Ancestry UK

The Barnardo Story

Stepney Causeway

The plight of destitute children such as Jim Jarvis led Barnardo, in September 1870, to open his home for working lads at 18-20 Stepney Causeway. A couple of years later, the death of another homeless boy named John Somers — better known to his acquaintances as "Carrots" because of his red hair — made a lasting impression on Barnardo. Lack of space at the Stepney Causeway home had resulted in "Carrots" being denied admission and dying from hunger and exposure a few nights later. Barnardo was determined that it should never happen again and in 1874 opened 10 Stepney Causeway as the first of his open-all-hours shelters — later named "Ever Open Door" homes — whose boldly stated principle was "No Destitute Child Ever Refused Admission".

By the 1880s, 18-20 Stepney Causeway was described as "a large industrial voluntary home, providing maintenance, education and practical instruction in technical handicrafts to boys over 13 years of age". The premises also housed the general offices of the 34 institutions by now being run by Barnardo's organisation.

In 1888, extensions were made to the Stepney Causeway home which included workshops for training the boys in trades such as tailoring, boot-making, carpentry, brush-making, engineering, blacksmithing, tinsmithing, mat-making, wheel-making, and harness-making. Barnardo also started to create employment for the boys through the formation of rag-collecting, wood-chopping and shoeblack brigades.

Boys' Home, Stepney Causeway, c.1900. © Peter Higginbotham

Brush-making at Boys' Home, Stepney Causeway, c.1903. © Peter Higginbotham

In 1888, medical care for Barnardo's children was enhanced by the opening of Her Majesty's Hospital at 13-19 Stepney Causeway. In 1899, Barnardo's took over the running of the Marie Hilton Crèche at 12-16 Stepney Causeway. The home, founded in 1871, provided day-care for the babies and children of working mothers and continued in operation until 1939.

Despite all the developments at Stepney Causeway, it was far from being the sole focus of Barnardo's activities. In 1872, his mission work moved to a new base in the Edinburgh Castle — a former gin palace and music hall in Limehouse which Barnardo converted into a working man's "coffee palace" and People's Church. Three years later, he set up a large new ragged school a few hundred yards away at Copperfield Road.