Burgerweeshuis, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Amsterdam's first orphanage was founded in around 1520 by a group of wealthy citizens and occupied premises between Rokin and Kalverstraat, opposite the Sint Luciënklooster (Saint Lucien monastery). Admission was restricted to the orphans of Amsterdam Poorters — citizens who had special residence and other rights, with the orphans of poor people being excluded.
In 1580, the Burgerweeshuis (city orphanage), as it became known, took over the Sint Luciënklooster premises which lay between the present-day Kalverstraat, Begijnhof, Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal and Sint Luciënsteeg. The the sculptor Joost Jansz Bilhamer was commissioned to design an ornate entrance, located on the Kalverstraat side of the building.
Outbreaks of the plague 1602, 1617 and 1622-1628 led to an increase in the number of inmates from 500 to about 900 children. A major rebuilding of much of the premises was carried out in 1634. The medieval cloisters were demolished and replaced by three buildings in the classical style, probably designed by Jacob van Campen. The courtyard that was created became known as the girls' courtyard. The only old building to survive at that time was at the est of the site, bordering on the Begijnensloot, although this too was replaced in 1744 to match the rest of the buildings.
The Burgerweeshuis site is shown on the 18th century map below.
The Burgerweeshuis inmates attended school and the boys also learned skills such as woodworking, while the girls were taught handicrafts. The left side of their jackets and dresses was bright red and the right side black, probably the colours of the Amsterdam coat of arms, although this cannot be said with certainty. The uniform was temporarily completely black on the order of Louis Napoleon in 1808. The children's dresses and jackets were coloured bright red on their left side and black on the right. In 1808, by the order of Louis Napoleon, it temporarily changed to all black, with the initials BWA (Burgerweeshuis Amsterdam) on the left shoulder. It reverted to its original colours in 1816, with the the uniform only being abolished in 1919.
In 1831, during the Belgian uprising, a former inmate of the orphanage, 29-year-old naval lieutenant Jan Carel Josephus van Speijk, became a Dutch national hero after he blew himself, along with his ship and crew, to stay out of the hands of the Belgians. A national lottery was organized to raise money for a monument, and a memorial stone for Van Speijk was unveiled on 20 October 1831 in the boys' courtyard of the orphanage. On 4 May 1832, the day of his burial in Amsterdam, the long funeral procession halted on the Kalverstraat, in front of the Burgerweeshuis, and the orphan boys sang to honour their brother. The following day a naval frigate was named after Van Speijk.
At the start of the twentieth century, the number of admissions to the orphanage began to decline. This was due to the greater general level of prosperity and better medical care so that parents lived longer. In response, the orphanage began to provide accommodation for children whose parents who were temporarily unable to care for them, for example while in hospital.
In 1960, the orphanage moved to new premises on the IJsbaanpad in Amsterdam-Zuid. The futuristic building, constructed from over 300 small modules, was designed by Aldo van Eyck. The institution finally closed in 1991 and was then converted for academic and office use. In 2015, after a period of standing empty and falling into disrepair, the building was renovated, again for use as offices and now also housing an art collection. The building has now been designated as a national monument.
In 1962, following the opening the new premises, the old Kalverstraat buildings were sold to the municipality of Amsterdam and in 1975, following a major renovation, the Amsterdam Historical Museum (now the Amsterdam Museum) opened its doors there. The dining room and dormitories became a library and exhibition space. The ornate old orphanage entrance still survives on Kalverstraat.
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.
- Amsterdam City Archives, Vijzelstraat 32, 1017 HL Amsterdam.
- Higginbotham, Peter Children's Homes: A History of Institutional Care for Britain s Young (2017, Pen & Sword)
- None identified at present.
Except where indicated, this page () © Peter Higginbotham. Contents may not be reproduced without permission.