Wolverhampton Orphan Asylum, Wolverhampton, Staffordshire
The Wolverhampton Orphan Asylum was founded in 1850 by local lock manufacturer John Lees to provide a home for children left orphaned by a serious outbreak of cholera in the town.
Its original premises were at 46 Queen Street, Wolverhampton. The property had previously housed Wolverhampton's first purpose-built dispensary which moved to the new Royal Hospital site in 1849. Lees took over the vacant building and set up a home for thirteen boys, together with a school room. The success of the establishment soon led to a major fund-raising effort for much larger home to be built. After the move to the new building had taken place in 1854, the Queen Street property became a post office. Now a listed building, it currently houses an Indian restaurant.
The new home was located on Penn Road in the Goldthorn Hill are of Wolverhampton. The Elizabethan-style building, designed by Joseph Manning of Corsham in Wiltshire, cost upwards of £30,000, most of which had been raised by public subscription. At the heart of the building was a large and lofty central hall, whose gallery was fitted with a fine organ. The walls of the hall gradually accumulated full-length portraits of John Lees and others who made major contributions to the home.
The location of the home is shown on the 1903 map below.
Above the main entrance was carved the motto "I was a stranger and Ye took me in."
The Orphan Asylum took children from any part of the country but was far from being open to all. Its rules stipulated that candidates for admission should be "necessitous fatherless children, from all parts, of the kingdom, 7 to 11 years of age, of either sex, orphans of professional men, principals engaged in agriculture, manufacture, commerce, or trade, or of mercantile or other clerks, or otherwise respectably descended." Children with a "paralytic, or blind or lunatic" father qualified as being orphans. However, "orphans of journeymen, artisans, labourers, and domestic or agricultural servants, or child with a stepfather" were decreed to be not eligible for admission.
If a child satisfied the parental qualifications, there were then two routes for acceptance into the institution. The first was through a process of election. Each year, in April and October, financial supporters of the institution could vote on the children currently seeking admission. Annual subscribers of 10s. 6d. had 2 votes at each election, and those of £1 1s. had 4 votes. Donors of £5 5s. or £10 10s. have similar privileges. Admission could also be obtained by a lump-sum purchase of 150 guineas for children aged 7 to 9 years, or of 100 guineas for those aged 9 to 15. Fifteen was the age up to which children normally stayed at the home.
A large fountain was constructed in front of the school in 1894 as a memorial to Mary Rogers, the wife of William H. Rogers, a chairman of the home's governing committee. Its panels depicted biblically-inspired representations of Christian virtues.
In 1895, a new chapel was added at the south-west of the main building at a cost of £4,000. It was designed by local architect, F.T. Beck, and could seat 400 people.
In 1900, the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George and Queen Mary) opened a new infirmary at the home. During the visit, the Duke announced that Queen Victoria had graciously granted the prefix "Royal" to the Orphanage which then became known as The Royal Orphanage of Wolverhampton. In 1944, the name changed again to the Royal Wolverhampton School.
Below are some photographs of the Orphanage dating from 1932. One of the institution's ways of raising money was by the endowment of a bed. In the picture below of a dormitory, a number of the beds have brass plaques attached at the head to commemorate their benefactor.
Like many children's establishments, the Orphanage participated in the Boy Scout movement.
Although the Second World War led to a short-term increase in the number of orphans seeking admission, the general decline in applications caused increasing financial difficulties for the School. Eventually, in 1964, it was agreed to allow the inclusion of fee paying pupils. The School is now an independent, co-educational day and boarding school.
Note: many repositories impose a closure period of up to 100 years for records identifying individuals. Before travelling a long distance, always check that the records you want to consult will be available.
- Wolverhampton Archives and Local Studies, Molineux Hotel Building, Whitmore Hill, Wolverhampton WV1 1SF. Holdings: Minute book (1892-1931); Applications for admissions etc. (1862-1915).
- Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland, Long Street, Wigston Magna, Leicester LE18 2AH. Holdings: correspondence and papers (c.1860-1915).
- Steward, F.L. A History of the Royal Wolverhampton School 1850-1950 (1950, Steens, Wolverhampton)
- The Royal Wolverhampton School website.
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