingham. Born in 1934 he was the youngest of three boys born to Joseph and Anna Checkley. Joseph died when Arthur was two and his older brothers moved to Father Hudson’s temporarily, returning home when their mother remarried. All three boys returned to Coleshill in October 1944, again on a temporary basis, while she underwent surgery.

As her health improved, she wrote to the Mother Superior, sending her love to her boys and asking how they were.  But in December she was suddenly taken ill and died unexpectedly. Her brother wrote that her thoughts were always with her sons.

/media/news/library/old-photos-with-descriptions.jpgArthur proudly holds up a photograph of his mother with her arms around his older brothers and himself. “That’s me,” he says, “the middle one. We were living in Aston then and she was bringing up three children by herself.”

After such a start, it would be easy to imagine Arthur’s life was marked by sadness. But he shows a strength of character and resilience that has served him well. Now, he looks back fondly, saying, “I’ve had a privileged life. It has been one good thing after another.”

Arthur lived in St Edward’s Home for Boys where he did well at school and was entrusted with tasks around the home and school.  “Every boy was given a job,” he says, “and mine was to scrub the floors at weekends. I was the best scrubber!”

It wasn’t all work through, he recalls. “We used to play football and cricket with outside schools. And there were some very talented faces there. One boy could sing like an angel, others played instruments. I got to take part in theatre,” he says and, without hesitation, quotes his lines from the play all those years ago.

“People trusted me because of my good behaviour. I got picked to go on holidays and went to Ireland with the school. We went to camp in Wales as well. It was quite an achievement to take all those kids on holiday.”

Margaret finds a letter in his records, written after one camping trip, that Arthur wrote to the priest who ran the camp where they had stayed. “I on behalf of the boys at St Edwards,” she reads, “wish to thank you for the most enjoyable time at camp. I am sure you went to a lot of trouble to make it a success.” The letter goes on to describe Arthur’s favourite parts of the holiday and seems typical of the young man’s polite and mature attitude which shows through much of the correspondence kept in the book.

When he was fifteen Arthur, like many boys at St Edward’s, moved to the old St Vincent’s Home in Birmingham to learn a trade. He gained employment with AS Adams, a company specialising in property repairs. He enjoyed this work and earned the respect of his employers who described him as an “Excellent fellow, a skilled worker, honest and straightforward. A fine type.”

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At eighteen, Arthur was drafted for National Service into the Construction Regiment, first stationed in Blackdown, Sussex and then Donnington in Shropshire. He says his time in the home prepared him well for this. “I was independent you see,” he says, “and was used to cleaning, cooking and being responsible.” He earned his two stripes and achieved Corporal rank. He says, “For a national serviceman to do this was quite something.”

When he was discharged in 1954, for the first time he had nowhere to go. “I had nothing when I came out of the forces,” he says. “But as one door closed, another opened. My friend had just got married and moved out, so his parents asked me if I wanted to lodge with them. I ended up staying in their house until the council said they had to move. They explained that they had a lodger but the council didn’t care. So,” he says, pretending to cry, “I said ‘I’m an orphan! I’ve nowhere to go!’ So they put me up in a flat.”

Arthur sought work as a foundry storeman, having learned this work in the army. He progressed in his career and gained respect and trust from employers and colleagues.

“All through my life people have looked up to me. It’s been an eventful life, even at work. If there was a hard job to do, they’d say ‘give it to Arthur’.”  

In 1965 Arthur’s life changed again when, on holiday in Austria, he met Margaret, a Methodist minister from Essex. The pair fell for each other and when they returned to England he travelled from Birmingham to Essex every Friday. They married in March 1967.

Arthur says, “When we got married we had nowhere to live. But a friend’s house became vacant so we moved in there. After four years we moved again and lived there ever since, until we came to St Joseph’s. We moved out because the bathroom flooded and we couldn’t stay there. Our daughter booked us in here temporarily. And we chose to stay. We’ve lived here for eight months now.”

Arthur and Margaret have two children and four grandchildren, whose photographs adorn their bedrooms. “I’ve never been a wealthy man,” says Arthur, “but I’m rich in other ways.” He leans over and squeezes Margaret’s hand tenderly. “I’ve still got Margaret. She’s priceless.”

In 2000, with Margaret’s support, Arthur got in touch with Father Hudson’s Origin’s department, which supports people who lived in the former homes or were affected by adoption through the society. They searched his records and provided him with copies of the letters, photographs and other documents that make up his history. Carmel Johnson, Liaison Manager at St Joseph’s, says, “Margaret guards that book with her life.”

Margaret nods, “For fifty years I lived with Arthur’s life in Coleshill. It’s my life and my history now as well.”

/media/news/library/arthur-and-margaret-and-alpaca.jpgOn returning to the place he grew up, Arthur says he was surprised to see that many of the old buildings were no longer there. He recalls the cottage homes for younger boys and St Joan’s where the girls stayed, describing how they would put beds out on the terraces in the summer. As the weather improves Carmel intends to take him and Margaret to explore the area, so they can see how the place has changed.

Although they can’t share a room at St Joseph’s, because of their differing care needs, Arthur and Margaret spend much of their time together. They enjoy taking part in activities at the home or just sitting together watching television.

Arthur says, “The staff are very good. It’s a home away from home. And, God willing, we’re here permanently. One thing about this place is that each person here is different. No two people have had the same life.”

As the afternoon begins to draw to a close, Arthur and Margaret make their way upstairs to Arthur’s room. Laughing and joking with each other and with the staff, they are clearly right at home.

 


 

St Joseph’s Residential Care Home in Coleshill offers high quality, person-centred care to older people and those living with dementia. It puts on regular activities and outings to keep residents active, stimulated and entertained. As well as long-term care, it provides respite placements to offer a break or for the chance to see if St Joseph’s is the right place for you or your loved one. Call 01675 434500 to find out more, arrange a visit, or for an informal chat about how we can help you.

The Origins service supports people affected by a childhood separation from their family of origin. The separation may have been through adoption or through being in care. The service preserves records going back to 1902. It can provide information from its records, and offers tracing and contact services, helping people uncover and understand their past. To contact Origins, call 01675 434000.

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