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How walks in the park helped save a foundling

By Alan Smith

If you Google the name Peter Lindley, you will find details of a respected film editor, with an impressive body of work to his credit.

He has specialised in TV documentaries, making programmes with the likes of Melvin Bragg and Alan Yentob.

What you won’t find is any reference to Mr Lindley’s traumatic early days, whose repercussions have echoed down the years until finally, now aged 75, he has exorcised his demons by writing a memoir about his life.

Peter Lindley today (1393137)
Peter Lindley today (1393137)

Mr Lindley was born during the Second World War and brought up in a series of care homes and foster families.

He believed his name to be Peter William Harris and his birthday to be February 10, and imagined that he was a war orphan.

It wasn’t until he was 18 years old and ready to make his own way in the world that he was handed his birth certificate, which revealed the shocking truth.

He was a foundling.

Peter Lindley's book available on Amazon (1393135)
Peter Lindley's book available on Amazon (1393135)

He had been discovered sitting on the steps of a London Street - Snowsfields in Southwark - with a note pinned to his clothes that read: “Please look after Billy, he has no home.”

Suddenly, there was an explanation for his deep-seated feeling of rejection that had haunted his whole life and vindication perhaps for the violent temper tantrums he had as a child that saw him returned to the authorities five times by would-be adoptive families.

It also meant neither his name nor birthday were really his.

They had been made up by a social worker, with his birthday based on an estimate that he had been two and a half years old when found on August 10, 1944.

Shuffled around a number of care homes, there was only one element of stability in his early life. At one stage he was at the Hollyshaw Nursery School in Tunbridge Wells.

Peter Lindley aged 6 (1267676)
Peter Lindley aged 6 (1267676)

There he was assigned a “visiting aunt.”

Kathleen Strange was a kindly lady, who took a strong protective interest in Peter.

She lived in Calverley Park Crescent and would take him out for tea and cakes.

Walks with her around Dunorlan Park to feed the ducks were among the few cheerful memories of his childhood.

Fifty years later, he would re-visit the park as a middle-aged man, with his own young son, Harry, and Mrs Strange, then aged 93. Mrs Strange kept in touch with Peter throughout her life and when the authorities failed to find an adoptive family for him, it was she who came up with a family, cousins of her sister-in-law who lived in Somerset, who might be prepared to take him.

It was James and Marjorie Lindley who were eventually to give Peter his new surname and some degree of normal family life.

However, there were still plenty of dramas, like the time Peter attacked his head teacher with a bread knife.

In 1956, Mrs Strange did a radio interview for BBC’s Woman’s Hour on what it was like to be a “visiting aunt” and she used Peter as an example.

His visiting aunt Kathleen Strange (1393139)
His visiting aunt Kathleen Strange (1393139)

In later years, Mr Lindley made extensive efforts to discover details about his real parents.

He searched the London County Council records, dug out a newspaper clipping from the South London News that had recorded his initial discovery in 1944 and even interviewed the daughter of the woman who had been said to have discovered him.

But instead of getting a clearer picture, the story got more confusing, with several accounts at odds with each other.

Eventually, Mr Lindley had to acknowledge that he would never know the truth about where he came from.

But he was at least able to repay some of the kindness shown to him by Mrs Strange.

In her last years, he would visit her in her nursing home for tea and a game of Scrabble.

He would often take along his wife and daughters, and eventually his grand-daughter, showing her that he had finally found a family.

Please Look After Billy, by Peter Lindley is available in paperback from Amazon, priced £7.50. ISBN Print 978-1-9998585-0-6

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