This week London Shoes ventured out onto public transport for only the second time in the 3 months+ during these strange Covid19 virus pandemic travel restricted times – and headed off to Barkingside in the London Borough of Redbridge and also Mile End in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets – for the purpose of finding out about an amazing man who left his mark on the development of social care of children and young people – “Thomas Barnardo”
Thomas John Barnardo was born in Dublin in 1845. His father was a furrier from Jewish decent and his mother was English. By the time Thomas Barnardo reached the age of 17 he was a practicing Christian, and had aspirations of becoming a missionary in China.
In 1866 he moved to London to train as a Doctor at the London Hospital in Whitechapel.
Living and working in the heart of London’s east end, he got to experience first-hand the squalor, deprivation and horrific poverty that the working classes in that area of London were living and working in – and it had a profound effect on him.
Training as a doctor at that time he witnessed the carnage of a cholera epidemic that claimed the lives of over 3,000 east-enders. He also got to understand that without any formal schooling throughout the area, there were literally no opportunities for London’s youth.
Outside of his medical studies he still had a massive to become a missionary, and really wanted to do this work in China – but having been totally shocked by the poverty that he saw all around him – he felt that he had clearly found his ‘China’ in London.
So – in 1867 Barnardo decided it was time to jack-in his medical studies and become a full-time missionary on his own east London door-step.
Basing himself in the Stepney Causeway area, he started his mission by opening his very own School where east-end children would get a basic education for free.
This school was based in Copperfield Road-Mile End (now London E3) alongside the Regent Canal, and was named “The Ragged School”. The building had originally been 3 warehouses that were used to store goods being transported by barges up & down the Regent Canal.
Apart from a general education, the boys at his Ragged School were trained in carpentry, metal work and shoe making – in an effort to give them a decent start in their eventual working life.
The Ragged School operated for the next 31 years, and throughout that time over 300,000 children were educated there. The Ragged School finally closed its doors in 1908, when the British Government introduced mandatory formal education with purpose built schools.
By 1870 Thomas Barnardo had become Director of the “Dr. Barnardo’s Charity” that he had set-up, and based his head-office in Stepney Causeway, close to his Ragged School.
His Barnardo’s charity bought-up 12 east-end properties that were then used to house the children – and his charity’s mantra was that “No destitute boy or girl will ever be refused admission”
In 1873 Thomas Barnardo married ‘Sara Louise Elmslie’ who was known as ‘Syrie’.
As a wedding present, they were given a massive plot of land in Essex known as ‘Mossford Lodge’, which today, is now part of Barkingside in the London Borough of Redbridge.
Syrie Barnardo shared her husband’s interests in evangelism and social work, and together they set-out to build up their charity to provide a better start in life to those children who had been forgotten, and never really stood a chance.
The newly married couple set-up home in a house on the Bow Road, located between Bow Road Station and Mile End Station.
In 1879 Barnardo and his wife moved from their Bow Road home and set-up home on their Mossford Lodge estate that they had been given as a wedding present (it’s actually just down the road from Ilford, where I grew up) and came up with an idea to build an ‘village of cottages’ that would be used to house destitute & difficult girls with a ‘crime record’, of all ages from London’s east-end.
Each cottage within the ‘Barnardo’s-Girl’s Village Home’ would have its own ‘House Mother’ who would look after the girls, and the ‘Victorian’ style cottages would create the effect of a sort of village community – with an aspiration of housing up to 1,000 girls.
By 1880, 26 of these cottages had been built – with all the construction costs financed from charitable donations.
In 1887 the construction of the ‘Cairns Memorial Cottage’ was completed at the site, notable for its distinctive clock tower – this building would be the new admin center for the Dr. Barnardo Charity.
By 1892 a Children’s Church had been added to the site, where the pews and the stained glass windows were specifically designed to attract and appeal to the children resident there.
Sadly, in September 1905 Thomas Barnardo died from an angina attack, at the age of 60.
His body was taken to Stepney Causeway – the site where he had originally set-up his charity back in 1867.
From there, with thousands of people lining the streets, his coffin was paraded through the east end onward to Liverpool Street Station, where it was put on a train and taken to Barkingside Station, which had only just been built and opened in 1903.
Thomas Barnardo’s body was then cremated and his ashes were buried in the Barnardo Village grounds.
From the foundation of the Barnardo’s children’s homes in 1867 to the date of his death, nearly 60,000 children had been taken in. At the time of his death, his Dr.Barnardo’s charity was caring for over 8,500 children in a total of 96 homes
In 1908 a memorial statue of Thomas Barnardo was built by the same person who designed the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens – and the statue was placed on the site of Barnardo’s grave.
The Dr. Barnardo Charity continued to operate after Thomas Barnardo’s death and by 1930; boys were also allowed to live at the Barnardo Village.
By 1964 the Barnardo Village in Barkingside had 60 cottages housing up to 600 boys and girls.
In 1967, the Village Orchard had been cleared to make way for a new Barnardo’s HQ.
In 1969, 30 acres of the Village was sold off to the London Borough of Redbridge, who then sold it off so that a supermarket could be built.
It was around the late 1960’s early 1970’s that my personal tenuous link to the Barnardo Village was created – because, living in Ilford, just down the road from the Village, the church youth club that I belonged to, used to take us kids away on an ‘activity’ holiday every year – and we would always take a few of the ‘Barnardo’s Village kids along with us.
By 1986 there were only 44 children housed in the Barnardo Village – as the operation of child care had altered significantly throughout the preceding couple of decades.
It was around this time that I sort of had a link to the Ragged School. At that time I was working at the Barclays Bank branch in Whitechapel, and one of its sub-branches was Mile End, just a couple of minutes down the road from Barnardo’s Ragged School building.
During the 1980’s, having been used for industrial purposes for a number of decades – Barnardo’s former ‘Ragged School’ became disused, run down and dilapidated. The famous old building was due to be demolished, but a local action group formed a ‘heritage trust’ and fought long and hard against its demolition.
In 1990, this heritage group won its battle for the building to remain, and they converted it into ’The Ragged School Museum Trust’ – an education centre where school children come to learn all about its history, and the social history of the east-end – in authentic Victorian style classrooms.
Today, around 16,000 children per year visit the museum to experience what school lessons and school conditions were like back in Victorian times – it’s a very popular attraction.
Sadly, in 1991 the Barnardo Village in Barkingside officially closed as a children’s home, as officials considered it “too isolated and outdated for modern child care” – and the land was sold off to developers.
However – one of the Barnardo Village Green’s still survives today, with 11 of its original Victorian style cottages still in situ, along with its original Victorian water fountains plus its original Scots Pine and Oak trees.
These 11 cottages are now leased out to a Housing Association and fortunately the green is an official conservation area.
London Shoes had a great time seeking the remains of the Barnardo’s Girls Village as it is today, and also tracing the origins of the Barnardo’s charity and the formation of the Ragged School
So – that’s Dr Thomas Barnardo for you – an amazing man whose legacy left an indelible mark on the development of social care and practice with children and young people.
See below – the full gallery of photographs taken to accompany this ‘Thomas Barnardo’ blog