London Orphan Asylum

On 24 June 1813 the Rev Andrew Reed gathered a group of friends at his house in St. George’s Place, Cannon Street Road, to discuss his proposals for forming an institution to assist orphan children. A month later, on 27 July the East London Orphan Asylum was formally instituted. Reed gave an address in 1815, which was printed every year in the annual report, in which he set out the aims of the institution. He said that ‘the present day is the period of benevolence and philanthropy’ and that ‘the widow and orphan have an undisputed claim to our benevolence’. The aims he sought were set out in the general constitution adopted at a meeting of subscribers on 20 April 1815.

The objects of the charity were to provide relief to destitute orphans, ‘to rescue them from the walks of vice and profligacy; to provide them clothing and maintenance; to fix the habits of industry and frugality; to train them in the path of religion and virtue agreeably to the formularies of the Church of England and to place them out in situations where their principles shall not be endangered and the prospect of an honest livelihood shall be secured’. Orphans were defined as children who had lost both parents or their father, with the mother unable to provide for them. It was emphasised from the beginning that children whose parents had been in respectable circumstances had the first claim on the charity.

Andrew Reed (1787 – 1862) entered the Congregational Hackney College in 1807 to train for the ministry and became minister of the New Road Chapel, later called the Wycliffe Chapel, in 1811. He held this position until 1861. Reed was actively engaged in philanthropic work throughout his life. In addition to the London Orphan Asylum he founded an Infant Orphan Asylum, later called the Royal Wanstead School in 1827; the Asylum for Fatherless Children, later established in Purley and called Reedham School in 1844; the Asylum for Idiots, later the Royal Earlswood Hospital, Redhill in 1847, and the Royal Hospital for Incurables, now in Putney, in 1854.

By the time the general constitution was adopted in 1815 the charity had become established in a small way. A house in Clarke’s Terrace, Cannon Street Road, was taken in April 1814 for the use of the charity, a matron was chosen and a ladies’ committee appointed. In July three girls were elected as the first children to be helped. In February 1815 the word ‘East’ was dropped from the original title. Reed realised that he needed to obtain much more than local support if the institution was to flourish and despite his nonconformist background he recognised that the charity was unlikely to succeed unless it adopted the principles of the Church of England.

Reed does not seem to have had much personal wealth, but he had an extraordinary ability to attract the support and patronage of those who did. The Duke of Kent presided at the first annual festival dinner in 1815, establishing a virtually continuous history of royal patronage of the charity. Reed was able to secure financial support from the Stock Exchange and City Livery Companies, again establishing a tradition which has continued throughout the history of the school. James Capel of the stock broking firm of that name was a prominent early member of the board of managers.

With this support the number of children taken in gradually grew and a house was acquired in Hackney Road for the boys and one in Bethnal Green for the girls. By 1820 this accommodation was inadequate and 8 acres of land were purchased at Clapton as the site for new buildings. The neo-classical designs submitted by the architect William Southcote Inman (1798 – 1879) were chosen and an appeal was launched for the funds to pay for the buildings. The foundation stone was laid by Frederick, Duke of York on 5 May 1823. The occasion was somewhat marred when the platform erected for the ceremony collapsed tipping some of the distinguished guests into the pit beneath and causing the death of a workman. The new buildings were completed by 1825 and were officially opened on 16 June by the Duke of Cambridge.

In 1845 an Act of Incorporation was obtained. The presidents, vice presidents, treasurer and subscribers of the institution were incorporated as the London Orphan Asylum. As a corporate body they had a common seal. The Act gave them power as a corporation to acquire or sell land if necessary and to manage the stocks and funds of the institution.

When the school moved to Clapton it occupied a semi-rural location but by the 1860s this was no longer the case. In November 1866 a typhoid epidemic killed 15 children and precipitated the board of managers into a decision to move the school to a new site. In 1867 they purchased 36 acres of land at Watford and chose the plans of the architect Henry Dawson for the new school. The foundation stone was laid by the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, on 15 July 1869. The school was formally opened in 1871.

The buildings included separate classrooms and dormitories for boys and girls, a dining hall and chapel. The children were also divided into houses, the boys’ houses being named after prominent figures associated with the school and the girls’ houses after flowers.

In 1915 the institution was renamed the London Orphan School. In 1922 the school amalgamated with the Royal British Orphan School, Slough, which had been forced to close for financial reasons. Both the funds and pupils of the Slough school were taken over and transferred to Watford.

In 1939 the school was renamed Reed’s School in honour of the founder. In 1940 the school buildings were requisitioned by the Ministry of Works for use as an army hospital and all the pupils were evacuated, the boys to the Seymour Hotel, Totnes, Devon, and the girls to a number of houses near Towcester, Northants. After the war the governors decided not to return to the school at Watford, which the government in any case wished to retain as a headquarters building for the Ministry of Labour. In 1945 Dogmersfield Park, near Basingstoke, Hants, a large country house with about 120 acres of grounds, was purchased for the girls’ school. For the boys an estate of 56 acres with the buildings previously used by Sandroyd School in Sandy Lane, Cobham was purchased. Unfortunately financial difficulties made it impossible to maintain both schools and Dogmersfield Park had to be closed in July 1955 so that all the resources could be concentrated at Cobham where the school is today.

The archives of the school are held at Surrey History Centre.

29 thoughts on “London Orphan Asylum”

  1. I .was a pupil of the LondonOrphan school /Reed\\\’s school from september 15th !939 to 1947
    I was Head Girl in 1946and1947.
    Life certainly changed for us in 1940 when we were evacuated to beautiful country houses.
    I came to Australia in 1968. I have been trying to discover what happened to the girls who were still at school in 1955 but until a week or so ago I had not considered looking at google.
    There are many tales to be told as a past student.!!
    I have always been grateful to the taechers who stayed with us and gave up so much of their free time during those war years.
    I wonder how many of my vintage are still around? Itwould be wonderful to get in touch after all this time.
    Regards Kathleen George

    1. gill young says:

      Its a long shot i know but i am trying to trace Beneathea mary Lyttle she was born in 1939, and all i know is that she was born out of wedlock as they say, and she went to a school in Middlesex for girls not a lot to go on i know but any help you could give me would be great
      Many thanks

  2. Lesley Berry says:

    Looking for my great grandfather\’s sister Harriet E. Rothon on the 1871 census, I discovered that she was here at the Coulsden Asylum for Fatherless Children at the age of 12.Her father Francis died at the age of 40, and with a large number of children to feed her mother needed help.Harriet trained as a dressmaker and was back at the family home in Stepney by 1881.

  3. In 1939 I was 7 years old and went to this school in Watford. During the war years I was part of the Middle School and we were located to Falcon Manor in Towester. Later on we were at Dogmersfield Park and left in 1948. I am 79 now and do wonder if any of my class mates are still around. If so I would love to hear from them

    I do remember the name Kathleen Elphick. She was head Girl when I was there it would be great to get in touch.

    1. Dear Mrs Taylor

      I have just seen your message on this website, and am delighted to find another one of our alumni. Please do email me as I am sure I can help put you in touch with several former pupils from Dogmersfield who will remember you and others. I do not have a Kathleen Elphick on file, but for some reason her names rings a bell so she may have been mentioned in various articles written by girls from the School.

      My emails address is: [email protected] or you can ring on 01932 589490.

      Kind regards
      Alumni Director, Reed’s School (formerly London Orphan School)

  4. I am the Alumni Manager at Reed\’s School so have the pleasure of looking after the interests of all our former pupils. Anyone wanting to get in touch to find their contemporaries, please do not hesitate to email ([email protected]) or telephone (01932 589490). We would love to hear from you.

  5. Jennifer says:

    Hello i am wondering if members of The Salvation Army may have adopted children from The London Orphan Asylum?

  6. Lynn Lyttle says:

    My father, Hugh Stevens, was a student at the London Orphans School from 1921 to 1930. I am presently compiling his life story in words and pictures for my children and grandschildren and would like to know if the school had an emblem or crest, and the colours of the school tie during that time.

    Any information provided would be greatly appreciated. With thanks.

    1. Dear Mrs Lyttle

      Please do email me and I will see what I can provide; I may not be able to provide colours of School tie from that time, etc but there might be records held in the Surrey History Centre that might help.

      Sharmaine Matthews
      A Alumni Director, Reed’s School

  7. Steve says:

    I have just picked up a medal issued by the London Orphan Asylum Watford for Good Conduct.

    It is named to Francis Watson.

    I would love to try and glean a little more information about Francis Watson but am kind of at a loss as to where to start.

    Any help would be gratefully received

  8. Peter Bramley says:

    I believe that one of the early matrons was Ann Murray who died in Wakefield in her seventies.
    Her sister Sarah had married Thomas Heald from Wakefield and upon retiring she moved to Wakefield to be with her. Anns death certificate say that she was a matron of the London Orphan Asylum (retired.) If any records mention her time there and any personal details such as her address I would be interested. Her sister was married in Westminster so I guess that Ann must have lived in that area

  9. Shirley Horton nee Parr says:

    My Grandfather was a Orphan age 5 lived in Lambeth, he learnt his trade as Boot & Shoemaker so we understand at Industrial School Esher Surrey, I cant find him in the 1871 or 81 Census can any one help.

  10. Ros says:

    How interesting to read about this Institution. My great grandfather, Albert Carter, was ‘Surgeon Dentist to the London Orphan Asylum’ in 1880, as is stated in the small book he wrote entitled ‘Dentists and Dentistry. A Dissertation on Dentists in General’.

  11. Margaret says:

    I am trying to trace any records of my father at the orphange in watford. He was born 1917, Cuthbert Caddey.
    I believe he was abandoned,fostered for a while before entering the orphanage. His mother was Emily Lonnon who was married to James caddey

  12. Margaret says:

    Can anyone help me trace records of past pupils at Watford Orphanage. My father was Cuthbert Caddy born 1917 and the only information I have is that he was put into an orphanage in Watford and later to New Barnet

  13. david cooper says:

    im looking to find my grandmother we belive she was a nurse at the orphanage in the 1900s her name may have been sarah burge but we are not sure can any body help?

  14. julie says:

    hi im looking for my nan she was born in southwalk london and was in an orphanage for children until she was three we have been told thats when her auntie took on i dont have much information only her name was sarah eustance and she was born in 1911

  15. alison says:

    I have recently been given a bible that my mum had in an old box that came from London Orphanage Watford and was issued to Eric Parker 1918. Can anyone tell me anything about this person as he must be tied in with our family history. Thank you

  16. Vanessa Anne Carpenter says:

    Would like to meet anyone who lived at Wayhouse a childrens home Brockham Lane, Brockham Nr Boxhill and Dorking Surrey. During the 60’s. Home closed 1970.
    My name was Vanessa Freeman and brother David.

    1. Cheryl Marshall says:

      Hello Vanessa
      My sister-in-law, Sue Cottrell, and her brother, Robert, were at Way House in the 60’s and remembers you and your brother well. She now lives, with my brother, Stuart Turner, in Aldwick, Nr Bognor Regis, West Sussex. They don’t have children but Robert has 2 children and 6 grandchildren. She would love to make contact with you. I see that your entry is dated Feb last year so I hope you will see this and respond. many thanks, Cheryl

      1. Vanessa Anne Carpenter says:

        Hi Cheryl
        How wonderful to hear that you are related to Susan and know Robert.
        Would love to meet them as l too have fond memories of them.
        My email is [email protected].
        l can’t believe it.
        I’m married since 1973 Two sons and 3 grandchildren

        1. Cheryl Marshall says:

          Hi Vanessa
          I’ve passed your message on to a very excited Sue! All our family are very fond of her. She is a really lovely lady.
          Thank you so much for replying. I expect she will email you soon, probably from Stuart’s email address.
          Best wishes, Cheryl

          1. Vanessa Anne Carpenter says:

            Thanks so much for coordinating with myself and Sue.
            Cannot wait for her to reply and hopefully we will have a meet. To compare experiences and wrinkles.

            Regards Vanessa x

    2. Pauline Marchmont says:

      Hello, I lived there with sister Linda approx ‘ 67 for a year. My name was Pauline Munday.

  17. Janet Hewson says:

    I have a book given to my grandfather Leslie James Witts, in 1908. It was a prize for “General” subject and was awarded on 25 July 1908. Any information about his time at the London Asylum Orphanage would be greatly appreciated

  18. helen barleyman says:

    hi my dad and his brothers all went to reedham school and boarded there my dad is 82 Thomas Barleyman or Barleyman 2 as he was known , he apparently tried out for a race and did the 100 metre or yards back then i 9 second and cross country i think 2 miles he came 4th with other schools .he was billoted out in when war required it and remembers the bombing and the scrapnal on quadrangle .where they did there drill she said an elderly gentleman ex army took the drills.any information on him or his brothers would be greatly appriciated thank you Helen Barleyman . p.s. he migrated to Australia as a ten pound pom in 1956. HIS BROTHERS JOHN ,DAVID &RONALD BARLEYMAN all atended there and ronald died in 1980 and the others are still living in England .

  19. Valerie Elliott says:

    Does anyone know the name of the orphanage on Clapham Common 1930’s. My aunts were there but there are so many homes I’m finding it difficult. My aunts’ surname was Parkin

  20. Sophie Alexander says:

    Hello I am trying to find any information about a home/orphanage of some kind in Lonsdale Road, Barnes, Surrey now London. My grandmother and her brother are listed as being there in 1911 when the census was taken. Thank you in advance.
    Sophie Alexander

  21. Dee says:

    Marie Brenda Gentle
    Trying to locate my grandmothers whereabouts in 1928 TIL 1945 When she was adopted. Can any one help?

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