Author wanted to pen history of Plumstead woman with 22 siblings

Doreen Fifield

Doreen Fifield


An artist who was separated from her 22 siblings nearly 60 years ago is looking for someone to write about her remarkable family history.

Doreen Fifield, of Dallin Road, Plumstead, set about finding information on her brothers and sisters in 2004 after they lost touch when taken into care in 1951.

The Dorrell family lived in Uplands Road, Orpington, where they squeezed into three rooms, but their mother, Mary, was jailed for child neglect and the youngsters were taken to Pilgrim House, in Westerham Hill, Westerham.

Some were adopted, some left and only 15 made it to adulthood. Mrs Fifield traced what happened to all of her siblings and now wants an author to take on the task of recording her fascinating but occasionally heartbreaking journey of discovery.

The 65-year-old had a photograph of 12 of her brothers and sisters and her mother and father Charles Dorrell.

She said: “People used to say to me ‘you don’t know these people?’ You have to find out who they are. So I did, I’ve been right across London. I’m glad it’s all out in the open now, we can carry on with our lives.

“I’ve managed to find out what happened to all of them. One of my brothers Alan drowned in a lake in Dartford. Some are quite shy and don’t want to meet us. They have gone their whole lives without us so I can understand it.”

A cutting headlined ‘So many children, she has to keep a list of their names’ from The Mirror in 1951 states ‘Plump little Mrs Mary Dorrell’ was summoned to Bromley Magistrates Court for not sending seven of her 15 children, aged six to 13 to school. Her husband Charles Dorrell, who served in the Boer War, had died six months earlier.

The article claims Mrs Dorrell had to keep a list of her children in her pocket and that she got them ‘all muddled up’. Following its publication she received three marriage proposals from men offering to support her.

Asked if she felt neglected by her mother, Mrs Fifield said: “Not really no, but you don’t really think about these things when you’re a child. She didn’t have money. The children’s home was fantastic, lovely. I wouldn’t be the person I am today had I not gone there.

“Our mother used to come and visit us there but we never went back to live with her.”

Her genealogy search has taken her across London, tracing marriage, birth and death certificates. She has written scores of letters to neighbours, her old children’s home and spent hours trawling the internet to find family members. She has dozens of folders packed full of documents and sends updates to her siblings ‘whether they like it or not’.

She added: “I have so much information now. I need someone to help me write it all down. It would make a brilliant book.”

If you think you could help Mrs Fifield, contact Kate Nelson on 0208 269 7013 or

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